Observer Profile and Bono's Labour Party speech

I'm linking this profile of Bono from The Observer for two reasons: so I can just have a post to point to when people start in on the "hippie idealist leftie rock star not achieving anything anyway save the whales celebrity airhead" stuff, and second, because it has a good example of secular journalism's difficulty in talking about people of faith.

There are now clearly a few adjectives/ phrases that (whatever their actual meaning once was) the media now uses mostly to signal to secular readers, "this person is the kind of Christian that 'our kind' is supposed to dislike." Well, the author of this profile needs exactly the opposite code -- some way to signal that Bono is the kind of Christian who's, you know, not so bad as all that.

So here's how the author does it; first he says that the family's children's names (all Biblical) are "a testament to the broad-based Christian spirituality of their father." Uh-huh. Then we get a comment about the near-breakup of U2 over whether rock and "spirituality" (again) were incompatible; and then, this: "That same faith, though seldom articulated outside their songs, remains Bono's creative and moral raison d'etre, and may be the defining element in why he is the biggest rock star on the planet and, perversely, why rock alone cannot contain him."

"A broad-based Christian spirituality... seldom articulated outside their songs." What does that mean, exactly? Almost nothing, other than that you're allowed to like him.
Overall, it's quite a good article, though. The text of the speech to which it was leading up is here.

The Alternative Hymnal: U2 - How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb

The Alternative Hymnal reprints NME's description of tracks from the new album, and adds "Vertigo" to the hymnal already.


U2 "How to dismantle an atomic bomb" official tracklisting

Here's the word on the tracklisting of the new U2 album, from U2.com itself:
Miracle Drug
Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
Love And Peace Or Else
City Of Blinding Lights
All Because Of You
A Man And A Woman
Crumbs From Your Table
One Step Closer
Original Of The Species

I'm asking for the check

"I'm putting iTunes on the office computer," I told my husband this morning. "It's the only place to buy 'Vertigo' legally right now, and I downloaded it so I need to buy it."
"Fine," he said.
When the application had installed, I bought the song ("single version") first thing. We listened to it (just to make sure it hadn't changed since last night, I guess) and as it was winding up I went to the iTunes store homepage, which turned out to feature a huge, three-column U2 banner promoting the iTunes exclusive on "Vertigo."
My husband saw it and laughed. "Good for them!" he said. "They're making friends for themselves by means of the unrighteous mammon. They're not going to get outdone by the sons of this world."


Journal of Religion and Popular Culture review

Here is a thoughtful review of Get Up Off Your Knees from the Journal of Religion and Popular Culture. (I have to say, I think the criticisms the author makes of the collection are well taken, and am surprised more people haven't made them already.) Excerpt:
...the weaker and inapt sermons do not negate the achievements of contributors who dig theological gems from the more obscure and melancholic songs. To the extent that the editors intend to demonstrate the utility of popular culture for theological reflection, they succeed. Thus, despite the concerns mentioned above, I recommend Get Up Off Your Knees for two audiences: those who want to learn how to integrate popular culture with homiletics, and those devoted members of U2 fandom who resonate with the band's spiritual sensitivity. The former may support the idea of engaging with popular culture but lack examples of how to do this in practice. The latter can hardly resist this collection since, granting the postmodern tenet that we are unable to detach ourselves from cultural contexts and past experiences, they will have committed to join Bono's quest to 'fill that God-shaped hole' long ago.


U2 fans weigh in on "Vertigo"

Your host is quoted in this collection of reactions to the new U2 song from @U2. There are also plausible lyrics up on the site, though I definitely vote for "I can't stand [rather than "can sell"] the beats," and I'm currently partial to the notion that the line at the beginning is not "I'm feeling so much stronger than I thought," but instead a direct follow-up to the line that precedes it: "Your head can't rule your heart/A feeling's so much stronger than a thought."
[Update: Just so you won't be confused if you go to the site, apparently sometime between the time I originally posted this and Sat AM, the @U2 lyrics gurus decided they basically agree with me on the second one.]


Girl with crimson nails has Jesus round her neck swaying to the music...

Maybe I can stop pogoing long enough to muster an intelligent "Vertigo" lyrics comment: Apart from the infectious the-Ramones-meet-the-Waitresses-on-acid vibe, we're on familiar theological territory here, aren't we? Not a big step from "You want heaven in your heart, but you'll take what you can get if it's all that you can find" to "though your soul it can't be bought, your mind can wander." (I'm also fond of "[vertigo is] everything I wish I didn't know, except you give me something I can feel.") Also, we've heard that generalized use of "kneel" at the end before (even learn/teach "how to kneel," in fact). In terms of Biblical references, an obvious cousin of that eerie proposition in the bridge, "all of this can be yours; just give me what I want and no one gets hurt," is a suggestion posed by someone who has peopled the U2 cast of characters before.


Let's take a break from the "Vertigo" hype for a minute to ask if it's true that...

Michael W. Smith may be playing keyboard on U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb? I suppose I've heard stranger U2 rumors. OK, enough of a break; we now return you to your regularly scheduled "Vertigo" hype.


"Part Ritual and Part Rally"

The Observer has published a really stunning essay by Michael Bracewell from the forthcoming authorized history of U2's tours. It reads like it's the whole piece, but might be an excerpt. In any case, if this is the level of analysis and scholarship we can expect from the book, it's going in my preorder basket soon. An excerpt:
As punk had laid waste to the idea of the big, spectacular rock show having any
relevance to the modern world, so U2 would reinvent the genre as a richly
ironic, politicised statement about the way we live now. Loosely, Zoo TV and
Popmart could be said to articulate statements about the postmodern world -
describing that world back to itself as a perilous pleasuredome of seemingly
infinite images and information, the accelerated accumulation of which might
seem to threaten our perceptions, free will and fundamental human feelings. In
this much, the U2 show is about acting out a passion play of good versus evil in
a very blatant way. Why else might Bono, during Zoo TV, achieve such a bravura
performance as the devil - played, incidentally, not as a swaggeringly Satanic
Mick Jagger, sinewy in black, but rather as a sentimental old impresario,
virtually exhausted by the suffering he has given to the world.

A few other things I just love: the description of the Popmart stage as "a mutated Japanese monster mall," the way the author finds U2's lifelong preoccupations in embryo in his analysis of their early Dandelion Market shows, the image of ZooTV and Popmart as opera while Elevation is chamber music, and the insightful foregrounding of the political messages hidden in U2's aesthetic decisions. I only regret that there wasn't a liturgical scholar around to throw her paticular intellectual categories into the mix. (Say, Baumstark's Law and the coloration/lighting for "Streets"? I'm only half joking.) Or perhaps that's another essay.

The book, officially authorized, is called U2 Show and is by Diana Scrimgeour. It will be out in October.


Zen and the art of slam dancing

Not so sure there's a relationship between U2 and Christianity? Well, would you prefer punk rock and Buddhism? From today's Boston Globe, a review-essay discusses not one but two books on that topic. Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies & the Truth About Reality is by Brad Warner, veteran of punk bands Zero Defex and Dementia 13 and a recent recipient of Dharma transmission. Dharma Punx is by Noah Levine, once a West Coast punk, now a Therevada Buddhist meditation teacher. Levine claims that "to some extent the whole punk movement is based on the Buddha's first noble truth, the truth of suffering and the dissatisfactory nature of the material world." And several people have comments about the connection they perceive between thrashing around in a mosh pit and sitting zazen. A third book on the same topic is in the works.

Some readers may also remember, from perhaps 8 years ago, a flurry of press coverage on Orthodoxy connecting with the punk subculture through a zine called Death to the World. There are archived excerpts of that zine here. A reprint of the best-known article about it, "Punks Turned Monks," (which originally appeared in the late lamented re:generation quarterly) is here.



DATA Updated Faith In Action page - Debt AIDS Trade Africa

I had the privilege this spring and summer of working with DATA's faith outreach coordinator to put together a comprehensive liturgical packet for mainline churches wanting to choose a lectionary Sunday to focus on AIDS in Africa. The kit includes theological themes, suggested sermon starters, and liturgical materials, as well as noting appropriate readings and hymns for the entire three-year RCL cycle. You can find it on DATA's newly expanded Christian Action page. My packet is here (PDF), but don't miss all the other great stuff they've added for church groups, as well as for synagogues and mosques! The overall Faith in Action page has been vastly expanded.

While you're at DATA, since the Senate Approprations Committee cut $1.38 billion out of the President's $2.5 billion request for the Millennium Challenge account yesterday, this would be a really great time to visit DATA's page that gives very simple instructions on how to contact your elected representatives about the Millennium Challenge at a toll-free number.


Grace, sacraments and U2

A communion story from Aquela, once again illustrating how naturally U2 lyrics tend to occur to people in the middle of doing theological reflection.


How to dismantle an atomic bomb

I have sort of a policy of not doing generic U2 news here, but since lots of folks read this who are more in the Jesus fandom than the U2 one and might not hear the official word for awhile, I'm making an exception: the title of U2's new album is "How to dismantle an atomic bomb."

Baggas' Blog: Blogging U2

Baggas muses on why so many Christians are Blogging U2 lately. ("It's everywhere!")


Reading the Word and the World at the Same Time

For anyone in the DC metro area, beginning next Wednesday the 15th our contributor Steve Garber will be teaching at the Institute for Christian Studies of the National Presbyterian Church on Wednesday nights; his course, "Reading the Word and the World at the Same Time: Pop Culture, Political Culture, and 21st Century Discipleship" uses Get Up Off Your Knees as its text.


"the noticeable increase of religious or spiritual lyrics in mainstream music"

In an article awkwardly titled "Pop Music Revives its Embrace of Spirituality and Religion," the Newhouse News Service reflects on lots of examples of that embrace, including the Chris Milk version (stream it) of Kanye West's video for "Jesus Walks," the song "Heaven" by Los Lonely Boys (listen), and Switchfoot's "Meant to Live." Along with several others, Scott Stapp, whose solo single "Relearn Love" is featured on "The Passion of the Christ: Songs" CD, is interviewed. Also showing up is, of course, U2, but side by side with a mysterious second band who seem to be called "Bono and The Edge." I'm not kidding; scroll way down to the comment about Stapp and his parents.


The news today

The connection is so natural, it would be interesting to know whether at least one sermon using "Sunday Bloody Sunday" is generated by most major news stories on an outbreak of shocking violence motivated by terrorism or religious conflict. I got an email from Tripp letting me know he just preached on it with reference to the school hostage crisis in Beslan; he charmingly adds "I got a copy of your book for Christmas and was waiting for my subconscious to catch up." So I, along with Camassia and Among the Ruins, am plugging him. Enjoy.


'Go to God, tell Him what all your flaws are and say, Can you work with me?'

A surfer asks: "Is there some Noel Gallagher story I don't know?" Honey, I'll bet there are way too many Noel Gallagher stories none of us even want to know. But the event you are probably thinking of is this.


"God Must Have A Great Sense of Humor to Have Me On Board"

A witty comment from Catching My Breath after watching O'Reilly:
I am so inspired everytime Bono talks about the AIDS crisis in Africa. He did a great job on O'Reilly last night. Inspired, ashamed, motivated, stunned.... What questions will God ask me when I pass from this life?
God: Micheal, what did you do to help the helpless?
Micheal: Um, I blogged about Bono doing something.
Something tells me that won't cut it.


Another blogger

After rereading the other book on U2 and God, Walk On, Andy (of Andy and Shona's Blog) is beginning a series of posts about U2 songs/albums in which he finds some spiritual significance. The first one's about October. In his intro to the series he asked, "Much of their music touches my spirit in a way that many church choruses wouldn't even get near. Why is this?"


Doing God's work on Fox

I can see why @U2 (who have given us more hits this week than we ever had in our lives) singled out the closing moments of Bono's O'Reilly Factor appearance last night as particularly telling:
O'REILLY: You're certainly doing God's work. I mean, I admire you very much for what you're doing.
BONO: God must have a great sense of humor to have me on board.
O'REILLY: No. No. We need people like you to command a worldwide audience and to get people at least thinking about this. And then we need the politicians out here in the convention, in both conventions to come up with a strategy. I do agree that if America could take the lead, it would turn public opinion around and help us in the war on terror.

However, a moment I found personally moving, though almost peripheral to the main topic - but perhaps not really - was this:
O'REILLY: I understand the late Jesse Helms, the arch-conservative, the late Jesse Helms of North Carolina was a very big booster of your cause, is that correct?
BONO: Yes. It's been amazing. I've been really surprised. You know, I came at this from -- you know, I grew up in a Labour household, you can imagine in the north side of Dublin. I have all my opinions. I had my opinions of conservatives, and they weren't all good. And then I met some conservatives that really turned me around on that. They were religious conservatives. They were people that, well, had their convictions that were different to mine, but they held them, you know, from a true place.

I know a lot of churches, a lot of people, who need a workshop these days on how to be able to believe that someone who holds convictions different to yours can hold them from a true place.


Stumbling Toward Faith virtual book tour

Today this blog is participating in a virtual book tour for Renee Altson, who was kind enough to send out an item or two related to Get Up Off Your Knees through the Youth Specialties email list, and who now has a book of her own, Stumbling Toward Faith. I read Renee's story in one stunned, tearful evening, and have been telling people the book ought to be required for any Christian leader who has the illusion that "a church background" is by definition benign.

The book tour began yesterday, with a commendation of the book by the inimitable Real Live Preacher, and continues until the end of the month. Renee and I emailed a bit about connections for her visit to a narrow-topic blog like this one, which only exists as the odd, half-promotional spawn of a book of sermons drawing on U2 songs. And we ended up noting U2's skill at lament....
Beth: One of the things I've learned in working on Get Up Off Your Knees is how many people in the Body of Christ are rediscovering the importance of lament - speaking honestly to God in the midst of an experience of evil and suffering instead of trying to make things seem "nice." What has lament meant to you as you've "stumbled toward faith"?

Renee: i think that discovering lament was what helped me survive. i grew up in a world where everything was "nice" - where we weren't allowed to question god or connect with our grief - there was no permission to truly feel anything... everything was always about pretending; about hiding.

in fact, my first real connection with u2 came with their song "40" - the refrain "how long" completely echoed the aching yearning longing brokenness in me, and i remember singing that one part over and over and over under my breath in my darkest moments. the odd thing about that song was that the passage wasn't new, it was taken directly out of the bible - but it was a part of the bible and a part of the journey that had been denied to me.
so i embrace lament. i believe it is part of the wholeness we are created to have; the people we are created to be.
Thanks to Renee for the redemptive lament that is Stumbling Toward Faith, and for permission to post her thoughts. All the bloggers participating are asked to link to the next two sites on the tour; so I'm linking Jordon Cooper and Cory Aldrich.

When God, like Elvis, has left the building

One among many hat tips to Jordon Cooper for this quote from Reggie McNeal, The Present Future, which is currently flying madly around the Christian blogosphere (I got it about 8 times in my RSS reader already today and have shortened it a bit in a couple places):
We have a church in North America that is more secular than the culture. ...Church people still think that secularism holds sway and that people outside the church have trouble connecting to God. The problem is that when people come to church expecting to find God, they often encounter a religious club holding a meeting where God is conspicuously absent. It may feel like a self-help seminar or even a political rally. But if pre-Christians came expecting to find God -- sorry! They may experience more spiritual energy at a U2 concert...