Sunday, February 18, 2007

The U2-charist

A play on words? Yes. But the gist of this short article shows the depth and breadth of the lyrics of one of the biggest rock bands in the world.

The Pope may have condemned rock music as "anti-religion" but the Church of England has announced it is to use the songs of a global supergroup in an effort to boost congregations.


If one hasn't followed U2 throughout their career, it might be easy to be a bit skeptical about the use of their music in worship services. With all of the junk the music industry puts out, it's easy to see why. Some bands put out absolute garbage, that's for sure. But in U2's early days, their lyrics were very strongly rooted in their faith. Today, one can listen to many of their more recent songs and still hear (at least in some measure) valuable prose based on the very faith that was the early the basis, of their calling.

Few would know that early in their career there was an inner conflict, a dilemma of sorts, with the band. Their struggle was complex, because they were at a crossroads with the direction of their music. Early on, they were legitimately torn between maintaining total Christian themes, and branching out into a wider scope of vision. The Edge almost left the band over Bono and the others' decision to do the branching out.

But did they do the right thing here?

Some would say they compromised their standards. Others would say they gave into "the devil" and are going to burn in hell. But me? I say it's neither.

The band has maintained some sense of a theological foundation, throughout their reign of the charts. The lyrics of their songs speak of peace, love, and understanding. Some promote hope and vision. But one thing is for sure, they all carry a deeper message than the old "rock and roll is good time music" genre. The words to many of their songs cry out a lament at various social injustices, to include poverty and war.

Having grown up in Ireland and knowing firsthand the brutality of a war between Protestants and Catholics, they (no doubt) were influenced to be the cynics they were (and still are), by that insane process. Christians fighting Christians was the main topic of Sunday Bloody Sunday.

And it's true we are immune
When fact is fiction and TV reality.
And today the millions cry
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die.

The real battle just begun
To claim the victory Jesus won
On...

Sunday, bloody Sunday
Sunday, bloody Sunday..

The descriptive analysis of a possible future life rendered in Where The Streets have No Name, is second to none in the vivid and detailed imagery department.

The city's a flood, and our love turns to rust.
We're beaten and blown by the wind
Trampled in dust.
I'll show you a place
High on a desert plain
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name.


I could go on with the lyrics presentation, but there's more to this story than just a music review.

Christ said in Mt 7:

15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

By their fruits you will know them He says. So if we examine the fruits of the lead singer Paul David Hewson (better known to the world as, Bono), we see quite a unique individual. He has been married for close to 25 years to a woman that he has been involved with, for over 30. Womanizing is not something he is known for. Neither is he tabloid material, because he does not hang out with the drug and alcohol club, as many others do in the rock world. Britany Spears would do well to emulate him, instead of others that have gone down a dangerous and destructive path.

But that doesn't mean he is a recluse and does not get out and about. And it does not mean he is perfect, I am sure.

However, one only needs to see
the list of humanitarian work he does, to know that he is driven to correct some things he sees as wrong and attempts (to the best of his ability) to right them. It is my firm belief that he behaves in the manner he does and does these things, out of a sincere appreciation for what God has done for him. By his being a successful rock icon, he has had the opportunity to use his platform and mouthpiece for improving the world. He has raised awareness of things that others in his field, care little or nothing about.

He has won the respect of many, to include the President of the United States (and others). Not only has he won respect, he has inspired, persuaded, and convinced. Much of that comes from setting an example, first and foremost. It does not come from hypocritical and pious moralizing, like many in the religious world seem to think is necessary to get a message out.

So when we see a church (like the one mentioned in the article used as the reference point for this post) using the music of U2 to reach a new generation of people that otherwise may be unreachable, it should come as no surprise. It should not be condemned, nor frowned upon. Looking at all of the temptations that this band has (no doubt) experienced in their line of work over the many years, and having rejected the lion's share of them for a more spiritually profitable path of existence, I have to say my hat's off to them. They are in a humanly way, to be praised and respected.

So, in my view, it's easy to see that when they had to decide to be just another Christian band playing at church functions or branch out into a wider spectrum of music-making, they made the right choice. Otherwise, they would not have had the ability to have the influence or ability to reach the many that needed reaching.

What do you think?

18 comments:

Mustang said...

I think I agree with you, LA – although I’m not sure I understand the distinction between the word (that which is preached) and the song. Both should be a celebration of the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. Insofar as reaching out, I believe that Jesus himself walked among the sinners, for they were the focus of his attention much more than those who were living their lives according to the word of God. I often wonder why our contemporary ministers are not spending more of their time among the sinful, rather than setting themselves apart from them.

I am not Catholic, but over the years I spent in the Marines, I developed great respect for the Catholic Chaplain. It was common to find these men (more frequently than their protestant counterpart) placing them selves in harms way to minister to the dead and wounded. The Padre frequently reached out to us over a warm beer, imparting words of encouragement and solace. They were always available to us when we needed them; they seemed to understand us better than we understood ourselves – but this isn’t to say that they gave us a “pass.” When we were dumb asses, he didn’t mind saying so.

So what is my point? I have a great deal of respect for those who “reach out” to others – in word, song, or by example. It is true that we shall know “them” by what they do. In my opinion, the problem with “organized” religion these days is that clerics say too much, and do too little.

Semper Fi . . .

Mary Ellen said...

Great post, LA.

Ahhh...So, which Pope condemned Rock music? Benedict? Just curious, because I've never seen that condemnation, I may have missed it....so many things condemned that I may miss a few, that's my story and I'm sticking to it. ;-)

I'm not sure, I think as far as I know it isn't all Rock music, it depends most on the lyrics of the songs. Any kind of musical lyrics that speak of murder, rape, torture, and things like that are not what the church considers to be in the best interest of the person listening to it and those songs are, at the very least, looked down on.

Also, as in the case of performers such as Madonna, who uses religious icons or items such as a crucifix or rosary in a denigrating way, won't be looked at as the best example for the youth of the church.

The Church may set guidelines that they hope the parents of teens will follow, but Rock music is far from being forbidden in the Catholic Church. With the ever growing Christian Rock music, how can they do this?

Now, as far as what kind of music they play in in church, that is more regulated. It's not as tight as it was back in the late 50's and early 60's when they had the "Digest of Regulations and Rubrics of Catholic Church Music". In that, they said piano, wind instruments, guitars or percussion instruments were not allowed to be used for the music of the Mass. I guess that doesn't hold much water now, since it isn't uncommon that most Catholic Churches will have teen Masses which consists of music will all of those instruments.

That said, I think the Catholic Church needs to do something about their music! I recently went to a church service at an African American Methodist Evangelical Church (why I was there is a story in itself).

The Black Evangelical churches have it right, they use their music to enhance their message. It's not just used in the gospel songs, but during the preaching itself! Anyway, their music was amazing! The service itself was about 2 hours long, but it just flew by! It wasn't just the music, but that was a huge part of it, but the preaching! I've seen stuff like this in the movies or on tv, but to be there in person was quite an experience. I was waiting for Martin Luther King to come walking down the aisle. I mean, the preacher was actually jumping up and down and the cadence of his words...unbelievable! I thought to myself, "How am I ever going to go back to the Catholic Church and listen to the slow, methodical music again!" My son and I were the only whites in the church, save one guy that was in one of the three gospel groups singing that day. It reminded me of that scene in "Forest Gump" where he was the only white guy among an entire gospel choir. I didn't feel out of place at all, though, they were the most welcoming group of people I've ever met and I'll probably go back again.

I also remember when the play "Jesus Christ Superstar" came out. Well, many of the hierarchy in the Catholic Church thought it was terrible, a travesty! My dad made a big deal out of it and forbade me to buy the album or to see the play. Then, during one of the sermons at Sunday Mass, a younger priest said that it was actually a good thing for teens to relate to their faith in a way that was more contemporary. My dad suddenly became a fan and said that I could buy the album if I wanted to. I never told him I already bought it (the devil made me do it). ;-)

Good to see a new post, LA. I liked your mea culpa, well done. It seems you have the Catholic guilt down quite nicely, kiddo. I'm proud of you. :-D

Mary Ellen said...

Ok, I did some research on which Pope supposedly "condemned" Rock music and it seems this information is coming from a paper that Ratzinger wrote in the year 2000 about the "Spirit of the Liturgy". Here is a quote regarding Rock music and its effect on our youth.

Here is the link to that paper,

http://www.rtforum.org/lt/lt92.html

This is a quote from that link regarding the feelings of Pope Benedict:

// Cardinal Ratzinger excoriates (p. 148), as a symptom of contemporary Western cultural decline, the current popularity of "rock" music among the young, linking it directly to their alienation from true worship:

"Rock" . . . is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe.

What is this other than a new form of idolatry? The folly of trying to attract young people to the Church by integrating 'rock' and similarly debased forms of music into her liturgical expressions should be obvious.//

I think this was written in terms of using rock music in the Liturgy of the Mass. Although, he does mention rock concerts as being detrimental to the youth of today...hell, my parents used to tell me the same thing before I left to see Phish in concert. ;-) I'm not sure if the music at those concerts were as detrimental as the smoke from the pot I was immersed in during the concerts. See, I turned out just fine, regardless! :-D

LASunsett said...

Mustang,

//although I’m not sure I understand the distinction between the word (that which is preached) and the song.//

I've always believed that the song was an expression of the writer's faith, put to words for many different purposes. To one it is expressive of faith, to another it may be a personal story about how one acquired that faith. Songs of this nature, (I think) should be written with piety, respect, and joy.

One song I have always liked is How Great Thou Art. It is one of the classical hymns that states an spirtual awe and marveling at the majestic side of God. In U2's case, the messages are a bit more subtle and obscure. Much of it is an indictment on organized religion, as a failed entity that has (in many cases throughout history) failed to meet the needs of their people.

I think that all denominations have failed in some way and all have had their successes, from time to time. Brushing failures under the rug while touting the successes has been very detrimental to the preservation of the core principles. The do as we (the duly called clergy) say, not as we do philosophy doesn't cut it anymore. People are not that easily fooled anymore, nor should they be.

Thanks for stopping by, sir. Always good to hear from you.

LASunsett said...

ME,

As one who has been to a U2 concert, let me first say that it was loud. It was loud but very good. In fact, they are nothing short of awesome, if you ask me. The words rang in my ears for days, a different song everyday. It was a very moving experience to say the least.

More than anything, the songs that have historically moved me the most are quite a mix of styles, U2's style being just one of many. I have been to black churches and yes, they do have a certain style that can definitely capture some interest. Once I went to a Catholic mass, where there was a college baseball coach playing an acoustic guitar, as the people filed in. That was a very peaceful and soothing sound, as I entered the church. Although I am not Catholic, I felt at ease and enjoyed the rest of the service without any anxiety or nervousness.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, one time, I visited a church with my mom on the invitation of one her friends many years ago. It sounded like a hoedown. It was loud and boisterous, to say the least. They spent the entire service with either loud music cranked up, or telling me I was going to hell. I didn't return, and neither did my mom.

Music definitely sets the tone and the mood, but for me, it's the lyrics that capture the imagination. If the music is comfortable, chances are the service will too.

ms. miami said...

the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects.

this is interesting and shows how far western religions have strayed from their roots.

as evoked by mary ellen, the african-american church has not eschewed the physical aspect of religious behavior, and is, indeed, a direct descendent of african shamanistic ritual in which music and dance are used to arrive at an altered state of consciousness and, in that way, "connect" with the spirit world/heaven. well, i digress.

as far as U2, i admire the choice of some to reintegrate song and dance into religion. i was brought up southern baptist-- the music was limited to the hymn book, which personally leaves me cold, and the disdain for dancing was, although not explicit, still quite palpable.

to me, it was part of an overall mentality that seeks to cut one's self off from one's own body and (gasp) sensuality. personally, i've always found this particularly harmful and unhealthy. in any case, not for me...

LASunsett said...

MsM,

//to me, it was part of an overall mentality that seeks to cut one's self off from one's own body and (gasp) sensuality. personally, i've always found this particularly harmful and unhealthy. in any case, not for me...//

The desire to disconnect, as you describe, is not for me either. Music, whether it be secular or religious, should sooth or excite the mind, body, and spirit. If one disconnects into a trance-like state, the experience would be more distant, more de-personalized (if you will).

Some would say they are trying to visit another realm, or briefly enter into a portion of Heaven. I would submit that even if this were the case, one could not just enter into that realm uninvited. I don't say that this is out of the complete realm of possibility, mind you. But if it were to be possible, I would think it would be up to God to choose who and when a person could/would experience it.

But, as you say, that's just me.

LASunsett said...

Another thing I'd like to add here, in response to the Pope's comments, when he was but a Cardinal:

//"Rock" . . . is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship.//

No doubt, there are some that this would apply to. But all in all, I still think this is not necessarily true for the vast majority of rock concerts. Rock is more mainstream now, at least my brand of rock is. And the thing I enjoyed most about the different concerts is, I felt connected to the music in some way, shape, or form.

I was not there to worship anything. Even when I went to see U2, I was there for the show. I wasn't there for any kind of spiritual experience. I was there for the music, lights, and the free form of expression that goes with live entertainment.

So, in short, I think the Pope is generalizing and pretty much gets it wrong on this one.

Mary Ellen said...

LA


So, in short, I think the Pope is generalizing and pretty much gets it wrong on this one.

Well,IMO, the Pope may wear Prada shoes, but he's a bit of an old fart. I think John Paul II was much more in tune to the youth of today and he brought many teens back to the church.

I read a site once that spoke of the music in the Catholic Church today and how since Vatican II, the beautiful Gregorian chants have disappeared and has been replaced by hymns written by Haas and Marty Haugen that are no more than insipid folk elevator music. The lyrics and music has been so dumbed down during Vatican II because they felt it would make it easier for the congregation to participate. Instead, we are stuck with songs we don't even want to sing.

I have to agree on that. There is a song that they sing in our church that sounds like a bleach commercial, something about the "fabric of our lives" or something like that. I have a friend, Pierrick, who is a cantor and whenever he sings that song, he says he can't look at me because I make him laugh when he looks at the disgusted look on my face when the song is announced. He doesn't care for it either, but he does as he is told by the head of the music ministry. In fact, this guy has a beautiful trained operatic voice and he's wasting it on stuff like that.

I think in many ways, the Catholic Church needs to get with the times, but when it comes to music, it wouldn't hurt to bring back some of the very old, beautiful classical music from the past, like Palestrina and Vittoria. But, I guess that's the traditional Catholic in me. I just hate to see some of our oldest and most beautiful traditions thrown to the wayside.

Mary Ellen said...

LA

Oh....and the song you mentioned, "How Great Thou Art", I like that one, also. It was a favorite of a very dear friend of mine that was in the rosary group I attended. He passed away about 4 years ago, but I think of him everytime I hear it. I can still picture him singing it.

My favorite..."Ave Maria" in Italian. My grandfather taught that to me when I was just a squirt. I can still say the rosary in Italian, too. That's how I learned it from my grandfather.

LASunsett said...

ME,

I like the Requiem Mass in D Minor by Mozart.

ms. miami said...

If one disconnects into a trance-like state, the experience would be more distant, more de-personalized (if you will).

yes, one disconnects from other people and the material world, but the idea is that one re-connects with the spirit world.

I would submit that even if this were the case, one could not just enter into that realm uninvited.

sure, this is the judeo-christian view where abraham, moses, jesus, etc. were 'called' into a connection with heaven.

in most traditional religions, however, the spirit world is just 'there' and one needs only to gain access through trance or even dream (native american dream catchers).

you can still see this element at work in some protestant denominations (pentacostals like to slip into trance and 'speak in tongues') and in the muslim world:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whirling_dervishes

LASunsett said...

MsM,

//this is the judeo-christian view where abraham, moses, jesus, etc. were 'called' into a connection with heaven.//

Precisely, but they were called into it and not trying to gain access to it by their own choice. That was my point. But even still, I am not sure how much of it was trance and how much was a still small voice that inspired them, using their inner thought processes.

ms. miami said...

yes, i agree that trance is de-emphasized at that point.

however, that burning bush was hardly a small voice... ;)

LASunsett said...

MsM,

//however, that burning bush was hardly a small voice... ;) //

How loud would it need to be if it was just you, a mountain, and a bush? Certainly not as loud as a U2 concert, I would guess.

;)

Mary Ellen said...

I just hope that the burning bush that talked to Moses didn't have the voice of Pat Robertson, that would be creepy...and just wrong.

I hope I don't go to hell for saying that.

Mary Ellen said...

LA

Check out this video...U2 and Green Day together. They must have done this for Katrina relief.

Mary Ellen said...

Darn...forgot to put up the link. Here it is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=seGhTWE98DU