Kicking at the Darkness: A Review

I am not a fan of Bruce Cockburn.

This is not because I don’t like his music, but rather because, other than “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”, I simply don’t know it.  To be honest, I’m more familiar with the Bare Naked Ladies cover of “Lovers” than of the original, which is to say that until I learned that the song was a cover, I assumed that it was a BNL song.  Although I am not prone to displays of patriotism, I suppose my ignorance of all things Cockburn could be considered an insult to my fellow Canadians.

Brian Walsh would consider this less an act of treason and more an act of heresy.

When I began my graduate studies at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, it quickly became clear that Cockburn’s work was considered secondary literature in the biblical studies courses taught by Sylvia Keesmaat (who, by the way, is Walsh’s spouse and co-author of Colossians Remixed, a book for which I was the research assistant).  Although it was clear that Cockburn’s lyrics were rich with poetic imagery and prophetic critique, I was never compelled to listen to or purchase one of his many CDs, operating under the assumption that since Cockburn has produced an album nearly every year since 1970 that such prodigious output was symptomatic of poor musical quality.  This was an obviously ignorant assumption because, as I’ve since learned, Cockburn is, to put it mildly, an accomplished guitar player whose passion for the instrument is evident in his playing.

Anyone who knows Brian Walsh knows he is very passionate about three things – the Bible, theology, and Bruce Cockburn.  In his latest book, Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination, Walsh combines these three passions into a virtuosic performance that channels Cockburn’s guitar playing.  Walsh deftly combines biblical poetry, Cockburn’s lyrics, and his own targums to create a stunning work of probing cultural criticism and imaginative prophetic insight into our modern world.

Kicking at the Darkness shows that Walsh is not simply a theologian; he is also an artist, a poet who unmasks the pretensions of our materialist culture and dares to imagine that another world is possible.  He makes the biblical text speak with clarity and urgency making the biblical prophets Cockburn’s contemporaries in diagnosing the ills of modern society and hoping for a world made right.  Walsh is a theological troubadour who invites us to make the hope-filled biblical cadences of home our own as we sing and dance, mourn and laugh, and dare to dream.

Kicking at the Darkness is an essential read for anyone interested in the intersection of theology and culture.  Rather than typical facile attempts to show how culture is anathema to faith, Walsh gives us a primer on how to properly interweave theological and cultural resources to cultivate a properly Christian imagination suffused with fearless love, vibrant hope, and rooted faith.

In reading Kicking at the Darkness, not only will you sit at the feet of two masters in their respective fields, you may just become a fan of Bruce Cockburn after all.

Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.   Available at your favourite bookseller from Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

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