A sermon for Midnight Mass: "A Baby Born In Straw Poverty"

The obvious link for today: Word on Fire, a program from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago which features "Catholic evangelical preaching" by Fr. Robert Barron, draws heavily on the Rolling Stone interview with Bono for its Solemnity of Christmas offering (scroll to #259). Barron writes, "My sermon for today is just an elaboration of Bono's wonderful Christmas sermon." It's available in two audio formats, and the site also has a discussion board. Here are the Roman Catholic lectionary readings for this event, which are basically the same as most other denominations', just in case you wanna see 'em.

I have something different planned for this blog for the Christmas Season (that's Christmas Day to Epiphany, for our non-liturgical readers). I wish all our readers who count themseves among Jesus' followers a very blessed celebration of his birth.


Mark Joseph on Switchfoot

Whether or not you like the song "Stars," or Switchfoot in general, Mark Joseph has some interesting reflections on them in a recent article. It reminds me a little of a conversation we had here a couple weeks ago about U2 and eros. Excerpt: More often than not, what has kept rock from reaching its full potential for meaningful cross-generational discussion has been its obsession with matters of the flesh, along with a singular inability to sing convincingly about anything else. Switchfoot albums, however, have no such inhibitions.... Rock has undergone an extreme makeover transformed [sic] the genre from a bastion of hedonism into a place where important issues are discussed. This is in no small part due to the presence of dozens of artists who are devout Christians and have chosen to explore their faith in the mainstream music industry.


“Would You Like to Disconnect Now?”

For those of you clergy readers who may be doing something so unlikely as working a month ahead on Dec 22, the Nazarene Preacher's Magazine Sermon for Sunday, January 22nd, 2006 is about the spiritual hazards of obsession with new experiences, and I'm linking it because it touches on a U2 song that I've never seen anyone anywhere use in preaching or teaching: "New York." The writer insightfully observes that U2 "has written several songs about the distractions of the modern world" (a fact I keep thinking would make a good article). Personally, I'd have brought the song back at the end of the sermon and reinforced my final point by quoting its closing section ("I heard your voice whispering, come away....") -- but, hey.


The God Factor : Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People

I think many U2 fans will recognize the name of Cathleen Falsani, columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, who has written more than one great U2 piece including a column on Get Up Off Your Knees. Just FYI, she has a book coming out. Here's a bit of the description: When religion reporter Cathleen Falsani climbed aboard Bono's tour bus, it was to interview the rock star about AIDS awareness. Instead, they plunged into a lively discussion about faith. "This is a defining moment for us," Bono said. "For the culture we live in." ...To shape a candid picture of modern faith, Falsani sat down with an array of people who shape our culture, and in turn, our collective consciousness. She’s talked about Jesus with Anne Rice; explored "Playboy theology" with Hugh Hefner; discussed evil with crusading attorney Barry Scheck, and heaven with Senator Barack Obama. Laura Esquivel, basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon, Studs Terkel, guru Iyanla Vanzant, rockers Melissa Etheridge and Annie Lennox, economist Jeffrey Sachs, Pulitzer-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley -- all opened up to her.


"There's a line of scripture ... to be as shrewd as a snake and as innocent as a child."

There was a huge U2 profile in the Observer this weekend, carefully written and full of (admiring) insights, but what particularly struck me was this comment from Bono on U2 live: "I know every piece of that puzzle that we performed last night, and sometimes I really wish I didn't know how it works, but I am still gobsmacked when our equivalent of the rabbit comes out of the hat." My memory from previous band interviews is that they've tended to project a deliberate wide-eyed naivete on this topic (it's a mystery... just waiting for God to walk through the room), and I've often been skeptical of that projection. Come on: at least if you have a spiritually responsive congregation to work with, doesn't every good liturgist/worship leader eventually figure out all too well what processes and denouements will, 80% of the time, flip the switch? Or will let a hint of fresh air through, in preparation for throwing the windows open later? (Use any metaphors you like.) Did the "better than church" guys really expect us to believe that after 25 years they've never sussed it?

The comment reminded me of a warning I heard once that gifted worship leaders are always in danger of degenerating into merely "technicians of the sacred," deploying the right resource at the appropriate moment to produce the desired reaction. You don't get that good without knowing how it works, and once you know how it works it's not easy to maintain the awe that lets you marvel when it does.


"Commitment cannot wait for every last doubt or problem to be solved.”

Here (scroll down after the report of the event) is a sermon on U2's "When I Look At The World," preached back in October by Barry Casey of the Department of Communication and Journalism at Columbia Union College. He speaks from a Seventh-Day Adventist perspective, which makes me happy because that's a denomination that was not represented in Get Up Off Your Knees. The sermon interacts very directly with the lyric and has some helpful points.


On borderland we run

Angela Pancella writes briefly about last week's St. Louis "How To Dismantle An Atomic Band" event (part of a series sponsored by the Francis Schaeffer Institute) I mentioned earlier. (Kind of nice to see Schaeffer posthumously and by proxy returning the favor Bono used to pay by recommending his books, hey?) She discerns evidence that Christian writers on U2 may finally be getting over the "score-one-for-the-home-team attitude," that longrunning habit of trying to claim U2 as representatives of one's own brand of Christianity (or disavow them to advance it). I can certainly agree that through email, comments here, and other public events like this Covenant one, I've seen some well-versed (and as far as I know still mostly unpublished on this topic) scholars out there who are way past the "home-team" stage of analysis. Hope the balance keeps tipping their way.

A U2 Sermons reader has also summarized the talk in the comments to this post.

MarkCyberCafe: One minute Advent sermon

Here's another small Advent offering, this one a blend of two sources. It's just called Peace On Earth - U2 (Yaconelli Remix).


BreakPoint | Long Journey Home

BreakPoint, who have published material both critical and laudatory of U2 as a spiritual force in the past, have put online a piece called "Long Journey Home" which reads U2's journey as an exercise in church history... when was the Reformation? Where does John of the Cross fit in? Whose exegesis of the founding documents trumps whose? Clever notion. And thanks to the BreakPoint folks for the link here!

Spera In Deo: Crumbs lecture

Nathan, a frequent commenter here, blogs about a private Council of Foreign Relations event in New York at which his wife heard Bono speak about "Crumbs from Your Table" and American Christians in the context of an Africa interview. Couple interesting comments.


Charlotte Observer: I'm hoping for a true U2 moment

This is a very nice reflection which I'm linking not just because it has a good description of the spiritual aspect of U2 (and other!) shows, but also because it makes a point I make over and over to people who complain that they're looking for God and can't find him anywhere: well, are you making a point of hanging out anywhere he's in the habit of showing up?

Now and Not Yet

A very brief reflection from a New Zealand blogger, which I'm linking because it's got a nice Advent theme -- and because it chimes with a conversation I was having with an email correspondent who mentioned admiring U2's "healthy understanding of inaugurated eschatology and the mission of Jesus." Whenever a theologian puts U2 and eschatology in the same sentence (an emphasis I understand Ned Gorman shared at his Covenant event in St. Louis as well) you can count on me to perk right up.

On a similar topic, Hopeful Amphibian, who has recently bid farewell to blogging, did an Advent Jukebox, which among other things featured "All Along the Watchtower."


Dec 10: White Band Day 3/ Human Rights Day

Today is International Human Rights Day (commemorating December 10th, 1948, when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights - something any recent U2 concertgoer has heard part of.) Today is also White Band day 3, of which the Micah Challenge folks write, "Wear a white arm band on December 10th as a symbol of your prayer for progress on fair and just trade during the World Trade Organization meetings next week in Hong Kong. Progress is critical to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals since the current rules governing world trade cost developing countries $2.3 billion a day. That's many times more than those countries receive in international aid."

And in a related story, today Amnesty International gave U2 their highest human rights award. This would be a good time to join one of the weekend Amnesty writeathons... while wearing your white band.


Greek lessons in New York City?

Section 5 of the Rolling Stone podcast is out and although I haven't listened to more than a few minutes of it yet, I was amused to notice that Jann Wenner had to learn more Koine Greek than just rhema. From a discussion of the album Boy:
JW: Why do you return to "I Will Follow" again and again?
B: [matter of fact] It's a song about agape love--
JW: About WHAT?

I suppose this has something to do with why we got shouts of "A-GA-PE! A-GA-PE!!" at the end of the song in Boston earlier this week.


Eros, doves, and wild dogs - bring 'em all on!

After some nice email correspondence with the author but no end in sight to archiving problems on this paper's website, I'm just going to be tacky and post the Google cache of a Vox Pop column on U2 from the Daytona Beach News-Journal. [Edit: they sent me another link a couple days after I posted this.] The opening "If..." clause made me laugh out loud, and, bonus: our book is mentioned.

Now see, this would be an example of a widely-accessible mainstream media piece that doesn't stop at reporting "Hey! Guess what, U2's songs have lots of Christian stuff in them! Some Christians like this! Others don't!" Instead it demonstrates a feel for the band's work, uses creative quotations rather than the usual-suspects God'n'Bono ones, and makes a specific, thoughtful point (though I'm betting some readers here might still call a couple aspects of it debatable... anybody wanna debate?)

Excerpt: Yes, rock 'n' roll will always be concerned, and rightly so, with the boy-girl thing. Rock will always ask the question that Og the Cave Man, Odysseus, Romeo and Rhett Butler asked: Does she love me? But Bono and U2 dare to ask bolder questions, ones that must have plagued Job, Cain, Judas . . . and Og, Odysseus, Romeo and Rhett too: Does God, can God -- or a god or goddess -- love me? And if God, a god or goddess does love me, does he/she deserve my love in return?


search strings

Memos to some recent searchers here:
1. Sorry you didn't find a sermon text on U2's "Original of the Species." However, when and if you preach your own, do drop an email.
2. Actually, "Father" can appropriately be used for an Anglican clergyperson, as can the designation "priest." I assume this is true in Ireland. Hope you enjoyed the Q article.
3. I think you were probably looking for a different Beth; I have no connection with Scott Stapp.
4. Yes, the Lord does work in mysterious ways.
5. To the person who wants a "Bono lyrics explanation": good luck.


Addition to the below post....

OK.... maybe the Holy Spirit likes the idea of staying with the Third Day trend a moment? Hat tip to Fresno Dave for sending me this blog post right after I posted the AIDS quiz I found on Mark's site.

Some answers are obvious, but many are not.

Got Flash? Got 5 minutes? Take this quiz to see how much you really know about the AIDS crisis worldwide. Hat tip to Mark of Third Day at This Guy Falls Down.


"Best to be upfront about these things."

Those of you who get to read the Jan 2006 Man of the Year Q article, along with learning why that jacket says SINNER, will learn a new prayer. I highly recommend it. Here it comes: I don't know what I'm going to do with my life, but if there's a God out there, and I believe there is, and You want me to do something, then I'm ready. I don't have any plans for myself and I'm available for work.
What can you say, really? Other than, "well; no wonder."

Or, given my liturgical heritage, let's expand this to a more traditional matins or vespers versicle-and-response format. Any C of E readers might try chanting it to the Merbecke Great Litany tone, this being a purple season and all.
V: I don't know what I'm going to do with my life, but if there's a God out there, and I believe there is, and You want me to do something, then I'm ready. I don't have any plans for myself and I'm available for work.

However, the Q interviewer certainly wins the prize for Most Cringeworthy Still-Brandishing-My-Adolescent-Rebellion Religious Question Ever Publicly Asked a U2 Member And Yes That's Counting Cindy Lauper Attacking Bono And Larry Mullen On The Grounds that Christianity Is Too 'Patriarticle.'

Covenant Seminary - FSI - Dec 9 Event

St. Louis-area readers may be interested to hear that Covenant Seminary's fall Francis A. Schaeffer Institute "Friday Nights @ the Institute" series will be closing next week with a lecture called How to Dismantle an Atomic Band (scroll down to Dec 9) by Ned O'Gorman, Assistant Professor of Speech Communication, University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign (i.e.: NOT the famous poet by the same name). Folks with more than a couple years' interest in the overall topic of this blog will likely remember that the folks at Covenant have already presented a previous "Friday Night @ the Institute" U2 program ("When I Look at the World: Reality and Longing in the Music of U2"), written up by Angela Pancella here and available for listening here. That was summer 2002 -- so recent, but I remember how surprised and pleased I was to see this article on what was then a fairly novel concept. Wow, I thought, a seminary doing some serious work on U2 and God! About time somebody thought of that....