After three weeks of classes the semester is finally slowing down and I can give a bit of a report on my Theology, Culture and U2 course.
We’re off to a great start. I have seven students who are all eager and excited about engaging the U2 catalog. Some didn’t know who U2 were four weeks ago. Now they realize they know more U2 songs than they first thought. Ivan had a great comment in class today. He said something like, “I think I’m starting to annoy my friends. I keep trying to explain songs and tell them what I’m reading in our Bono bible.” Hmm, how many of you out there can relate to that comment? Come on, let me see your hands…. Sounds like a premature case of Bono fatigue setting in.
When I taught this course two years ago I was overly ambitious and tried to post everything related to the course: class notes, PowerPoints, etc. I was never able to finish that daunting task. This time around I’ll try to post tidbits throughout the semester. Stay tuned if you’re interested.
Here’s a brief summary up to this point.
Week one: “How to exegete a song.” In this session we carefully parsed John Franke’s definition of theology – “Christian theology is an ongoing, second-order, contextual discipline that engages in the task of critical and constructive reflection on the beliefs and practices of the Christian church for the purpose of assisting the community of Christ's followers in their missional vocation to live as the people of God in the particular social-historical context in which they are situated." Highlights: theology is ongoing and dynamic, it is rooted in corporate interpretation and mission, and it is contextual, nuanced by location, time, and situation. We also discussed Paul Ricoeur’s three-step process of interpreting text: behind the text, in the text and in front of the text. To wrap up the session we exegeted “City of Blinding Lights,” focusing on the band’s post-9/11 concert in NYC, Bono’s reflection on the early years, and my experience of finding beauty in the homeless of inner-city L.A.
Week two: “Why study U2? Reflections on the Good Samaritan.” In our second session we took a significant amount of time discussing the parable. We started with an abbreviated lectio divina and then a discussion of the text. My understanding of the story has shifted over the years. We typically place ourselves in the role of the Samaritian, viewing ourselves as the helper (this is especially true in America where we have so many imperialist tendencies). I have learned to situate myself in the role of the beaten Jewish man. This forces me to ask, “Who is the least likely person to help me in my need?” U2 functions as an unlikely Good Samaritan. They stand outside my community of religious leaders, pastors and experts and shock me with a different perspective. They shock me with lyrics (i.e. “Yahweh,” “If God Will Send His Angels,” “Wake Up Dead Man”), with words (Bono in the L.A. Times: "...I genuinely believe that second only to personal redemption, the most important thing in the Scriptures — 2,103 passages in all — refers to taking care of the world's poor;" and Bono’s 2006 address to the National Prayer Breakfast and his 2007 NAACP acceptance speech), and with actions (a mock terrorist execution on stage and activism in Africa). Conclusion: My hope is that U2 will reach out a helping hand in surprising ways, make us uncomfortable, and reveal something to us about ourselves that we didn’t previously know. We ended this session remembering the third anniversary of hurricane Katrina by watching the video, “The Saints are Coming.”
Week three: “The context of U2 – growing up in Ireland.” In our third class we spent time recounting a brief history of Ireland, paying special attention to the Protestant/Catholic conflict (i.e. the partitioning of Ireland into Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the geographic distribution of Protestants and Catholics, the discrimination of Catholics, British rule, the rise of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the Provisional IRA, the violence of The Troubles). The unstable and conflictual environment that U2 grew up in (both locally and nationally) significantly contributed to their development as artists. If U2 would have grown up in any other context they might look very different today. We ended the class with an exegesis of two songs: “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” and “Please,” both commentaries, at least in part, on the tumultuous times in Ireland. “Sunday” is best understood by referencing the massacres of January 30, 1972, in Derry and on November 21, 1920, in Dublin (both Sundays), and the contrast of Easter Sunday. (Note also the Enniskillen bombing on November 8, 1987 (see Rattle and Hum) and the Omagh bombing August 15, 1998 (see the Slane Castle concert)). “Please” needs little explanation: “Get up of your knees!”
I’m thinking of developing the course for an online format through Fresno Pacific University. If you’re interested and have read this far, leave me a comment.
Take a peek at the syllabus here.
Here's a flyer with some comments from past students. "Who knew that some Irish guys who sing about sex, drugs and rock and roll would turn out to be some of my favorite theologians?" -- Jessica Mast
More to come….