Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Gospel Song For a Restless Spirit

I am reading "Walk On: The Spriritual Journey of U2" right now. Chapter 7 really touched me. Here is a long excerpt from it.

The Joshua Tree was u2's finest moment. Until the album's release in 1987, the group had been all potential and promise. With The Joshua Tree, U2 achieved it. The album welcomed their status as rock ledgends. Yet as U2 sat at the top of the music charts around the world, the Christian community used the album's release as reason to write the band's spiritual obituary. One of the songs in particular sparked the backlash. It had the band's former Christian community in Dublin, as well as many believers around the world, mourning-and in some cases celebrating-the evidence that the band's days of being torchbearers of Christian truth were over. "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" was a pivotal song in the band's artistic intentions and spiritual development. The Soul Patrol and Theological Police were out in force, though, and they concluded their case that anyone who had not found what what they were looking for could not have found Christ.

It was a remarkable response that not only highlighted a shoddy piece of listening to the song's lyrics, but also showed a great error in what was masquerading in some quarters as Christianity. There seems to be a belief that once someone makes the initial connection with Jesus Christ, he has arrived. Immediately, a watertight box of solutions is handed to him. No more questions need to be asked-Jesus is the answer! Everything is now explained; there is nothing left to search for. This view is built on a need for precision and perfection, which have always been enemies of art, which is all about coloring outside the lines. It is also an enemy of the reality that following Jesus is a journey, not an arrival.

The members of U2 knew what they were stirring up. By now, disillusioned with former fellowships or churches of any kind and growing in their own spiritual thinking, they were making a statement about a less dogmatic approach to their faith. Yet the dogma in the song is widespread. Even with the song's dichotomy, it could be regarded as their clearest confession of faith. Daniel Lanois spoke on The Making of The Joshua Tree video about having suggested that Bono write a gospel song. up to that point, the band had been writing songs with Christian content. A gospel song was another category entirely, and Lanois seemed to have seen it as a natural place of inspiration for a band that was so wrapped up in all things Christian. Bono listened to his producers advice and wrote "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," calling it "a gospel song for a restless spirit."

The Joshua Tree was the album on which Bono discovered the art of the song. Before this, there had been a lot of impressionistic improvisation. But somewhere between The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree, Bono began to hone his craft. It could have been that sharing stages with the likes of Dylan, Baez, and Sting and hanging out with great writers had provoked bono to try to imitate his peers. Perhaps it was a new sense of belief in what the band was becoming. Whatever it was, The Joshua Tree took the experimentation of Eno and Lanois' The Unforgettable Fire, melted it into the tighter sounds of Lillywhite's first three albums, and added more attention to lyrical detail. The result: "Our most literate record yet," according to Bono. His focus on the song made "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" a concise creed of redemption: Jesus breaks bonds, looses chains, carries the cross and all of our shame. After the confession there is the clear and confident assent of "I believe it."

Redemption, atonement, and the substitution death of Christ. There would be no more succinct a theology of the cross in all the songs that were coming from the Christian bands that U2's Christian critics would hold as models of sound theological content. The band, which many condemned for not proclaiming the Gospel and being ashamed of it, could not have spelled it out more clearly or poetically. Surely, this is what the Church needed. Christians in the real world being salt and light (Matt. 5:13,16)-and in this case with a dirty great big fog horn, proclaiming the faith with the attention of the nation if not the greater part of the world. The song held the number one position on the singles charts for more than a month.

Instead of being a rejection faith, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is an indication that U2 might have been closer to biblical truth than the narrow and precise Christians who pointed their fingers. In the book The Post-Evangelical, English vicar Dave Tomlinson states: "Evangelicalism is good at introducing people to faith in Christ, but unhelpful when it comes to the matter of progressing into a more grown-up experience of faith." Tomlinson may generalize, but it is true that the evangelical wing of the Church spends a lot of energy on being "born again" but little time on "growing up" again. There is a failing to encourage newborn believers out of the maternity ward and into the big world where they will spend the rest of their spiritual lives trying to find what they are looking for.

The New Testament contains a letter from the apostle Paul to the church in Philippi. Paul makes his beliefs clear. He tells the Phillipians he has given up striving to get to God by being a religious Pharisee and has put his belief in the "righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (Phil. 3:9). After years of working on some kind of way to God by adhering to his Jewish rituals, rules, and regulations, he has set them aside and now believes in the Gospel that U2 so elegantly describes in its hit single. Paul could not find what he was looking for by being religious.

He says: "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that which Christ Jesus took hold of me ... Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on" (Phil. 4:12-14). Paul had to take the belief, then go where that belief would lead him. Proclaiming a new doctrinal statement did not bring with it an overnight holiness. He had to keep "pressing on to the higher calling of my Lord," as Bob Dylan had paraphrased on his song "Pressing On" from his Saved album in 1980.

If Christians look at the events of the past few years in Rwanda, Angola, Mozambique, Sarajevo, the Middle East, or Belfast City, they cannot say those tradgedies are what they have been looking for. If they look at a church filled with gossip, malicious lies in the name of truth, the bondage of legalism, or the bigoted hypocrites who sometimes hold power, they can't say this is what they are looking for. As they look into their own lives and see the egotistical, selfish, sinful spouse, parent, child, workmate, or friend, they can't say they have found what they are looking for. It is the realization that they haven't found what they are looking for that should draw them back to the only hope for being born again or growing up again: that someone broke bonds and chains and carried the cross in our place. It is only God's grace, through that work of redemption, that has brought them safe this far. And it is only His grace, through that work of redemption, that will lead them home. Until believers take that breath out of this world and into the hope-filled eternity of the next, they will be searching.

Bono's running and climbing and crawling toward that kingdom of oneness and realizing that as well as speaking in the tongues of angels, he sometimes holds the hand of the devil-this is perhaps a truer description of the pilgrimage of faith. Bono has been honest about his failings when it comes to his life and Christian journey. While the Church might ignore the darkness within and try to cover up its hang-ups with a shirt and tie, Bono has continually shown us himself, warts and all. That the Church has covered its eyes perhaps is a hint that it fears such honesty. In admitting to their doubts and weaknesses, the members of U2 got condemned from the very place where everyone should have raised their hands and said, "Hey, this is a perfect description of my yet imperfect faith. I believe all this, but, man, I need to keep running."


Blogger friend said...

sweet book- I gave that to my youth leadedrs two years ago for Christmas.

12:53 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

hmmm - I don't know - I just wrote about Bono in my blog. I used to see them in Cork around the time I became a Christian. I've come across many people giving out about the "shirts and ties" over the years. I've probably done a bit of it myself - you know - thinking the worst of traditional evangelicals and feeling that I am more like Jesus mingling with the common people and that I am honest - I show myself warts and all.

But I wonder sometimes if people like Bono and Bob Dylan and other pop stars had had the discipline of being part of a local church instead of being immersed in the madness that surrounds celebrities, would they have been more of an asset to the church?

I've come across many Christians over the years that speak of how 'honest' and 'real' and 'street' they are but I'd kinda prefer my daughter to marry a shirt and tie -- to be honest :)

And you'd be surprised how much normal Christians do to promote growth among Christians, help the world through various charities (not necessarily evangelical ones) etc - They don't always make a big thing of it - maybe what people see most is the preaching of the gospel so that's the image that people get.

Undoubtedly, there's room for improvement but I remember being disappointed as a young Christian to hear Bono using bad language etc. I know that this is by no means the worst of sins or anything but it is a kind of a badge. It's one of the few things that are easy to fix and when you don't fix it, it sort of says something about you.

I wasn't expecting him to be Cliff Richard or anything but there are plenty of pop stars who aren't Christians at all who have a more wholesome image.

Good Christian rock stars are rare. You do get some has-beens that sometimes turn up on the Christian scene if they haven't managed to find a spot in the Eurovision song contest, but for someone like me, who was big into music, a more disciplined Bono would have been helpful.

And, now that pop music has become much more central in general culture it is all the more important to have Christians involved (unless we regard it as inherently evil - the devil's music). It would be a huge challenge to be a rock star and at the same time, a model for young Christians but men and women have met huge challenges before.

3:43 AM  

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