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May 2009

Johnny Cash - Script from Ikon event, celebrating the life and works of Johnny Cash

(found this in my old defunct web page and felt that it was a timeless tribute, not to be lost)

John and June images

Johnny Cash is the time line of rock ‘n roll. He was there with Elvis Presley and Sam Phillips in Sun Records in 1955 when that which we all could never have lived without was born. He died covering the songs of the best writers of the late twentieth and early twenty first century. This week Q issued their Best 1001 Songs ever magazine and the number 1 song was U2’s One; so aptly named! Tonight I will start my radio show with the best song ever but it will not be the U2 version. It will be Johnny Cash’s version from his American Recordings Volume 3. It was these four albums produced by Rick Rubin that brought Cash back to the very top of the tree. His video for the Trent Reznor song Hurt is the most talked about video in decades. Trent Reznor for goodness sake! What other seventy year old could do Nine Inch Nails? Only someone who was hip with Elvis and still just as cool 50 years later!

But that is not why we have gathered to remember Johnny Cash tonight. This is a spiritual event. Why would we be spending an evening with Johnny Cash?

Well he was powerful in middle finger gestures but never as potent as when he made the sign of the cross. He took the nice out of Jesus and removed the blue eyes and perfectly groomed blonde hair while at the same time told evil to go to hell and stared the devil eyeball to eyeball. He gave Jesus back his masculinity and gave the devil his due disrespect. With Johnny Cash we never got to only see the pretty coastline, we got the quarry ravaged interior, the smoke stacked poisonous reek of all our ills. We also got to see that house in the midst of the darkness that always had a candle in the window and a fire in the hearth. All the complexities of humanity were there rolled into one.

It has always been a tricky thing after Christian conversion to hold to truth and grace with humility and em…well…grace! Integrity often gives way to pretension; admission of guilt to arrogance! Cash somehow held together the tension. He never allowed the confession of his fallen state to be used as an cheap excuse for an anything-goes-this-is-just-how-I-am slackness. Nor did he allow himself to be so righteous that he separated himself from the marginalized that populated his songs or set himself apart from anyone who was drawn by the candle or needed warmed at the hearth. There was no pseudo self righteousness that he wasn’t like the Church. There was no religious self righteousness that he wasn’t like the world. Tonight we look for inspiration in a life that mirrors something of us all, all of the time.

Johnny Cash exposed traces of humanity’s fall in the Garden of Eden and Christ’s blood dripping from Calvary’s wooden cross. He was judgement and grace. He was the sinner and the redeemed. He was the perfect/imperfect balance of a human being. God bless him!

NLOTH song by song - BREATHE


I always try to avoid hearing a U2 album until the moment of its official release! It was no different with NLOTH and I held my self discipline better than I do when I give up chocolate for health reasons or something at lent for religious reasons! I did hear Breathe, though. I didn’t break the rules, it was recording of a TV appearance, in France, I think, that my good pal from Vancouver Mike Todd had put on his lovely blog -

I clicked the mouse in the morning just as the girls left for school and Breathe woke me up like a spiritual epiphany; it was a doorposts shaking Old Testament type jolt into the day. This was U2 as U2 only harder and then Bono’s soul grabbing urgency pulling you in to eyeball you with something he thinks you need to know. And it is not all clear what. Is “16th of June” Bloomsday from James Joyce’s Ulysses? Or is it South African Youth Day that marks the scarred memory of the 1976 Student Uprisings in Soweto, Guguletu and elsewhere? Or could it be a significant date in Bono’s own spiritual journey because when he moves from the great lyrical intrigue of travelling salesman, talking cockatoo, Asian viruses, Ju Ju men and hits the heart of the song we are again into a treasure trove of basic Christian theology.

The dying and rebirth of the chorus are again, as is strewn throughout the album, basic Christian beliefs. Dying and being reborn is the concept of baptism, dying to the old self and being born anew. St. Paul would write, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5 v 17) and “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4 v 22- 24) It was Jesus chatting late one night/early one morning with a Pharisee called Nicodemus who coined the phrase “Born again.” (John 3) It would be a label that U2 would try to avoid in America, after one of their early visits there, because they were surprised at what that term meant and how their own faith was being caricatured and stereotyped. Yet, Bono has strong belief in rebirth and it is a thread running right through NLOTH, “Reboot yourself” in Unknown Caller and ”the heart setting sail” in FEZ-Being Born to name but two. For the anoraks who followed the development of the album on the website another song was prominent in the guessing of the albums tracklisting; Mercy, an out take from How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Mercy finishes with the lines – “I am alive, baby/ I'm born again and again/And again, and again and again and again/Again.”

The other concept that is a recurring theme not only in Bono’s lyric writing but also in his interviews is the idea of grace. He told Q way back at the time of All That You Can’t Leave Behind, an album with a song called Grace on it that he trusted in grace because if he had to trust in karma he would be coming back as a frog. The song Grace is likely to have been based on a very influential Christian book at the turn of the Millennium; Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace which Bono actually sent to Noel Gallagher from Oasis after a discussion about God and faith. In the wonderfully explicit book Bono In Conversation With Michka Assayas, Bono speaks a lot about grace and the idea of interruptions of grace in the lives of individuals and history.

This section in the Assayas book probably gives an excellent and succinct Bono theology that will help unpack the ideas of songs like Breathe...

“It’s clear to me that Karma is at the heart of the Universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “As you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Grace interrupts, if you like the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid things.”

Assayas tried to call him out on the stupid things but sadly Bono declines to spell it out before going on to the basis of this grace being found in Christ’s cross.

“But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb... The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not rerap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humble... It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.”

To find a Biblical source for Bono’s ideas here, go to Ephesians chapter 2. To find it in Breathe go to where he finds grace... and that is all that he has found!

This rebirth is all very well but it has to be lived. Breathe pours it out onto the street with energy and urgency. There is a sense that this rebirth, this grace, this love that you can’t defeat is not for his own self-indulgence but needs taken to the public square with arms out in welcome that the grace he has found becomes the grace that he lives by; a serving grace as much a saving grace. This idea of going out into the street might well be from the Old Testament Book of Proverbs - “Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech.” (Proverbs 1 v 20). The idea is repeated again some chapters later.

Breathe is going to be a major new input into the U2 live act. It is going to come over with a blistering power. It is the kind of song that demands commitment and when you add its potent punch to the cumulative adrenaline of a live audience of tens of thousands it is going to fuel some serious commitment to whatever campaigns U2 will build their tour around. Be ready to be moved!

NLOTH song by song - WHITE AS SNOW



After the riffed out centre of the album and the experimentation of Fez, here is the quiet reflective shift of pace; a piano led ballad and when the guitar comes in it is a gentle strum, as far from Edge’s trademark as is imaginable. It seems very unlike U2 but then Bono begins to sing and you immediately have Hands That Built America in mind, from the Gangs In New York soundtrack. It could be an evocative, suggestive, mysterious or vague story line, giving little away in images of highways, dry ground and woods and moons. The singer’s brother and he driving on straight highways in the first verse could actually be Springsteen in his Nebraska phase. Interviews, however, fill us in on perhaps trivial information that Bono was thinking of a soldier dying in Afghanistan. Maybe when it makes its appearance in the movie Brothers directed by their old Irish mate Jim Sheriden we will have more resources for contextualisation.

Whatever the storyline, at the core of the song, perhaps given away by the melodic steal of the Christmas Carol O Come O Come Emmanuel are again questions of faith and doubt and salvation. There are no clues in verse one that we are to be confronted with the heavy theological issues of verse 2. Immediately, the narrator declares that he once knew God’s love but there was then a time when he lost it. Whether he is still in that doubting agnostic place we don’t know but salvation is what he is looking for. Forgiveness is what the ultimate search is for. Where it can be found is the key to this particular universe, or in the knowledge that it is a dying man eternity. It brings to mind Springsteen again and all those characters from Nebraska seeking various kinds of atonement. On White As Snow, if we are aware that it is a war zone and a dying soldier, the question is can forgiveness be found in a terrain that is so unforgiving. A more general question is how there can be forgiveness gained where forgiveness is not given, recalling Jesus words in the prayer he taught his disciples, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

The answer, the singer feels, is “The lamb as white as snow.” This is the central belief of Judaism and Christianity. The Lamb atones for sin. A Lamb without blemish is the only thing that can bring that forgiveness from the Divine. Christianity believes that the Emmanuel who came in that Christmas Carol, whose melody underpins this theological discussion, is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1 v 29) to quote John the Baptist, Jesus cousin and fervent wilderness preacher. This unblemished Lamb can make our hearts as white as snow is Christianity’s core belief. King David, Bono’s favourite Psalmist and blues singer, wrote his song of being made as white as snow (Psalm 51) after committing his most notorious sins, incidentally catalogued by Leonard Cohen in Hallelujah. David ultimately hoped that God would make his heart as white as snow... and so this dying soldier. Intimate, tender, poignant, beautiful!

NLOTH song by song - FEZ - BEING BORN



FEZ- Being Born

A Passengers type experimental type thang with distortions, musical shifts and loops that even loop their own mantra from Get On Your Boots, just two song earlier, this is the strangest thing on the album, musically and lyrically. When I was first listening through the album I jotted thoughts down alongside the lyrics and on this one I have just a huge circled question mark! I feel like leaving it at that and then I feel bad that you Googled or searched for this page to come up and like the dog in Old Mother Hubbard you would get nothing from an empty cupboard!

The location is Fez for sure, geographically described. The birth? It could be the birth of the album or it could be some kind of spiritual birth, the description seems perfectly physical! Bono is into his rebirth and indeed we will come back to that when we get to the penultimate track Breathe. The heart setting sail as the last line and does give the sense of human potential to create and imagine and create and discover and ultimately contribute. That could happen at the birth of a baby, an album or in a spiritual rebirth. And Fez seems an exotic and intoxicating place to dream all things new.

Now are you sorry I didn’t just say, “The cupboard is bare!”

NLOTH song by song - STAND UP COMEDY

U2 images 

Stand Up Comedy comes out all Achtung Baby strut with a Curtis Mayfield/Bob Marley spiritual/political anthemic clarion call. Around the riffs, distortion and declaration to stand up for love we get some of Bono’s sharpest lines, most accusing self critique and one couplet that holds the key to the band’s entire canon as well as nailing a critical contemporary issue. You can tell I love it!

The second verse might be my favourite U2 verse...

“Stand up, this is comedy
The DNA lottery may have left you smart
But can you stand up to beauty, dictator of the heart
I can stand up for hope, faith love
But while I´m getting over certainty
Stop helping God across the road like a little old lady”

The contemporary obsession with beauty that has already been dealt with on Get On Your Boots and the last album’s Original Of The Species gets another tossing around. Looks that dictate the heart need stood up to and another straight Biblical lift, this time from 1 Corinthians 13 suggests a guiding light that transcends the DNA lottery, the dictator of the heart and the dizzy world and lovesick eye of verse one.

After that there is this great line about how we see God. Juxtaposed next to the Scriptural lift of the previous line, it is Bono at his humble best; quoting Scripture in one breath and avoiding the potential arrogance in the next. When we have God so boxed that we tell him what he can and can’t do as many fundamentalist Christian do then we make him into a little old lady. It is like we need to guide him by the theology we have defined him by. Many of the same old lady walkers use the words “Sovereign God” but if God did a sovereign act they’d pull him back across the road and save him from danger. As if his humility is not clear enough so far Bono uses a couple of lines familiar from recent interviews about being Napoleon in high heels and warning us all by way of Jsopehine to watch rock stars and small men with big ideas.

From fundamentalist Christians Bono then has a go at the arrogant athiests. The Richard Dawkins syndrome that has flushed our society with arguments against the existence of God that I got over as school pupil, and not even a good one at that. Dawkins throws academic qualifications around that should make his arguments smarter. Bono? Well he takes him out in an economy of words – “God is love/And love is evolution´s very best day” – and with it he equates God with love which if you look back to Rattle And Hum’s God Part 2, then since and before, you unlock the code that sees God even more omnipresent in the U2 canon than he already is.

All achieved in just 3 minutes and 50 seconds making the musical spine of the album riff heavy and not without a thought or two to chew on.



Green Day didn’t even touch my radar for the first decade of their career, apart from having a bit of a laugh at California seemingly finding my native Stiff Little Fingers and The Undertones nearly twenty years late! Then American Idiot caught me by surprise in 2004 with its post 9/11 George W Bush critique of America at war. It was a revelation in content and sound. I’ve been looking forward to 21st Century Breakdown for weeks and I thought I was too old for punk. Punks are supposed to throw out confrontational albums but they are not supposed to be ambitious enough to reach for the great definitive albums. Punk is not meant to be so precise, so strategic, so crafted and so clever. You can understand why Green Day have had their naysayers and have been labelled Judases and hypocrites. Yes, they swear their way through Horseshoes and Handgrenades with a full on assault  but elsewhere there are melodies and harmonies and an accessible sound that could storm radios and do coup d’états all over the world, an American invasion that the rest of the world might be able to welcome!

Since even before they changed their name to Green Day these guys have been treated with suspicion by the fundamentalist punks. They have too many influences on their pallet, too many strings to their musical bow, too much talent to be one dimensional. Here you get the complicated musical suite of the title track littered with Stuart Adamson’s Big Country guitar, after he had left the Skids whose song gave Green Day their biggest UK hit with U2 on The Saints Are Coming; the tenderness of Last Night On Earth that could have been a ballad on any Lennon album, sounding in fact very Julian Lennon indeed; The Last Of The American Girls could be the twenty first century Beach Boys; and though there are a few touches of Sex Pistols, there is more evidence of Keith Moon and Pete Townsend in drum, guitar and overall musical mission. Billie Joe Armstrong is a punk but he is also a great writer bringing a Beatles’ sensibility and U2 big stadium swagger to the underground sound of Berkeley circa 1992.

What are they on about? Well, that is not tricky to decipher at times and the storyline that is supposed to be here is sometimes not easy to follow. The socialist punk idealism of their formative years in Berkeley’s Gilman Street scene certainly makes appearances but these guys have a wider and sharper critique. Gilman Street was the punk commune venue that got too left wing legalist and judgemental. Green Day look back at its anger of American decadence but have long broken free of its narrowness. Angst there is a-plentiful mainly against materialism, war and religion, three very modern American malaises. Where as a Christian I might have found it unnerving to listen to East Jesus Nowhere Armstrong put it well in Q when he said that he thought any Christian would have doubts over religion. Green Day are not against religion any more than they are against America. They are prophetically challenging the way it is and they do that very well.

Answers are not so forthcoming and though hope is sprinkled across these eighteen songs you wonder where it comes from; some transcendent place that they don’t give many clues to. Unlike U2, however, I reckon that Green Day want to plough up the ground and leave the seeds of solution to someone else. There is nothing wrong with that, nor this album as a way to blow out the cobwebs of your frustration with the 21st Century Breakdown.

As Billie Joe himself says, “But for me, that's the release, putting it out there. To put it out there and create some kind of human connection and strive for something that's about



As a single Get On Your Boots came out in a long line of unfamiliar first singles that started as far back as Desire from Rattle and Hum. The first sounds to hit the radio are always those that unsettle, disturb and intrigue the fan as to what might come next. Get On Your Boots certainly did all that. The surprise for me, and I had gotten to like it as a single, was how in the context of the album I found it reassuring and swaggeringly catchy half an album in. The big Edge riff, the Larry gunshot drumming, Adams solid groove and Bono’s cascading of spoken word couplets, all make claim on your attention until the melodic transformation into “let me in the sound” brings cohesion and unified sing along.

Lyrically, the song is equally unnerving. It could be that U2 were attempting another crack at the frivolous and as they found on Achtung Baby couldn’t demean themselves to just sing a song about sexy boots. Though Bono claims not to want to talk about wars between nations for at least these three and a half minutes there are bomb scares, dark dreams, ghosts and the focus on a pair of sexy boots gives way to the future and eternity. More admiration for Mrs Vox is certainly contained within. The idea that women are the future is again Bono’s acknowledgment of his wife in particular in women in particular. She may be the one in the sexy boots. She may also be the one who is unaware of how beautiful she is, though this chorus echoes the sentiments of Original Of The Species which was about the U2 female teenage offspring.

“The sound” that there is a desire to belong to seems to be a symbol of salvation – “God, I’m going down/I don’t want to drown/Meet me in the sound.” In the end a song about sexy boots ends up like a clarion call to something much bigger; the future needs a lot of love.

ANNE GORDON 1934-2009 - Inspiration of a Life

This last while has had us live very much in the valley of the shadow and on Monday morning very early my wife's mum passed away. As I meditated on her life to give the tribute at her funeral I was confronted with challenge and inspiration. I hope you are too...

It is probably not the best tradition to start – son-in-law paying Tribute to a mother-in-law – but I am pleased to say and to tell you that I knew Anne Gordon as a woman in her own right long before I garnered the wisdom and courage to ask her daughter out! One of the tributes to Anne’s life is the number of my peers who also have tributes to pay and I’d still be among them even if I had never been given the privilege of being part of the family. Family is a good place to start I guess. The Gordon/Burns clan was small but strong. She utterly cherished Janice who has lost her best friend (I’ll try Anne but I’ll find it hard to replace you) and Bryan who has lost the love of his life after 48 years of marriage have been thrown into a great void, a void that only love can create. It would be remiss of me to not pay tribute this afternoon to Bryan and Janice who have loved and cared for their beloved Anne in these last years of difficulty and last weeks of illness. Olive and her late sister Beattie Burns were thick as thieves and every Friday they met cleaned, pontificated and laughed. It was a joy to be there on a few of those times. I have thought this week to say a prayer for the Lord himself – with Anne arriving to get back in cahoots with Beattie he’ll be kept on his toes!

Anne Burns was born on Southport Street off the Cliftonville Road in north Belfast seventy five years ago next week... She was the youngest of four children (12 years younger than the others) of Joseph and Elizabeth Burns. Most of the rest of Anne’s life was dedicated to that same area of Belfast.

The most important decision of her life came at a Scripture Union camp in Dundrum when she decided to follow Jesus and her particular following involved her in Old Park Presbyterian. When Alzheimers started to mess with Anne’s mind this was the place that Bryan has to bring her again and again. She was a member of the Girls Auxilery, Church Choir, faithful member of the midweek, served on Missionary committee organising Missionary lunches for years. Bryan and she led a young adults group that included Bishop Harold Miller. Ann taught in Sunday School including one future Moderator of the General Assembly Alistair Dunlop whose Moderatorial year stood out because of the way Anne taught him David and Goliath at 8 years old!!!!!!!! The truth is and this is where I want to get to, that I don’t have to stretch the facts and make jokes to speak of Anne’s influence. In these last weeks and days I have been receiving emails from people who testified to her impact on their lives.

There were two places that she used her quiet warmth to encourage and inspire. The first was in her front room in Woodcroft Park. Skerryvore was like a drop in house for the youth of Old Park, Holywood’s Search Light Youth Clubbers and a network of young people who felt at home in Skerryvore. I can even embarrassingly say that I took 3 of my former girlfriends to supper or meals in the Gordon house! Many of us have memories of that house full, Anne igniting the laughter, games would have been pulled out – never mess with her at Yatzee or Pictionary. The suppers were sensational. You simply didn’t eat lunch or tea in expectation and it was always a better option than the chippy! Janice was saying how when she made her own mince pies, she’d bring them out of the oven, the youth would eat off the griddle while she put more in. In this environment Anne quietly encouraged us to keep on following that Jesus she had met in Dundrum. She was an unofficial pastor, youth leader and social outreach worker. It wasn’t just youth who found their way into her place of belonging. There were regularly people at Church on a Sunday morning who ended up getting a more spectacular roast dinner than they’d expected. I suffered one day for this when in trying to get time to ask Bryan for Janice’s hand in marriage a German was invited back for lunch and engagement had to wait another day! Then there was Mrs Grubb a woman of aristocracy who after she left her privileges behind spent every Christmas for twenty years staying at Skerryvore. It was a place where I met recovering alcoholics alongside recovering aristocrats. It was certainly a wee clue to what heaven might be like.

The other demographic in the Skerryvore community was missionaries. In the seventies and eighties and into the nineties if you saw an African in Belfast it was likely he or she was staying at Skerryvore. For fifty years Anne and Bryan were committed to mission in Africa and ended up the Reps for AEF on the island with Anne the Hon. Secretary for forty years. In this role they would have organised the Annual Conference in Stricklands which was a great weekend. Anne sent out Prayer news around the country encouraging people to pray for people all over the southern countries of the African continent. She and Bryan were greatly respected by the dynasties of AEF missionaries Comries, Evans, Fosters, Griffiths... Many loved to come and speak at conference and enjoy Anne’s hospitality before, during and after Conference. One of the traits of AEF in the late eighties and early nineties was the youthfulness. Anne was able to blend the front room suppers with encouragements to go overseas and many did for a year or more. Anne and Bryan along with Janice visited Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland praying for and encouraging missionaries as they went.

You can feel the fullness of life in my words. The photo on the front of your order of service was taken in our house in Ballycastle on Christmas Day 2001. Anne had a heart attack the next day and I don’t believe ever truly got back to this energy and zeal. Paul talks in Romans about the gift of hospitality being up there with prophecy and leadership. Anne exemplified that gift and with it impacted literally the world. She was more an Andrew than a Peter. Peter went on to preach to thousands and thousands whereas Andrew as quieter but introduced Peter to Jesus. In doing that he reached beyond the front room. Today there are many reaching very very many because Anne gave a gentle word in that front room.

And I guess we need not only talk geography but generations. When I met Anne Gordon I had no interest in Africa at all, being more fascinated with Asia. Now I get second home sick for Cape Town where with Janice and my Asst Lynn we have taken over 200 students to try and bring God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven changing the lives of Africans and the students themselves in the process And just last week as I went on my computer I saw Caitlin had been Wikipedia finding out all about South Africa. Those Granddaughters who Anne loved so much and sadly got so little time with are being influenced too!

How much have I packed in? How much have I left out? I sat with Anne for a few minutes on my own this morning. As I sat just her body, me and The Lord I couldn’t help get inspired again. This was just an ordinary life that looked very small and insignificant this morning. BUT with her connection to God because of what Jesus had done for her she lived that life in all its fullness that Jesus talked about in John 10. A wee girl from Southport Street from a wee room in a house in Holywood literally has touched the world without fanfare or fame or big stage. Early Monday morning after her daughter had showed all her mum’s genetics and conditioning in running the first Fisherwick Church family weekend with the same quiet warmth and grace Anne passed on the baton and I can’t believe it was ever more appropriate for God to say, WELL DONE MY GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANT... ENTER INTO YOUR REST.



806244150054 Images

I love the movie Bruce Almighty and every time I watch it I see new theological nuances and behavioural challenges in scenes and lines. I am not going to give a lengthy outline – go and watch and if you get time check out this fascinating interview with the director about art and faith ­ suffice to say that Bruce is wrestling in a Psalm-like way with God over life in general and career in particular when God arrives and tells suggest if he can do a better job, to get on with it and passes on His attributes to Bruce. Getting God’s attributes would go to any young man’s head and it does, with him lifting ladies skirts on the street and drawing the moon in closer to heighten the romance and ultimate lust with his girlfriend GRACE who by the way is named for theological impact.

There are other threads in the plot, and many spiritual discussions are opened for discussion or closed to debate, but Bruce and Grace is where it begins and ends. Ultimately it is about the humbling of a man, any man, to see others as more important than him. It is a lesson in how to love. Bruce is all about himself and his career. There is a scene where having asked Grace to get dressed up and taking her to their most important restaurant Grace expects to hear the words “Will you marry me?” and gets “I got the anchor job” which he has used his divine gifts, again selfishly, to steal at the local news channel.

In the end Grace leaves Bruce and in his final surrender to God Bruce gets knocked down by a truck and eye balls God himself on the brink of judgement. There, at the end of his tether and the end of his pilgrimage, God asks him what he wants for Grace and Bruce prays a prayer that is insightful and Christlike, “I want her to be happy, no matter what that means. I want her to find someone who will treat her with all the love she deserved, for me. I want her to meet someone who’ll see her always as I do now; through Your eyes.” Bruce has put his own selfishness to death in order that someone else might be loved. This is when Christ’s redemption becomes personalised and realised in Bruce and that redemption does not only clear his sin slate clean but re-moulds him as a Christlike person.

I think of this parable of redemption when I listen to Iain Archer’s song Frozen Lake, from his gorgeous new album To The Pine Roots. This beautifully tender and fragile tune, sung at the top of Archer’s gifted vocal range is about living to love others; wife or the whole big world!

“I want to be someone who makes you feel beautiful

I want to be someone who does

I want to be someone who makes you feel beautiful

I want to be someone who covers you with love”

This is music as a prayer. Where Tolstoy spoke of art as intercourse between human and human, it can also be an intercourse in the depth one’s own meditating, reflective soul or between human and God.

What I was drawn to in both Bruce Almighty and Frozen Lake was the use of the word “someone.” There is a psychological need at the heart of every human being to be “someone.”In both of these pieces of art the “someone” is the one who lives to love, to serve others and indeed feed other people’s “someone-ness.” If we want to find who we are, it is not in living for what we want. Indeed, another great line in the movie is when Bruce tells God he gave everyone what they wanted in their prayers and God responds, “Since when has anyone a clue about what they want?”

The Bible constantly suggests that we will find ourselves when we give up what we think we want. Jesus asked what good would it be to gain the world and lose our souls, our very self? Paul was constantly writing to believers telling them to put the interests of other above themselves. In Philippians 2 he theologised this idea, perhaps quoting an early Church hymn, and inspired us to what discipleship really is – doing what Christ did in giving up everything for others. Then, like Bruce, we pray the right prayers. Then, like Iain, we become the “someone” we long to be; what God made us originally to be and what Jesus died that we might become again.


There is a bizarre theological/behavioural conundrum that goes on in Christendom. The most general definition of belief (and I say general) is that Catholics believe that doing good things get you to heaven whereas Protestants believe that it is not about your works but about God’s grace, he loves you no matter what! Why then is it that Protestants spend their lives worried about whether they are doing the right thing and Catholics seem to live pretty relaxed lives?! Why is it that Catholics know how to party but Protestants (at least the practicing kind!) rarely go out?!

I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight is about the committed spiritual pilgrim wanting to party. The chorus is again almost Calvinistic in its theological intent. Reformer John Calvin believed in “the perseverance of the saints.” St Paul put it well in his epistle to the Philippians when he told them he was “confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” There is assured belief that the slow pilgrim climb up what is a mountain, not just a hill, that leads to the light will be completed but that for tonight Bono needs to party!

The verses are a little more frivolous and humorous although, as always with U2, never pointless. Bono is being a magpie again, listing odds and ends of thoughts that you can see him say in a conversation or interview and then think, “I need to jot that one down.” I particularly like “Every beauty needs to go out with an idiot” because it is where me and Bono share in a lucky story! U2-ophiles will be well aware of Bono using, “The right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear” in interviews for some years.

However, in this song that latter line follows a crucial line that takes us back to the conundrum at the top of this review. When Bono sings, “Is it true that perfect love drives out all fear” (a straight life from 1 John 4 v 18) he cuts to the heart of how relaxed or stressed out the Christian pilgrim should be. If we believe this line from the Scripture and have an overall view of the way Scripture holds the flesh and spirit together, holistic fun and spiritual discipline, our lives would be able to have a few crazy moments in our road to home.

If I can give a chunky quote from Bono’s recent New York Times article about Easter I think it takes us to the heart of this song and speaks into this song’s meaning:

Christianity, it turns out, has a rhythm — and it crescendos this time of year. The rumba of Carnival gives way to the slow march of Lent, then to the staccato hymnals of the Easter parade. From revelry to reverie. After 40 days in the desert, sort of ...

Carnival — rock stars are good at that.

“Carne” is flesh; “Carne-val,” its goodbye party. I’ve been to many. Brazilians say they’ve done it longest; they certainly do it best. You can’t help but contract the fever. You’ve got no choice but to join the ravers as they swell up the streets bursting like the banks of a river in a flood of fun set to rhythm. This is a Joy that cannot be conjured. This is life force. This is the heart full and spilling over with gratitude. The choice is yours

U2 have held in tension the Carnival and Lent aspects of the Christian tradition since the very start. There was a time when they thought the two couldn’t live together but they have discovered, and in I’ll Go Crazy... have declared, that the two can be part of the same human pilgrimage.