Leonard Cohen And The Glory Story Bumper Sticker Reflex Part I

Not A Marble Arch Or Victory March I’m a little slow on the draw on […]

Matt Johnson / 3.29.10

Not A Marble Arch Or Victory March

I’m a little slow on the draw on this one but anyone else see the Olympics opening ceremonies? KD Lang sang a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (a song popularized by Jeff Buckley). I know I’m over-thinking it, but to me, this moment was a perfect example of our culture’s bumper sticker reflex to re-tool the meaning of something to mean the exact opposite of its original. Anybody remember Reagan’s use of The Boss’ “Born in the USA” lyric? Same idea, really.
To me, one of the most meaningful and chillingly real to life lyrics of Cohen’s song is this:

“I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah”

Cohen’s Unwitting Sound-byte Theology Of The Cross

I’ve always loved Cohen’s cryptic-Zen-genius-with-a-splash-of-biblical-imagery lyrics. And as far as I can tell, this tune seems to mostly be about the bitter sweet of loss and failure in love. I’m going out on a limb here but this Hallelujah lyric snippet–to me anyway–has always seemed like a pro-theology of the cross moment. Our world loves to see love like a James Cameron movie (i.e. theology of glory) when in fact, true, biblical love involved a man becoming a bloodied mess on our behalf (theology of the cross). Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah, indeed.

As Lang sang out the last Hallelujah of that verse, you could hear the enormous crowd begin to cheer. As I listened, I was utterly baffled at how such a sobering refrain could get sports fans whooping and hollering. It’s all context and delivery, I guess. It seemed odd that such a melancholy song in that moment was somehow being translated by the crowd as a “triumph of the human spirit!”
(next post I’ll talk about a theology of the cross in pastoral ministry)