Friday, December 17, 2004
The Bomb Part 4:Elevated Vertigo, A Pair of Doxes, Fish in the Sky, and Holy Helixes
PART FOUR of A Four-Part Theological Blog, Satirical Sermon and Reluctantly Raving Review of (among other topics) U2’s Fourth (maybe) Masterpiece
(find part one here: http://davestuff.blogspot.com/2004/12/finally1-part-one-of-four-part-fun.html
and have patience waiting for the middle parts)
HEY LEADFOOT, GOD SPEAKS IN FAST CARS
A man I know well had just gotten in a classic "first fight" with his wife. He did something uncharacteristic of him: He jumped in his car, and began speeding (literally) away from the situation.
Because he was a believer, he at least had the sense to pray; even as in his fast car he was contradicting his belief. But he prayed, for some reason this prayer; "Lord, I really need to hear from you!"
At that precise moment, a moment he was to remember the rest of his life, the man was strangely prompted to turn on the car radio. Immediately, a voice came over the radio:
"Hey Leadfoot! Turn around, go back to your wife, and tell her you’re sorry!"
Let me tell you, gentle reader; When that happened to me….
…I turned around, went back to my wife, and told her I was sorry!
And it doesn’t change my theology of "God was speaking audibly and directly to me" at all to reveal the way God spoke. At the exact moment I was speeding away from home, and shot up that prayer while turning the dial on, a Christian disc jockey who was broadcasting live felt prompted to say:
"Hey Leadfoot! Turn around, go back to your wife, and tell her you’re sorry!"
I confess that’s the story of my life. And yours. And Bono would be quick to confess it’s perhaps the defining story of his. He might claim that he is famous for driving, living, talking with a lead foot..
Which is why the "real" last song on the new U2 disc is "Fast Cars."
BEEF WITH DESERT
Okay, let’s talk that thesis up, and give it a workout. We’ll get back on the fast car in just two paragraphs.
But some of you need to know this: I will, as the very last section of this paper, condescend to give (as an appendix..or in a far more appetizing analogy, as dessert!) a concise (!) "play by play" "track by track" commentary on "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," which is U2’s (maybe) fourth masterpiece. Granted, in a large and multi-tasking, multi-disciplinary sense, I have been doing that all along. But to make it easy (!) on folks who just want that in a nice easy (short) summary, I will do that, but in usual pomo style, it starts at the very end. But I must preface the end with a big beef; which I think is important to digest (or at least taste and spit out) , as it explains the "maybe." (Maybe!) For those who don’t do beef; and want immediate access to the review , you may skip to the next section by clicking here: (http://www.actuallyitisnotwrittenyetbutwhenitisreadyiwillposttherealurlhere.com/
)once, but as you click you must say in good Schwarzenegger voice, "I’ll be back!" Because I do not think the time and type spent on this chapter is wasted; in fact the commentary may not even land coherently without the prequel .
I warn that I am likely going to overstate my case to make it…or make it convince myself of what, if not true in the extreme I paint it, is true enough to shed new insight into what a gift of God the band formerly know as Feedback is (if you can get past my hype). So even if you choose to have your dessert first; at some point, consider the perhaps provocative thesis re-stated simply in the next paragraph, and unpacked for the next couple dozen. Here’s the bomb..uh, I mean, here’s the beef:
YAHWEH ALLOWS FAST CARS
"Fast Cars" is the last song on "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb."
It matters little that it’s not even ON most versions of the album, and that one has to go way out of the way…...to Japan, to the net, or at least to the "deluxe" version…. to secure a copy which includes this necessary closer; the "real" last song and word.
Not that the "official" U.S. release didn’t give me "everything I ever wanted" in a U2 release. It did; and I love "Bomb." But everything I ever wanted wasn’t what I wanted, as Bono himself once complained. Ironically, the new disc itself offers to take this wiser, harder way: "I’ll give you everything that you want," Bono promises in "Original of the Species,"…"except the thing that you want." I feel slightly cheated that the band gave me both this time around.
I love the U.S. version of Bomb. I’d even say it’s an answer to years worth of prayer-desire. What more could I want but a "straight-up" prayer to Yahweh; complete with Edge’s "swirling epiphanies," and replete with Bono’s gloriously passionate and pleading chorus? Isn’t that too good to be true?
After several weeks of playing and processing the latest release by my favorite band…who could record the musical scales; or opera (that might even happen, Bono threatens!) ; or crap ("Miami" flirts with the "c" threshold), and I would buy and love it …I have come to the working conclusion and sanctified guess that years from now, I will (slightly) hesitate to label it "U2’s fourth masterpiece," though I could envision myself being talked into it (I’d be a sucker for U2 even if they would suck!) …if "Fast Cars" is legally the last song. When Rolling Stone hailed "All That You Can’t Leave Behind" as "U2’s Third Masterpiece," and then highlighted the next CD, this current one, in a gushing hyperbole that stopped very short of directly claiming it’s the fourth; I was forced to face the inarticulable ambiguity that "Bomb" (the version without "Cars") had dropped on me.
I love the atomic, organic sparkling pop-rock, and orchestral guitar across the album. I love that "City of Blinding Lights" recalls "Where the Streets Have No Name." I love that "Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own" reminds of "One." I love that "Miracle Drug" soundchecks "Beautiful Day." I am thankful that "Vertigo" invokes "Elevation" and "Stories for Boys"…., and I am especially thrilled that "One Step Closer" flirts with "Miss Sarajevo." But it’s precisely this flirting that bothers me; it could cross over into incest... One step closer to stealing, anyway U2 once half-jokingly referenced themselves as shamelessly "stealing from the thieves, and getting caught" and that was daring, energizing, successful strategy; grandly risque and risky; but do they now they steal/borrow/sleep with themselves?
I am not sure that’s the case, but it feels like it. And borrowing from the unabashed best (themselves) makes for fantastic "out of the ballpark" music, and everything I could ever want; but everything I wish I didn’t have. Let me rephrase slightly all that I just said about several songs, and all will still be true: "I hate that ‘City of Blinding Lights’ recalls ‘Where the Streets Have No Name.’ I hate that "Sometimes" reminds of ‘One.’ I hate that..….well you get the idea. I can’t live with or without these songs…
YAHWEH GOES TO CHURCH
The expectancy upon hearing that the closing track would actually be called "Yahweh" was huge. And I am not at all completely disappointed with what was birthed. I love "Yahweh" enough that I have made sure that we have "done" it in a prayer meeting at our church; a meeting in which we open with several ‘worship’ songs on CD. The bizarre problem I have is this: in the context of a worship set consisting only of more "officially" Christian songs on either side of it , "Yahweh" actually sounded kind of superficial and sterile (the same accusation that might be hurled at some "official" worship music) , and it felt like we were "doing" it…OK, next song! Wow, I never thought I would experience that! I remembering simply playing a CD of "Still haven’t Found," and it was like "God was in the house," instantly and immediately. What was the problem with "Yahweh," this anointed last song on the CD?
"Fast Cars" is the last song on "Atomic Bomb."
Not the "Yahweh" we have been given. As much as that great song is a theologically and liturgically correct way to end a record marked by a more upbeat faith; as much as it an answer to one of my wildest prayers, it doesn’t smell or jell completely right as the closer. Maybe it’s partly the unwritten rule that the last song on each U2 record will be the defining God-song ("40," among other numbers). "Huh?", I heard the reader just jerk; "What do you mean ‘Yahweh’ is not the defining God-song on the disc, and thus the proper closer?" Of course, I understand that "Yahweh" is the obvious God-song. But in U2-land, the best and most "obvious" God-song is not the one where the lyrics are most obviously Godded; it’s the song where the lyrics are most obviously guarded. That’s how I know it’s "obviously" about God… .it’s a bit more complex, subtle, mysterious, quirky, unsettling, unpredictable, multifaceted, "un-obvious"…..isn’t that exactly the God you know? Though "Yahweh" (the God), by nature, is those eight things and more; "Yahweh" (the song), is not. So it just can’t close the record, OK? By now, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that I am off-centered enough to believe that "Is That All?," "The Wanderer," and "Wake Up Dead Man;" as questioning, uncozy, and afflicting as they are, are the "obvious" and defining God-songs of their representative albums; and thus the appropriate album closers. Even "40" for its verbatim praise-quote of Psalm 40:1-3, interjected the uncomfortable, questioning (literally), left-field hook of "How long to sing this song?" So what lingered in the arena atmosphere at the end of the gig was not "He inclined and heard my cry," but "How long to sing this song," …daring to imply that he may not have heard my cry yet; and may even have the "phone off the hook."….Uncomfortable. Obviously;. obtusely, God…
Qualifiers! I realize "Yahweh" includes some very real questions ("Why the dark..?") and is honest enough to name pain as the precursor and curse accompanying spiritual birth. Excellent! It’s just not quite the eccentric right-brain, head-scratching "take a pill to stop it", open-ended zany sanity that drives "Fast Cars" to its (il)logical conclusion at the album’s true conclusion. I also must insert that at times I need….desperately….to be unconditionally uplifted. I need the "Yahweh" song; and I need it to sometimes close my day or my prayer or my drive; I just "need" it not to close the record, or every drive. I need "Yahweh" and large songs in that league because sometimes to even acknowledge too much doubt or uncomfort is to invite too much of it back on me. Which is why I wanted "Yahweh" to fly in the prayer gathering.
But it didn’t , at least as much as I was yearning for it to. This could be simply because it was a new song, sandwiched among the familiar Passion, Vineyard , or Matt Redman pieces. But I fear it might be because it’s everything I ever wanted in a U2 worship song, but it’s….I know can say it…too formulaic. Maybe that’s the word that captures it. So perhaps it the somewhat formulaic music , and not primarily the "too cliché" lyric that is the beef here. The joy that made a first listen to the classic U2 anthems already namechecked here ( "Streets," "One", "Elevation") a historic moment, is that the sounds arose from the speakers with a holy, huge unexpectedness; they marked fresh new territory and terrain for the band at the time. Sure, they sounded U2, but they claimed new ground, like the albums they represented. Note too that these three historic tunes are from the three Rolling Stone-rated "masterpieces" ( "Joshua Tree," "Achtung Baby" and "All That You Can’t Leave Behind")….aha, perchance it’s the very "breaking new ground" that makes or breaks a piece hanging in the "masterpiece" gallery. Maybe I can’t in good U2-conscience label a work a masterpiece if it "stands its ground," yet eschews proactively taking it. And in spite of earlier prognostiBonocations, (I still want to hear the early "punk rock on Venus" sessions) "Bomb" is wonderfully grounded, but does not aggressively take ground, and beachhead, from that (well-grounded) place.
And if I could just chill out and be OK with that, this beef might be a whole lot shorter; and I could yield to the temptation to include "Bomb" into the elite "U2 masterpiece" catalog. But I am ruined; I have seen, in that catalog, what U2 can do!
HETEROCLITES PREFER FLAMENCO
I do admit being heteroclite (great word for the emerging church movement..look it up if needed) enough and quirky enough to..against odds.. prefer the "odd", that is "demythologizing", looser, more creatively confusing works ("Unforgettable Fire", "Pop", even "Passengers") as masterpieces in their own right and gallery (it’s an annex in the basement?) ; simply because they "chop down a Joshua Tree", or are at least free to explore. And because they can sound fresher.
Unlike "Yahweh." But like "Fast Cars." That’s fresh.
I am admittedly addicted to the fresh. When Jesus gave the heads-up to his gang (in Matthew 9:17) that humankind is inherently addicted to the old; meaning "old" and obsolete wineskins, when such needed to be trashed and traded in for new upgrades, I wish he would have spelled out what a little research of culture and commentaries will reveal: How long would you guess the lifetime of a wineskin would last in Jesus’ day, before it became stretched to breaking point and worthless? . ..At the most, a matter of…. Weeks! All kind of implications for life and emerging church structure/culture come to mind (I belong to "new" network of churches, but because we are already six years old, we must be open to the probability that we have is some areas become old and stale. We might even give in to the whopping idolatry and adultery of worshipping wineskin, and throwing the Wine out with the bathwater…uh, wineskin) This is the God who is constantly "makes all things new"! And if I think every few weeks is too frequently to assess how new I am becoming, Lamentations 3:23 laments/boasts that God’s mercies are brand spanking new every… morning! (Wow, mercy is updated even more often than Beth Maynard’s U2 sermons blog!) Yet this same Jesus, this time in Matthew 13:52, Yahweh-yanks us back to balance by parabling that the Kingdom allows and even requires "both old and new" treasures. . So the least I can do let U2 be Kingdom-shaped and release them to populate their threasurechest with both old and new jewels.
But I still think… I think (uh, oh, methinks I’m wavering) "Fast Cars" should be the real last song on the record.
Flamenco-salsa meets Hebrew dance by way of Subterranean (Mediterannean) Homesick Blues!!?? That’s "Fast Cars". That’s what Bono once meant by "I don’t know what it is, so it must be us!" "Fast Cars" doesn’t quite qualify as "punk rock on Venus," but it is from a refreshingly fresh,
different, new plane ..one that would be exciting; that would be "the bomb" as the kids say, to explore! And it sounds and smells, in a way, catorce times as fresh as anything on "Bomb" proper…except maybe (appropriately so) "Vertigo." And most significantly, it throws a curveball into the game; a wrench into the mix; a winning wildcard into the hand ( I’m feeling more at home already!) Edge is not working the "swirling epiphanies" I want him to do, he’s closeted them in favor of something "completely different and off the schedule, " as he himself once famously said (about U2 doing a "gospel song"!) . And could it be that precisely because of the fresh, adventurous, circuitous direction he aims that axe, the guys are also given permission to unbridle some bottled-up fun? It all tastes like new wine, but hey, I’m a new wino!
Granted, much of the rest of "Bomb" does come off fresher than "Yahweh," but still too "old" and lillywhite (Groan! Sorry, Steve, couldn’t resist. You ARE a genius, though) to be called … fun? U2? Having fun? As in "Fast Cars," they sing about… well, what is this song about? Whatever words a soundtrackless reading of the subterranean homesick lyrics as pure poetry would conjure up, ("I got the nightly news to get to know the enemy," "Take a pill to stop it", etc.) terms like fun, or faith wouldn’t appear near the top… maybe fear (maybe that other F-bomb word that Bono loves too much)… But wait, this "real last song" IS the lone and lonely song among the new material that actually mentions the word "fun",.,in the crazy, (outta)context of being "in the desert" no less!….In the desert doing what? "Dismantling an atomic bomb." Sheer joy? Oh, the irony is back. But in the studio this time around, the irony-detector was out; this atomic disc, is decidedly not to be an ironic "bomb . " U2 intentionally renounced radical irony with the last record. So "Fast Cars" didn’t make the cut…
HOW TO ANTAGONIZE AN ARC ON THE WAY TO THE CATHEDRAL
I can honor that that may have been the right choice; I celebrate the season U2 are in, and I bless their decision even as I grieve it. I believe there was a conscious choice to craft this album, particularly its closing hymn..uh, song… as more upfront about God, and upbeat about faith; all of which was probably the right call for where U2’s art, heart and car are parked today. Consider earlier versions of "Yaheweh" which have floated around on ITunes; .a little (gasp!) darker! Beth Maynard’s blogthoughts and redaction-criticism on this song and its history , as often, helped me assimilate what I was feeling, and missing:
And how about the other clear "God-song", "All Because of You, " which in an earlier and abandoned version declared not "All Because of You, I am" (in which I take "I AM" as the biblical name of God being addressed) , but actually threw this curve: "All Because of You, I’m down." Both qualify as biblically-faithful psalms, but the curveball worked.
I of all people (a pastor type.) cannot knock U2 for being too positive and spiritual. Maybe I miss too much the brilliant tweak of "God Part II": "I don’t believe the devil/Don’t believe his book…But the truth is not the same without the lies he made up." I should..and indeed do.. celebrate the season they are in; It seems to be a Romans 8 season, and not the long dark night (decade) of the soul, they were "Romans 7-ed" in. But at best I want full context…I want Romans 7 AND 8, dammit..uh, darn it! (In the 90s, Bono went as far as to say, he wanted, in the depiction of their shows anyway, "both heaven and hell.") And, glimmer of hope here, isn’t that "both/and" the mode and mood of the first song of the current disc? Ah, I have come full circle, from the "real" last song to the "official" first song, and found an inclusio of fear (albeit faith-based fear). So I find that my beef, and my tantrum, has actually been about the arc. The band have spoken about the "arc from fear to faith" (meaning from "Vertigo" to Yahweh") as the shape, flow, muse and message of the record . So why would I want to make this arc, against its own inherent direction , "complete itself" into a full circle, and cycle back to fear (at least partly)? Maybe because "that’s life." Maybe due to an idolatrous need I haveb for U2 to bring back the wrenches , or due to the (unfounded) fear that they have committed the unpardonable sin of finally finding what they were looking for, and will stop questing for more (Jesus, fresh art, honesty, whatever). "I hope I never do!" Bono used to yell out in concert after singing "I still haven’t found what I’m looking for." But more recently, and more resolutely, he has followed the "You know I believe it (Jesus’ cross and its effects)" line in that song with an ardorous "And I still do!" Can’t I let him bask in the season that I have helped pray him into?
Googling the band’s "arc from fear to faith" quote to get the context; I found a Las Vegas Mercury page (http://18.104.22.168/search?q=cache:GLbGZ01QHHwJ:www.lasvegasmercury.com/2004/MERC-Nov-25-Thu-2004/25318630.html+arc++atomic+u2&hl=en&ie=UTF-8), and
two great reminders. First, this, in the U2 review: "U2 seems comfortable with its ethereal, chiming rock sound, tweaked enough to sound refreshed but nonetheless rooted in the band's past." Uncle...
But God and Google have a sense of humor. There on the same page, with the term "arc" dutifully highlighted as I had requested in my search, this review of "Cathedral" by the group Castanets: "The best things about Cathedral are its restraint and the haunting quality that persists past the last of it, despite a few cacophonous moments that antagonize an arc the way common indulgence always does." Replace "Cathedral" with "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (U.S. version)," and I am forced to consider that the best things about the Bomb are the same: 1) its restraint (not throwing curves) and 2) that it ends (in most versions) on a "haunting quality (i.e., ‘Yahweh’) that persists past the last of it," and the worst mistake in track-selection just might have been to include "a few cacophonous moments" (isn’t that "Fast Cars" to a tea?) that "anatagonize an arc the way common indulgence does." OK, maybe! But two of the character traits that I have always admired in the Bonomen are precisely "a few cacophonous moments" and "antagonizing an arc with common indulgence." However, the CD was not entitled "How to Antagonize an Uncacophonous Arc." That kind of title is for "four men chopping down the Joshua tree" seasons of life. I have to go with the Reason for the Season. Bono knows the Book, and one of his favorite sections is Ecclesiastes which proclaims "there is a time and season for everything." Bono is a man who knows the times, and he knows the cathedral (and probably the Castanets disc by that name). In fact he told the Times (New York Times, that is); all about the time for cathedrals:
There's cathedrals and the alleyway in our music. I think the alleyway is
usually on the way to the cathedral, where you can hear your own footsteps and
you're slightly nervous and looking over your shoulder and wondering if there's
somebody following you. And then you get there and you realize there was
somebody following you: It's God."
"Bomb" is an album that has arrived at the cathedral by way of the earlier and necessary alleyway of the previous season’s albums.
A WALL AND A BOMB: SPIRALING FULL CIRCLE
Pink Floyd’s "The Wall" in classic Floydian fashion, was brilliant, but a little hard to listen to; deeply depressing . So what’s it doing in this essay on U2’s new release? I think there is some musical/theological/philosophical gold to be mined by "listening" to these two very different (?) discs from very different (?) eras at the same time (Hey, if that inspires someone reading to pursue some wild ideas for burning some U2-Floyd sampling remixes….don’t do it! Besides, Coldplay and The Rock and Roll Worship Circus have already done it better!) Compare and contrast time. Pink Floyd’s "arc" was from fear to resignation (At least Bono wanted heaven and hell; Roger Waters seems to want hell and hell, with no middle or higher ground in sight)….no arc I want to trace, or road I’m dying to travel. No answers, no baby Jesus among the trash. Of course this is the band for whom the line "We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl year after year" was a greatest hit and upbeat, Precious and Kodak moment! For all the Wall knew, the best one can settle for is to be "comfortably numb." And the fact that during concert re-enactments of "The Wall," stagehands literally and gradually built up a wall that eventually entirely covered the stage and band from view; and the band seemed comfortably numb and completely unmoved by complaints that fans paid big money to see nothing but a wall, reveals that Bono and band were on a different page in the 90s (At least Bono , after surfing large-screen TV in front of the crowd, knew when enough was enough. He would say, as he threw the remote down, and the band launched into a song, "But you haven’t come all the way out here to watch TV now, have you?") But Floyd ignored fans and built the wall they were singing about. Pink Floyd may have intentionally been nudging fans towards nihilism and suggesting one will have no choice but submit to facism; . U2 were annihilating nihilism with larger than life irony. And facism? Remember "Goodbye all you neo-Nazi skinheads. I hope they give you Auschwitz!"?
Even though the double "Wall" album, and concert, ended with a short piece, "Tear Down the Wall," and that seemed like a good thing; it is not so good. In the record’s scenario, once we tear down the walls that keep us from others and reality, instead of freedom, we find our worst nightmare: there’s nothing behind it! We are hopeless, and now to make matters worse, naked, and in front of an enemy. A careful listener will hear, after the sounds of the wall crumbling, the "real last song" of the Floyd record, which numbly (Of course another U2 Floyd connection and contrast is the Floyd’s "Comfortably Numb" and U2’s "Numb") submits to circumstances , and coldy bends the arc full circle (literally in this case..I’ll explain) from fear to… fear. The last voice one hears at the end of side 4 (remember records? This was a double album; so four sides) is someone quietly saying something that gets cut off mid-sentence "Isn’t this where…"), and the sentence (as one discovered later) was "continued" at the beginning of side 1: "…we came in.") "isn’t "Isn’t this where we came in?" Clever tactic, depressing thesis: The record (literally) comes full circle (literally); life (spiritually) is endless circle; spiraling (in the "Vertigo" video, our band spiraled down to hell, but they bounced back!) through the grooves of the record, and life, into nothingnumbness. Even if we do tear down a wall, we’ll build another and another. .Gosh, Bono did say "Vertigo" was such a nice little ditty that it made you feel like killing yourself. But he laughed. I cannot imagine Roger Waters laughing as he seemingly invites no other ultimate option but suicide..or at least quiet and hopeless desperation…after completing the endless, vicious circle/cycle. That’s at best bad Hindu karma, not good Irish Christianity (which of course Bono contrasted in the last U2 record’s last song, one initially "about a girl" but in its more elevated meaning about a God that Waters apparently knows not of). The Floyd message is antithetical to U2’s, though both group’s presentations and styles may share a lot of great art-genius. But Floyd is still brilliant, and brutally honest. Just hopeless, with no map out of Vertigo and hell; no love to "teach me to kneel." No dead man to even wake up.
"The Wall," ended with a cousin of the "hidden track", didn’t it (The quiet piece that began on side 4 and cycled onto side 1)? "The Bomb"ends with another cousin of the "hidden track," (Which is why "Fast Cars" is wise enough to sneak up on you only after several seconds of silence after the invocation of Yahweh to do his heartbreaking work). And both hidden cousins (did you have cousins like that?) are proven related in that their mission is to verbalize the "real last message" of both discs. In both cases, it is a risk towards atheism. But in U2’s case, it is a risk well taken, as it leads out of that ditch the Floyd’s fast car would land us in.
HOLY HELIX, BATMAN!
Wrapping up this huge but unwieldy "full circle" theory then: I propose that all that I have tried to discover above in the Pink Floyd comparison/contrast ( especially in light of the too-obvious reference on "Vertigo" to "Stories for Boys" from the first record , "Boy ") means that Bono is wanting to communicate something like this: "Yes, this is full circle; but unlike Floyd’s circle/spiral, it’s a positive and God-thing to come full circle. You CAN start over again, not because you are doomed to repeat mistakes and cycle/spiral into numbness and hell , but because you get to be born again, and again, and again, and again… You get to go back where you started; where you ‘came in,’ but on a higher; more informed level.
When I sing on the new record that ‘time can’t take the boy out of this man,’ I mean that since our first record was ‘Boy,’ we are now in this new disc, which should’ve been called ‘Man’, returing to childhood, but on a higher, grown-up level."
Which is what I mean when I say that a "holy helix"(http://www.geocities.com/patrickmann.geo/helix/helix.jpg)
is what U2 has discovered; and I think such a divine design is thoughtfully embedded throughout all of life. It’s part of the birthright and DNA of life in Christ to (finally) realize and feel ("a feeling is so much stronger..") that God is so lavishly in love with us that he offers us the vital encouragement of grasping the grace of the helix. It may "feel" like we are just stuck on "repeat"("Hello!Hello!"), spiraling down, but what raw joy to uncover that what we are actually travelling is a "holy helix"… helixes that God has disguised as hellholes, so we might in stumbling and landmining over them , watch them explode well-earned joy all over us. Too often I mistake holy helixes for downward spirals. I first caught this phenomenon in Robert Kegan’s "The Evolving Self," whose cover (http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0674272315/ref=sib_rdr_fc/002-2248490-8080004?%5Fencoding=UTF8&p=S001 not only portrays a "boy becoming a man" (or a "man becoming a boy") and thus his "true self," but whose other diagram…a helix…confronted me with the breakthrough truth that in God’s sovereignty (though Kegan sees it as built into social/psychological evolution) we can always make ultimate progress. When it feels like we are headed "down," ultimately the line we are travelling is an upward bound line. But as part of that progress, there are downward directions that are part of the road we must travel. If we lean into the line (maybe it’s a roller coaster track) we can at least enjoy the ride, and trust that it’s getting us where we need to be.
Let’s slightly alter the analogy again , this arc/full circle/Andes road helixy kind of shape! I was thinking of what thrill it is to ride once we realize it’s a God-set-up, and the image of the arc becoming a slide came to mind. Let’s be kids ("Boy) , even though we are adults ("Man"), and be free enough to simly ride the slide…but here’s the analogy I learnde from The Choir, whose seminal dic was called, not "wa;;," or "bomb" but "circle slide." I know it's hard to imagineWhen someone makes you cryFire in the heavensAnd laughter in the skyJust let the wind blow through your spiritLet the sun shine on your faceLet's look into each others eyesAnd sing Amazing Grace. In the title track, they beckon us to trust the ride, (an note! "Jesus round the neck" is once a again the "glimmer of salvation" that everything hinges on:
Imagine one perfect circle/Above the stratosphere
Where lovers hide away/And children cheer
Because the ground has melted/Where the devil stood
Never mind the carnivalIn your old neighborhood/
Come on let's rideThe circle slide
On my neck against my heart/I wear a wooden cross
And sometimes I remember/What freedom cost
Shake off your golden shackles/Children of time no more
Consider now the crimson crown/The Man of Sorrows wore
Come on let’s ride
The circle slide
I know it's hard to imagine/When someone makes you cry
Fire in the heavens/And laughter in the sky
Just let the wind blow through your spirit/Let the sun shine on your face
Let's look into each others eyes/And sing Amazing Grace
Come on let’s ride
The circle slide
(See the slide that inspired it all:
Without a Christ-infusion of perpective and hope, or "being born again the first time," all of life feels like, even is, a downward slide; in fact it drops into hell. Yet in the Kingdom and the economy it births, we inevitably progress, spiraling up , circling up, helixing up. Even when we unnwillingly enter a curve/detour that temporarily drives us down…(All of this sounds very similar to my winding Andes adveture in Vertigo journaled in chapter one), we can’t help but come full circle/ helix. This is the economy of God; it’s "hold on" holy helix ride (from Vertigo to Fast Cars; an arc-cicle-helix from fear to faith to fear to faith, but always with holy progress..even if the slide winds us to (and through) vertigos, don’t jump bus, it is not a detour.
In "John Wimber’s Heavenly Reward for Doing ‘The Stuff,’" one of literally thousands of articles and links on Thunderstruck.org (an amazing and necessary website from which to unearth "daily bread" and manna-crumbs from culture) , the ever apostolic and bravely brilliant (He’s a U2 fan) Steve Beard, is worthy of quoting in full below. Watch for the secret to trusting the helix:
Shortly after John Wimber became a Christian, he became a voracious Bible
reader. The Scriptures excited him. Finally, after weeks of reading about
life-transforming miracles in the Bible and attending boring church services,
John asked one of the lay leaders, "When do we get to do the stuff?"
stuff?" asked the leader.
"You know, the stuff here in the Bible," said John.
"You know, like the stuff Jesus did—raising people from the dead, healing the
blind and the paralyzed. You know, that stuff."
"Well, we don’t do that
anymore," the man said.
"Well what do you do?" asked John.
"What we did this morning."
In frustration, John responded: "For that I gave up drugs?"
Like so many of us, John was taught by example that
the contemporary Christian life was radically disconnected from the power and
awesomeness of the Scriptures. Throughout the remainder of his ministry,
however, he proved that the disconnection was unnecessary.
In 1993, God healed Wimber of an inoperable and rare form of cancer. In recent years, he also survived a stroke. He was recently recovering from a triple-bypass heart surgery when he suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. On November 17, John Wimber went to his heavenly reward where there will be no more crying or pain. He was sixty-three years old.
Wimber was spiritual leader to the 450 Vineyard
Christian Fellowships in the United States and to the 250 Vineyard congregations
abroad. He was the senior pastor of the Anaheim Vineyard for seventeen years.
Very simply, Wimber believed that sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, casting
out demons, and healing the sick was simply "doing the stuff" of Jesus. He also
believed in mercy for those in need. Several weeks before he died, raised
$690,000 for the poor and other church concerns.
Before his conversion, Wimber was the keyboardist for The Righteous Brothers. Since that time, his songwriting has been at the forefront of contemporary praise and worship music.
His "Spirit Song" is even found in the United Methodist hymnal.
Much of his ministry was spent traveling around the globe teaching on signs and wonders and
the already-and-not-yet nature of the kingdom of God. Through his books Power
Healing and Power Evangelism, he taught an entire generation of Christians about
praying with faith for the miraculous, all the while trusting in the sovereignty
of God. Years ago, Wimber continued to teach his congregation about healing
despite the fact that they did not see one single person healed for nine months.
As a matter of fact, many of them got worse. Nevertheless, he trusted the
Bible—and more importantly, the God of the Bible.
Paradoxically, he brought
so much understanding to healing and yet suffered so much physically. Wimber
believed in healing and in pain. "Both are found in the Word of God," he writes.
"In the year I spent battling cancer God purged me of a lot of habits and
attitudes that weren’t right, and through it I grew stronger as a Christian.
Some of my greatest advances in spiritual maturity came as I embraced the
pain—as each day I had to choose to allow God to accomplish his work in me by
any method, even adversity."
I was 18 years old when I first saw John Wimber
in a high school gymnasium in southern California. The guys who introduced me to
Jesus went to his church. In my first several years as a Christian, I went to my
dad’s UM church in the morning and Wimber’s church at night. Next to my dad and
John Wesley, John Wimber has played the biggest role in shaping my worldview for
A few years ago, I was in Anaheim for a conference and had a friend
introduce me to John Wimber. He was weak and frail but had a glorious smile and
a reassuring twinkle in his eye. I counted it an honor to meet him.
"The economy of the kingdom of God is quite simple. Every new step in the kingdom
costs us everything we have gained to date," wrote Wimber. "Every time we cross
a new threshold, it costs us everything we now have. Every new step may cost us
all the reputation and security we have accumulated up to that point. It costs
us our life.
"A disciple is always ready to take the next step. If there is
anything that characterizes Christian maturity, it is the willingness to become
a beginner again for Jesus Christ. It is the willingness to put your hand in his
hand and say, ‘I’m scared to death, but I’ll go with you. You’re the Pearl of
That Wimber quote is posted over my computer. Everyday I am
reminded to go forward in Christ, to cross new thresholds, and to hold tightly
to the Savior’s hand. John Wimber was faithful to the Lord until the end. Along
the way he inspired a lot of us to do the same…and to do "the stuff."
Trust the helix ; work with it’s economy and angles, especially when the slide-ride seems to costly to continue; take the full circle/helix..the one Kegan and U2 and Beard and Wimber and I are recommending. Do not bail by renting a fast car out of the loop. Enjoy and even buy the Floyd music, but don’t buy the circle they seem to be selling. (Poor guys; they mean well, They just seem to think the spiral is the only shape on the market.) It’s far too costly a spiral…We must take the helix less travelled; only it leads up and on to "the stuff." Okay, we have finally done enough full circling. Let’s land.
BREAKING NEWS: POST-DEADLINE VINDICATION
News flash..Hi! This is Dave, the writer of this crazy tome. This brief "breaking news section" is an after-deadline insertion. I was just putting this chapter to bed and press; when I got wind of the new Rolling Stone cover story on U2, , and I find that Bono has just said better what I have been trying to say above about the "full circle". Imagine that! He even uses "circle talk," , and also the "real" album title I had suggested: Here is the excerpt, vindicating that I was right..uh, excuse me, vindicating that Bono can always say better what I try to say about him:
The band was what I believed in then," Bono contends. "My faith in myself was a different matter. That innocence -- you don't just want to shed it. You want to beat it off you, scratch it off. You think that knowledge of the world will somehow give you an easier route through it.
"It doesn't," he says emphatically. "In a lot of ways, that's the essence of this album -- the idea that you can go back to where you started, that you can start again." To press his point, Bono quotes the last verse of Atomic Bomb's Who-ish blitzkrieg "All Because of You," chanting the words like a prayer: "I'm alive/I'm being born/I just arrived, I'm at the door/Of the place that I started out from/And I want back inside."
"We've closed the circle," he says, beaming, "back to our first album" -- 1980's echo-drenched thriller, Boy. "Maybe we should have called this one Man."
Thanks for indulging the news flash. We now return you to the rest of the regularly scheduled article.
I’LL MISS YOU BOTH, SUGARS
In a weird sort of way, I am relieved that the "A Man and a Woman" line "You are gone and so is God" appears, in passing, on the new U2 "Bomb," having snuck past the censors. Not quite the prodigal guy of a few albums ago, who left by his rich Father’s "back door and threw away the key" and jumped in the trunk of a fast car about to spiral into a tree. And not in the ballpark of Floyd; but still a joltingly honest emotion for a "worship album," …oops , I mean "pop album." It’s just not underlined. But it is underscored by not being underlined.
Which may be why I might again(!) propose "Fast Cars" as the real..yada yada
Don’t you worry about your mind
Don’t you worry about your mind
Don’t you worry about your mind
Don’t you worry about your mind
You should worry about the day That the pain it goes away You know I miss mine
So runs some of the "Fast Cars" lyric. The "obvious" reference point as to what "I miss sometimes" is "pain," right? Great profound point: I should be in touch with my pain, but I’m not; I have shut it off. I should let God use it, instead I deny it; I take a fast-car away from it.. I thus "miss" the growth I could enjoy if had embraced the pain.
However, grammatically, there is another possible reference point as to what is missed: my "mind." Especially since the "mind" line is repeated, let me hypothesize that, with his wink and tweak, it would be just like Bono to throw this curve in the mix: "I really do miss my mind." Maybe it was..by extension, lost when the pain was. (After all, elsewhere in the "Bomb," this same narrator [the ‘man’ of the "Man and a Woman" ]preaches that "The only pain is to feel nothing at all.") And that’s why I need Yahweh …Just not as the last song on the disc.
For those befuddled by the "sugar reference" in the section heading, I’ll clue you in on some trivia that only die-hard fans (or obsessive-compulsive CD-cleaning types) are aware of. On the bottom the new U2 CD, a cryptic note is etched: "Miss You Sugar." This has been explained in a number of ways (including this amusing but live possibility: www.oxfam.org.nz/MakeTradeFair/Thumbnails.htm), but consider that in Bono’s lavish lyric-language, "Sugar" is often a cryptic nickname for God (far less "obvious" than "Yahweh", huh?) and/or his wife…and/or his dad..and /or his goddaughter (whom he "sugars" in "Original of the Species"). Since he has felt at times he has virtually lost his Heavenly father, has indeed literally lost his earhly one, and ; fears losing Ali; may fear losing his goddaughter (thus a whole song), etc..…it is possible that just as Bono "misses" both pain and mind on one song on the disc; he is sending an SOS on the back of the disc signalflaring us that he in a sense misses both God and family. Not too comfortable a though for a faith-album. Which is why it’s such a footnote.
And why "Fast Cars" is..the ...albeit hidden; footnoted…last song in the record.
OCCASSIONAL ATHEISM: COFFEE, NOT JESUS
"Pastor, can I you come over right away?" came the voice over the phone. " I have a terrible confession to make!" I took the trip across town, the whole way I was thinking "What in the world is she going to confess? She’s a sweet 90 year old saint? What did she do, accidentally swat a mosquito, and now she needs to confess being a murderer?" When I arrived, she sat me down and spilled it out; right to the point: "I am an occasional atheist! Is that okay? " I did not laugh, for I was priest-pastor in a holy moment, but took and shook her hand, signifying that I, too, belonged to that club. And she was freed; even though she was fearful of making that necessary and jolting confession. Bono , he of "Like faith needs a doubt/Like a freeway out/I need Your love," is not. B This is merely confession of our occasional atheism, shocking honesty, and common humanity.
Speaking of humanity, and radical honesty, and "occasional atheism"….that’s obviously a Johnny Cash thing. Two stories about Johnny (vocalist and namesake of U2’s "The Wanderer") follow, the first below by the reverently irreverent journalist Chuck Klosterman, who spent a remarkable day and drive with Bono recently in Bono’s fast car (join that ride sometime by clicking: http://www.atu2.com/news/article.src?ID=3654)
Usually! The next Cash story is already a contemporary classic:
Here is the easiest way to explain the genius of Johnny Cash: Singing from the
perspective of a convicted murderer in the song ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ Cash is
struck by pangs of regret when he sits in his cell and hears a distant train
whistle. This is because people on that train are ‘probably drinkin’ coffee.’
And this is also why Cash seems completely credible as a felon: He doesn’t want
freedom or friendship with Jesus or a new lawyer. He wants coffee.
mind of a killer, complex feelings are eerily simple.
This is why killers can
shoot men in Reno just to watch them die and the rest of us usually
("Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs", page 186)
Cash once got a visit from U2 members Bono and Adam Clayton who were driving
across the U.S. taking in the local colors. The three of them sat around a table
before their meal, and Cash floored the two Irishmen with an incredible prayer
of thanksgiving to God. Then, without skipping a beat, he raised his head and
quipped, ‘Sure miss the drugs, though.’
(Dave Urbanski, "The Man Comes
Around", p, xxi)
All of us have at times wanted coffee, not Jesus. We have all missed our drugs, whatever they were. We have all considered taking a taxi out of Gethsemane (staying in the discoteque, preferring bubble gum to God) ; lead-footinng out of our marraige; but we know that we know that "these fast cars will do me no good." But we don’t know that until we say it. So we say it; and we stay. Even when part of us doesn’t. Even if like I did, in mhy infamous opening story, we actually continue speeding for a mile of two, even after hearing an audible voice of God calling us back to reality/center/home/church/Vertigo/Yahweh/cross...
If "Fast Cars" is the last song; then the last line of that last song should be a keeper, and a thematic key, right? But what the last line is all about is hardly clear..or is it? The line on the line: "I’m not used to talking somebody in the body." (at least that’s the way http://www.atu2.com/ translates that line, others transcribe it it as "a body’). Either way, but especially the first way, it is telling.
Here’s what I do with it: Whether Bono had this firmly in mind when he uttered it , I think it means, "I’m having to own up to my growing position as some sort of spokesman for Christianity, even though I always denied being so. I have to get used to speaking to people in the capital ‘B’ Body….the Body of Christ. Because even though, as I’ve always said, ‘God has some weird kids,’ they are my brothers and sisters. We live in the same Body.
We worship the same Yahweh, and we face the same temptation to fast-car it outta his church."
That’s the season Bono is in. In the last few years, and against his friends’ advice, he has spoken to, church groups; Christian groups. Even though it was "like getting blood from a stone" to get them to care about AIDS in Africa, he knew it was his club.
All the above to say that Bono now knows, that whether he likes it or not, he now has a place, pulpit and platform among Bible-believing Christians. He has appeared via video to Christian music festivals, and preached what no less a card-carrying evangelical (and friend of Bono’s) than Michael W. Smith has called a great "sermon." He has, though feeling ridiculous, preached in ( Midwest!) American pulpits!
He’s even been the anointed "cover boy" on Christianity Today ! (Though in another story, in the same issue, the magazine "with a mouth full of teeth" griped about his "paper thin eccesiology.")
Bono, I know you’re busy saving the world and all, but I also know you’re reading this (because it’s linked on Pastor Beth’s U2 Sermons website!) So may I at least ask…since you are getting more used to "talking to somebody in the Body" … …what are you doing Sunday morning at 10:00? Can we book you for "talking to somebody in the Body" at our church? And you can sing in addition to preach. Anything you want, even an unedited version of "Wake Up Dead Man"! . Somehow, I think you might make "Yahweh" the centerpiece of your Sunday morning setlist nowadays, though. Not just because its on the new record, but because it’s where you are. And that’s totally alright with me. Your way is Yahweh.
But if you want to stir things up by singing the "real" last song on the new record, that glorious "God-song" that’s alright with me, too. But could you do it last?
Wow, great post! As a fellow U2 fan (and fellow Violet Burning fan, which is what led me to this post), I have to say we're on simlar wavelengths with what Bono and the boys are trying to say. You've added whole new dimensions that I'm going to have to think about! Thanks. I've heard Bono make the 'circle' comment in an interview I saw on video somewhere (the DVD in the collector's edition maybe?).
Thanks also for leading me to the u2sermons blog. I've read the book but did not know about the blog, I'll have to check it out. By the way, being in Colorado, I hope that exclamation point at the end of "Midwest!" was not aimed at me! :-)
Hey,I love the Midwest...and Colorado.
My family is all from the former and i was born in the latter(:
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