Spera In Deo - review of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Not so much a review, actually, as song by song comments on the new U2 album from a Christian perspective at Spera In Deo.


Innocence is much more powerful than experience...

I had time today to go looking for this passage from a late-2001 profile of Bono, which I'd vaguely remembered and associated with HTDAAB's recurrent themes of innocence and rebirth. To me these remarks throw a lot of light on the source of some of HTDAAB's images.

[Bono] "I saw this photograph recently. Anton Corbijn had an exhibition in Holland, and he made me go into this room full of Bonos -- a horrifying thought. And I noticed a shot of me at 21, and the look in the eye was so much clearer. Part of me must have thought our critics were right, and that beautiful naivete -- that I now see in my own children's faces -- I went about killing off. I thought it was something that you had to get rid of, and it's not true. Innocence is much more powerful than experience, especially when it has that teenage fearlessness beside it. That's really something."
--Isn't that just rampaging adolescent ego? The kind that makes a grown rock star want to save the world?
"You'd think so, but it's not. Not long after that picture was taken, when we were 23, all of a sudden America was going off for us, and the UK. You'd think that your ego should inflate, but an odd thing happens -- it implodes. I can remember times of being paralysed by fear where once I had faith -- in myself, in God, people around me. It was gone. At some point along the way I lost my nerve, and replaced it with front. I think I'm getting back to a more courageous place now."
--So if you could go and meet the youth in the photo, what would you tell him?
"That he was right. That's what I'd tell him."

Waving or Drowning?: Celebrity

A nice post from Mike Todd, right on time for stewardship season in many churches, about Bono's metaphor of spending your currency to do good in the world. He writes: I wonder - self-righteously, I suppose - what the value of all the unused currency "out there" is, and what the world could look like if it was spent. To whom much is given...


hopeful amphibian: death, resurrection, U2 / harbinger waits for the dawn

hopeful amphibian has the sense to cite the C.S. Lewis quote that I clearly should have cited in my post about the book that comes with the U2 box set. He also has some interesting questions about U2 and eschatology on which those of you who are theology-minded may want to weigh in. And in this post Harbinger sits U2 and Jurgen Moltmann down for a conversation. Pity we didn't get to hear more of it....

AIDS in Africa - news from ekklesia

An article from Ekklesia reports that "two years after U2's Bono challenged American Christians to become engaged in the AIDS pandemic, a new survey has revealed only a small number of US evangelicals would be willing to donate money to help and support children orphaned by AIDS." The numbers are disappointing to anyone who cares about the crisis, but let's run those statistics a little more. It's worth noting that since Bono began his campaign to raise awareness of AIDS in Africa with US evangelicals (visit DATA for more info), the amount of those who say they would donate to AIDS orphans is SIX TIMES as many as before, and the number who would donate to AIDS prevention in Africa has more than tripled.

It's also worth noting that unlike the last time World Vision commissioned this survey, the percentage of evangelicals willing to donate to AIDS in Africa is now higher than the percentage of the general American population willing to do so, so that the evangelical church is now out ahead of the mainstream USA culture on this issue. I think you've got to admit Bono's had a significant effect here.


Looking Closer - review of HTDAAB

Looking Closer delivers the most theologically thorough review of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb yet. Amusingly, I was quite ready to link the first version of this review, which made some good points about the many ways in which U2 plays it safe on this album... but that version got retracted. As one who needs a lot of time with every new U2 record not to flat-out dislike it, I completely sympathize. But now I urge you to read this new review even more than I would have urged you to read the first one.

Jeffery Overstreet reads a few of the songs differently than I would, but his list of recurring themes is terrific (although I'd say the album recommends not just "hanging on to" innocence, but also lauds the gift of innocence reborn: "you can make me perfect again," e.g.). This description from the section on "Vertigo" sets up the whole review: [The narrator] bemoans the things he wishes he didn't know, until, at last, he cries out to his Everlasting Teacher to teach him how to kneel. And so the framework for the whole album is set up. The prodigal son, U2's central character through the narratives of Achtung Baby all the way through Pop, is back, and he's at the end of his rope. He knows who to call for help and he's ready to complete the journey. So true - I, also, think I hear a new confidence and finality to the spiritual affirmations throughout this work. Not that U2 may not choose to go out wandering again, of course....

And then on the meaning of the "All Because of You" lyrics: One of the album's highest highlights, "All Because of You" may be the most confidently performed rock single of U2's career. It has the careening guitar motif of "Even Better Than The Real Thing," and messes it up a bit with some raw Rolling Stones energy. And here comes Bono's first song of adoration to God, one of several tracks that distinguish this as the band's most blatantly religious album since October. This is the song in which the Prodigal Son seems to embrace his father at last. He gives credit for anything good in his life to the one who blessed him with life. And in my favorite lyrical trick on the album, (no, not the way Bono rhymes "voice" with "tortoise"), Bono refers to God by the name the Almighty gave himself... "I AM." ...Take off your shoes, folks. He's on holy ground.

Enough quoting. As one well-known blogger often says: Read It All.

Music | After elevation, vertigo

My hometown alternative paper, the Boston Phoenix, weighs in with a HTDAAB review called "After elevation, vertigo." I said I would only link theologically literate reviews, but I'm making an exception for this one because it provides some good examples of a dilemma I asked about in this post: What will people who are simply unable to align this album's themes with their Gospel contexts make of it?

Well, now we know: they'll hear a totally different album. The fascinating thing about this review is that Jeffrey Gantz knows that the band is supposed to be interested in spiritual issues -- so he tries to assess what the album is saying spiritually, but is totally unequipped to figure out the language. Gantz hears a U2 who have given up on finding transcendence and an album that, far from hoping to go somewhere (Berlin, pop heaven, God's heaven), is just looking to get its bearings. ... No "Beautiful Day" this time out. No "Elevation." What we need is a "Miracle Drug"... [ but there's] no affirmation on the exit this time.

He wonders if the kneeling in Vertigo is in prayer, or for execution? Execution?? On "Original of the Species": Too bad he gives us passion without the Passion. What??

And most astonishingly, he reads "Yahweh" as based around Satan tempting Jesus in the desert and identifies the ecstatic Song of Solomon spiritual marriage reference as pointing to Judas' kiss of betrayal at Gethsemane. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb closes the book on optimism, Gantz concludes, now that U2 are no longer blinded by the light.

Speechless here.


I give thanks for.....shameless promotion

Thanks to Roland Allen for a post suggesting people who are interested in the meaning of HTDAAB's lyrics would do well to look at Get Up Off Your Knees. My excuse for linking his kind words is that this line deserves echoing: "For people like me who are aware of and can make sense of some of the spiritual nuances in Bono's lyrics, this is an exciting and deeply moving album." Another thank you goes to Gideon Strauss; glad to hear we helped your daughters to get on the U2 bandwagon. Still on the "shameless promotion" theme, I'm sure U2 are thankful that they're apparently probably going to have sold a million copies of the new album already by the end of this weekend. And finally, continuing the Thanksgiving theme, here's a blogger who is thankful that "U2 must have sold their collective soul to God and he gave it back for this album."

Church Marketing Sucks: Lessons from U2

An interesting post from Church Marketing Sucks ("the blog to frustrate, educate, and motivate the church to communicate with uncompromising clarity the message of Jesus Christ") about what churches could learn from U2's ability to get people interested in what they have to offer. The post has also already been picked up at B2Blog and at eministrynotes. The "Spiritual Aside" is nice, the advice is good, and they're even kind enough to recommend both our book and Steve Stockman's to those interested in reading more about U2's Christian perspective.


NextReformation.com: U2: The Dick Staub Interview

As interest in U2's Christian underpinnings revives with the release of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, I was happy to notice that NextReformation.com has been kind enough to highlight the Dick Staub Interview I did back earlier this year. He links to Christianity Today's abridgement; those interested in more extensive comments from me on the topic of U2's music and theology can still find the whole thing in audio and in a (mostly accurate) transcription at Dick's site.

PoMoMuSiNgS: Poor Decisions

Adam Cleaveland adds to his version of a list most divinity school graduates have of Stupid Choices We've Made At Seminary. I wonder how many other future clergy chose differently?

"a cautious and sometimes somber band that also remains very hopeful and spiritually focused"

And here's a second Christianity Today review from the Music: Glimpses of God section. It's also a good piece, but unlike Scott Calhoun's which I posted yesterday, this one feels the need to end with the traditional CT caveat about the band's, well, maybe not being quite Christian enough. And indeed, there's a poll about how we'd classify U2 on the sidebar, and none of the options is appropriate (are they "a Christian band, a band with Christian leanings, sometimes spiritual but nothing more," or do they have "nothing to do with Christianity?") Can no one even imagine the option given in about a hundred U2 interviews, "Christians, in a band?" Would a poll occasioned by your plumber's latest refitting job ask if he is a "Christian plumber" or merely "sometimes spiritual?" And anyway, hasn't Switchfoot closed the door on this debate with their "Christian by faith, not by genre" description?

However, one very a propos comment: "Note that many of the songs use key phrases that point to the gospel to define them." I'm more and more aware of that fact. It's not so much on this album that you can indicate one particular line as a Bible quote, or one particular song as referring to a Christian idea, but that the surrounding context required for the whole artwork to make any sense is the Gospel. Many people will miss this, of course -- for example, I've been interested to watch in the U2 fandom how often people seem baffled by quotes indicating that the band sees the mood of "Vertigo" as "fear." Read the lyrics from a Christian perspective and that makes all the sense in the world, of course. But if you don't know why "all of this can be yours" is a terrifying suggestion, or what would motivate the desire to flee, rather than plunge into, the environment the song depicts... well, no wonder the notion that it's about "fear" would seem strange. Same with most of the songs on HTDAAB: what will people make of them, who don't know at least the broad outlines of the Story?


Pop Love for a War-Torn World - Christianity Today Magazine

In keeping with only linking theologically informed articles on the new album, a new (and first-rate) review of HTDAAB from Christianity Today Magazine, written by @U2's Scott Calhoun, who also did the major Books and Culture feature that looked at Get Up Off Your Knees. Excerpts from the current album review:
How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb sounds both old and new and seems to intentionally rely on something tried and true. This is pure U2. Warm, quick-pumping hearts, creative minds at play, shrewd timing, and a loud Christian conscience. ...U2's message hasn't changed over the 28 years they've been together. It's elementary: Love. It has been an answer and an admonition running through their every album, their every tour....As a concept, love is a little hard to grasp. Give it a body, a mind, a voice, or an action and we can know it more easily. U2 has done that.

Portal Ministries: because no one should have to break INTO the church

Just to say "thanks for the link" to the folks at Portal Ministries:, who include this site in their "Worship Finds" and write about us: "We always knew Bono missed his call. If you like the blog, you'll love the book: Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog." And thanks also to Len at nextreformation.com for promoting the book this week. We're getting a lot of hits from Thunderstruck as well, as folks read Ken Tanner's review. Hope those of you that got the CD today are enjoying it.


Come demolire la morte

Interesting to find an Italian translation of my explication of the book accompanying the HTDAAB box set at the U2place.com Forums. Thanks, guys!
For all who are not in the US today, enjoy buying your CDs. For those who are in the eastern US, specifically New York, enjoy your free U2 concert!


a little tiny fragment of salvation

Since I haven't seen this posted on any of the regular U2 sites and it contains some really interesting material, I thought I'd give an online push to this exclusive interview on the Best Buy site. The whole thing is interesting, but here are two excerpts relevant to this blog's narrow topic, both from Bono (altho the other band members have plenty to say in the interview):

On "Vertigo": It's a dizzy feeling, a sick feeling, when you get up to the top of something and there's only one way to go. That's not a dictionary definition; that's mine. And in my head I created a club called Vertigo with all these people in it and the music is not the music you want to hear and the people are not the people you want to be with. And then you just see somebody and she's got a cross around her neck, and you focus on it - because you can't focus on anything else. You find a little tiny fragment of salvation there.

On the book that comes with the deluxe edition of HTDAAB: We thought, why don't we put out a proper book, a real book and pour our lives of the last few years into it? So we've made nearly a million of them.... It's not for everybody, but for those that get it, I hope they enjoy it..... [Larry] came up with some very beautiful simple paintings - windows or doors, I don't really know what they are, just these planes. Edge was just up all night, as he usually is anyway, on the Internet, pulling down some weird s--t. The book follows the record, in that it starts out with fear and ends with faith. So in the fear half, Edge has got all kinds of information on how to tie up a prisoner in your own home, the art of the samurai sword, how to build your own bomb shelter. He's researched all kinds of phobias. Then when we get into the faithful half, he's found other things on trust. And I just took stuff that I'd been writing in my diary and my notebooks, from little writings, they're scrawls and very primitive art, little drawings of my dad and the occasional rude one, just to keep me amused. Adam always sees what everyone else misses, and he was aware that this was probably our last album in this studio, so he just went photographing all the little details of the album in the studio: the kitchen, the cooker, the effects pedals. He's just documented Hanover Quay. And I think in the end, when... the people have gotten used to it, they'll probably be the photographs that everyone wants.


I think I'm detecting a theme here

Apparently the acoustic version of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" sung yesterday at the dedication of the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas ended as follows:
Holding on to peace hard won
Till death itself is undone
On Sunday, bloody Sunday.



Thanks to Thunderstruck for all the hits on the post about the book that comes with the box set, and to the folks at the @U2 forum as well!


How to dismantle death, basically

Scans of the book that will accompany the deluxe box set of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb have been posted online. It's a long book, and getting a real sense of it from these scans is perhaps a bit much to hope for, but I'm going to take a shot at talking about it because it is so theologically rich. Overall, the trajectory of the artwork is exactly the same as the description Bono recently gave on the BBC of the trajectory of the album itself: an arc from fear, in "Vertigo," to the "joyful noise" of trust in "Yahweh."

That claim obviously needs unpacking, so here we go: the book opens by showing a world in blackness and chaos here, with a quotation from Hindu scripture. The verse, in which death is identified as ultimate (it's the god Krishna saying "I am death, the mighty destroyer of the world," a paraphrase of Bhagavad Gita 11:32) was famously quoted at the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945. Although the verse is out of context, it's used here to create the effect of death and evil, war and destruction, throwing down the gauntlet on page 1, proclaiming their "truth" -- death is final, God is as much evil as good, might and power are found in the ability to crush and destroy the enemy.

Well, the rest of the book, in brief, dismantles these claims and constructs alternative ones. In fact, it literally dismantles the quote bit by bit, taking each word back for goodness, back for God, back for the Kingdom. Thus, scattered throughout the first half of the writing and painting and reflection we find the exact words of the opening quote, subjected to U2's faith-filled midrash, redefined and reworked in an artistic alchemy.

I AM: if you've wondered about who's being addressed in the "All Because of You" lyrics, this page answers the question. These words don't belong to death, but to the One who told Moses to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground.
DEATH: Yes, death is real, the writer has seen it and been wounded by it, but the words rendered in large print prefer to evoke resurrection: the Lazarus effect. And the last word: "miracles are possible." We've also got THE on the facing page, as we meet a crudely sketched, horned devil-goat who's identified as our enemy. Oh, is that all? Not much of a THE, is he?
MIGHTY DESTROYER: Who is really mighty? What does power look like? Read the prayer to find out. And it's not God who works for destruction, it's the fallen brightest star who became the blackest hole (with "Crumbs from Your Table" being quoted here.)
"OF" is set in a target highlighting a textual image of love as battling misery from "Mercy," and THE concretizes one example of love's power as it gently undoes personal loss, using recollections of Bono's father.
And then we see the WORLD: It's surrounded with the symbols of the great monotheistic religions, the same basic device that was hidden on the wall in one of the live videos of "Vertigo" -- read as letters, a commenter informs me, they spell out what we all must do, no matter how stongly we may be personally committed to our own faith: COEXIST.

Constructed like a Pauline epistle, the text has made its theological points and now moves to action, using dominantly more positive images from this point on. (In the hard copy of the book, you actually have to turn it upside down here, reversing your point of view to step into a new reality.) If you have dismantled the lie that death and destruction hold the cards, what then do you do with the truth you've seen? The answer is embedded in another quote, which now reads backward to the end of the book.

What do you do? Maybe you work for fair trade..."IN THE"; maybe you seek mercy or honor the body..."TO SEE". Maybe you work against AIDS..."WE WANT"; maybe you share a vision of giving 1% of national income to end poverty..."THE CHANGE", or you try to find your own unique vocation... "BECOME". Perhaps you argue for compromise... "MUST," or freedom and equality..."WE."

So the last word, the quote we've been creating in reverse, goes (elegantly) to another Hindu, Gandhi, as we see a globe no longer in chaos as on page 1, but subsumed into the shape of a cross. We must become the change we want to see in the world.

Overall, we're bookended by two versions of reality, one about death and one about hope, and with these images U2 dismantle the first and get us to the second. I'm really struck by the depth and power of this vision, and hope I've said enough for it to be clear why. I would welcome conversation with anyone who has comments.


HTDAAB review at Thunderstruck

In keeping with my promise to link theologically-informed reviews of the album, here's one by Ken Tanner for Thunderstruck. He says about everything there is to say from a Christian point of view.

Friday Night Running: Full Review: U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

There is absolutely no reason for me to link "regular" reviews of HTDAAB, since they are easily available at normal U2 fansites. I do think I'll be trying to keep abreast of reviews that have some theological slant, though, just as I've been linking spiritually-informed discussions of "Vertigo." So let's begin with a HTDAAB review from Friday Night Running.


Looking Closer Journal: U2 in The New York Times

I was going to select some pertinent quotes from yesterday's New York Times feature on U2 and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, but Jeffery Overstreet has already done it.


An invitation from contributor Brian Walsh: Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire

For anyone in the Toronto area, Get Up Off Your Knees contributor Brian Walsh shares this announcement:
CRC Campus Ministries at the University of Toronto and the Institute for Christian Studies invite you to celebrate the release of Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by campus minister Brian Walsh and ICS faculty member Sylvia Keesmaat.
When: Friday, November 26 from 7.00 to 9.00pm
Where: Leonard Hall, Wycliffe College, 5 Hoskin Ave.
What: short presentations, music, refreshments and the book for sale at
a reduced rate

N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham writes, "Walsh and Keesmaat have written one of the most creative and exciting books to emerge from the current interface of biblical, cultural and political studies."
Marva Dawn writes: "Walsh and Keesmaat are phenomenally wise, profoundly formed by their immersion in biblical language, astutely aware of the pains and anxieties of residents in postmodernity, and outstandingly alert to the dangers of enculturated Christianity."


Will God's love teach us how to kneel?

Mike Kinman, who contributed the sermon on "Pride" to Get Up Off Your Knees, reflects on Vertigo's themes of temptation: "The critical issue is that fame and fortune and all that comes with it are value neutral ... it's what you do with it, it's the choices you make of whom you worship in the midst of all that fame and fortune offer that are what's important. And though it's about the struggle of one small band, it also is about the struggle each of us faces as Americans and that our nation faces as the lone remaining superpower." Nice connection with Phillippians 2:6-8 as well.


Guardian Unlimited | Arts features | Give me back my old Madonna

No U2 content or book content here, just a link to a very different story from the Guardian about one kind of interface between pop culture and religion: Madonna and the Kabbalah craze.


the countdown ends for some people

I'm not going to say much more about this, but I wouldn't be a U2 blogger if I didn't just mention the fact that U2's new album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, has now leaked on the Internet and is being widely shared for download. I learned about this from a comment by John. I know people have strong feelings on both sides about downloading this kind of U2 leak: some feel it's fine as long as you buy the album, others that you should wait until the date the artist chose to make the material available. There are plenty of places on the internet to argue about that issue; please don't do so here. So: I have reported this news. Go forth and abstain, or go forth and download, according to your conscience. Whichever you do, please do buy the actual album!


tim keel's blog: Your Love is Teaching Me How...

Tim from Jacbo's Well in Kansas City (see previous post) reflects on "Vertigo," kneeling, Mark's Gospel, and a few other things as well.


poster from the iPod launch

U2 Eastlink, who unfortunately do not allow remote linking, have up an image of what they say is a poster that was available at the iPod launch. You can find it, for awhile at least, on this page: scroll down to 1 November and go past the first few posts. While the image has an awfully corny 1970s Jonathan Livingston Seagull feel to it (for me, anyway) I was rather struck by Bono's text, which borrows from remarks we've heard before, but does an evocative job of extolling the Benedictine virtue of stability.
the hardest thing to do is to stick together
mates, family, marriage, business, bands
it's like resisting gravity... it's like King Canute
sitting in his chair trying to talk back the tide...
but you can, and we have, and we will, turn
the waves around... the alternative is too predictable...
you rid the room of argument... you empty your
life of the people you need the most.


The Alternative Hymnal: U2 - How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

Darren at The Alternative Hymnal saved himself some time by just adding the whole CD to the Hymnal last week! However, ongoing comments and reflections on the lyrics are promised as the days pass. So you might want to check in there now and again, especially if you missed some of the information that was up earlier on another site (let the reader understand.)