27 January 2002 --
Paul Alkazraji is the author of 'Christ and the Kalashnikov' Stories of hope
in war-torn Albania-Zondervan.
Paul caught up with Bruce Cockburn, speaking from his new home in Montreal, Canada on 21 December 2001 for a phone interview; Bruce in his new home of Montreal and Paul from his home in Bath, England. "The telephone connection was dreadful. There was an engineering fault on the line buzzing like some broken fly trap-right when you need one least!", reports Paul. But he overcame the distractions and managed to engage Bruce in a number of interesting topics.
Bruce Cockburn's globe-spanning road-trip of faith and social concern has been an inspiration to his fans. Over a remarkable thirty-year career, twenty of his albums have achieved gold or platinum sales in his home country, and amongst many other awards and honours he has picked up eleven Junos (Canadian Grammy) along the way. This month sees the launch of his twenty-sixth album 'Anything, Anytime, Anywhere': a 'best of' collection that brings together his singles over the latter two thirds of his career. Whilst those early sparkling jewels 'All the Diamonds in the World' and 'Lord of the Starfields' are absent, the collection does include 'Wondering Where the Lions Are', 'If I had a Rocket Launcher', 'Call it Democracy', 'If a Tree Falls' and two new tracks, and tidily gathers up many post '79 highlights. Despite a buzzing line from England to Montreal, the man who is thankfully no longer 'Canada's best kept secret' answers the questions.
Paul: Does the release of 'Anything, Anytime, Anywhere' feel like a moment for taking stock?
Bruce: During the process of putting it together, you have to confront the old songs. That has an element of stocktaking, but it's not really the main issue. What has been interesting for me is that whilst I approached it with a little bit of trepidation, I felt the songs held up very well. Each of them represents a time and a place and also an event in my life, so you have a kind of emotional or sentimental journey with them.
Paul: Looking back over your work, which songs do you feel best marry your faith and artistry?
Bruce: One that comes to mind immediately is the song 'Waiting for a Miracle', which touches on faith, or my observation of other people's faith. I was being driven through the countryside to Nicaragua looking at the people working in the fields, and there was an atmosphere of revolution - well at that point it was more low-intensity conflict inflicted on them by the US and its proxies. Most people out there are people of faith; formally one faction of the Catholic Church was very prominent in the struggle. And it struck me, here's all these people who have come to the point where they are confronted by very great difficulties, but there is the answer of hope. Even so, these people were waiting for a miracle. It was clear that nothing else was going to get them through and in the end it did get them through.
Paul: What kind of a miracle were you thinking about?
Bruce: Divine intervention comes in many ways. I don't know if in that case it necessarily involved Padre Pio flying in. I was thinking more about what I tend to associate it with, which is an influence in the course of events that is a little more subtle.
Paul: You have travelled widely, Nicaragua, Nepal and Mozambique for example. Was there an incident in the lives of those you met which spoke to you of God's heart for suffering humanity that you could recount?
Bruce: Interestingly enough, the place where I had the strongest sense of the presence of the divine was in Nepal, which is not a Christian country at all, but in which the land is steeped in spirituality of a positive kind. There was something about that landscape that made a tremendous impression on me. In contrast, Mozambique seemed to be a country where that was almost non-existent. The country itself is beautiful, and I presume there are little acts of heroism gong on there every day, but the effects of twenty-five years of war and four hundred years of colonialism were such that you felt as if it had almost had the spirit hammered out of it - the Holy Spirit as much as their human spirit. In Central America it was very much expressed in Christian terms around people, around sacrifice and around love and brotherhood.
Paul: Was there a moment in any of those places that fired you up more for Christ?
Bruce: I don't remember moments very well, but no I wouldn't say so. The big crisis moment that led me to become a Christian happened in the early seventies. It was my own personal big bang and it has been going on ever since. I've had many encounters with people in which I've felt the presence of God, and any of those encounters could have been said to fire me up in various ways, or even literary encounters, you know.
Paul: Over the years what would you say you have discovered about Christ that has held the most enduring importance?
Bruce: Other than the original moment, or coming at the faith from understanding Jesus as a historical character, as the person that he is in the Bible, I have the sense of Christ as a bridge in a way, but an organic, living breathing, pulsating bridge from me to God. I'm not sure how to articulate it other than by saying that. Coming to understand that relationship has always been a part of the picture for me.
Paul: Has that sense of Christ as the bridge grown stronger as the years have gone on?
Bruce: I would say that it has become less attached to visual imagery and to a sense of the personality that we read about in the Bible - or at least what we extrapolate from the Bible. Originally, I had this picture of Jesus in my mind that had physical attributes and a personality, but over the years it has become less that and yet somehow more personal at the same time, an inner feeling...
Paul: What aspect of your walk with him is resonant right now?
Bruce: To me it is an ongoing process of trying to understand things more deeply. I feel lead through many things. I have always felt that I have been lead in and out of various life situations, and various disciplines and ways of approaching my understanding of God, and that continues...
Paul AlkazrajiSections of this interview will appear in the British Christian newspaper 'The Christian Herald', but Paul offered it in its entirety to The Cockburn Project.
Editor: Suzanne DeMuth Myers