July 5, 2010
Review: Garrett, Greg. We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2. Louisville: WJKnoxP, 2009. 141 pages.
Greg Garrett tells us in the introduction to his text, We Get to Carry Each Other, that the word “gospel” has often been misinterpreted to mean “that which saves us” and that it is better translated to mean a type of teaching, proclamation, or understanding that has the potential to enact real change in who we are if we hear it, and more importantly, act on it.
This is Garrett’s third book examining the “God talk” and spirituality found in popular culture, and Garrett very skillfully bridges the worlds of the sacred and the often assumed to be profane. Through lyrics and actions, Garret claims U2 has invited us to ask deeper questions about our personal beliefs, our relationship to each other and God, and ultimately how those beliefs and relationships interact to affect our ability to “transform the world.”
In identifying the possible audience for this book, Garrett writes he has two in mind; Christians who don’t think they have anything to discover about the sacred in the words of rock stars, and those who resent the idea that they have to be Christians to truly appreciate the band. Having been on both of those sides of the U2 spirituality debate, this is his attempt to work out what the band means for both cynical believer and skeptic non-believer.
Those of us who have already worked out a spiritual meaning for the band (meaning the actual most likely audience for the book) will have to be content to have our insight confirmed, and hopefully also find new inspiration in his analysis of the band – which is not only possible, but probable, especially in the final chapter. Garrett admits that this is a deeply personal book, and at times it feels like the journal of someone documenting their private spiritual epiphanies. Not that the book is presented as a journal, but the reader could easily use it as personal devotional text. Each chapter, “Belief”, “Communion”, and “Social Justice”, is headed with a “listening file” of songs to reflect on while contemplating the topics at hand.
Unfortunately, I would think people who resist the idea that the band has something to do with spirituality and don’t understand the whole insistence on seeing U2 through a Christian lens are not going to pick up a book with this title. That’s a shame because Garrett has moments of inspiration when defining some of the more difficult Christian abstractions by applying them to the band. At one point, he explains the concept of the trinity by talking about the various roles the band members have and how when they work together as a creative force they are greater than the sum of their parts. At first I rolled my eyes at this, but hey, if Saint Patrick can do the same using the most common of field green, why not?
The book drags through the “Belief” chapter becoming a bit too speculative of what lyrics mean and how they apply to Garrett’s interpretation of Christianity, which is influenced by his status as a lay preacher and writer in residence for the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest. He leaves the band and goes on explorations of theological concepts far more often in this chapter than the others. At these moments, the book loses a sense of purpose and becomes a collection of interesting observations the author made while thinking about faith. This meandering can be deadly dull and disappointing after the anticipation set by the introduction. However, in the end he finishes the chapter by linking it back to the main themes of the book: communion and community.
“Communion” starts with a retelling of two concerts that happened the day of, and shortly after, the death of Bono’s father. Bono fell to the stage in grief and was helped through those evenings powered by the connection with his bandmates and the thousands of fans in attendance. Anyone who has ever felt the emotional connection and strangely spiritual moments of a regular U2 show can only imagine how intense and raw that had to be – and it is a moment in the book that crystallizes Garrett’s ability to connect the natural to the spiritual and give it all meaning.
To his credit in the chapter that follows, Garrett doesn’t just talk about the celebratory moments of communion and community, but also discusses the problems that are inherent to the circumstance of being reliant on others and have others reliant on you. He highlights lyrics and interview sound-bites that demonstrate the band’s uneasiness with being tied to Christianity as public figures and as a matter of personal belief. Garrett states that these are the same kinds of questions we all have in our journey and so begins to build toward his final theme of carrying each other, of the necessity of a community bound by common beliefs. Although he doesn’t make it explicit that those beliefs have to be Christian, he has clearly given readers a Christian filter through which to consider these things.
He writes in the final chapter, “If God will send his angels to straighten things out, well and good. But if God doesn’t – and clearly, most of the time, given the state of the world that doesn’t happen, and probably it shouldn’t – we have to become angels for one another.” It is in taking action that the teaching found in the entity that is U2 comes to fruition.
Comparing the band to the Hebrew prophets, Garrett discusses how faith must lead to action, which is the calling card of any encounter with U2. Since the beginning of their career the band has always encouraged us to see the ridiculousness of the current situation and embrace the vision of a better human community and do something to actually move toward it. Garrett is at his best when he shows us how U2 reminds us of the necessity for all of us to carry each other. More importantly, they show us that it’s not burden, but becomes a joy. After the line isn’t “We HAVE to carry each other,” but rather, “we GET to.” In the end, that is the greatest message, the greatest good news, this particular gospel has to offer. –Laurie Britt-Smith
A frequent contributor to Interference.com, Dr. Britt-Smith is an assistant professor of English and Director of the Writing Program at the University of Detroit Mercy.
August 27, 2009
“I’m readyâ€¨/Ready for what’s nextâ€¨/Ready to duckâ€¨/Ready to dive”
“Zoo Station,” U2
When my new book–We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2–came out, I knew that it entailed engaging the Christian and secular media-and what that might mean. I’ve done enough writing about religion and culture, been on enough local, national, and international shows, to know that first, there’s so much interest in the intersection of religion and culture from both the sacred and the secular media that I’d be spending a lot of time talking to reporters, producers, and radio hosts.