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No, he's not God, but he is the Boss

July 01, 2008|Ron Csillag | Religion News Service

To millions of fans, he's the Boss, the troubadour of the American heartland who finds nobility in the grind of daily life.

Across 35 years in dozens of rock anthems, including "Born to Run," "Glory Days" and "Born in the U.S.A.," Bruce Springsteen has chronicled lost souls, haunted war veterans, gritty factory workers and highways jammed with broken heroes -- but he has also advanced themes of redemption, hope and keeping the faith.

It's been a rich vein of spiritual motifs, and the politically progressive 58-year-old singer-songwriter has given voice to society's dispossessed. His work of late has been bleak, brooding and introspective, even grieving.

But the Boss as spiritual guidepost?

Jeffrey Symynkywicz, a Unitarian Universalist minister on Boston's South Shore and dedicated Springsteen fan, has pored over the singer's rich, multilayered lyrics and viewed them through a theological lens. The result is his new book, "The Gospel According to Bruce Springsteen." It's the latest in a niche that looks for, and sometimes finds, the spiritual in pop culture, with sources as diverse as Peanuts, "The Simpsons," Harry Potter, "Seinfeld" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

A Harvard Divinity School graduate, Symynkywicz stresses that he's not out to peddle the First Church of Bruce. His admiration for Springsteen is rooted more in the inspirational and empathetic than the theological.

"What's inspiring about him is that he has so much to say about different life stages that we all go through," Symynkywicz said from his church in suburban Stoughton, Mass.

"When we discern that Springsteen is 'there' for us -- when we feel as though he is addressing us directly and personally in his songs," Symynkywicz writes, "his work seems to put down strong roots in our own experience. His music helps us to make sense of the sometimes tangled, often disparate threads of our lives."

At its foundation, Symynkywicz adds, it's a religious undertaking, a ministry of healing -- a task that gets to the meaning of the word "religion." But Springsteen's canon is neither sufficiently creedal nor doctrinaire to stand up as theology, Symynkywicz emphasizes.

"What he does for me is help me discern my own traditions, my own personal theology and faith -- but more deeply."

So it's more like good news, he says -- "the affirmation that no principality or power, no forces seen or unseen, no terror-mad souls or devilish plots, can ever separate us from the love that is in our souls."

Symynkywicz, 53, chuckles when asked whether his congregants are accustomed to Springsteen-infused sermons. "They're probably sick of hearing it," he says.

He's seen the Boss in concert seven times.

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