Bono: J is for Jesus

At this time of year some people are reminded of the poetic as well as the historic truth that is the birth of Jesus. The Christmas story has a crazy good plot with an even crazier premise – the idea goes, if there is a force of love and logic behind the universe, then how amazing would it be if that incomprehensible power chose to express itself as a child born in shit and straw poverty.

Who could conceive of such a story? If you believe it was the protagonist, as I do, then we should try to be really respectful of people who think the whole thing is a bit nutty or worse… Religious people are the best and worst of us…handle us with scepticism…
– Source: Little Book of a Big Year — Bono’s A to Z of 2014

“Bono Church”

I’ve got a lot of hay on my fork and over the past few months I’ve had to make choices as to which sites to maintain, which ones to ‘park’ for a while, and which ones to close down.

U2-Charist is among the websites I’ve had to just ‘let be’ for some time. But I’ve never considered closing it down, because:

  • I absolutely love U2. It’s my all-time favorite band, and though I enjoy a wide range of musical styles and artists, I’d have to answer the old ‘If you were stuck on a deserted island what music would you miss most’ question by saying, U2
  • As a Christian, I love the fact that U2 addresses spiritual issues — and that much of it demonstrates a clear understanding of God’s love for us. Some of U2’s songs are — as the U2-Charist shows — modern-day worship songs
  • I really enjoy the positive feedback I get from this website. I love hearing from other Christians who enjoy the U2charist, some of whom wrote that the service led them (back into) a deeper relationship with God

I thought about all this when I read a blog post today titled, “My Favorite Church Songs.” Blogger Deana Nall writes:

My favorite church songs are not in church.

They’re just not. Maybe one day. But right now, my favorite church songs are on YouTube and my iPod. Here are two of them:

Magnificent by U2

This is probably my favorite song from “No Line on the Horizon.” Bono has said the lyrics were inspired by Cole Porter and Bach. To me, it reads a lot like one of David’s Psalms. The song is about “two lovers holding on to each other and trying to turn their life into worship,” according to Bono. Right now, no song connects me with God like this one:

She then quotes the lyrics to the song, and shows a copy of the video.

Fantastic, right?!

I read the post I quote from since it was linked in a post in which Deana describes a U2charist service (or, as she likes to call it, “Bono Church”) at First United Methodist in downtown Little Rock.

She closes here review as follows:

The whole thing lasted about an hour. Rev. Mattox said the church will have more U2charists in the future. I hope so. This kind of worship is what works for me right now. And I know, believe me—I KNOW. Worship isn’t supposed to be about me. I get that. But sometimes you have to find your own way to God when the old ways just don’t work anymore. These songs are not new to me. But they are new in this context of worshiping with others. It works, so I’m going with it.

1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the LORD
and put their trust in him. – Psalm 40:1-3

Have you attended a U2charist? If so, what was it like? How did it impact you? What it what you expected?

Feel free to comment below.

Bono on Grace, Jesus and Christianity

The following is an excerpt from the book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas.

In an exchange about religion Bono makes an explicit confession of faith:

Assayas: I think I am beginning to understand religion because I have started acting and thinking like a father. What do you make of that?

Bono: Yes, I think that’s normal. It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

Assayas: I haven’t heard you talk about that.

Bono: I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace.

Assayas: Well, that doesn’t make it clearer for me.

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics; in physical laws every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.

Assayas: I’d be interested to hear that.

Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.

Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled . It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.

Assayas: That’s a great idea, no denying it. Such great hope is wonderful, even though it’s close to lunacy, in my view. Christ has his rank among the world’s great thinkers. But Son of God, isn’t that farfetched?

Bono: No, it’s not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.” And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You’re a bit eccentric. We’ve had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don’t mention the “M” word! Because, you know, we’re gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this. So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who He said He was the Messiah or a complete nutcase. I mean, we’re talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we’ve been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had “King of the Jews” on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I’m not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that’s farfetched

Bono later says it all comes down to how we regard Jesus:

Bono: If only we could be a bit more like Him, the world would be transformed. When I look at the Cross of Christ, what I see up there is all my s— and everybody else’s. So I ask myself a question a lot of people have asked: Who is this man? And was He who He said He was, or was He just a religious nut? And there it is, and that’s the question. And no one can talk you into it or out of it.

No Line on the Horizon

It’s been relatively quiet around here — not because there haven’t been any U2-charists, but mainly because these church services are no longer news.

Too, I’ve been busy elsewhere. That said, I am now ready to again pay more attention to this website. If and when I come across any relevant articles about the U2charist I’ll certainly alert you to them.

I also learned that some pastors are preaching U2-themed sermons. Here, for instance, is a sermon from North Point Church in Springfield, MO, titled, When Love Comes To Town. Personally I can not listen to the whole thing as I find the preacher’s style of speaking way too hyper. From the little bits that I did hear, the content can carry the message without the hype.

Speaking about hype, there’s a lot of anticipation for U2’s new album, No Line On The Horizon

Check this review:

It took two listens to find my way into it, which has to be good a thing. It is dense, twisty, shiny, modern pop music, a big mash up of Eno ambience, Edge electricity, rhythm and soul. There are verses and choruses, though not necessarily in that order (and quite often its hard to tell which is which). It doesn’t feel the need to hit you over the head, but has the Ninja confidence to sneak up and take you unawares. It makes love like its making war. It hasn’t frontloaded all its big guns. There is a surge in the middle perfectly timed to quell any uprising, and a killer twist at the end. It could be the glittering sonic mind meld of pop rock and soul that Zooropa wanted to be. Or maybe, like Bono, I’m am just prone to exaggeration.– Source: U2’s No Line In The Horizon: the new album, Neil McCormick, Telegraph, Jan. 15, 2009

As for me, I’m a long-time U2 fan. I have pre-ordered the album and can’t wait to get into it.

U2charists combine U2 music and worship

Wellington – It started one Sunday when Deacon Charles Cannon noticed the iPods and Sidekicks coming out in church.

“I realized pretty quickly that the kids were disconnected during the service,” Cannon said of the teenagers in his youth group at St. David’s Episcopal Church. “I learned they didn’t know what was going on in the service and the music didn’t reach them.”

So on Aug. 19, Cannon brought in Bono to lead worship and made Where the Streets Have No Name the offertory song at St. David’s. It was the first U2charist at an Episcopal church in Palm Beach County.

The services are Eucharists sprinkled with U2’s music, and, like U2 frontman Bono, they carry a strong social justice message. They collect money to support developing countries and fight problems such as poverty and AIDS.

U2charists have popped up in churches around the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland. Rock bands and loud music in church services is nothing new in some Christian circles. But for the Episcopal Church, heavily steeped in tradition, the U2charists offer a way for it to experiment with contemporary worship. And many of them find the services invigorate younger members and draw people who might not normally attend church.

“We love our tradition, and we love the fact we love our tradition. It’s a big part of our identity,” said the Rev. Paige Blair, the rector at St. George’s Episcopal Church in York Harbor, Maine, which popularized the U2charists. “It’s a safe way for Episcopalians to try these 21st-century ways to worship.”

That’s what’s happened since Blair’s church started spreading the word about U2charists in 2005. In the last year, churches across Florida in places as different as Fort Walton Beach, Tampa and Pompano Beach have held U2charists.

At St. David’s, David Hietapelto, a dad with shoulder-length hair and a rock-star stance, filled in for Bono, and Pride, One and Mysterious Ways replaced traditional hymns. About 120 people filled the pews; after the Sunday night service finished, most of them said they enjoyed it, including the very teenagers Cannon was trying to reach.

“When you have the rock music there, the church becomes more personal. It’s music they like,” said Edwin Morlu, 16, one of the church’s members.

“They can hear it while still being able to hear the message and spread it in a more fun and enjoyable way.”

The teenagers weren’t the only ones connecting with the songs. Two 10-year-old girls, one of them Hietapelto’s daughter, threw their bodies into full-on dancing. Laura Thornton, 38, sang along with each song, her eyes pressed shut and face pointed heavenward.

“It’s music that resonates with someone my age,” she said after the service. “While I might hear a song from Bach, it doesn’t resonate the same way, even though it’s as gorgeous and beautiful as something I grew up watching, seeing and listening to.”

But it’s more than just any rock music. U2’s lyrics have long addressed spiritual issues, and most of the band’s members are Christians. The band’s song 40 is a version of Psalms 40, and some have interpreted Where the Streets Have No Name to be about heaven. Blair said U2 fed her spiritually as a teenager when she wasn’t involved in church.

“People who are in church now and people who aren’t will say going to a U2 concert is a spiritual experience,” she said.

Despite the Christian undertones, many of the churches, including St. David’s, were a bit nervous initially about playing rock music.

The Rev. Bill Richter at St. Simon’s on the Sound Episcopal Church in Fort Walton Beach said he held his first U2charist on a Saturday night rather than a Sunday morning because he worried it might not go over well. But 90 people showed up, a big turnout, and 40 percent of them weren’t connected to the church.

“It was powerful. Just to see the kids excited about being at church was wonderful,” said Richter, whose church is planning another U2charist. “I think it’s a good way to appeal to a different segment of the community that like what we’re doing but are a little off-put by the formality.”

Cannon had to enlist the help of the St. David’s priest, the Rev. Steven Thomas, in order to serve communion at the U2charist. He was nervous, despite having already held three contemporary services during the past year, including one featuring Bob Marley’s music.

“I was really afraid the priest wasn’t going to go for it. He said, ‘Why would I play that kind of music in church?'” Cannon said. “I said, ‘If you read the lyrics of the songs, they all speak about the mystical experience of God.'”

Thomas said he thought the U2charist was a good way to focus the church on social justice. St. David’s collected money for Play Pumps International, a nonprofit group that builds water pumps in Africa.

“The music’s not for everybody,” Thomas said. “I told the congregation it’s extreme liturgy.”
– Source: Stephanie Horvath, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Sep. 9, 2007

U2 church service reaches out

A church in Dublin’s city centre has conducted a service based on the music of Irish rock group U2.

Around 150 people attended the Anglican St George and St Thomas’s Church, to sing hits like I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and One.

“We’re reaching out to the youth,” said organiser Greg Fromholz. “There’s a deep Christian message in U2’s music.”

The so-called U2charist, named after the band and the Eucharist – or Holy Communion – originated in the US.

Featuring the band’s music instead of hymns, it was created by Sarah Dylan Breuer for a service in Baltimore in April 2004.

It has since spread around the world, with services held in Australia, New Zealand and Britain.

The U2charist often features a political message centred around Bono’s campaign to eradicate extreme poverty and Aids.

‘Soundtrack to searching’

Dublin’s Sunday service lasted an hour and a half, with the church kitted out with concert-style lighting, video screens and dry ice.

But US-born Mr Fromholz insisted the Irish version wasn’t as “fanatical” as similar services on the other side of the Atlantic.

“I think at times they have pushed it a bit too far, using images of the band,” he said.

“We’re not doing that at all, we’re just using the songs as a soundtrack to searching.”

U2’s music has often had a spiritual message. The song Until The End Of The World from the band’s Achtung Baby album, for example, describes a conversation between Jesus Christ and Judas Iscariot.

Fromholz said U2 were an obvious choice to help draw young followers back to Ireland’s church congregations.

“They are always searching, always on the look out, always looking for something beyond themselves,” he said.

“I think all of us are looking for that intimacy. They are writing songs that accentuate that and they’re very easy to sing along to.”
– Source: BBC, Apr. 2, 2007

Bono Preaches

In March, 2007, Bono was presented with the Chairman’s Award at the prestigious 38th NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles.

The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) is America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization.

The Chairman’s Award, which is bestowed in recognition of special achievement and distinguished public service, was given to Bono in recognition of his humanitarian efforts.

In his acceptance speech, Bono made the following comments:

“To those in the church who still sit in judgment on the AIDS emergency, let me climb into the pulpit for just one moment.

Whatever thoughts we have about God, who He is or even if God exists, most will agree that God has a special place for the poor.
The poor are where God lives. God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is where the opportunity is lost and lives are shattered.

God is with the mother who has infected her child with a virus that will take both their lives. God is under the rubble in the cries we hear during wartime. God, my friends, is with the poor and God is with us if we are with them.”
– Source: Bono at the 2007 NAACP Image Awards

The role of Scripture in U2 music and lyrics

A quote from One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters To Those Seeking God:

If U2 had only recorded Psalm 40 on an album and then used it as a standard concert closer for a number of years, it would have been remarkable in the world of rock and roll. Yet their creative use of Psalm 40 is only the tip of the iceberg as I begin this section considering the role of Scripture in the studio and live music of U2 over the years.

Many songs include either direct quotations or allusions to specific passages of scripture. For example, in the powerful live performances of “The End of the World” from their early 1990s album Achtung Baby, Bono plays the part of Judas and the Edge plays the role of Jesus as they explore this great story of desire and betrayal from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 14. And on their 2004 album How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, the song “Crumbs from Your Table” is a direct reference to parables from the Gospels of Matthew, chapter 15, and Luke, chapter 16, that set a tone for the song as a whole.

They’ve quoted the Scriptures all along in songs, interviews, and in live performances, but the influence of Scripture runs deeper still. The Scriptures have so deeply shaped the way they speak that the quotation marks often fall away. The Scriptures offer poetic modes of truthful speech about God and the world.

Without a sense of the wideness and wildness of the Bible, you can still love U2 as a great rock and roll band. Yet without that sense of Scripture in U2’s work, you would miss how, again and again, U2 is pointing beyond themselves to a deeper dimension of life, the dimension of the soul, where one meets face to face with, in Bono’s words, “a force of love and logic behind the universe.”
– Source: Christian Scharen, One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters To Those Seeking God

Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2

One of the world’s leading voices of faith and social activism also happens to be one of its biggest rock bands.

The members drink, smoke and swear — yet a radical biblical agenda and faith fuel their life and work. Welcome to the dichotomy of U2.

This revised version of Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 picks up where the first edition left off — amid the cathartic atmosphere of the post-9/11 Elevation tour that ushered in the aggressive spirituality of 2005’s Vertigo tour. It explores the controversy surrounding the deep-rooted religious themes of the band’s music and the outspokenness of their lead singer, Bono. Moreover, it is a spiritual companion to their albums, exposing the real meaning behind many of their songs and performances.

From the group’s beginnings in Dublin’s Shalom Christian Fellowship to their arrival as the world’s greatest rock band, Walk On shines a spotlight on the very real struggles and triumphs of the band members’ Christian faith.

How has Bono transformed from a rock god to a key ambassador on the world stage?

Why is the Church that once shunned U2 now claiming them as its own?

More than two decades into worldwide success, have the boys from Ireland actually found what they’re looking for?

Join author Steve Stockman in pouring over more than 20 years of interviews, analysis and insight in an unparalleled quest to answer the burning questions everyone wants to know.

About the Author

Steve Stockman is a Presbyterian Chaplain at Queen’s University in Belfast. He is a regular speaker at universities, college conferences and festivals across the world, and he has his own radio show on BBC Radio Ulster. He is married to Janice and has two daughters, Caitlin and Jasmine.

Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog

Get Up Off Your Knees is a thoughtful and provocative collection of sermons by a group of preachers from across the international church spectrum who have been moved to theological reflection on the art and work of U2.

This book will appeal to fans of U2, students of homiletics, and everyone interested in the intersection of art, popular culture, and religion.

Editorial Reviews

“Like a cross between a hermeneutical “˜capture the flag’ and a theological “˜Where’s Waldo?'”
“”The Chicago Sun-Times

“. . . they offer a welcome portrait of what’s possible when you have three chords and the truth.”
“”Books & Culture

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised if after you read a few of these sermons you’ll be hungrier for a more meaningful life.”
“”Scott Calhoun on @U2 (a fan website)

“What I want to holler is the great news that this book, these sermons inspired by the lyrics of U2, really is a fine collection. Get Up Off Your Knees simply cannot be summarized. Each sermon deserves its own critical and prayerful engagement.”
“”Byron Borger, Coalition for Christian Outreach

“. . . Whiteley, Maynard and company have created a book that could have been subtitled A Brief Look at Christianity for Novices. You might not know the theological jargon, but if you’re a U2 fan you probably have experienced the sorts of things these writers were taught about at their divinity schools.”
“”Angela Pancella, (an on-line fan site, dedicated to U2)

“It will stretch you, inspire you, make you think””but perhaps most important, bring you to prayer in an active and engaged way. . . . Raewynne and Beth have put together a beautifully concise, but well argued rationale for meeting God in popular culture, and provided some ideas of how to go about helping us do it.”
“”Mary Hess, Luther Seminary

About the Authors

RAEWYNNE J. WHITELEY is vicar of Trinity Episcopal “Old Swedes” Church in Swedesboro, New Jersey. She is the author of many articles and published sermons.

BETH MAYNARD is a pastor and writer from Massachusetts. She has worked in parish ministry, university chaplaincy, and outreach to the homeless, and holds degrees from Amherst College, Boston University School of Theology, and Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. Her other publications include the book Meditations for Lay Eucharistic Ministers and several sermons and articles.