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Old 10-05-2004, 05:07 PM   #1
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U2101: The Spirituality of U2

By KYLE MUNSON
REGISTER MUSIC CRITIC
October 5, 2004


The Rev. Amy Miracle paused the DVD player with the image of the band U2 frozen on the TV screen.

"He's praying," she said and pointed to lead singer Bono, who was introducing the song "Where the Streets Have No Name" during a June 2001 concert in Boston. His head bowed, he incanted several barely distinguishable verses of what Miracle identified as Psalm 116.

Such was the intriguing collision of pop culture and the pulpit last Wednesday at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Des Moines. Miracle - yes, that's her real surname - launched her free, four-week course, "Spirituality of U2." She posed a question to the dozen regular worshippers/fans and two journalists in the room:

"How is a concert similar or different than worship?"

Concert audiences and church congregations alike can get whipped into a frenzy, though the consensus last week was that one tends to be more raucous than the other. And the front rows at a concert are more coveted than the first few rows of church pews.

More people certainly sing along at a concert, Miracle added, than she can persuade to raise their voices in church.

But there's a pattern and rhythm, she said, shared by preachers and rock stars alike.

To paraphrase a U2 song, church services and rock concerts are one, but they're not the same.

Miracle let the rest of "Where the Streets Have No Name" play on the DVD, and Bono ended the performance with a "God bless you" to his audience.

Similarities galore.

"Every time I watch it, it warms me somehow," Miracle said, and added that Bono and the band radiate the sort of hope she finds sorely lacking in most political leaders.

Miracle admits to being a lifelong U2 fan and even described a U2
concert she attended at Madison Square Garden in New York as "one of the great evenings of my life."

But she's not smitten with the band's fame. Hers isn't a class on how America is all too familiar with the notion of the rock star as a secular idol verging on Christ figure - the ongoing worship of Elvis Presley and the "sightings" of him since his 1977 death, for instance.

No, Miracle and other Christians around the globe have keyed into U2 to plumb deeper meanings.

Even on the surface, the band can make for significant religious study. There's no more eloquent or fervent humanitarian in rock 'n' roll right now than Bono. He's a mega-missionary of sorts, with his campaigning for the starving, debt-laden nations of Africa, among other causes.

Wednesday's class, which will continue for three more weeks, took a page (literally) from the 2003 book "Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog." U2 was embraced as one of Christian rock's own in the early 1980s but was largely given over to the "mainline," or secular, world as the band embraced a heavier dose of glitz and irony in the 1990s.

But a return to an earnest, no-frills rock sound and our own post-9/11 thirst for compassionate heroes has seen the shine restored to U2's halo as it prepares to release a new album on Nov. 23. The band seems to have achieved a balance between its religious and secular threads.

Miracle brings apt U2 credentials to her class. She holds not only a Princeton degree but also spent two years in Belfast, Ireland (U2's hometown), in the mid-1980s to earn a master's in Irish political history at Queen's University . She soaked up some of the regional history and flavor that's lurking between the lines in U2's songs.

Miracle touched on Bono's mixed religious upbringing; he's a rare Catholic-Protestant hybrid in a land where so much violence has erupted because of that rift. Hence the U2 song "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which references the 1972 killing of Irish civilian demonstrators by British soldiers.

Miracle's students brought a range of U2 experience to the table, from newbies to die-hard fans.

"I'm a closet VH1 addict," said one.

"I bought (the 1983 U2 album) 'War' on vinyl."

" 'Joshua Tree' got me through my first semester of college."

It was a religion class, so of course there was a text to study. But instead of Bibles, Miracle handed out the lyrics to thesong "Where the Streets Have No Name," noting how some of its images echoed the book of Revelation .

One man chuckled that he had to keep himself from thinking of the U2-Christianity connection in terms of "The Da Vinci Code" - which hidden symbols might he be missing?

Miracle stressed that her class was about how God has more of an overt presence in pop culture than many Christians might be willing to admit.

"This is music that helps me better understand God," was her bottom line.

Who knows when U2 will stage another concert in Iowa, when you can suss the band's spirituality for yourself. Meanwhile, try Miracle's class. Her focus this week: U2's songs of social justice, such as "Pride (In the Name of Love)."

But regular concertgoers with scant church experience should note: Class doesn't end with an encore and a standing ovation. It ends with a prayer.
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"The truth is when that singer is saying something that comes from right down within him, and it affects you right down within you. That's when you start talking about great music, as distinct from nice music." -- Bono
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Old 10-08-2004, 01:36 PM   #2
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Oh my gosh! Do you live in Iowa? I heard of that! I might go to it...if i can get a ride...
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Old 10-14-2004, 08:13 AM   #3
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i went to that last night...we compared "Wake Up, Dead Man" and "If God Will Send His Angels" to two of the psalms.
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Old 10-14-2004, 03:23 PM   #4
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That's cool PennyPyro...will you be going to the other sessions as well?
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Old 10-18-2004, 06:36 PM   #5
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yes, i will!
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