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September 2010

LET ME IN THE SOUND - an Evening in the Music Of U2


LET ME IN THE SOUND – an evening in the music of U2

It might seem to some a little surprising to find in the Church notices this week under Sunday evening service at Fitzroy Presbyterian – “Let Me In The Sound – an evening in the music of U2.” The minister of Fitzroy Rev. Steve Stockman sees it as business as usual. “We try to reflect who God is and therefore be creative in what we do and the evenings at Fitzroy are certainly not the traditional Sunday night service. However, this is not too radical for us. We have been using U2’s Psalm-like song October and their actual Psalm 40 in our Sunday morning services. In the evening we do a lot of art and creative critique of culture so U2 is obvious!” When you find out that Rev Stockman has written a best-selling book about U2, Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 perhaps it becomes a little more understandable. Is it appropriate for Church? Stockman believes again that we shouldn’t be surprised. “I quote many people in sermons, as well as lots of the Bible, from theologians like John Calvin and John Stott to novelists like Frederick Buechner and Marilynne Robinson and hymn writers like Wesley and Newton, so why not U2?” Perhaps U2 are hardly theologians or hymn writers. Stockman disagrees, “ Oh they have written some great hymns, 40, Yahweh and Magnificent to name but three, and their songs are full of theological truth.”

So how does it work? What happens on a night in the music of U2? It seems that this little Church in south Belfast has enough musical talent to keep it all in house. From the up and coming young loud and brash Mud Sunfish who’ll tackle I Will Follow and Get On Your Boots, to the stunning voice of Caroline Orr (with Peter Greer), who released an album a couple of years ago and has been a backing vocalist with Duke Special and Brian Houston, to Canadian songwriter Eric Angus Whyte there are in total seven acts doing nine U2 covers in varying arrangements. “It is great to have the talent in house that we have, not many Churches could pull it off,” Stockman beamed. Is there a preach? “Well, there will be enough content to fill a couple of sermons but it will be broken up. My intention is to “DJ” the songs with appropriate prayers and readings that come out of the songs and to add a few clues so that people pick up the spiritual depth in the music. My Youth Director Chris Hunter is also contributing a review of U2’s Paris concert of just last week.”

This is the second in a series of such evenings that Fitzroy are putting on. Earlier in the year they did the same with Johnny Cash and there are plans for Leonard Cohen in the new year. Is it just a gimmick? “Not at all. I do think it will attract a few people to come along for sure. However, the intent is not empty trendiness. The content will be very substantial. Church is about the communication of our Christian beliefs and to use various forms of communication is not strange or gimmicky but obvious.” If you are intrigued, like Moses was at the Burning Bush, then move closer and take your invite into the sound on Sunday night at 7pm, Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, 75-77 University Street (other artists are Gray Bradley, Jonee Hicks, W2 and The Head & Heart Collective).

more U2 on Soul Surmise

Lyric For The Day 29.9.10 - from With a Shout (Jerusalem) by U2


I wanna go
To the foot of Mount Zion
To the foot of he who made me see
To the side of a hill, blood was spilled
We were filled, with a love

          From With A Shout (Jersualem)

More explicitly Christian imagery from October. This is one of the “cross” lyrics in U2’s catalogue, probably finding its most economic and jam packed theology in I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. Here, in an album full of streams of consciousness ad-libbing ecstatic praise lyrics, we find the most grounded theological content. It is to Christ that we are seeking to give us the love we need in our lives. The faith that is so exuberantly expressed elsewhere on the album is centred on this person and this event.

Jerusalem is given a place of a little too much significance, for now and the future, probably as a result of the Hal Lindsay’s apocalyptic prophecies that was an obsession of the time; Dylan’s explicitly Christian albums are theologically weakened as result too! Still, here is a band with dreams of world domination, that few others could even imagine becoming a reality at the time, and in their efforts to get to the top they were still more than happy to shout out their Christian creed! It was naive but somehow, against the run of play, it worked!

LYRIC FOR THE DAY 28.9.10 from GLORIA by U2


I try to sing this song
I...I try to stand up
But I can't find my feet
I try, I try to speak up
But only in you I'm complete te domine
Oh Lord, loosen my lips

I try to sing this song
I...I try to get in
But I can't find the door
The door is open
You're standing there
You let me in te domine
Oh Lord, if I had anything
Anything at all
I'd give it to you
I'd give it to you


The lyrics of the lead off track on U2’s second album are not Dylanesque. They are very simple, with Bono adlibbing almost the entire album having lost his lyrics note book in the US before the recordings began. If the live on-mic writing effected Gloria and the entire album so did the fact that it was this point that U2 were most immersed in the Christian fellowship Shalom. Another member of that fellowship told me that the recording sessions often had a crowd from the fellowship around and worship was going on continually. There is a youthful Christian exuberance that fuels the entire record and that sense of spontaneous praise and the need to go into another language to express the spiritual intensity is evident here.

There is yet another factor at work here. As this album was being birthed U2 were asking themselves of there was a place for Christians in the rock industry. There was a real wrestling going on especially with Bono and Edge as to whether they were called by God to be rock stars. Here in Gloria you can hear the vocational searching – “only in you I’m complete” and “if I had anything at all I’d give it to you.” Eventually U2 would conclude that their vocation as in rock and how has the test of time proven them right. What would rock music be had they took the wrong option? What lives would they be living of they’d followed a different path? Even as they wrestled here, a little confused, they conjure in their raw power and uncertainty a spiritual energy that has rarely ever been achieved in a hymn and that is what Gloria is... a really powerful hymn!

LYRIC OF THE DAY 27.9.10 from Falling At Your Feet by Bono and Daniel Lanois

(this week's Lyric For The Day will be a series on U2's work with this Sunday night's "LET ME IN THE SOUND - AN EVENING IN THE SOUNDS OF U2" at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church.)

Lanois Shine The_Million_Dollar_Hotel_-_Soundtrack

“every teenager with acne
every face that's spoiled by beauty
every adult tamed by duty
they're all falling at your feet

(all fall down) all the information
(all fall down) all the big ideas
(all fall down) all the radio waves
(all fall down) electronic seas
(all fall down) how to navigate
(all fall down) how to simply be
(all fall down) to know when to wait
(all fall down) this plain simplicity
(all fall down) in whom shall i trust
(all fall down) how might i be still
(all fall down) teach me to surrender
(all fall down) not my will, thy will.”
          From Falling At Your Feet by Bono and Daniel Lanois


Bono and Daniel Lanois’ Falling At Your Feet is one of this list songs that no doubt has Dylan’s influence written all over it. Released on both the Million Dollar Hotel soundtrack album and Lanois’ album Shine it is full of clever couplets that critique the culture with humour and provocation.

The overriding theme of the piece is that everything is falling at the feet... but of whom? The last lines give the answer. The question of “whom shall I trust” in King James’ Biblical language concluded with Jesus words from the Garden of Gethsemane reveal the song to be a hymn. A closer look and there is sense that it is perhaps based on Philippians chapter 2, where Paul seems to be reciting an early Church hymn that states that everything and everyone will one day fall at the feet of the Jesus who gave up everything to be our servant and was then exalted to the highest place.

The secret answer to all the cultural critique is a surrendering to this Jesus and living by God’s will not ours.

MAY GOD (We Sing These Songs...)

(This is the poem of a pastor, watching his congregation going through all kinds of pain. The third verse applies something Philip Yancey said about spiritual maturity, where he used that verse in Isaiah 40: 31 about tgose who hope in the Lord and suggested that when we are young we fly but maturity causes us to land, then run and finally we are walking. That is good to keep in mind as those “winds come out of nowhere and knock us off our feet” (Bruce Cockburn). Sunday worship too, at its most Biblical, will bring catharsis in using songs of lament as well as songs of praise.


When a loved one’s tossed in turbulence

You watch them smashed whichever way

And God never seems to bring the calm

No matter how hard you pray

May unseen threads of mercy

Weave in, the unravelling doubt

May God grab you by the finger

Before life’s hurting drags you out


Knowledge loves the questions

Cos it has a seamless answer

But mystery shimmies all around

She’s an awkward little dancer

And when she dances out of sight

Leaving the soul that lonely ache

May God send a holy comforter

Before you crack up in the heart break


Lord we flew on wings like eagles

Then landed with reality’s thud

We ran but soon were walking

Now crawl through this tear soaked mud

We mature in a world that’s broken

Confessing what our part is

We sing these songs to temper grief

And hope in their catharsis.

LYRIC FOR THE DAY 25.9.10 from Bruce Cockburn's Hills Of Morning

Dragons Jaw 

“Let me be a little of your breath
Moving over the face of the deep
I want to be a particle of your light
Flowing over the hills of morning”

From Hills Of Morning by Bruce Cockburn

I have used this as prayer for thirty years since Alan McIlroy converted me to Bruce Cockburn’s awesome album Dancing In the Dragons Jaw in a house less than fifty yards from the Church where I am now minister. It is a spiritually potent album, vivid in literary images, influenced by the Charles Williams books that Cockburn was reading at the time.

This chorus conjures with the mystery of us humans somehow merging with the God in God’s tangible presence in the world. It is a prayer to be involved in God’s breath, in God’s light, in God’s mission to make the world better than the world is. This song gives the title to tomorrow’s sermon in Fitzroy. I am looking at how we as a congregation are vocationally scattered across the city of Belfast, working in very influential places, effecting social change and caring for many people who are not finding themselves cared for elsewhere.

In the summer a friend now working in a Christian development organisation spoke about how when he was a probation officer no one asked him how he was bringing the Kingdom and now that he is working for a “Christian” organisation lots of people ask him. My belief is that all of my congregation are “particles of light” scattered across the city, bringing the thinking, voice, touch, attitude and ultimately love of God wherever they are and whoever they are with. Those particles of light are somehow partners with God making up the bigger light. I guess that is why Jesus called himself the Light of the world and then at another time told the disciples they were the Light of the world. This is a huge prayer; it is asking to be part of the force that transforms the world.

LYRIC FOR THE DAY 24.9.10 from Villanelle Of The Heart by Leonard Cohen

Dear Heather 

“From bitter searching of the heart,
Quickened with passion and with pain
We rise to play a greater part.
This is the faith from which we start:
Men shall know commonwealth again
From bitter searching of the heart.”

          From Villanelle For Our Time by Leonard Cohen

The words of Leonard Cohen’s song Villanelle For Our Time are actually from a poem by F.R. Scott a Canadian poet, intellectual and constitutional expert.  While Scott was at Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar he became influenced by the R.H. Tawney a Christian Socialist. That makes a lot of sense as we look at these lyrics. There is a deep sense of personal spirituality and social transformation, and where they connect, going on here. Cohen or Scott, or both actually, are saying that the social coming together of people will find its spark in the personal searching of the heart. That in itself comes from a personal faith that finds its way into the world in humanity finding their vocational places. We play our part, as one of my many mantras goes, when “our deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need” (Frederick Buechner). Our work coming out of faith is what will bring Commonwealth or God’s Kingdom or however you want to describe a new world order.



When Robert Plant took himself off to Nashville, teamed up with Alison Krauss and then became with her the karaoke voices to a T-Bone Burnett album – sorry but that is how it sounds to me – I could connect with his voice in a way that I never could in his Zeppelin days or even in his “Unledded” work with Jimmy Page. Burnett took the bombast out of Plant and made his voice ache and love and yearn a little more tenderly. Raising Sand was a revelation and set Plant off on a whole new career. When the follow up, so obvious and in such demand, didn’t quite come together in the studio Plant shifted across town and found Buddy Miller as his new foil and shaper and no doubt Miller then added Patty Griffin’s angelic voice to soften the masculinity of Plant’s heavy leanings just as Krauss had done. Miller who had been a nobody until his forties before becoming Nashville’s most sought after guitarist, producer and recording artist, gives Plant a slight shift to a blusier hue that is doom laden but at the same time intensely beautiful.

There are at least three strains of musical genre that Miller has marvellously produced into a cohesive work. A good few of the tracks sound like rearranged sixties songs that The Beatles might have covered or with a title like You Can’t Buy Me Love written! Duluth’s Low get covered twice and that band’s slowcore moods and haunting atmospheres are in evidence. Then we end with a big Gospel intensity on a prayerful Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down (a kick in the teeth not only to the devil but those sensationalist preachers who accused Led Zeppelin for being demonic!) and a working of the Theodore Tilton poem Even This Shall Pass Away that is a creative and frightening apocalyptic ending. Miller brings a real raw intensity to the whole thing that sits somewhere between Plant’s English band and his last Nashvillian record. It might not be as accessible as Raising Sand but another major work in the forty year recording career of Robert Plant for sure.

LYRIC FOR THE DAY 21.9.10 from Human by The Killers


“And sometimes I get nervous
When I see an open door
Close your eyes
Clear your heart
Cut the cord...”

-      From Human by The Killers

This was the lyric that I carried all the way through my process of leaving a job I loved in Queen’s University Chaplaincy to go back into parish ministry at Fitzroy. For me, the invitation to consider becoming the minister at Fitzroy was a huge honour and I had to think about it but I had never considered going back into Church life. Fitzroy’s potential excited me but I was nervous every time I caught sight of that open door. Being a Presbyterian process, it took eight months between invitation to think about it and to actually being installed. Throughout that wait I sang over and over again this spiritual wisdom of Brandon Flowers. I had to close my eyes and seek God in ways I had never done and I had to clear my heart in readiness for a spiritual change, the way we cleared our house for the physical move.

In the end, after all was weighed up and without any doubt in my heart and mind that God was calling us to go... we had to cut the cord! The last might be the trickiest of all. It means leaving where all is safe and comfortable and jumping with faith and trust into the new world that beckons. To move on means not looking back. It is done and I am thankful to these words as the soundtrack to the entire process.

LYRIC FOR THE DAY 20.9.10 from What You Gonna Do When Your Number's Up by Steve Taylor

Steve Taylor 

“Sally's into knowledge
Spent her years in college
Just to find out nothing is true

She can hardly speak now
Words are not unique now
'Cause they can't say anything new

You say humanist philosophy is what it's all about?
You're so open-minded that your brain leaked out”

   from What You Gonna Do When Your Number’s Up by Steve Taylor

In the light of the Pope’s visit to Britain last week, I was reminded of these lines by, one of Christian music’s most original and provocative rock writers, front man of the sadly never fulfilled potential of Chagall Guevara, CEO of the pioneering Squint Entertainment and now film maker, Steve Taylor. The Pope’s challenge to Britain was culturally relevant and prophetically looked right into the eye of that culture. For a century Britain, much more than my own Northern Ireland, has drifted from the Christian faith to the point where it now seems to simply anti-Christian. This secularization took the brunt of the Pope’s critique as he challenged the nation to add faith once more to the conversations in the Market Place.

Preach it Pontiff! I have watched and listened as Britain attempts to live in the absence of God and as a result seems to add daily to the psychological and social breakdown; Douglas Coupland’s Life After God would be an ideal school text! Many of the values that were thrown out as Church attendance plummeted would be the very things that might bring healing to a society suffering from marital breakdown, social isolation, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and hedonistic anarchy. The sixties were right to open us up from much of the rigid monotony of post war Britain BUT Taylor nails it when he speaks of “being so open minded that you’re brain leaked out.” The Pope is suggesting that our souls have maybe leaked out too and he is on to something! The country should listen and listen good. 

the photo is taken from...