Thursday, September 25, 2014

More U2 conversation: Christian band?

Episcopal Cafe covered some more U2 conversation, the often discussed "Christian band?" question:


This just in. U2 is a "semi-secret Christian band" that fills their lyrics with religious themes, makes no secret of how the members attempt to live their faith but does not aligns itself with a particular denomination or segment of the Church.

If you carefully attune your ears to U2’s lyrics, you’ll find there are 50 or more references to Bible verses in their songs. In “Bullet the Blue Sky,” for example, they sing about Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord (Genesis 32) and there is a reference to speaking with “the tongues of angels” (1 Corinthians 13) in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Bono even belts “see the thorn twist in your side”—an obvious reference to the Apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:7—in the song “With or Without You.”

If by "Christian rock band" you mean a group that repetitively parroting pop-culture with theologically homogenized lyrics then, no, U2 is not a "Christian rock band." If you mean a band that takes a more complex view of faith and life, then that's something else. Maybe what you have is a rock band peopled by Christians.

Much of the confusion around U2’s faith stems from the fact that they’ve never been an “officially” Christian rock band. The ambiguity goes back to the band’s origins, in the Dublin of the late seventies, during the Troubles. In a country divided along sectarian lines, little about organized religion was attractive. U2 were teen-agers when they got together (Larry Mullen, Jr., the drummer, was just fourteen), but they were beginning to see outside of the faith traditions of their families. Bono’s father was a Catholic, his mother an Anglican. Adam Clayton (the bassist, English) and David Evans (the Edge, Welsh) came from Protestant backgrounds; Mullen had Irish-Catholic parents. In “North Side Story: U2 in Dublin, 1978-1983,” Niall Stokes, the editor of the Irish music magazine Hot Press, writes that the members of U2 were “primed” to ask what it meant to be Irish. They were “as close as you could get at the time, in an Ireland that was monocultural to an extraordinary degree, to a licorice all-sorts of nationalities and faiths.”Their break with organized religion was probably inevitable. But it was still traumatic, which is perhaps why almost every U2 album contains a song about their decision to belong to a band rather than a church. (“One,” for example, is about the challenges of joining together with your friends to try and find God on your own.) Greg Garrett, an English professor at Baylor, a Baptist university in Waco, Texas, explains U2’s lack of religious identification in his book “We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2.” In high school, Bono, the Edge, and Mullen grew close to a faith community called Shalom, whose members Bono has described as living on the Dublin streets “like first-century Christians.” The group was a big presence in their lives during the recording of U2’s first two albums, “Boy” and “October” (“Gloria,” the best song on “October,” has a liturgical chorus, sung in Latin). The turning point came just as the “October” tour was set to begin: the Edge announced that he wanted to leave U2, because the twin demands of piety and rock stardom could not be reconciled. (“If God had something to say about this tour, he should have raised his hand a little earlier,” the band’s manager, Paul McGuinness, said.) Ultimately, of course, U2 stayed together: Bono, Mullen, and the Edge left Shalom. “I realized it was bullshit, that what these people were getting close to … was denial, rather than willful surrender,” Bono told an interviewer. 
The tension in spiritual life—between discipline and vulnerability, order and openness, being willful and giving in—became U2’s central preoccupation, and gave it its aesthetic. During the Troubles, the band witnessed the consequences of an approach to faith that had become too organized and martial. Against that, they argued for “surrender,” in both its political and its religious senses. When Bono ran around onstage with a white flag during performances of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” he was expressing not only an approach to politics but also an approach to faith (often, the song suggested, they were the same thing). U2 were learning to infuse their music with a sensibility that had been unreachable in their religious lives—a kind of militant surrendering.

It is always important to mention that U2 is NOT part of the Christian music industry, which tends to frown on deep exploration and anything that suggests ways to God other than Christianity.  The faith journey found in U2's music continues to resinate in me, and millions of other fans (watch any of their concert videos to explore this idea).  I can't wait until they tour with these new songs...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Not only did U2 surprise everyone by releasing Songs of Innocence yesterday, their 13th album, but now it appears that there will be a SECOND album in the not to distance future, Songs of Experience!!!

That's from a letter to U2 fans posted a short time ago on where Bono basically re-introduces the band after the long hiatus between albums. In addition to talking about today's album release, he says we can expect a second album (while also admitting that he's said that in the past):  
"We're collaborating with Apple on some cool stuff over the next couple of years, innovations that will transform the way music is listened to and viewed. We'll keep you posted. If you like Songs of Innocence, stay with us for Songs of Experience. It should be ready soon enough… although I know I've said that before…"  
You might recognize the titles from your high school literature classes: There's a famous book of poetry by William Blake called Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

Been listening threw my work today to Innocence:  this is epic work....

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Who do you say that I am?"

(This sermon is inspired, in no small part, by David Lose's awesome weekly gift to preachers, "Dear Partner in Preaching" found on his " the Meantime" blog.  Lose created and wrote "Dear Working Preacher" while he was at Luther Seminary.)

It is arguably the most important question for us to answer, whether we are 1st, or 21st century Christians:

Who do you say that I am?

"(Jesus) is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

This was Peter’s answer in Matthew’s Gospel.  And here, they get high marks from Jesus.

But what do these words really mean for Peter, the Gospel writer, and those who read them? 

That isn't necessarily clear...

We have certainly tried to explain them.  We have this big Creed that we say every week together:  words that have been worked over by important people in the Church’s history.

These words are well and good for our weekly ritual, in part because they encompass so many possibilities in their potential understanding.  Perhaps they do indeed best explain who Jesus is.

But even if we use Peter’s short version:  “You are the Messiah:  the Son of the Living God”,
What do we really mean with these words?  How would we describe what they mean?

Who do you say that I am?

…another way of saying that, is this:
What do you believe about Jesus?

If I was required to avoid theological language:  if I was not allowed to use any words that required further explanation, I’d make these two statements about Jesus:

—-In Jesus, I see God’s love for the world.

—-In Jesus, I see what is possible through God.

David Lose essentially said the same thing, but in a more classically preacher sort of way…as he self-admits...with “lots of words”.  He wrote:

“I think Jesus is God’s way of showing us how much God loves us and all people. God is so big that I think we have a hard time connecting with God. And so God came to be like one of us, to live like one of us, in order to reveal just how God feels about us. In this sense, Jesus revealed God’s heart, a heart that aches with all who suffer depression and think seriously about ending their lives, a heart that is upset and angry when a young black man is shot dead for no explicable reason, a heart that is torn up in grief at the desperate situation and violence that rips apart the land we’ve named Holy, a heart that loves us like only an adoring parent can and so not only wants the best for us but is always eager to welcome us home in grace, forgiveness, and love. 
But it’s more than that, too. I think Jesus also came to show us what’s possible. And so rather than give into the threat of disease, Jesus healed. Rather than surrender people to demons, Jesus showed compassion. Rather than let people starve because there’s not enough to go around, Jesus fed people who were hungry. Jesus refused to be satisfied or limited by the status quo and invites us to do the same, because if Jesus’ life and death show us how much God loves us, Jesus’ resurrection shows us that that love is more powerful than hate and fear and even death. Jesus shows us, in short, that God’s love wins.”

I think David’s words are extremely well said.  But the question, again, is not what some theologian, your priest, or even what The Church or The Bible says about Jesus.…

It’s Jesus saying to you:  “Who do you say that I am?”

What do you believe about Jesus?

If you use Biblical words like Messiah…or theological claims like “Son of God”…or other deep metaphorical language...that’s fine.

But if you're using those kind of words...layered with generations of symbolism...what do you really understand them to mean???  How would you explain your answer to those with no concept or history of these words?

What do you believe about Jesus?

So, here’s your challenge. 

Come up with a sentence or two that describes what you honestly believe about Jesus.

Then use those words…your confession…to shape the way you live your life in the days that follow.

Be honest with yourself, even if it doesn’t exactly match what Peter says, or what we say in the Creed.

But take heart, and be kind with yourself as well....

This isn't a test you can pass or fail.

And Jesus doesn't ask the question for his sake:  seeking praise of him or God.

Instead, the words you come up with have the power to continually transform your life, and those around you.  As Lose wrote, your words "...are ones of power that will help root us in the love and possibility that Jesus offers." 

“Who do you say that I am?”

What do you believe about Jesus?