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October 12, 2010


The following comment comes from Don Berg via my Facebook. Great thoughts, reflections and images, Don! Thanks for sharing:

Jesus Christ - not by U2, but they sing it. (would have been interesting to hear them do “Do Re Mi” also by Woody)

Miss Sarajevo - I can't believe they did this, but it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard.

I Will Follow - I still don’t know if they are following a girl or God, but back in the 80’s I read it as God.

(Tomorrow, October, Scarlet) - really the entire album of “October”

(Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year’s Day, 40) I was introduced to U2 with the movie “Live at Red Rocks” I didn’t want to have anything to do with “Christian” rock music at the time. I was totally won over. I had never seen a performance like that. The rain, the mist, the Spirit, an Irish band singing with pain and integrity about the Troubles, and exhausted Edge playing the piano, and then “40” with feedback, scripture, and the crowd singing, seemingly forever, “how long, how long to sing sing this song.”

Pride (In the Name of Love)

Bullet the Blue Sky - can anger and shame in your country/species be spiritual?

Van Diemen’s Land - have we forgotten that Jesus calls us to care for the prisoner? We would rather throw away the key.
When Love comes to Town - Lucille can still touch a young man’s soul. B.B. King singing those words touched me deeply.

With or Without You

Vertigo - power
Yahweh - Too obvious, even Tim picked this one. Better take it off ;-)

(White as Snow, Magnificent, Moment of Surrender) - All of No Line on the Horizon ripped me open, turned me inside out and exposed my very soul to the Light. It took me a week to listen to the album through for the first time.

Wake Up Dead Man...That psalm of lament rivals any of David's. Extremely powerful.

Also, Love & Peace; Grace, Moment of Surrender; Peace on Earth. . .

p until the fall of 1989, I semi-appreciated U2. Of their radio singles, I liked "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," and I considered "New Year's Day" majestic. But I thought the press of them as a Christian band was overblown (in my nondenominational evangelical phase, they didn't look at all like evangelicals to me), and I thought The Joshua Tree (which I had gotten to know thanks to my next door dorm neighbor blasting it at top volume whenever he was in the room during the spring of 1987) extremely overrated.

All of that changed in the fall of 1989 when I finally listened to the album War as a whole and heard "Drowning Man" for the first time. "Drowning Man" pierced my heart, caused me to fall to my knees in worship, and made me a fan. It's still in my top 10, and maybe even my top 5, U2 songs. It didn't take me long after that to view War as the type of album that I thought contemporary Christian musicians should be making; it was outward focused and concerned with the world around the band, rather than just dwelling on a personal relationship with Christ. That latter aspect was still present on War, but secondary to the former focus.

Narrowing down U2's songs to a few highly influential ones in my Christian life is tough! This list will necessarily be incomplete. In chronological order:

*"October" (from October, 1981) -- One of the most beautifully meditative, if short (the band views it as unfinished due to time pressures), songs directed to God I've ever heard. It's a great song for tough times in the Christian life.

*"Scarlet" (from October, 1981) -- This is the most contemplative piece that I think U2 has ever produced. Composed of a single, joyful-yet-haunting exclamation of "Rejoice!" repeated several times, it only makes sense within the larger album context. The music is awe-inspiring. I don't see how anyone can be a Christian and not be moved by it.

*"New Year's Day" (from War, 1983) -- However much it was inspired by Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement, the song as we have it goes far beyond that historical event into the eschatological. I appropriated the cry, "I will be with you again," to my walk with God way back in early '90. Nearly 20 years later, at U2 360, that old appropriation flooded back to me as I finally heard the song played live in an arena (as opposed to on CD or DVD).

"Drowning Man" (from War, 1983)-- The medieval-sounding, haunting music and pure emotionalism of Bono's cries can hit you deeply. Bono, singing from the vantage point of God, is comforting, exhorting, and wrenching. The song builds and builds to its climax, which includes Isaiah 40:31 quoted verbatim.

"The Unforgettable Fire" (from The Unforgettable Fire, 1984) -- The abstract lyrics and the haunting music provide an example of how even at their most nebulous, a strong sense of Christian spirituality shines through. An allusion to Psalm 63, a mystical reference to "Red wine that punctures the skin," and apocalyptic imagery borrowed from "Stand by Me" contribute to this sense.

"Heartland" (from Rattle and Hum, 1988)-- America as a land has rarely been depicted more beautifully, and it's breathtaking how Bono moves from that to briefly contemplating the crucifixion ("Freeway like a river cuts through this land/Into the side of love, like a burning spear" -- although it sounds to me like he sings "spirit" instead of "spear"). It's imagery like this that makes me think of Bono as a Christian mystic.

"The Fly" (from Achtung Baby, 1991)-- The best brief (only 4-plus minutes in length) summary of the Fall of humanity that I can ever conceive anyone could write. "It's no secret that the stars are falling from the sky/The universe exploding 'cause of one man's lie." Yeah, that nails it. Bono also devastatingly depicts the effects of the Fall: "Every artist is a cannibal/Every poet is a thief/All kill their inspiration/And sing about the grief"; "A may will rise/A man will fall/From the sheer face of love/Like a fly from a wall." The lyrics still amaze me nearly 20 years later.

"Until the End of the World" (from Achtung Baby, 1991) -- The words of a deceased Judas speaking to Jesus are hard-hitting and raise the question of whether Judas can still potentially be redeemed.

"Lemon" (from Zooropa, 1993) -- Although inspired by an old home video of his mother wearing a lemon dress, Bono here moves his attention to a post-Fall world where life is so much drudgery that "These are the days when our work is torn asunder/And these are the days when we look for something other."

"The First Time" (from Zooropa, 1993) -- This poem to the Holy Trinity is deeply sad and moving, and, like "Until the End of the World," raises the question of how far you can stray and still be redeemed.

"Dirty Day" (from Zooropa, 1993) -- A harrowing depiction of a father (or Father)-son conflict that stresses the need for reconciliation

"The Wanderer" (from Zooropa, 1993)-- A warning about, among other things, the dangers of leaving people and commitments behind on a self-absorbed quest for both temptation and God

"Your Blue Room" (from Original Soundtracks 1, credited to the "Passengers" [actually, U2 plus Brian Eno and guests], 1995) -- An astonishingly intimate love song that Bono has said is as applicable to God as a human lover

"Miss Sarajevo" (from Original Soundtracks 1, 1995) -- The most poetic and beautiful song that U2 has yet written. One twist on a phrase from Ecclesiastes forms the prism from which to view a beauty contest in bombed-out Sarajevo. This song is an astonishing and moving call to wake up and see what's happening on the world stage.

"Do You Feel Loved" (from POP, 1997) -- This one arguably fits into the same category as "Your Blue Room." It also provides a nice example of how Bono uses scriptural imagery, as here (and throughout POP) he plays with the sun and rain imagery from the Sermon on the Mount.

"Wild Honey" (from All That You Can't Leave Behind, 2000) -- While potentially directed toward a spouse or human lover, the time references ("Did I know you/Did I know you even then/Before the clocks kept time/Before the world was made"), imagery from the Psalms, and imagery from Jesus's parables suggest that another relationship may (also?) be in mind here.

"City of Blinding Lights" (from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004) -- How do you get back to the person of faith you once were? That's the subject of this moving song. The best bit comes near the end: "Blessings not just for the ones who kneel/Luckily."

"Yahweh" (from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, 2004) -- I mention this one because my wife, who is not a huge U2 fan, loves it.

"Mercy" (original unreleased version, 2004)-- A six-minute long, unabashed love letter to God that also looks unflinchingly at the fallen human condition

"Windows in the Sky" (from U218, 2006) -- A testimony of the aforementioned love; U2 at their most emotional

"Moment of Surrender" (from No Line on the Horizon, 2009)-- On an album populated with downbeat narrators facing all sorts of problems and addictions, the protagonist of this song makes the leap to the ultimate surrender -- to God. (The next song on the album, "Unknown Caller," looks at the same events from both the same protagonist's and, in the chorus, God's point of view.)

"White as Snow" (from No Line on the Horizon, 2009) -- This is the most beautiful piece of poetry U2 has written since at least POP, and I think it may even give "Miss Sarajevo" a run for its money. Where can forgiveness be found amidst war? And who can forgive forgiveness when it fails to appear?

Pamela, thanks for your contribution, and I agree -- David's laments are powerful and clearly show up in U2's music.

Chip, thank you for your passionate and detailed account of U2's spiritual influence in your life. I know a number of people who have liked U2 on a popular level, but then, through some experience, crisis or transition (quite often at a U2 concert), have found a deeper connection on a spiritual level. Thanks again.

I don't think I did this the last time you asked for it, and like Chip I could name a number of songs. The few I'm going to name I choose not because I think they are the best quality or the most obviously "spiritual," but in order to share specifically what they did for me.

1. "Tomorrow" from October. I had been a Christian about 7 years when I first heard this song, shortly after I discovered U2, and I honestly don't think I had given the Second Coming of Christ 5 minutes' thought. Shortly after hearing "Tomorrow," being gripped by it, and contemplating what it was about, I was attending a prayer meeting at which the leader said something like "we'll sing for about 45 minutes, and then we'll share some scripture, and we'll finish with communion -- that is, if Jesus hasn't come back by then." The song came rushing back to me, and for the first time in my life I was abruptly initiated into what it would be like to desire that Coming; "Tomorrow" made me "believe it" on not just an intellectual, but a visceral level.

2. "Sunday Bloody Sunday." My first position in ministry was on staff at a homeless shelter, where a bunch of idealists in a church basement were trying to make the Kingdom happen under Ronald Reagan. (To be frank, at least some of why I was even there had to do with the effect "The Joshua Tree" had had on me in its passionate embrace of both God and social justice.) I used to listen to SBS on the way to work, to reinforce my commitment to the MLK-style passive-resistance ethos of the shelter (we had many enemies who happily "ate and drank" while our guests were dying, and not "heeding the battle call" to treat them the way they treated us was tough) and to bolster my belief that what needed to be done every day was to begin "the real battle, to claim the victory Jesus won" -- and that, I guess, if we did this with a kind of purity of heart that perhaps only someone age 25 could demand of everyone around her, "we could be as one tonight."

3. "Breathe." The spacious inner confidence amongst outer chaos that is just radiated by this song sums up where I hope I am, or at least want to be, as a Christian at midlife who has had many recent losses of various kinds, but who knows in her bones the faithfulness and reality of the Living God. Hearing a band I've been following for 25 years articulate so exactly the space I want to live in has been deeply reaffirming to me.

Beth, as usual, so articulate and well thought out. Yes, yes, and yes. Re: Breathe I have a colleague who has faced some indignities and injustices lately. More than once he has told me that he has had to "claim" Breathe, walking out into the streets, with arms open wide. The song is deeply moving to me, but it means all the more to hear each of your stories as you link them to theme of confident grace in this song.

Okay, here's just a few....

40 - I find myself waiting a lot. This song allows me to whine a little, even though I know God is in control.

Grace - Though in this song grace seems to be personified in a female, this song speaks to me so much of God's grace.

Gloria - The line, "Only in you I'm complete" says it all.

October - I don't really know why, it's just always been such a meditative song for me.

Love Rescue Me - An awesome song to cry out to God with. I am in constant need of being rescued.

Drowning Man - Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning and I hear God say, "Hold on tightly. Don't let go of my love. The storm will pass. It won't be long now. The storm won't last forever.... Rise up, rise up with wings like eagles. You run, you run and not grow weary. Take my hand. Hold on, hold on tightly to this love. This love lasts forever." Love this song!

Thanks, Kim. Great selection of songs! I love "Grace" and have always wanted to do that one in church as a special. "Drowning" is often over looked but one that many people keep coming back to. Thanks for remind me of what a powerful song it is.

Eight of U2's songs appeared on Rolling Stone's updated list of the "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time", with "One" ranking the highest at number 36 .For That U2 Tickets sold out early .But U2 is still one of my all-time favorite bands and i used to attend their concerts.

Much to be affirmed about all of the above, but I'll offer some different selections (on the condition, Tim, that you don't send any of your students my way for an interview!):

"Acrobat" (from Achtung Baby [1991], or what one U2 site calls "The sound of four men chopping down the Joshua Tree"): We had just endured two terms of the Reagan administration and Margaret Atwood had offered up a warning of things to come (are we there yet?) with her dystopian dipiction of a post-U.S. totalitarian theocracy in her book, The Handmaid's Tale. Though she doesn't fully understand it, the story's protagonist, Offred, survives by adhering to the advice of a phrase scratched into her closet wall, "nolite te bastardes carborundorum," translated in "Acrobat" as "don't let the bastards grind you down." That phrase has helped me cling to the faith on more than one occasion (and for more than one administration).

"Walk On" (from All That You Can't Leave Behind, 2000): Well known for the song's dedication to Aung San Suu Kyi, I love the line, "You're packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been/A place that has to be believed to be seen" for the way it turns the standard idea that things have to "be seen to be believed" on its head. To make just one application, we can't seem to see our way to peace in this world to a large extent because we don't seem to believe in it. So glad that people like Aung San Suu Kyi, MLK Jr., Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and this year's Nobel Peace Laureate Liu Xiaobo believed.

Lastly, I'm going to cheat a bit here, but if Bono thought there was no better way to say it than someone else had already, who am I to question? "God Part II" (from Rattle and Hum, 1988). Same dismal years as my first example above, with the U.S. placing itself on the wrong side of history in Central America. Repeating "I believe in love" throughout the song, Bono pays tribute to Canadian artist Bruce Cockburn in the line "I heard a singer on the radio/
Late last night/Says he's gonna kick the darkness/Till it bleeds daylight," referring to Cockburn's "Lovers in a Dangerous Time" (Stealing Fire, 1984). The final verse is worth quoting in its entirety here:

When you're lovers in a dangerous time/
Sometimes you're made to feel as if your love's a crime/
Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight/
Got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight

All these years, U2 (and Bruce, among others) have reminded me to keep loving and keep kicking when the darkness was closing in.


All of your suggestions are great. Here are a few that are grabbing me currently with respect to theology and spirituality:

"Window in the Skies"...beautiful song about God's love and redemption.

"Breathe" - a song about dying to self and taking up your cross and the true freedom and confidence we receive when we do that. I have clung to that song over this past year and claimed it for myself. I have found much grace inside a sound.

Larry, thanks for "cheating" and bringing Bruce into the conversation. I heartily agree!

Venicestar1, so glad to hear about your gracious confidence. I'm there with ya.

I have been a u2 fan since 1983. My boyfriend (now my husband) and I watched the Red Rocks concert at my cousin's house on his new satellite system. Wow! I was blown away by these Irish guys--and I heard they were Christians, too. I was 17 and had been a Christian for 4 years and knew nothing. Over the years, U2 has challenged me to grow and develop spiritually, both in their lyrics and in their lives.

1. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For--I've done this in church. It has been my testimony of my understanding of the "now and the not yet" Kingdom

2. Where the Streets have no name--hearing this in Atlanta with Amazing Grace literally sent me to my knees

3. Tomorrow--like the previous poster, this song brought home to me the immediacy of the Second Coming, the idea that it could be now

4. Drowning Man--rise up rise up on wings like eagles is one of the most inspiring lyrics I have ever sung! Straight from the Bible, it "lifts" me every time.

5. Moment of Surrender--This is has been my testimony for the last year as my life has blurred past increasingly faster. I did not notice the passersby and they did not notice me.

6. Love rescue me--My heartcry

7. Walk on--You're packing a suitcase for a place none of us have seen--If we are following Jesus, aren't we all?

8. Yahweh--Crying out to the Father. Take what I am and Make it yours

9. White as Snow--I love the hymn "O come O come Emmanuel" and this song is based on that hymn. The Lamb as white as snow who takes our sinfulness-beautiful.

10. Sometimes You can't make it on your own--My dad died soon after Bono's, and what he said about his dad in this song echoed the feelings i had when Daddy left this world. i listened to this over and over as I tried to come to grips with my grief and the knowledge that it might be awhile before I saw him again.

Thanks Melinda. Beautiful comments! It's still amazing to me how many of us have similar stories of U2's influence in our lives. Thanks for sharing.

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