Interview: Maynard & Whiteley, of “Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog"* - U2 Feedback

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Old 03-17-2004, 09:17 AM   #1
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Interview: Maynard & Whiteley, of “Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog"*

by Rabab Ahmed

“Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog” is a book that intertwines one of the most renowned rock n' roll icons and a sense of spirituality. It sheds light upon the manner in which Christian religous leaders around the world assimilate the spirituality behind U2's music into their sermons and proclamations. The editors of the book, Beth Maynard and Raewynne J. Whiteley, have compiled a number of sermons and speeches received from all over the world into this book, a task that was much more difficult than we can imagine. There were an extremely large number of responses received, which made selecting the entries much more challenging. The entries include preachers and speakers from all ages and sectors of the Christian faith. All the royalties for the book are going to TASO, an African AIDS charity organization, in keeping with Bono's constant endeavors to educate about and eliminate AIDS in Africa. All the contributors/writers of the book donated their work for this cause.

A vicar of Trinity Episcopal "Old Swedes" Church in Swedesboro NJ, Raewynne J. Whiteley has a PhD in Homiletics from Princeton Theological Seminary, and has had a number of articles and sermons published. Co-editor Beth Maynard is rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Fairhaven, MA and past President of Gathering the neXt Generation, the Episcopal Church's network for postmodern ministry. All this information and more could be found at the website for the book at

I had the pleasant opportunity to interview these two ladies separately, and found myself to be drawn to their respective personalities from a simple phone call. I presented both with the same questions, with the exception of two, and was intrigued to find the answers differing or concurring with each other at variance. Where Ms. Maynard's voice betrayed a hint of a southern drawl, Dr. Whiteley sported an Australian accent, both seeming to be strikingly different from the other. However, their underlying faiths, their love for the band and what they stand for, were all unmistakably alike.

1) Where were you born/raised?

BM: I was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and then came to Massachusetts for college.

RW: I was born in Sydney, Australia and raised around the East Coast, namely Melbourne.

2) When did you first know that you wanted to work in the ways of God, so to speak? Did you come from a religious family that influenced this?

BM: I did not come from a religious background, in fact I was brought up as an atheist and started looking for God in my late teens. I explored different religious systems through reading and trying to practice them, and then I fell in love with Jesus. I tried to add him to the list of great spiritual leaders I was formulating, but for me, next to him, all the others kind of faded away. I was about to go to college when I figured out that the real story hadn't been that I was looking for God, but that Jesus was looking for me, and that's when I became one of his disciples and was baptized. From the beginning, I wanted to put my faith into action. I worked at a homeless shelter after college, and then went to seminary when I was 27. I was actually ordained at 31.

RW: I came from a very religious family. Always having been involved with church, I can't think of a time when I didn't believe in God.

3) Since when have you been a U2 fan? Is there anything specific that inspired you to become one? What particular song/even/person made you realize that they weren't simply just another rock n' roll band but with something more behind their music?

BM: I became aware of them around the time of The Joshua Tree album, 1987. There was no particular song that made me realize it, but more so the idea/vision behind the album. It was just the whole vision of the JT album that got me, especially the way it combined faith and social injustice.

RW: I've been a U2 fan since fairly recently. My brother used to listen to them when I was in my teens. About three years ago at a conference when getting ready to preach I listened to the All That You Can't Leave Behind album, and the song "Peace On Earth" struck out. It was this song particularly as at the time, there was the war in Afghanistan, and other little connections I made with the images from the song. My father is from Belfast, and the images of people in Ireland also contributed to this feeling. Also, I was reading out the names of those who died in the World Trade Center attacks before the services in church, so all the images were there. After I bought my ATYCLB album, my brother started contributing to my collection.

4) Have you ever met Bono or any other members of the band? If not, if you were to meet them, what would you say to them? How do you think they might respond to the book?

BM: No, never met any of them. In fact, I've never met anyone that I quote in my sermons, or anyone whose writings I work with. (Laughs) If I were to meet them, I honestly don't know what I would say. I never thought about this actually, never asked myself what I'd say. So, the answer is, I don't know! (laughing)

RW: I have never met them, no. But I think it'd be interesting to see what they thought of their own songs. I would love to know to what extent their religious references are deliberate. How much of what they say/sing about is concious, and how much are just allusions.

5) What inspired you with the idea for this book?

BM: It was three of us- me, Raewynne, and Mike Kinman. (He has a sermon in the book on "Pride"). We began talking to each other about how often U2 lyrics come to mind when preparing a service, or giving a good example, illustration of something.

RW: I had a conversation with the chaplain at a place where I was preaching- an Episcopalian church- a number of us had been talking about U2. Why U2? We all like them (laughs). We were interested in reaching out to the U2 fans- not just church people, but general people; people who are more likely to buy it (the book) due to their love for U2.

6) In the FAQ section of your website ( I read that you received many entries and that it was difficult to choose which ones to include in the book. So how did you make your selections?

BM: It was a concern of balance and diversity. We wanted people from different Christrian denominations, not just a particular group. We wanted a selection of songs from different albums. Yes, there were many about "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," and we chose on the basis of what helped to create a diverse material for the book.

RW: Well, we all went through the entries together. I looked at them from the technical perspective; whether they were any good or not, ranked them, and observed the mix of how well they connected with U2. We had to make sure that the works weren't just being used as a way to get people's attention.

7) Some people find the aspect of religion that can be found in U2's music to be a bit unnerving- they find it to be mostly directed towards "only Christianity". What is your take on that? What would you say in response?

BM: One of the gifts that U2 has that I really admire is their ability to write with a Christian outlook but in a way that is entirely accessible to anybody, it is universal. They are not at all only for Christians, and they are not trying to advocate that.

RW: The reality is that the members of the band come from a Christian culture. Thus it's not surprising if some of their images relate to faith, but there are universal truths they teach in those songs. This does help those who are not Christian realize that Christianity has some connection with these things.

8) If/when you mention U2 as an exemplary in a sermon, how is that received? Do you think people appreciate the reference to "pop culture" or do they prefer to keep to the biblical references?

BM: When I speak about any example of pop culture in a sermon, I am doing it to help reiterate what the Bible preaches. I am enhancing and illustrating my point when using them as an example. My experience is that most people relate very well to it (the reference to U2). I've had people not recognize U2, or other pop culture references, but most people are excited to see this connection with the world they live in, this reality.

RW: Well, some people have no clue who U2 is, usually those over 60 years of age. But they really enjoy these references, as they raise a lot of questions. I remember this one man had told me that after listening to the sermon he had gone home and thought about it. He said he usually never thinks about these when he gets home. Basically, it is a way of connecting real life with scriptures.

9) (Beth only) Have you found any other artist/band/"pop culture icon" to be as focused on certain beliefs, or as influential?

No, I haven't. I'm not aware of any other band who has as much fluency in Christian theology as U2. There are other bands dealing with spiritual themes, but none of them have been active for 20 years. U2 has had time to explore a much wider diversity of issues, so there's nobody who compares in that sense.

10) (Raewynne only) In light of everything that's going on in this world- what with the wars and hatred brewing towards an inevitable boiling point- how do you think your book might affect people, if at all?

I think it would push people to think critically, to make a connection between culture and faith. U2 is good at thinking critically, and making people do the same. They raise issues for people with faith, and for those who are just fans (without any religious affiliation), the book might suggest that faith has something to do with real life.

My highest gratitude with regards goes to Beth Maynard and Raewynne Whiteley for taking the time to be interviewed.

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Old 03-17-2004, 01:01 PM   #2
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* I need to order this book!

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Old 03-17-2004, 01:22 PM   #3
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Great interview!
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Old 03-18-2004, 11:48 AM   #4
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Originally posted by EPandAmerica

* I need to order this book!
Yes you do - it's great!

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Old 03-28-2004, 02:22 AM   #5
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i just got this book. haven't read it yet but it looks very interesting!

Nice interview!
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Old 03-28-2004, 12:14 PM   #6
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Thank you everyone for your kind replies!!! I really appreciate it. I'm glad you all liked the interview....and yes, the book IS awesome!

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Old 04-07-2004, 11:55 PM   #7
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I just started the book and I can't put it down.


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