The Hold Steady is a great band, and their lyrics break down the false barrier between sacred and profane. Their song ‘Constructive Summer’ has long been a favorite of mine, not only because of the driving guitar engine and accompanying piano hammers, but for the bridge which explains so much of the emptiness we can feel around the church and religious experience these days:
I went to your schools, I did my detention
but the walls were so gray I couldn’t pay attention
I read your gospel, it moved me to tears
but I couldn’t find the hate and I couldn’t find the fear
I met your savior, I knelt at his feet
and he took my ten bucks and he went down the street
I tried to believe all the things that you said
but my friends that aren’t dying are already dead.
These words never fail to bring tears to my eyes as they hold me to account more than most other things. My role as a religious leader: priest, pastor, salesman, peddler of religion, spiritual caddy…what’s it for?
And I think about leading a community like St. Margaret’s. How do we paint our walls so that people pay attention, especially in the season of Advent when we’re supposed to stay awake? What hate and fear do we need to find in our gospel that will urge us to seek it out and eradicate it in the world today? What did Jesus hate or fear?
When the church offers Jesus as savior, what does it expect in return? Is it transactional, as ‘here’s Jesus, give him your money’ suggests? Financial malfeasance? Or does it have more to do with the thought that the Jesus the church offers is one that would stick around as long as you’re giving, but once you’re broke, he’s gone?
My friends that aren’t dying are already dead. Today is World AIDS Day, and I know people for whom that lyric packs a lot of punch. Is the church more interested in what you believe? Or is it more willing to step in the gap and be with people in their suffering? Oftentimes, and I’ve been guilty of this, the church and those who would claim Christ, will value their own standing and safety before stepping out to serve others. As long as this happens, Christ’s body, the church, is diminished.
So I thank Craig Finn and The Hold Steady for this song, not only because it rocks hard, but because it reminds me that to be the church, it’s more than just putting a cross on our building. We can all be something bigger.
The Rev. Peter W. Mayer is the Rector of St. Margaret's Church in Annapolis, MD. He's a soccer dad, hockey fan, Pearl Jam fanatic, soup lover, cat owner, and one who welcomes all to the altar every Sunday no matter where they are on their faith journey.