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October 26, 2006

The ’U2-charist’

U2 When Anglican Archbishop Thomas Cranmer compiled the Book of Common Prayer during the 16th century, he wanted to make the prayers accessible, so he wrote in English, not Latin, and made sure it was distributed to every church.

About 450 years later, there is another attempt to make prayers more accessible — by an Irish bard who wears wrap-around shades instead of a clerical collar.

You'll either love this or you'll hate this. Actually, I love this -- but with a big "but." I do see a place for incorporating the songs and/or lyrics of U2 songs in churches -- BUT not in the main church service. I'm just too traditional for that idea, although I don't look down on those who choose to do so. (Then again, I would much rather sing "40" or "Gloria" than some of the vapid, meaningless ditties some modern churches repeat ad nauseam.) I can see such a service for youth groups or college/20-/30-something services or Bible/home-group studies. Get Up Off Your Knees is a great resource for incorporating that idea; also see the U2 Sermons blog.

Much of U2's songbook is explicitly Christian and perfectly suitable for a worship service, even if some people might need time to get used to the idea, [the Rev.] Blair says.

"Bach and Handel were the popular music of their day, and they had trouble getting played in church. The Methodist hymn writers once wrote contemporary music. Are we worshiping Bono? Absolutely not. No more so than we worship Martin Luther when we sing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

Reading this USA Today article, I can see a certain church trend that I generally don't like -- the tailoring of services to congregants' and seekers' tastes, whereas I believe church ought to be a place where the congregant/seeker conforms him/herself to the body of believers (i.e., church is not therapy; it's a new way of living). And so I can see how critics will dismiss "U2 services" as just one more watering-down incident (particularly with some of those teens' quotes in this article -- I hope they think more deeply about what they're hearing). And that's a shame, because the songs of U2, not to mention the faith of Paul and David (Bono and The Edge), are rich in truth about God, man, and our relationship to Him. Read some of the lyrics on U2's site.

The Christian themes in U2's music have been widely recognized since their 1981 album, October. But from the start, some have not been comfortable with Bono's regular criticisms of church leadership or his unwillingness to identify with any Christian tradition.

For those that don't know, Bono's mother was Protestant, and his father was Catholic -- and this, remember, in a nation (Ireland) fraught with religious strife. So that's his background. Does it excuse his non-membership in any local church? No, but nor is it our place to judge that -- rather let us pray he does find a home, perhaps in some small, faithful Dublin parish. His faith in Jesus, though, is most assuredly real. Even from a brief 45-minute conversation with him last February, I could see that -- let alone in his music and the many quotes and interviews with him that have been published. One of my favorite quotes from him was in this interview with Michka Assayas, as highlighted in a book review by Steve Beard in the December 2005 issue of BreakPoint WorldView:

“The son of God who takes away the sins of the world, I wish I could believe in that,” confesses Assayas. . . . “Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?”

“No, it’s not farfetched to me,” replies Bono. “Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: He was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. . . . He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says, No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: ‘I’m the Messiah.’ I’m saying: ‘I am God incarnate.’ . . .

Stepping into the argumentation of C. S. Lewis’s classic apologetics, Bono continues: “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 nutcase on the level of Charles Manson . . . The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me that’s farfetched.”

(See also this interview with Beard on Bono.)

To end with two U2 songs I mentioned earlier,


I waited patiently for the Lord.
He inclined and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit
Out of the miry clay. . . .

You set my feet upon a rock
And made my footsteps firm.
Many will see, many will see and hear.

I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song
I will sing, sing a new song.
I will sing, sing a new song
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?

(You have not heard "40" until you have heard an entire arena, as I did at the Garden in NYC, sing it a cappella at the end of a U2 concert -- it's like a doxology at the end of church. Compare to the Scripture passage that inspired it.)


I try to sing this song
I, I try to stand up
But I can't find my feet.
I, I try to speak up
But only in you I'm complete.

In 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.

In te domine
Oh, Lord, if I had anything, anything at all
I'd give it to you.

In te domine

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I attended a U2 Eucharist at a church in Atlanta. I was curious but afraid it would be gimmicky. It turned out to be really, really cool. For normal church services, it would be overkill to use only U2 songs, as this service did, but even in weekly Sunday church services I'd be happy to sing an occasional U2 song.


Thanks for the two links to "Get Up Off Your Knees." Just for readers' information, the 2003 book & the ongoing blog that sprung from it have no affiliation with the particular U2-charist "brand" and are deliberately multidenominational, a fact which has often been obscured in recent press. I appreciate your kind words about the book's usefulness as a resource for a more broad-based incorporation of U2's work into diverse contexts (there is also a model 6-session Bible study drawing on U2 songs in the appendix).

Folks who are interested in this topic in general might enjoy looking at the blog of Tim Neufeld, who teaches at Fresno Pacific and is offering a course there this fall in the Division of Biblical and Religious Studies called "Theology, Culture and U2." (Probably the first full semester course on U2, tho Calvin College and Williams College have done interterm courses.) Tim is posting full class notes and references on the web, and his work is about as far from gimmicky as you can get. He's at http://timneufeld.blogs.com/


Cranmer also made sure that the materials in the Prayer Book were Biblical, Reverant, and appropriate to their place in the liturgy of the Church.

Can that be said of the Gift of U2 (to translate U2-Charist)?


I woke this morning to find that the Church of England had incorporated into its outreach program something called a "U2-charist." I then read an article about the recent antiwar protest in DC where a police Sargent told his men to stand down and let a bunch of protesters spray paint the capitol building. Two -- what appear to be unrelated -- things could not be more telling about the state of Western Christian Civilization. Those who should know better have let the children take control. This is what Ortega was getting at in his book, The Revolt of the Masses. Let the children crayon the wall and piss on the alter. They're children, after all, we can't expect them to behave themselves like mature adults.

The trouble is that it is adults leading, allowing, and participating in, this infantile culture.

The Eucharist is worshiping Christ in God. The church service is worshiping Christ in God. U2 lyrics are the personal thoughts of a song-writer; they are not about worshiping Christ in God, except in some sort of personal sense that only Bono and his sycophants (who obviously spend their waking hours trying to decipher his lyrics the way Lennon's followers did his) really can understand. I am not saying that Bono is no Christian, but I am saying that his songs are not worship songs. Alas, any schmuck who couldn't care less for reality and how God expects to be worshiped (spirit and truth) can squeeze praise and worship out of anything. This is how we get to the place where anything means anything.

Contrary to what the author of the piece above thinks, it's not "tradition versus modern or hip," it's worship of God in spirit and truth versus worship of ourselves. It's what God demands versus what we prefer.

Grow up, or expect the church to become so intolerably nonsensical that even U2 fans will no longer have a place to meet Christ.

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