One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God

One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God
By Christian Scharen

Perhaps the most popular and influential rock group to espouse Christian ideals without getting sidelined as “Christian rock” is the Irish band U2.

Scharen (a Lutheran pastor and instructor of practical theology at Yale) points to the many biblical, theological and spiritual themes found in U2’s lyrics to explain why this band “matters to those seeking God.”

And he does so elegantly, offering the heartfelt and intelligent musings of a fan while also acknowledging the band’s wild and worldly bent.

He admits U2’s lyrics are multivalent, helping the band to attract both religious and nonreligious fans.

Scharen is most impressed with U2’s emphasis on “the theology of the cross,” a theology that accepts both doubts and faith while emphasizing the victory of God’s love over the reality of earthly powers.

“Despite worldly trappings of wealth and power, in U2 love does get a chance to speak,” says Scharen, who calls on Christians to ask themselves what is keeping U2’s “God-hungry” fans outside the church’s edges.

This book will no doubt appeal to the Christian who is a U2 fan, but its higher purpose is to bring the church and U2 fans from a variety of backgrounds closer together.
– Source: Publishers Weekly, as posted at

Pastor finds what he is looking for: U2

ASHLAND – It wasn’t the traditional ringing of the bells, opening prayer and Gloria Patri that had parishioners at the Federated Church of Ashland clapping and cheering yesterday morning.

It was letting congregants rock out to Bono in their pews that had everyone all jazzed up.

Church member Jim Strouse, who accompanied a playing of U2’s “Forty” on the piano, said he was surprised when the Rev. Jason Rutherford pitched him the idea of incorporating the Irish bandleader’s music and mission into Sunday service.

“I thought whoa, I didn’t expect that!” Strouse said.

Infusing a rock star vibe into the Christian worship services, Rutherford called out for his congregation to recognize the musician’s spiritual lyrics and humanitarian mission.

“This rock star who’s doing this religious work, he came to an intersection with the truth of God,” the reverend told his flock. “Bono exemplifies someone who is speaking out and it’s a good thing.”

Part of Rutherford’s Modern Day Prophet sermon series, the special service featured a local acoustic guitarist strumming U2’s “One” melody and the reverend preaching about the rock star’s story and how others could take action.

The service, which was broadcast on Cable 8, drew praise and remarks like “that was wonderful” from about 80 parishioners in attendance, who said they were inspired by their reverend’s call for reflection.

The service was special for 28-year-old Phillip Williams, who has seen the band live about 40 times and trotted around the country from Boston to Phoenix last year, following the band on tour. He said their hit “One” – played by Ashland High School senior Keith Scotland on the guitar during the service – is particularly compelling.

Williams said a powerful message is embedded in the lyrics, which speak about unifying for humanity’s sake: “One love/one blood/one life/You got to do what you should/One life/with each other/Sisters/brothers.”

“Over the years, it’s become a theme song for social movement,” Williams said, pointing to the white One armbands and global campaign to eradicate world hunger. “Things are actually happening.”

Naming biblical prophets like Micah, Amos and Moses during his sermon, Rutherford spoke about how people can learn both from God’s model disciples and more modern peacemakers about how to act righteously.

“They used words, as prophets do today, to remake the world,” said 35-year-old Rutherford, a Mississippi native who grew up listening to U2’s popular “Joshua Tree” album.

“I really like to jog to ‘Where the Streets Have No Name,’ ” said Rutherford, whose favorite band lyrics are in the lines of “Grace” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

While a fan of his music, Rutherford said it was also Bono’s outspoken charitableness and inspiration to others that made the musician a prophet.
– Source: By Danielle Ameden, Ashland Daily News, Feb. 12, 2007

Hymns replaced by U2 lyrics at church

John Lennon once enraged Christians by claiming that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus.

The Church of England is now recognising the pulling power of rock stars by recruiting Bono, the singer and lyricist of U2, in its bid to boost congregations.

A Church of England bishop is to preside at this country’s first “U2-charist”, an adapted Holy Communion service that uses the Irish supergroup’s best-selling songs in place of hymns.

In what is more rock concert than Book of Common Prayer, a live band will belt out U2 classics such as Mysterious Ways and Beautiful Day as worshippers sing along with the lyrics, which will appear on screens. The atmosphere will be further enhanced by a sophisticated lighting system that will pulse with the beat, and striking visual images of poverty and drought.

Despite his rock star antics, including swearing on live television, Bono is regarded as a Christian icon by many who point to the spiritual content of his music.

His high-profile anti-poverty campaigns with fellow Irish musician Bob Geldof have elevated him to saintly status in some circles.

But while Bono is open about his Christian influences, he has also clashed with Church leaders over issues such as Aids.

Traditionalists who fear the Church is diluting its message to attract the young will be dismayed at its willingness to embrace Bono.

Such doubts are not shared by the Bishop of Grantham, the Rt Rev Timothy Ellis, who is organising the U2-charist in St Swithin’s church in Lincoln in May.

“Bono and Bob Geldof are very human, but they have demonstrated that they believe there is sanctity to life that has to be protected,” he said. “If that makes them saints, then I would go along with that.”

Bishop Ellis said that the eve-of-Pentecost service in the city centre church would be a traditional one, but stripped down to basics.

“We are hoping the service will be a fresh way to look at worship, less formal, and less rigid,” he said.

“People will be able to express themselves in any way they wish.

“This is not designed to replace traditional services but to enhance the worship provision of the Church.

“We need to try new expressions. If we don’t try to update and refresh our thinking we will die.”

Seating will be moved so that the 500-strong congregation can dance or wave their arms.

The bishop, who will be chief celebrant, said he had yet to decide whether to swap vestments for jeans.

The Lincoln U2-charist is adapted from an American phenomenon that has swept across the US and even reached Hong Kong.

It will be recorded by the BBC for a programme to be broadcast later in the year, and the bishop hopes it will be replicated across Britain.

The service will focus on the Millennium Development Goals to reduce world poverty, a cause close to Bono’s heart.

The Bishop said that he did not expect the Irish singer to attend the U2-charist in person, though he was hoping he might send a message. The £10,000 cost of equipment will be partly funded by the diocese of Lincoln, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will also be kept informed.

The idea was devised by the Rev Paige Blair, an American Episcopal priest in York Harbor, Maine, who held the first service in 2005. Since then, she has advised about 150 churches on U2 Eucharists in 15 states and seven countries.

“Bach and Handel were the popular music of their day, and they had trouble getting played in church,” she has said.

“The Methodist hymn writers once wrote contemporary music. Are we worshipping Bono? Absolutely not. No more so than we worship Martin Luther when we sing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

U2 songsheet

Extracted lyrics of songs used in American U2-charists, compiled by the Rev Paige Blair in York Harbor, Maine

When Love Comes To Town
I was there when they crucified my Lord,
I held the scabbard when the soldier drew his sword,
I threw the dice when they pierced his side,
But I’ve seen love conquer the great divide

Mysterious Ways
It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright,
She moves in mysterious ways,
It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright,
We move through miracle days,
Spirit moves in mysterious ways

Explain all these controls,
Can’t sing but I’ve got soul,
The goal is elevation,
A mole,
Digging in a hole,
Digging up my soul now,
Going down, excavation
– Source: Jonathan Petre, Telegraph, Jan. 30, 2007

The gospel according to U2 and Bono

BONO has declared that he is not a man of the cloth, “unless that cloth is leather”. But the words of the charismatic U2 front man are nevertheless ringing out from pulpits across the United States.

The Irish rock band’s songs and lyrics are being used by the Episcopal Church in so-called “U2 Eucharists” as a means of attracting young people who relate to the group’s social activism.

Earlier attempts by churches to connect to youth culture have usually involved ministers in open-toed sandals strumming acoustic guitars and singing Kumbaya to the general embarrassment of all. Yet, in parishes from California to Maine, worshippers are flocking to hear U2 classics such as Beautiful Day, Pride and Peace on Earth rolled into a service of prayer.

However, ear plugs are passed out with the Bibles and hymn sheets for those who prefer organ music.

The U2 Eucharist was devised by the Rev Paige Blair, a parish priest in York Harbor, Maine, and it has since spread through word-of-mouth and on clerical websites.

At All Saints’ Church in Atlanta, Georgia, organisers had planned for 300 worshippers, and instead had to contend with 500, while at the Grace Episcopal Church in Providence, Rhode Island, as many people turned up for a Friday night U2 Eucharist as normally turn up on a Sunday morning.

While U2 songs are not yet listed in the Episcopal Church’s authorised hymnal, Ms Blair believes it is only a matter of time. She said: “I seriously think the day will come. There’s a gift they have in speaking to the human soul.”

She came up with the idea after a sermon about the One Campaign, the Bono-backed initiative designed to alleviate global poverty and fight AIDS. She quoted equally from Bono and the Bible and included the lead singer’s line: “Where you live should not determine whether you live or die.”

Instead of a hymn, the service began with one of U2’s earliest hits, Pride (In the Name of Love). As the music played, pictures of famous believers, including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, flashed on a 10ft by 4ft screen behind the altar.

Other songs included in the service were Peace on Earth, which was inspired by a fatal bombing in Northern Ireland and which questions why God does not halt human suffering; during it, Bono sings: “Jesus, can you take the time to throw a drowning man a line.” Also played was 40, in which Bono echoes the 40th Psalm, singing: “I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry.”

Bono may favour black leather while on stage in front of an audience of millions, but to some believers, he can still act as a latter-day prophet, producing songs filled with Christian symbolism.

The Episcopal Church in the US has been among the first to recognise the band’s power. A few years ago two of its priests edited a book of sermons based on U2 songs entitled Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog.

Yet Bono has provoked criticism from fans and even members of his own band for his close involvement with the US president, George Bush, a born-again Christian, whom he lobbied last year as part of the Make Poverty History campaign.

In February, he joined Mr Bush at the national prayer breakfast in Washington, and told the gathered clergy: “I’m certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather … I’m the first to admit that there’s something unnatural, something unseemly, about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the south of France.”

The gospel according to U2

In her sermon, the Rev Paige Blair quoted from both Bono and the Bible and included the singer’s line: “Where you live should not determine whether you live or die.”

As an opening hymn, the service played one of the U2’s earliest hits, Pride (In the Name of Love).

On a screen behind the altar, pictures of famous believers such as the Rev Martin Luther King jnr were flashed up as the music played.

Other songs included in the service were Peace on Earth, inspired by a fatal bombing in Northern Ireland and which questions why God does not halt human suffering.

Another song was 40, in which Bono echoes the 40th Psalm when he sings: “I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry.”
– Source: Stephen McGinty, The Scotsman, Apr. 3, 2006

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