Thursday, October 14, 2010

One Step Closer to Awesome!

From Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, VA 22802, USA
Music is a topic that I haven't written much about on this blog, and that's too bad. It has been seated deep within my being for the whole length of my life. My eyes see the lyrical nature of the world before me. It is mostly through my ears, by hearing stories told in spoken and sung word, that I'm often penetrated to the very core. Music sends my spirit soaring and music evokes my darkest moments, when tears are the only thing left.

And sojourning with me for more than half my life has been the band, U2. I can picture clearly the first few times I heard The Joshua Tree around the age of 11 or 12, sitting on my brother's waterbed, wearing huge headphones plugged into his new CD player (the first in our house), listening to the ethereal and bowel-shaking organ that opens "Where the Streets Have No Name," followed by the Edge's angelic guitar riff that opens into a sprint toward paradise. Indeed, since that time I've consistently felt that in that song, "Yes. This is what heaven sounds like."

Simple put: I LOVE U2. A lot. The remainder of this post therefore feels like I'm selling them short, as it will be intended to fulfill class requirements to extract five "golden nuggets" from an assigned book: One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God by Christian Scharen, a Lutheran pastor and scholar (and huge U2 fan). But I've spent years with this band and will spend many years more, so perhaps I can come back to them in another way down the road.

A lot of the books I've been talking about lately have been intended for seminary nerds, but this was a refreshing change of pace. It's intended for a broad audience, both in and out of the Church. So read on for a few tidbits from this very cool book about theology through the life and music of a very cool band...

Photo credit: Elmo Keep
Nuggets one and two: Guts and Love
While playing "Bullet the Blue Sky" in Germany in the mid-90s, at the lyric "See them burnin' crosses/See the flames, higher and higher": "the video display of burning crosses morphed sideways to become flaming swastikas, and Bono shouted, 'Dieses geschieht nie wieder!' (This will never happen again!)" (p. 71). When I read this, I literally wrote in the margins: "Holy shit!" (Forgive the salty language, I use it advisedly...but seriously. Holy shit.) The song is powerful enough on its own merits, but the ways that U2 takes these songs into their live shows and allows them to speak in contextually relevant ways is incredible.

Another one: In the 80s, after receiving death threats cautioning against playing "Pride (In the Name of Love)" at a show in Arizona, they ended up playing it anyway. Bono says:
I do remember actually, in the middle of "Pride," thinking, for a second: "Gosh! What if somebody was organized, or in the rafters of the building, or somebody, here and there, just had a handgun?" I just closed my eyes and I sang the middle verse, with my eyes closed, trying to concentrate and forget about this ugliness and just keep close to the beauty that's suggested in the song. I looked up, at the end of that verse, and Adam was standing in front of me. It was one of those moments where you know what it means to be in a band. (quoted on p. 154)
This powerfully called to mind what Jesus says to his disciples: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). That the band was aware of the danger, going through with it anyway, then Adam standing in front of Bono while doing so...that's amazing love that overcomes fear.

Nuggets three, four, and five: On matters of Truth
From the book that shipped with the deluxe edition of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, the band writes: "We wish these truths were self-evident but...we need a new declaration of interdependence to remind ourselves...that mean and women were created equals in in serving each other we discover the meaning of our lives" (quoted on p. 186, emphasis added). The claim that there are truths which are self-evident to anyone in any culture at any point in history has been nagging me for the past year or so, and reminded me of something I wrote this past spring: "Jesus, the author and perfecter of this particular and historical faith, holds no truths to be self-evident." (I was riffing on politics and postmodernism.)

Throughout this book, Scharen is articulating through his dialogue with U2 a "theology of the cross." In the section prior to the last quote, he states, "Living this truth (that Christians proclaim) is, then, living discipleship to Jesus and his way of the cross" (p. 178). This is an embodied witness to Truth that Scharen is proposing, and it has strong resonance with two other books I've been reading in another class: World Upside Down: Reading Acts in the Graeco-Roman Age by Kavin Rowe, and Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology by Michael Gorman.

This is a claim that, Yes, there is an absolute truth in saying that Jesus Christ is the Lord of all creation (and not just Christians). The genius of the Christian faith is that this "Capital T" Truth is best understood and witnessed to by Christians expressing (like Jesus): "meekness, gentleness, and fearlessness. The last of these is key. Fear drives assimilation or rejection: become like me or get away from me" (p. 194). Scharen cites and uses a term from Miroslav Volf - "soft difference" - that is analogous to "theology of the cross," when he continues: "Soft difference makes a way for people to live without fear, and 'mission fundamentally takes the form of witness and invitation. They seek to win others without pressure or manipulation, sometimes even "without a word" (1 Peter 3:1)'" (p. 194).

This book is a fun and creative way to see the world theologically and biblically through the life and music of U2. I also appreciate the author's measured use of his own life experience and love of the band throughout the book.  Its intended broad audience makes this a book that should not just sit on this here seminary nerd's shelf. I'm going to be handing this book around for a while, as I have a whole host of friends and family who love U2 and have varying degrees of Christian commitment (or no commitment). Break out your U2 albums and your Bible. This book is awesome.

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