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September 29, 2006


I first discovered U2 shortly before the release of "POP." I was a religion student in college having trouble reconciling the vibrant Christian faith I studied in class with the dead traditionalism I found in church. U2 showed me a way of living out my faith that seemed far more relevant and edifying than the religiosity I was seeing so much of in my own context.

The five songs with the most impact on me, though I can name maybe four or five times as many, are:

"Where The Streets Have No Name" - This song, especially as it appears on the Elevation 2001 video and the 2002 Superbowl, makes me think of heaven. It's the quintessential U2 song one would play to aliens from outer space who were curious about Earth music, and is one I'd love played at my funeral. It brings to mind St. Paul's writing about how he longs for heaven, how creation longs for God to set things right, and yet he is here on earth now for awhile longer. I believe St. Paul and Bono have a great deal in common, actually, and more than just their real first names.

"40/Wake Up Dead Man" - These songs are two-sides of the same coin. Both are worship songs coming from different points of view. I don't think one makes sense without the other. U2's raw honesty about deeply personal issues has always attracted me to their music, and shaped my own spiritual life in similar ways.

"Beautiful Day" - I love the closing refrain of "What you don't have you don't need it now/What you don't know you can feel it somehow." This song, described by one of the bandmembers as being about a man who's lost everything except his joy, has encouraged me recently as I've gone through a lot of life changes and difficulties even in the midst of a very exciting time in life (upcoming marriage).

"Grace" - I like Nicole Nordeman's cover of this song best. What attracts me to the idea of grace is that it's a leap beyond karma. Karma, if I understand correctly, is the idea that you get what's coming to you. We find karma in scripture where it talks about reaping what you sow. I believe there is something true about karma, that it's not a belief that came from someone's crazy version of outer space. While scripture does contain the idea of karma, it breaks karma's endless cycling with the idea that while choices have consequences, a way has been made possible so that we don't have to experience the full onslaught of what our karma says we deserve. In short, grace makes beauty out of ugly things.

"Vertigo" - I like the scene of a world-weary man finding himself at yet another party, sick of the emptiness inside it represents. I think, if you flip the image around to make it a religious man at yet another church meeting, the theme gets more interesting. "Vertigo" seems to be "Discotheque" developed into a fuller, more concise concept.

Tim, it has been fun to follow your work here and through beth's u2 sermons blog. I'm humbled and honored to have you use my book. I wrote it hoping it could be a resource for undergrad courses and campus ministry, and I'd love to hear how it 'teaches'. I thought I'd share this, my "five songs" even if, as Andrew says, I could find a whole bunch more that are very meaningful to me.

5. “I Will Follow”/ “Mofo”—Wait, I’ve got two songs here! I love them both, and they are deeply connected. These two, perhaps as much as any U2 songs, deal with the death of Bono’s mother, Iris, who died when he was only 14. Also, they both are driving songs musically, even if their styles are not that similar. As well, each has deep spiritual resonance. “I Will Follow” includes snippets from the hymn “Amazing Grace” and Bono has even inserted the phrase “Amazing Grace” into the song live on several occasions. “Mofo” starts with a spiritual search (looking for to save my soul) and never lets go (have they ever let go of spiritual searching?). Check out the Hasta la Vista, Baby! Live from Mexico City recording or video with “Mofo” as the opener and “I Will Follow” directly afterwards. Awesome!

4. “Miss Sarajavo”—Well, the story behind this song is just so incredible. I often cry when I listen to it, really. If you don’t know the story, read Bill Flanagan’s version in Until the End of the World, or watch the documentary on the Best of 1990-2000 DVD. The depression and yet almost miraculous hope deeply connects to how frustrating it is to see the continued killing between religious faiths, especially the children of Abraham mentioned in this song. The line is, “is there a time for first communion, is there a time for East 17, is there a time to turn to Mecca, is there a time to be a beauty queen.” While the song has almost never been played live, on their Vertigo tour, 2nd leg and on after the terror bombings in London, the band started playing Miss Sarajevo just before the running of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Here, they changed the line about the 1990s pop band East 17 so that Bono now sings “is there a time for first communion, is there a time for synagogue, is there a time to turn to Mecca, beauty queen before God.” Like so many of their songs, this song is a sort of rock ‘n’ roll prayer.

3. “Wake Up, Dead Man”—I can’t listen to this song very often, and not ever if I’m not free to give myself over to full attention to its intensity. But exactly because it is so profoundly right about our real experience in this broken and messed up world, I could never live without it. It is a lament psalm, and without song songs of lament, I don’t know how we could make it through this life with our eyes and hearts open.

2. “Running to Stand Still”—“This is a Dublin story,” Bono says leading into the song on the Live from the Point Depot. And I love it because it is not their story in the sense that it is not about their own experience with drugs, but shows their incredible capacity to portray the story of others. Bono once said in an interview with the New York Times: “They’re not my stories, but I feel them very deeply.” This story, about inner-city desperation and drug addiction, is just one example among so many that shows their willingness to see and sing about the troubles of this world. And one of my all-time favorite lines is here: “you’ve got to cry without weeping, talk with out speaking, scream without raising your voice.”

1. “Where the Streets Have No Name”—This song is great on the album from 1987, The Joshua Tree, but it goes beyond great to something else when they play it live. It has many layers, like so many U2 songs. But at its deepest level, I think, it is about communion. U2 say their music is a sacrament, and if that is true, I feel the sacrament most deeply when they play Streets live, with thousands of fans singing at the top of their lungs, and the lights flooding the crowd as brightly as mid-day, and we’re in that moment taken someplace else. Spine-tingling.

Great comments.

An impossisibe assignment to narrow down..the list changes over seasons. Here's today's list..

I'm guessing my list, though including a few obvious choices, is a bit unsusual. Anyone else have my first song on theirs(:

1. Elvis Presley and America...as you probably know, sung in scat/Bongolose/jibbersish/tongues with imprssionistic vibes..somewhat about Elvis and America..but to me multiple feels...often a desperation, messy, longing, inexpressible longing (Isn't that prayer/life/faith?)

2. The more obvious standards: 40 (especially some oilder love versiosn with Spiritanous Hallelujuhs etc toward the end...or the morre recent ones like Sao Paulo where the God-factor is even more explicit), Streets, Gloria, Tomorrow

3.Gone..on one level it almost flirts with a cheap "I just wanna be raptured" theme..but as usual it's deeper than thought. I wanna learn to live withouta suit of lights

4. Falling at Your Feet...this amazingly abvoius paraphrase of Philippians 2 moves me into worship

5. "Jesus Christ"...what passionate playing

6. "Bad"..I love your comments on Bad, Tim. It works on so many levels...all which someohow lead me to Jesus. Hey, I noticed "With or Without You" is the 7th most popular funeral song in England... But I want "Bad"...If I can't get the oriinal artist, will you sing it, Tim? (:

Today's list:

"Streets" is a mainstay, so here's five more.

1. Walk On
2. Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
3. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
4. Gloria
5. Rejoice "I can't change the world, but I can change the world in me."

Andrew, thanks for responding so personally to the topic. I really like the way you connect U2 to your experience of life and faith (i.e. “dead traditionalism,” “life changes and difficulties,” etc.). I like your connection of “40” and “Wake Up Dead Man.” I hadn’t thought of that relationship before. Discovering those kinds of juxtapositions has always been fruitful for me. I’m also glad to hear someone shout out for “Vertigo.” While it has been severely overplayed it is a very important and rich song for me (you have a great interpretation of that song as well). Finally, I love the notion that the list changes from day-to-day as the context changes. I’m almost more interested in why your list changes than I am in the songs you select!

Christian, hey, thanks for stopping by! I agree with you and Andrew; it’s a pretty tight box one finds oneself in when asked for five songs. I’ll just say I agree with your picks and “You can add them to my list as well.”

The class will be getting into One Step Closer in the second half of the semester. We’re primarily focusing on Assayas and the audio recordings from the Rolling Stone interviews right now. Let’s be in touch.

Dave, you know what I like about you? You always push toward the unobvious! You are gifted at seeing what others miss. Thanks for sharing.

Regarding “Bad” at your funeral, hmmm. I’ve led a number of U2 songs for worship, but haven’t attempted this one yet. Not only is it out-of-my league, it’s a bit sacred for me. I think I would either feel like I was walking on holy ground or broken glass….

What’s the list look like today?

Scary to be mentioned in the same sentence as Christian Scharen. I loved his book "One Step Closer," and recently recommended it to a Dutch pastor friend of mine who also got a lot out of it.

That's an interesting question about WHY the list changes. Partly it's because U2 has such an extensive list of songs to choose from, but along with a long list of titles is a long list of moods and styles the music captures. I just go off what sounds best to my ear at the moment, and don't really think too deeply beyond that.

Today's list would include "Night and Day," which has been playing in my head all morning. I recently heard Sinatra's version, and was really impressed with the artistic "guts" U2 had to re-vamp the song into this twisted nightmare of an obsession, sounding more like "Every Breath You Take" by the Police. The video available on YouTube adds to the creepiness.

Like Andrew, "Streets" very much relates to heaven to me. Especially the 2001 Elevation concert in Boston, where it follows the "How long" from "40" and Bono quoting Psalm 116. It always brings me tears.

"Yahweh" is still a haunting song to me. I fear Bono is right is his last line, "Take this heart, and make it break" but I'm not yet there that I can sing it easily.

Recently, "Love is Blindness" has been on my mind a lot. The performance of that song on the recent ZOO TV DVD is awesome, having "Mr. MacPhisto" sing it. "a dangerous idea that almost makes sense". Linking this with the idea from 1 Corinth 13 about love as it "always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." One could call that blindness in a way. I guess true love, especially God's love, is blind in a way, loving even Judas.

In February this year, my wife had a brain aneurysm. In the weeks she was in the hospital, I survived on a diet of Henri Nouwen and U2. I needed and still need the hope in brokenness that both preach.

St Tim:

Good, that's exactly hoiw you should feel to play it. You are hired.

Today's list? a medley:

"Always Forever"... a great worship song..

should segueway into "Xanax and Wine"..

..then into the Gaelic tonhues section of "Another Time/Another Place", then "sixty seconds in the Kingdom Come"...concluding with the "holy hush" of acoustic "Yahweh"...

as "unobvious" as that sounds...sounds like church to me.



Personally, u2 and their music have played an important role in my spiritual journey. In some ways, I believe their music put me back on the road to start with and has been used to widen my understanding of what it means to see the world with spiritual lenses. Anyway, the six songs that are the most significant to me are Surrender, Gone, Pride, 40, and Walk On

I still remember the first time I spiritually connected with a U2 song. It was a night after I had experienced one of the most shameful events in my lfe. Although I had believed in God in my childhood and early-middle teenage years, I was, at the time, seriously questioning whether God even existed. I had just about come to the point of identifying myself as an agnostic, and I can remember going to a worship service during the time and feeling absolutely nothing. That is why it shocked me when I started crying while listening to songs on the two u2 CD's I had brought with me that night as a soundtrack for a due next day English paper.

"Surrender and Gone"

Those two albums that I had with me were Pop and War. That night, "Surrender" from War and "Gone" from Pop made me cry and gave me chills. I recognized myself as Sadie. I had given up on hope and was metaphorically standing on the ledge of a 50 foot building, seriously thinking about jumping. The exhortation and reminder that if I wanted to live I needed to die to myself made me realize that I still cared about God and faith and love and miracles.

If "Surrender" gave me a mirror, "Gone" helped me see how I had gotten on the ledge in the first place. The lines "what you thought was freedom was just greed" rang true for me. In my greed for experience at all cost, I had abused my freedom in Christ. I had played with fire and had gotten burnt. Thankfully though, that night I realized I had a second chance. The chorus "I'll be up with the sun, are you still holding on" seemed to confirm that there was a way off of that ledge.

"Pride" and "40"

If "Surrender" and "Gone" were songs that played a part on getting back on the road, "Pride" and "40" are songs that have shown me that the journey isn't an individualistic path. Having grown up in a church that emphasized personal piety, I really had very little understanding of what it meant to be a christian in my world. "Pride" helped me explore what it truly means to actively love and how to challenge man's injustice. "Pride" helped me see a church outside of the stain glass windows, a church universal empowered to bring drops of heaven to earth.

Though "Pride" was a song that directly influenced my exploration of justice in Chrisitanity, an exploration that included becoming an Anti-Death Penalty advocate and an active Amnesty International member, "40" weaved its way through a more personal spiritual learning experience, one when I experienced first hand what true poverty was. This is because I met a person who would soon become homeless through that song.

I suppose it was because I had, at the time, stopped coming to college worship that fall; but I had never heard the worship band sing "40". Thus, when the sending forth song began with "I waited patiently..." I was suprised. The young man sitting behind me must have noticed, because he asked me if I was a u2 fan after the service. That conversation sparked a friendship and when he lost his home, I became a constant companion. Not wanting to break dorm rules, he only stayed with me about two nights a week, but on the other nights I would drive him to a relatively safe place he could camp out. Thankfully he did find a place to stay, and I can still remember the night he announced to the congregration that he wasn't homeless anymore. Strangely enough that night, we sang "40" during the service, and as the 150 methodists students sang they will sing a new song, I remember reflecting on what my new song could be.

Moving through the shadows into the light- "WOWY and Walk On"

The previous songs I've discussed have focused on redemption and active love, but WOWY and Walk On seem to focus on how hard it can be for me to walk in the light. Sometimes the things I can taste, see and touch seem more attractive than the deeper but less obvious spiritual things. Also, as Walk On echoes, it can be hard to remember that the sun is shining when you seem trapped in a jungle of fear, guilt and mourning.

"With or Without You" has always had spriitual meaning for me. When I sing it, I feel I am openly admitting just how hard it is for me to die to myself. "She" is quick, "She" is easy pleasure, but I know deep in my heart that I can not spiritually be alive with "her" ruling my life. Still, the part of me that wants to live without consequence and play with fire knows that I won't be able to do these things without the "you" that I sing this song to. It's a song that puts my struggle into view which is why the transcendental conclusion to the song helps me fight that battle. Although the songs lyrics say that "I can't live with or without you", the utter joy of the song reflects the joy I experience when I choose my eternal lover over the mistress who, as the song puts it, "She's got me with nothing to win and nothing left to lose."

Finally, to end this essay, I want to reflect on "Walk On". "Walk On" is for me a song of encouragement and endurance. Singing along with this song during the Elevation tour shows I saw often put me in tears. It reminded me that I too am packing suitcase for a place that "has to be Believed to be Seen", and that I only need to pursue the things that will have eternal value. One live performance of it that I've been recently listening to ends with a exhortation of praise to "Almighty God" and a half sung/spoken "40". It's an incredible performance that has served for me as a reminder of the glory and power of God and how he empowers all who believe with the ability to walk..or even run on in the faith.

I just did a longish U2 post on my blog, and can't justify doing another one .... however, nobody has mentioned "All because of you", yet. There's the issue that not every U2 spiritual song is entirely spiritual, but there you go.

Also, I would class "Acrobat" as being highly spiritually significant - the betrayal, isolation and spiritual depression expressed in it are profound.

Hans, I have been stunned by people's willingness to share so transparently about how U2 songs have connected with them personally and spiritually in the hardest of moments. Your comment is no exception. I'm so sorry to hear about your wife. Thank you for sharing this.

A diet of Nouwen and U2 - simple, beautiful. I would probably add a couple of John Michael Talbot CDs as well. Peace brother....

Megan, Thanks so much for your authenticity. What is it about U2 that draws thoughts and comments from such deep places in the soul? Your entry is thoughtful, warm and personal. Thanks. I like your take on WOWY; did you catch the Scala cover that I posted? It chills me a couple times a week.

Paul, thanks for posting. "All Because of You" is definitely on my list! I caught the list on your blog... don't think I'm burnt out on "Pride" yet (especially in the Vertigo tour). Thanks again.

Hey Tim. a year later...look at what you inspired:

http://davewainscott.blogspot.com/2007/09/sts-sudzi-and-tim-pushing-tward.html I owe you.

how are you

Boy, Tim, how I wish I was from Fresno or at least around that universe of yours, so I could take part in your course... :)

Alas, I'm from beyond tha great pond and teach English and music in Austria (since a week). But. A big B-U-T, attached to a big grin as wide as the horizon: On August 30 I had my very first live encounter of U2 after being a fan for 23 years and it was just pure joy.

I had been tryin hard to see them over the years and never managed. Didn't have the money for a ticket when I was a teenager. Didn't want to spend a third of my poor income at the beginning of my search for my place in working world. Was that close to seeing them in 2009, but got screwed by a phoney ticket selling agent and lost a nice sum for the ticket they didn't even have.

Had all planned and go for a VIP tic with backstage pass that someone with influential parents had bought for me, but the last minute it went down the drain, too. On D-day I still went to Vienna where the show was due, ready for indulging in some culture before going to the venue to soak up the atmosphere from outside the stadium. A friend let me know of a short notice additional last-minute-ticket line and shortly after that I happily planted myself at the gate of St Stephen's Cathedral (I kid you not) to meet a man to deliver my ticket. No one approached me and after waiting for an hour I went to the venue.

And you know what? Only a few feet into the premises I came across a couple selling tickets. They were illegal, of course, and pricy. I doubted they were real and at every check-point I waited to be politely discarded. But nobody did. And then there I was, on a seat not to the back of the band, but to the side, not really close to the stage, but not too far away either - far away, so close ;). Rattling from a cold, rain-drenched wind over Austria I waited for 3 hours and then, 20 minutes before kick-off, I joined the crowd in clapping rhythmically and doing the wave non-stop, cheering madly before the guys had even come out. At the point of "Ground control to Major Tom" all hell broke loose and the crowd went completely bonkers. And Bono and the lads were in the same joyful mood as the audience. And when 75000 people sang the chorus to "I still haven't found" on and on acapella, and Bono just stood there with his arms up his chest listening to us in awe, it gave me goosebumps.

I finally really came to see what I had believed all those years. It's really true what they say: you feel as if Bono sings just for you alone and that special things happen when they play their music live.

And all that, because I finally let go. I gave up trying and let God take over and decide when and how to let me see them.

You're free to tell my story to your students or anybody who needs to hear it.

God bless.

Erika, that is truly a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing it with the community of people who have also had similar experiences at U2 shows. We often talk about "going to church" or seeing U2 "in the sanctuary." Now you know why so many people experience a U2 gig as a spiritual experience. Peace to you! -Tim

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