Biblische Ausbildung on U2

[Update to the below: there's yet another Biblische Ausbildung U2 post now, on "The Wanderer," reading it together with Rob Vagacs' take on the song from Religious Nuts Political Fanatics, Bonhoeffer, and Ecclesiastes.]

I marked and lost track of these brief reflections, with accompanying ZooTV-era video, on "Where the Streets Have No Name" by Stephen Cook of Virginia Theological Seminary. The post focuses mostly on the "city" imagery and identifies the band as being "something of a favorite among seminary professors." Fortunately, the same blog covered "Beautiful Day" this week, tying it in with the Revised Common Lectionary reading for 1 Advent from Jeremiah 33, and I've remembered I meant to send readers over there to have a look.


U2 Christmas series: "When Love Comes to Town"

I have the strong feeling I already linked a U2 event either at this church or involving some of its staff several months ago, but I can't find it. Anyway, what I would call the Advent series and they call the Christmas series at Granger Community Church (Granger, Indiana) is designed around 4 U2 songs. There is a corresponding outreach effort to give away $500,000. Individual worship services working with U2 material (and secular music in general) have been so common for so long that I've kind of given up linking such things unless they're unusually creative (or amusing; see below). However, I can't remember noticing a 4-week series like this (open to correction, though!)

Description: "Do you ever wonder why people only love each other at Christmas or after a natural disaster? Are you ever bombarded by every charity and fund-raiser competing for your money? At times, do you shut down because of the overwhelming void in your own heart? Join us this Christmas season and get a backstage pass to one of the greatest bands of all time, talking about the greatest message of all time. We'll use today's arts, media and songs from U2 to explore the heart of generosity. We'll see our lives as an expression of who we are inside, learn the secret of a guilt-free "no" and discover how one "yes" can turn a world upside down."

Sounds like a creative integration of arts/liturgical/pastoral material, but you can evaluate it for yourself by watching online for a week after each service. The series begins next week, Dec 2-3, and there's a service-by-service thematic description and a video promo at the executive pastor's blog. If you check the promo out, you'll note in the playlist a long-established pattern of working with mainstream popular music to support worship service themes.


Maybe you had to be there

I know U2 music is regularly used in worship in a very wide variety of church settings and has been for years, but I haven't heard that many U2 arrangements offered up by traditional choirs of conservatively-dressed middle-aged folks.


As usual, unclear clarity from the official lyrics

I'm informed that the lyrics booklet says the much-disputed line in U2's Window in the Skies is "the grave is now a groove." However, the same source apparently also gives the last line in the bridge as "please don't ever let me out of you" -- when it is perfectly obvious that in a rare moment of vowel-articulating and R-voicing clarity the singer is absolutely inarguably saying "let me out of HERE." So you can make what you like of that.


U2 and Cockburn Theology Course in Toronto

Here's another tidbit on our contributor Brian Walsh. He'll be teaching a new course this winter called Music Prophecy & Culture (scroll down to the end) at the Toronto School of Theology. Sounds, along with Tim Neufeld's current U2 course at Fresno Pacific, like a nice example of Christians paying attention to art on its own terms and learning from the process, rather than exploiting art to serve a church agenda.

Description: Theology has always found a fruitful dialogue partner in the arts. This course will approach the artistry of Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn and the Irish super rock band U2 as theological resources in their own right. Attending to the interweaving of biblical iconography, symbols, narratives, motifs and themes in the lyrics of these artists, we will explore the prophetic, pastoral, liturgical and theological contribution that U2 and Cockburn make for Christian reflection and praxis in a late modern socio-historical context.


But love left a window in the skies, and to love I rhapsodize; I've got no shame.

Thanks to the many readers who wanted to make sure I knew that the new U2 song "Window in the Skies" had been played on radio and was circulating via MP3. (Everyone make sure and buy it, now.) My random comments:

As for the early hype, I'm not sure it's exactly "the eternal song every generation has to sing," and where I come from they call that 12/8 (but hey, it's compound meter at least.) Poppy, thick, Oasis/ Beatles/ Coldplay, definitely a different kind of mix than we've gotten used to recently. And amidst all the standard U2 harmonic retrogressions, it's striking to hear an actual normal 7th chord in there once at the end of the verses - not that they give us a resolution to it.

On the lyrics to U2's "Window in the Skies," random comments about the sort of constellation of language: I don't find the string of atonement/ resurrection images at the beginning all that compelling because they're mostly so familiar already. I do like "the rule has been disproved" characterizing the Resurrection if it goes with the next line, or the end of the Law if we're being more abstract (in which case you might want to cross-reference the stanza to Col 2's reference to Christ "who is the head of all rule... canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands" on the Cross.) And what about that intriguing "the grain [?] is now a groove"? - I don't hear "the grave," as some people do. [edit later: well, maybe it is "grave" after all. Huh.] Still, I might want to suggest we not rule out quite yet "the grade" as in the grade of a steep hill, cf. Isaiah 40:4, a section of the Bible the band cited as encapsulating their vocation in that CD Dream Depot was selling.

One question that I haven't had time to think over: is "the stone has been removed" perhaps the first specific Easter morning image in a U2 song?

The middle stanzas feel a little fresher to me, with images that are a bit more open and unexpected.

The refrain's "can't you see what love has done" rhetorical device: again, so familiar in Christian homiletics and hymnody it's hard to hear it without baggage. ("Count your many blessings; see what God has done..." and so on.) Plus there's the more recent Jaci Velasquez CCM tune "Look What Love Has Done" ("Now those stars, they look like windows into another world. Look what love has done to me.")

For any from a liturgical background, when you put together the atonement imagery, the resurrection imagery, the image of the skies having been opened and left open henceforth by "love," and the chorus, it's hard not to locate the song rhetorically among the themes of the Easter season, maybe just before or just after Ascension, and hear the refrain as living somewhere in the neighborhood of Psalm 66: "Come and see what God has done... Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. I cried to him with my mouth, and high praise was on my tongue."

All this said, do I personally like it? Eh.


Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church U2 course

A reminder for anyone in the New York metro area: Get Up Off Your Knees co-editor Raewynne J. Whiteley will be teaching on "Stranded in Skin and Bones: Theology and Ethics in the U2 Catalog" this Saturday November 11th at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian's Church's Center for Christian Studies. Along with our 2003 book Get Up Off Your Knees, the recommended book list includes our contributor Steve Stockman's revised edition of his 2001 Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2. By the way, to book Raewynne for a similar speaking engagement (or me, or one of our other contributors), here's a longstanding but still usable list of available lecture or workshop themes.


"art needs no justification"

Playing catchup: Denis Haack of Ransom Fellowship contributes this U2 article (PDF) in the June 06 issue of By Faith, the web magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America. Called "When Love Comes to Town," the article doesn't assume much knowledge about the band, but is far from superficial from a Christian point of view. The piece includes several interesting things: long quotes from Get Up Off Your Knees contributor Steven Garber... discussion of friend-of-Bono Steve Turner's treatment of the band in his 2001 book Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts (by the way, Haack mentions Turner as a Francis Schaeffer student and draws on Schaeffer for some analysis, but evidently isn't aware of the citations of Schaeffer in 80s issues of U2's now-defunct magazine for their fans)... some fun Luther material... reflections on Haack's own use of U2 with church groups in the early 90s... some generally thoughtful Reformed theological reflection on the band's theological worldview... and this great line: "A whole lot of imaginations bear U2's fingerprints."

Haack has also written for the same magazine on Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash (this one analyzes "The Wanderer" as well.) A couple years ago By Faith also reviewed How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb here.


Mark Wrathall interview

Probably slightly off topic: U2 Station interviews Brigham Young University professor Mark Wrathall on his new collection U2 and Philosophy. It's out a little later than originally anticipated. I haven't seen it yet, though I did read an early draft of one of the essays. Fuller description on the publisher's site.


The Rock Concert and Track-two Diplomacy: A Case Study of U2

Scroll down a bit to read an abstract of a paper by Rachel Plasch from the University of Stirling Poetry and Politics Conference in July 2006. Plasch writes, "Whereas formal, track-one political activity is centered on a persuasion of the mind, this paper will inquire whether the nature of art allows one to tap into a much more politically potent place.... [when] the ballads are visually celebrated with gently swaying fluorescent mobile phones, and politically manifested by dialing the number on the massive screen above the stage." (Where I come from I think we call that liturgy, but same point.)