Bruce Cockburn, the Canadian singer-songwriter, hadn’t been to church regularly for over 40 years when he entered San Francisco’s Lighthouse Church three years ago.
He had come at the request of his wife, MJ, whose spiritual quest, driven by the death of a friend, had led her to church. Even then, “I told him, ‘I’m not going,'” he said. “I said I got past that. I was not a religious person.
But MJ persevered. One Sunday, Cockburn gave in and was “completely blown away”.
“I didn’t know any of these people, and they didn’t know me, but love filled the room,” he said of the small, non-denominational congregation. “It was like the church I was waiting for.”
Known for a series of 1980s Billboard 100 folk-rock hits (“Wondering Where the Lions Are”, “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher”) and his plays with The Grateful Dead (“Waiting for a Miracle”) Cockburn had always incorporated Christian theology and imagery into his songs.
Still, Cockburn, 76, saw no reason to mention his music career, even after being invited to play in the church’s worship group. “Nobody knew who I was” when they issued the invitation to play, he said. “They needed a guitarist, so they were stupid enough to ask me.”
If, three years later, no one had guessed that the house guitarist had 35 albums and 13 Junos – the Canadian Grammys – to his name, they probably realized it in May, when Cockburn released four songs he had. written as a fundraiser for church programs to help the homeless and fight human trafficking.
A regular follower of the church in the 1970s, Cockburn resigned in 1980 after moving from Ottawa to Toronto. “I never found a church in Toronto where I felt at home,” he said. “I just kind of stopped going.”
The truth was, “The formal church and I had drifted apart,” he said of his decision, even though his faith remained strong.
“It’s a continuous journey,” he said. “I don’t feel like I have the corner to understand anything. I just want to have a relationship with God, an everyday thing… I always believed that a relationship with God should be at the center of everyone’s life, and I tried to keep it in the center of mine.
Although he has “no hesitation” in identifying himself as a Christian, he is starting to wonder if it is such a good thing to say in public in the United States these days.
If someone asks him if he is a Christian, he always replies, “Yes, I am a Christian, but I have been vaccinated. “
Due to the pandemic shutdowns, Cockburn has not performed live at the church for over a year. But he performed songs for online services and participated in a series of sermons on parables. The cult group is giving him “a chance to play music other than mine,” he said. “It’s a meaningful way for me to participate.
One of the songs he wrote for fundraising, “Orders”, is “a biblical view of things, the order to love them all,” he said, referring to Jesus’ command. to love his neighbors.
“A lot of people who consider themselves believers often forget this,” he said. “It is a reminder to me as much as to anyone else,” he added.
Another song, “Us All,” addresses political polarization in America.
A lot of things divide people, Cockburn said. But “one of the things we all have in common is pain. We have scars that bind us all together.
When asked where his music came from, he replied that it was gifts that “come from God”.
“I still have to filter it,” he said, adding, “Unfortunately, that means God is stuck with me as a filter.”