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Maybe, God is speaking and no-one is listening!

(Steve Stockman)

U2. Professing Christian boys who lost their way or prophets that are not welcome in their own Churches. The Church never has been to hot on it's support or understanding of the Rock world. Could it be that God has been speaking and we haven't been listening, was Graham Cray Principal of the evangelical Anglican College Ridley Hall right when he said he believed U2's ministry may "vividly be described as a sign of the Kingdom of God." If you are a fan journey with me and enjoy and contemplate, if you are one of my older clientele listen and think. Tonight may be an indication in modern culture. We begin in 1981 and the release of October. Simply put, it was a worship album in the charts. Here is Gloria. Bono said of the that he had to use other languages to attempt to describe his God...


U2's Gloria on tonight's Gospel Show special. In 81 the 4 Dublin boys were the next big thing and three of them spoke openly about their Christian faith. I remember an NME article that was nothing short of an exposition of Jeremiah and I later met a minister's wife who told me how Bono would one night be expounding Romans in her front room and the next be on a stage playing that awful music. October itself was a mellow affirmation of faith in a crumbling world...


By the time the band's 3rd album appeared in early 83 I was a fan and remember bunking lectures to go and acquire the album. I asked in every shop until I got to the old Caroline Records on the other side of Royal Avenue and felt I'd got the first copy in Belfast when they opened a box that had just arrived on the counter and there it was. More varied in subject matter and a more frightened Paul Rowan on the cover as opposed to the innocence of the Boy cover there was still the Biblical themes like on 40 (the Psalm) and on this song Drowning Man. It is struggling with God and God speaking back. Nial Stokes (in his book Into The Heart) has said of it "it is written in the perspective of loving God...his cup is overflowing with tenderness"


If War was moving away from October's songs about the Light then the rest of the 80's were certainly about what U2 observed from the Light. 1984 saw the release of Unforgettable Fire and by Live Aid in July 85 they were the stadium anthem band helped along it would be said by great songs like Pride In The Name Of Love about martin Luther King. Bono said he was drawn to the Luther Kings and Jesus because they were men of peace and he wasn't. Pride is about sacrifice for others and the dignity of fighting and dying for truth. It has it's references Christward in the line about being betrayed by a kiss.


By 87 U2 had conquered the world with a live show that left fans streaming from stadiums all over the world singing Psalm 40. Their greatest moment on vinyl to date is no doubt that year's Joshua Tree which put them at the top of the world. It had the Christian fraternity that had adopted them until now reeling though, over a song called I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For. Could a Christian sing that. I've debated this with people all over the world and find it sad that our narrow view of proclamation misses the point. Let me tell you some of the words that topped the US chart for 4 weeks in 87. You broke the bonds...but I still... All the theology of the cross is there, atonement, sacrifice, substitutionary death, redemption. No clearer message of the Gospel has ever been proclaimed so universally. God was speaking and the Christians were not listening. In his letter to the Philippians 3, St. Paul says the same. I have been justified but I haven't yet obtained it all, I press on towards the prize. I haven't found...


Many critics would see Rattle and Hum as U2 weakest moment. Overindulgent and pretentious has been written. I love it. Live, raw and still throbbing with faith and struggle in songs like Love Comes To Town or Rescue Me and the Gospel choir version of Still... On God Part 2, a follow up to John Lennon's God which the Beatle spoke of believing in nothing but Yoko Ono and himself, Bono talks about the contradiction of his life and of all our lives but claims a belief in love that can only under such a title be from one source. He also quotes the words of fellow Christian musician Bruce Cockburn, my own personal all time hero, with the words "You gotta Kick at the darkness, 'til it bleeds daylight". Bono had spent some time with Bruce, Aussie preacher John Smith at Greenbelt in 1987, a Festival with links to the band; Peter Williams formerly Greenbelt mainstage host with poet Stewart Henderson, was editor of their fanzine and now is lighting and stage production manager. Martin Wroe the Greenbelt Chairman until this year is currently in that role.


At the end of 89 U2 did a series of concerts at the Point Depot in Dublin at the end of which Bono said they had to go away and dream it up all over again. Boy they did and in 91 Achtung Baby hit the airwaves. A very different sound and a different slant on life and religion. Surely they'd lost it now. There seemed less spiritual or social comment. Yet closer listening hears "the universe exploding cosa one man's lie" and the Fly talking about the fall. This album is surely from the under belly and Bono has said that he'd sung it from Jesus side for long enough and was wanting another perspective. He'd read Brendan Kennelly's book of Judas and was fascinated to see faith from the other side. If they'd been writing about what they'd seen from the light what might lookin at faith from the dark Conjure. Here is the Judas story


Achtung Baby rolled into Zoo TV and that spawned a quick album Zooropa and a couple or three videos. It was Satellite TV and images thrown across the screens, it was gold lamy suits and characters like The Fly and Mc Phisto or the devil. It was silly interviews, no seeming political conscience or spiritual certainty. It seemed they were just going to have fun and entertain. And yet Bono has said it was a cover for the most serious stuff yet, a study of modern culture and the absurdity of being a rock star and of the heroes we choose, they being some of them. With his horns on, he spoke of Sarajevo and how they were lucky for they were on TV and others with food and clothes were not, showing the stupidity of what we think important or fulfilling. Why the horns. Was playing the devil not a betrayal of his one time faith? Asked about it, by a girl in Cardiff, Bono asked her had she read CS Lewis Screwtape Letters. She had. Well that was it. He was acting out one of Christendom's best loved books and Christians were not thinking enough to get it. The band even gave the book a profile in a later video Hold Me Thrill me Kiss me just to give a few clues. The whole Zoo thing was not mere education it was the cleverest and most artful form of education about our modern world. About Babyface Bono said "It's a song about watching and not being in the picture. About how people play with images, believing you know someone through an image - and thinking that by manipulating a machine that in fact controls you, you can have some kind of power. It's about the illusion of being in control."


So what about them. Are they lost or finding what we are looking for. A must read is Bill Flanagan's At The End Of The World just out on paperback. Near the end of the book he confronts them about faith and how it doesn't seem as zealous as the early days. They are not so much expected to make Soap Box statements anymore. Bono responds "It's a nicely freeing position to be into have nobody expecting it from us. We've found different ways of expressing it and recognised the power of the media to manipulate such signs. It's there for people who are interested. It shouldn't be there for people who aren't. I think the Spirit will become the important thing over the next 10 years, when it becomes clear that God is not dead. Nietzsche is." Flanagan sums the whole book up by saying "A singer becomes a soul singer when he decides to reveal rather than conceal. For all the sunglasses and photo approval and image shaping that they have learned, U2 still believe in their hearts that the truth will justify and set them free. They still reveal everything when they play their songs. They are soul singers now." For me I Still...and Tomorrow... confirm these boys are still there on the journey to what they are looking for. It comes by faith. Whether it's being aware of their friendship with John Smith, their attendance at one of my Youth events or just that they've already been listening to this years GB tapes. They may be as Cray said the best sign of the Kingdom. God may be speaking and we are not listening.


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