U2 as a devotional practice

We will now take a brief break from the recent crankiness of this blog. The Top Three of the Top Ten Things that drive me crazy about Quakers will resume tomorrow.

You know, before I started reading Quaker blogs, I never thought about U2 as a Christian band. I knew they were Irish and political, but I wasn’t paying much attention.

I can, however, identify the first time I heard their music. 1987. Bogotá, Colombia. In the living room of a Norwegian ex-patriate lady married to an American former oil executive. On a tape brought by another American exchange student. Ellen, our hostess, was quite impressed, although she didn’t usually care for rock music. I remember discussing how complex the sound was, although we couldn’t always understand the words.

Fast forward 20 years or so.

2005. I started reading a blog called Walking With The Duchess, (which only sort-of exists anymore) by a woman named Aj Schwanz, an evangelical young adult Friend and mother. Her sidebar listed (at that time) U2 as one of her favorite bands. And then somewhere she made a passing reference to U2 or Bono as Christians. I blinked a few times. I had never thought of that before.

I started listening more closely to the lyrics whenever U2 came on the radio. Hmmm. I started to hear some religious imagery and biblical allusions. Hmmm.

I mentioned this possibility to Chris M., my favorite former college radio station manager. He looked at me incredulously. He pointed out a couple of lines and song titles that were pretty obviously Christian references. “Oh!”, I said. Apparently it wasn’t a secret among 80’s college radio folks. Of course, by the time I first heard U2, they were already too popular in the mainstream for the likes of Chris.

A few weeks ago, Gregg Koskela, one of my other favorite evangelical Christians, wrote about how, when he was a teenager, in his circles, kids were debating whether U2 was Christian enough. We’re the same age. Maybe we lived on different planets instead of neighboring states.

Last year for my birthday, Chris got me U2: The Best of 1980-1990. I actually read their lyrics for the first time and then I recognized more of their songs on the radio. I started to appreciate U2 a lot more.

And then ten days ago, Chris brought home the “new” U2 album from the public library. Good thing he checked out a few other cd’s too because I absconded with this one. I’ve been listening to it almost non-stop.

My favorite song on the album is the first one: the rockin’ “Vertigo.” It's about the temptations a person might face in a hip nightclub, especially a famous and wealthy person, it now occurs to me, and the lifeline we always have to God. “Hello? Hello? I’m at a place called Vertigo. It’s everything I wish I didn’t know.” Maybe your soul can’t be bought, but your mind can wander…

I like that the song called “Love and Peace or Else” has heavy metal riffs.

I like the fact that it’s often ambiguous whether the dialogue in the songs is between two human lovers or between a human and God.

This album made clearer for me the idolatry so often present in romantic music.

"Your love is teaching me how to kneel." Kneel before whom?

“I’m not broke but you can see the cracks.
You can make me perfect again.
All because of you
All because of you
All because of you
I am … I am”

Who can make us perfect? Our human lovers? Too often we make this mistake, indulge in this wishful thinking.

Reality check: U2 is not a perfect band. The song “A Man and A Woman” is just drivel. Says me.

Last Sunday, in meeting for worship, we heard from the Advices and Queries of Pacific Yearly Meeting on the topic of our Spiritual Life. “The life of the spirit gains depth and vigor through devotional practices, prayer, study and meditation.”

I realized that I’ve been listening to this album as a devotional practice. Repetition. Study of the religious imagery. Meditation on the themes. Yep. And it has led to a more centered prayer life.

And then I sang this song* in meeting for worship:

Take these shoes,
Clip-clopping down this dead end street.
Take these shoes
And make them fit.

Take this shirt,
Polyester white trash made in nowhere.
Take this shirt
And make it clean.

Take this soul,
Stranded in some skin and bones.
Take this soul
And make it sing.

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born

Take these hands,
Teach them what to carry.
Take these hands,
Don’t make a fist.

Take this mouth,
So quick to criticize.
Take this mouth,
Give it a kiss.

Yahweh, Yahweh
Why this dark before the dawn?

Take this city,
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this city,
If it be your will.

Yahweh, Yahweh

*The printed lyrics and recorded song are a little different but this is more or less what came out in meeting.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

glad to read your blog about U2 and Christianity. U2 has always been Christian in their songs.
Search further back to their 80's samples and find the song "40" from their "War" album.

Bono sings: "..many will see, many will see and fear."

straight from the bible.

or "Drowning Man"
Bono sings "..like wings of eagles, will run, will run and not grow weary."

Cool thing the rock band is not intimated by anyone. I have always admire them for that. For standing tall with their beliefs regardless of what the music industry dictates everyday.

Thanks for your article.

2/08/2007 3:44 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks for your comment. I'll have to do some more "research." Thank goodness for the public library.

2/08/2007 4:23 PM  
Blogger anj said...

Robin- Here is a blog about this aspect of U2. You might enjoy browsing. http://u2sermons.blogspot.com/

2/08/2007 11:04 PM  
Blogger Gregg Koskela said...

I just want to say I love that you love the heavy metal riffs...

2/09/2007 1:21 AM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Thanks Anj. Technowhiz that I am, it didn't occur to me to look for other blogs on this subject. Very interesting.

Gregg - I'm not really a big heavy metal fan. In high school, my musical taste ran more to Billy Joel and Phil Collins. And country, on the sly. However, love and peace are too powerful to be only expressed with the acoustic guitar. I see this song as taking Phil Ochs one step farther.

2/09/2007 12:40 PM  
Blogger Nancy A said...

Nice blog. I'm glad you sang at meeting -- handy if you know all the lyrics by heart.

I want to say *of course* U2 is Christian, but it only becomes obvious if you actually look at the words. And we never do. We just hum along with a cool tune and rhythm. Someone happened to point it out to me many years ago.

The Spirit speaks through music, even through the songs of people who are not specifically Christian (or Muslim/Jew, etc). Somehow, when people get on that creative, expressive level, they tap into that Spirit and bring it out. It's really marvellous. But we have to be open to it, waiting for it, listening. Or we miss it.

I've been going through song lyrics, looking at music for my new programmed meeting church thingie. It's not hard to find good songs. I really wanted stuff by Avril Lavigne and the Tragically Hip because they're local musicians,, and I want us to sing some of our own songs. I thought at first that Avril might not work because of her anger. But she has one very aching and beautiful song called "I'm With You" that is such a cry of the spirit. The Hip -- well, we can use pretty much anything.

Did you know the heavy metal band Creed is Christian too? That one always flips people out.

2/09/2007 9:22 PM  
Blogger Robin M. said...

Good luck with your music selections Nancy.

For this album, my favorite song is the first on the CD, and my second favorite (that I sang in meeting) is the last one. So sometimes I get in the car, start the cd, listen to the first song, then click back to the last song and let it roll over and play the first one again.

By this time, it would be hard not to know the words to a song I've listened to so many times. But I still got it wrong. The end of the song goes like this

Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break

2/10/2007 11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny I should have read this post after recently listening to an old Rickie Lee Jones CD (Traffic from Paradise) and having the words "No Cross No Crown" jump out at me as she sang her song Running from Mercy. The lyrics aren't in the liner notes, but there are websites (of course) with the words to every pop tune ever written, and it's there all right. Didn't know she'd been reading Penn. An excerpt (of the song):

"Oh sacred place that sets my soul alive
There's a rainbow above me that the storm clouds hide
And kind works will never die
Cuz the magic in kindness springs from the love, love, love

"Little acts of kindness and little words of love
Make our earthly home heaven above
And there is no sorrow heaven cannot heal
A fire within, no cross, no crown

"Running from mercy, hidden and coy
Swimming upstream down oceans of joy
Die in the arms of a natural life
Waking our happiness drowning in light
Waking our happiness drowning in light"

Peace--Stephen Matchett

2/20/2007 4:18 PM  

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