"I feel OK as long as I'm getting criticism from both sides."

Again, thanks to an alert reader: The U2 fan site Interference interviews Philip Yancey, who has described having some contact with the band and of whose book What's So Amazing About Grace Bono is a supporter. I linked a story about that in this post. Somebody get out there and interview a few other Christian authors U2 has mentioned (well, those that aren't dead, I mean).

Also, I'm sorry the comment system has been so wonky lately.


"willing to embrace and be embraced by what they have been chasing all these years"

Thanks to an alert reader, as Dave Barry would say, for sending me the link to this reflection on HTDAAB's place in U2's oeuvre by Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor Jeff Keuss, currently Visiting Professor of Theology and Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, Seattle Pacific University and Northwest Graduate School. (Busy guy, huh?)

I'm not familiar with The Other Journal, where it appeared, but this bit should give a good flavor of the piece: The closing tracks of U2 albums always seem to close as a benediction and 'song of sending' of sorts - an overt turn to the liturgical and direct assessment of Christendom and the Christ that can be lost amidst it. Whether it is the direct Biblicism of '40' from War, the mystical apophatic darkness of 'Love is Blindness' from Achtung Baby ("Love is drowning in a deep well, All the secrets, and no one to tell"), the re-framing of Pilgrim's Progress for the E generation in 'The Wanderer' from Zooropa, the whispering cry of the Psalmist in 'Wake Up Dead Man' from Pop, or the resignation to the call of Grace - ("What once was hurt, What once was friction, What left a mark, No longer stings, Because Grace makes beauty out of ugly things, Grace makes beauty out of ugly things") in 'Grace' from ATYCLB - U2 continues to draw its productions to a close with an opening to something more - more than what words and music can convey and an opening to the 'not yet' of the Now. This is continued in HTDAAB with the ending song 'Yahweh.'

(Aside to theologically minded readers: I'm 100% with the link to apophatic theology for 'Love is Blindness,' but can someone tell me whether I have misunderstood the meaning of a word used early on in the article, 'perichoresis,' all these years? Is it not, after all, a word meaning the internal dance in which the members of the Trinity exchange mutual love? Sorry for the abstruse question; we now return you to the riot over the U2.com presale.)


Well, there are plenty of places to complain about the U2.com fan presale fiasco yesterday, so let's not waste too much time on that here. I did, eventually, manage to get what sounds like a not very good and overpriced pair. Hope other readers were as fortunate... if you can call it fortunate.


How to kneel

Dave King at Idea Joy comments on the retro feel of the word kneel in HTDAAB. Nice point, and it also goes for "atomic bomb" which is pretty retro as well (as opposed to, say weapon of mass destruction.)


Vertigo Tour

Since there are readers of this blog who are more in the Jesus fandom than the U2 fandom, I'll just go a bit overboard here in making sure everyone has heard that U2's Vertigo Tour schedule will be announced on Monday the 24th, and that the public sale of tickets begins the 29th. There is a presale for U2.Com members who joined by the 24th, if you are willing to risk it (the last one was a disaster, it's 40 bucks US, and the billing and account establishment this time around has already been messy.) You can also buy tickets and travel packages through ETS, using a referral code from @U2 who get pride of place because they have been so kind to Get Up Off Your Knees, or a code from U2log who only mentioned our book once way back when we were looking for submissions - but are still marvelous and always well worth a read.

The fact that the tour has been announced is exciting, since there were times over the past couple weeks when people were theorizing there wasn't going to be a tour. However, if you've been praying for the situation of illness in the Edge's family, this positive announcement is no reason to stop.


Ineffable bawdiness

This post is sort of a minor policy exception, since our book and the blog have really chosen not to focus on material that speculates on the behavior or personal faith of members of U2, but the article is so interesting in its analysis I have to link it. Kate Bowman, Student Activities Coordinator at Calvin College (yes, this college), writes for Catapult Magazine about the alternating American evangelical approach/avoidance dance with Bono. "I'm truly perplexed when people are shocked and dismayed over a stray expletive or a lap dance anymore - have they not noticed how Bono conducts himself when he's not working for AIDS initiatives and writing biblical allusions into his music (and sometimes when he is)? The man is nothing if not a Rock Star." In the process, she reclaims a wonderful English adjective, pays a visit to Buechner, and checks in with the theology of the incarnation. More: Although a number of traditions (including the Reformed one) have a robust theology of the body, most of us came to faith in an environment with its moral roots in Puritanism and its philosophical moorings in Platonism. Both dichotomize spirit from flesh, soul from body; I will let you take a wild guess at which one of those is considered essentially good and which is essentially evil. Yet the vilification of the earthbound is not what Jesus had in mind when he dwelt among us in the flesh.
Not sold yet? This is a promise: If you are a Christian and a U2 fan, you really need the closing Madeleine L'Engle quote.


Quotes from 2004

A nice personal collection of quotes called "2004 on God." Without actually checking, I believe the ones attributed to Bono are all from a book published this past year. Incidentally, Cathleen Falsani has posted a much more eclectic piece on the same theme.


"scholars see a clear sacred thread"

Here is the story from Grand Rapids on the Calvin College sociology class using U2. Some great comments from interviewees. Excerpt:
"What they have to offer is a vision," says Mark Mulder, who is teaching the U2 course during Calvin's three-week interim semester. "They're saying there's something wrong with the world. But at the same time, they offer a hope. The gospel message is embedded within."
Mulder, who teaches sociology, sees the band bringing a Christian worldview to a "very elaborate cultural critique." In that critique, they share common ground with other rock bands such as Radiohead and movies such as "The Matrix" trilogy, he says.


The Prodigal Journey of U2

A wonderful meditation on U2's career (and HTDAAB reflection piece) through the metaphor of the wandering pilgrim, something first tried 10 years back by Bill Flanagan in U2 at the End of the World and now updated at The Phantom Tolbooth. For my money, the article is at its best when tracing the pilgrim's journey over U2's various albums, but does a bit too much shoehorning of HTDAAB songs into its metaphor (even needing to ignore some of U2's public comments about their own lyric references along the way). Quite a marvelous point though about the importance of the "choosing love over romance" theme.
Ending of the article: [U2's] '20s were thoughtful, spiritual, and fiery, the 30s were celebratory, artistic, and sensual. Now, the '40s are shaping up to be about the things that really matter. That's where the album's title comes in: it's about cracking the code to decipher the things in life that are really tricky. U2 has approached them first with innocence, and then with denial, now they are really getting somewhere.


If you're looking to buy the book....

I discovered recently on our publisher's website that Get Up Off Your Knees is apparently currently being reprinted. I suppose that's good news, especially since people keep asking me how many copies the book has sold, and at least now I have this much information: in its first year, it sold more than the publisher printed.


"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?)


Kicking at the Darkness: Social Justice, Spiritual Longing, and U2

I did a phone interview today with a reporter from the Grand Rapids Press who is doing an article on an interim (winter term) course at Calvin College focusing on U2 "as a vehicle for exploring themes such as political morality, liberation theology, and current social arrangements." Not sure when the article will appear, but I'll keep an eye out for it.


Got a confirmation class to teach this spring? The Religious and Moral Education Press delivers for you.

Not having a specialty in popular hagiography, I'm putting this link here for documentary purposes only. No comment. A couple other examples in the same textbook series: here and here. I didn't recognize the publisher at first, but RMEP is apparently an imprint of SCM-Canterbury.)


Five Favorite Posts of 2004

OK, I'm way way way late on this, but I will finally join many other Christian bloggers in responding to Bob's suggestion that we list our own 5 favorite posts of the last year. The format of this blog means that much of what I put up is links and tidbits, so it's hard to pick favorites out of those. In one sense I'm proudest of some of my "research" posts that offer context to news items, such as Bill Hybels of Willow Creek visits U2 in Dublin, or Brennan Manning, yet, or Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed.

But limiting myself to posts in which I actually wrote something, I'll choose these 5 in no particular order:
Sola Fides, Sola Gratia
Uncut Legends Comments
You say I took the Name in vain? Well, I don't even know the Name.
After elevation, vertigo
How to dismantle death, basically


TallSkinnyKiwi: How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

Let's celebrate Epiphany with another spiritually informed review of the new U2 album, this one by TallSkinnyKiwi, one of the big-league emerging church bloggers... whatever that concept means. (Maybe I'm no longer entitled to joke like that since I recently was sent two free books for being an "emerging church blogger" myself.) While you're on his site, he's always worth reading, and he also had a nice post earlier on "Crumbs from Your Table" and the tsunami.


RollingStone.com: U2 Postpone World Tour

Whether or not you've heard the news referenced in the title already or not, just a reminder that there's a prayer request hidden in that story.


OK, I gotta link this one. A review of HTDAAB by Jesus. No, wait, it's actually by the folks at Stripwax for Lumino Magazine.

"too many songs ignoring the truth in disastrous times"

Interesting conversation on (among other things) why U2 seem to be able to get away with issuing explicit Christian material lately without getting slammed by the media, as other artists sometimes are, at a site new to me: The Daily Commune, A Christian web-neighborhood of art and conversation. A mixed bag of opinions, but here's a sample: I read an interview with Bono in "Rolling Stone" where the interviewer joked about John Lennon's comment that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus (the scandal of that comment was how true it was, by the way) and Bono responded by saying "It was Jesus that made us big." I think why the media never attacked them as much as they would someone else, or why some just excuse it, is because a) they were too good a band and too innovative to ignore, b) they were anti-establishment, pro-social justice, and pacifists so they looked more like a real rock or folk band than they looked like Michael W. Smith, and c) their message wasn't empty pietism, but there was action behind it and they expected you to follow.


One Year Bible Blog

Just some quick props to "average dude" Mike at the One Year Bible Blog, which is gathering around 650 folks to read the entire Bible together in 2005. He's kindly blogrolled U2 Sermons and, seemingly, introduced the book to an entire new audience.


BBC - Radio 4 - Today Programme

A few days ago Bono was guest editor for the Today program on the BBC. Not surprisingly, a number of the topics had to do with poverty and Africa. Visit this page to read who was featured, and to hear from Sister Benedicta about working with people with AIDS in Ethiopia, and from (Anglican) Archbishop Ndungane of Cape Town (who was recently in New York to launch the Micah Challenge) about God's promises and how they relate to the promises made in connection with the Millennium Development Goals. All of this ties in with Make Poverty History.


Happy New Year

No I'm not going to quote the obvious U2 lyric, but I will offer congrats to @U2 as they begin their 10th anniversary celebration. Maybe you'll want to enter their fiendishly difficult Trivia Quiz and try to win an iPod. Not me: Without researching, I know 4 1/2 out of 20.