Review: U2 iPod and ‘The Complete U2′*

January 31, 2005

By Teresa Rivas

I have to admit that from the beginning I was biased.

When I first heard about the U2 iPod and accompanying digital box set (and their respective price tags—$349 for the iPod and $149 for the box set) I immediately began planning to sell my kidney on the black market to pay for them. Sure, I eat candy for breakfast but I figured I look healthy enough to fool any organ trafficker and once I regained consciousness, I would be able to afford both and be a few pounds lighter.

Luckily I got the iPod and box set for Christmas, my organs remaining intact. However, even if I had gone by my first route, I’m sure it would have been well worth the trade.

The iPod is beautiful in person. The black and white I’m sure comes as no surprise to any U2 fan who surely noticed by now that the majority of the band’s albums appear to be designed like grainy, unfocused daguerreotypes from the post-Civil War era, with the notable exceptions of the ’90s records that were decoupaged with grainy, unfocused color photographs. Still, the classic combination is a relief from the sterile colors of the standard iPod and there could be no better color for the wheel than red. With a nod to the packaging of "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb," it’s the only color that’s escaped prismatic vacuum of many of U2′s albums. It’s the color of blood and war, the color of passion, of the setting sun, of Mr. MacPhisto’s lipstick. I hardly could have asked for more.

(Source: Apple)

The chrome backing mirrors my excitement and I found the autographs to be an excellent addition. Yet, beauty is fleeting, and I found that within minutes the first scratches appeared on my iPod’s pristine surface. I know iPods are known for their delicacy but it was heartbreaking to realize how quickly mine was broken in. Although the protective cover is an option, I rebelled against it, I hardly wanted to conceal my iPod’s individuality with a routine black case. Future damage is inevitable but at least for now a little careful handling keeps me from having to hide it. Pocket-sized, I usually make sure there’s nothing else jostling against my iPod when I have it tucked away, and I’ve found that a glove makes a good cover in a pinch against the marauding points of pens and coins.

Aesthetics aside, it’s wonderful fun. After being subjected to the rough radio versions of "Vertigo," the sound quality was stunning. The ear buds took some getting used to and the covers are apt to come loose often. Otherwise, I’ve had no complaints. I spent hours setting up play lists, importing music and fiddling with the settings—it was not lacking for options. Although I doubt I’ll ever transpose all my contacts to my iPod, I love all the extras. I found myself playing the music quiz until my hand hurt (see if you can identify this rare U2 live track in less than three seconds) and rotating through my wealth of songs with the touch-sensitive wheel, probably my favorite feature. This must be how Scrooge McDuck feels when he goes for a swim in his money. The shuffle feature is also helpful before you set up your play lists so you don’t listen to all 10 versions of "Even Better of the Real Thing" consecutively, as they appear listed alphabetically. It can be frustrating to scroll through so many songs, artists and albums without the ability to skip to a certain letter or knowing exactly what you’re looking for, but there is some comfort in that your library is your own and not riddled with unwanted tracks.

The digital box set has enough to keep any fan busy for some time but the first thing that struck me about "The Complete U2" was the misnomer "complete." Never mind that the day after I got mine, iTunes added four tracks from the band’s impromptu live performance on a flatbed truck in New York City, instantly rendering my collection incomplete, even more disturbing is the amount of songs inherently missing from this set. At least 85 tracks that could have been included were not and instead almost 50 songs are repeated, either as singles that are almost identical to their album counterparts or songs that appear on more than one record, for example the original release and the greatest hits’ version.

(Source: Apple)

True, I was overwhelmed with the thought of having so many U2 songs in one place so the omissions were not glaring at first. However, as I began to work my way through the albums I did find that the repetition was a bit gratuitous. I understand that a track could be a part of several different albums and I don’t mind them being there for consistency, but to count the exact same song more than once seems a bit disingenuous to the final count. In light of what was missing—my beloved cover of "Everlasting Love," Bono’s "Children of the Revolution" where he croons "I drive a Rolls Royce ’cause it’s good for my voice”—this count seems especially suspicious. Another absentee collection is the stolen "Salome" sessions that were widely bootlegged but never officially distributed. In this age of piracy wars, it would have been a clever way to circumvent their mystique to make these songs available on iTunes.

I suppose the "Very-Close-to-Complete U2" would not have made as catchy of a title, but I still find it unsettling that although these omitted tracks are well documented among the fan base there has been little, if any, official response to their absence. It’s insulting that anyone would think a true U2 fan who would make this kind of investment wouldn’t notice, especially after we’d been salivating over the hope of a new album for the past four years with only the scraps of releases past to sustain us. It only encourages file sharing—iTunes is hardly going to offer me "Happiness is a Warm Gun" since it was excluded from the set so I’ll have to look for it elsewhere.

Despite these setbacks, it is a grand collection. My new favorites were almost all live versions, including those from the 1981 Boston show (held two years before my birth, thus precluding my attendance). They’re full of a young, energetic Bono who I can imagine dancing around in checkered pants. Yet the greatest finds for me were songs from the PopMart Tour in Mexico City. Without the luxury of an "Hasta La Vista Baby" DVD, my greatest treasures were "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me," "Bullet the Blue Sky," "Mofo," "Please" and "Gone" all live at Foro Autodromo. It makes me wish for a wide release of DVDs from the ZooTV and PopMart tours, it seems ironic that the age of U2′s flashiest, most extravagant shows that were so immersed in their visual elements remain untapped in this market of digital remastery.

As a citizen of North America, it was lovely to finally have "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" on "All That You Can’t Leave Behind," "Fast Cars" on “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” and "The Fly" on the second greatest hits. I enjoyed tracks from the "Passengers" album like "Elvis Ate America," and as "Achtung Baby" is my favorite album, I faithfully listened to all 27 single tracks, despite the distressing absence of "Satellite of Love."

Of course suffering an entire presidential term without a new CD made me appreciate the glut of new songs on “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb,” but it was even more exciting to see the alternative versions. For a band with such an extensive catalog, I love to hear the songs that came before the final product because they’re often as good as finished songs themselves. Of course I know that, if anything, the members of U2 are perfectionists and not everything that didn’t make the cut was unfairly axed. But with alternative versions, you can build your own CDs—my “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb” now includes "Native Son" and "Xanax and Wine." To own songs that feel like they belong with your favorites is a rare glimpse into the inner workings of U2′s studio and lets you play producer.

Perhaps it’s asking too much, but because the box set is so pricy it would be quite magnanimous of iTunes to allow us, at a discount, to keep updating our collections to keep them "complete" as new songs arrive.

Of course I knew all along that I was going to fall in love with Bonovox, (when my computer asked for a name, "good voice" seemed appropriate for my iPod), after growing up with bulky, temperamental CD players, the iPod really is a godsend. I’ve happily abandoned the world of fragile disks with cracked cases. Keeping the almost-complete U2 in my pocket is something that’s well worth the expense. Life looks better when you wander through it with U2 as your soundtrack, it’s as if you can see the world through blue-colored glasses.

For Your Consideration: The Killers*

January 31, 2005

By Carrie Alison, Chief Editor

Sure, the hype around them is deafening. It’s like a bad "Twilight Zone" episode where you’re stuck in a traffic jam for days and the car next to you plays the same song over and over.

In the world of modern/alt.rock radio, it is kill or be killed—by Clear Channel’s obnoxious monopoly or the Linkin Park and Velvet Revolver juggernauts.

And then there are The Killers.

In June 2004, four dapper young men from Las Vegas entered the room with "Hot Fuss," a melodic, soaring debut album dripping with swagger and sounding much like a certain group of four Irish lads did on its first album, "Boy," 25 years ago.

Formed in 2002 and lead by crooning singer Brandon Flowers and backed by drummer Ronnie Vannucci, guitarist David Keuning and bassist Mark Stoermer, The Killers don’t hide its influences—Morrissey, Duran Duran, David Bowie, U2 and New Order. But what the band does with those influences makes for one of the most contagious and endearing alternative rock debut albums I’ve ever heard.

As "Hot Fuss" quickly notched towards Gold certification through strong word of mouth online and bolstered by heavy radio and MTV airplay, The Killers found itself in high demand by the media. It was during these interviews that the influence U2 had on Flowers—who grew up watching "Rattle and Hum" and counts "Where the Streets Have No Name" as an example of a perfect pop song—became apparent, and even some interesting similarities came to light, too.

For instance, the charming and intellectually intense Flowers is a spiritually-minded Mormon who relies on his friendship with his band mates to drown out the seedier aspects of a life in rock ‘n’ roll. Much like Bono, The Edge and Larry Mullen Jr., Flowers’ religious roots are a major facet of his life. "It’s very important. I mean, it’s important in everyone’s life," Flowers told SPIN in 2004. "Basic religion is the reason we have morals."

Listening to "Hot Fuss," I am consistently bowled over by the maturity and passion the young Flowers brings to his lyrics, much like a young Bono did on U2′s early albums. Weaving a dark story that delves into jealousy, love, sex and death, the album is refreshingly self-assured and absolutely destined to grab your attention from start to finish, much like U2′s own relationship opus, 1991′s "Achtung Baby." Bono, according to a variety if sources, took notice of "Hot Fuss" and met the band backstage after a Killers show in Dublin to give them a tip: avoid making the "interesting" second album.

Two tracks in particular, "All These Things That I’ve Done," and "Midnight Show" should delight U2 fans with soaring vocals, self-reflection, ringing Edge-like guitars, spirituality, sex and thumping Mullen-esque drums. It’s during these songs that I can see the bright future of The Killers and where its next offerings might take the band. "All These Things That I’ve Done" features a gospel chorus for the stunning refrain "I got soul but I’m not a soldier," and "Midnight Show" features sweat-soaked vocal gymnastics from Flowers as he exclaims "Drive faster, boy." Just two examples of songs that could be sonic cousins of anything off of U2’s beloved "The Unforgettable Fire."

"We all are fans of big songs," Flowers recently told the Sydney Morning Herald. "I love hits. To be upset that we used a major label or to feel dirty or something because of that, I mean, give me a break. Have you ever heard of Radiohead and U2 and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones? It’s just ridiculous."

As a live band, the members of The Killers are still finding their footing, even while attracting VIP attendants like Elton John and David Bowie on its recent world tour. A packed show in November at The Masquerade in Tampa found Flowers out front, snazzily dressed in a cream-colored blazer with his equally well-dressed band mates behind him, although none of the band seemed comfortable just yet truly stepping up its collective showmanship, instead quite content to jam behind their given instruments with little banter or playfulness with the audience. To The Killers’ credit, this young band has toured the world non-stop since "Hot Fuss" took off and a "very good" compared to an "amazing" show at this early stage in its career is understandable. Perhaps in the future, Flowers will crawl inside his electrifying songs and inhabit them, just as The Killers’ rabid fan base seems to as they dance and sing along to every word that drips from his powerful vocal chords.

Early December brought the 2005 Grammy nomination announcement, pitting U2 against The Killers in two categories, Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group With Vocal and Best Rock Song. The hot and bothered fuss is no lark, The Killers’ ride to the top is just beginning and a stint as an opening act on U2’s eagerly anticipated Vertigo Tour would surely push them even farther into the spotlight of the world stage. Bono, are you listening?

For more information on The Killers, visit their official website at:

Fan Reaction: U2 Vertigo Tour Presale*

January 27, 2005

By Devlin Smith, Contributing Editor

Tuesday was a day that I, and many other U2 fans, had been looking forward to for ages—the day we’d get our first crack at buying tickets for the 2005 Vertigo concert tour. At about 10 to 10 Pacific Time I went to to access the sale page, hoping that somehow I’d be served a little before the official 10 a.m. on sale.

The first thing I saw on the site that morning was a news story apologizing to European fans for the problematic presale. That didn’t fill me with optimism about my own presale. I went to the sale page and refreshed, revisited and refreshed again until it was finally sales time. I chose San Diego, opening night, filled out the particulars, entered my code and hit send only to get an error message. I tried again and got another error message, followed by several more. I tried going through itself only to get the same message. Then I went back to to find the sale page had been changed to show no tickets for sale.

After about 20 minutes of clicking, refreshing, stomping feet, tapping nails and grinding teeth, I finally got my tickets for the opening night of the Vertigo tour.

Even though it was hectic for those few minutes, my story is nothing compared to the stories of potentially thousands of fans across the world whose codes were lost, tickets given away and seats changed. Some had it easier than others, but despite the severity of the experience, most fans can agree that this special fan club presale was a complete mess.

"I got online an hour before presale to read how the East Coast fans were doing—hearing all their problems, I knew I was in for the same but hoped for the best," said member R8drgurl. "From 10 a.m. to 11:12 a.m. I got server error messages. Then at 11:13 a.m. I finally got through and I got one ticket in section 101. I was so excited. I hit continue and no problems. Then on the last page hit purchase and got error message, ‘problem processing your request.’"

When R8drgurl went back to try for another ticket, she got a message saying that her one-time-use-only code (given only to people who had paid the $20 or $40 to become full members) had already been used and was now invalid. member tarquinsuperb’s code was also lost in the presale system, as was nathan1977′s.

Other fans were upset with the selection of tickets, which were notably lacking the highly desirable general admission option that places fans directly in front of the stage. "Boston—logged on—no problem," said Johnovox. "Refreshed and immediately accessed the site and requested GA. Sold out at exactly 10 a.m. Despite the fact that few, if any, GA tickets were offered, ticket brokers are now selling swaths of GA tickets all over the internet."

"Finally started getting ticket selections but balked at them because they were either nosebleeds or $165 for opposite end of the arena," said Buttercup67. "Kept throwing tickets back hoping to get closer to the stage since it became clear very quickly (10:01 a.m.) that I wasn’t going to get GA."

"I was on the internet a half an hour before it began," said wolf Q. "The second that it allowed me to search for tickets I chose two GA, entered my password [and] it told that there were none available. I could not believe that GA could have possibly been sold out before the sale even began."

So many fans who took part in the presale wanted general admission tickets but ended up with seats instead, their disappointment not helped by the fact that GA seats are now readily available online. "What’s upsetting to me is the fact that at 10 a.m. on the dot no GA were available for the 24th May show in Boston—but scalpers are claiming to have them already, and in seemingly plentiful amounts," said wolfeden.

Then there were the technical errors. "I do not understand how Ticketmaster was not working properly [for] a presale event," said tommywaddle. "There was an error in processing your request and I tried refreshing my screen and I was not given the option to order any tickets."

"Ticketmaster said their system was down before of the severe traffic," said nathan1977. "Did they not know this is the biggest tour of the year?"

"Tried though the web link on the e-mail I got an via, several white screens later I finally got through to the list of shows, punched in the code and waiting and waited and waited, whilst Ticketmaster was apparently trying to contact me," said djparky. "’Joshua Tree’ and ‘Notorious’ CDs later, I got bored, clicked manual refresh and it crashed. Fearing the worst, I logged back in and, glory be, I was able to buy tickets."

Perhaps the biggest glitch of all involved seating charts for some venues changing in the midst of the presale. "After a few searches I landed two $167 tickets in section 124, row 13, which, at that time, was right next to the stage," said matt_tx00. "Then I saw the stories about ‘seating charts changing,’ etc., checked again, and now my tickets are five sections back, in the back of the arena."

matt_tx00 is now contemplating what steps to take next, having already written to Ticketmaster to demand a full refund or ticket change. The next move is to contact his credit card company, disputing the charge for the moved seats as "merchandise not received as advertised."

The Tuesday presale made many long-time fans nostalgic for the days of the Propaganda mail-away presales. "Through Propaganda I was able to get tickets for both UK legs of the ZooTV tour, Popmart and ticket for the first Slane Castle gig," said dezmaas. "When I used Propaganda I was always a bit scared that something would go wrong, like the tickets being lost, but it all went smoothly."

EPandAmerica got tickets for San Diego and San Jose by using a friend’s code. The San Diego seats are in the upper most level and the San Jose seats are at the back of the arena. "Propaganda member since 1988," EPandAmerica said. "After getting Prop tickets for everything since Lovetown, this is the furthest away from the stage that I have ever been at a U2 concert."

"I live on the East Coast but after two failed attempts, I was to a point where if I got anything I would be great, and I got nothing," said Grindstone, who tried for tickets in Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles. "After calling and emailing all eight friends, all of whom did the same exact thing as me, none of us have tickets. That’s the first time in 15 years."

"I feel that many of us older Propaganda members liked the old days of snail mail," said zoodishbu. "You were still a little uncertain exactly which dates you would get but, never the less, you pretty much got what you wanted."

Not everyone had a bad experience. MrBill64 actually did score the GA tickets he’d been hoping for, as did kathode. But for many fans, this was just one more thing testing their love of U2. "All I am now is all I have ever been—a statistic," said Macphisto-UK. "Fan No. 44858 who feels conned out of $40, disgusted with the process, infuriated with the band and at this moment not really caring whether I see them or not."

"I’m not sure I want to ever see them or buy their music again if they don’t make a serious effort to correct this horrible treatment of fans who deserve better," said U24Ever4Me. "What has happened has been scandalous. What little has come out of ‘official’ response has been inadequate, to put it mildly."

Since the presale began at 10 a.m. GMT on Tuesday, there have been several articles posted on about the sale. The first were directed at European fans and included an apology from Ticketmaster. "An automatic email link had been set up on the website to help any customers with an invalid code," the letter said. "Ticketmaster has been working to resolve issues concerning access codes and will be contacting all customers affected with further instructions on how to purchase tickets."

The latest letter, addressed mainly to fans in the United States, was posted on Thursday. "We know that subscribers experienced difficulties buying their tickets and we’re pleased that those problems are now being ironed out," the letter said. Later on, the unsigned letter added: "We are very aware that some people seem to have abused the system to scalp on eBay or similar sites. We are currently looking into the possibility of identifying these people and withdrawing their tickets. Any help you can give us on this would be gratefully received."

Is this statement enough for all the fans that were put out by the presale? I, personally, was, and still am, hoping for a little more. With the tour, three Grammy nominations and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, 2005 could be one of U2′s biggest years ever; hopefully incidences like this won’t mar it completely for the band and its legions of loyal fans.

U-toons: Out of Control *

January 26, 2005


By Robert M. Wolpert

Exclusive: Interview: Philip Yancey, Author, Editor and Columnist

January 24, 2005

By Brenda Clemons

Philip Yancey is a writer and editor-at-large of Christianity Today. His books have sold millions, been on the Top Seller’s list and earned him many awards. His book, "What’s so Amazing About Grace?", caught the attention of Bono, who made contact with Yancey after reading that book. Yancey has since interviewed Bono and Bono is rumored to pass the book along to friends.

Below, Yancey speaks with about his work, his heroes, his faith and why sometimes it’s okay to stir up a little controversy.

In your book "What’s so Amazing About Grace?" you write about growing up during segregation, saying your family attended a church that would not allow African Americans to worship there. Do you ever feel the need to compensate for the "sins" of your family?

I went through a period in which I tried to create distance between myself and my family. I have a brother, after all, who has had no contact with the rest of the family in almost 35 years. For people who come from a very dysfunctional family, or church, we may need a time of separation or "individuation." Ultimately, though, I had to come back and try to make peace. To tell you the truth, I think it’s harder to make peace with what you grew out of than with what you may grow into. I find it harder, for example, to show grace toward uptight religious folks than toward the people they condemn so strongly. (Come to think of it, so did Jesus.) The sins of my family are my sins too. I need to own them, and learn from them, before I can point the finger anywhere else.

You write about subjects that some would consider taboo (i.e. homosexuality and disappointment with God). Do you enjoy a bit of controversy?

I never choose a topic for the sake of controversy and often I’m surprised at some of the reactions prompted by my writings. I tell people, I’m not the radical one, Jesus is the radical one. And if we take Jesus seriously, then subjects that may have been considered taboo are no longer taboo. Jesus said some shocking things about money, about death, about the purpose of life. In my writing, I try to face into what he said. Controversy may stir up, but I’m not the source of that controversy, Jesus is. I feel OK as long as I’m getting criticism from both sides. When I write about homosexuality, for example, I get criticized by gay activists for being too soft and from religious conservatives for being too loose. I feel much more comfortable getting flak from both sides rather than just one.

Are there any subjects you have not covered that you would like to cover in the future?

I’m writing a book on prayer right now. If prayer is so important, why is it so difficult? And if God knows everything already, why pray? And why do so many prayers go unanswered? I don’t know the answers to those questions which is why I chose to write a book about it.

Are there any subjects that you would not write about?

I went on a book tour not long ago and I told people that I’d answer questions on anything except two questions—the Iraq war and the ordination of gay bishops. I said that because whenever I got interviewed by the media, those were the only questions they asked, even though they had nothing to do with my book. Well, I’m still shying away from the gay ordination question but I’m quite happy to talk about the Iraq war. I think it was a colossal mistake from the first day on. As I travel overseas, I’m amazed at how far the reputation of the United States has fallen in just a few years. I don’t know if we’ll ever recover from the damage caused in Arab countries.

Can you describe your writing process?

I divide the writing process this way: 40 percent of my time goes toward getting ready to write, 20 percent toward writing and 40 percent toward cleaning up what I just wrote. The first 40 percent, the preparation, consists of research, interviewing, and outlining. I use a dandy outlining program that I pore over for days, moving things around, in and out of topics and subtopics. Often my chapter outline is longer than the chapter itself, a great stalling tactic. The middle 20 percent is the psychotic period when I face a blank screen or page. No matter how much work I’ve done on the outline, the fear sets in when I face that blankness and feel the burden of composition. The last phase is far more relaxing. I began my career as an editor and feel most comfortable editing. I figure I can’t make it any worse and maybe I can improve it.

As a writer, what is your greatest challenge?

For me the biggest challenge is seeing my writing as a reader will see it. You see, when I work on a book I spend a year or more totally immersed in the subject considering it from every possible angle. But when the reader gets it, he or she spends a few hours with it, not a year, and often with the kids fighting in the background or a football game on. How can I project how my words will come across to such a reader?

Which one of your books is your favorite?

I’d have to say "Soul Survivor". I wrote about 13 people who influenced me, and especially my faith, more than any others. It included people I have never met, such as Dostoevsky, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as people I’ve interviewed, such as [authors] Annie Dillard and Henri Nouwen. I wish for everyone the opportunity to spend a year reflecting on the great people in their lives, and trying to figure out why.

Which book was the hardest to write? Why?

The last book I wrote, "Rumors of Another World", was the hardest. I was trying to write for people in the "borderlands of faith" yet I found I kept using language they might not relate to. In the end I cut 100 pages from the manuscript because they seemed misdirected. I find that in many ways I take on, vicariously, the burden that I want to bear for the reader. If I write about doubt, I become a doubter; if I write about pain I feel pain. In this book I lived without faith for a time.

You have won several awards. Are these important to you?

I’d lie if I said no. We all like to be recognized. I must say that in the final analysis the rewards that mean most, however, are letters from readers affected by my books. Nothing is more satisfying than that mysterious, intimate connection that occurs between a writer and reader. There’s a line from the play "Shadowlands" on C. S. Lewis, "We read to know we’re not alone," I would add to that, "and we write in desperate hope that we’re not alone."

I have heard that the Christian market is one of the easiest for a writer to break into. Would you say this is true?

Hmm, would you mind if I sent you the letters I get from people trying to break into the Christian market? I don’t know how to judge that. Breaking into writing reminds me of the first time you apply for a job. The employer tells you, "I like you but we’re looking for someone with more experience." How are you supposed to have experience if no one gives you that first chance? Once you break into print the first time, or get that first book published, everything comes easier. But that’s a huge hurdle to overcome, whether you’re writing about the Christian faith or typhoons in Japan.

You are also an editor. How is that process different from the writing process?

I worked for 10 years as an editor, for Campus Life magazine. Editing is a sort of transitional phase between creativity, an outgrowth of the self, and connection with the reader. Every magazine editor knows what will work with the audience. Writers are primarily concerned about self-expression. Editors are the mediators. I’m very grateful for the years I spent thinking like an editor, because it impressed on me indelibly that in the final analysis the reader is boss. If people aren’t reading you, the sweat of writing simply evaporates.

Besides Christian books what other types of literature do you enjoy reading?

My question is whether I read any Christian books. No, that’s not true. I’ve just read a hundred books on prayer in preparation to writing on the subject myself. I read all kinds of stuff. The last book I read was Philip Roth’s novel about America turning fascist "The Plot Against America". Before that, it was a journalistic account of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in South Africa. I like reading about science. I should read poetry but I rarely get around to it. I like biographies and memoirs.

Who is your favorite author?

I always look up to Frederick Buechner as the author I know who best succeeds in treating words with the same reverence and high degree of quality that he gives to his faith. He’s simple in the most profound way.

A close friend has a theory that miracles happen every day but we don’t see them because we don’t have the self-confidence it takes to believe what we may be experiencing/seeing. Can you comment on this?

I tend to think that we humans are the only creatures in the universe concerned with what’s natural and what’s supernatural, what’s miracle and what’s not. From God’s perspective there is no "natural" or "supernatural." Everything that happens is an outgrowth of what God set in motion. C. S. Lewis has a great passage where he describes miracles as "speeded-up ordinaries." When Jesus converted water into wine, he merely speeded up the process that has long been occurring, of rain and sun making seeds sprout and turn into vines that bear fruit that ferment and create wine. All of life is, in that point of view, a "slow-motion miracle." I like that. We keep yearning for the supernatural. I can barely handle the natural.

I am a strong believer in using adversity as a catalyst for positive change. I also believe that sometimes God gives us adverse situations as gifts. In my case, I always wanted to be politically active and to write but never attempted to achieve my goals because I had convinced myself I would fail. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized that I could no longer put off my "someday list" because someday might never come. Once you’ve faced death, everything else seems simple. What is your feeling on this?

As I read the Bible I see that adversity does indeed spur creativity, it forces us beyond the barrier of comfort. And often the things we most resent or regret about ourselves are the very things God uses. For example, I used to spend energy resenting the church and family I grew up in, now I see them as the very forces that made me who I am. I became a writer in an attempt to go back and reclaim ground that had been spoiled, to recapture words that were stained. Death concentrates the mind, as [writer] Samuel Johnson said, and so does adversity of all kinds. The New Testament encourages us to "rejoice" in suffering, not in the sense of a fake smile, rather a deep appreciation of the long-term benefits. For a year I attended a group called Make Today Count, a group comprising people with terminal illnesses. I went to support a friend and each time I came away impressed by and almost envious of their wisdom and outlook on life.

You also play piano. Have you ever composed your own music? If so, how is that process different from the writing process?

No, I’ve never composed music. I marvel at creativity that does not involve words. The affect that music has on emotions is a total mystery to me: how a key change or a change in rhythm shifts the mood; why one melody sticks in the mind and not another. I would be at a loss trying to create without words.

As an activist, I try to reach out to local churches and get them involved in debt relief for Highly Indebted Poor Countries and the AIDS epidemic. It’s like pulling teeth. There is still the attitude of God’s punishing people. What do you think should be the role of Christians in world politics?[/b]

My own political concerns flow directly out of my faith. I care about the poor not out of any inbuilt compassion but because God commands me to. I care about the environment because I believe it is God’s creation, and about abused people because I believe they too are God’s creation. So my faith makes me far more involved in global issues than I would otherwise be. I understand your frustration because I run into the same problems when I write about issues I care about. All we can do is ground our prophetic message in the Bible, the one source Christians hold in common. Then we have to educate the church to what God cares about, the gospels could not be clearer about that. I also find that Christians respond when we pierce through the theory with actual human cases. Homosexuality takes on a different cast when it’s your brother or your cousin. AIDS in Africa looks different when you actually meet an orphan living on the streets or a woman unwittingly infected by her promiscuous husband. What you’re doing in person, and I’m doing in print, can help bridge that gap. It’s very tedious, isn’t it?

You are writing a new book, what is it about?

Prayer: Why and How. If I can figure out some kind of answers, I’ll let you know.

What are your hopes, both personal and professional, for the future?

I want to climb all the mountains in Colorado over 14,000 feet. There are 54 and I’ve done 44. I want to write a memoir that captures the poignancy as well as the horror of growing up fundamentalist. I want to stay married to the same woman (we’re closing in on 35 years now). I want to keep raising sights and finding challenges.

Many thanks to Philip Yancey for taking the time to answer these questions!

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