Guitar Rock: U2's "Tomorrow" from October

Ben Squires at Music Spectrum reflects on the use of pop culture in preaching, offering some comments on more complex versus "straight-up-Christian" takes on U2, along with a reading of "Tomorrow" that focuses on the thing Bono initially claimed it was about (the Troubles). I concluded so early that the lyric drew on two members of the band having lost their mothers as teens that I've always had to struggle to hear the Troubles in there at all, but Ben's comments helped me get my head around that interpretation in a way I hadn't been able to before. If you want to see if he does actually end up preaching from U2 in a sermon about "Christian music" at his Wednesday night service, you'll have to check his preaching blog later in the week.


"I know you like your pop stars to be exciting." -- MacPhisto

Geez. Well, I suppose he'll be leading a College of Preachers course next. Hat tip to @U2.

If you're anywhere near VTS, go say hi to Raewynne in the bookstore tomorrow between 1-3!


Sola Fides, Sola Gratia

The April 15 issue of Rolling Stone is on the 50 "immortals" of rock 'n' roll. I don't know why we feel such a need to make these lists, but we do, so there it is. Elvis is #3 (after the Beatles and Dylan), and the essay on him is, unmistakably, by Bono. He has interesting things to say about blues and gospel, as well as about the political power of music, and as usual he recycles some of his own prior material in the course of the essay.

Here, for this narrow-topic site, I'm going to quote three things, one a description of seeing Elvis on TV in 1968 that is perhaps as telling about what U2 value as about what Elvis did: Pretty much everything I want from guitar, bass and drums was present: a performer annoyed by the distance from his audience; a persona that made a prism of fame's wide-angle lens; a sexuality matched only by a thirst for God's instruction.

The second is this line, a sort of Philippians 2 or Hebrews 2 comment on our longing for Incarnation: Interestingly, the more he fell to Earth, the more godlike he became to his fans. Gee, I wonder why.

But the most poignant section, to me, is one that suddenly forces the wash of gossip-column images we carry of Elvis' final years into a new focus, analyzing his decline and end in starkly theological terms, as a battle with ho diabolos-- the accuser. Perhaps the shocking spiritual clarity here just suggests that, as one God-haunted international celebrity to another, the writer knows the territory.

When Elvis was upset and feeling out of kilter, he would leave the big house and go down to his little gym, where there was a piano. With no one else around, his choice would always be gospel, losing and finding himself in the old spirituals. He was happiest when he was singing his way back to spiritual safety. But he didn't stay long enough. Self-loathing was waiting back up at the house, where Elvis was seen shooting at his TV screens, the Bible open beside him at St. Paul's great ode to love, Corinthians 13. Elvis clearly didn't believe God's grace was amazing enough.

"Self-loathing was waiting back up at the house." The threads of association from that personified image, for me, run through Genesis 4 ("sin is waiting at the door and its desire is for you") through U2's "Acrobat" ("if you just close your eyes, you can feel the enemy") and on to so many pastoral situations. (Or of course, taking someone who understood "mock the devil and he will flee from thee," to Luther: "When I awoke last night, the Devil came and wanted to debate with me; he rebuked and reproached me, arguing that I was a sinner. To this I replied: Tell me something I don't already know.")

"He was happiest when he was singing his way back to spiritual safety. But he didn't stay long enough." The ability to name the battle, to perceive the intense theological drama behind those sordid paparazzi pictures, impresses me, but what impresses me more is the insight as to where the fight is won or lost. Most people, and surely most celebrities, do what this piece suggests Elvis did and try to win on their inner accuser's playing-field (sell more records, win more hearts, make more money) -- but that's the one place you always lose. Bono's battle-scarred answer is the right one: Forget all that. Just keep singing till you actually believe in grace.

More news from North Dakota

Congratulations to our contributor Jamie Parsley. On March 23, at a ceremony at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, he was named an Associate Poet Laureate of North Dakota by Larry Woiwode, the current Poet Laureate. Some coverage here.


Get Up Off Your Knees book signing in Alexandria, VA

For anyone in the DC metro area, Raewynne will be doing a book signing on Tuesday March 30 from 1-3 at the bookstore at the Virginia Theological Seminary.


St. Olaf College

This spring, if you were at St.Olaf's taking Religion 121: The Bible in Culture and Community, by semester's end you would be able not only to "describe and evaluate central theological and ethical themes of the Jewish and Christian traditions," but also to "identify and describe over 50 works of art in the Western tradition, and in current popular culture, bearing upon biblical themes."

And, your week on the Psalms would include "40" along with David DiSabatino's Bono article from Prism, and your week on the birth narratives would include "Peace on Earth."


Hymns Ancient and Modern

I recently bought the Passion CD by that name, several traditional hymns arranged in modern rock style (most to the original tunes, a few to new ones). And of course, many of them sound like a U2 cover band taking a shot at "Go spread your trophies at His feet, and crown Him Lord of all." But here is the thing this made me think about: while I have no desire at all to hear U2 do "Open the eyes of my heart" or "O sacred King," I would love to hear them do one of the really theologically rich classic hymns.

Of course they have used "Amazing Grace" live plenty of times. But driving home today I was trying to pick a hymn text with which U2 could do a particularly effective job. The Wesleys came to mind for obvious reasons, and I thought of "Come, O thou Traveller unknown," because it's a Bible passage they've already treated, and kind of like "Exit" or "Tomorrow" in starting with dark struggle and ambiguity but then breaking through into something stunning. (Although they'd probably end it after verse three, with an instrumental, right?) Or perhaps "Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun?", with its sun/son wordplay, some apt concern about hypocrisy, and even the ol' U2 "change the meaning on the last line" technique. That one might not be directly Biblical enough for U2, though.

So.... Other nominations? My only requirement is that it has to be a classic hymn, not a praise song.


The Word according to U2: Irish band subject of clergy�s sermons

Nice article from Fargo ND, focusing on Jamie Parsley and Shawnthea Monroe-Muller as local contributors to the sermon book. Contains thoughtful comments from both of them, some quotes from Eugene Peterson's foreword, and other cultural connections made sensibly by the reporter. And a pretty darn cool graphic!


Brennan Manning, yet.

From CCM magazine (hat tip to @U2): Philip Yancey of Christianity Today (whose What's So Amazing About Grace Bono is said to pass around to friends) telling a story about U2 meeting with Brennan Manning. (It never ceases to amaze me who they read. Years ago, by the way, I was one of the musicians at a service with Brennan Manning!) The story also makes clear that Yancey has gotten to know U2 himself by now. Yancey relates that The Edge asked Manning "Can I glorify God by being the best rock guitarist I can be?" and, of course, Manning said yes. (My personal theory: U2 answered such questions years ago and this was more a test of Manning than a request for information. But maybe not.)

Manning is probably best known for The Ragamuffin Gospel, but he has written a lot of books: Abba's Child, The Signature of Jesus, and so on -- just look around Amazon a bit. And (as with Yancey's catalogue) it's easy to see why his material would connect well with some of U2's artistic preoccupations.

{Update: By the way, it occurs to me many people may never have read the Rattle & Hum-era interview with Edge in CCM magazine, so I thought I'd link it while we were talking about CCM.}


Hat tip department

Bloggedy Blog kindly drops a referral to us into some comments on the continuing relevance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," although the real story is the ongoing top 100 albums project, where War made #13.


Praeparatio evangelica

I received a nice email from someone who has recently gone into full time ministry and was writing to say thank you for the book, as well as to share the effect U2 had on him spiritually. He writes:

I am 29 now and have been a U2 fan for 2/3's of my life. Even before I was a Christian, I knew that something deep within the lyrics was pulling me towards an appreciation of life.... After becoming a Christian, and seeing the world through new eyes, I began exploring the depth of U2's music through a new heart. I was fascinated that God used the music as a means of grace for me, to speak His love into my life even when I did not know Him.

He's interested in hearing from others with similar experiences, or just with questions: chad at devinecreations dot com.


courage and commitment to seeing other peoples� lives be freed

Darlene Zschech speaks in a recent interview about what motivated her to cover "Walk On" in her first non-worship album, Kiss of Heaven.

The song that you recorded with Martin Smith from Delirious for this album is U2�s �Walk On.� Is U2 another band that has inspired you over the past few years?

One of the artists that inspired me over many years has been U2. We love their music and we love their message. Bono is a very godly man. I love that. He gets passionate about something but doesn�t just talk about it. He actually gets in and will spend his life trying to bring about change. Whether you agree or disagree, you�ve got to admire the courage and tenacity of these people. And that, so many years on, they�re still making great, cutting edge music, I think there has got to be an edge of the prophetic on their lives.

I particularly love �Walk On,� because of the message it contains - of courage and commitment to seeing other peoples� lives be freed. I always held in my heart that secret desire of �if ever I get to do this album, I would love to record 'Walk On'�. I couldn�t resist!


Their lives are bigger than any big idea

The horrible events in Madrid will be prayed over at many churches this weekend. The worst terrorist attack in Europe's history. I'm hearing that DJs in Spain are playing "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which doesn't surprise me -- it was the second thing I turned to myself (after Psalm 46) on September 11th. A Dublin blogger worked through his reactions to the attack on Thursday by typing out excerpts from several interviews about the song, as well as the full text to the spinechilling Rattle and Hum performance. And Prodigal Kiwi, since it's already Sunday in New Zealand, has preached on it by now.


What personalized license plate does Ned Flanders have on his Geo station wagon?

Through the discussion threads on the Jenkins article I linked yesterday, I located the writer David Buckna, who authors quizzes on religious references in and connections with pop culture. Many are not online, but here are some that are: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Johnny Cash, Lord of the Rings, and The Simpsons. These appear regularly in the Calgary Herald. Really interesting idea.

This also reminds me that at one point I had thought a similar quiz, with a name drawn from among those who gave all correct answers, would be a good way to give away a promotional copy of Get Up Off Your Knees.


The Christian Media Counterculture

Interesting article by Henry Jenkins, who has written before about, among other things, the whole phenomenon of fandom. The first half is mostly about Christian subcultures producing their own alternative media, the second about Christians like the folks at Ransom Fellowship or Hollywood Jesus who seek to engage with mainstream media and foster media literacy within a religious context. Jenkins calls this latter group the "Christian discernment movement," a term I've not heard before in this context but whose provenance I grasp, and says he respects it. Hat tip to Tensegrities.


"A Journey of Faith"

Caitlyn Fischer, an undergraduate at Syracuse, has posted a project she did which reads some U2 lyrics side by side with contemporary faith-development theorists. One of them, James Fowler, is very well known; I hadn't heard of the other writer she cites, who seems to be working less in terms of general human development and more in terms of forward-or-back steps on a unidirectional Christian path.

Even though there's much less Fowler than the other guy in it, this piece sort of struck me because I was thinking of Fowler in connection with a conversation with a U2-fan friend I've been emailing recently. Personally I have some quibbles with his work, but whatever you make of him, I wonder if his faith-development theory could shed any light on the (wearying and strange, to me) "U2 can't be Christian because Bono once wrote/said [fill in the blank]" comments. Specifically, one might note that in many U2 lyrics the narrator or main character speaks in language reminiscent of the Fowler stages called Individuative-Reflective Faith and Paradoxical-Consolidative Faith... while people who lift individual citations from the band's work as direct "evidence" that they are "not Christian" often seem to be looking for statements growing out of what sounds to me like Fowler's Synthetic-Conventional Faith (which is where he says most adults are -- although the page I linked to above does not mention this.)

Here's another Fowler article from New Zealand which talks in more detail, from a pastoral context, about the three stages I mention above. His big book is Stages of Faith. Just in case anyone is interested in the concept.


And I thought *this* blog attracted creative search terms....

"U2 stewardship songs," huh? I nominated "Kite," plus perhaps portions of "Last Night On Earth" or "Gone." I could see a stewardship sermon that drew on any of those. Other suggestions?


Next-Wave articles

The March issue of Next-Wave has a couple features on Get Up Off Your Knees: an interview with me by Rudy Carrasco, and a commentary by Chris Marshall on both reading the book and using the Bible studies in a house church. Next-Wave team member Bill Bean's beanbooks.com is also running a special on Get Up Off Your Knees for Next-Wave readers.

Marshall excerpt: It seems a dangerous place, to have belief and longing in the same heart. It can only be at the point of desperation that mystery can have a seat at the table. This is the space where U2 has lingered in for years, drawing people to their passionate story and a longing for a different Kingdom here on earth. It is only natural that many would resource this voice to find a prophetic word for the world we live in now.

Rock on. Thank you to Rudy and Chris for two good pieces. {Update: and thanks to Thunderstruck for picking this up so quickly!}


Rudy, Ah-nold, and the Emergent Convention

Rudy Carrasco always has something interesting to say about how U2 relate to whatever he's thinking about today, which is usually also interesting in itself.


Fun with referrer logs

Someone must be working on a paper, because in the past 24 hours a whole list of academic-sounding searches I've never seen before have come across the referrer logs: U2 and theology, U2 spirituality, cultural influence of U2, Gospel references to With Or Without You by U2 (uh, shouldn't that be in "With Or Without You," unless we're going to posit some very detailed foreknowledge on the part of Christ?)

I received today the recent book by Detweiler and Taylor, Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Popular Culture. Detweiler is interviewed about it here.

BTW Comcast web pages are acting up today for some reason, for anyone who's trying to get to the book FAQ or anything. {Update as of 4:22 PM: The outage is all over the USA, and "Comcast technicians are currently working to resolve the issue. Updates to this situation will be posted as they become available."
....LOL. New update as of 4:26 PM: It's fixed.}