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When Anglican Archbishop Thomas Cranmer compiled the Book of Common Prayer during the 16th century, he wanted to make the prayers accessible, so he wrote in English, not Latin, and made sure it was distributed to every church.
About 450 years later, there is another attempt to make prayers more accessible — by an Irish bard who wears wrap-around shades instead of a clerical collar.
It may not qualify as a mini-Reformation, but a Communion service driven by the music of singer Bono and his U2 bandmates is catching on at Episcopal churches across the country.
The U2 Eucharist is not some kind of youth service held in the church basement but is a traditional Episcopal liturgy that uses U2’s best-selling songs as hymns.
“It makes you, like, warm inside,” says Bridgette Roberts, 15, who is a Roman Catholic and attended a recent U2 Eucharist at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. “Usually at church, you love Jesus and everything. But this way you can express how you feel.”
Says her friend, Natalie Williams, 17: “I love Bono, and you can rock out to the music. But in church, you hear it in a different way. It’s like new.”
The Rev. Paige Blair, an Episcopal priest in York Harbor, Maine, came up with the idea and held the first service at her church on July 31, 2005, displaying U2’s lyrics on a screen by the altar. Since then, she informally has consulted with about 150 churches that have had U2 Eucharists, or plan to, in 15 states and seven countries.
- Source: Episcopal ‘U2-charist’ uses songs in service, USA TODAY, Oct. 25, 2006
A glance down the list of scriptural quotes and allusions in songs from "I Will Follow" to "Grace" makes clear that although U2 is deeply shaped by the world of Scripture, they also commonly use Scripture in such a way that their songs are iconic, pointing toward deeper things, toward the soul, rather than speaking directly and simply about issues of faith as so much of contemporary Christian music does.
This means that U2's songs are multi-layered, written in modes of poetry and accessible from many angles, not all of them dependent on seeing "the fish in the sand." While one might catch direct references to God, Jesus, and other explicitly religious themes, more often than not they write out of the world of Scripture implicitly—that is, without explicit religious terms or quotations from the Bible—in order to speak the truth they see in the world.
Bono put it this way: "I enjoy the test of trying to keep hold of what's sacred, and still being awake, walking around, breaking through the plate glass window. It's one thing being in that holy huddle; it's another thing taking yourself out there into the world."
So often Christians fall into the trap of only speaking about the world of Scripture. Bono, on the other hand, reminds us that the Scripture is not about itself, but about mixed up people seeking to look at the world through the eyes of love, as God does. And in large part, Bono draws on Scripture at its most powerful; that is, he draws upon its poetry.
It ought to be said, therefore, that rather than providing a distraction from the world, poetry lends itself to telling the truth about the world, and this is exactly what makes Scripture so dynamic as a force shaping the songs of U2. It is not the kind of truth telling offered in math. That 2+2=4 is true has clear meaning for us and is not the subject of much debate.
While U2 has changed over time in the way they draw on Scripture in their songs, many key emphases have remained constant. For instance, the song "40" hints at how profound the voice of the Psalms has been for U2. Their songbook is, to some fans, the embodiment of a contemporary book of psalms, full of the honesty and passion that fills the Psalms of old.
Prophetic speech, too, has been there from early on. This mode was present in early live performances of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," with Bono running around stage waving a white flag to symbolize the song's call for the end of fighting and the coming of a hoped-for peace. But the 1990s found them shifting from the mixture of the sacred and erotic in Proverbs and the Song of Songs to an embrace of irony and life's vanity in Ecclesiastes. And their latest work simply shows a maturing of vision that reveals complex, layered visions that draw on the voices of Scripture in profound and provocative ways.
Singing Scripture has offered a powerful way for the band to speak truthfully about the complex reality of both desiring God and yet looking full on at the world in all its messiness.
- Source: One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God, by Christian Scharen
U2 is just about the last rock band still carrying the torch of political and social responsibility. Last night at KeyArena, in the first of two shows, Bono and company delivered the same message they have been preaching for a quarter century. In their youth, they sang about the struggles and bloody politics of their native Ireland. Now their concern is for the whole world.
Bono urged the audience to join the One Campaign, started by the band to aid various causes, especially in Africa. He asked that lighted cellphones be held aloft, and they lit the whole arena. Bono saluted the charitable work of Bill and Melinda Gates and World Vision, which has its headquarters here.
- Source: U2 a voice of concern, Seattle Times, Apr 25 2005
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