One word I learned in Ben's class was hesed. Covenant love. This is the love God promised to his people, and they in turn were to respond in kind with all their hearts, mind and strength. We have a covenant to love God and to love one another. Sound familiar? The two greatest commandments. The concept is simple: We cannot fulfill the greatest commandment if we do not also fulfill the second-greatest commandment.
"Because hesed is something in which God delights (Jeremiah 9:24), it is also something that he requires of man: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness (hesed), and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)," writes Stephen D. Ryan, OP
"Like marital love, covenantal love is given within the context of a relationship where it is already promised and where the recipient is commanded to respond in kind," says Ben Witherington III, professor of biblical studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky.
It is with this spirit of hesed rock singer Bono combines his ministry (the fight against global poverty and disease) and his vocation as an entertainer through his rock band U2.
Rev. Christian Scharen, a Lutheran pastor who is affiliated with the Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School, examines this concept further through his book, One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God.
My intention here is not to write a comprehensive review about the book, which by the way is quite good. Many bloggers/blogs have already written excellent reviews:
Tim Thompson, Cristo Lumen, JP...
Instead, I want to offer a few random thoughts about the book.
First, the book is not based on interviews with Bono or other members of U2, although the author does use many quotes from Bono from other sources. Rather, the book is a combination of Rev. Scharen's personal knowledge of the band's music and how the U2 lyrics reflect some of the best traditions of our Judeo-Christian philosophy.
There is a simplistic quality about the book. "I wrote this book primarily for young people--those in high school and college," Rev. Scharen said in the Acknowledgements section at the end of the book.
He also makes this note in the Introduction: "This book is an attempt to reveal to those unfamiliar with Christianity that that the Christian tradition has, metaphorically speaking, many 'keys'."
Yet, Rev. Scharen takes a very deep look at how Bono and U2 view such concepts as suffering and how they interact with wisdom, love, hope, and mercy.
For example, the author speaks of how the song Amazing Grace is one of Bono's favorites, a sentiment expressed in the U2 song Grace. The song was inspired by a young Ugandan girl named Grace Nawakunde, who was suffering from AIDS, and how she used her God-given talents to take part in her country's fight against the disease. Grace brought her message to the poorer neighborhoods of the Ugandan capital of Kampala through song and drama, also a response in the spirit of hesed.
The book quotes Bono as he recalled his first impression when he met Grace:
"I asked, 'where do these women get their passion from?" I was told they're all HIV positive themselves. I looked at them . They were singing with such great joy. I thought "how could this be?" Then I realized...these are the firemen running up the building. These are the heroes of the day. And they know, all of them, they're going to die because they can't afford the dollar a day that it would take to keep them alive."
Not only does Rev. Scharen quote Bono on occasion, but some important prophets of our time. In one chapter, the book mentions a conversion between Bono and fellow musican Noel Gallagher of the band Oasis about reconciliation with God.
Then the book brings in some of the writings from Philip Yancey and Henri Nouwen about the parables and specifically The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).
Yancey notes that Jesus gave us the parables to "correct our notions of who God is and how God loves." He suggests that this parable could be renamed "The Prodigal God."
The book follows those comments by quoting Nouwen:
"God rejoices. Not because all the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted and are praising him for his goodness. No, God rejoices because one of his children who was lost has been found."
I could go on and on about the wonderful themes in this book and some of the other contemporary prophets who are mentioned (St. Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day, Dietrich Bonhofer), but that would take a lot more space. Instead I urge you to pick up the book and read it yourself.
The deep spiritual themes in the music created by Bono and U2 have led others to find creative ways to share those insights with young people (and those who are young at heart).
Rev. Paige Blair, an Episcopal priest, and Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, are avid promoters of the U2Charist (based on the Episcopal Church's informal Rite III). The service uses music from U2 and calls on people of faith to rally around The Millenium Development Goals. The U2Charist was the brainchild of Sarah Dylan Breuer.
Please watch this blog for a reflection about the U2Charist from Aquinas Newman Center Campus Minister Rosie Chinea later this month.