Had a storm last night. Mum went round unplugging stuff, going on about it, telling me to unplug the computer and such. So I get up to go close my window, get hit by what felt like a whip of rain, whack the window shut, hear the rain lash at my window a bit ... and that was it. A bit of lightning, no thunder, a few lashes of rain, the lights dimmed at one point and the TV went funny a couple of times, but that was it. Very anticlimactic.
I had something else I was going to post about, but now I've completely forgotten about it.
I Believe in God....do U2?
by Sarah E. Hinlicky
What is it that makes music Christian? Does it have to be written specifically for the church, for liturgical or devotional purposes, to fall into that category? Must it refer to Scripture, quoting directly or alluding by imagery? Should its explicit purpose be to evangelize? Will it sound a certain way, stick to certain conventions, or squeeze unlikely paradigms into a Christian shape?
There certainly is "Christian music" that does a few or all of these things. Some of it is deliciously uplifting, and some of it is incomparably dreadful. But perhaps all these questions reflect the wrong approach to Christian music entirely. Perhaps the better way is to ask the question not so much of the art as of the artist. That would make Christian music the work of Christian composers, regardless of what it sounds like and what, in each particular instance, it says. If we follow that definition, then we will find the most wildly successful creators of Christian music in the past two decades — not hymn writers, and not Amy Grant, but the four Irishmen who are collectively known as U2.
It’s kind of hard to imagine any other popular contemporary musician writing an introduction to the book of Psalms — the absurdity multiplies when one considers Britney Spears or Eminem in that role — but Bono did, and his piece bespeaks a long and practiced faith. His faith, truth be told, is little short of remarkable under the circumstances. As he comments in his lovely little essay, "My mother was Protestant, my father Catholic; anywhere other than Ireland that would be unremarkable." He grew up at a time when there were "troubles" in the country, the troubles of people attacking each other’s persons and defaming each other’s property, all in the name of religion. It took little thought for Bono to come to his own conclusion about who the real enemy was: "I had a foot in both camps, so my Goliath became religion itself; I began to see religion as the perversion of faith." Curiously enough, the religious brutality was never enough to knock the faith out of him, and Bono’s lyrics remain unalterably Christian in their coloring, even though his religion — the practice of his faith — has since shifted to rock-n-roll.
You see it as early as October, which along with Boy marked the beginning of U2’s career, though these albums are still relatively unfamiliar in the U.S. since they preceded the band’s smashing success in this country. Boy, the very first, makes no mention of religious matters at all, taking a more pensive and introspective approach in the lyrics, but October almost overcompensates with the deluge of faith stuff. There are allusions to Revelation in "Fire" and the Gospel of Matthew in "Tomorrow" — which goes on to advise, "Open up to the Lamb of God, to the love of He who made the blind to see." "Gloria" has liturgical-sounding Latin, "With a Shout" is for the lovers of Jerusalem, and "October" in its bare-bones lyricism simply says, "And kingdoms rise and kingdoms fall but you go on and on." Christian faith here isn’t a condiment added on for flavor and seasoning: it’s the meat of the main course.
The follow-up to October was War, and it not only made U2 famous worldwide, but it also got them labeled as the band with a social conscience. Not incidentally, the album is littered with biblical references. The most obvious is in "40," a last-minute addition to the record based on Psalm 40 (though the refrain is nicked from Psalm 6), and still a favorite closing for U2’s live concerts. Other songs are spiced with bits of Christian wisdom, from "If I ever want to live I’ve got to die to myself someday" in "Surrender" to the declaration that "the real battle’s just begun, to claim the victory Jesus won" on "Sunday Bloody Sunday," itself an incisive look at the intra-religious violence in Ireland. "Drowning Man" is no ordinary love song, either. The love is for and from God, and the drowning is a classic metaphor for baptismal death to sin and the power of the devil.
The list could go on and on (and it does — there’s a useful little appendix of scriptural references in U2 songs at www.atU2.com/lyrics/biblerefs.html). One of the great pleasures of being a U2 fan is picking out hidden nuggets of Christian allusion here and there. My personal favorite is that the song "One" on the Achtung Baby album is the third track. (One is three and three is one; get it?) It’s only natural to trust the expression of faith found in U2 because it comes across as organic, not tacked on for marketing purposes or swallowed uncritically out of fear.
What also comes across as natural in U2 is the way their faith begets works. No fan can have failed to notice by now the recurring appearance of Amnesty International info on the liner notes, and this is only one of many causes espoused by the group. The band has advocated for AIDS-related charities, refugees, Greenpeace and most recently the Jubilee 2000 campaign that sought to release third-world countries from their overwhelming debt. The liner for All That You Can’t Leave Behind, the latest U2 album, even gives you the address of the president of Sierra Leone, suggesting that you write to him and "ask that those responsible for rape and other war crimes are brought to justice."
The moral concerns don’t stay in the liner notes; they creep their way into the music, and Bono has been known to launch into spontaneous proselytism for his causes in the midst of a tour concert. The band has occasionally verged on the sanctimonious, at the expense of its first calling to produce music. This problem sent the four lads from Dublin off to Germany after the experiment in American market saturation called Rattle and Hum (both album and movie), and the self-re-discovery in the process produced the fabulous Achtung Baby (which I will have the audacity to say is even better than The Joshua Tree).
But the old itch came back in Zooropa and Pop. Musically they flirted with the techno sounds and beats of the European continent and the dance club style that went with them — a severe departure from the almost folksy sound, say, of the American-influenced album The Unforgettable Fire. But lyrically the focus is placed obsessively on popular culture, materialism and consumerism, spurred in part by the ambiguous results wrought in rock stars’ lives by their own hard-earned fame. The title song of Zooropa quotes advertising slogans all over the place. Then "Babyface" goes on to address a benevolent but untouchable model, "Numb" the paralysis of sensory overload, "Lemon" the capture and interpretation of experience by film. Pop turned out to be the least successful U2 album in the United States (except for those first two when the group was still unknown), and maybe with good reason. Who wants to buy a product that criticizes the buyer for having bought at all? For all that, the PopMart tour, complete with alter egos for Bono, the world’s largest video screen, a 35-foot mirrorball lemon, a humongous olive skewered on a 100-foot toothpick, and a 100-foot golden arch (wonder what that refers to), altogether was a success. The only problem is that it created financial distress for U2. After all, to be consistent, they had to reject any corporate sponsorship. Their message certainly had its point, but it sat uneasily with the music.
Morality disconnected from faith as a rule turns nasty, even ceases to be very moral at all, and for awhile it looked like U2 was caught in its own trap. Bono’s self-righteous wrath and incessant cursing on TV and during concerts did little to mobilize for the cause and much to alienate the long-loyal fans. He seemed to be stuck in a rut of anger. Between tirades against the evils of the consumer society, a few of his faith issues lurking in the background, peeked through. In The Joshua Tree he was content to confess that he still hadn’t found what he was looking for, but by Zooropa he was bitter. "The First Time" feels love, but at the cost of leaving the house of religion where he should have found faith; he even threw away the key. The album’s eerie concluding song, "The Wanderer," informs us that the singer is equipped with a Bible and a gun in hopes of making sense of it all, implying that the two belong together. Pop’s "If God Will Send His Angels" and "Wake Up Dead Man" interrogate God with all the resentment of a crushed Job. Where is he and why doesn’t he do something about all this misery? But neither album ends with any tinge of hope; faith, to all appearances, had departed.
That’s what makes All That You Can’t Leave Behind such a great relief. Having assessed the world and its fame and riches, akin to the preacher in Ecclesiastes, Bono and the band seem to have come to the salutary conclusion that all is vanity — and they’re dealing with it. The music is simpler, gentler, introspective and curious. Some of the songs could be addressed as easily to daughters as to lovers, as they are reflections of wisdom and hope more than lust and anger. The focus has shifted from the corruption of the world to the meaning of impending death, but not in a morbid way. That’s where the hope lies, in that point of meeting God when everything superfluous and vain is left behind for good. Perhaps that's why Bono can speak on behalf of the music industry, with humility it is otherwise lacking, that "When those people get up at the Grammys and say, 'I thank God,' I always imagine God going, 'Oh, don't — please don't thank me for that one. Please, oh, that's an awful one! Don't thank me for that!'" (Bono just days before the Grammy Awards. He repeated the gist ofhis comment at the Awards ceremony Wendnesday night.)
What it all boils down to is that U2, now and all through its history, is most in its element when it’s leading the fans in psalms of lament — psalms of their own writing, usually. The basic underlying struggle of the band’s music from the beginning 20 years ago all the way up to the present is how to hold on to faith: faith against hollow religion, faith against evil, faith against fame, faith against doubt, faith against death. Theodicy — how a good and powerful God can coexist with a fallen and corrupted world — is Bono’s most cherished problem, and he asks the question again and again, in new ways, with new insights, but always the same nagging fear and uncertainty. Sometimes he wins against it and sometimes he loses, but the cure comes in expressing it. All That You Can’t Leave Behind is saturated with it, beginning with the trials of a "Beautiful Day," barely making it through the woes of "Peace on Earth," and finally winding up at "Grace."
"Grace" is the last U2 song we have chronologically, and that is a significant fact. Even if it can’t answer (as no one really can) what went wrong in the first place, it’s willing to acknowledge the source of healing: "Grace makes beauty out of ugly things." Its soft, patient tone is far from naive; it comes at the end of a hard life of asking questions. But it’s ready to hear God’s answer, when and in what form it comes.
Living faith doesn’t stop asking living questions, and that’s one reason why it’s living faith. And that’s also why U2 works as a group that produces Christian music without having to be labeled an officially Christian band. They’ve pegged the genre of rock-n-roll like no one since the Beatles have. The fact is, there’s no better medium to talk about the hidden God and his theodicy than the art form whose specialty is alienation, loneliness and longing. Even in, especially in, its doubts, rock-n-roll music can give glory to the Lord.