Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reflections on a U2Charist

By Rosie Chinea

Love is a temple
Love the higher law…
One life
With each other
One life
But we’re not the same
We get to carry each other
Carry each other

- One by U2

What do these lyrics mean to you? Is it theology? Does it speak to your spirituality? Is it popular culture? Or, is it a combination of theology, spirituality and popular culture? What can these words elicit from someone at a concert? How about someone in a Church? These are the questions that impelled me to attend an U2Charist at Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal Church, on November 15, 2005, in San Francisco, California.

What is an U2Charist? It is the intermingling of U2’s music and The ONE Campaign's message to make poverty history, embedded within a liturgy. Since I am a huge U2 fan, have a passion for social justice, and, since I was taking a course on the sociology of religion, I found this opportunity to attend an U2Charist opportune for my spiritual, social, and intellectual well-being.

We began the U2Charist by all processing into the sanctuary to U2’s song Where The Streets Have No Name, played by a teenage rock band. The energy was simultaneously somber and empowering. Images of poverty and street name signs in San Francisco were shot onto large screens on each side of the altar. Walking with the community towards the altar, listening and singing to the music, and watching the images on the screens elicited a sense of solidarity with the entire human race and empowered those present to pursue social justice causes.

The sermon, based on
Ezekiel 36:23-28 and Matthew 11:2-5, given by Rev. Matt Warren, elicited members within the community to reflect on “carrying each other” in this world. He encouraged the congregation to reflect on world and local issues, to build relationships, and to not sit still but to carry out change for the enhancement of the human community, like Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa and Rosa Parks. “Christianity is not a noun but a verb.” Christ relies on us to do God’s will here on earth. It is up to us to “carry each other” and make things happen. For the kingdom of God to be realized here on earth we must come together as the “One” body of Christ and carry out the necessary changes for the betterment of society.

U2’s music, popular culture, something that continually both reflects and shapes people, within the liturgy, allowed for the people to more deeply connect to each other and to God. The sacred can be experienced from within the profane since religion and popular culture are so tightly intertwined. Images such as, the twin towers, hurricane victims, and the immediate poverty in the San Francisco area, elicited members’ affective and moral bond to their Episcopal community and to the human community at large.

The U2Charist elicited people to unify, see the good with each person, and called for all to help in the creation of making the Kingdom come alive here on earth. This liturgy challenged those present to commit to “carrying each other” toward the goals of eliminating world hunger and hatred and embracing love for one another and God.

To go into the intricacies of the U2Charist I attended would not do it justice. For me, it was a moment of grace. To be with a community on fire with their faith, open and already participating in issues of social justice, and singing my favorite music by a band that has a powerful message of creating heaven on earth, was a moving experience.

Rosie Chinea is the campus minister at at Aquinas Newman Center in Albuquerque.

[Note: The poster pictured above is from a recent U2Charist service & Bread for the World benefit in Macon, Ga.]

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Bono & Hesed (Covenant Love)

On Sundays before I go to 11:00 A.M. Mass, I attend Ben Baran's class at Aquinas Newman Center. Ben is a biblical scholar who has developed quite a following in Albuquerque. He gives us a deep understanding of the traditional and historical background behind the scriptures.

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 U2Charist
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.