Bruce Springsteen confesses: “I made it all up. … I’ve never held an honest job in my entire life. I’ve never done any hard labor. I’ve never worked nine to five. … I come from a boardwalk town that is tinged with just a little bit of fraud. So am I.”
In the Netflix show Springsteen on Broadway, The Boss confesses: “Standing before you is a man who has become wildly and absurdly successful writing about something about which he has had absolutely no personal experience. I made it all up!”
Springsteen writes songs about racing cars — “Racing in the Street,” “Backstreets” and “Thunder Road.” He was in his twenties before he learned to drive. He was still riding a bicycle when he began singing about drag racing. He writes songs about gangs. He never was in a gang. He writes songs about factories. He never worked in a factory.
Bruce should be the patron saint for most Christians. Our commitment to Christ is tinged with just a little bit of fraud. For 2,000 years, the church has been successful even though most of the church’s members have limited personal experience living like Christ.
Jesus tells us to care for the poor, but not many have invited a homeless person into their home. Jesus tells us to love one another, but not many have taken a lower-paying job in order to love more people. Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, but not many have taken out a loan to buy food for starving children.
Most of what we know about following Jesus comes from what we have heard or read. The idea of following Jesus in 2023 seems unrealistic. We have enough on our plates just getting through the day. Our jobs, relationships and living situations are complicated. We have enough to do just to keep it together without an overwhelming commitment to live like Christ.
We like being Christian at a certain level. Occasionally we try something new because we are Christians, but mostly we stick to what is normal. We do not want to stick out too much.
When it comes to caring for God’s neediest children, we are dabblers in the down and out. We aim for a reasonable amount of charity. We keep our distance from hard stuff.
What does it even mean to be an authentic Christian? What is the difference between being interested in Christianity and being a follower of Christ? What is the difference between being a fraud and being real?
Bruce is our patron saint because he sings about what he has not experienced.
Do we care if Bruce is a fraud? What would happen if, as Kyle Smith suggested, we found out his real name was “Bryce Springfield IV, Duke of Bedford, that he’d grown up riding to hounds, attending Oxford, and had a double (major) in Russian and chemistry. … Would we dismiss him as a charlatan and stop showing up for his concerts? Would it be a career-ending scandal?”
We should demand authenticity. Bruce has to tell the truth when he sings about faith, hope, love, yearning for more, defying authority and longing for a better day.
Bruce says he is a fraud, but he did grow up working-class in a poor New Jersey town. He did not have a factory job, but his father did, at the Ford factory, the plastics factory and the coffee factory. The stories he sings are his father’s stories.
“Singing in his father’s voice leads him to tell the truth.”
Springsteen explains, “When I was a young man and looking for a voice to sing my songs and to tell my stories, I chose my father’s voice.” There was “something sacred” in it.
Singing in his father’s voice leads him to tell the truth. This is how he describes Freehold, N.J.: “There was a place here where people made lives and where they worked and where they danced. And where they enjoyed small pleasures and played baseball and suffered pain. Where they had their hearts broken, and where they made love, had kids. Where they died, and where they drank themselves drunk on spring nights. And where they did their very best, the best that they could to hold off the demons, outside and inside, that sought to destroy them.”
None of us is going to be Jesus, but, in our best moments, we live the truth of Christ. We care. We treasure authenticity. We live the truth about faith, hope, love, yearning for more, defying authority and longing for a better day.
We accept the hope of following Christ. We learn to tell the truth as we sing our songs in Christ’s voice, because there is something sacred in it. We learn to love our families, our towns, our people, people who work and dance, who enjoy small pleasures and suffer pain, whose hearts are broken by the people they love, who have been broken by death, and who do their best to hold off the demons that try to destroy them.
We are frauds, but Christ is not.
Brett Younger serves as senior minister at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.