Hours of fun.

I have been trying to come up with an appropriate theologically-themed quip about this mindbendingly mood-shifting cover of Vertigo from "gangly crooner" Nathanial Willemse, a contestant on Australian Idol.


catapult magazine: Brian Walsh

I missed this at the time but: Our contributor Brian Walsh wrote the foreword to Rob Vagacs' Religious Nuts Political Fanatics. A few months ago Catapult printed it as "A light shines." It does a great job of narrating the liturgical process of a U2 show and its effects from the inside, and anyone who has seen U2 with their heart open to the Spirit will recognize the experience. Excerpt:

"Can you go to a U2 concert while [baby] Hannah is just blocks away in the critical care unit? Does that make any sense at all? The initial answer was, no. No, it didn’t make sense to go to a concert this week. So we all started to make arrangements to sell our tickets. ...One of my students took me aside after class and encouraged me to go to the concert. 'This could be the most healing thing you can do all week,' he suggested. And then another friend said, 'Good liturgy doesn’t come to town very often. The least you can do is be there.' And so Sylvia and I went to hear U2 while our beloved Hannah was on life support just up the road. Could this rock band minister to us while we were accompanying Henry and Sarah in the shadow of the valley of death? Dare we even hope for such a thing from a rock concert? From the first song to the last, the answer was clearly, yes."


Scottish Baptist College course

Nice to note that Get Up Off Your Knees is being used in a course on "Creative Homiletics" at the Scottish Baptist College.


U2 and the Bible comment

I suppose anybody who both listens to U2 and reads the Bible has the experience of hearing something read in Scripture and suddenly associating it with a U2 lyric. This happened to me in a prayer group this morning when someone read Job 5:18 - For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal.

When I was suggesting Scripture citations for @U2's "Drawing their fish in the sand" back in 2001, I knew something needed to be cited for the end of "Exit" ("Saw the hands that build can also pull down/ The hands of love,") but I wasn't all that committed to the verses I actually submitted (Jer 1:10 and 31:28). Even though the language there was quite close to the lyric (closer than the Job 5 language, other than the "also" and the link to "healing hands" earlier in U2's text,) I thought the Jeremiah context just had the wrong vibe for it to be the only direct source. The dark, "What kind of God is this?" vibe of Job, shadowed by death, is much closer to the vibe of "Exit." (Although I have an idiosyncratic reading of "Exit," I don't think my idiosyncracies affect that point.)

So do I want to point to Job 5:17 instead? Not really, because that alone doesn't do the job either. This is a great illustration of how it's often unfruitful to try and claim U2 are quoting particular Bible verses, rather than generally using language that is shaped by Scriptural turns of phrase and by a Biblical worldview. When I think of that line in "Exit," I want Job and Jeremiah... and probably several other verses I haven't yet noticed that lay out the experience of a human grappling with God's frightening freedom and with the uncontrollable mix of good and evil in our world. In other words, I want art and not prooftexting.


Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts

An essay from last month on a blog called Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts, introducing U2's work to assist classroom religion teachers (specifically Roman Catholic, but it could be any context) who may want to use it in class. This is a chronological presentation.


We interrupt on-topic posts for gushing about the "Personal Charts Calculator"

Oh my gosh, coolest thing ever: u2-vertigo-tour.com will generate a list of every U2 song or cover you've ever heard live, in order of frequency, if you check off exactly which shows you were at.

My list of 58 songs: Vertigo, Bullet The Blue Sky, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, Pride (In The Name Of Love), Sunday Bloody Sunday, Where The Streets Have No Name, Beautiful Day, Elevation, One, With Or Without You, City Of Blinding Lights, Love And Peace Or Else, Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own, All Because Of You, Miracle Drug, New Year's Day, Yahweh, The Electric Co., 40, I Will Follow, Miss Sarajevo, Running To Stand Still, Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of, Bad, Out Of Control, The Fly, Until The End Of The World, Zoo Station, Crumbs From Your Table, The First Time, Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses, Fast Cars, Kite, MLK, Mysterious Ways, New York, Original Of The Species, Please, The Ocean, Walk On, What's Going On, All I Want Is You, Angel Of Harlem, Exit, Gloria, Help, Helter Skelter, In God's Country, Instant Karma, Norwegian Wood, One Tree Hill, Party Girl, Slow Dancing, Spanish Eyes, The Unforgettable Fire, Trip Through Your Wires, Wild Honey.

What blows me away even more is the snippets. Yes, they tell you what you've heard snippeted. Among my 41 were:

· Happy Birthday (3 times)
· Dirty Water (2 times)
· Many Rivers To Cross (2 times)
· Rain (2 times)
· Rock The Casbah (2 times)
· Rockaway Beach (2 times)
· See Me, Feel Me (2 times)
· Send In The Clowns (2 times)
· She's A Mystery To Me (2 times)
· Amazing Grace (1 time)
· Behind Blue Eyes (1 time)
· Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) (1 time)
· Fool To Cry (1 time)
· In The Garden (1 time)
· Jingle Bells (1 time)
· Psalm 116 (1 time) Um, that's not exactly a song, but I am pretty impressed that they correctly noted that it was indeed omitted from the intro to "Streets" at one of the Elevation shows I was at.
· Take Me To The River (1 time)
· The Battle Hymn Of The Republic (1 time)
· We Wish You A Merry Christmas (1 time)



for the Love....

Nice to see that Tim's course questions got picked up on the "spirituality and ethics" blog of a writer from the Mobile Press-Register.

Willow Creek article

Sherry of @U2 has a pretty thorough writeup, with several quotes, of Bono's talk with Bill Hybels at the Leadership Summit. (She doesn't include the one that's being cut by some media to make it say something completely different, which I blogged about below, but there are plenty of others.)


Tim wants to thank all of you for your input on the questions about his course. I asked him if he had a final one to wrap up with and he basically said he'd like to hear more people answer Tyler's over at his blog, about which U2 songs have had a personal spiritual impact on you. So head over there if you'd like to weigh in on that one, and thanks again for participating.


Ah, the media, part 2

Observation of the day: most Christian news sources (not individual bloggers) I have seen are truncating this quote from Bono's speech / interview with Bill Hybels at Willow Creek Leadership Summit: "Second only to personal redemption and salvation the main thrust of the Scriptures is to meet Christ in working with the poor" to make it appear that Bono said only "The main thrust of the Scriptures is to meet Christ in working with the poor."

I don't fault secular media for not grasping the theology and cutting the "boring salvation part," but I would expect Christian media to be fair and take note of what's obviously a careful theological distinction being made. And of all people I would expect evangelicals who chose to report on that moment in the talk to announce with enthusiasm that Bono told an audience of 70,000 pastors and leaders salvation was more important than social justice. Yet no one seems to be reporting the full quote. What's with that?

Codex: Biblical Studies :My Top 12 Spiritually Significant U2 Songs

Tyler, who's been commenting very helpfully on Tim's questions, does a post of his own: "songs from the U2 corpus that have been the most spiritually significant in my Christian walk." It's not an abstract list of God-themed stuff, but an invitation to reflect personally on what U2 songs God has most used in your life. Maybe some of you will want to weigh in?

And as for the post immediately below this: is there really nobody who has anything to say about some cultural or social issue U2 have entered into dialogue with?


Let's plan a course! #4

The U2 Sermons blog continues to help gather input for Tim Neufeld, professor of Contemporary Christian Ministries at Fresno Pacific University, as he plans a fall course entitled, "Theology, Culture and U2." Here's another question: What examples stand out to you of how U2 have connected faith with cultural issues and trends around them, or fostered dialogue between Christian ideas and culture?

[edit: Hmmm. Is that an unusually tricky question, or something?]


question 3 still more than open

Lots of room for many more comments (which don't have to be as long as some of ours!) on the third question helping Tim plan his undergraduate course on U2 (not to mention the previous 2 questions.) Come on down and weigh in with your top few U2 lyric themes.


Bono and Bill Hybels interview today: "Thy Kingdom come...on earth"

Here are three folks who have just live-blogged Bono's session at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. Anyone who's heard him speak will recognize several of the lines, but it's interesting to see the attendees' reactions.

sixty4three by Ryan Day (notes and quotes)
Tony Morgan Live (prose writeup)
Random Thoughts and Associations by Charlie Dean (bullet points and quotes)
[edit: Here's one more, from Geoff Gottlieb (a detailed running commentary including Hybels' response]
[edit #2: and yet one more, from Jeremy Del Rio; fairly detailed notes.]

Let's plan a course! #3

If you're either a Bill Hybels or U2 fan and have landed here in search of reports on Bono's speech (interview really) at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, you've come at a great time, because we're in the middle of a project that gives readers a chance to share your opinion and perhaps help shape how U2's work gets presented in one Christian setting. Commenters on this blog are currently giving a little help with Fresno Pacific professor Tim Neufeld's planning for his upcoming "Theology, Culture and U2" course.

Here's today's question, running across their whole career.

What to you are some of the defining motifs that have repeatedly surfaced over the years in U2’s artistic output? (If you have time, you could expand by also telling us where you see them surfacing.)

Earlier threads of questions from Tim are still open for comment:
If you were to pick one of U2's albums that you thought focused on a particular issue...
How would you organize a multi-session course of the kind Tim is teaching...
It's fine to post your agreement or disagreement with suggestions made by others, as well.


Let's plan a course! #2

The comment thread is definitely still open on the first Fresno Pacific U2-course-construction topic about what you think the themes of the various U2 albums are, or what question each poses. (Not a single album earlier than Joshua Tree has had a theme posted for it yet; plenty of room!) So even if you answered already, feel free to go back and give it another whirl or respond to a previous comment.

Here's a second question, a more general one. If you were teaching a multi-session course of the kind Tim is, studying U2 theologically and culturally, would you present the band's work in chronological order, or some other way? Why?


Let's plan a course!

Tim Neufeld, professor of Contemporary Christian Ministries at Fresno Pacific University, is developing a new course entitled, "Theology, Culture and U2." (Tim also wants us to know that he's "a worship pastor at his church, where he routinely uses U2 related material and stylings, and an avid reader of the U2 Sermons blog.") I've linked some of his writing on the band before, so you may recognize his site.

As Tim readies the outline for his course this fall he is asking for help from you, other U2 Sermons readers, "to narrow down the vast array of possible topics and themes." He's sent me some questions on which he would love to hear wider reactions, kindly allowing me to reshape a bit for the blog, and I thought I'd post one at a time and give readers a chance to tell him how you'd respond.

So, here's a question for your comments to start: If you were to pick one of U2's albums that you thought focused on a particular theological issue, which album would you pick and how would you describe the theological issue it covers? (Now, if you opt for one of U2's shorter album titles you could conceivably answer that in 2 words, but if you'd like to write about why, that would of course also be welcome.)

[Edit: hey come on, folks, a couple hundred of you have seen this by now. Typing two words isn't that hard! I know it's the dog days of summer, but let's help a guy out here...]

The Kindlings Muse: Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog

I was interested to discover that Dick Staub has turned the audio interview I did with him about our book, a short version of which appeared in Christianity Today, into four podcasts and is currently distributing them. Thanks Dick!


Buffalo News - Spirited sounds

Gotta hat-tip the @U2 mailing list here since I wouldn't have found this without them. Jeff Miers, the pop critic for the Buffalo News, writes a column on successful meldings of spirituality and rock 'n' roll, by which he sort of seems to mean CCM but not strictly CCM. Thus, King's X, Newsboys, Switchfoot, and U2 are his only candidates, which is a bit odd, but he admirably has U2 represented by not just the usual-suspect October, but also by Pop ("startlingly confrontational religious lyrics.")

I had to smile at Miers' description of "Gloria" -- Bono "begs some spiritual force to 'loosen my lips.'" In a song that locates its "you" in a verse from Colossians and cobbles together its chorus out of incipits from the Gregorian psalter (I owe that insight to Angela Pancella) is it really that hard to figure out whom "O Lord" is addressed to?

To make a more generic comment, I'm also quite struck by the beginning of the piece, which gives a frightening window into a set of (common? yikes!) assumptions about the interface of Christian experience and the intellect/body politic. I know not all our readers are followers of Jesus, but for those who are, can you imagine thinking of that experience in the way this paragraph does?
Rock music has always been best when dedicated to ideas of individualism, the questioning of authority, the marriage of the intellectual, spiritual and physical, and the positing of new notions concerning freedom and responsibility. That's why the concept of Christian rock is troubling for so many. Rock music has so long been the voice of the exile that to see it joining a club with predescribed notions of morality and spirituality seems deeply contradictory.

OK, I'll spot him "individualism." But the rest of that... whoa. The marriage of the intellectual, spiritual, and physical... questioning established authority... and positing new notions about freedom and responsibility -- wait, don't those things all form a significant part of what Kingdom life is and what discipleship is training us for? Doesn't it all tie in, for example, with what U2 are trying to do, and motivate audiences to do, specifically by integrating their Christian faith with their lyrics? The voice of the exile - isn't that pretty much a main Biblical metaphor for where believers are and what our call is? A club with predescribed notions of morality and spirituality - isn't what that idea is really "deeply contradictory" to the experience of grace, of being set free by Jesus?

And I can't end without citing what, from a Christian point of view, is the theologically subtle ZooTV slogan, "RELIGION IS A CLUB." Sure, religion is a club. But neither Jesus nor grace is religion. That's kind of the point.


Caritas redux

If you visited the post on Greg's blog about U2's Most Spiritual Album before the comment thread began, you might enjoy a stop back, particularly Chip's comments about "War."