Another very personal spiritual reflection in the Like a Song series from @U2, this one on "Yahweh." Excerpt: For the past 20 years, I have suffered from anorexia. I've recovered and relapsed countless times, including six long stays in eating-disorder treatment centers, so I truly have been stranded in skin and bones, without much of a soul, flesh or anything that was a sign of life.... A few months after attending my first U2 concert in 2005 (I'm a latecomer to fandom), I wrote the following in a journal about the experience: "It was just a concert, but I felt like my life had changed. I'd surrendered, awakened, felt...." Of course, therapy, doctors, support groups and all sorts of people and techniques have helped me recover, but U2 delivered the first glimmer of hope.
"Van Diemen's Land" is a U2 song I've thought very little about, although I still remember a truly awful sermon using it (and I do mean "using") that was submitted in our book's call for papers. The video that has been circulating of its recent performance in an empty O2 arena brought the piece back to mind for the first time in some years, and out of nowhere it struck me how extremely N.T. Wright-like in its eschatology this couplet is:
A day will come in this dawning age When an honest man earns an honest wage. (Wait, you mean in the life of the age to come we'll still have to work? We'll find meaning and reward in our labor? We won't be sitting around on clouds playing harps?)
It almost sounds like one of those "corrected versions" of hymns N.T. Wright so often proffers from the pulpit, after the congregation has sung something like "When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation/and take me home, such joy shall fill my heart." Whereupon Wright cheerfully tells them they really ought instead to be singing "When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation/and heal this world...."
Happy to say that I'll be presenting a paper at the U2 academic conference next May in NYC. I had planned to be there anyway, but it'll be even more fun to share some thoughts and get feedback as part of the paper sessions. There were nearly 100 proposals! Mine has the title "U2 Live: Where Leitourgia Has No Name" and will attempt to read some of U2's concert praxis through the lens of liturgical theologians like Alexander Schmemann and David Fagerberg.
Rather off topic, but I can't resist what seems to me a fairly obvious Advent/Christmas thematic connection here. On Flickr, lots of lovely shots of Willie Williams' current exhibition at Wallspace, All Hallows on the Wall in London. "A life-long fascination with kitsch drew Williams to the ugly and discarded glassware at the heart of each piece in the exhibition. The transformation into a sublime and meditative environment exemplifies Williams' chief concern – the artist's responsibility to discover beauty in unlikely places, rather than to accept societal 'givens' dictated by fashion, advertising and junk TV."
Here's a rather touching "Like A Song" column from @U2 that describes how "Still Haven't Found," October, and some interviews with the band inspired a search for God in the writer, Maddy Fry. I kind of wish the piece had remained personally reflective rather than moving into endorsing/denouncing specific identifiable individuals and organizations at the end, but the outline of the story is one I've heard over and over, not least in emails from people who have found this blog or the Get Up Off Your Knees book and want to talk with someone about what it is that they experience at U2 concerts and don't have a name for...
Excerpt: Such earnestness made me feel uncomfortable... and at the same time strangely vulnerable. It was as though the band was coming from a place where I couldn't go, articulating an experience of something that I couldn't grasp. They had something that I didn't, something that seemed to make them feel such immense pain and anguish yet also reach the heights of the purest joy and ecstasy at the same time. I felt too embarrassed to admit even to myself that it was something I was starting to want as well.
The Beachside Church in Florida, USA announces their iteration of what since 2006 has nearly become the traditional "focus on U2 songs in the weeks before Christmas" December series culminating on Christmas Eve, using what has nearly become the traditional playlist for this kind of series. Cause apparently, as we would say in Boston, U2 are wicked Christmasy.
Special offer: If your church is using U2 soon and you base a message around A)"Staring at the Sun," B)"Acrobat," or C)"Love is Blindness," I will mail you a prize... or buy you the beverage of your choice at the U2 academic conference in May.
I expect by now several readers have already visited the (RED)Wire music launch party and seen the video of U2's cover of the Greg Lake (of ELP) holiday classic "I Believe in Father Christmas." It's a very potentially U2ey text, conjuring up the sort of "we were promised... but where is it" vibe of, say, ATYCLB's "Peace on Earth," or the "all sacred images are tarnished in our day" feel of Pop's "If God Will Send His Angels." You can decide for yourself what you think of the performance (though a friend of mine wagers that lots of floors will be done up with Christmas lights like those this year).
I had to smile in admiration at the very minor but very thoughtful lyric changes that turn Lake's text into something not just potentially, but authentically, U2ey. Did you catch them? "They sold me a Merry Christmas, they sold me a Silent Night, they sold me a fairy story..." is transmuted into something more like Popmart's "I wanted to meet God but they sold me religion" by one little shift: no longer did "they" keep selling "till I believed in the Israelite"; no, they can try to sell such holiday fantasies all they want "but I believe in the Israelite."
And the end of the original second verse, one assumes the implication is that the once-hopeful little boy awakes, exhausted and bleary-eyed, to witness his father dressed as Santa and realize the whole thing's a shuck ("I awoke with a yawn in the first light of dawn and saw him -- and through his disguise.") But U2 create a whole different feel by taking out that one little "and," so that the narrator now says that he watched in hope, woke at dawn, and "I saw him through his disguise." Another idea that we've heard many times before from this band.
"U2 Sermons" began as a blog tracking the experience of publishing the book "Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog." It's continued as a place to observe the dialogue between U2's work and theology.