The Crowd-Surfing Preacher
Posted December 29, 2009on:
During his concert at Giants Stadium on Oct. 3, just a couple of weeks after he turned 60, Bruce Springsteen did something no one remembers him doing in many, many years.
Early in the set, during the song “Hungry Heart,” he made his way into the crowd about 25 yards from the stage, stood on a 4-foot-high riser and then fell backward into the audience.
Instinctively the fans raised their hands to catch him and then passed him overhead back to the stage as he sang. The crowd surf soon became a staple of almost every performance: Springsteen counting on his fans to keep him aloft and safe and return him to his rightful perch. The fans, in turn, counting on Springsteen to continue singing, lift their spirits and envelop them in his wake.
For Springsteen, rock ‘n’ roll has always been about making contact with his audience. He describes his songwriting, his albums, his concerts, the entirety of his career as an “ongoing conversation” with his fans. It is as much about them — their dreams, frustrations, failings and joys — as it is about him. Fans see themselves, or people they know, in the vast cast of characters that inhabit his songs and give them life. It’s a quintessentially American array: winners, losers, gamblers, hustlers, lovers, outcasts and desperadoes.
No matter their station, they are strivers for a human connection, searchers for dignity and believers that a world exists where they can have their say.
Doesn’t that just sound like preaching? Every Sunday, and all week long, we try to make contact with our audience and our Audience. We strive, in prayer and preparation, to connect the Holy with the humble, the yearning struggles of humanity with the aching heart of God, the crazy characters of scripture with the crazy characters of our congregations. We name our collective aches and pains and hopes and dreams, and try to speak words of promise to a better world. Both our congregations and the stories we tell from the Word of God are full of “winners, losers, gamblers, hustlers, lovers, outcasts and desperadoes… strivers for a human connection, searchers for dignity and believers that a world exists where they can have their say.” They fill the pews week after week to try and make contact with God and the ongoing conversation of faith.
When we give ourselves over to the act of preaching, we get swept away by the Spirit, turn around and let ourselves fall backward, holding on to the microphone and singing as the Word comes, trusting the crowd to hold us up, carry us on the journey and return us safely to the platform again. They come yearning to get swept away themselves and counting on us preachers to lift their spirits and bridge the gap between the sacred and the mundane, the daily drudgery and the Divine.
Falling backwards into the arms of the congregation, trusting them to hold us in our vulnerability to the Word. Being moved and swept along where the Spirit leads. Connecting with one another and with God. Crowd-surfing, Spirit-surfing, the art of preaching.