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March 2013

THE CROSS OF CHRIST ACCORDING TO U2 (Easter Sunday) - The Grave Is Now A Groove

U2 Window in The Skies

So, yesterday we left Jesus lying dead in a tomb. The disciples running and hiding and losing all faith in their disillusioned confusion. U2 were shouting Wake Up Dead Man which at least had more hope than Peter, James and John. In music history terms we left U2’s 90s catalogue behind. Wake Up Dead Man was their last album track for three years and then... Their first track of the new millennium was another reinvention and was actually dubbed by some reviewers a Resurrection Shuffle! How intriguing!

The lyrics were hopeful. There was a sense of something new. There was a spiritual reaching as if the he Psalm bluesman had given way to the Psalm devotional. Then there is the bird of resurrection from the last night the world was left so hopeless at the time of the flood. A great song for Easter Sunday for sure.

The heart is a bloom
Shoots up through the stony ground
There's no room
No space to rent in this town

It's a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
It's a beautiful day

Touch me
Take me to that other place
Teach me
I know I'm not a hopeless case

See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out.

Years later U2 would return to the theme of resurrection more explicitly in Window In The Skies.

 “The rule has been disproved
The stone has been moved
The grave is now a groove
All debts are removed, ooh

Oh can't you see what our love has done
Oh can't you see what our love has done
Oh can't you see what our love has done
What it's doing to me”

This verse going into the chorus is a theological beaut. I am presuming in its context that the rule that’s been disproved is that a dead man was raised again. The idea that the grave became a groove is a lovely little line following the stone has been moved and then that recurring theological thread in U2’s career – atonement, redemption, sins forgiven, debts dealt with.

The chorus is a declaration of what God’s incarnation, death and resurrection has done to the world... and then from the objective to the subjective – “what it’s doing to me.” These events and the theologies they create can have their impact on the minute by minute life of the individual. The new life starts here!


Easter Sunday


When the most torturous darkest darkness dawns

In the most soothing healing light

And the mind so rattled settles

In slow aftershock realignment of perspective

When the eyes refocus to peer through the hours of looking away

To be envisioned with the revelation

Of more than a gardener

And the soul stops tossing, turning, churning up

From its sickly desperation

And hopeless heartache

To waken up

To take it in

As the earth re-knits after tremoring

And on this firmer under, standing

We reach for shimmers, like dust caught in sunrise

To catch the splinters flying

And piece the fragments of debris

Into everything new

Never the same again

The dreams dead, revived

The hope buried, reborn

The vision of a future, redeemed  

It is the peace after the warzone

It is a resurrection dance after the wake

It is a whole new Kingdom come

The new life starts here.


Fitz logo
After Friday nights's amazing commemoration of Good Friday in the Ulster Museum we gather after the long bleak Easter Saturday to hear a woman declare that Christ is risen! As we realise the new life starts here, we will then find ourselves in Jesus sum up of his Sermon On The Mount and I will unpack the secret to Resurrection living.  All this with the help of Blake Family worship leading with a baptism as a sacramnet of the new life and Neil Sedgewick's version of U2's Windows In The Sky. Celebration!

In the evening Jonathan Abernethy Barkley will bring us to the women around the cross in a reflective prayerful "Bible end" to the Easter weekend.


U2 Pop

Christians, at least in my experience, are not sure what to do with that day inbetween. For well over an entire day Jesus is in a tomb. The dream seems over. Hope is dead.  If there was ever a song for Easter Saturday then it is Wake Up Dead Man. There is a believer calling out to Jesus, like the Psalmists that Bono loves, but he is finding no solace, no hope, no way through. Jesus is in the tomb and things look bleak. The most poignant version of this song was performed at Slane Castle in 2001 when U2 stripped it down to a mournful dirge at the end of Sunday Bloody Sunday after Bono has named all the dead from the Omagh bombing of 1998. It is eerily cathartic in this incarnation and becomes everything that the blues section of the Old Testament Psalms can conjure.

On record Wake Up Dead Man has a very pivotal place in the U2 canon. Bono once said that in the 80’s the band sang about what they believed in but in the 90s they sang about what they didn’t believe in. The media and commerce took the wrath of U2’s artistic critique during 90’s ZOO TV and Popmart tours. It was a bleak outlook for humankind. That the last song on a 90s U2 album was suggesting that Jesus needed to rise from the dead was the darkest of full stops. When in hindsight you know what their first song of the new millennium would be it is even more intriguing; too brilliant to be contrived... but that is for tomorrow’s blog!

“Tell me
Tell me the story
The one about eternity
And the way it's all gonna be
Wake up
Wake up dead man
Wake up
Wake up dead man

I'm waiting here boss
I know you're looking out for us
But maybe your hands aren't free
Your Father
He made the world in seven
He's in charge of heaven
Will you put a word in for me Wake up
Wake up dead man
Wake up
Wake up dead man.”



Easter Saturday

THE DAY BETWEEN (Easter Saturday)

The great idea is buried

We talk on the day between

What we watched on Friday

And a Sunday no one’s seen

The world switched off the light

And cracked the thin veneer

It all started very good

How did we end up here


Now where is perseverance

The secret of slow burn

Should I focus on the not yet come

And be vowing not to turn

Should I be bedding in

I’m not going to go away

Yes I am hanging on

No matter how thin this frays


When did I go wrong

Where did I get lost

And all these things I gained

Were they worth this cost

For it wasn’t crazy living

Just an ordinary mistake

All it takes is one tiny slip

For a domino effect.


The great idea is buried

We talk on the day between

What we watched on Friday

And a Sunday no one’s seen.


U2 with a shout

“I want to go, to the foot of Mount Zion
To the foot of He who made me see
To the side of a hill blood was spilt
We were filled with a love
And we're going to be there again


Shout, shout, with a shout”

U2’s first lyric on the events of Good Friday are found here in With a Shout (Jerusalem) from their second record October. Six years later, on Joshua Tree, they are more grown up artistically and theologically. In I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, which came about when their producer Daniel Lanois encouraged Bono to write a Gospel Song they nailed the theology of Christ’s Passion as succinctly as any hymn writer ever has : -

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Oh my shame
You know I believe it

In a 2005 book Bono In Conversation with Michka Assayas we get a clarity of Bono’s beliefs when it comes to Jesus and the cross.  Assayas is not a fellow believer and constantly pushes Bono on faith matters. So he suggests to Bono that Christ might indeed be among the world’s great thinkers, but son of God might be a bit farfetched. Bono responds with a CS Lewis-like apologetic: “But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off the hook. Christ says: No I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me a teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.”… So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who he said he was – the Messiah – or a complete nutcase. I mean we’re talking nut case on the level of Charles Manson.”

From this identification of Christ, Bono then looks at the essence of, and critical need for, grace instead of karma much as he sang in the song Grace from U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind record released in 2000. Bono’s focus for all of this is on what Christ achieved on the cross. Bono says he loves the idea that God would warn us that the selfish outworking of our sinful nature has consequences but then goes on to open up salvation; “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 reap the obvious death. That’s the point it should keep us humbled…It’s not our own good works that gets us through the gates of Heaven.”

Perfect thoughts for Good Friday as we walk with Christ to the side of a hill outside Jerusalem where his blood was spilled to break the bonds and loose our chains.


U2 until end

(the following is lifted from my book Walk On; The Spiritual Journey Of U2 (Relevant 2005) and is based around U2's song about Judas, Until The End Of The World...)

Judas is not someone to whom Christians have given a lot of time. He was Satan incarnate and sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver. If only Judas’ story was that simple. Judas and his story were so complex that Bob Dylan had wondered if Judas Iscariot had God on his side? It’s a mighty question that like so many other things we want to ignore. As always, Bono faced it head on. For him, it seems to have been one of those rich seams he had been trying to tap.

Bono got inside the story. The closeness of the bride and groom was a wonderful image of the return of Christ at the end of the world, and missing too much, if you stop to think, seems to have been a shot across the bows of post-modern culture that U2 would take on. It could also be an ironic dig at those who would get nothing from this album because they wouldn’t stop to think. Kissing Jesus and breaking his heart was a bringing to life of the passion story that seems to have lost its flesh and blood and feelings and pain. Judas’ emotions after the act is done are a musical moment of genius. No sermon or Easter reflection could quite conjure such a roller coaster insight into this vital event to the redemption of the world. In the end, we are left to wonder. When Judas reaches for the one he tried to destroy, Bono uses the words of the song title “Until the End of the World” which intriguingly in the Gospel are said to the disciples as they head out to convert the world (Matt. 28:20). The promise that he had given to his friends of his eternal loyalty is spoken here to Judas. Does the song conclude with his salvation or damnation?

Without doubt, the spark that lit Bono’s Gethsemane flame was a book of poems by Irish poet Brendan Kennelly called The Book of Judas. When the book and albums appeared around the same time, both men reviewed each other’s work. Kennelly’s work is quite a tome, eight years of poems, where profanity sits alongside Christ as he looks at the Judas of Gethsemane, the Judas in our culture and the Judas in us all. In his preface, he asks questions like: “Was Judas the fall guy in some sublime design he didn’t even begin to understand? What was he trying to prove? Was he a not-so-bright or too-bright politician? A man whose vision of things was being throttled by another, more popular vision? A spirit not confined to the man who bore the name Judas but one more alive and consequential now at the famined, bloated, trivialized, analytical, bomb-menaced, progressive, money-mad, reasonable end of the twentieth century than ever before?” It’s obvious how such questions, and the poems that explored them, would have caught Bono’s eye. It’s biblical. It’s contemporary. It’s different from what U2 had been doing. It’s not something else, though; it’s the same thing from a different angle.

Is that not what poets and songwriters should be doing? Let the systematic theologians spell it out. Let the artists throw out thoughts and slants, maybe even slants no one else has thought of. They should give another view of something familiar to help us learn more about it. They should deal with love, life, good, evil, God, the world and faith. Many of the biblical writers were poets more than they were theologians. Poets and prophets ranted and raved, and storytellers wrote great yarns that all had different slants on God and life and faith. Perhaps the poet’s absence from the Church for many centuries has left it deprived of much insight.



(here is my Judas poem inspired by the work of U2 and Brendan Kennelly that is blogged in the blog "The Cross Of Christ According To U2 - Judas."

Judas, Judas

What were you thinking

You had another agenda

You had a better plan

Brute force to power to reign in might

To make all the Gentiles pay

And the Pharisee betrayers and deniers as well

Yes, all you were doing

Was pushing the envelope

Nudging the inevitable

Speeding up the Messiah’s path to that sacred throne of David.

So Judas

What were you thinking

Were you frustrated at Jesus approach

Did you run of patience with loving your enemy

Had you gotten fed up with humility and donkeys

Did you feel led on or even betrayed.


Judas, Judas

I hear you cry from outside my door

A society kissing God goodbye

As we write our agendas of more and more

Of building bigger barns to horde treasure on earth

At any cost whatever to whoever

They all have the same opportunity as us do they not?

A people kissing God goodbye

As they fight for a land for themselves

That they don’t want to share with others

Because others are different

And others might impinge on our traditions and our comfort

A culture kissing God goodbye

As they free themselves from any superstitions

Or old fashioned ideas of morals or values

Or boundaries by which to live by

Because we as humans have a better, smarter more evolved agenda

That will keep us all free to fight for our human right.


Judas, Judas

I hear you cry from inside myself

When I get frustrated

That my prayers don’t get answered now

That my friends don’t find Jesus now

That  nobody seems to notice my contribution

Or nobody asks me to make one

Or people criticise the contributions I make

That the minister doesn’t share my vision

That the leaders don’t rush it along

That the worship leaders don’t play my songs

That the services are too old fashioned

Or too contemporary

That Lord you don’t seem to be living out my agenda.


Lord, Lord

Forgive us when we betray you

When we step out of intimate fellowship

Into the dark and the shadows

When we think we need to make it happen

On our terms and in our time

Forgive us when we seem to know better than you

And when we need to jump start you into action

With our betraying kiss.


Lord, Lord

Help us to see the Judas in us all

Help us to find our ways through the shadows and darkness

Do something that the light of your glory might shine upon us

And that we could find our way back onto your agenda once again.


An Independent People

As a television documentary series An Independent People was the BBC at its best. Telling the history of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland it was well researched, beautifully shot and superbly presented by William Crawley. Whether it was interesting enough to grab the attention of non Presbyterians the way it did the Presbyterians is hard to tell but certainly for me it was a fascinating journey through the history that made my Church, which takes up my life and vocation as a minister in it, what it is today. What were my initial subjective surmises?

First, I think it was an awareness that we really are not what we were. The dissenters that Presbyterians were is a thing long lost to our present regime. In the third part of the series Crawley clearly noted that time when Catholicism was on the ascendency, Irish Nationalism was building and Presbyterians left their place as outsiders and became part of the establishment. Joining forces with former foes the Anglicans to keep Northern Ireland Protestant was a huge shift from who we were to who we have become. It reminded me of the time when Christianity became the insider at the time of Constantine. Preaching through the Sermon On The Mount during the BBC series made me wonder if Jesus could be an insider? Our dissenter history, long gone, seemed closer to the agitation of Jesus counter cultural call than being part of the status quo ever could. I found myself yearning to be part of our prophetic past.

My fear as I watched was how fearful we were. We lost that courage and self confidence that brought our brand of faith from Scotland. As we feared a Catholic Bishop in the middle of the 19th Century, we feared Home Rule leading to the Ulster Covenant of 1912 when we seemed to lose trust in God and joined him with Ulster politics to help him get us through, and we in the late 1960s feared the bullying tactics of Ian Paisley's Free Presbyterian Church who peer pressured us into flexing conservative theological muscle. I fear that as we journeyed we lost our independence.

More inspirational was how influential my predecessors were. The impact of Presbyterians in Ireland and across the world was powerful. William Crawley at plaques and graves marking the pioneers in academia, economics, politics and mission made me ask who those heroes are today? Have we domesticated the ministry? Have we confined it to being preachers only instead of revolutionary leaders of communities? I couldn't help think back to that other brilliant BBC documentary, 14 Days, that highlighted the peacemaking bravery of Fr. Alec Reid. Fr. Reid suggested that when we saw darkness it was the clergy's role to bring light. We hadn't the luxury of playing it safe behind liturgy, Reid challenged. There are many challenges in our Irish communities today that need brave, prophetic and visionary leadership. What will I and my colleagues do as we stand on the shoulders of giant Presbyterians of our history? Or have turned from that former path as we did from being dissenters?

That would have been a fascinating fourth show. Where are we and where are we heading? Formerly a minister himself Crawley would have some opinions on that and whether Presbyterianism is big and tough enough to have taken his critique is questionable. As Dr. John Dunlop stated we have battles to fight and they are not the same battles as we fought in the past. There in fact lies the answer to where we will go. Can we let go of the old battles, can we discern the new ones and can we allow those with new dreams and visions to lead or will the fearfulness that has driven the twists and turns of our last century and a half lead us into some defensive brawn with the dew bridge up? Maybe in thirty years Crawley will do that next episode before he retires and we will see how faithful we have been to the courageous revolutionary eternal Jesus or how much we have been shaped by the ebbs and flows of temporal history!



Another well crafted and thought provoking sermon from my young colleague in Fitzroy, Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley, had me reaching for Snow Patrol’s song This Isn’t Everything You Are. I have waxed lyrical before on Soul Surmise about how I feel this is Gary Lightbody’s most complete song and spoken about its pastoral power. Today though Jonathan, without mentioning the song,  gave me another angle on the title.

Jonathan was teaching us about “the Golden Rule” from the Sermon On The Mount where Jesus says “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He showed with various quotations how such a thought was present in many other literatures of philosophy and religion BUT that all the others were in the negative; don’t hate other as you don’t like to be hated! Jesus, however, takes the positive approach.

Jonathan then suggested that we should not look at others by their weaknesses, sins or as I would say foibles or quirks. We have a tendency to define people by that which is their negative traits. This was a real revelation to this minister, as I listened. Just as an artist’s caricature might exaggerate that nose that is a little longer or ears that are a little smaller so we can enlarge the little misdemeanours or habits of our friends, church going companions, strangers or enemies. What this does is to shine a light on our own self righteous judgementalism and skew our Christlike interactions with others. It allows sin to be our dominant drive in attitudes and behaviour and wrestles from us the grace that the Holy Spirit longs to grow within us. That grace that has the God given power to transform relationships and our world is left impoverished and useless. The Kingdom fails to come and God’s will does not get done on earth as it is in heaven. In heaven, where sin is no more, we will look and think differently on our neighbour. Other people’s foibles is not everything they are. Let us caricature their strengths, gifts and helpful contributions and let that new dispensation start now.