Friday, February 24, 2006

The Bomb Part 3 1/2: From Anality to Freedom via Loud Creativity

It is either among his most cringeworthy/corny lines or among his most profound/prophetic.

Likely both.

When Bono sings "Freedom has a scent like the top of a newborn baby's head;" his passion borders on the embarassingly exhibitionistic; he means it. One can almost watch him pushing past the cringe factor; knowing it will morph into, and unloose the prophetic...if only enough veins pop in his neck. He is giving birth himself, perhaps. At the very least, he is shamelessly singing for his life; maybe even to maintain his wobbly freedom.

Almost as if keeping his day job and eternal salvation secure was proportionate to his (and our)abandonment to the truth of the


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Bomb Part 2: Apocalyptic...Baby!

How to Definitively Dismantle the Death-Bomb in 14 (!) Simple (!!) Steps

Chapter 2 of a Fun Theological Roundtable Around U2’s “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb”

By Dave Wainscott

"If you meditate on life you start with death.” -Bono


“What’s the scoop on surviving a bomb? What do you learn? You learn that, at first, the past will only seem like a cause for mourning, but your job is to twist it around and make it a cause to rejoice. At the end of meals every Sabbath, observant Jews sing a psalm (126) that has a strange muddle of verb tenses. Some scholars insist that the text is corrupt and propose changes, but only people who study the thing are confused; people who sing it understand.”
-David Gerlanter, survivor of a Unabomber mail-bomb, in “Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber,” p., 154

“When Yahweh returns his grieving ones from exile, they will feel as if awakening from a death-dream; these weeping ones, though, will emerge with songs that rejoice”
-verses 1-3 of the Psalm (126) referred to above

“Only people who study the thing are confused; people who sing it understand” …especially when the “thing” is death. Death, that ancient enemy, which when “twisted” via the “strange muddle of song,” can morph into joy. That’s not only an amazingly accurate thesis for this essay: it’s an invitation to join the only choir that counts! Join the choir..please! No, I don’t mean the mass choir that is the U2 fan club, though that club is a worthy one that I shamelessly hang and sing with; but the “choir” of those vulnerable and brave enough to, in the midst of “awakening from a death-dream,” sing heartily, longingly, feebly and fearlessly ...about all things “life”… which would include death…and thus understand; thus live.

And by the way, I would invite all readers… especially those who, for whatever reason, will never be full-blown fans of U2… to stay with us, for though you may occasionally feel lost in the U2 lyric references and in-house “preaching to the choir” U2-isms to follow, I am going to be waxing here ultimately about a very practical, absolutely universal need: dealing with the mother of all paradoxes; one that can be grasped perhaps only in Scripture and song: death. Which of course must be grappled with under the rubric of “all things life.” And it may well be that U2’s Bono is right (again): meditation on life must begin with death. And it may well be that William Stringfellow is not exaggerating: “The truth is that human beings are concerned with nothing else but death…though that be seldom realized.” (William Stringfellow, “An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land,” p. 69). At the end of the day, it is actually U2’s “ job” to redress and rebuke that “seldom,” and address the paradox by name, and in song; and as the Unabomber survivor suggests, it’s my “ job to twist (death) around and make it a cause to rejoice.” This all, of course, is the job of God, of choirs. And all human beings.

So I dare to believe that you, dear reader, since the chances are strong that you are indeed a verifiable human being, if not also literally in the U2 fan club “choir”, can benefit greatly from insights that U2…people who “sing and thus understand”…have offered us all through their “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” CD/book package. The Irish lads have “en-choired” us into a release that’s all about life…or is it death? Most correctly, according to its primary author, it is foremost a “mediation on life”, albeit through the lens and backdrop of death. This disc is not then a dirge or depressing…just one that , in its recklessly joyful affirmation of life, is not in denial about death. In fact, you can even dance to it! How could one not dance to the bottom line: “I’m alive; I’m being born.”


In context, then, humans, you should know that you are reading the second (of 4 ½!) installment of a theological analysis of the 2004 release by U2; with particular emphasis this time in answering the disc’s title question in (14 part! ) harmony; especially with the rich insights of the invaluable, same-titled book included in the deluxe (read “required”) edition of the recording. We maintain that in an authentic and authentically apocalyptic kind of way, U2’s disc/book can help us creatively wrestle with nothing less than the mother of all paradoxes: death. Death and it’s prequel/sequel; it’s underside and other side: life. In particular, birth. Because under the guise and disguise of a fun “return-to-roots” rock record, the lads are about some serious business; the meaning of life kind of stuff, as usual; literally life and death matters, in fact. With such heavy subject matter, we call out some heavy-hitting theologians to join the choir (You’ll see by my eclectic list that everybody and their mother is a theologian in my book!). Included are the venerable “Walters” (Bruggeman, Wink and ..uh, Cronkite!), from whom we cull keys to the conversation. Then from the Constantines (both the emperor and the Keanu Reeves movie character!) we also gladly glean. And it’s on to some more “obvious” inclusions: both Saints Francis, a couple of dead (existentially) existentialist Russians (Tolstoy and Berdayev); and from our time, Annie Dillard, Chagall Guevara, and the at times prophetic (other times pathetic) Cheech and Chong(!). All these and more contribute to the choir; as anybody is invited to the loft who deals loftily, intelligently, and irreverently (in a reverent way) enough with The Paradox in question; and is thus certified in the necessary dismantling skill that Bono and team have called us to sharpen.

So join the choir! Again, I simply mean, in the language of the explosive quote at the top of the page, that even if you consider the U2 catalog “corrupt and propose changes,” at least join in with the only “people who understand”: those who sing. Especially those humbly bold and riskily real enough to sing about , from, and to, death. Singing death to death, enough to reverse the curse and wrangle life from its ashes and memory. “You’ve got to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight,” to quote Bono, who is quoting Bruce Cockburn. Dismantling worship of death (more on that later) even, and setting up in its place worship of the One who has mercifully murdered death, and loves to love us to life. “Music is the language of the Spirit,” says Bono, our choir director. And since “the one who sings, prays twice,” why not apply prophetic song to the mother of all paradoxes; and sing about the shadow of death, in the context and light of Life.

“What emerges as most remarkable in the here-and-now,” concludes Gerlanter in assessing what he learned from surviving the Unabomber’s bomb, “is not the callousness or evil of the onslaught but the resilience of the defense….If you focus the big sweep of history on a single lifetime, the poet {of the Psalm 126 song] says, you see life as a stubborn return from sorrow again and again.” (151) “Dismantle” is nothing if not a “stubborn return” for the band; and thematically, “a stubborn return from sorrow again and again.” After all, Bono stalwartly and stubbornly sings (again and again) those very words (“again and again”) in a lyric (from “Mercy,” a chilling song cut at the last minute from the record, but excerpted lyrically in the book) that summarizes the record’s theme: “I am alive! Baby, I’m born again. And again and again and again and again and again……” If that makes no sense, try singing it…again…

We are inescapably singers anyway. The human spirit cannot not sing; it’s hardwired towards tune; as “life is at base, music” (Leonard Sweet’s summary of current physics theory). So it’s simply a matter of which songs will sing most strongly through us; which we will tune into and turn into: Life or Death. On this note (pun intended), I am somewhat surprised that in the inevitable web-flurry flurry of theologically-informed posting, reviewing and blogging that has followed the release of “Bomb” (best warehouse to access all this: http://www.u2sermions/.blogspot.,com), I have not yet seen much made of the obvious “trainspotting” connection from the new disc’s title to a stanza in an early U2 song (“Seconds” from the “War” album), which backs up and jacks up everything I have been trying to say so far. Note, as well, the emphasis on song:

And they’re doing the atomic bomb/Do they know where the dance comes from/ Yes they're doing the atomic bomb /They want you to sing along/Say goodbye, say goodbye

Someone has to trace the wires of this connection. The “they” of this lyric are those “atomically” addicted to war and death. We are not to “sing along” with them, but with the other/opposite choir-dance, otherwise we literally have “hell to pay.” I can’t help but also juxtapose the last words of “Seconds” (“say goodbye, goodbye”) and the haunting counterpart refrain of “Vertigo” from the new album (“Hello, hello”). Even though on the surface, “Vertigo” is a “a nice little ditty that makes you want to kill yourself,” Bono laughed; in the context and clothing of the disc and book, “Vertigo” is actually a hearty “hello”, amen and allegiance to the song/dance of life; which when sung, counters and counteracts; defuses and dismantles the “goodbye, goodye” death-song that dominates these days. But as Bono has been desperately calling out to the audience at the end of “Vertigo” in concert: “Hello? Hello?.... Is there anybody out there?” Is anyone getting and going with this? Please, join the choir; please sing and understand; please deal with death, sing it to life. Hello?


As bizarre a strategy as it sounds, the thoroughgoing sexiness (as any siren-song must be packaged) of the devil’s death-song is successfully seductive. And the stategy does make perfect sense: sex sells, so if an agent is selling death, package it pruriently and provocatively; shape it erotically and evocatively. The Tempter desires that we buy not only the damning lie that death is the last word, but his whole counterfeit cantata which claims just that…in pseudo-song. He would love to soundtrack and hijack our lives accordingly. The connect between the sexual lure into accepting death’s sovereignty, and the dismantling prayer of surrender to life is creatively parabled in the obscure alternate version of “Seconds” (the MFSL 24K "Gold CD" Version), in which a commanding sergeant (on one speaker), and an officer (on the other) battle it out about which side and “song” ultimately wins, in a spoken word conversation, buried in the mix:

Sergeant(Left speaker):
“Hold it,Alright this time how about, Put on a smile and say:
Sex, sex, Sex! Gun, Gun!Gun, Gun!Gun, Gun!Gun, Gun!Kill, Kill!Kill, Kill!”

Soldier(Right speaker):
“Oh Dear God,It's getting to be that time!And you don't know it until it's taken.
I can't give it to anybody anymoreI can't, it's not in meI just can't do itThis is all I've gotI can't give nothing To anybody else anymoreIt's been strippedIt's been taken

The entire dramatic dismantling dilemma of the 2OO4 disc is painted and prophesied for us twenty one years earlier in a “throwaway”, out-of-print recording that most U2 fans are not even aware of! How stealth, how embedded, how U2; how “accidentally on purpose” is that? The sex and death connection is exposed. Not only are we all inescapable singers who must choose between repertoires that either praise or damn death; we are also inveterate connectors of sex and death. Weigh this:

Poets of both genders throughout the ages have suggested a connection between the two themes. Psychiatrists and psychologists have long argued that fear of sexuality is simply a disguised version of a universal human fear of death. Anthropologists assert that sexual taboos, institutionalized through religion, are but another effort to keep death at bay. They fail not because people are immoral but because death persists….

Sexual imagery reflects preoccupation with controlling death…
Cultural imagery reflects the magnitude and intensity of these efforts. The pornography industry exploits our nearly obsessive efforts to control both death and sex and to solve the cultural/biological puzzle presented by the relationship between sex and death, especially for men.Pornographic films and magazines, even those that do not deal directly with death, routinely turn living subjects into inanimate objects, allowing men - and increasingly women as well - to place their sexuality in a fantasy world, where they can without ever losing control.

Aha! Now my thesis in Part 1 (that the 2000 song “Elevation” is about, through prayer, “twisting” life out of sexual temptation) makes sense. As does my controversial proposal in Part 4: “Fast Cars,” though only included on the deluxe and Japanese version of “How To Dismantle” should be seen as the “true” last song on the disc, as it summarizes and in a very obtuse way, ties up its loose ends:

My garden’s overgrown I go out on my belly crawling I got CCTV, pornography, CNBC I got the nightly news To get to know the enemy All I want is a picture of You All I want is to get right next to You
All I want is Your face in a locket Picture in my pocket

In the above snippet, Bono is clearly (granted, among other applications) referring to the devil; the reference to Genesis’ description of Satan being kicked out of the garden as a “crawling on his belly” serpent is clear, as is the identity of “the enemy.” As then is the explicit attribution of pornography (even the pornography of the “nightly news” which seduces us to worship and submit to sex-death) to the devil’s doing. No wonder all the main character wants is a “picture of You (God).” Only such a snapshot can counter the demonic death-bomb, no matter how sexily it is projected. Just one pocketed picture of God/Life, even a miniature in a locket, will do the trick against an incessant and sexualized satanic broadcast. (Which, coincidentally…not!….was also the theme of U2’s 1990s “Zoo TV” tours!) One provocative book proposes that death only entered the picture (and world) once sex did!! While proposing that sex inevitably leads to death is overstating the case (thank God!), that the two are intentionally tied in the tempter’s hand is a huge practical lesson that we would be wise to file. And even sing about, so that we understand. And survive the bomb-blast.

To exit the intro, then. With the help of the soldier from “Seconds.”Contrasting the false trinity of “Sex! Gun! Kill!” with “God, I can’t play that game anymore!”, offers us wonderful and wild hope of destroying the dominion of death over life. The soldier (U2), decades ahead of his time (and prime) is pointedly and presciently, by the baptized rebellion of praying pacifistically, dismantling every last possibility of fellowship with death , and sexual friendship with, the serpent’s porno-bomb. So, choir: choose your song; select your stereo-speaker. Will it be the false and frenetic sex of and with guns and killing (intercourse with the “death system”), or a humble yet defiant “I can’t do it anymore” prayer-song towards God and Life? A song of necrophilia or glossolalia? Uh, I’ll take the new song. It’s the only way to incarnate and activate the right song in the foreign land we’re warring in; a realm where violence and death reign by default…until sung to, and thus dismantled.

It’s no accident that the haunting biblical question ,“How long to sing this (new) song?”, is again (after a decade-plus absence from the setlist) the last thing the audience hears U2 (and themselves, long after the band has left the stage) sing.
It’s because U2 knows what they are doing. Bono, in his introduction to the Psalms:

"40" became the closing song at our shows, and on hundreds of occasions, literally hundreds of thousands of people of every size and shape of T-shirt have shouted back the refrain, pinched from Psalm 6: "How long (to sing this song)." I had thought of it as a nagging question, pulling at the hem of an invisible deity whose presence we glimpse only when we act in love. How long hunger? How long hatred? How long until creation grows up and the chaos of its precocious, hell-bent adolescence has been discarded? I thought it odd that the vocalising of such questions could bring such comfort -- to me, too.

Odd, but comforting. That’s what a God-song is, an oddly comforting “vocalizing.” U2 know exactly what they are doing. “We do the show; we do the business, but this is not show business, ” Bono has been heard chanting on the current tour. Now, he knows on one level, it is show business; but it’s also oh-so-much- more. The boys are about huge and holy business, yanking the Almighty’s hem, dismantling death and all, because frankly….


U2 is a sign of the end times.

Now, don’t shut me down yet. This is decidedly NOT proposing the U2 disc as the fitting 348th installment of “Left Behind,” and by now you sure I am not among fundamentalist Pharisees who lambast U2 as antichrists due to their “secular” Christianity. And neither am I suggesting that U2’s latest contains a secret encoded message about who “666” is.

Uh, oh. Actually, I take that last one back. Now that I think of it, “Bomb” actually does contain a very revelatory message about the identity of said “beast” ; I’m serious! But maybe it’s more a “what” than who; maybe it’s “death” as system and worldview whose “mark” we are to avoid at all costs! Just maybe that’s what the writer of the Revelation-Apocalypse intended for is to envision and spell out all along!!


U2 is a sign, then, of the end times; inasmuch as their mission is the same. Inasmuch as they are messengers of the dethroning of death as ultimate lord. Let me unpack what I connote by “sign” , and then what’s implied here by “end times.” All I mean by U2 being a “sign” is what Jesus meant by the word (in the biblical Greek: “semeion”): “a distinguishing mark by which something is known.” U2 don’t hold signs, they are signs; they are a “distinguishing mark by which something is known.” In fact they name the very mark of the beast, and point us to the One who overcomes and overwrites it. This definition of “sign” causes Charles Swindoll(He Gave Gifts, p. 55) to paraphrase “semeion” , and thus (though I am guessing he would argue with my application) U2 , as "a super-human ability which authenticated God's spokespersons by convincing people that they were, in fact, bona fide servants of God" What better definition of U2 could you ask for (You’ll notice that Swindoll, as a fundamentalist and cessationist, is unfortunately bound to relegate “sign” to past tense. I believe signs from God, especially people/groups/ rock bands are still around.

And all I mean by the “end times” is all that Jesus meant by it: the eschatological reality and Kingdom era that Jesus inaugurated in his first coming; more simply put, the God-haunted times we live in, even if we are still (hold on to your hats, “Left Behind” fans) a million years from the Second Coming! When Peter preached at Pentecost, citing Joel 2, he was clear: the end times have begun, and they are evidenced by the Spirit being poured out on all flesh (Hey, it doesn’t say “just on the Christians”, or “only on traditional Christian music!”). Folk of all ages and stages prophesying is the main “sign” of the beginning of the “end times.” This means even (!) U2 can prophesy, as even (!) a leading Presbyterian pastor has gladly admitted: “If we are lucky, a prophet shows up…For many these days, it is U2 that shows up..(to) purge our imaginations of the culture’s assumptions on what counts in life and how life is lived.” (Eugene Peterson, forward to Beth Maynard’s “Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog”) . U2 are end-times prophetic signs . Apocalyptic even.


Now there’s a word that needs defining and demantling, at least of its commonly understood denotation: “The whole damn world is going to hell in a Doomsday Basket Fireball, any Armaggedon day now.” . Well, for one, take Armaggedon… please. The word is mentioned in Revelation, but only once, and not even then as a literal; once-for-all, “end of the world as we know it” battle that we have always been told is spelled out in Revelation. Win thousands of dollars by betting “Left-Behind”- inundated Christians that the “battle of Armageddon” is not mentioned at all in the Bible. They will think you are nuts, but you will be right and richer! All the biblical book says about that locale is “the “kings gathered” there. It never specifically predicts or depicts a battle actually happening, and nowhere describes it at all, let alone in the multi-volume mega-graphic detail of the million-selling series of novels. Check this out, doubters, in the Bible volume, it’s all of one verse: Revelation 16:16. This sentence mentions, almost in passing, about kings “gathering” , maybe for an event; one that may or may not happen….at least in the way we’ve been taught. Now, there may well be a literal Battle in the end of the end times, but perhaps even more importantly and apocalyptically, we are even now waging an “apocalypse now,” an actual and practical proleptic armageddon against death and devil’s dominion, in all aspects of faith and life. That’s a very practical, “everyday,” here-and-now and not just “then-and-there,” end-times battle/job/vocation we have all signed up for. Armageddon, and all apocalypse, is best understood as a process and way of life more than a definitive event. U2 simply calls it “dismantling an atomic bomb.” David Dark, coins it “everyday apocalypse.” Hang onto that apparently unlikely and oxymoronic linking of “everyday” with
“apocalyptic,” as we let Dark enlighten us:

We apparently have the word “apocalypse“ all wrong. In its root meaning, it’s not about destruction or fortune telling; It’s about revealing; It’s what James Joyce calls an epiphany-the moment you realize your so-called love for the young lady, all your professions, all your dreams, and all your efforts to get her to notice you were the exercise of an unkind and obssesive vanity…The real world, within which you’ve lived and moved and had your being, has unveiled itself. It’s starting to come to you. You aren’t who you made yourself out to be. An apocalypse
has occurred, or a revelation, if you prefer…Apocalyptic maximizes the reality of human suffering and folly before daring a word of hope. The hope has nowhere else to happen but the valley of the shadow of death. Is it any surprise that we often won’t know it when we see it?

-David Dark, “Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons and Other Pop Culture Icons”, p.10

Besides the fact that that quote amazingly described U2; it reveals that apocalyptic, end-times, is “simply” about revelation. And as a subset of that revelation, it’s about the explanation that death is not the end; though life’s hope “has nowhere else to happen but in its shadow.”
U2, in the past (1990s, hallmarked by the song “Until the End of the World,”) looked at life and faith through the shadow and perspective of death and unbelief. Even such “darker” treatises were “meditations on life.” Now they are focusing more clearly on ditching irony and pitching life directly. Same message: Life wins. Though death is still visible, it is not victor. What a revelation. U2 then, fits extraordinarily well, the biblical definition of apocalyptic:

As a literary genre, “apocalyptic” is a way of investing space-time events with their theological significance; it is actually a way of affirming, not denying, the vital importance of the present continuing space-time order, by denying that evil has the last word in it.
-N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God

This continual “denying that evil(death) has the last word” is an everyday end –time dismantling of old ways and wineskins. One could make the case, and one (Beth Maynard) basically has, that nothing less than the whole point of U2’s “Bomb” is to effectively and affectively, through apocalyptic and prophetic song, “dismantle the lie that death and destruction hold the cards.”

All I can say is “Amen, Beth!” And I may add “Apocalyptic Baby! “


And I may add “Apocalyptic Baby! “

Huh? Explain the “baby”? The common spin in reviews is that the “How to Dismantle” is a sequel to it’s immediate predecessor, 2000’s “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” That sequence make sense, and indeed works in a number of ways: the organic return to roots and dismantling of U2’s 1990s irony continues and grows. I can connect those dots. It is also, by the band’s clear admission, a “full circle” sequel to its very first CD, “Boy.” We have already explored the relationship between “War” and “Bomb.” These all work. But as per usual with U2, there is more up than meets the eye and obvious order. I maintain “Bomb” in an equally valid but more apocalyptic way, is also sequel (heck, maybe prequel) to 1991’s “Achtung Baby” (the album which was centerpieced by the “End of the World” song we’ve mentioned). Of course, this may seem an unorthodox “twinning”, as “Achtung” (ostensibly “about” being stuck in a moment of death, darkness and divorce) is in many ways the newer work’s opposite and antithesis; but “Bomb” is also “Achtung”’s complement, complement, and completion. Perhaps “Achtung” is answered, even deprogrammed, even dismantled, by “Bomb”’s death-defying life-love. The first paints a grim portrait of death; the second paints over (without defacing; actually using as a starting point the “original” canvass). Many do sense an intuitive connection between the two works; Rolling Stone even suggesting they may be two of the band’s masterpieces.

In a stimulating 1990s speech to German artists on the futility of fascism, Bono (who else would give such a speech? ) claims (apocalyptically, of course):

Laughter is the evidence of freedom…. It was from a Mel Brooks movie called “The Producers” that U2 took the name of their latest {“Achtung Baby”} album . In the bizarre musical, an S.S. officer is met with the greeting “Achtung Baby!” to which he replies, “Zie furher would never say ‘baby’!” Quite right. The furher would never say ‘baby.’ We are writers, artists, actors and scientists. I wish we were comedians. We would probably have more effect…Anyway, for all this: imagination!..To tell our stories, to paint pictures…but above all to glimpse another way of being. Because as much as we need to describe the world we live in, we need to dream up the kind of world we want to live in. In the case of a rock and roll band that’s to dream out loud, at high volume, to turn it up to eleven. Because we have fallen asleep in they comfort of our freedom. (cited in Bill Flanagan, “U2 At The End of the World, p. 171)

Apocalyptic, baby! David Dark, inspired by the above portion of Bono’s speech, laments “the anal retentiveness that can’t say ‘baby’.” (142) This lament mourns that , for no good or God reason, we can’t muster the chutzpah to say/sing “what needs to be said” : It’s time to dismantle the death-bomb. Hence the inevitability and apocalypsis of the CD sequence: Achtung Baby to Apocalyptic Baby. Another important symbolism to the (intentionally innocent/throwaway-looking) word “baby” in Bono’s lexicon helps here. Love it or hate it (I may vote both), observe (even at the risk of cringing) the line in the new U2 song “Miracle Drug”; the famous/infamous “Freedom has a scent/ like the top of a newborn baby’s head.” This is in fact yet another angle on the central proposition of all of “Dismantle”. If it’s all about dismantling death, what more obvious dismantling tool than life; and more specifically, life at its beginning to dismantle life at its end. “Bomb” is about dismantling death through birth. And it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that Bono has a specific baby in mind here as he sings. Plunder the back catalog with a fine-tooth concordance and you uncomb lyrics like “looking for Baby Jesus under the trash.” One theory is that the “baby” in “Ultraviolet” (tellingly, another “Achtung Baby” song. Aren’t these the only 2 U2 albums that even drop the “b” word at all? Hmmm..) is Jesus, as Satan is pleading with him for redemption (which is in a sense the theme of that whole album!): “Baby, Baby, Baby..light my way”. Of course, for another reason, and for other artists of faith, substituting “Jesus” for “baby” is not a new approach : witness countless “secular” love-songs by Christian artists with double “baby” entendres… Is it a girl or is it Jesus he’s singing to? ) Either way, there’s “always pain before a child is born,” as Bono prays in “Yahweh.”
And anytime a Jesus-moment is about to be birthed, the mothers (that’s all of us) will inevitably experience the pain of transition and pregnancy. But the birth smells good. It’s very smell and song dismantle Death. Mantle and midwife Life. The anal retentive fuhrere cannot say it, but: That’s apocalyptic….baby. Thanks to Baby Jesus, who has in God’s sovereignty arisen out of the trash and the tomb with nothing less than the keys to death and hell. That’s the bomb!

And since freedom’s scent reminds of a newborn’s scalp-smell, no wonder “laughter is the evidence of freedom.” Who hasn’t laughed with love as they witnessed (if not smelled) a fragile head emerging from the womb. In such a room, we as far removed from tombs as possible. Childbirth is holy; miraculous, and thus cosmically comic… and unless we are able to laugh, we have “fallen asleep in the comfort of our freedom” in the delivery room. A room that Bono has complained in a predecessor CD, is often too filled with smoke to see anything or anyone in. The current disc is even more revelatory, it effectively blows smoke out of our way, so we can see and defuse any bombs still under the table.


Anyway, baby, never trust an essay entitled “How to Solve All Your Problems in Ten Easy Steps.” Even if written by apocalyptic end-time signs like U2. I hope you noted that I am proposing in my title that we can though “dismantle the death-bomb in 14 ‘simple’ (hardly equivalent to “easy”) steps. The 14 (the fans, will know why I settled on fourteen) steps are summarized below. I hope the headings make you laugh. But I believe they will work, if we work them out:

Anticipating that these provocatively-phrased steps will raise a few questions, it’s time to explore each in turn, and in detail Have fun. Laugh even. How to dismantle death?



We have already tipped our hand and named the bomb: death..and it’s underside and other side: life, in particular, birth. That’s freedom indeed! Which of course makes apocalyptic babies of us all!

At this point, it might help to back up and enter, though, the debate regarding what exactly IS is the atomic bomb referenced in the title of the disc and book; though you already know the answer this essay assumes.
As Walter Wink suggests in “Naming the Powers,” the mere naming of the “powers that be” is the first step in prophetically dismantling them (Wink is one of several key theologians who often utilize the term “dismantling,” which obviously and delightfully dovetails with our topic. In fact, another leading theologian and proponent of dismantling, Walter Bruggeman , will be the an intelligent intermittent tourguide through the fourteen steps. So let’s back up and officially narrow down the “main name” of the bomb. What are the aspiring nominees?

In one sense, Bono is (as often) purposely and artfully throwing out an intentionally nebulous and multiplex metaphor-bomb by the intriguing title. And there is fluidity and validity in multiple interpretations of just what the “bomb” so in need of dismantling is. Candidates such as the Western political system, the American church mindset, technology run amuck, religion run rampant, pride and hate have all been proposed, and are all partly right. Let’s rehearse the oft-repeated anecdote in which Bono, prior to the CD release, winkingly asked Christian musician Michael W. Smith, “How do you dismantle an atomic bomb, Michael?”. After a proper pause during which Smith admitted agnosticism about the answers, Bono replied “With love, with love.” This would certainly lend credence to the “hate” candidate; hate personified as a bomb of atomic proportions; undone and unmantled prayerfully and carefully by love/Love. “Where…,” Bono repeatedly asks in the climactic “Love and Peace Or Else” outro “ …is the love?” Only love overcomes hate, its archenemy and obvious opposite.

Bono, to Smith, was characteristically and knowingly tossing out a half-right preview-tease to get publicity and web forums stirring as to the identity of the bomb, and the “deep” meaning of the title reference. But though “hate” fits; “death” is a deeper and more detailed one-word answer than “hate”.
Hate is very close. But after all, the only person place or thing specifically described and prescribed in Scripture as being ”stronger than death” is NOT the obvious fill-in-the-blank “ hate”; it’s love. (Song of Solomon 8:6). What is love called to conquer? Hate, yes; but definitively, death; it’s mother.
The bomb is death. Not just hate. The bomb, in a word, is death. Whether Bono knew it pre-release or not, I believe he knows it now.; often the Bonoman will candidly admit that it takes months of touring and “living in” new songs and discs until he realizes “what in the world I was ‘on’ about.” Though it was obvious to him from the beginning that much of the disc was response and “therapy” to one particular death, he (like any artist) may have at first been unaware if the broad and universal sweep of his brush:
You don't hear people talking about atomic bombs very much these days, do you? It comes from my father's lexicon. His generation would call it the atomic bomb, we call it weapons of mass destruction, but although everyone in the world is trying to figure out how to put the toothpaste back in the tube, i.e., once you have this knowledge available on the internet, are we ever going to be safe? Even though that is a thought that's hanging in the air, in my head, “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” is about my father, Bob: “How To Dismantle An Atomic Bob.” He died a couple of years ago, and his demise set me off on a journey, a rampage, a desperate hunt to find out who I was, and that resulted in a lot of these songs so, it's a lot more personal than a political record, I think.

Regarding the above quote; First, it is precisely because the disc’s material IS so personal that it is also and inevitably so hugely and profoundly political. The deathbed makes bedfellows of us all. As Marva Dawn points out, in a book she coauthored with Eugene Peterson entitled “The Unnecessary Pastor”, death is the last ememy to be conqured, but it is one of the first enemies to affect (all) our daily lives” (87)
“Bomb,” even if “just” a personal journal of one man’s public scrambling to make/fake sense of his dad’s death, such is by necessity also a huge help in anyone’s personal/cosmic “rampage and desperate hunt” to come to terms with the mother of all paradoxes; the one word that defines “what is the bomb we are dismantling” a word, death. In words, Life emerges out of death.

Secondly, as you have already surmised by my title, the bomb is not just Bob …or not just Bob’s death, as atomic as that was. That was also part true story/part curveball, to “let the reader understand” that in a larger ,apocalyptic and macrocosmic sweep, it’s also all about a theological, practical, and inevitably “political to the max” dismantling of our last (political and practical) enemy itself: death itself! One might even focus the focus a bit more, as we have already suggested Beth Maynard has masterfully done. She blog-thinks that what is to be radically dismantled is, very pointedly, “the lie that death and destruction hold the cards.” Again, touche, and bingo! I believe Beth was the first to correctly namecheck and nametag the bomb, in a 2004 post copied completely below, as it is fundamental to our thesis. She is also right that the book accompanying the “deluxe” version of Bomb is so “theologically rich” that it is almost necessary as a commentary on the record. (Go deluxe while there is still time!)


We’ve named the bomb, and to completely understand it , it’s time to frame it. No, I don’t mean “ frame” as in enshrine; God forbid. I mean frame as in position it in context and background, and thus build the case that the assumed name is accurate. Beth found the frame, literally an inclusio (literary framing device), with which the entire book is, well, as she said, “bookended.”

Beth is right. When it’s all said and done, it’s about…

How to dismantle death, basically Scans of the book that will accompany the deluxe box set of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb have been posted online. It's a long book, and getting a real sense of it from these scans is perhaps a bit much to hope for, but I'm going to take a shot at talking about it because it is so theologically rich. Overall, the trajectory of the artwork is exactly the same as the description Bono recently gave on the BBC of the trajectory of the album itself: an arc from fear, in "Vertigo," to the "joyful noise" of trust in "Yahweh." That claim obviously needs unpacking, so here we go: the book opens by showing a world in blackness and chaos here, with a quotation from Hindu scripture. The verse, in which death is identified as ultimate (it's the god Krishna saying "I am death, the mighty destroyer of the world," a paraphrase of Bhagavad Gita 11:32) was famously quoted at the detonation of the first atomic bomb in 1945. Although the verse is out of context, it's used here to create the effect of death and evil, war and destruction, throwing down the gauntlet on page 1, proclaiming their "truth" -- death is final, God is as much evil as good, might and power are found in the ability to crush and destroy the enemy.Well, the rest of the book, in brief, dismantles these claims and constructs alternative ones. In fact, it literally dismantles the quote bit by bit, taking each word back for goodness, back for God, back for the Kingdom. Thus, scattered throughout the first half of the writing and painting and reflection we find the exact words of the opening quote, subjected to U2's faith-filled midrash, redefined and reworked in an artistic alchemy.I AM: if you've wondered about who's being addressed in the "All Because of You" lyrics, this page answers the question. These words don't belong to death, but to the One who told Moses to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground.DEATH: Yes, death is real, the writer has seen it and been wounded by it, but the words rendered in large print prefer to evoke resurrection: the Lazarus effect. And the last word: "miracles are possible." We've also got THE on the facing page, as we meet a crudely sketched, horned devil-goat who's identified as our enemy. Oh, is that all? Not much of a THE, is he?MIGHTY DESTROYER: Who is really mighty? What does power look like? Read the prayer to find out. And it's not God who works for destruction, it's the fallen brightest star who became the blackest hole (with "Crumbs from Your Table" being quoted here.)"OF" is set in a target highlighting a textual image of love as battling misery from "Mercy," and THE concretizes one example of love's power as it gently undoes personal loss, using recollections of Bono's father.And then we see the WORLD: It's surrounded with the symbols of the great monotheistic religions, the same basic device that was hidden on the wall in one of the live videos of "Vertigo" -- read as letters, a commenter informs me, they spell out what we all must do, no matter how stongly we may be personally committed to our own faith: COEXIST.Constructed like a Pauline epistle, the text has made its theological points and now moves to action, using dominantly more positive images from this point on. (In the hard copy of the book, you actually have to turn it upside down here, reversing your point of view to step into a new reality.) If you have dismantled the lie that death and destruction hold the cards, what then do you do with the truth you've seen? The answer is embedded in another quote, which now reads backward to the end of the book. What do you do? Maybe you work for fair trade..."IN THE"; maybe you seek mercy or honor the body..."TO SEE". Maybe you work against AIDS..."WE WANT"; maybe you share a vision of giving 1% of national income to end poverty..."THE CHANGE", or you try to find your own unique vocation... "BECOME". Perhaps you argue for compromise... "MUST," or freedom and equality..."WE."So the last word, the quote we've been creating in reverse, goes (elegantly) to another Hindu, Gandhi, as we see a globe no longer in chaos as on page 1, but subsumed into the shape of a cross. We must become the change we want to see in the world. Overall, we're bookended by two versions of reality, one about death and one about hope, and with these images U2 dismantle the first and get us to the second. I'm really struck by the depth and power of this vision, and hope I've said enough for it to be clear why. I would welcome conversation with anyone who has comments.

Wow, Beth’s post is loaded, and is itself indispensable as a commentary on the commentary. And in a very real sense, all my catorce steps below are commentary upon Beth’s commentary on the commentary! Read her post again, play with it, and plunder it. Rejoice that death does not hold the cards, U2 bookends us with another “version of reality…one about hope.” We can do nothing about the details of dismantling until we have come this far in our foundational understanding.


If Bono did nothing in the way of practical good works towards dismantling death in our world (which of course, he has done plently, perhaps more than anyone in our generation), he would have “done enough” if he had just bequeathed us the record and disc, as a seminal Christian thinker/writer, he has framed the bomb eloquently. Richard Inchausti:

The point that many moderns fail to grasp about Christian thinkers is that they have very little interest in changing the world. They seek merely to see things clearly in the light of God's hidden logic. And if by so doing they expose the narcissism of their contemporaries, the false agendas of their leaders, the didactic pornography of their artists and entertainers-well, that is all to the good. But unlike their more utilitarian peers, they desire to live in the truth even more than they desire to be effective in the world. ...Evil manifests itself in absence of perception, and in the negation of Being more than it does in the presence of stupidity, violence or even hatred. It is more often than not a species of folly-a commitment to "virtues" that are not really virtues...It wears a suit or a uniform, waves a flag and has credentials. That is why the primary moral task from a Christian perspective is first to perceive evil. And this requires that one see what isn't there and through things that are. This is possible only for someone who is suspicious of virtre and believes in a greater reality than his own. What the Christian mysteries require from us is not that we construct a better world, but that we love and serve the one we are given. As one Parisian graffiti artist wrote in 1968:: "the intellectuals have hitherto only changed the world, the point is to understand it." This is a decidedly contemplative observation, one that confirms Blake's suspicions of the new aesceticism and Kierkegaards' view that even if someone were to speak the Word of God directly today, no one in the modern world would hear it, simply because there is too much noise and distraction. The function of the modern apostle, therefore, is to create the silent contemplative places where individuals can
experience truth for themselves.
-Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries and Other Christians in Disguise. pp187-189


So, if the above quote is accurate, Bono is obviously an apostle; and death (at least as card-holder) is obviously “the bomb”. Death as the bomb.

What, then, is death? Does it not at times feel as if it is some kind of entity; alive? Stringfellow, in his previously quoted “Ethic” agrees that death is “apart from God Himself, the only extant moral power living in this world.” And the very “moral reality which rules nations and all other powers and principalities of this world…”(72) Wow. Perhaps death is ” living,” but not alive; “ruling,” but not Ruler. And like any living “thing,” it can..and will… invite and invoke idolatry. Even more so as the very opposite of life. Stringfellow continues: “Death dominates ; Death assumes for the principalities the very role of God.. Death is institutionalized…incarnate in the ethos of each nation.”


“No” (to death) is the only hope worthy of human beings, because no to death, incarnate in the nation or in any other appearance, means yes to the gift of life…So from death arises new life Suffering issues in celebration. To be ethical is to live sacramentally. To discern apocalyptic signs heightens the expectation of eschatological events. In resistance. persons love most humanly. No to death means yes to life (156)


We arrive at the heart of the death paradox. Death is the bomb. But maybe in addition to the “usual” definition of bomb as something big, bad and explosive; maybe also…paradoxically… in the way that young folk talk colloquially about something good being “the bomb.” All this is what has classically afforded Death “the Mother of All Paradoxes” title. Is death enemy or friend? How to defuse all the confusion, isn’t it a both/and? 1 Corinthians 15:26 seems clear: “The last enemy is death”; but it’s also clear that (unless those “Left Behind” novels are more accurate and timely than we have thought, and a rapture is imminent!.), death is the only possible entrance into afterlife, and so must be, in addition to being defied as an enemy, in another sense be submitted to as a “ friend” who ushers us into glory; into birth and life; a midwife.

Perhaps it’s significant that Paul did not say, “Death is the last enemy,” but “The last enemy is death.” This order could imply that death is not technically or inherently an enemy, except if/as it still unconquered by Christ’s once-for-all overturning. This indeed is the context of 1 Corinthians 15:26. Death cannot be dogmatically written off as evil, as it is “far better” (Philippians 1:23) to die and thus be with Christ. “To live is Christ, but to die is to gain,” Paul concludes.

“Death is inevitable.” Sound familiar? This was one of the multitude of maxims flashed at manic speed onto the huge video screens of the 1990s “Zoo TV” tour. But did U2 mean it? Fans will remember that the sayings purposely, randomly and indiscriminately flipped from truth to lies, from satire to schlock. What followed the “death is inevitable” slide most nights: “Superficiality is God.” So does U2 mean this, or is it a joke? Yes, both. (Obviously, as believers, they don’t imply that the One True God is “Superficiality,” but the superficiality they are spoofing is practically speaking, unfortunately, a very “real” god; the “god of choice” for many in our culture.) But that’s what a paradox is: ‘both/and. Some of the sayings were comical, as “This is not a rehearsal” (but it was also seriously both true/false) . To quote another false (?) truism from the line-up: “Contradiction is balance.” Technically, paradox embodies not contradiction, but complementarity. Which sounds impossible regarding death, which surely must be either for or against us … since it inevitably inevitable (Or is it? Argghh!). How could anything inevitable be evil or enemy, if God, in his economy allows it?

Hold on.

Enemy? Friend? Enemy who becomes a friend? St. Paul helps out; he frames death as a conquered enemy. Well, what exactly is a conquered enemy, in the Kingdom economy? A friend! Or at least someone you defang and dismantle by taking Jesus’ flat-out command at face value: “Love your enemies” (Matt. 5:45.) Do the math; it’s not a faulty syllogism: “Love your enemies. Death is an enemy. Therefore; love, befriend (and mantle) death.” (As you simultaneously hate and dismantle it!) Bottom line, death is defined as a defanged, dismantled enemy…whom we are constantly, in the words and title of the “Bomb” song, “one step closer to knowing”….(as we) “watch the taillights glowing”… is now, in God’s sovereignty, friend. How to dismantle the diabolical death bomb? Surely it’s futile without embracing the mystery and paradox that is death, and in so doing, also embrace its quite apposite opposite: life. Confused? That may be a good sign, but if you are completely baffled, perhaps considering the words of a certain (heavy clue: Irish) postmodern poet will help out: “uncertainty can be a guiding light.” It is only by living in the creative tension of paradox and “both/ands” that we are anywhere near the One who is so sold on the power of paradox that he doesn’t seem able to speak, or act without it! And on uncertainty: no one less than Abraham is lauded, in the Book of Hebrews (11:8) for “Launching out..even though he was uncertain about where he was going.” Of course, his radical trust was built on a decision made in life, to “die in faith’, , and so upon entering the door of death, arrive on the other side in a “better country.” (13)


Kierkegaard, the Danish master at pursuing Jesus and preaching paradox, honors the defining moment in Abraham’s life as the decision to trust Yahweh with what could only look like death: the death of his son, Isaac. Death was dismantled, even pre-empted by embracing it. Ot at least admiiting it’s inevitality. But death did not win. How paradoxical is that? In a passage with a hilarious punchline, the Danish wonders aloud about the validity of voluntary martyrdom, of a human intentionally embracing death, even for a good cause:

The parson (collectively understood) does indeed preach about those glorious ones who sacrificed their lives for the truth. As a rule the parson is justified in assuming that there is no one present in the church who could entertain the notion of venturing upon such a thing. When he is sufficiently assured of this by reason of the private knowledge he has of the congregation as its pastor, he preaches glibly, declaims vigorously, and wipes away the sweat. If on the following day one of those strong and silent men...were to visit the parson at his house announcing himself as one whom the parson had carried away by his eloquence, so that he had now resolved to sacrifice his life for the truth—what would the parson say? He would address him thus: "Why, merciful Father in heaven! How did such an idea ever occur to you? Travel, divert yourself, take a laxative."
("Has a Man the Right to Let Himself Be Put to Death for the Truth?")

So to choose to be a martyr, to choose to embrace death may be, paradoxically, death itself; and dumb indeed. Take a laxative and get it out of your system. Unless you are Jesus:

"Why is it Christ cannot be called a martyr? Because he was not a witness to the truth, but 'the truth', and his death not a martyrdom but the atonement" (Journals, X 1,A, 119).

If you prefer your theologians to be Russian, try on the ever-articulate Nikolai Berdayev: “The greatest of all tensions in human life is connected with love and death…Love conquers death, it is more powerful than death and at the same time it leads to death..This is a paradox of human existence . (Freedom and Slavery, p. 227.

If you need the Galillean Theologian to speak to this, consider a few representative quotes from His Journal. The same one who spoke that overcomers “do not love their lives so much as to shrink from death (Rev 12:11) self-identified Himself as "I, Yahweh, the “I AM,’, the resurrection and life”, (John 11:35-36). “The one who trusts in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and trusts in me will never die. Do you believe this?" Pretty hard to believe, unless paradox, mystery and uncertainty are guiding lights alongside faith!
Literal Death is in a limited sense, enemy to be “loved” and befriended; spiritual death to self in this life, is the only path to life in this life. Either way, death is to be welcomed and embraced, even as we resolutely refuse to believe that it “holds the cards” and can live up to its bombastic, antichristic claim : “I AM..the mighty destroyer.” In God’s wild sovereignty, death is merely a door, even if of the devil’s design, that can be walked through with Abrahamic trust and abandon. “I, Jesus hold the keys of death,” he claimed in Rev 1:18,” because I was once dead myself.”

I tell you the amen-truth, unless a kernel of wheat..or anything, falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The one who loves their life will lose it, while the one who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

“Whoever seeks to save their life, loses it: whoever loses their life (death), saves it”
Mark 9:24

The gospel, Eugene Peterson offers, in a word that appears to contradict Kierkegaard’s, but instead honors paradox:

involves the Cross. It involves death, an acceptable sacrifice. We give up our lives. The Gospel of Mark is so graphic this way. The first half of the Gospel is Jesus showing people how to live. He's healing everybody. Then right in the middle, he shifts. He starts showing people how to die: "Now that you've got a life, I'm going to show you how to give it up." That's the whole spiritual life. It's learning how to die. And as you learn how to die, you start losing all your illusions, and you start being capable now of true intimacy and love. It involves a kind of learned passivity, so that our primary mode of relationship is receiving, submitting, instead of giving and getting and doing. We don't do that very well. We're trained to be assertive, to get, to apply, or to consume and to perform.

It’s time to undo our training. “Whoever hears my past judgement; .they have already emerged from death and entered life.” (John 5:24). Paraphrase: “Death can be dismantled; the toothpaste can be put back into the tube, for Christ’s sake (literally). If we hear the word of the Lord, we learn how to die, and thus how to live, and love.

So in short, how to dismantle death? By embracing it, even if only as condescending enough to walk through it when God wills. But to embrace it, even as Moltmann says below, you simultaneously protest it. Living in that creative tension and place of paradox is the only was to completely dismantle.
So read Moltmann (Bono must be ….or must be made aware of this ever-articulate theologian). Underline his last line: “anyone who fails to hold these two things together (at the same time)” not only “fails to understand,” but remantles death and completely misses the point, paradox and feast:

The Easter faith recognizes that the raising of the crucified Christ from the dead provides the great alternative to this world of death. This faith sees the raising of Christ as God's protest against death, and against all the people who work for death; for the Easter faith recognizes God's passion for the life of the person who is threatened by death and with death. And faith participates in this process of love by getting up out of the apathy of misery and out of the cynicism of prosperity, and fighting against death's accomplices, here and now, in this life.
Weary Christians have often enough deleted this critical and liberating power from Easter. Their faith has then degenerated into the confident belief in certain facts, and a poverty-stricken hope for the next world, as if death were nothing but a fate we meet with at the end of life. But death is an evil power now, in life's very midst. It is the economic death of the person we allow to starve; the political death of the people who are oppressed; the social death of the handicapped; the noisy death that strikes through napalm bombs and torture; and the soundless death of the apathetic soul….
Easter is the feast of freedom. It makes the life which it touches a festal life. "The risen Christ makes life a perpetual feast," said Athanasius. But can the whole of life really be a feast? Even life's dark side -death, guilt, senseless suffering? I think it can. Once we realize that the giver of this feast is the outcast, suffering, crucified Son of Man from Nazareth, then every "no" is absorbed into this profound "yes," and is swallowed up in its victory.
Easter is at one and the same time God's protest against death, and the feast of freedom from death. Anyone who fails to hold these two things together has failed to understand the resurrection of the Christ who was crucified; Resistance is the protest of those who hope, and hope is the feast of the people who resist.
Jürgen Moltmann, “The Feast of Freedom,” from The Power of the Powerless


“Repair my church.”

The story is told of St. Francis of Assisi once hearing this voice of God from behind the altar of the San Damiano, Italy church. At first, he interpreted it at face value; as a commissioning to a literal repairing of the small “c” church; that is, the dilapidated and dated building he was in. So he immediately responded by taking some fabric from his father’s shop, intending to use the money to pay for repairs on the building. When his father, an atomic bomb kind of guy, got wind of this turn of events, he had his son dragged in before the bishop to confess the sin of theft, demanding that Francis return the money, or relinquish all rights as heir. . By this time, Francis had grasped that the Voice had commanded not just a literal reparation, but also a broader call to spiritually repair the overall, capital “C” Church. Francis dramatically threw not only his father’s fabric at the bishop, but also every last item of clothes he was wearing! “ Pietro Bernadone is no longer my father!, ” he announced. “From now on I can say with complete freedom, 'Our Father who art in heaven.'"” Naked, he went off into the freezing woods; singing, rejoicing that he had made the right decision. The rest of his future is history.

Several parallels to “Bomb” may be pursued. On this record, Bono is both honoring and and recovering from him, in a way only possible after his father’s death. Lines in “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own’ (ostensibly a song to his dad, but more pointedly a song to himself) “It’s you when I look in the mirror”; ”If we weren’t so much alike, you’d like me a whole lot more” ; “You’re reason why I have the opera in me.”..may be the language of love, but may also be a tossing of clothes; a “Bob Hewson is no longer my father.. From now on, I can say with complete freedom (we already know what freedom smells like in Bono’s dictionary) that “Our Father who art in heaven is my father.” This may sound too harsh, and it is if it stands alone. “He was genuinely cool and charming,” Bono wrote in the bomb-book, “(but) also unknowable.” Gulp.
“I got to make peace with him,” he offers in an interview, “ but never really to become his friend.” Funny, in light of our conversation section two above, that could also be said about death itself. But maybe it’s only after Uzziahs die that we see the Lord, and ourselves as we are. And Bono, contrary to his father’s stern advice (“His advice was always ‘Don’t dream..To dream is to be disappointed. ‘ He never said that exactly; but that’s what the raised eyebrow and hairy eyeball meant.’) dreamed of nothing less than changing the world.” “As a child, I always wanted to have fun and change the world.”

At the same time, “I wanted to be great… because good would not be good enough,” Bono spoke to his Atomic Bob in the original lyric of “Sometimes”

Unpacking; detoxing from, dismantling the dad who was both charming and unknowable; the well-meaning dad who gave fatal advice with eyebrow alone.

Already in an 1997 lyric, Bono has confessed that since his mother died, “no one tells me ‘no”. Iris, his mom’s “no” was likely the necessary, preventative “no” that all good parents must utter with truth and love. Could it be that now that dad Bob has also died, part of what Bono can dismantle is the inappropriate dream-shattering “no” that Atomic Bob’s eyebrows spoke?
Now for the first time in his life, without either earthly parents, Bono is free to inherit the best of his heritage, admit and excuse the “less than best” of the heritage, and transfer his trust to his Father in heaven in a fresh way. Full circle indeed. Bono has said the band’s first CD was drenched in innocence; the newest one is about “having lost your innocence, wanting it back.” The “Love and Peace Oe Else” lyrics, then, “ As you enter this life, I pray you depart, with a wrinkled face and a brand new heart” likely means “in the same way and style you entered this life, may you likewise leave it: like a baby…who of course is naked..wrinkled, and trusting. A new heart. In spite of it being broken by earthy parents.

The “Catholic Online” article on St. Francis is pertinent here:

When the bishop showed horror at the friars' hard life, Francis said, "If we had any possessions we should need weapons and laws to defend them." Possessing something was the death of love for Francis.. Also, Francis reasoned, what could you do to a man who owns nothing? You can't starve a fasting man, you can't steal from someone who has no money, you can't ruin someone who hates prestige. They were truly free.

"Possessions are a way of turning money into problems,” the Edge, a very “Franciscan” heart (Or as Bono calls him, a “Zen Presbyterian”), recently said.

I don’t know if Bono is familiar with the brilliant work of the band, the 77s…they were briefly on the same Island record label for one 77s record, before being dropped when guess who became the breaking biggest band in the world. This forced the 77s frontman Mike Roe to “resort” to signing the band with a conservative Christian label for their next release, which Roe announced at a Christian festival would be titled “Pray Naked.” But there was a record label executive in the audience who mumbled, “No it won’t!” So on the eventual hilarious and profound madness that is what became the 77s’ second self-titled (but to fans will always be “Pray Naked”) record, the song by that name (whose title was blacked out as a sarcastic olive branch to the record company) is wonderfully refreshing and relevant here. In it, we are encouraged to pray from a place of vulnerability and “naked” honesty…..exactly what Francis did, and precisely what Bono is so “natural” at. ( I mean, naked symbolically, though there is that ancient story floating around about the interview he allegedly did naked when the interviewer was apparently ‘going through the motions”!)

Scribbled (literally) in the “Bomb” book, Bono contemplates such nakedness:

I hate navel gazing. I know sometimes you need to do work on yourself, fix something that’s broken , as the way to see yourself or the world. But the greatest t insights I have ever had into myself have been through other people…not just talking to them on a train or plane..but looking after people , you kind of find yourself.

Losing a father, especially a father who never talked about losinh his wife, would explain the bouncing around the Kubler-Ross “stages of grief” ( denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) that Bono has candidly admitted to:

My mother was never mentioned…
After she died, my father didn’t talk about her. So it never came up. So that’s why I don’t have any memories of my mother, which is strange.
She collapsed at the funeral of her own father. She never regained consciousness. Well, actually, we don’t know if she did or she didn’t. My father, when he was losing it or we’d been having a big row, would say: “I promised your mother on her deathbed that . . .” Then he never finished the sentence….

Ali said to me that since his death I haven’t been myself, and that I have been a lot more aggressive and quicker to anger, and showing some of my father’s irascible side.
When he died, I went on a short vacation, which turned into a euphemism for “drinks outing”. I don’t like to abuse alcohol — anything you abuse will abuse you back. But it’s fair to say I went to Bali for a drink. With my friend Simon, we just headed off. I wanted to blow it out a bit, get the monkey off my back. But when I returned, funnily enough, it was still there.
And so just on Easter, I went up to the church in a little village where we live in France, and I just felt this was the moment that I had to let it go. In this little church, on Easter morning, I just got down on my knees and I let go of whatever anger I had against my father. And I thanked God for him being my father, and for the gifts that I have been given through him. And I let go of that. I wept, and I felt rid of it.

That little French church, like the making of “Dismantle” was Bono’s San Damiano. And just as Francis heard there a call to strip down to the basics, realizing who his Father was, Bono cut a deal that may well be just as historic. He has for the last several years, been aware of a call to “rebuild the church,” especially in sensitizing her to practical compassion and justice. Just think what that rebuilding can look like, shaped as it is now is by the disarming and dismantling events of Bob’s death, and the anger and resurrection of Easter morning.

“I’m getting closer to what’s true/Going to find myself in You.”
-lyric from a “Bomb” B-side (“Are You Gonna Wait Forever?”

It exists as a prophetic underground renewal movement. Its officially stated purpose is to be “a community of obedience,” an “experimental community” raised up in part “as an act of confession and repentance because its members realize that the Church in its Western expression, especially in the United States has largely succumbed to the world’s system of values.” Among the stated desires of its members are to “reject the prevailing violence of the world and challenge it by their preparedness to absorb the world’s violence rather than perpetuate it,” and to remember that as intoxicating as it is, “the ‘success syndrome’ is to be rejected as being in fundamental opposition to the Kingdom of God”…which “accepts the biblical mandate to serve the poor and speak for them.” It seeks to live by the principle that, spiritually speaking, “life comes only through death” and through a “seeking to receive that freedom which will bring the cross back to the center of the Church’s experience,,and allow us to experience the peculiar joy of the Lord.”

“Okay what’s the big deal?,” you ask me. “You’re describing U2, Bono in particular. If not directly quoting one of his sermons to a church or Christian festival, then soundbyting his mind and reading his mail, right? Well… yeah…but not directly. I’m not talking about U2…or am I? I am simply quoting the “Statement of Confession and Intention” of the “L.O.” Society, a covenant group founded by my Bono-esque (Well, usually no fly-shades, but he was behind the very first Christian rock festival) Bible professor at Asbury Theological Seminary (, a gentle PhD by the name of Bob Lyon. I belonged to this group while in seminary ,and it is a no-brainer that Bono would have joined it..this group whose unofficial greeting was “peace and towels…or else.” (Okay, just kidding about the “or else.”) .As the document explains, “L.O. stands for ‘ Loyal Opposition Society,’ and derives from the custom in parliamentary systems of government referring to the party out of power as the ‘loyal opposition.’ The name points to the society’s radical criticism of power which is the fundamental attribute of what the Bible calls ‘the world.” We studied writers such as Moltmann, Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, etc.; ..that is, books and documents that are likely right now stashed beside Bono’s bedside.

“Lord, the righteous stay oddly still; without wisdom all the riches of the world make us poor...and strength without humility is weakness…and war is always the choice of the chosen who know they will not have to fight.” Brilliant prayer, not from a L.O. Society text….but from a book amazingly resonant with them; it’s the prayer of Bono from the “Bomb” book...on a page called “ Ave Maria.”


We “Losers” (as we were conveniently and affectionately called)were made up of “radicals” who were committed to their denominations/traditions, but had grave concerns about the pull of “the system”, and were fearful of growing “a mouthful of teeth” as systemites often do. In a song addressed from Africa to the Western “fundamentalist” church:

You were pretty as a picture It was all there to see Then your face caught up with your psychology With a mouth full of teeth You ate all your friends And you broke every heart thinking every heart mends You speak of signs and wonders But I need something other I would believe if I was able But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table

We, like Bono once said of contemporary Christianity, “sometimes felt more like a fan than actually in the band.” Yet we wanted to prophetically buck the system; to dismantle it….but “with love, with love, Michael!”. If the U2 song “Peace on Earth” had been out then (1990s), we would have often quoted that line bemoaning our tendency towards “becoming a monster so the monster will not break you”.

See, we were “at the door of the place we started out from,” (the church), and even though we saw the system thereof as imperfect, we “wanted back inside”. Like Bono would do a decade later, as he learned to dismantle Bobs and bombs, we were.learning to come to terms with; not being ashamed of being Christian, while being embarrassed about the church.. (In the catchy goth-punk song of the same title, “Jesus, I love You, but I don’t understand Your Wife”., Brian Healey of Dead Artists Syndrome, wrote:

Jesus I love youBut I don't understand your wifeShe wears such funny make upAnd she always wants to fightEvery time I turn my backShe's waiting with a knifeIn a world of black and grayShe argues shades of white
Jesus I love youBut I don't understand your wifeShe wears such funny make upAnd she always wants to fight
She loves capitol punishmentAnd nuclear armsThen screams about the right to lifeAnd the Grand Old Party's charmShe's always burning bridgesEven ones she's standing onAnd when I try to tell herShe says with you I don't belong
Always hear me complainAnd you're listening once moreI know everything your bride's againstBut I don't know what she's forSo don't mistake my anger for bitterness and strifeCuz on bended kneesI'm begging you pleaseJesus talk to your wife

Embracing the wife/bride/body of Christ, even though she is more harlot than faithful wife; ranking himself among that part of the problem, has been a growing strength of Bono. I, as part of the movement, must “become the change I want to see” in it. By abandoning power and becoming “L.O.” (pronounced “low” with a wink and on purpose) enough to ..well, dismantle death and buck the system from a place of humility, not arrogance.

“I’d join the movement if there was one I could believe in/\Yeah, I’d break bread and wine if there was a church I could receive in/’Cause I need it now.” That was 1991 (“Acrobat” from “Achtung Baby”) “Now” has come. Apparently, Bono has actually been spotted “breaking bread and wine” in a church he could receive in.…


The only way to claim any authority to buck the system is by admitting part of it.
Bono has come a long way from the Beliefnet interview quote “You know, God has some really weird kids, and I find it hard to be in their company most of the time” to its more recent version, something like,
“God lots of weird kids. I am one of them.”

In part 4 of this series of essays, I make the case that the line “I’m not used to talking to somebody in the Body” , from the song “Fast Cars” (bonus song on deluxe version of “Bomb”, is partly about Bono reconciling himself to the fact that he has become “L.O.” enough to to preach more he did at Wheaton College, and at least one Midwest church in 2001. (Though his proper and preferred pulpit is indeed the stage, appropriate to the context and contours of his calling). And his message is synchronous with Walsh and Keesmmat, in their amazing targum on Colossians:

Your hope is not the cheap buoyant optimism of global capitalism with its cybernetic computer gods and self-confident scientific discovery, all serving the predatory idolatry of economism. You know that these are gods with an insatiable desire for child sacrifice. That is why your hope is not the shallow optimism of the "Long Boom" of increased prosperity. Such optimism is but a cheap imitation of hope. Real hope-the kind of hope that gives you the audacity to resist the commodification of your lives and engenders the possibility of an alternative imagination-is no human achievement; it is a divine gift. This hope isn't extinguished by living in "the future of a shattered past," precisely because it is a hope rooted in a story of kept promises, even at the cost of death.

Colossians Remixed, p.39

This is a message the church forgets to remember, and as a result,
by default, remains dialed towards death, violence, and worship of prosperity. All the garbage the system pumps out. Well, where the system and structure is death, buck it.

Bono has come along he’s a “loyal oppositionist” who wants to “buck,” ..and not simply, well a word that rhymes with ‘buck’..the system. Allow Steve Stockman, Irish Presbyterian pastor, author of “Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2” and webmaster of Rhythms of Redemption, speak, as he addresses a website reader’s complaint of “Over the years I heard several things that bothered me. For instance, Bono saying things like ‘F*** the system’.

Stockman’s wise and balanced reply, in part, is

For me using the word F*** is not as big a sin as the system. We rage at Bono using that word but fail to see that the system needs turned upside down. We spend our time talking about whether that means he is backsliding rather than getting out there to campaign against the systems Third World debt. Interestingly while he does it. Bruce Cockburn another believer who has used such a word said in an interview, that I was at, that some obscene things need obscene words to describe them. I think Bono is a little liberal sometimes with his use of it but spirituality is much more than bad words. I know that in his family life and in his ordinary behind the shades life this guy is searching after God in a way I long for and in a way I hope you and I are getting near….

Steve Stockman

I love the other singer mentioned above, Bruce Cockburn, as does Bono. His related line from “Maybe The Poet” is “Don’t let system fool you/ all it wants to do is rule you.” Buck it! In a loyal opposition kind of way.. With peace and towels…As one who; like Neo in the Matrix, is in the system, but not of it.

From fear of death, Man sows death; as a result of feeling a slave, he desires to dominate. Domination is always constrained to kill. The state is always subject to fear and therefore it is constrained to kill. It has no desire to wrrestle against death. Men in authyority are vety much like gangsters.
Berdayev, p251

From Walter Bruggeman’s amazing “The Prophetic Imagination,” as he writes about Bono. (.oops, dateline 1979..I should say, he writes prophetically about Bono of twenty five years later!) This is precisely what I esperience in the ethereal but very real encounter with God I taste anytime I get near a U2 concert or speech by Bono. It’s also an expose of what he’s doing throughout the “Bomb” disc, book and tour:

The prophet is called to be a child of the tradition, one who has taken it seriously in the shaping of his or her own field of perception and system of language, who is so at home in that memory that the points of contact and incongruity with the situation of the church in culture can be discerned and articulated with proper urgency…

The task of the prophetic imagination and ministry is to bring to public expression those very hopes and yearnings that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they are there, Hope, on the one hand, is an absurdity too embarrassing to speak about, for it flies in the face of all those claims we have been told are facts. Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion; and one does that only at great political and existential risk.. On the other hand,. hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretension of the present…the public expression of hope (is) a way of subverting the dominant royal embrace of despair. (67)

Bruggemann..what more could you ask for, also frequently uses the very word “dismantling” throughout this seminal book. For example, he speaks of the ways that the preacher-as-prophet (a la U2) makes and unmakes the world of the listener in first "dismantling, " then "energizing" the people (109).

What better job description of Bono’s prophetic-priestly gift and call, a call I believe he has recently seen is “irrevocable” (Romans 11:29)… to dismantle, deconstruct, and unplug (often literally) that which needs it (songs, presuppositions, expectations, death and culture of death); and to mantle and construct..before our eyes and ears…subversive life, justice, hope, joy…to “energize” the people he prophetically pastors and sings to. So that we all get to participate in a corporate dismantling of death. Remember the quote in the a“Bomb” book, “I always wanted to have fun and change the world.”? It concludes with “ That’s why I joined a rock band; to do both.”

Maybe that’s why he joined the church, too.


"I was, and am, grateful to the ecclesiastical institution that put me to work organising a new congregation. They ordained me. They spent a lot of money on me. They provided me with encouragement, advice, and counsel. They gave me access to a tradition in theology and polity that is foundational and stabilising. At no time in the process I am recording did I repudiate this institution. But I did learn that in addition to being a sinner myself [a key doctrine in my (Presbyterian) denomination's theology], the institution itself was also a sinner. In those early years of my ordination I didn't understand the prevalence and depth of institutional sin. I caught on soon enough. One of the duties I had as the organising pastor of a new church was to prepare a monthly report on my work and send it to a denominational executive in New York City. It was not a difficult task, but it did take a day's work. The first page was statistical: how many calls I made, how many people attended worship, a financial report of offerings, progress on building plans, committee activities. This was followed by several pages of reflection on my pastoral ministry, theological ruminations on the church, my understanding of mission, areas of inadequacy that were showing up in my ministry, strengths and skills that seemed to be emerging. After a few months of doing this, I got the impression that my superiors were not reading the second part. I thought I would test out my impression and have a little fun on the side. So the next month, after dutifully compiling the statistical data, I turned to page two and described as best I could an imagined long, slow slide into depression. I wrote that I had difficulty sleeping, couldn't pray. I was getting the work done at a maintenance level but it was a robotic kind of thing with no spirit, no zest. Having feelings and thoughts like these, I was seriously questioning whether I should be a pastor at all. Could they recommend a counsellor for me? Getting no response, I upped the ante. The next month I developed a drinking problem which became evident one Sunday in the pulpit. Everybody was very nice about it, but one of the Elders had to complete the sermon. I felt that I was at the point where I needed treatment. How should I go about getting it? Still no response. I got bolder. The next month I cooked up an affair. It started out innocently enough as I was attempting to comfort a woman through an abusive marriage, but something happened in the middle of it, and we ended up in bed together, only it wasn't a bed but one of the pews in the church where we were discovered when the ladies arranging flowers for Sunday worship walked in on us. I thought it was all over for my ministry at that point, but it turned out that in this community swingers are very much admired, and on the next day, Sunday, attendance doubled. This was turning into a gala event one day each month in our house. I would go to my study and write these wonderful fictions and then bring them out and read them to my wife. We would laugh and laugh, collaborating and embellishing details. Next I reported some innovations I was making in the liturgy. This was the sixties, an era of liturgical reform and experimentation. Our worship, I wrote to my supervisors, was about as dull as it could get. I had read some scholarly guesses about a mushroom cult in Palestine in the first century in which Jesus must have been involved. I thought it was worth a try. I arranged for the purchase of some mushroom caps, peyote it was, and introduced them at our next celebration of the Eucharist. It was the most terrific experience anybody had ever had in worship, absolutely dazzling. But I didn't want to do anything that was in violation of our church constitution, and finding nothing in our Book of Order on this, could they please advise on whether I was permitted to proceed along these lines. These report-writing days were getting to be a lot of fun. Month after month I sent the stories to the men and women who were overseeing the health of my spirituality and integrity of my ministry. Never did I get a response. At the end of three years I was released from their supervision. As pastor and congregation, we were now more or less on our own - developed, organised, and on our way. I went for a debriefing to the denominational office in New York City under which I worked. They asked me to evaluate their supervision through the three years. I told them I appreciated their help. My pay cheques arrived on time each month. I was treated courteously at all times. But there was one minor area of disappointment: they had never read past the first page of statistical reporting that I had sent in each month. "Oh, but we did," they said, "We read those reports carefully; we take them very seriously." "How can that be," I said. "That time I asked for help with my drinking problem and you didn't respond. That time I got involved in a sexual adventure and you didn't intervene. That craziness that I reported when I was using peyote in the Eucharist and you did nothing." Their faces were blank and then confused - followed by a splendid vaudeville slapstick of buck-passing and excuse-making. It was a wonderful moment. I had them dead to rights. I replay the scene in my imagination a couple of times a year, the way some people watch old Abbott and Costello movies. The laughter and fun of those days, though, was cover for a deep disappointment: I had discovered that spiritually and vocationally I was on my own. The people who ordained me and took responsibility for my work were interested in financial reports, attendance graphs, program planning. But they were not interested in me. They were interested in my job; they cared little for my vocation. My deeper discovery was that I was mistaken to expect anything else. Spiritual direction doesn't come from institutions. The institution has its necessary and proper place. I could not function well without it, maybe not at all. But I was quite mistaken to look for spiritual nurture and expect vocational counsel from the institution."

From: Eugene Peterson:’s ”Under the Unpredictable Plant “(Grand Rapids:Eerdmans), 1992, p. 76ff


The word “activist,” even “crusader”, is often included front and center among the nouns describing the indescribable (Bono) in the press; often coupled with “rebel with a cause.” Of course, this is partly true, and in large part a reductionistic misunderstanding. For one, as Bono has preached again and again regarding the world situation: “It’s not a cause, it’s an emergency.”


But secondly, and the point here: As much as Bono is a man with a mission, especially regarding the issues of DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade, Africa) , he is becoming, perhaps because of the activist bent more a man of meditation and prayer, even somewhat of a quietist (!). He admitted years ago that “I can’t change the world, but I can change the world in me.” (“Rejoice)” And more recently, his self-assigned task has been streamlined to “become the change we want to see in the world.” Though he has lots for us to do, God didn’t make “human doings,” but human beings. Margaret Wheatley articulates:

For too long, I have lived in the world wanting to change it. This has been an impossible stance. It intensifies normal desires to contribute something to the human condition into crusades that are doomed to disappoint. I have gradually weaned myself from this posture, I think, because it is just too exhausting and unsatisfying to maintain.
We so want to know our purpose that we too quickly determine what we think it is, and we kill ourselves in the process. We turn from stillness and listening to earnest action, and Spirit disappears. After a while we find ourselves expired-we played God with our lives and lost the source of all inspiration, the breath of life…..

This is a real dilemma. How do we attend to our purpose while holding the humility that we do not create it? Once we catch a glimmer of what it might be, how do we avoid taking over as creator? It gets even more complicated. How do we avoid getting ego-seduced by the specific manifestation of our gifts? Is it possible to live in the humility of knowing that our purpose, as clearly as we self-define it, is but "a husk of meaning"? The task is really to become superb listeners. Heidegger wrote that waiting, listening, was the most profound way to serve God…

To this place, listening carries us. Whatever we conceive our work to be, in the end we know that we are only, infinitely, serving the place of prayer.

-Margaret J. Wheatley, “Consumed by Either Fire or Fire: Journeying with T.S. Eliot”Journal of Noetic Science, November 1999

To “only and infinitely” serve the place of prayer, as “practical mystics” such as Brother Lawrence have been challenging us to do…excuse me, be…all along, is a tough place to return to. Only a prayer-based activist like Bishop Tutu could rebuke Bono into such place:

. We visited the headquarters of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and we met with Desmond Tutu. So we all walked into the room, just completely honored to meet him. We were exchanging pleasantries and then he just turned around and said, ‘Can we bow our heads now please?’ We all had to bow our heads and he made this prayer, which just changed the molecular structure of the room and everyone in it, and suddenly we weren’t tourists any more; suddenly he was reminding us of what was really going on here. I asked him a rather stupid question afterwards. I said, ‘Do you get time with all this work for prayer and meditation yourself?’ And he just looked at me, threw a scowl at me, a real rebuke. He just stopped in his tracks and said, ‘How do you think we would do this if we didn’t take time out for prayer?’ I was scolded by the great man! And of course he’s all laughs normally. Then afterwards he brought us upstairs and said, ‘Look, I have a few people who would like to meet the band,’ and we said okay, great. So we went upstairs. There were six hundred people sitting there. He brought us out and said, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I have for you, to sing a song, U2!’, and we had no instruments, nothing! We just looked at each other, just like rabbits in the headlights. The only thing I could think of singing was ‘Amazing Grace’, which turns out was appropriate; it is a story of grace interrupting karma.
-Dazed and Confused magazine interview with Bono

Making poverty history, eliminating Third World Debt, dismantling AIDS in Africa, no small tasks, these. And all these impossibly huge targets are appendages of the death machine that rules in the world largely unchallenged. So it is massive spiritual warfare to even try to tackle such princilaities. Unless, as Walter Wink “History belongs to the intercessors…. Intercession is spiritual defiance, in the name of what God has promised.” Bono is not on a crazed quixotic quest, motivated by idealistic idiocy,. He is, however, naive enough to think he can make a difference. Become the change he wants to see in the world. But only as he prays and intercedes. He is not exactly a visionary, more precisely, he is a vision. Because he has seen a vision,

“You speak of impossibilities” said the King. “You must have seen a vision.”

As we have seen, the seconf half of the “Bomb” book, the “upside down” section, is full of practical ways and means of becoming change and doing impossible things. Review Beth Maynard’s observations:

Constructed like a Pauline epistle, the text has made its theological points and now moves to action, using dominantly more positive images from this point on. (In the hard copy of the book, you actually have to turn it upside down here, reversing your point of view to step into a new reality.) If you have dismantled the lie that death and destruction hold the cards, what then do you do with the truth you've seen? If you have dismantled the lie that death and destruction hold the cards, what then do you do with the truth you've seen?

You pray it into being. You change the molecular structure of the world, through prayer.

"Intercessory prayer is spiritual defiance of what is in the way of what God has promised. Intercession visualizes an alternative future to the one apparently fated by the momentum of current forces. Prayer infuses the air of a time yet to be into the suffocating atmosphere of the present…

All of Jesus' teachings on prayer feature imperatives. (See for example, Luke 11:9 "") In prayer we are ordering God to bring the Kingdom near. It will not do to implore. We have been commanded to command. We are required by God to haggle with God for the sake of the sick, the obsessed, the weak, and to conform our lives to our intercessions. This is a God who invents history in interaction with those "who hunger and thirst to see right prevail" (Matt. 5:6, REB)…
History belongs to the intercessors, who believe the future into being. If this is so, then intercession, far from being an escape from action, is a means of focusing for action and of creating action. By means of our intercessions we veritably cast fire upon the earth and trumpet the future into being."
-Walter Wink, The Powers That Be
bearth and trumpet the future into being."
In his 2001 commencemnt speech to the University of Pennsylvania, Bono does reconize the need and tug to give the “finger to fate”, but grasps that it’s only the fingers that have been folded or raised in prayer that can give the finger and defiance to the death-system. He also challnges grads to not just use their finges responsibly, but another tool he wishes he literally had as a prop:

You know, I used to think that the future was solid, or fixed, something you inherited—like an old building you move into when the previous generation moves out. (Or gets chased out.)
But it's not fixed. It's fluid. You build your own building. Or hut. Condo.
Whatever. This is the metaphor part of the speech.
My point is that the world is more malleable than you think, and it's just waiting for you to hammer it into shape. If I were a folk singer, I'd launch into ‘If I Had a Hammer' right now, get you all singing and swaying. But as I said, I come from punk rock, so I'd rather have the bloody hammer right in my fist.

Bono knows, as does Wink, that the “Praying is rattling God's cage and waking God up and setting God free and giving this famished God water and this starved God food and cutting the ropes off God's hands and the manacles off God's feet and washing the caked sweat from God's eyes and then watching God swell with life and vitality .” Hammering God, and people

Wink’s startling conclusion about prayer and change dovetails and details “Dismantle”’s primary passion to “become the change we want to see in the world: :”A space opens in the praying person, permitting God to act without violating human freedom,” Wink suggests, and then drops the clincher:

“The change in one person thus changes what God can thereby do in that world.”

energy and following God wherever God goe


“I wept, and I felt rid of it,” you’ll remember Bono saying about his prayer in the French church.
That was a crucial, critical weeping. Which in and of itself dismantles the power of death.

The sight of tears in Bono’s eyes ( sans the shades and thus signaling to God that he is “open for business”), as he sings “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” a song about/to/from his “old man” (Experiment with the “from” format; it may be parallel to the way Kite morphed from a song to his father to a song from his father. Try it with “Sometimes” sometime!) is self-authenticating; it is not manufactured. It is public grieving. Tears turn the wheels of the dismantling machine.

Jesus had understood Jeremiah..Only those who embrace the reality of death will receive the new life…those who do not face endings will not receive the beginnings. The alternative community can stand in solidarity with the dying, for those are the ones who hope. Jeremiah, faithful to Moses, understood what numb people will never know, that onty grievers can experience their experiences and move on.

I used to think it curious that when having to quote Scripture on demand, someone would inevitably say, “Jesus wept.” But now I understand. Jesus knew what we numb ones must always learn again; a) that weeping must be real because endings are real and b)that weeping permits newness. His weeping permits the Kingdom to come. Such weeping is a radical crticism, a fearful dimantling, because it maens the end of all machismo; weeping is something kings rarely do wihout losing their thrones. Yes the loss of thrones is precisely what’s called for in radical criticism (Brugegman, 60-61)

Plenty on that quote to purse. Of course, any U2 fan will “pick up the phone” upon hearing Brugegman use “numb” language so frequently; recalling in particular the drone-litany of the song “Numb”, which is about, well, like Bruggeman says, “the numb cannot discern death” (67). If one cannot even discern or detect the enemy, what hope is there of dismantling it? Critical weeping puts us in touch with our innate death-detector. What, then, does Bono weep about on the record:
“What happened to the beauty I had inside of me?” “It’s you when I look in the mirror,” “Dignity passes by”“You are gone and so is God. That’s all material worth crying about.

There’s lots to weep over in “Love and Peace Or Else”’s million dollar question, “where is the love and peace?” “America... just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable,” quipped Hunter S. Thompson. This too is Bono’s beef with the more fundamentalist adherents of the three
world monotheistic religions. In a “Love and Peace” line that has usually been (too quickly and without much evidence in the context) linked to the Israel/Palestine issue,
“Lay down your guns/All you daughters of Zion/All you Abraham’s sons,.” I believe between the lines are Bono’s prayer-tears and fears that Christians, Jews and Muslims will wind up blowing each other up unless Love comes and peaces us down to our knees in prayer that we can coexist and dismantle death together.

Jesus’s concern was..for the joy of the Kingdom..But he was clear that rejoicing about the future requires a grieving about the present order…There is grief work to be done in the present that the future may come. There is mourning to be done for those who have not known of the deathliness of their situation….those
who have not cared enough to grieve will not know joy… The mourning is a precondition in another way, too. It is not a formal, external requirement but rather the only door and route to joy.
-Bruggeman 68

If death is inevitable, as U2 sublimally flashed into our subconscious in the 1990s; and if death is paradoxically also cancelable, reversible, and bomb-able as U2 are boldy claiming now….If “history is more malleable than we think,” why don’t we allow ourselves to be (literally) moved to tears; more often.

“ I wept, and I felt rid of it.”


All this emphasis on the critical nature of prophetic weeping and laenting . reminds that deep imside, no matter how numbed-over; no matter how deathed-down we are all crying. Or at least crying to cry. We intuitively know that tears are not only healing but prophetic. But we hide behind a mask, and only cry the tears of a clown.”

In the 9O’s Bono often wore a mask. For dismantling death and consumerism in that neo-nihilistic era, that was the proper costume. But the 00’s are a time to “pray naked.”

Bono: (Paul McGuinness) would sit me down and say, “You have what it takes. You must have more confidence in yourself and continue to dig deeper. And I don’t be upset or surprised when you pull something out of the depth that’s uncomfortable.”
Assayas: So you discovered things that, on first glance, you’d rather have kept hidden? What were those?
Bono: The gauche nature of awe, of worship, the wonderment at the world around you. Coolness might help in your negotiation with your world, maybe, but it is impossible to meet God with sunglasses on. It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw. That’s the connection with great music and art, and that’s the other reason you wanted to join a band: you wanted to do the cool thing. Trying to capture religious experiences on tape wasn’t what ypu had in mind when you signed up for the job.
Assayas: What about your own sunglasses, then? Do you wear them the same way a taxi driver would turn off his front light, so as to signal to God that this rock star is too full of himself and not to hire at the moment?
Bono: Yeah, my insincerity… I have learnt the importance of not being earnest at all times. You don’t know what’s going on behind those glasses, but God, I can assure you, does. (53-54)

Sans glasses, still wearing wisdom, and more irony than one might think. It’s just been properly retooled and “dreamed up again” for a new millennium. He’s still a

“Holy Fool,” which is a wonderful tradition of the Eastern Church who periodically pops up here in the West. In the Russian tradition, some of the saints would do almost anything to avoid being perceived as saints. One of them kept offering to wrestle bears so people would think him a nut and not praise him as a saint. In the West, St. Philip Neri acted goofy, partly because he enjoyed being a goof and partly to throw people off the scent of his sanctity and keep them from gushing over him. When offered a cardinal's hat, he proceeded to play football with it. Currently, we saw something of the Holy Fool in Forrest Gump a few years ago. All such fools have one thing in common: they know they are not wise. Similarly, those who are convinced of their innate wisdom are invariably great ninnies. It's far better to be a fool for Christ than to be a fool on one's own. Today, thank God for the folly that is his wisdom.

1 Corinthians 3:18 Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. -Mark Shea, Daily Cathloc Exchange Devotional, Aopril 1, 2005

He’s still a holy fool, just more stripped down and streamlined. Far more subtle, no devil mask. But how is is that, on this current tour, he can dedicate “Running to Stand Still” to the troops in Iraq with a straight poker face, let alone without a McPhisto/devil mask to make the irony obvious? Does no on get it? Has anyone booed? No, they applaud what they perceive as patriotism (and they are partly right) and miss and misunderstand the subtle point (War is an exercise in death; in futility, and in standing still). Applaud is what they should do……but for another reason altogether: the singer has just brilliantly and understatedly (!) pulled off a holy fool moment. And dismantled death even. Even if not many “get it.”


Bono has been begging for a time machine for years. Even prayed for it in 1997: “ it like a tape recorder, we can rewind on more time?” But living in the past is not where it’s at, and he knows it. There is, however, a time machine that can be built, by the love of God. After all, “Love makes no sense of space and time” is not a cheesy line in “Miracle Drug”, it’s the very key to the time machine that can dismantle death by turning its time backwards!”

“When a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor's stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

I dare to deduce that this line from C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia,” (in which the “willing victim” is Aslan the lion and Christ-figure, and the “Table” is the Cross) is the very reference Bono had in mind recently when he tweaked the “Sunday Bloody Sunday” lyric into “Holding on to peace hard won/Till death itself is undone/On Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Yes, Virginia, you can put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Elswehere, Lewis complains “It is hard to have patience with people who say ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn't matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn't matter.” And in confessing that death is “irrevocable and irreversible,” he is not denying the power of Aslan/Christ to undo, rewind, revoke and reverse its power and direction. The Bomb is. But through the death of Christ, it’s stanglehold over us has been reversed and dismantled.


Which contemporary physics can attest to. One of the key discoveries of relativity and quantum physics is that “the arrow of time is not necessarily unidirectional.” Einstein of course discovered a version of time travel by proving that time can outrun space. So “Love makes no sense of space and time,” far from being a corny Bono lyric is pure physics, great science, even Einsteinian in its truth and brilliance. (Of course this is a song w at whose midpoint, Edge specifically prays that “in science” he hears God’s voice whispering). And very practical in its application towards our daily dealing with death.

In a tongue-sometimes-in-cheek physics book with the serious title: “How To Build a Time Machine,” the author cocludes that time travel is “not intrinsically paradoxical but just very weird state of events(103).and the only complications with mantling it, besides availability of technology is the problem of “unfetterd free will”(96). What will we choose to do with our fee will, ho will we choose to steer it responsibly?
Of course this sounds like that previously quoted commencement speaker, one Paul Hewson:

“The only question is: ‘Do we have the will?’”


All this talk about time and death working backwards is not as loopy and ozoned-out as it sounds. It is in fact the very definition of the Kingdom of God. The Jews of Jesus day all has a conceptual category for the phrase “the Kingdom” It meant the future, it implied heaven, it was relegated to the then and there, not the here and now. But Jesus rocks their world in Matthew 4:17 by decreeing that in Him, the Future Kingdom has arrived (not fully, but “more than you think”, enough to taste and see it!) Any who have studied George Eldon Ladd’s life message have seen Hebrews 6:1-8 in a new light: “We have already in this current age and time, tasted and previewed the powers of the future Kingdom age to come.” What is that if not the future invading the present; time traveling backwards?

“I don't expect this pie in the sky when you die stuff," Bono once announced. "My favorite line in the Lord's Prayer is 'Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven' (Matt. 6:10). I want it all, and I want it now. Heaven on earth-let's have a bit of that.” I agree, and such streamed out of me once, in poem form:

waiting hating it baiting it waiting to be unchained unframed changed rearranged unbound unfound by anyone but Messiah Man dying to be crying to be not trying to be consistently insistently persistently in the place where He is all all i want is to walk on water to break bread for thousands to touch the hem and hand it to the world all i need to get there safe but not sound is holy impatience persisteverance focused fury to pray with gentle violence, "Thy Kingdom come on earth on Fulton Mall on time on me in Africa in hell in droves in me Gethsemane me, Jesus Moriah me, Messiah till i bleed and breathe nothing but You" i won't wait anymore it is finished i walk on water i heal the sick i do works of Jesus or i die

“…or I die.” And I do, unless I dismantle death itself, by building a time machine that ushers in the future Kingdom’s life into this dying kingdom’s system… I defy time, logic, Newtonian logic, and the devil every time I do something so “everyday” as shopping…..Kingdomly. Wham! Time and death immediately, and supernaturally start working backwards, against time, big time. And I was just minding my own business, shopping!


“Shopping is politics,” Bono writes in the Bomb-book. “To close down a clothing factory in Africa and move to somewhere cheaper to save a few cents on a T shirt is not good for anyone in the chain”

Have you noticed that Bono keeps his physics hat on at several points on the CD? “Distance does not decide/Whether you live or whether you die,” he sings. “Distance does not decide who is your brother.” He speaks in concert, paraphrasing Jesus, of course; in addition to the great physicists. Who have discerned that..imagine this..all of life is organically connected and interdependent. No wonder my shopping necessitates and unleashes a quantum “butterfly effect” throughout the planet. Stringfellow, too, gets this, and applies it specifically to the death-bomb: “No violence is private” (128).

At any rate, remember, shopping is politics. It is radical intercession. It’s Kingdom Come. Its time working backwards and dismantling death.

Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, making up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies hats and straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.
-Annie Dillard, :Teaching a Stone to Talk, p. 40


“Love is treaty and compromise” (“Mercy” lyric from the Bomb-book version, anyway)

More physics helps here. Let me quote from two physics texts:
1)“We are each other”. (the Bomb book)
2) “I am you and you are mine.” (The Bomb disc)

If we really got that, of course we would disarm ourselves literally and symbolically, and talk to our enemy, who is our brother, who is us, who is Jesus in purposely thin disguise.

Hidden away in the obscure book of the deluxe edition of “Bomb” is nothing less than this gem, which interprets not only a line in“Love and Peace Or Else,” but the very core gospel of U2’s bomb:

The Himalayas are about as high as a human being can get without getting a nosebleed. At about 10,000 feet, the mountain becomes unfriendly, the rockface earnest only a goat could trust..The earth doesn’t so much punch a hole in the sky with a fist, more a series of blows arc it over its head to protect the peaceloving peoples who live in their shadow. Etched into this Vertical that has forgotten it started out life as a horizontal one paths…the ground is on its side now a profile against a cold blue whisking sky…
..The paths are sometimes twenty or thirty mile contours that offer the only way around the mountain..if you are 1)mad enough 2)a parachutist 3)a goat. Start down one of these trails and Nature will teach you a lesson about God, or maybe it’s God teaching a lesson about nature. To meet another soul on one of these paths without rock-climbing equipment is disaster. The goats know this. They glare at each other. They bristle. Their baby that’s just woken up can become a grown up growl. To pass each other is impossible. One will have to turn back to give way to the other. Struggle will mean a certain end to one of them, maybe both of them, unless…

One lies down and becomes the path for the other.

It’s an extraordinary sight to see a goat do what a human cannot: Compromise.

As its legs bend and kneel the comic little creature lies down with its face pressing the humbling dirt. The e other awkwardly mounts and walks over its potential rival and goes its way…

I have always wondered why the word compromise was so compromised..the suggestion that you had sold out too cheaply your values; trashing your ideals by exposing them to the elements of other competing ones..diluting your strength..appearing weak

We expect little of our politicians and what little we expect is that they would stick to their guns. They shouldn’t. They should put them down and go talk to the enemy.
(Bono..scribbled in the “Bomb” book)


I live each day to kill death;I die each day to beget life,and in this dying unto death,I die a thousand times andam reborn another thousandthrough that love.-Julia Esquivel


“I am born again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again again and again ……….

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal...
-C. S. Lewis, “The Four Loves”

“Take this heart and make it break..” as Bono boldy prayed to Yahweh, in the song named for “Yahweh”. To actually sign up for a broken heart is as death-dismantling as one can get.

An example that I’ll close with is from an exchange between a pupil and a rebbe.
You should know that a rebbe is not exactly the same thing as a rabbi. This is because
there are certain rabbis in the Jewish tradition who are like the big tiger and other rabbis
who are no more or less than good, old-fashioned clergymen. Nothing wrong with
clergymen, but there are rabbis who are unusually wise and powerful and such rabbis
were called rebbes.
And so, the pupil asks the wise rebbe, just as I asked the man with the winged
eyebrows, about a certain passage in the Old Testament, in the Book of Deuteronomy,
which is part of what is called the Torah, the heart of the Old Testament. There is an
important sentence in this part of the Bible, which can be translated into English as “Lay
these words upon your heart.” And those words referred to summarize the fundamental
belief of the Hebraic tradition, which is the source in certain ways of the Christian, as
well as Islamic tradition, which are all rooted in one common source. “Lay these words
upon your heart,” and these are the words, the simple, profound words: “Hear, O Israel:
The Lord our God is one Lord; And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart,
and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deuteronomy 6: 4-6)
And the pupil asks the rebbe, “Why does it tell us to lay these words upon our
heart? Why doesn’t it tell us to put them in our heart?”
And the rebbe answers, “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and the
words can’t get it in. So we just put them on top of the heart. And there they stay. There
they stay until someday, when the heart breaks, they fall in.”
The great wisdom: study it in all its forms, and someday when the heart breaks,
either in great sorrow or in uncontainable joy, it will fall in, and you’ll understand this
other level of human values that every school worthy of the name is trying to lead you
# # #
Goodrich Lecture
Indian Springs School
Jacob Needleham,

“Fear nothing, Fear nothing, Fear nothing!’ –“Mercy” lyrics

“IT can’t be true. He would go to his study, lie down, and again be alone with It: face to face with It. And nothing could be done with It except to look at It and stutter.”

“It” is death. In Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” which is his version of “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” the title character’s entire life is “scripted and maneuvered around the evasion of even one thought of death.” One day he hears the “voice of the soul” asking: “What do you want?” (note this question is exactly the same as Bono’s voiceover asked repeatedly and hauntingly on the rotating tapeloop that introduced the “Zoo TV” Tours ..coincidence?)

His answer poured out, it didn’t need much thought, as it was his whole life’s mission statement: “To live..and not to suffer.”

That is the universal answer.

After pondering the impossibility of this request, Ilyich began to grapple with the reality of death and suffering, to actually say the word “death.” His fear of death is overturned.

“I asked my old man why he didn’t take care of himself and live longer. He said ‘It’s not that I’d live longer; it would only feel longer’ That was Bob Hewson.” And all of us. If only life would last longer, or feel longer, we could detour or derail death. Remember, this is the Bob Hewson who never mentioned his wife’s death.

The fact that we do not talk about death does not mean that we do not think about it. A team of psychiatrists in Missouri came to the conclusion, on the basis of tests that indicate what goes on under the skin and inside the skulls of Americans of all ages, that people think four-and-a-half times as much about how to solve the riddle of death and what comes after it as they do about sex and romance… In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Denial f Death, Ernest Becker suggested that the primary concern of every living person is death, and most people deal with that concern by denying that it will ever happen to them. That reminds me of a story told of Lord Palmerston. Seriously ill, his doctor told him the severity of the situation. He huffily replied, “Die, my dear doctor! That is the last thing I shall do!”….
Melanie Klein, an English psychoanalyst, believed fear of death is at the root of all human anxiety. Paul Tillich, the renowned theologian, based his theory of anxiety on the idea that man is finite and must die. Austrian psychiatrist William Stekel went so far as to express the hypothesis that every fear we have is ultimately fear of death.


The clamour of sex drowns out the ever-waiting presence of death…Death is the symbol of ultimate impotence and finiteness. What would we see if we cut though our obsession with sex? That we must die. Rollo May in Time magazine, “Death as a Constant Companion.”

Maybe it’s always sex that subs for death. After all, Bono did include it among the fourfold “love and faith and sex and fear” list of “all the things that keep it here.” (“A Man and a Woman). We baptize sex, want to bring it to life; as a way of avoiding our funeral….or as a rehearsal for it:

Sex offers a chance to test this hypothesis and to practice our death. It invites us to "conquer" the enemy by befriending and forgiving him. It allows us to reverse the poem, "do not go gentle into that good night" and to walk with confidence and gratitude into the deaths which beckons us.
Sex, that "little death" is not a threat but a promise; it is our assurance that all is well in the universe….
The necrophiliac is fascinated by death but motivated by control. His temptation to force death to submit to him is recognized as potentially intoxicating, perhaps overwhelming, but ultimately bizarre.
But closer to us than we like to admit
Yet on another level almost all mainstream pornography appeals to a form of necrophilia. The images of women (and men in gay porn) which are presented as a turn on, are nearly universally deprived of life. Sexual objects, not subjects, they have had the breath sucked out of them. If these objects had a personal history - foibles, accomplishments, affections, failures - it is now behind them. At best it has been appropriated into a common mythology; worse and more frequently, it has been eliminated completely.
Bodies with the souls gone: that's plain old porn
What we see in much of porn is simply bodies after the soul has left them - anonymous as cadavers, without even a piece of clothing to suggest preference, difference, personality, will. It is easy to say that these frozen objects might only tempt an aberrant taste, but they have become the large scale focus and context for expressing a mainstream, if problematic sexuality.

Of course, if sex is not available, we can always resort to other death-counterfeits, drinking and drugs…or shopping. There all about a death-wish! “Modern man is drinking and drugging himself out of awareness, “ Becker offers, “or else he goes shopping, which is the same thing.”

We fear and want death. So we have sex. Or do drugs. Or go shopping. Or those other wonderful standby strategies: religion and television! Neil Postman whose thesis is revealed in his classic book title, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” betrays the betrayal of the television/religion culture (exactly what ZOOTV was about?): “..the danger is not that religion has become the content of television shows, but that television shows may become the content of religion(124). This of course was Bono’s point in the ad lib: I can’t tell the difference between ABC news, Hill Strret Blues, and the preacher on the Old Time Gospel Hour” (tellingly, in an old U2 song about dismantling death), and in dressing up as the Mirrorball Man TV evangelist..(who eventually morphed into Mr. McPhisto, who morphed into the devil himself)…

Not long ago, I saw Billy Graham join with Shecky Green, Red Buttons, Dione Warwick, Milton Berle and other theologians in a tribute to George Burns, who was celebrating himself for surviving eighty years in the business. The Reverend Graham exchanged one-liners with Burns about making preparation for Eternity. Although the Bible makes no mention of it, the Reverend Graham assured the audience that God loves those who make people laugh. It was an honest mistake. He merely mistook NBC for God (p. 55)

Avoid death, avoid God. And might as well have fun while hiding from/running towards what you want/fear: have sex. Drink to excess. Shop till you drop. All in front of NBC God.

This house is crumblingThis property is condemnedThis house is crumblingWho'll say the last amen? ....

This is the sound of the world coming downThis is the sex of historyThis is the sound of the big house caving inThis is the friction of joy and misery
-“Murder in the Big House” lyrics, Chagall Guevara

Nietzche saw the fear of death as a “European disease”, and attributed it in large part to Christianity! Unfortunately, he was right. In actuality, though, it should be Christians who least fear death, and are thus free to enjoy those other activities…sex, drink, shopping, religious television (in moderation of course, particularly with the last wily one!) “Jesus shared in the humanity of humans,” the writer of Hebrews explains in 2:14, “ so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil--and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their primary fear: the fear of death.”

Bono would fly home from concerts in 2001 to read words of life from The Message Bible over his dying father, and his very human fear:

I slept beside my father with the sound of the audience ringing in my ears during his dying days.“The U2 crowd are the noisiest crowd in the world and I'd still hear it. There were probably still people driving home and I would be lying there beside his silence and he'd just stare at me, or mutter something. I did get to spend a lot of time with him at the end.“We didn't have the greatest relationship when I was growing up but towards the end of his life we made our peace and I felt very lucky to be beside him.“I was there when he said his last words. He woke up and looked at me and I looked at him and he said: ‘Are you all f___in’' mad?' and I said ‘What?' because he'd been whispering and he said: ‘Are you all f___in' mad? This place is a prison and I want to go home.' And I guess he did. “I later realised that he might not just have been talking about the hospital — it was his sickness he was fed up with. “The way I look at it now is that he's got a new body. I'm not afraid of death and I know I'll see him again.” of

“Fear nothing.”


We come full circle. Or full-arc, from “faith to fear,” as U2 would have it. There is no dismantling anything, let alone death, without finding death and life in the life and death of Jesus the Christ:

Jesus of Nazareth, a prophet, and more than a prophet we argue, practiced in most radical form the main elements of prophetic ministry and imagination. On the one hand , he practiced criticism of the deathly world around him. The dismantling was fully wrought in his crucifixion, in which he himself embodied the thing dismantled. On the other hand, he practiced the energizing of the new future given by God. This energizing was fully wrought in his resurrection, in which he embodied the new future given by God. -Bruggeman

“We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
(2 Cor 4:6-11)

Indeed, U2 has bookended us grandly with two versions of reality; asking us to choose this day if it’s Life or Death we mantle. And as always, they have done their job in peerless style,, and in strong song.

Song. As the Unabomber victim learned from the God of the Psalms, “Only those who study the thing are confused; only those who sing understand.” At the end of this essay, we may find ourselves overloaded in the implications of too much study. Hopefully there is truth in Montaigne’s insistence on “to philosophize is to learn how to die.” But philosophy is futile unless set to song. Unless you can dance to it.

“Say not a word in death’s favor,” said Achilles. “I would rather be a paid servant in a poor man’s house and be above ground, than a king of kings among the dead.”
(Odyssses XI, 88)

Good News! There is a King of Kings among the dead!…And a Father among the living who have faced and embraced the Mother of All Paradoxes, and come out stronger…

Love, still, is stronger than death. Maybe that quick answer to Michael W. Smith, about love dismantling the bomb was not a throwaway after all., since

it occurs that Love is able to dismantle the bomb in the father and the bomb in the son; that Love has the ability to disarm any weapon of destruction, material or spiritual, no matter how large, no matter how small. That comes as good news about right now.

Bono gets the last word:

I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb…. 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.

Bono still gets the last word. But since we have established that to sing truth is the means to understanding , we must “close the closing” with a lyric by same Bono, a profound lyric which is equivalent to his wonderful but non-musical quote above, if not quite as polished, theological and eloquent:

“Your love is teaching me how to kneeeeeeeel!

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