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U2 stirs things up!

I look back on my seminary days fondly. It was a fabulously formative time in my life. I enjoyed my classes, and most importantly, I enjoyed my classmates. I had the opportunity to meet, to pray with, and to form friendships with many thoughtful people. Reverend Chris Hayes is one of those people.

It is my delight to host Chris’ first blog at The Community on the Pop-Culture Piety site. Chris is one who, like me, enjoys looking at how God works through the culture in which we reside. Chris’ main interest in this is music and as a very talented musician himself, he is able to peal back the layers of music and talk about the kernel that lies beneath. His first blog is no exception. I look forward to more work from Chris at The Community.

Take it away Chris!

Chris hayesLatest U2 Album Stirs Things Up… In Many Ways!

When you’ve been to the top of the mountain, you learn how many people want to pull you down right away. U2, once hailed by Rolling Stone magazine as the “Biggest Band in the World,” have used their fame and notoriety not only to advance socio-economic causes the world over, but have also been able to show the world some truly great music, with even better song lyrics, and in doing so, have made God a part of their conversation with their fans. They have also been called by some as the most Christian band on secular radio today. No one – not even fans – can say that they “get” a U2 song on first listen, and like all complex bands, it seems as though the general public with loves them or hates them. However, throughout all of this, U2 have also advanced something else – a real-world living of the Christian faith, especially as explored through their songs.

Their latest album, Songs of Innocence, cause a stir almost immediately (yes, I’m sure you’ve seen the iTunes commercial on TV more than you might have liked by now). During Apple Computer’s launch of their new iPhone, U2 was on hand during the event to play their latest single, The Miracle (of Joey Ramone), not only did front man Bono announce the new album, but with the touch of a finger released the album to every iTunes user in the world. The full album was free of change, and appeared on every user’s account. A score for fans, but not so much for those saw it as an invasion of their music libraries.  Regardless, the album went out to roughly 500 million people… immediately.

The music itself is most important. Sonically, the music is lush at times, rough at others, quiet, lord, slow, and fast. It sounds retro at times, and very current at others. The album carries an overarching theme of significant event in the life of the members of a maturing band (u2 have been around as a group since 1979). For example, the lead single, “Miracle” tells the story of the band’s first experience at a Ramones concert, a formative event to the four young lads from Ireland. Other songs speaks of the “Troubles” in Ireland’s modern history,the band’s first tour that took them to California, Bono writing about his wife, Ali, or on the death of his mother… it’s an album of firsts and strong impressions.  It’s not a band biography, but more a story of coming of age, and maturation. So why is this review in a Christian newspaper, you might ask?

I could do what many do, and pluck out a few lyrics that have key Christian words in them – “God”, “Bible”, “faith in the Lord” – you get the picture. But the understood faith present in the songs is the nearly constant shadow layer that permeates the lyrics and the stories they tell. Listening to the album can remind the listener that the events and people in our lives have a stronger influence on us than we might realize. In the liner notes of the album (you all read these, right?), Bono writes about a family that lived up the street from him as a child in Dublin:

“That family [the Rowans] were like an old testament tribe. I learned a lot from them. the depth and discourse of the scriptures. In their company I saw some great preachers who opened up these scary black bibles and made the word of God dance for them, and us. … one minute you’re reading it, next minute you’re in it. Lou Reed, God rest his soul, said you need a busload of faith to get by. That bus was full of Rowans and I was on it.”

The whole experience of hearing this album can lead to thoughts on formation… formation of our faith throughout the various phases of our life. U2 comes to mind when I, as a parish priest, thinking about Confirmation classes, and Sunday School, and Bible Study, and more sermons than my parishioners might like to know about. the stories that we tell of our lives are important to us, and how we have become the people we are (at this point). U2 have put together an album that once again demands conversation in our culture about all of these things, and reflection on how God has lead us through such things. Dang it – the band has done it again.

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