Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God
Brazos Press, 2006
by Jeff Crosby
veritable cottage publishing industry has grown up around the Irish
supergroup U2 in the years since its North American debut recording
Boy in the autumn of 1980. Some titles have focused on
lead singer Bono’s humanitarian work, while others have chronicled
the band’s history and tours, dissected recordings and drawn
observations on each of the four member’s philosophical foundations.
the midst of the publishing cornucopia Christian Scharen’s
One Step Closer manages to offer a unique slant on the
group and goes a long way toward articulating why U2 has been a
beacon to many who are earnestly seeking God.
associate director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture in New
Haven, Connecticut, argues that U2 is a cultural icon that points
people “one step closer to the cross,
a place both of suffering because of the world’s rejection
and violent killing of Jesus, as well as joyful hope that comes
from God’s raising him to new life as a victory over violence,
hatred and death.”
into a “step one, step two, step three” structure, the
book’s first step looks at how we talk about God through five
distinct “voices,” each of which U2 has used throughout
its catalog of recorded music and legendary tours:
as both thanksgiving and heart-bearing lament.
Wisdom as both deep desire and illusion.
Prophecy as both judgment and lasting hope.
Parables as both offense and mercy.
Apocalypse as ecstasy and healing.
by chapter, Scharen expounds on what these voices are and, in turn,
examines how they have been expressed through the songs of U2.
For example, in exploring psalms as both thanksgiving and lament,
Scharen explains that psalms “speak of our whole existence
before God. Psalms are earthy and therefore don’t hurry past
the reality of human experience. Rather, they dwell deeply in the
midst of life, taking seriously the raw energy of human agony and
ecstasy.” He then illustrates the voice by examining in some
detail the songs “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Wake
Up, Dead Man,” the latter of which laments:
I’m waiting here, boss
I know you’re looking out for us
But maybe your hands aren’t free.
In defining the voice of prophecy, Scharen acknowledges the Bible’s
books of prophecy are “hard to read. They shake us up from
slumber and force us to confront uncomfortable truths.” He
then illustrates this voice through “Last Night on Earth”
from the 1997 album “Pop,” a song telling the story
of a woman “lost in the fast life, burning the candle at both
ends, and embracing its inevitable self-destruction”—a
song that, like the prophetic scriptures, confronts uncomfortable
two of the book digs deeper into its core message regarding a theology
of the cross and how the music of U2 powerfully embodies its concepts
and truth. Scharen suggests that a theology of the cross, which
he says is “Christ crucified and the way of costly discipleship
he asks us to follow,” is to be understood in contrast to
a theology of glory which “amounts to religious triumphalism,
something that we as humans do.” Both Scharen and U2 cling
to the cross, and critique a theology of glory.
the author is able to succinctly
present these weighty theological constructs in a readable manner,
keeping his primary audience of people unfamiliar with Christianity
clearly in his sights. Once again, he intersperses lyrics from U2
songs to illustrate his points.
the theology of the cross firmly established, Scharen uses the remainder
of step two to unpack the virtues of faith, hope and love and offers
perspectives on how each are illuminated in the songs of U2.
In the final chapters of the book, Scharen attempts to sum up what
he believes U2 means by “truth,” and he depicts the
ways in which the band seeks to live that out in the real world.
Scharen suggests that as U2 has grown as a band, simply singing
the truth is no longer enough. They have to live it out, whether
that’s in front of a cheering audience at Wembley Stadium
or in front of presidents and prime ministers at national prayer
breakfasts. He writes:
though the band avoids rock star hubris with family and friends,
they’ve always tried to use their rock star fame for political
purposes. They decided early on that they would transgress the
rule that rock bands don’t sing about religion and politics.
They went beyond that to aggressively use their fame to promote
ideas they believed in, beginning with their effort to portray
a position of Christian nonviolence in response to the troubles
of Northern Ireland embodied in their famous anthem, "Sunday,
moves from the band’s work in Northern Ireland to the “One”
Campaign, Jubilee 2000 and other humanitarian work for which Bono
was named (along with Bill and Melinda Gates) a “Person of
the Year” by Time Magazine.
Step Closer is a book of significance not only for U2 fans
but for anyone interested in the relationship between Christ and
Jeff Crosby serves in management
at InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, and lives in the
western suburbs of Chicago with his author/editor wife, Cindy, a
frequent contributor to explorefaith.org.
©2006 Jeff Crosby
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