Monday, December 13, 2004

The Bomb Part 1: And Elevation Begat Vertigo

Elevated Vertigo, A Pair of Doxes, Fish in the Sky, and Holy Helixes:

A Four-Part Theological Blog, Satirical Sermon and Reluctantly Raving Review of (among other topics) U2’s Fourth (maybe) Masterpiece

(Part 4:
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By Dave Wainscott, a fumbling but sincere disciple, and "chief dreamer" of Third Day (‘3D’) Fellowship of Fresno, a "Jesus-anchored and non-religious" experiment found in Fresno, California, and at His bio, straight from the post office wall, is hanging here:, and, if you want to catch him, he often hangs out at another wall, found here: He has collected all kind of theologically-informed reviews of "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb", the new U2 CD on another page, so if you hate his review below, read all the better ones here:


Since my deck is shamelessly stacked anyway, let me ditch my preferred poker and preaching strategy by tabling my hand of cards at the outset. I much prefer the inductive, winding and weaving, "mysterious build-up" approach to writing, preaching and life, but I dare to believe there are enough of those attributes inherent in the following four theses about the Christ-ward journey and the new U2 CD’s message and music, to merit my gamble that the four U2isms are a serendipitous and winning hand. Here, tumbled out early, then, is where the cards land:

1) By travelling up the delightful but dizzying highlands of Peru, one can learn what one already knew: Elevation leads to vertigo. And there is value in a holy lingering at that second and sacred place.

2) By pondering and plundering paradoxes; especially the definitive mother of them all ("Birth leads to death, and death leads to birth"), embracing them indiscriminately and allowing them in an unhindered and unhurried fashion to craft a creative tension, one can witness the colors, economy and keys of the " Kingdom coming" in a Holy Spiritual way impossible to "get to" via any other route.

3)The occasional "drawing one’s fish in the sky", for the skilled artist whose preferred "drawing board" is sand; far from producing heavy-handed, cheap and cheesy art,
can ironically and irenically generate a gentle yet bold, powerfully
persuasive, subtle "stealth" tableau that honors Jesus’ Matthew 10:16 preference that we be simultaneously and Spiritaneously "sneaky as snakes and docile as doves."

4)Tracing and trainspotting lyric/musical references from the new CD to lyrical/musical reference points on earlier CDs , and (interestingly enough) especially to stellar songs axed from the new CD as well as the "optional" book, if done in a systemic (not systematic) way, leads to previously unanswered questions being answered, and perhaps even more importantly, new and perhaps unanswerable questions being asked, (for example, "Does that famous arc actually come full circle?")

Alright, hand spilled. But I realize and relish in the obvious news that I’ve got some explaining to do to defend, let alone interpret or even dismantle whatever the heck I just said. I’m honored; that’s precisely why I’m here. And as you might have guessed, what follows will be a round-table of topics far wider than just the "Atomic Bomb" CD, though U2 (in general), and the disc’s theology (in specific) will be our launching pad. On the journey, as companions and defenders of my case, will be an amazingly diverse crew of theologians: including the likes of Bob Dylan, Tracy Chapman, Jurgen Moltmann, Sponge Bob, chef-priest Robert Farrar Capon, St. Augustine, some porn stars, a beggar I met in Jerusalem, chessmaster Gary Kasparov, and David Letterman. I hope I have got your curiosity up…

My curiosity, radar and eyebrows were certainly raised when I stumbled onto a fascinating and unplanned phenomenon of all four of these proposals , one of many threads that ties them together and interrelates them: Each of the U2isms turns about to be in surprising sync with ancient Jewish rabbinic approaches to prayer and persuasion! Now, I have already addressed (but not yet atoned for!) , my overall deck-stacking theses, but because I am neither smart enough, or versed in Judaism enough, to have noticed or pre-planned the tantalizing Jewish context, aroma and undergirding of all that I have so far said , I am in awe, thinking another Dealer is at work . And even though His ways are higher, He is limited in using my ways and words. So this article might even be mildly profound; and perhaps even wildly prophetic… in spite of me.

That’s the deal. And this honesty that I am trying to cultivate also helps me in my quixotic, Bonoesque (and therefore perhaps doomed) quest to "not be proud of my humility". By arrogantly laying out such simple, (maybe simplistic) ; at best profound and confounding propositional truths, I feel I a bit like the smug Bono in the "Rattle and Hum" film, reading the theologically focused lyrics of "When Love Comes to Town" to B.B. King, characteristically peacocking as he presents his precious lyrics as gifts to the king. And of course it only feeds the "megalomania and messiah complex" that Bono often admits "set in early" for him that BB’s classic response is "That’s some mighty heavy lyrics for a young man." Anyone reading thus far has probably already forgiven Bono for such lines from the new album as the famous "Freedom has a scent like the top of a newborn baby’s head" or the infamous rhyming of voice, choice and… catorce, uh, I mean tortoise. Pathetic or prophetic lines? Groaners or gems? The best answer may be "yes", but only the Bonoman can get away with these lines. And since I’m not in Bono’s wordsmithing league, I must ask that in this essay, you are insistent and consistent in following Bono’s advice in "looking for baby Jesus under the trash." Anything I say may have some "Dave" attached, but I’m convinced there are divine truths…some baby Jesus…to be divined, culled and kept in this discussion of the latest disc by Bono and boys ( which by mere intrinsic virtue of being a U2 product, can point us towards a deeper and more theologically-informed walk of faith) . Another Christmasish Bono quote relates: in the book accompanying the "deluxe" edition of "Bomb" (I believe the book is "required," so consider yourself deluxe and shell out the bucks) he scribbles (literally) and marvels that "the Almighty God…the same force of love and logic" that created all there is could condescend to become "a child born in s___ and straw." (Great line for a Christmas card sold in an evangelical store!!) So if there’s any s___ and straw in what follows, glean it out. But watch for Jesus in its midst and manger.

In light of the "in-house" talk of the "baby Jesus under the trash" (an allusion to a 1997 U2 lyric from the song "Mofo"); and because a wise cad (Steve Sjogren) once said "It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission", another warning and "heads up" to any gentle readers unimmersed in U2: This essay… because typed by a type unabashedly addicted to at least three lethal substances: God, U2 and a (hopefully) holy sense of humor… will be unapologetically peppered with bad U2 puns and poor plays on U2 lyrics and mythology. So, like a literal "peppering," take this for its intent: a flavoring accent, which for those who like or understand its gift, it adds a little bonus "life" to a meal which is, we admit, already complete and edible without it. So, if a crazy or cryptic reference in the chapters below seems to makes no sense, taste terrible, or makes you gag, you might reasonably conclude:

a)It makes no sense, tastes terrible, and should in fact make you gag
b)It’s yet another poor and pathetic U2 pun, which can be deleted without missing anything fundamental to the content and taste of the essay
c)Maybe you should become more conversant with the back-catalog of the world’s greatest rock-n-roll band, for your own spiritual enlightenment, and also so you can groan at the dumb in-house jokes.
d)All of the above
Onward, then…



This chapter may feel like it spends an inordinate amount of time on "Elevation," and U2’s overall place in the church/culture mix, for what claims to be a writing focusing on the new "Bomb" CD. The last three chapters will focus more on the new CD, and even include a "review", but integral to my first thesis is that a short course in "Elevation" is prerequisite and integral to an informed understanding the new material, and maybe even life itself! So let’s visit this background…by way of South America. I congratulated myself on remembering to pocket the airsick bag from the plane. I recalled how Bono had scrawled early versions of lyrics on airsick bags as lyrics came to mind; but my mission in shoplifting the bag was more basic and less profound…

It all happened on a bus in Peru; where I (literally) lost my lunch, but found the revelation I was looking for. And I mean in that very act of elevated (literally…high altitude) lunch-losing (literally…regurgitation, OK?) , the vertigo; the sickness; and the revelation hit. It just spilled out..uh, the revelation, I mean. I didn’t write it on the bag, but from that point on, it would be written on my pysche. The revelation, albeit in a reductionistic nutshell, is this: ELEVATION LEADS TO VERTIGO.

"Big fat atomic deal, Captain!," I hear the fans say. "Anyone with a bonehead background in U2 knows that!" (For any souls sans that basic background, here’s the connect: The keynote song/concert-opener of U2’s previous CD/tour was called "Elevation"; the keynote song /concert-opener of their new CD/tour is a called "Vertigo." Thus: Elevation came first; then vertigo. And the new CD, as the second release in a row hallmarked by a "return to roots" vibe and value, has widely been recognized as "All That You Can’t Leave Behind"’s sequel and successor not just chronologically but logically speaking)
But, hang on; I’m not even talking U2…at least not directly…at least not officially…not yet. And though this is indeed a theological commentary on U2’s possible fourth masterpiece, "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," let’s join the bus ride, and pursue this first thesis.

Winding roads and grinding gears, both heroically maneuvered by a much prayed-for Peruvian bus driver led me to (against my will) contemplate the theory, and road-test the reality, of my twin theologies of elevation and vertigo. Having braved an eight-hour bus ride up to the huge and holy heights of the Andes mountains, on a ruthless road with no name, I am a living (barely!) witness to the simple but profound fact that, as I previously and pretentiously proffered, "elevation leads to vertigo."

"Donde esta?, " I would often ask myself in English, or my Spanish-speaking bus-mates in Spanish, as I prayerfully and carefully poked my head out of slumber and sweater while on this breakneck bus ride.
Occasionally I would peek out the window, just to tell myself I was man enough to do it, or to get some sense of where we were; I would catch a glimpse of the railroad tracks that sometimes paralleled (That’s the wrong word….no straight lines in sight) our road; the tracks belonged to the famed "Ferrocarril", the highest railroad on the planet. I thanked God that at least I wasn’t on that train, but I still didn’t know the answer to my haunting question: "Where in the Peru are we?" Inevitably the answer was an annoying rerun of the previous hour’s: "Climbing even higher up the Andes, dude. We have the oxygen and alcohol ready if you need it." (Seriously, every bus or train that dares to elevate itself up the high[literal]way from Lima to Huancayo, boasts an onboard medical kit well-stocked with the only two cures outside of drastic divine intervention that soothe the sickening physical effects of travelling the high and winding road: oxygen and alcohol…and to clarify, the alcohol is to smell, not to drink; though I’m sure more than one pilgrim has been lead… despite repeated and retentive recitations of the Lord’s Prayer… into the latter temptation).


I think it hit me at about fourteen thousand feet. We had started at a kind and cozy 411 foot elevation in Lima, and before we knew it, we were seeing signs in Spanish announcing elevation, counting the height in thousands: "Uno"("one"), came the first sign, but no sweat or sickness yet at 1000 feet; then around the curve, a "dos"("two") sign, a "tres" ("three")…and then it seemed, out of nowhere and out of sequence, to appear: a sign that with Latinamerican machismo and matter-of-factness, numbered the feet at "catorce" (fourteen!) thousand feet! Unless you count some "don’t want to go there" drug-induced trips, never had I been elevated so high so fast. What came over me was what the locals call "soroche", or sometimes with a well-meaning wink, "the gringo sickness." Being an involuntarily but now inveterately sick gringo myself, I called it lots of ungracious things as I was ungraced by it. The medical textbooks coin it "vertigo," a term that has suddenly lept out of dusty textbooks and invaded the living rooms of much of the world via a relentless and repentless IPOD commercial featuring an Irish-looking silhouette of the biggest rock star on the planet dancing himself dizzy while confessing with reckless and pulsating abandon that the place he’s at (and U2 are at) is so elevated and exhilirating; yet so damning and dizzying, that it just might be Vertigo on earth. Since this very commercial commercial has so sufficiently saturated society, my greatest fear is that citizens are so prematurely sick of the word and song "Vertigo" that another spin of the tune..or the prospect of my spin on it will ironically invoke fullblown vertigo itself…

So, let’s pause, take a break and breath (you’ll need it before rejoining the ride), and define our terms, just to be sure we are on the same page and planet here. A dictionary definition of "elevation" is so elementary as to not need spelling out; but just to be sure the significant spiritual application of this term is highlighted; let’s take our time to work out this definition with fear and trembling; for I maintain that "Vertigo" (and the CD it kickstarts) cannot be fully tasted without the backdrop of its next older brother. So we are about to spend some time in the elevator; stay with us. After we define "elevation" at some depth (pun intended); we’ll define "vertigo" until you’re dizzy enough to kneel.


All right, let’s get to the elevation of "Elevation, " because as you will recall, it’s the only path up to Vertigo (I promise we’ll get there!) . To my amazement and delight, I stumbled upon a stunningly insightful commentary on U2’s song (and therefore prayer about, and theology of) "Elevation." I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, as theological analysis of U2 is all over the world and web. (Even as scholarly papers at the business meetings of the "I guess they’re not so square and stodgy after all" Evangelical Theological Society…Baptist PhD’s contemplating the theological catalog of Bono!) . But this particular piece grasped and grappled so well with what U2 are (in Bono’s phrase) "on about" in "Elevation, " and in general, I cannot anymore hear or pray the song without this review at hand. It has rocked my world, theology and prayer life. I had always intuitively felt the song was about, indeed was, prayer. But to definitively second that motion it took these words, which should be read slowly, and with "Elevation" playing softly (!) in the background:

Prayer is not something (Bono) just is an
experience he enters into. There is no room for inhibition; singing and dancing
are essential means by which he expresses his emotional cleaving to God….but
such ardor/desire for God has to be so overwhelming that any extraneous thoughts
are excluded…If distractions are erotic in nature…and (Bono) faces up to the
predominance of the sexual urge at both conscious and subconscious levels, and
its capacity to intrude even during prayer...then he has learned to take
measures…by introducing the (ancient) doctrine of the "elevation of strange
thoughts." This is a Chasidic Jewish technique not of sublimation, but of
thought conversion, whereby the beauty or desirability of the woman is latched
upon and used not as a sexual but rather as a mental and spiritual stimulus. We
are taught to "elevate" these thoughts by substituting the beauty of God for the
physical beauty that is currently bewitching us. (Bono) has learned to
immediately contrast the pale reflection of beauty that humans are endowed with,
on the one hand, and the supreme Divine source of authentic and enduring beauty,
on the other…This is not sublimation; This is elevation

Wow! Surely anyone who re-reads the lyrics to "Elevation," (or ventures and voyeurs a watching as Bono sings/prays/dances/incarnates it on concert DVD), will surely fall at the feet and conclusions of the reviewer, admitting that he astoundingly accurate. And I (seminary grad!) didn’t even know until I found this review that "elevation" was the official name for an ancient and established style and form of prayer. Surely this is exactly what Bono is fundamentally "on about" in this song; even in wider life and mission. Just for starters, lets interlace the lyrics to the song "Elevation" itself, and the review thereof:

Prayer is not something (Bono) just is an
experience he enters into. There is no room for inhibition; singing and dancing
are essential means by which he expresses his emotional cleaving to God….but
such ardor/desire for God has to be so overwhelming("You make me feel like I
could fly") that any extraneous thoughts are excluded…If distractions are erotic
in nature…and (Bono) faces up to the predominance of the sexual urge ("I’ve lost
all self-contol")at both conscious and subconscious("Digging up my soul/Going
down/Excavation") levels, and its capacity to intrude even during prayer( "Tell
me something true/I believe in You"")...then he has learned to take measures…by
introducing the ancient doctrine of the "elevation of strange thoughts." This is
a Chasidic Jewish technique not of sublimation, but of thought conversion,
whereby the beauty or desirability of the woman(the corner of your lips/the
orbit of your hips")is latched upon and used not as a sexual but rather as a
mental ("I need you to elevate my mind") and spiritual("you elevate my soul")
stimulus. We are taught to "elevate" these thoughts by substituting the beauty
of God for the physical beauty that is currently bewitching us. (Bono) has
learned to immediately contrast the pale reflection of beauty that humans are
endowed with, on the one hand, and the supreme Divine source of authentic and
enduring beauty, on the other. This is not sublimation, but

Because it so convincing, I hope Bono read the review I quoted, and I’m guessing he may well have. Not because I found it in Rolling Stone, or another obvious publication that Mr. Vox has been known to frequent, but because it’s in a classic book called "Blessed are You: A Comprehensive Guide to Jewish Prayer," by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen, copyright 1993. That’s right, a commentary on U2’s "Elevation" written long before the song. (And of course, "elevation" as the name of a prayer-vehicle has been around for centuries). No, I didn’t truly trick you; though I did keep that card up my sleeve (All I did to the text was insert Bono’s name where the author had "the praying person" and the like). But surely this passage is radically relevant review..uh, preview..of the record. As much as we can often find more God in the lyrics than Bono (or God) intended; this would be a case where, even if the song is about different things on different levels, it at heart revolves around this technique of prayer. It is too close a match that it’s precisely "the orbit of the hips" that catapult elevated (versus sublimated, in the rabbi’s terms; "excavated and going down" in Bono’s) prayer into action. Whether or not Bono has the "Blessed are You" book in the mad stack by his bedside or not; there can be no divorcing this song’s inspiration from its interpretation by the rabbis; or from...


Yet in the fluidity of interpretation we have necessarily granted Bono, there are other intriguing ancilliary (not alternative) reference points regarding the word/prayer/song/lifestyle "Elevation"; no divorcing "elevation" from the two Bobs who apart from his literal dad, Bob Hewson, are key among his spiritual fathers Bobs (Dylan and Marley); and two Jewish ( of course) theologians Martin Buber and (an even older and more well-known fellow) an apostle named Paul.

-Bob #1: Dylan, in a parallel to Bono’s "Turn each song into a prayer," has said, spiritually speaking, "The songs are my lexicon." Looking into that lexicon, we find that smack in the middle of his "Jewish era" he produced an entire song entitled "I and I," the very same; very obscure but decidedly Jewish in origin (sometimes adopted by Rastafarians; thus the Bob #2 connection) name for God that Bono chose to address God in the prayer "Elevation.".. Thus Bono might well be intentionally if implicitly importing some clues and context from the Dylan song, right? Sounds like it, Sherlock…especially as the Dylan piece is framed by a very common Bonological emphasis: the "femininity" of the Spirit/Shekinah; made most overt perhaps in a signature U2 piece "(She Moves In) Mysterious Ways," of which the accompanying in-concert dance is a prime example, even acted parable, of "the elevation of sexual thoughts," if ever there was one! Bono is seduced by, but pointedly and purposely refrains from touching, the female dancer; and ends most live versions with an incredibly ecstatic and elevated ejaculation of praise to "Jehovah" ( this divine name being a variant translation not only of "I and I," but of "Yahweh," another new U2 song! And we won’t even mention, "All Because of You....I AM" …Oops!) This is addictive, endless, but instructive, and I am convinced intentional by a certain sly lyricist who loves it "when God walks through the room when we’re making a record". By the way, more theologizing on Dylan’s "I and I" is found

-Bob #2:Marley, and other Rastafarian types, have historically avoided , in conversation with humans and the divine, language like "you and me; " which they deem too distant to represent the interconnectedness of all persons (Of course a line from "Bomb" comes immediately to mind : "I am you, and you are mine. Love makes no sense of space. And time will disappear."); thus the phrase "I and I" for them refers ultimately to God, who is complete unity within Himself; but also to dialogue among "mere mortals." Or "mortals and the divine" (Steve Beard’s great phrase). And of course, "Elevation’ is about all these interwoven relationships, and hinges upon their unifying to empower true elevation.

-Jewish apostle #1:Buber’s seminal "I and Thou", makes the case that "I do not fully become who I am, until I interact with; even find myself in another." And certainly the definitive finding of self is clinched as we find ourselves and others in Another: God, Thou, "I and I" How could Bono not have Buber by the bedside stash when:
a)This finding of self in a Thou is the very essence and soulful "goal of elevation".
b).The quote "The greatest insights I have ever had into myself have been through other people…looking after people, you find yourself," is the very message of Buber’s book, but it is from Bono’s book (the book accompanying "Bomb")
And follow this trail of crumbs toward Buber’s table: First, you have Bono in "Love Comes Tumbling":
"Find yourself in someone else/Don’t find yourself in me." On to "Love Rescue Me" (note; penned and played with Dylan): "Many lost seek to find themselves in me." From "Always: "Don’t find yourself in someone else." Then on the new disc (well, almost…the song "Are You Gonna Wait Forever " song was cut, but adds the final crumbs): "I’m getting closer to what’s true/Gonna find myself in You"…..These trace a path actually to and through Buber’s door, directly to "Elevation"…(and eventually, by divine design or detour, to a very different and vertigoed place)

-Jewish apostle #2: Where are you right now? Would you believe that if are a Christ-follower, the apostle Paul would outrageously and correctly claim that you are not really here ("I’ve been accused of that!"); you are—in essence, in ultimate spiritual reality—right now, in the elevated language of Ephesians 2:6-- "seated with Christ in the heavenly realms." Whatever that means; and wherever that is, the fact that "heavenly realms" is sometimes translated "heavenlies", "heavenly places" or (watch this) "elevated places" should cue and clue us in to it being a "place" that Bono wants "lifted up" to. No wonder the Christ of this place "makes me feel like I can fly/so high."

Having a God’s eye perspective in life (Does this sound familiar? It’s exactly the quest captured by loaded lines like "When You look at the World" from the song of the same name from the previous, and again highly prequeuled link to the current, CD) would sure benefit us in daily life: we could navigate traffic jams by "looking down on them", since Jesus Himself is in the next chair, we can with no distance clearly hear Him "tell me something true", and we could expose see the orbit of hips for what it is and can be become; an invitation to intimacy with another. And Another. In the sky. But on this lowly earth; as it is in elevated heaven. In a hot quote to "Hot Press" a few years ago, Bono expressed it this way: "I love that bit in the Lord's Prayer about being on earth as it is in heaven. Now we could all do with a whole dose of that." No wonder Bono can’t help but work himself into a Chasidic frenzy at the end of this song in concert; he moves and morphs the phrase "elevation" into "jubilation." He dances uncontrollably. He’s high. He’s finally found more of what he’s been looking for; and he’s got a "whole dose of that."


One cannot leave "elevation" without proposing one final, if minor, and maybe musical more than lyrical. Reference point. Asnyone who has done hoework on U2’;s early self-confessed early influences will stumble upon the "Marquee Moon" record by the band Television; which includes a guessed it; "Elevation." And it may be that Tom Verlaine and boys are at least praying "in part" when they complain in word and song: "you give me no trouble and you give me no help...Elevation, don’t go to my head."
So if this is a God-reference at all, perhaps U2’s same-titled song is "stealing from the thieves..and got caught," or more likely "This is a song Television stole from the rabbis; we’re stealing it back’, and reversing the curse? See, as invigorating as being elevated it is, there is an intuitive knowing (or better a feeling, which is "stronger than a thought" in this realm) that the crash and burn is inevitable. And where you land is "everything you wish you didn’t know," but the only place to earn your stripes and right to kneel. I am getting ahead, but that’s because….


It’s not just a U2ism, but a multifaceted truism in all of life and faith: it’s a spiritual sequitur and sound syllogism; and maybe even my fundamental thesis about life, God, and all things spiritual and U2 (or at least this chapter). In more direct words: "When you’re elevated, vertigo happens!" Vertigo follows and flows out of elevation. The progression is as obvious and organic as one, two, three…uh., maybe the flow is not that obvious.

We have quite defined and refined a working definition of "Elevation"..or the state of "spiritual elevation." Define "Vertigo" then? You might have fun researching "Spiritual Vertigo," a song released in 2003. (hmmm, datecheck) by a group called "Sonus Umbra’ (meaning "dark area of a solar eclipse" ..hmm, follow "sun" and "eclipse" in U2’s lyrical toolbox) but I couldn’t help pointing you to the connection; though since I don’t know how far the rabbit hole goes, so I’ll just throw out the tip if you want to chase it down. Just one more example of the hundreds of quotes, sermons and references to "spiritual vertigo" that a quick and cursory "googling" will find for you; this from Craig Gauker’s review of the C.S. Lewis (a very key U2 influencer) "Till We Have Faces" novel:

The story is laced with that looming uncertainty which
haunts the deep parts of every descendant of Adam... the intuitive sense that
there is something wildly amiss, though strangely hidden in the very nature of
the many puzzles we encounter ... something which can only be brought to bear
upon our conscious minds through sacrificial leaps into the experience at hand.
If we are ever to have a hope of overcoming the infirmity of spiritual vertigo
we must search for the balance (or proper blending perhaps) of these colliding
worlds of thought and perception ... of myth and logically ordered analysis.

Isn’t that what the song, and the phenomenon of "spiritual vertigo" is all about? Well, let’s get back on the bus momentarily, and explore this some more…

Just in case your kids haven’t already driven you crazy and to the dictionary with the incessant and inevitable question of our times: "What the heck does ‘vertigo’ mean?," a question prompted by either the 348th viewing of the aforementioned commercial, or reading this far in my essay in which I have rudely refused to flat-out lay it out, here’s a telling and textbook entry for "vertigo":

"A condition in which one has the disorienting, decentered feeling of whirling, or having ones surroundings whirling around them, so the sufferer tends to lose ones balance and become dizzy and/or nauseous ; sometimes related to inner ear or vision problems, but often caused by looking down from an elevated place….or by extension, a confused, disoriented state of mind; mental, psychic or spiritual imbalance"

Whew! No wonder Hitchcock called one of his celluloid nightmares "Vertigo", and no surprise that Bono, who in his "stream-of-consciousness," "speaking in tongues and uncensored honesty" style (which at best yields brilliance…like one of his influencers, John Lennon, Bono may be inspired a cathartic Janovian approach to indiscriminately unearthing the inner stuff/s___/ straw of the soul., and at worst the run-on paragraphs and verbal diarrhea of some interviews and songs that may "run" on so long that they stand still; ) shares , without editing , prejuidice or "prettying-up", his dreams and nightmares with the world, would name a piece of his art (and soul) "Vertigo." A slow re-reading of the above definition will note that nearly every word is important. What more articulate a word-picture do we need for how many of us feel in these days of cultural, spiritual, and world shifting, transition. And many words tie threads to the song lyric: Connect dots for example, from the primacy of "feeling" to the dictionary definition, onto the primacy of feeling (over a cerebral thinking) in the lyric; not just in the negative "feeling" of the elevation-vertigo sickness, but the positive-side "a feeling’s so much stronger than a thought," "your head can’t rule your heart", "I can feel your love teaching me.." Certainly the "elevation" of feelings, passion and emotion has been the trigger for many debates within theological circles..from Augustine to Jonathan Edwards to the amazing pages 25-64 of Moltmann’s "The Trinity and the Kingdom," which I hope Bono has literally bought, as he has in large part already "bought" its creative theology, anyway. One can trace and lace these two theologians endlessly (Someone take up that torch and challenge, and write a doctoral thesis on these two men, since they are some of the most necessary and "real world" theologians out there).

On the state of "spiritual vertigo" that many people, religious institutions, and nations have been plummeted into, and forced to deal with, note that Bono is clear on this being inextricable from the vibe and feel of the song:

Fear, paranoia, these are the type of things we wanted
from 'Vertigo'. The album ends in quite an ecstatic place and, so we wanted to
start off with a little bit of electric shock treatment. It's a club maybe, and
you're supposed to be having the time of your life, but you want to kill
yourself (laughs)….it's a light little ditty. These are nervous times, they
really are, you turn on the news, you think 'Wow, who's next? My brother, my
sister, my uncle, my aunt …nervous times.' 'It's a dizzy feeling, vertigo, a
sort of sick feeling, when you get up to the top of something and there's only
one way to go - that's not a dictionary definition, that's mine. And in my head
I create a club, called Vertigo, with all these people in it, and the music is
just not the music you want to hear, the people are not the people you want to
be with. And then you just see somebody, she's got a cross round her neck, and
you kind of focus on it because you can't focus on anything else, and you find a
little, tiny, fragment of salvation there."

As many rabid fans (oxymoron?) of U2 have discovered, the club in Bono’s mind may well be one in "reality." There apparently was a seedy joint named "Vertigo" in Los Angeles which looked much like the Million Dollar Hotel that existed for awhile in both places (Bono’s roomy mind and L.A.), as well as in the "Million Dollar Hotel" movie Bono helped script. But perhaps even more in the front of his mind, and explaining the much-debated meaning of the Spanish lyrics: There is a place and club called Vertigo in Costa Rica, whose website reveals a mirror-ball of the style very familiar to 1990s-era U2, and suggests that this club majors in electronic dance music, and is exactly a place where that girl swinging and swaying Jesus and the boys who don’t dance so well might congregate.

"Hola!" I would manage, with an unspoken "are we there yet?" accent. My travelmates would return the smile and hola, but we all knew we were bracing ourselves as the inevitable curve and climb happened. As we graduated from the lowlands, and the bus climbed and catapulted, rocked and rolled, and as my prayers to the Almighty were soundtracked and saved by U2 (of course) on the headphones, I finally grasped the logic and reality of the flow from spiritual/cultural elevation to spiritual/cultural vertigo. I lost my innocence (and my aforemented lunch), but gained the insight and hindsight only grasped by the ruddy ride of experience: Elevation (literal or spiritual), though a good and God thing, would seem to seem to inevitably lead to (literal or spiritual) spiritual vertigo. The catch is, since there is no turning back to Lima; to lowland ("going down, excavation" ,) it’s a waste of time and prayer-breath to attempt to thwart vertigo and all that it entails. Might as well hang on and embrace the ride, vertigo and even the test of the temptation. "Temptation" is a key word in all of this, all of this…


"All of this..all of this can be yours," as you likely already know, is a direct quote (OK without the stuttering) of the Tempter himself to Jesus in Matthew 4:9 and Luke 4:6 (Sorry, fans who claim one can read too much God and Scripture into U2, this time the reference is slam-dunk; .it’s no eisegesis, it’s all about Jesus and Satan in the desert (well, jungle in Bono’s version). And we are thus encouraged to do our Bible homework for context. The temptation that Satan offers with this very sentence (to succumb to satan-worship) is perhaps the mother and microcosm of all temptations; which is probably why St. Matthew places it last (to climax and encapsulate the other two temptations), and St. Bono singles it out, and (on some video versions) grows that menacing face and (on other) video versions) , a "slowed down" satanic voice as he sings it. This is MacPhisto, his 1990s devil figure; back in a guise more appropriate to the new millenium appreance, without horns and makeup. Bono has also over they years confessed to viewing the third temptation, "All of this can be yours..all these kingdoms..if you will worship me." As being the definitive demonic temptation (which is one reason the quote "Fear of the devil is devil worship," kept coming up in 1990s interviews when he was probed as to the McPhisto/devil costume and the "Mock the devil and he will flee from thee" motto that flashed onstage during "The Fly"); this is especially manifested by the frequent referrals in lyrics ("Always") and conversation to "putting you head over the parapet" ("parapet" sounding like a Bono-tongue, but actually an archaic King Jamesish word for "pinnacle of the temple." Mel Gibson, who starred in Bono’s "Million Dollar Hotel;" flick; remembers Bono being endlessly fascinated with the "pinnacle of the temple" temptation as a picture of the test and leap of faith. Check songs and scenes from the soundtrack, for more, like "Never Let Me Go"…

Now watch me throw another curve ball, which as a cursory internet search has not been yet publically thrown out there into the arena of U2 lyric discussion. There is an old story, I don’t know for sure if it’s an urban myth and "preachers license" story (translate: fabricated), but for our purposes, it may not matter, as it is so widely told that Bono could easily gotten wind of it. Especially if it happens in a French art museum, where many versions of the story place it…as he has within the last few years spent "hours of fun" in France; and has been so frequently inspired to lyricize based on the emotional impact of art museum pieces that we need only suggest these episodes run from (at least) "The Unforgettable Fire,"
an album named after an art display; to the newest Anton Corbjin display that bleeds over into the "Bomb" songs and mood by Bono’s own admission (Beth Maynard blogs well about the latter example here:


The story is told that in the painting "Checkmate," the MePhisto character (an alternate name for Satan that we have already eluded to Bono co-opting and tweaking the spelling a bit to MacPhisto) is gloating over his winning chessboard move over the only other character in the painting, Faust (Hello? Recognize that name from operas? The "Bomb" CD is a virtually a tribute to Bono’s dad, Bob Hewson, who is "the last of the oper stars," Bono sang on "Kite" on the "Elevation tour; and .the "reason why the opera is in me," his son sings in "Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own"); which is also the name of the painter. The point of the piece is that sometimes man is checkmated by the devil. The legend accompanying the painting is that one day, a Russian chessmaster (in many versions, Gary Kasparov), noting the theme and the title, but having scrutinized the chessboard to the sudden realization that by the artist’s accident, the game does not have to end in obvious checkmate (He sees a possible move that Faust could take and win), yells out in the museum to the shock of the other observers: "It’s not true! It’s a lie! He’s not been checkmated!" Of course, this story "preaches," and has for hundreds of pastors over the years(one example:, that: Though it may look like the devil has won, Jesus (and the Christian) do indeed have the victory after all.

Nice story, you say? Good point, even if a bit cliché? But it is the same story and same point as the "Vertigo" song/sermon. Christ’s love is "teaching me to kneel" and defeat the satanic temptation to make "all of this" mine. So the joke is on the devil, God used the enemy’s plans and temptation to make me stronger, invoking God’s sovereignty, just like Jesus did in the wilderness "vertigo" temptation in the elevated place of the temple pinnacle. It was tough, taxing; swaying and dizzying; and I may have excaped by the skin of my teeth (or the crucifix around the neck), but I made it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah ….that’s how the song and the Scripture and the story ends..The devil does not have us checkmated after all.

By now, all intelligent readers, the kind who dig for profound symbolism sometimes occurring in Bono’s more spontaneous/singing-in-tongues (the band calls it "Bongolese"), scat singing moments; those sections that don’t always make the lyric sheet and show up in concert in varying versions; will have already answered the question: "What moves this theory about a direct connection between the "Checkmate" painting and that deceptively simple IPOD-selling song? Note well, even the "official" CD lyrics, for once, quote Bono’s spontaneous scatting lyrics in the midsection of "Vertigo." And they agree with what he seems to be clearly (!) saying in live television versions so far: "CHECKMATED!" (usually followed by "Hours of fun!" and something else not as easily decoded. Some have heard, in alternate versions, "shots fired/shots fall or "gospel!" Interpretation of scat-tongues-art references, anybody?)

Oh, it shouldn’t go without saying that Bono, as an avid chess player, who surrendered dreams of being a professional chessmaster years ago, as those passions were channeled and steered towards… I should say elevated (But remember the Rabbi Cohen would warn that "elevation is not sublimation," so "chess" references are allowed to resurface)… into rock stardom and Kingdom-preaching. And in a very fun and perceptive article, Angella Pancella goes as far as to suggest that chess strategy is Bono’s overall life-strategy. "No really; that’s my theory," she winks. Pay this perceptive ‘hours of fun" article a visit here:

All this to say: It’s a spiritual sequitur, a logical syllogism for all of life: Elevation leads to vertigo. And as we flow with that process, we find that Christ, and those of us in Christ on this ride, win and checkmate life and Lucifer through hard-won kneeling persisteverance. It does flow. Yet it’s not a shoe-in that we "go with the flow" of all that the Bus Driver has been hired to rabbinically teach us through the crucible and crisis of vertigo, and thus come out stronger. Passing the twin tests of elevation and vertigo ; and the truth itself , is designed to set us free; but sometimes it is sovereignly destined to first make us miserable. Freedom, though free indeed, has a pricetag indeed. And on this particular temple-bus at the pinnacle of the elevated Andes , that freedom had a scent which, though in reality the aroma of heaven, had me begging for a barf-bag and a miracle drug. And a "fast car" off that mountain (Oops, yet another new U2 song relates here! More in chapter four)


But when the reason is righteous, and the season is right, one should invite and even invoke vertigo! "If it be Thy will," of course, but more times than we have guessed or gambled, the will of God WILL will it.

I occasionally enjoy playing devil’s (uh, I should say "angel’s") advocate when I preach and teach. I often ask a group "shock-value" questions as a wake-up and shake-up call to the necessity and validity of the vertiginous (yes, it’s a word!) encounter; the test of temptation. In light of the fact that "sometimes we can’t make it on our own, " and need to go with Jesus to hear, and experience, a challenging and dizzying "Sermon Way Up the Mount," disciples need to remember to remember that in those disequilibrating times when elevation gives birth to vertigo, let the Spirit be midwife, and what will mercifully be born again and again in you is untold freedom and hilarious strengthening. Here, then is the first question I might cast out: "How many ever pray the Lord’s Prayer, including the line ‘Lead us not into temptation?’"
And since all answers are a nodding "yes and amen," the subsequent question has earned a hearing: "Would, or could, GOD ever lead anyone, then, into temptation?; especially since we have been taught by Jesus Himself to pray it would never happen?" Since most have detected that, by my mischevious inflection and sly smile the expected right answer is "Of course!," it’s an appropriate time to take holy advantage of the stunned to silence room and have them turn from their shock to either Matthew 4:1 or Luke 4:1. Either verse reads right on the lines that "God, the Holy Spirit" is without apology recognized; indicted as the Agent leading someone into a very real and literally demonic temptation. And just who that Someone is, is telling and is troublesome: "Then the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." Granted, and important to highlight: God does not do the tempting; the tempter is clearly the devil, but in God’s stunning sovereignty, he has personally arranged the time and place of the temptation; He Himself has set the boundaries and parameters of the boxing ring; He himself is out in front ushering Jesus..and often us..right into a head-on . What in heaven’s name and hell’s court is verti-going on?


"The devil is God’s devil!," a much better theologian than me, but one also famous/infamous for "shock value sound bytes" quipped a few hundred years ago. By that biting byte, Martin Luther has not more than he could chew in, mouth. He meant simply that God is so supernaturally and sovereignly ‘in charge’ that he is even in charge of, Superintendent of; in fact he created, "Ol’ Scratch."..Satan himself. Which is why the Spirit can risk, allow, even set-up our wilderness temptations with Satan. He can trust, that like Jesus, who "at the end of this satanic temptation, came out of the wilderness stronger and more full of the power of the Spirit, and more prepared to minister than ever, " (Luke 4:13-14). We who follow in the footsteps of Christ, even and especially when they lead to the devil’s door and an "elevation plus" vertigo test, we pass the test! And the joke is on the dumb devil, Ol Scratch scratching his damned head as we..the eternally undamned and newly undammed…come out stronger in Spirit. And if Romans 8:28’s al- inclusive sweeping claim that "God works all things together for good for those who love God, and are the called according to his purpose" is taken at face and faith value, that "all things" includes "all" all things, including satanic temptation, and Satan himself. With that Romans verse in mind, a more modern theologian, one who is in league with Luther (and U2) in that she was also earthy in a heavenly way, one tested and tempted in the evil vileness and extreme vertigo of Ravenbsruck concentration camp, one Corrie Ten Boom, offered this prescription, "When the devil sticks his gun of accusation or condemnation in your face, just stuff Romans 8:28 in the barrel of that gun, and turn things around by stuffing it back in his face."


Let’s take the test. Only two possible answers for each question below: A)God or B)Devil. Choose only one each time. Sounds easy, so take the test, without looking up the accompanying Scriptures until you have turned in your exam. (Number two pencil only, please):

1.)Who sent an evil spirit to terrorize Saul? (1 Sam. 16:14; 18:10)
2.)Who sent a deceiving and lying spirit? (1 Kings 22:22)
3)Who authorizes satanic harassment of Job (Job 1:12)
4)Who can destroy both body and soul in hell? (Matthew 10:28)
5)Who sent a deceiving influence, so that wicked people are damned? (2 Thess. 2:11)

How did you do? Isn’t it obvious that the only correct answer to each of the above is..God!?
Huh? Is that the good news or the bad news, you ask? Whose side are you on, anyway? Cool down, mama! Now you can look up the Scriptures, and triple check that I am not just making this up, or nuts. I think the lesson, though so much more should be said to be sure our theology is biblical and balanced, is: God is so sovereign that he uses..and even though we are not as comfortable as these Scriptures sometimes are in saying so, He is some sense "sends"…. evil, and wrings good purposes out of them. He is not evil, nor the author of evil; and does not enjoy our suffering and evil; he does not want AIDS, cancer, rape, slavery, etc…...but the devil is God’s devil. God is either good and sovereign or not. These Scriptures, stretching and shocking as they are, actually steer us towards his radical "in charge-ness," He is ridiculously sovereign. The devil is active, but he is on a leash…a long one, granted..but God’s grabbing the other end.
OK, four more questions. Ready? Of course not! Same two possible answers, God or the devil, for these below:

1)Who sees to it that a sinner is saved? (1 Cor. 5:5)
2)Who is the god of this world? (2 Cor 4:4)
3)Who helps keep Paul humble? (2 Cor, 12:7)
4)Who teaches Paul not to blaspheme? (1 Tim 1:20)

All done? You got an "A" of course, if every answer above is, as verified by the verses, .the devil! Don’t get me wrong, the devil ain’t good, but he works for God at the end of the day. Church folks don’t get this. Bono gets it. As much as he hates, and campaigns against the devil’s evil (and he and we should) …God uses evil. He wins. Satan is trumped and checkmated in the End. This is the full-orbed gospel, an the message of Elevated Vertigo.
Yes, these are the other shocking questions I love to ask at church gatherings. Did they work?


"This generation will be remembered for three things: the Internet, the war on terror, and how we let an entire continent go up in flames while we stood around with watering cans. Or not," Bono preached to evangelical congregations on his Africa awareness tour, hoping for crumbs from our generous spread and table. "Let me share with you a conviction," he often challenged a hushed church, " God is on his knees to the church on this one. God Almighty is on his knees to us, begging us to turn around the super tanker of indifference on the subject of AIDS."

He is right. Even though we can lean back on the lavish and wild sovereignty of God to work good out of evil, nowhere does that justify us doing nothing so that evil (temporarily) prevails because we know that it will (at the End) be vanquished. And there is enough evil and suffering in the world..and in us; we don’t need to ask for any additional of either, even if we know they force us to grow. Yet, when it is a God-thing, and a "Holy Spirit set-up," there is wealth and wisdom in a holy lingering and loitering at "a place called Vertigo," again, as/ if/when God leads. This is not a passive indifference, this is an active trust that when we are forced, by God and/or circumstances, we can fall to our knees (of course, a wise theologian/activist is quick to add there is a time where God calls us to "please, please, get up off your knees" and butts, and battle evil) in know Who is in charge.. But these activist times to be an enemy of evil in practical ways, is not what I mean by lingering in Vertigo. Even though the unease and suffering we submit to, and absorb there, might feel the same brand as the evil we are to fight, it is not. Another caution: the lingerer in a personal vertigo season of testing, must be prayed up in Vertigo , or s/he will be preyed on. A "just passing through" temporary resident of Vertigo Heights must be intrinsically and insistently motivated in that lingering by a Holy Spirit-inspired calling and quest to plunder and sqeeze and seize life-lessons about oneself that can be learned at no other locale. The joke is on the devil. His bomb is defused and dismantled. It is of course easy to cross the line, and stay too long, as St. Bono has often admitted; either because it feels like God is still wanting you there; or just because "swaying to the music" is fun. "I might sit down with the devil, but I’m not going to have coffee with him". More recently quoted in context of raising AIDS awareness and taking teasings and flack from mates for courting of politicians, popes and presidents , "I’d have lunch with the devil, if it meant money for Africa." Bono is characteristically first to admit "I’m not the best commercial for Christianity", and readily owns up to the truth that his discernment radar has not aways tracked, especially in the disorientation and dizziness of fame and spotlight. Fame might be a gift from God that the devil is quick to distort (remember Mirrorball Man…or MacPhisto to the fans: "You’ve made me very famous, and I thank you"); but "celebrity is (also) currency," Bono tells Oprah, the church, and anyone who listens. The devil’s jokes always backfire, Corrie. Every good gift comes from God. Including one of the often dissed and dismissed gifts of grace: Vertigo.


C. S. Lewis, as previously mentioned, is such a lamppost for Bono (What other theologian is referenced in an animated music video for a "Batman" movie song…only U2 could be behind that! ) that we probably don’t need to link you to any more examples, except to say if you don’t know the story about the "dancing Squeaky" and how a common love for Lewis saved the dance and day for her, and her dancing partner, a Mr. Paul Hewson with horns, here’s the scoop:

Lewis was at his best at reminding us of eveything we should’ve known: there are not two gods, God and the devil, who have always existed and are opposites in the all-American "good guy, bad guy" scenario. This ridiculous theology, though, is often our default, unconscious understanding. Many evangelicals will actually suggest that the devil has always existed, and always been bad; forgetting that "Evil is only fallen good," and God made Lucifer; made him good; he simply chose to fall and attempt to claim God’s throne.

That is Christianity; the "good and bad eternal opposite" jive is dualism, related to the hell of extreme Hellenism. But the radical monotheism of Christianity, in which we and three forth of U2 live, move and have their being there is by definition , and design a one-God deal; and He so big that the buck stops with Him, meaning laments like "Jesus.. I know You’re looking out for us..but "sometimes Your hands aren’t free?" are doubts cased in honest faith, which can stand up in Gethsemane, Vertigo or hell-on-earth.

It is no coincidence that both signature songs we have been feasting on here, "Elevation" and "Vertigo" have been accused of being throwaways, musically and lyrically. The deceptively simple rockroots music and fun melodies/riffs, and our inherent Western lens of dualism, may cause some to altogether miss the glorious depths of the lyrics of each, and the holy linking of the two: Elevation leads to vertigo. I hope it doesn’t take the bus ride from hell..I mean Lima to Huancayo…for many to make the link and leap.


Of course, interpreting these two songs as "very Christian", and debating demonic dualism, both open up wider issues of worldview, church and culture. Some religious folk, I am sure, do not appreciate the beauty of U2 being (in Leonard Sweet’s wonderful triad: "in the world, but not of it, yet no out of it yet either." And some may doubt their faith solely because they choose the world as their arena; and not the evangelical circuit. And, is spite of all we have just said in a fairly exhaustive theological survey of just two songs from a large U2 canon and cannon; some will still complain "I don’t think they are Christian, " or "They are just not Christian enough." I want to address that question by ignoring it; or resteering it to:
"Is there such a thing as Christian music?, a question that begs to be wrestled with:

"Saul has slain his thousands, David his ten thousands" Is that Christian? Whatever it is, it’s I Samuel 18:6-7, it was even put to music as a "joyful song".

Book of Ruth? Is that "Christian"? Doesn’t mention God!

And besides, this discussion will naturally lead to a bit of challenge to the church to at least consider, and refuse to prematurely dismantle, another on-target Leonard Sweet bomb: "It may be that for the first time in history, God is more active in the world than the church." If you love and amen that quote, and are already exorcised of every evangelical legalism, you may legally skip the entire last section ( Skip the next eighteen or so worthy paragraphs, "pass go," and pick up at chapter, and truism two. But if you just feel like releasing a few more amens out of your soul, or are seduced by the equally provocative heading below, read on. We bring out the big demon-bashers and dualism-dashers: Johnny Cash, T-Bone Burnett, Peter Gabriel Steve Taylor, Father/chef Robert Capon, Radiohead, E. Stanley Jones …and Evangelist (!!) David Letterman. It all end with a singing rock as proof of quantum physics and the existence of God! I wouldn’t miss it!


Sweet’s sweetly provocative quote above explains, in part, why one of the most powerful, biblical and Christian prayers ever prayed was prayed over the world’s airwaves, and not the church’s. Without being overly dogmatic, or framejacking its context, I must maintain that "Elevation".. IS first and foremost about prayer; no, IS first and foremost prayer. I think I have stated a convincing case for such a sweeping claim, we must agree that in all things art and U2, there is an necessary freedom and fluidity in lyric interpretation. Always. We must honor and unleash that, wherever it takes us. But even though many interpreters will shut me down, I say "Elevation" has to be, at heart, heartfelt and honest (which is why it may not fly in many churches!) prayer. I do allow all kind of breathing room for other and complementary interpretations, other steams of meaning that are vital and valid. And this is an excellent time to insert a wake up and shake up call: some songs are "Christian" if not even "about God" at all; or even if (God forbid!) not written by a "Christian" at all. Last time I checked, all truth is God’s truth.. T-Bone Burnett, one of the band’s spiritual and musical "pastors," was once thanked in U2 liner notes for "the truth in the dark." Which is exactly where Truth often hides and is brightest…but we miss its brilliance and blessing because we are afraid to "go there." And God has been desperately trying to get us to stand under the light and blessing of His "light bulb hanging over my bed." (That last quote, of course is from Bono’s, in the same song/prayer["Ultraviolet/Light My Way"] where the Lord faces the accusation ..some say from Satan…that "You bury Your treasure where it can’t be found"..accurate, unless we are bold and believing enough to "go there", that is.)

"You can write two types of songs as a believer," Burnett says. " You can write about the Light, or about what you see by the Light." His point is that since he tends to circulate more naturally in the latter type, some have pre-judged him as not even being ‘lit" (That means he flunked the church’s "lit"mus test, huh?) The church, of all people, has not easily blessed and baptized the truth of that classic quote. Just as some Christian radio stations appear to actually have a minimum "J-word" count to let a given song in the door, and on the airwaves, we evangelical types have been trained to fine-tooth (the church has a "mouth fool of teeth" with which we "eat all our friends," a certain St. Paul… uh, St. Paul Hewson, once said) everything; ditching Baby with bathwater. We need to be retooled and retrained to enter into the subtle layers and levels of lyrics we feel "may not be Christian" just because they lack enough "J-word" namedroppings (or drop the unpardonable and atomic "F" bomb.!) . I have a yearning to to free Christians , not to violate their own conscience, but to trust it to lifeguard them even out in the "deep (read "forbidden" ) waters, where the swimming and drinking of this deep Kingdom water is exhiliratingly edifying and splashworthy. If you’ve never ventured far enough offshore to swim with the likes of Chagall Guevara, Bruce Cockburn, and of course Burnett: come on in, the water’s fine!"). In the words of one frustrated blogger, "Sometime the best Christian music can’t be bought at Christian stores.")

Perhaps it’s only "attempting to justify ourselves" and our "under the radar" listening to, and loving, a "secular" band for Christ’s sake; and for art’s sake, that we feel religious relief to hear that a certain song "really is about Jesus after all." Yet is it comforting, or afflicting, to hear Bono admit that "Our songs are either about God or women, and sometimes we confuse the two."? This rugged and ruddy honesty about confusing the two…because it labels what all of us experience but are afraid to "church," anyway… is precisely why "Elevation" as a prayer tool is such vital component of our tool belt. It would be a gnostic betrayal of Jesus, and St. Bono’s own "hermeneutical key" to NOT "turn each song into a prayer." "Each" is a wonderfully all-encompassing, and dangerously all-inclusive word…shamelessly sweeping in songs about..well, "sex and love and faith and fear" (not to mention "sex n drugs n rockandroll"); much in line with the reckless Matthew 13 fishnet of Jesus that chef-pastor Robert Farrar Capon recklessly and delightfully describes thus:

The word used here is used only once in the New is a particular kind of net, namely, one that is dragged through
the water, indiscriminately taking in everything in its path. Accordingly, the
Kingdom (and by extension, the church as the sacrament of the Kingdom) manifests
the same indiscriminateness)..As the net gathers up everything in its path—not
only fish but seawaeed, flotsam, jetsam and general marine debris—so too the
Kingdom..So the church as fisherman should not get in the habit of rejecting as
junk the flotsam and jetsam of the world—the human counterparts of the old
boots, bottles and beer cans that a truly catholic dragnet will inevitably
dredge up. (Parables of the Kingdom)

Not to "trash" Bono’s..or any deep-water believer’s… sometimes "secular" ("fishy") lyrics, just the holy and wholly opposite: it’s all about being brave, brazen and Christlike enough to inkingdom, bless and baptize all of them, and let the King to sort them out, but not us, and not now: not until "the very end of the age" "(Matthew 13:39). Because in this age, the church and its net needs to be stretched enough to hear prophetic and pointed words from real-world "dredges"; saints and sinners (from Radiohead to REM to Over the Rhine and beyond) that the church would rather not let into the net, even if they are only visiting.
Interestingly, Bono comments on what killed Elvis, and it relates:


I really think he was trying mostly to escape the pain
of the guilt, thepain of believing that he was tapping into voodoo and the
spirit of the devil.All of that must have affected him because of his
Pentecostal upbringing. And hemust've known, instinctively, that when he sang he
was touched by the spirit ofGod. And he apparently did read countless books
trying to figure out suchquestions., but I don't think he ever got a
satisfactory answer. It's the thingthat Bob Marley lived, and not just in terms
of the sex and the spirit but interms of the politics. He had that three-chorded
strand. That's the wholeness I'mlooking for. It says in the Bible "the
three-chord strand cannot be broken."That's a reference to the Trinity,
obviously, and the Trinity is God the Father,God the Son -- which is the flesh,
Jesus wanting to understand what it's like tohave a body -- and the Holy Spirit.
That's what we must aspire towards. But Elvisdidn't reach that state of being,
he was crushed under the weight of not figuringout how to draw together those
three strands. And crushed under not being able toaccept that God loves him,
loves his creations as they are, and where they are.That's the tragedy. Though
the problem also is learning how to live with the tensions between those forces
and the thought that you may never pull themtogether. Maybe even feeding off
that, which I think is what I do in terms of allthe music I create, and my life.
Elvis was left with those two great energies,sexual and spiritual, and even
though he never resolved how to draw themtogether, with the the third strand,
his music did help so many of us to pulltogether at least two of those strands.
That was his greatest contribution torock 'n' roll and to our cultural life in
general. That's his greatest legacy.

The question "What makes music (or lyrics) Christian" needs to be pursued, wrestled with prayerfully and carefully and maybe even eventually (only post-wrestling)..left abandoned and unanswered, or at least left uncomfortably open. On the other (third!) hand, maybe it can be…after the hard theological work and crucible, be dogmatically closed. Whatever the ultimate answer, and meaning of , "case dogmatically closed", it cannot .include either sibling of the following twin and tempting heresies: 1. "As long as it's not_____(fill in supposedly "satanic" genre: rock, rap, Gaithers, Elvis, opera, U2, whatever) , or 2. "As long as it satisfies the minimum count/quota of the 'J-word'. And just maybe Jon Foreman of the band Switchfoot, (whom I recently saw at the local fair ; they book fairs and arenas more often than Christian festivals) settled it once for all, if only our ears would hear: "I am Christian by faith, not by genre." At any rate, a quick and cursory "goggle" for this exactly phrased question {'What makes music Christian?'} yielded no less than 92 links, representing nearly as many articles and essays asking and probing the depths and rabbit-trails of this at first all-too-obvious "answer in the question" question.

Often the very asking of this focused, perhaps ridiculously rhetorical, question grows out of the evangelical disequilibrium we are reeled into upon hearing passionate and bold Christian musicians..from Foreman to P.O.D. to Jars of Clay... say things like "We are not a Christian band. We are a band of Christians." Or "our love songs are just as Christian as our worship songs...because all of life is sacred and Christian". Take the following defining example as a microcosmic window into this forced sacred/secular dichotomy...and be prepared then to unashamedly but gently throw a brick through that dichotomy and Jesus’ name of course:

The Christian in-house debate over ( and at times near ex-communication of ) " Sixpence None The Richer" and their Steve Taylor-produced (pastored?) breakthrough single on the "secular" charts, "Kiss Me," was both humongous and hilarious; both necessary and fruitful on one level, and ridiculously unneeded on another; both intrinsically-motivated in some, and extrinsically and Pharisaically-so in others; both appropriately Christian at points and sub-Christian and unadulterated Gnostic at others ("all matter is inherently evil", "clear distinction between secular and sacred", etc).. at others. Said song may have not mentioned the " J" word . or even a generic "G" word (maybe that can be snuck and danced round by substituting "Yahweh," or maybe, "I AM", ..someone oughta try that!), but who is to say whether it is ultimately..or simultaneously..about a human romantic kiss , and/or a kiss between our Divine Lover and us…and as you know by now, Bono has recently invoked a Song-of-Solomonic kiss on his Guiness-tainted mouth by none other than Yahweh! ), but it sovereignly led (in a way a "straight-up" worship song couldn't have) to an amazingly Spirit set-up moment between Sixpence singer Leigh Nash and David Letterman on Letterman's show, where God convicted Letterman, and not only literally turned him red in from of millions of viewers, but momentarily turned him into an articulate evangelist, who theologized aloud about God and salvation through the lens of C.S. Lewis before his studio and worldwide "congregation". Is that "Christian"? (Rejoice and read more of "the rest of that story" and a proposed answer by clicking:

One should also celebrate the good company of the very same Steve Taylor (Sixpence producer and frontman of the most missed band around that almost opened for U2: Chagall Guevara), whose credentials speak for themselves when they include being kicked out of the Christians stores and club for (all but literally) putting on MacPhisto-like horns and driving an "ice cream truck" loaded with bombs with intent to "blow up the clinic real good". Accused of advocating the bombing of abortion clinics by playing a character who advocated it, even though the tongue in Taylor’s cheek was as ridiculously oversized and obvious as the horns on Bono’s head, he was dutifully bounced out, by the left foot of fellowship, of the very club he was trying to speak to. Of course, this resume resembles that of another band. Anyone hear of certain well-meaning fellowship in Ireland that very early on questioned that their most famous members (3 of U2) could actually be a Christian band, or a (worse!) a band of Christians...

To coin oneself a " Christian" band may sound like a good and God-honoring thing to do (and it may well be), but nowadays can get one relegated/ banished/ shelved (literally) in only "Christian" stores (where few pre-Christians haunt) or the "religious" sections (ghettos) of secular stores, which "forgets to remember" that the point of Christianity is to give it away. The last time I remember seeing a U2 record in a Christian store was so long ago that it WAS literally a record (the "Wide in America" EP), and the price tag was strategically placed over the cigarette hanging out of Adam’s mouth! What a picture of the church’s sincere but sincerely wrong strategy. And of course, you may have guessed by now that the record was the cut-out rack..the comparable "ghetto" of the Christian stores! About the same time era, I remember having to bribe a Christian store employee (thankfully, it was my wife!) sneak me a contraband copy of a 77s record that was conveniently stocked for all customers to see (not!)…in the storage room!! And the church is not yet over that disease, I see, having noted recently at that same store... under "L" section, Lifehouse was indeed available…behind the counter!….I assume alongside the cigarettes and condoms.

Bono, in his liner notes to Johnny Cash's glorious "God" CD (which, despite its title, is presumably sold only in stores that DO also sell cigarettes and condoms) , admitted he always felt like Johnny, though saved, was "not only singing TO the damned, he was singing WITH the damned...and sometimes he preferred their company." The fact that Cash's "God" record was one of a trilogy/trinity of discs named "God", "Love" and "Murder", revelates that the late Cash was right on time and in unfortunate touch with the pseudo-reality of much "Christian" music. Maybe the following lyric was included and spotlighted just to tweak the Pharisees: "I shot a man...just to watch him die." Cash belts out this line on the "Murder" (of course!) disc, not because he ever did such a thing or sanctions it, but because he was honest enough...meaning Christian enough, E. Stanley Jones would say (and thus pray) publicly that he had flirted with such a thing in his heart. So it is confession…but the confessional is in the marketplace, not the meeting place. U2 of course picked up a play from this book in the 90s with their shortlved but longsighted "video confessional," in which audience members waiting in line were invited to film their confessions, which would be presented onscreen during the concert for the whole congregation..uh, see and forgive (Something about the priesthood of all believers?). And how about Jimmy Carter’s infamous confessing to committing adultery in his heart, in a Playboy magazine interview presented between pages designed exclusively for men to commit adultery in their heart? God bless Rosalynn Carter and June Carter (no relation but except through the Christ-tribe and a common Kingdom honesty) Cash for letting their husbands bleed honesty in the marketplace..the world is waiting to see such fearless honesty. And of course Mrs. Bono likely smiled and smirked knowingly, when her husband responded to an interviewer’s question as to why they announced their "Pop" tour at a Manhattan K-Mart, and why on Ash Wednesday, with "Ash Wednesday and K Mart..that about sums us up!" As does Romans 7, which paints a perfectly imperfect view of (even the redeemed) human heart. But we prefer, for whatever reason (maybe we sickly prefer to "kill our inspiration and sing about the grief") , to jump to Romans 8 and prematurely find what we’re looking for: victory. .But this is nor right; not realistic nor real; it is is Easter shorn of Good Friday. Where’s the glory in that? In fact it is denying that some Sundays are bloody Sundays indeed. Wouldn’t we rather honor God and reality with gut-level, gut-wrenching, resplendent, refreshing, rare Kingdom honesty?

Another honest theologian (may the tribe increase), E. Stanley Jones, has often keynoted the theme that reality itself is Christian. The Kingdom of God is ultimate reality; wherever the Kingdom is, there is reality; therefore..hold your breath and your heresy gun...wherever reality is, there is the Kingdom (in however a veiled, pre-Christian singer or player; or no matter even how flotsamic or demonic the wrapping or wineskin.) "The people of the Kingdom have the whole universe backing them up," he would say. So, anything that is in essence real; honest, is by definition or by default Christian/Kingdom, at least in its purest genesis. "Evil is only," Lewis suggests "fallen good." Music, no matter how twisted, tampered with or tweaked: , no matter how later demonized by anti-Christ lyrics, is, at heart, at first, and at nutshell, a gift of God.

Bono: "Songs are the language of the Spirit...the melodies are how you sing to God. It's a deep language. But they can't explain everything, because really great songs touch places that you can't explain." In another interview, he tips his hand:. "All our songs are about God or women..and sometimes we confuse the two," he confesses with a casual, almost "throwaway" honesty which shocks, but which would benefit, traditional Christians. Part of the honesty of his confession stems from his fear of fans idolizing him, not just as a rock star, but as a professing Christian (or "Christian singer"..if there is such a thing): "I am a believer and I have faith in Christ," he is quick to put on record. "But I am not a very good advertisement for God." The band in fact, "went into the baptismal waters..and almost drowned" when, against their church's advice, they felt called to stay in the "secular" music industry and detour and Dovetail around the ghetto of "Christian music" .

"I'm just drawing my fish in the sand", Bono offers. And "every great song", he reflects, in perhaps an ultimately even more accurate quote than his God/woman confession, "is either about running to God, or from God". I ask: Is a song about "running from God" Christian? I dunno, but try some of the Psalms on for size. The shoes may fit. How about songs honest and real enough to be "agnostic prayers"?. Psalms again.
Such anthems cannot be anathema. . Aa heartfelt, heartbroken Bono lyric, responding in part to the death of his mother:" Jesus! Jesus, help me, I'm alone in this world, and a f____up world it is, too." Blasphemy or Christian? You decide, but to hear Bono pray/ sing it, one does not walk away saying "Bono swore," but "Bono just articulated, -psalmlike, something I had felt..and may never feel comfortable saying aloud..but in an odd way..maybe a God way..I find myself healed and worshipping afresh as I listen."
(For follow-up, you will be stretched by the column that the editor of Worship Leader magazine wrote, carefully entitled "Why I Would Follow Bono into Hell", kept here: ).

Very often a song by a person who is likely not a Christian by our (or their own) definition (Peter Gabriel, for example; a friend of U2), may animate and articulate (untainted by Christianese) a heretofore-latent worship emotion or expression. Thus: "This old familiar craving/ Don't know who the hell I'm saving anymore/ Let it go, let it pass, let it leave/ from the deepest place I grieve/ This time I believe..And I let go.." is a song (Gabriel's "Love to be Loved") with more passion and raw honesty than many an official or self-proclaimed "Christian" song or church "prayer"...yes, despite, maybe even PRECISELY BECAUSE OF the unedited "h" word...even at the expense of not naming the "J" word, which one might make the case is in between every line. And how about his belting out for life and death, in the song "Supper's Ready" (named after the marriage supper of the Lamb in Revelation! ): "There's an angel standing in the sun/Crying with a loud voice?/ This is the supper of the Mighty One...The Lord of Lord , King of Kings.. returns to take His children home/To take them to the New Jerusalem!" There is something in Gabriel that believes this with all his heart and more. Is he Christian? I do not think he would claim it. However, his lyric and voice do! Are his music and lyric "Christian?" Take a listen. No wonder his songs (like "In Your Eyes": "In Your eyes, the light, the heat/ I am complete in Your eyes/ I see the doorway of a thousand churches, the resolution of a thousand fruitless searches" ) have been recorded by "Christian artists" without a need to baptize the lyrics. Is "In Your Eyes" "Christian", even if Gabriel sometimes wonders if the words are written to God or a woman? Here I can only speak for myself: I fall on my face and worship Jesus to these lyrics. Do they come from a flawed even non-Christian messenger? Of course. But the music and lyric is Christian to the core and reached and teaches the core of my soul And as a result, God’s "love is teaching me to kneel" to a degree I wouldn’t have gotten to without a "secular saint" being a doorkeeper into the House of God.

Is there such thing as "Christian music"? I dare to believe the answer may well be yes, but not in the way the typical evangelical might frame question, or mean the answer. I don't believe I am "frame-jacking" to believe there is Christian music everywhere...even from the mouths of babes, the mouths of backsliders, and more often than we have admitted, the mouths of pagans. Leonard Sweet again,( this time from p 163ff of "Eleven Genetic Gateways to Spiritual Awakening") makes the case that life is "at its very base" music: "Scientists are finding that they are no different than theologians...They are finding that...Music does more than help us experience God as spirit as we experience life as spirit . Music is more accurately the essence of who we are created in the image of God. If the most elemental and elementary aspect of life is "energy that vibrates" (as scientists say they have discovered in quantum "string theory"), then life is at base music...For anything that vibrates gives off sound… and I… are at base a song.. There is no one who isn't musical….My personal definition of Jesus is 'God's perfect Pitch.’ It is in our genes to see (God's Words) as musical notes....As Pythagoras said, ' A stone is frozen music.'" Rocks cry out?
Whew! Maybe the starting point is now not "Is there Christian music?", but "Isn’t music Christian? Alternatively "Is life Christian?"

Besides, a wise non-Christian(?), Adam Clayton, outted and uttered this astounding observation about "With or Without You: "You don’t expect to hear that song on the radio. Maybe in a church." " Maybe marriage of radio and church, if done well (as Larry Mullen has said, "not at an angle"), could and should work. If it is moving in the right direction, and is not a hijacking. As Bono once told me (OK, me along with the other 30, 000 fans in attendance at an "Elevation" tour concert), "I’m going to take you to church!" He took us; no hijacking; it was holy. So about this marriage: What God has joined together; let no reviewer; no radio; no church, set asunder.

END OF CHAPTER ONESee you in chapter two (of an eventual four !) where we discuss a pair of paradoxes orbiting around birth and death, making me thrilled that the Atomic Bomb (the disc, I mean) was mantled in the first place; and I come close to calling it U2’s fourth masterpiece.

Dave - fascinating stuff. I appreciate your detailed attention to U2's subtlety. I've been interested for years in rock music's intense and often prophetic spirituality, which often goes unnoticed in favor of all its profanity or rough edges. Check out my website when you get a chance at I'd be curious to hear what you think about my thesis in The Gospel According to Rock, published in Nov of 07 by Books and Bridges. I also do some blogging about what I see in the future of the Christian church at
Keep up the good work, Dave! Toby Jones
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