Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Theology with U2: No Line On The Horizon (1 of 2)

"No Line on the Horizon" is the first song on the album. It's a different kind of sound for U2. But it's a rocker with philosophy! So I gotta love it. Some of the lyrics include: "One day she's still the next day she swells / You can hear the universe in her sea shells / She said 'Time is irrelevant, it's not linear / Then she put her tongue in my ear." The "she" in these lyrics could be referring to a woman, a female personified thought, God, etc. Who knows with U2! In any case, Bono gets his kicks from the sense that time is not linear. In non-linear time, there is no such thing as past and future. There is only a continuous flow of "now." The "past" is simply a former "now." The "future" is simply a coming "now." The only time that exists is "now." There is no great origin that we're moving from. There is no final conclusion we're moving toward. There is no coming eschatological time on the horizon. Or said in a different way, "there is no line on the horizon." There is only "now." Living fully in the "now" is ultimately important. Now is the only time we have. Now is life. Now is our home. Now is the time to enjoy life. Now is the time to fall in love. Now is the time to live life to the fullest. Now is when God is. Now is sacred. Now is the moment of eschatological hope. Marty Haugen emphasizes the theological importance of "now" in his hymn, "Here In This Place." The lyrics read: "Not in the dark of buildings confining / Not in some heaven, light years away / But here in this place the new light is shining / Now is the Kin-dom, now is the day." When Haugen and U2 agree on something, it must be right! Time is truly irrelevant when the only time that matters is right now. And that is a sexy thought. I can see why it feels sensuous like someone licking your ear.

"Magnificent" is a dance-rock song. Yup, there is some dance flavor to it. Not to worry, though. Edge adds plenty of the cool guitar riffs that are typical of U2. Lyrically this song seems to be about how magnificent God is. It's a praise song about singing praise. Bono sings: "I was born to sing for you / I didn't have a choice but to lift you up / And sing whatever song you wanted me to / I give you back my voice / From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise." The phrase "joyful noise" is distinctly Judeo-Christian. It's in many hymns, songs, prayers, etc. as a form of praise. The phrase is especially prevalent in the Psalms: "Make a joyful noise unto God, all the earth" (Psalm 66:1). "Sing aloud unto God our strength: make a joyful noise unto the God of Jacob" (Psalm 81:1). "O come, let us sing unto God: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before God's presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto God with psalms" (Psalm 95:1-2). "Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth! Burst out and sing for joy, yes, sing praises" (Psalm 98:4). "With trumpets and sound of the ram's horn, make a joyful noise before the Holy One, God" (Psalm 98:8). Make a joyful noise unto God, all the earth" (Psalms 100:1). Why do the Psalms and this song by U2 talk about making a joyful noise to God? Because God is...well...magnificent. God is so magnificent that people of faith, like Bono, can't help but sing for joy. God's gracious love, abiding presence, and guiding wisdom are worth singing about. Out of gratitude Bono sings: "you and I will magnify / the Magnificent." Clearly this song is a modern doxology - and rockin' song of praise.

"Moment of Surrender," is another dance-rocker. But this one is a little more haunting. The combination of chords played on an organ and lyrics cried out by Bono give this song a deep, brooding intensity. This mood intensifies the lyrical theme of surrendering to God's gracious love. Bono sings: "It's not if I believe in love / But if love believes in me / Oh, believe in me." Here Bono seems to be testifying that God's love for him is more important than Bono's love for God. Faith is not about us loving God - and then earning God's love. That is a works-based faith. Instead, faith is about God loving us - and God's love inspiring us to love God and others. That is a grace-based faith. As I John 14:9 says, "We love because God first loved us." The gracious love of God overwhelms us with gratitude and evokes our love. In short, Bono's singing about God's grace and our response. And "in that moment of surrender" to God's love, Bono "falls down to his knees." The second theological theme that spoke to me is that of rediscovering and returning to one's authentic self. The lyrics read: "I've been in every black hole / At the altar of the black star / My body's now a begging bowl / That's begging to get back, begging to get back / To my heart / To the rhythm of my soul." After searching the dark places outside of himself, Bono now wants to get back to the essence of who is inside. His search has gone from external to internal. He wants to get back to his "heart" and "soul." These are significant words, Scripturally. "Heart" (lebab, kardia) means the core of one's being and "soul" (nephesh, psuche) means the life-energy of oneself. So Bono wants to get back to the core of his being and the rhythm of his own life-energy. He wants to let his authentic, true self re-emerge. After searching everywhere except within, he finally surrenders to the wisdom of his own heart and soul. Quakers may say Bono began listening to his "inner light" and "sacred center." In the end, Bono may agree with Parker Palmer, "Wisdom comes from a voice 'in here' calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given to me at birth by God." After Bono began living according to his authentic selfhood, he recognizes himself, singing: "I could see in the reflection / A face staring back at me."

"Unknown Caller" is a postmodern delight. It journeys through a slow start with chirping birds, to choppy singing in the middle, to a culmination that features one of Edge's most outstanding recorded guitar solos. The story of the song is about the transforming work of God calling humanity out of "midnight" and into "sunshine." Seems straightforward enough. But the lyrics tell this story in a postmodern, non-linear way that adds to the intrigue of the song. There are many possible ways to reconstruct this song in a linear way. So my reconstruction is just one take on the story. The story begins by talking about being lost in life. Bono tells this part of the story by singing about being "lost between the midnight and the dawning," "at the top of the bottom," and "on the edge of the known universe." During this time of being lost, the "Unknown Caller" (i.e. God) invites the person to change their life. Bono sings, "3:33 when the numbers fell off the clock face." It's at the darkest time of the night, 3:33 a.m., that God calls and time stops. The symbolism of "3:33" can be carried even further if we connect it with Jeremiah 33:3 (which many others have also done). In this text God is portrayed as saying, "Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known." In the plot of the song, God calls the person to tell them "great and hidden things" that can change their life. To emphasize the importance of God's message, the lyrics say, "hear me, cease to speak so I may speak to you." The message is clear: the person needs to new life - a new start. In Biblical terms, the person needs to become a "new creation" (2 Corinthians 5:17). This is just one example. Transformation is something God is portrayed as doing throughout the Bible. In the song, this idea is expressed through a computer analogy: "Force quit and move to trash...Restart and reboot yourself." In the lyrical story, God says the junk in the person's life needs to be removed, so s/he can begin anew. The reboot changes everything. The person moves from "midnight" to "sunshine." The lost becomes found. Transformation occurs. This song is about the kind of divine transformations that happened to people like John Newton, who went from being a slave trader to an abolitionist after he began listening to the voice of the "Unknown Caller." Newton went on to write a song of gratitude that testifies to the transforming work of God the Caller: "Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me / I once was lost but now am found / Was blind, but now I see." Both songs - "Amazing Grace" and "Unknown Caller" - describe the life-transforming work of God in all people who are open to the call of God in their life. And for that we can say, "Praise be to God!" Or, to quote this song, "Go, shout it out, raise up."

"I'll Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" is typical U2. It sounds like a song that could have been on either of their previous two albums, "All That You Can't Leave Behind" and "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb." Lyrically, the song is about resisting fear. Bono sings: ''Is it true that perfect love casts out all fear? / The right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear." Here Bono is talking about his willingness to look "ridiculous" because of his choice of love over fear. This idea is based on I John 4:18-19, where it says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because God first loved us." God's nature is about spreading love, not fear. By participating in God's nature, we participate in spreading love. This may look strange to some people, but Bono is saying that divine love is better than human fear. Yet choosing to resist fear doesn't mean ignoring the real obstacles in life. Resisting fear means finding the hope in the midst of struggle. Bono expresses this hopeful realism by singing, "It's not a hill it's a mountain / As we start out the climb / Listen for me, I'll be shouting / Shouting to the darkness, squeeze out the sparks of light." The "we" implies that the journey over the mountain is undertaken in community. And it's not just any community. It's a group of people who encourage each other by making "sparks of light" in the darkness. These sparks end up being enough to make a way through the dark. As John 1:5 says, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." This Scripture reminds us to use Christ, the light of life, as a guide through the darkness. But Scripture also hints at another important guide that we should welcome: children. In Matthew 19:14, Jesus says, "Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kin-dom of God belongs." Bono also urges that we welcome the youth of the world - and listen to their ideas. He sings: "Pity the nation that will listen to your boys and girls / 'Cos the sweetest melody is the one we haven't heard." The first line is a sarcastic warning to people who don't listen to new voices. The second line is what he really believes: the light of hope shines brightest in the youth of the world. In an interview Bono says, "The solution to the problems we find ourselves in will have to be found by the new generation." Let's let the children come. Let's let the light shine. Let's let the hope rise. Let's let ourselves be crazy enough to think that "every generation gets a chance to change the world."


  1. "Pity the nation that will listen to your boys and girls / 'Cos the sweetest melody is the one we haven't heard."

    Everybody seems to be misquoting this. He sings "Pity the nation that WON'T listen ..."

    Great post otherwise.

  2. "Pity the nation that will listen to your boys and girls / 'Cos the sweetest melody is the one we haven't heard."

    If you listen to it at least on the blackberry commercial WILL is what he says! I wonder why?