"The root cause of a lot of the problems in politics is hardness of the heart."

I mentioned earlier that I wouldn't be doing a review of How to Dismantle, but that I did reserve the right to ponder a couple of its tracks occasionally. I did that with "Yahweh" here, and I want to make some comments on "Love and Peace or Else" now. Not counting "Vertigo," this was the HTDAAB track that made the most impact on me on first hearing, just for its sound and force.

First things first: Everyone and his brother says this is a song about the Middle East, and I would like someone to try and convince me of that. Was there a comment from the band that I missed? There's not much in the lyrics to suggest so specific a reference throughout. The words "daughters of Zion...Abraham's sons" certainly could mean Jews and Muslims, but needn't, given those two phrases' broad Biblical pedigree -- they could, like "Crumbs," just as easily be critically addressing the Christian community, especially if the later "troops on the ground" are Americans in Iraq, and if the question "where is the love?" at the end is directed at them as well.

Moving on. To me, the song is distinguished by the landscape it inhabits: the efficacy of intentional sacrifice as a weapon against evil. (No single enemy is named, although we get images of evil expressing itself both in society and on a personal scale, and we hear it in the heaviness of the guitar and in the effects.) This is an idea one associates with Martin Luther King, who of course got it from Jesus; but there's also an allusion to an image from Tom Lantos which Bono has used in his Africa speeches, of stopping the train which is taking people off to die by lying down across the rails yourself. ("Lay your love on the track; we're gonna break the monster's back.") The bulk of the lyrics are either recommending this kind of sacrifice ("lay it down,") extolling its results (corporate "love and peace," as well as individual rebirth which permits one to approach the end of life "with a wrinkled face and a brand new heart,") or seeking to muster courage to do it ("I'm not easy on my knees," but maybe I can surrender if I "let you break" my heart.)

Here's an aside on the frequent requests on HTDAAB for a broken heart. I don't think it has much to do with the secular sense of the term, of being saddened by loss in love. Especially knowing that Bono has volunteered for and continues to work with World Vision, one thinks of their founding narrative, which recounts Dr. Bob Pierce writing in the fly-leaf of his Bible: "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God." That doesn't mean "let me feel sad," but "let me experience God's love such that it makes me into a person who takes action." Thus in Christian parlance, to ask God to break one's heart is to ask him to open it, to enlarge it, to make possible a greater compassion, to remove its resistance to Love. Wesley: "Now the stone to flesh convert/Cast a look, and break my heart." Cowper: "O make this heart rejoice, or ache... And if it be not broken, break." (And from a U2 article in the current "Rolling Stone": "The root cause of a lot of the problems in politics is hardness of the heart.") Those who come from sacramental traditions and hear the words "and when he had given thanks, he broke it" every Sunday will also want to add that breaking is necessary for consecration. Someone on a U2 forum illustrated the concept with John Donne's "Batter my heart, three-person'd God" -- a nice connection. But the point in all these examples is not the breaking itself, but the transformation that brokenness makes possible.

In calling for such surrender and consecration for a higher cause, "Love and Peace or Else" also inevitably touches on what churchy Christians would call "Stewardship" themes: "lay down your treasure" (treasure being a favorite Gospel word to contrast the worthless things we set our hearts on with that which is truely valuable). That idolatrous treasure is often money, but the thing that needs to be let go of can just as much be a mindset, an attachment to an idea of racial or religious superiority, or anything you value more than God: "your sweet lovely," whatever it is. I'm delighted by the rationale given for this -- which also provides another reason why Universal should let fan lyric sites back online, since the "official" U2.com lyrics are, as often, obviously wrong. (In a number of places.) The reason you should "lay down your treasure," brother, as anyone who stops and listens can hear clearly, is that "you don't have time," not "for," but "before a jealous lover." God's jealousy for his beloved people is all over the Bible; I'll just quote one thing he says after "they made their hearts as hard as flint." A classic stewardship point: if you're serious about serving a jealous Lover, trying to keep a grasp on "treasure" (or "guns") for an illusory security isn't worth your time. God longs for us to let all those false defenses go... not so we'll feel loss, but so he can birth something much better in their stead.

The transcendent power of "laying down" your treasure or your life is a very Johannine theme: the phase occurs repeatedly in John chapter 10, and I suppose one really ought to point out that it is also the focus of a Johannine verse Bono reels off from memory in one of his DATA videos for Christian music festivals. And that larger thematic environment brings us back to a comment that's being made a lot about HTDAAB. Forget the issue of whether or not there are intentional Biblical allusions to various passages about "treasure" or "jealousy" or "laying down" here; the song is nonsense without the context of the belief that the universe is designed such that when a called and willing volunteer lays himself down on the altar, in the words of C.S. Lewis, "Death itself would begin to work backwards."

(Hey, isn't that CD booklet about death? Hey, isn't half of it written backwards?)

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