U2@40 - 40 SONGS

U2 - INVISIBLE (at WARD PARK 3)

Bono and Gary

Invisible is a fascinating song in U2’s body of work. Released for what seemed to be a lead off single for the long anticipated Songs Of Innocence album, something caused it to lose its sparkle. The album got delayed for many months and by the time the album found its way into everyone in the world’s Apple Library it was merely a hidden track.

It did make the set list for the Songs Of Innocence Tour but Invisible is a song that could be forgiven for being miffed about how it has been treated.

Bono has always talked about it as a song about the band’s first skirmishes into gigging in London. In the face of punk rock it may be that the new weird Dublin boys felt invisible. It is also definitely about that punk value of attempting to break down the walls between the band and the audience.

That main mantra though is about so much more than the first gigs in London. “There is no them, there’s only us” is a phrase that could have been stamped across everything that U2 have been about since they started out… 

Their entire work could be described as re-humanising those who tend to be invisible to us. The obvious subjects are the those across the world suffering with AIDS. The download of the Invisible single raised over $3million for AIDS in just a few days. The message is clear. We have dehumanised millions of people across our world. These individuals are are more than we see and more than we know and we need to look again and see their bodies and souls. That lingering anthemic “fade out” nails the prophetic protest, “There is no them... There’s only us..” It is simple, profound and powerful.

Of course Invisible can throw a wider arclight. This could be about the dalits of India, the forgotten refugees of Syria or Sudan or the disappeared of any war. A perfect slogan for a man who runs a campaign he called ONE.

On its release I blogged about how the “There is no them... there’s only us” echoed true to me in the divisions of my own city of Belfast. The two historical sides of our conflict can live in places geographically and politically where we stereotype “the other” or “them”. We need to realise that the other is more than we see and know. The only way out of division is to commit to the common good. When we see the city as about us, not about us and them, then everything can begin to change.

With Snow Patrol at Ward Park 3, Bono used it for this very Northern Irish purpose. Snow Patrol have always attempted to be a unifying force in their home land - “Ireland at the World Cup, either north or south”. Bono just made that message more obvious at the end of One in Ward Park. After the crescendo of the crowd’s delight at the end of the song, Bono gave it a moment and then before he left the stage reprised it acapella, reminding us again…

“There is no them, there’s only us”


WE NEED NEW DREAMS TONIGHT

Statue Of Liberty

I wrote this for our Joshua Tree evening in Fitzroy when we performed the entire record and I surmised in between.

I was taken with this line about needing new dreams in the song In God's Country.

We do not know what we waken up to tomorrow, in Northern Ireland or the UK. A deal between the Conservative Party and the DUP has us in a great deal of uncertainty, particularly in our power sharing talks at Stormont.

In such times of transition and uncertainty, In God's Country tells us to "punch a hole into the night" and dream new dreams.

For my new dreams I have leaned on a few sources. Firstly, U2 themselves, both lines from songs and phrases and ideas from the current tour.

Secondly, a few ideas from Brian Zahnd's splendid sermon in Fitzroy this morning.

(and I do know that there are more differences in the spelling of profit than I suggest!!!!!)

 

We need new dreams tonight

To see new dreams, and visions

Where the wounds of Jesus cross

Heal and bridge all human divisions

We need tanks turned into tractors

We need bomb silos filled with grain

We need shalom across the city

Where the streets have no name

We need judgement but not judgemental

We need grace as the judge and jury

We need schools for every girl on earth

We need refugee mothers without a worry

We need new dreams tonight

We need every child on the planet fed

We need to take the “f” in profit

And put a “ph” in there instead

We need new dream tonight!


U2 - WHERE THE STREET HAVE NO NAME - DUBLIN: BELFAST: ETHIOPIA: HEAVEN

U2 Streets

DUBLIN - BELFAST - ETHIOPIA - HEAVEN… 

These are the four locations that Bono takes us to in  the few minutes of Where The Streets Have No Name.

Streets is a BIG U2 song. It has been a constant in the U2 live set since it was the lead off track on Joshua Tree in 1987. Yet, when I wrote about my 40 songs to celebrate U2’s 40 years at the end of 2016 I did not include the song. Why? Because I was not sure if I had really nailed its meaning.

With a Fitzroy evening on the Joshua Tree coming up on June 11th it was time. Then a few thing came together and I think I know now what U2 were trying to do.

Streets for me is the link piece between Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree. Unforgettable Fire was U2 being spiritual in more mysterious and impressionistic ways. Hot Press writer, and friend of the band, Bill Graham called it a “travelogue of the soul.” He went on to say “In so far as the album is Christian, the Holy Spirit is the presiding member of the trinity.”

Where The Streets Have No Name is still a little out of focus, the rest of that first side of Joshua Tree is a more focused form of songwriting. Streets continues in that “travelogue of the soul” vein but the terrain is as geographical as spiritual.

Bono has spoken about three places that influenced the song. The one that first comes to mind and that has been most spoken about is Ethiopia. After Live Aid in 1985 Bono and his wife Ali travelled to Ethiopia to see the famine that they had all been singing for. They spent a number of weeks working in a refugee camp. 

Like all of us who have had that experience Bono has spoken about being more culture shocked on re-entry. Going to somewhere like Ethiopia is one thing. Returning home having soaked up that different way of life is more disconcerting.

So, actually Streets begins in Dublin, with Bono feeling the spiritual barrenness of the city. In this desert of the soul, that is probably a result of the culture shock of coming home, he thinks back to that real geographical desert place. Again a familiar experience for those who travel to Africa is the sense of joy and love in the hearts and smiles of the poor. Bono is drawn back here from the impoverishment of soul that he finds in Dublin.

Finally, Belfast is in there too. Belfast is a city where the streets know your name. The street name you were brought up on can very quickly define whether you are a Catholic or Protestant. Bono is imagining… hoping… and even praying… for a place and time where that division has disappeared; peace and shalom.

As the Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary Tree has kicked off in Vancouver and Seattle, Bono is adding a few clues to the song’s meaning. Firstly he is now reaching out to touch the “holy flame”. This is a sacred song. Next after the “love, love, love…” mantra in the middle of the song he is singing a snippet of words from California on Songs Of Innocence - “there is no end to love.” This is eternity. Ethiopia, high on a dessert plain. This has become an image of heaven for Bono.

And therefore impressionistic and out of focus is as good a way to convey such a mysterious spiritual hope… 

I will be unpacking all of the songs on Joshua Tree at Fitzroy Church, Belfast... with live performances of the songs on June 11th 2017 at 7pm.

 


"EARLY MORNING, APRIL 4" - A U2 SONG FOR MLK

U2 PRIDE

I have written extensively on how I believe that Dr. Martin Luther King came to U2’s aid at a time they really needed him.

U2 rocketed out of a very naive spirituality in Dublin, influenced by a charismatic revival blowing across the world at the time. Their first couple of albums were pretty introspective in a spiritual sense and then with War they tried to look out. Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s Day looked at Belfast and Poland respectively.

From where their spiritual journey had come from, aligning their individual faith with a societal vision was not going to be easy. Then they discovered Dr King and suddenly it made sense.

Pride (In The Name Of Love) and the album title Unforgettable Fire were both inspired by a trip to The Chicago Peace Museum. A series of paintings and drawings by survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki holocaust at the end of World War II was on display, and the title of the exhibition immediately struck Bono as a good name for U2’s next album. 

While at the museum, the band saw another exhibit dedicated to the life and campaigning of Dr. King The guys immediately felt empathy for him. In their lives, as well as in Sunday Bloody Sunday, they advocated pacifism. King’s belief in non-violence was something they would echo in all their political campaigning. They had expressed hope that a Martin Luther King would emerge in the Northern Ireland troubles.

Pride (In The Name Of Love) is in some way a perfect blending of the early U2 as heard on October…

 

“One man come in the name of love

One man come and go

One man come he to justify

One man to overthrow.”

 

and the future U2 as Joshua Tree would bring to fulfilment.

 

“Early morning, April four

Shot rings out in the Memphis sky

Free at last, they took your life

They could not take your pride.”

 

For over thirty years U2 have taken this song across the world and used it is a song of hopefulness and transformation, a song that is a declaration of what love can do and that there is even something more than the mortal life in what one person can do to change the world.

Bono often shouts, “For Martin Luther King sing…” Today as we remember Dr King’s death on April 4, even if it wasn’t “early morning”, I have been singing it to remember him but also to awaken the pride and love in myself for peaceful redemption in the streets of my own city.

SING!

 

“In the name of love

What more in the name of love

In the name of love

What more in the name of love.”


STOCKI SURMISES U2@40 - Unedited article from Premier Magazine

U2 40 1

U2 at 40. For a rock band to have survived 40 years without a change in personnel is a story in itself but that social media should still be buzzing rumours of the release of the band’s next record is literally unheard of in the history of rock music. Add to that that they have used the currency of their fame to literally change the world, and done it from the foundation of a Christian faith, and there is simply no other story like the story of U2.

As they reach this landmark anniversary, all the more poignant as they have written songs about both Psalm 40 and Isaiah 40, it is a good time to stop and recognise the impact that U2 have had on the world and the Church.

September 1976 was no golden age in rock history. A new birth was in pregnancy but the top 40 was littered with bland and anaemic pop; Abba Bay City Rollers, The Wurzels, Cliff Richard et al. Something better change. It did! The next year would see punk rock and the new wave transform the doldrums of 70’s pop and prog rock. The Sex Pistols, The Jam, The Stranglers, The Ramones et al brought vibrant new life.

During this gestation period, four teenagers from Mount Temple School in Dublin were getting together in the drummer’s kitchen. There was something blowing in the north Dublin air that they would later describe:

 

“The spirit’s moving through a seaside town

I’m born again to the latest sound

New wave airwaves swirling around my heart.”

 

As we celebrate 40 years of U2 it is hard not to plumb the depths of their most recent record Songs Of Innocence to get some insight to what was going on in that kitchen of Larry Mullen’s

Lucifer’s Hands, quoted above, describes well a collision of adolescent discovery that was about a whole lot more than just learning some chords, finding an echo box for a guitar and some words for the charismatic singer to sing.

There was something else blowing in the wind; another kind of charismatic in the swirl. The late 70s was a time of Holy Spirit revival across the world and Dublin felt the refreshing impact. A number of house churches grew up overnight. One was called Shalom and three of the boys in that kitchen rehearsing were soon in that fellowship discussing God.

The vortex of the swirling of adolescence, punk and Jesus created not only the world’s biggest rock band but give the band a dimension that no other rock band of this stature ever had; God. Another recent song The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) testifies to this blend and blur of faith and punk. Discovering Jesus and The Ramones around the same time shaped the music and honed a vocation. They were made “brand new” in spiritual rebirth. They were now “pilgrims on their way” in discipleship. It was a personal miracle that became a rock history one.

American author and minister Frederick Buchner has defined vocation as “where your deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need.” U2 have been doing more than make chart topping records. In the glare of stardom, they have been living out their Christian vocation. 

At the Greenbelt Festival in 1990 rock journalist, author and Christian thinker Steve Turner was a doing seminar about Christian engagement in society. He suggested that Christians have to be involved in the conversations going on in our culture. He then used U2 as an illustration suggesting that they not only got involved in the conversation but that they actually changed the vocabulary of the conversation. Imagine before U2 a band taking a song called Sanctify Yourself into the top 10 as Simple Minds did in 1986. Or the Pet Shop Boys It’s A Sin topping the charts in 1987.

Across four decades U2 have made a Christian contribution to a vast array of conversations. When U2 sneak faith words, ideas and statements into songs, interviews or live concert settings, it never feels like a contrived mission strategy. It seems that it is simply a natural part of who they are that they caress and collide their faith against the world that they are living in and engaging with. 

I was there when they started conversing about the Northern Ireland Troubles. It was at the Maysfield Leisure Centre in Belfast on December 20th 1982 when Bono explained how Sunday Bloody Sunday was not a rebel song and that if the crowd didn’t like it he would never play it again. A song about the violence hoping that the victory Jesus won could reconcile. 

It wasn’t the last time they would break into he Northern Irish Reconciliation conversation. Their biggest interruption was in 1998 before the Referendum on The Good Friday Agreement when U2 played at a Vote Yes Rally at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall, news footage sent out across the world of Bono holding the hands up of the leaders of both sides of the Conflict, Nationalist John Hume and Unionist David Trimble. The Yes Vote won!

Bono, Hume and Trimble

From the War album until the end of that 80s U2 conversed about United States involvement in Central America, apartheid in South Africa and British miners, among other political situations.

They were also putting theology into mainstream. When they reached Number 1 in The US Charts on August 8th 1987 with I Still haven’t Found What I’m Looking For radio stations across the world were ablaze with as succinct a theology of Christ’s cross as any hymn ever written:

 

“You broke the bonds

You loosed the chains

Carried the cross

And my shame

You know I believe it”

 

Remarkably Christians missed the theological clout and actually wondered if they had lost their faith, distracted by the line I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. A wee Bible Study in Philippians 3 and they would have maybe found the Biblical equivalent; “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (verse 12). It should be pointed out that when Contemporary Christian Musician Amy Grant reached the top of the charts, four years later, her theology was not so robust - “Baby Baby!”

On the last week of 1989 at Dublin’s Point Depot U2 said goodbye to the 80s and hello to the 90s with a series of concerts. Bono told the crowds that the band had to go away and dream it up all over again. When Achtung Baby was finally dreamed up it took U2 into a whole new conversation. If the 80s was a band singing about what they believed in then they spent the 90s singing about what they didn’t.

The message of 90s U2 can be understood by watching their two massive concert tours; Zooropa and Pop Mart. The former was a conversation about Television and the modern phenomenon of media. The latter was an expose of commerce and materialism. During the Popmart Tour Bono would stand like a tiny spec in from of a big screen and during Mofo sing “looking for the baby Jesus under the trash”, as his hand gestured to the kitsch of colour and giant lemons and the biggest outdoor film screen ever built. Jesus was still the centre of the thesis but U2 were looking from another angle to find him in the mayhem of postmodernity. These were very powerful contributions to the conversation of changing times.

As the new millennium began U2 shifted again. All That You Can’t Leave Behind was back to what they believed in. There was a maturity in the band’s work, attitude and spirituality. The content of that record was influenced by Bono’s activism fired by the Jubilee 2000 campaign and that Bono had been reading Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace. This was a very influential book across Christendom and itI struck a chord in Bono’s soul. Grace indeed was the last track and the central thought to that record:

 

Grace, a name for a girl

And a thought that can change the world

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things”

 

The Elevation Tour that followed would end most nights with the song Walk On and Bono getting the crowd to sing Hallelujahs while declaring “The Spirit is in the house.”

On the Vertigo Tour in 2005 after the release of How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb most concerts ended with a deeply spiritual trilogy; the personal testimony All Because Of You I Am (the I Am referring to the name God gave himself to Moses); the commitment prayer that was Yahweh; and their old favourite closer from the 80s a communal Psalm, 40! 

Yahweh’s last line must be on of the most subversive lines in rock music. In a rock history that tends to concentrate on sex and drugs and rock n roll here is the biggest rock band in the world at the time closing out gigs singing as an offering, with their hands held open to the Almighty, “Take this heart… and make it break,” That’s a conversation changer! 

In 2008 I found myself in a songwriting retreat in Nashville. It was at the home of Charlie Peacock who after a few years on mainstream labels at the beginning of the 80s found himself an artist, the producer and finally a major guru in the Christian music industry. His influence on Christian artists had led many to cross back into the mainstream. 

There were around 60 artists gathered in his Art House, a converted Church that doubled as his home, a venue with a recording studio attached. What struck me very quickly was that almost every artist in the room was a Christian songwriter working in the mainstream. Ten years previous this would simply not have been the case. As I started asking artists why they were not signed to Christian record labels they all answered, “U2”.

U2 modelled another way for Christian artists to converse. From the late 60s with artists like Larry Norman and Barry McGuire there had been a Christian underground that became its own industry. Christians would write Christian songs and use them to evangelise. The strategy was usually a Church putting on a concert and inviting people in. 

Being from Dublin, U2 had no such underground world or Christian circuit to play. They had to take their songs out into the world rather invite the world in to hear them. By the beginning of the new millennium U2’s success had inspired most other Christians to seek to be similarly salt and light; check out Jars Of Clay, Switchfoot, Sixpence None The Richer or OneRepublic as examples. 

U2 very rarely had any relations with the Christian Music industry. A train ride and surprise 25 minute set at 1981’s Greenbelt hardly counts! Then in late 2002 Bono found himself at the heart of it. At the end of that year Bono did a speaking tour of American evangelical Churches to preach the need to respond to AIDS in Africa. It took him to Nashville, into that same room of Charlie Peacock’s that I’d be in a few years later. When Bono visited it was full of the major Christian artists.

Bono in Africa

Switchfoot’s Jon Foreman would say after the meeting:

“I would not have dropped everything and booked a ticket at the last minute to hear a social worker discuss the problems in Africa… I am as selfish, star struck, rich, American, Anglo-Saxon fan of Bono. He took a coupe of hours to talk to a bunch of fans to tell them to use their clout to change the world… To feed the poor, to clothe the homeless, to heal the sick, to preach the Good news of the Kingdom of Heaven. Sounds like an odd headline, “Bono Comes To Nashville to Convert the Christian Music Industry.” I was convinced. Guilty.”

It would be an over exaggeration to suggest that Bono changed the theology of social justice among evangelicals. However, I think too, it would be an oversight to leave him out of the story. John Stott said that the greatest evangelical heresy of the Twentieth Century was ignoring social justice. Stott’s book Issues Facing Christians Today was published the very same week that Bob Geldof recorded the first Band Aid single. Bono was marrying his faith with Geldof’s development vision. This didn’t only find its way onto the songs on Joshua Tree but Bono and his wife Ali headed out to Ethiopia to see it for themselves.

That experience would lie dormant for 15 years until Bono was approached about Jubilee 2000. This Jubilee campaign changed Bono’s life and Bono’s justice work would in turn change the lives of millions across Africa. By Jubilee 2000 Stott’s prophetic challenge for Christians to become justice activists was beginning to find its way into 

Bono’s way into justice issues was through Christian doors. His trip to Ethiopia in 1985 after Live Aid was with World Vision His trip a couple of year later to Central America was with Central American Mission Partners It was Christian Aid’s Jamie Drummond who brought Bono into Jubilee 2000. Drummond would later be who Bono used in his One and Red organisations. In the thirty years since Band Aid and Issue facing Christians Today evangelical Christians have shifted from thinking of justice issues as an inferior social Gospel to be an internal part of mission. I would contend that Bono contributed to that conversation.

Let us break into this hagiography with a reality check. Bono is not everyone’s cup of tea. His intensity, passion and travelling preacher punch has had him accused of having a Messiah complex and he himself would readily admit he gets tired of himself! 

He has never been one to make the Church feel secure in his membership. He’s not short of a few expletives, or getting caught with a bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand. He can at times be short of patience for religion. On the recent Innocence and Experience Tour he was celebrating Ireland legalising Gay Marriage in a referendum. For those of a Christian behavioural sensitivity he can make you queasy. 

Yet, he will send video messages not once, not twice but three times to Bill Hybel’s Willow Creek congregation; U2 will invite Rick Warren to pray with them and the crew before a concert; He will send Noel Gallagher Philip Yancey books after a discussion on faith; and he will do a beautiful and informative documentary with Eugene Peterson about the Psalms.

In the end, any close look at the career or U2, cannot deny that they have kept Christianity in the conversations of the age at a time when faith as becoming more and more marginalised.   

Early in their career U2 the band got a prophetic word that they should give up their music. Christians shouldn’t be involved in such a world. Bono and the Edge thought of leaving. Imagine if they had. Imagine the music that rock music would have missed. Imagine U2’s contribution never appearing in the conversation of music and culture. Imagine the people reached by their campaigning left unreached. Imagine the musicians who wouldn’t have that influence. 

For forty years U2 have made great albums, staged ground breaking concert tours, got involved in AIDS, Fair Trade, Northern Irish Peace and development across Africa. For forty years they have done what they sang on the first song of their first album, I Will Follow. As they continue to follow don’t be surprised if their best music is still to come and never be surprised at what they do for the Kingdom next. After all they still sing: -

 

“I believe in the Kingdom come

Where all the colours bleed into one

But I still haven;t found what I’m looking for.”


U2@40: Song #40 - I STILL HAVEN'T FOUND WHAT I'M LOOKING FOR

ISHFWILF

U2 producer Daniel Lanois suggested that Bono wrote a Gospel song. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For was the result and when you hear the Harlem Gospel Choir version on Rattle and Hum you realise how successful Bono was. I am surprised it hasn’t become a staple hymn if Church services across the world.

However, the reason it hasn’t might be that most Christians, remarkably and almost unforgivably, missed the theological depth and punch of the song. This was the U2 song that has had me discuss their faith or loss of it across the world. Maybe even the reason that I had to write an apologetic for their faith and their faith in their work; Walk On.

Christian thinker and writer Os Guinness once stated,Christians would die rather than think. In fact most do!” The Christian response to I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For proved his point. The unthinking Christian quickly decided if U2 haven’t found what they re looking for they must have lost Jesus along the way.

My critique of the inability to understand the song is twofold. Firstly, to dismiss the song in the way that Christians did suggested they didn’t understand what Paul was writing in Philippians 3. St. Paul adds to his testimony that he has found faith by a righteousness that is beyond the law – “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” St. Paul it seems still hadn’t found what he looking for either!

Secondly, missing the power of this song shows little attention being given to the song. – “You broke the bonds/Loosed the chains/Carried the cross and my shame/You know I believe it.” This succinct theology of the work of Christ’s cross was number 1 in the USA for four weeks and Christians missed it. For a cheap laugh in my talks about the song across the world I have added that when the darling of Christian music Amy Grant got to Number 1 she was singing “Baby Baby!” Like many of U2’s songs the Biblical foundation is robust and profound. 

My very favourite version of the song though is not about personal search but about the Kingdom coming. In between Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree, Steve Van Zant’s had put together the Artists United Against Apartheid project. That album that featured Silver and Gold that Bono had recorded with Rolling Stones’ Keith Richard and Ronnie Wood; a U2 version would appear as a b-side for Where The Streets Have No Name

When I first heard I Still Haven’t Found... the lines “I believe in the kingdom come when all the colours bleed will bleed into one” took me immediately to South Africa. These lines described what Jesus taught his disciples to pray in the Lord’s PrayerGod’s kingdom was all about and how God’s will might come in South Africa as it is in heaven. 

Twenty years later I would sit in Cape Town’s District Six Museum reflecting on how apartheid’s ideology, built on a Christian theology, could so smash the Kingdom Of God vision that St. John had in the Book of Revelation, as they bulldozed a huge chunk of Cape Town to divide white from black. 

U2’s vision of God’s Kingdom was an antithesis of apartheid and was built on those lines that followed, “You broke the bonds, loosed the chains, carried the cross and my shame...you know I believe it.” U2’s Kingdom was no ethereal pie in the sky but was built on the life and work of Jesus.

On a U2’s Fan Club giveaway U22 we got a potent, perhaps definitive version of the song and these ideas. This lavish souvenir package of the U2360 Tour was given to Fan Club members in May 2012. It treated us us to 22 live highlights. One was for me a definitive version of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

During their gig in the FNB Stadium, Johannesburg on 13 February 2011 U2 welcomed Hugh Masekela, South African trumpet playing legend and exiled anti-apartheid campaigner into the band for these very words. It is a musical highpoint of the U22 and it is a political and spiritual tour de force. As his black jazz trumpet blends into U2’s stadium rock groove the Kingdom of God of the words becomes sound to dwell for a moment or two among us. 

It is the holy beauty that the best of art should always be. It gives us a vision of a better way and a foundation to build the world that we still haven’t found but by God’s grace we continue to look for. 

And forty years of U2, that fans across the world have been celebrating today, seems to have been all about this search for a better world, God’s Kingdom come. They have been wonderful companions on the journey of faith.


U2@40: Song #39 - THE MIRACLE (OF JOEY RAMONE)

U2 79

Listeners to my sermons, readers of this blog and converters with me over coffee will know that one of my favourite lines in the world and very very often repeated is Frederick Buechner’s definition of vocation; “where your deepest gladness meets the world’s deepest need”

The lead off song on U2’s Songs Of Innocence is all about U2 in general and Bono in particular finding that vocation -

 

“I was young, not dumb

Just wishing to be blinded

By you, brand new

And we were pilgrims on our way…”

 

The anchor for the song is the band’s mate Guggi, who has the song Cedarwood Road dedicated to him later on the record, finding an exit door to sneak U2 in to see The Ramones. Teenagers finding their way in music this gig was seismic. Bono discovered another singer that, as he describes it, sang like a girl. All musical things became possible. 

But, as with everything U2, there is more to “the miracle” and the pilgrimage than a career in music. If we tack this song out of its track listing order and hear the songs later on where Bono loses him mother, as does Larry, and the resulting volcano is bubbling, this is another song of redemption. Miracles are spiritual and for Bono the music is blended in to his discovery of faith and his pilgrimage ever since has been very much about both. 

 

“I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred

Heard a song that made some sense out of the world

Everything I ever lost now has been returned

The most beautiful sound I ever heard”

 

Bono has never taken more time or care over his lyrics than he does on Songs Of Innocence. Here is some of the evidence. This is succinct, subtle and solid lyrically and theologically. A young man lost and confused finds a miracle to make sense of it all. 

Readers of this entire series will see the recurring them in my song choice that is a recurring theme in U2’s recent work. The line “The most beautiful sound I ever heard” is key. This is where sound and spirit really do become one. Bono has been known to love the old hymn Amazing Grace and has spoken of his love for the line “amazing grace, how sweet the sound”. 

This is the time of Bono’s miracle for sure but as well as the punk figure of Joey Ramone the gem of Christian theology that is the unmerited favour of God’s grace to lost confused humanity is centre of the mix.

Bono goes on about it later in the song, “I get so many things I don't deserve”; grace defined beautifully again! U2 have awakened to transcendent interruption. The deepest gladness of their art will evermore be given to transform the deep need of their own lives and the world too. 

The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone) is as close as we get to September 25th 1976 in Larry’s kitchen. The charts were bland that week, pop needed punk. When punk came from one direction, the Holy Spirit came from another and this band were pilgrims on their way to changing the world!


U2@40: Song #38 - GRACE

U2 Grace

After Bono’s heavy involvement in Jubilee 2000 it was expected, by more than me, that some politics might make their way into the All That You Can’t Leave Behind album. When it came out there wasn’t so much. It was a very personal record. 

Bono would later say that Grace was the social justice song. “What!” I shouted. Over time I have not only come to finally agree with Bono but also to have learned Biblical insight from it.

The key line, among many lines, for me is: 

 

“Grace

It's a name for a girl

It's also a thought that changed the world”

 

Indeed we named our daughter Jasmine Grace because we agreed.

It is this “thought that can change the world” that is the depth charge. 

Let me come back to that…

Before I do, let me spend time in the personal impact of grace upon a life. If we listen to the opening lines we see echoes of U2’s exposition on the cross of Christ in I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: 

 

“You broke the bonds

Loosed the chains

Carried the cross

And my shame.”  

 

On Grace we hear:

 

“She takes the blame

She covers the shame

Removes the stain

It could be her name”

 

Grace is Bono’s word in the past twenty years. He quotes the hymn Amazing Grace a lot. As I have written already in the Get Your Boots On entry in this series, when U2 sing about a sound, it is “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound”. Bono was also influenced by a seismic Christian book written in 1997, Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace.

Bono himself has explained his theology of grace on many occasions. At the time of the record’s release he said: -

 

“I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma and into one of Grace…You see at the centre of the all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics – in physical laws – every action is met by an equal or opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the every heart of the Universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that, “as you sow, so will you reap” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is every good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff…I’d be in big trouble if Karma was finally going to be my judge. I’d be in deep shit. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”

 

It is in the song:

 

“She travels outside

Of karma, karma

She travels outside

Of karma.”

 

That is the gem at the heart of Christianity. God loves us. His love is unmerited. The word we use for that is grace. Pivotal verses in New Testament Scriptures explain this: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2: 8-9)

Back, though, to Bono’sthought that can change the world”. What Bono is suggesting here is that not only is grade the key in the relationship between humanity and God. If we as humans then lived that grace in all our relationships, it would literally change the world. Grace is not just the key into the Kingdom of God, it is the life we live in that Kingdom.

That is exactly what the Old Testament prophets and Jesus were calling for. Grace towards the poor. Grace towards your enemy. The Shalom that is hoped for. The Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. How can that be made more of a reality. Grace - it’s “a name for a girl/and a thought that can change the world.” 

 


U2@40: Song #37 - GLORIA

Gloria

I remember the very second when I put the needle down on Gloria. It was my first seconds of hearing U2. Wow! It was like pumping an adrenaline rush right through my soul. Here was an explosion of spiritual rock sound that expressed all the vibrancy of my teenage faith. I was a pilgrim on my way!!!!

Gloria was not a new word in the rock canon. Van Morrison had written a two minute song in Belfast, 100 miles north of U2’s Dublin, fifteen years earlier. It has since become a song that in some senses encapsulates the 60’s. At that stage U2 might have been more influenced by Patti Smith’s rework of Morrison though what they were doing with a song of the same name was what Morrison would do a couple of years later in Inarticulate Speech of the Heart.

U2's Gloria was not about a girl, as Morrison’s song. It was about God, that Morrison was now singing about. It was an attempt to articulate worship to a transcendent presence that is very difficult to do. The mystery of God is hard to capture, confine and define. Even in the Bible writers like Jeremiah of the apostle John might start sentences with ‘It was like…’ trying to find images to do justice to God.

Gloria is not Dylanesque. It is a very simple, with Bono ad-libbing as he does across 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. 

When I spoke to school friend of U2 and fellow Shalom member William MacKay, as I researched Walk On, he spoke of the spontaneity of the October recording sessions. William 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 Gloria and 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.

When Neil McCormick, another school friend but not Shalom member, wrote the CD booklet notes for the Remastered October release in 2008, he mentioned how the rehearsals for the songs were done in their old school Mount Temple and I wonder if this is what William has memories of. Whatever, October is a document of that phase of Christian history.

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. Someone in Shalom sensed God was telling the band to give up the music. 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!

PS. can you imagine if Bono and Edge had listened to the prophecy to give up music. What is that person thinking today!


U2@40: Song #36 - YAHWEH

U2 Yahweh

Yahweh is an Old Testament name for the God of Israel and Judah. I have a masters in Theology, though it is in music and social transformation, so I could have gone looking for an explanation. In the end I left the theological tomes on the shelf and turned to U2 by U2 where the theologian who is Bono explain eloquently:

 

“It’s a big word. A name not written down in strict Hebrew circles. And even some not so strict have it without vowels, just YWH. And I understand that we should come towards God with a  sense of awe. Because Christianity has allowed Christ to become a friend to us as well as a Master and Lord, we may take that access a little for granted. But Yahweh was one of the names for God. When Moses spoke to the burning bush, he said, ‘Who are you?’ And the bush spoke back to him, ‘I am who am.’ Yahweh. The Great I Am. I came upon it while singing without knowing really what I was singing, it’s a sound I was making in my mouth that turned into a prayer. I hoped it didn’t sound Sunday School or naff. I think every line is underscored by a desperate need for me to know what to carry, too turn off my critical eye sometimes, to be fit for the shoes I’ve been given. I love singing it.”

 

Needless to say as a clergyman, as a theo-musicologist, as someone who at the time was writing an updated version of my book Walk On;The Spiritual Journey of U2, I was overexcited about this song appearing on How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. I didn’t have to agree that this one was about God!

There was a lot of falling on your knees on How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb. Yahweh as the closing track was the ultimate fall on your knees song. In his description of it Bono sees it as a confessional, commitment prayer to his faith in God. It is nothing short of a modern hymn. I have seen it used that way in Church and very powerfully. 

There are traces of Frances Ridley Havergal’s 18th century hymn ‘Take My life (and let it be consecrated Lord to thee)’ in which the English poet offers his hands, feet, silver and gold, will and love over to God. Likewise, Yahweh is song about giving over to God to sort out your life. Lips that judge need to be kissed. Yahweh is a song of deep commitment and allegiance. It is also an unlikely yet powerfully poignant ending to a rock album.

The radical impact of Yahweh came in the live setting where Bono was able to take the recording and tease out the words and gesture with it. At the height if the Vertigo Tour when U2 were clearly the biggest rock band in the world, they would end their concerts with this moment of surrender, of emptying of self, of giving over to a transcendent bigger. When all the social commentaries of rock music lean towards its excess, its hedonistic sex and drugs and gaining fame and fortune, here was the biggest band on the planet posturing themselves before the Divine and closing out their concerts with:

 

“What no man can own, no man can take

Take this heart

Take this heart

Take this heart 

And make it break”

 

Come on! What is happening here. I want some of it.