Friday, January 15, 2010

U2 and the Bible

Admittedly I'm not the world's greatest U2 fan-my Mum used to play The Joshua Tree when I was younger so maybe I'm stuck in the idea of anything my Mum might be into, couldn't possibly be that cool. For several years I've managed to get away with only a passing interest in anything to do with them (towers, taxes and big claw-like structures seem to be my main association with them) but as my foray into reception theory and biblical studies grows (it's what all the cool kids are doing these days) I come across more and more work on how U2 use the Bible in their music.

The first time I came across any serious scholarship on the subject was as the SBL in Boston where I heard Andrew Davies, who originally taught in Sheffield give a paper on "The Bible under the Joshua Tree" which the SBL helpfully published here. Andrew's presentation was resplendent with graphics and audio snippets. And I admit it, I was jealous. I wished I studied something cool enough to have audio clips (people singing the Psalms in Hebrew doesn’t count). The paper was also memorable as it was the first time I’d ever asked a presenter a question (those who know SBL know that you must have a certain degree of brass neck and verbosity to stand up at question time-you’re not really asking for information, more to prove someone wrong). But I thought I’d stand up for the Irish interest and asked about what their religious upbringing might have to do with what seems to be a rather biblically literate group.

Recently the rather brilliant Faith Central blog on The Times website had an entry on Bono and the Bible, looking at a new book in Italian, U2: The Name of Love by Andrea Morandi. There's 664 pages of Italian I won't be reading anytime soon, but the blog does give a link to one of the better sites that list biblical references in U2 lyrics.

I have actually used U2 lyrics in some of my resources for second level inservices. I try to get teachers to see that rather than try to be trendy and bring a recent "hit" into the classroom and try and read God and moral theology into it (a popular one of late seems to be "Where is the Love" by the Black Eyed Peas (and the lovely Justin). I would think "can do better"-it's far too obvious and was released in 2003-trendiness moves on quickly!). Rather than try to keep up with trends (you'll never please all of the people all of the time anyway), try and use modern song lyrics that use the same style as the biblical text you're looking at, or address the same themes. Often students understand the reasoning of modern song lyrics very easily-and then bring that comprehension back to the "difficult" piece biblical text you are trying to work with. U2 lyrics work well here:
"U2 “40” (Rock, 1983). This version of Psalm 40 combines the elements of thanksgiving with the cry of lament. The song could be used to consider the nature of the faith of the Israelites as expressed in the psalm, or to illustrate how one individual psalm can express seemingly contradictory emotions and sentiments.

Another U2 song to consider is “The First Time” (1993) which according to Bono is a retelling of the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) where the son rejects his father’s welcome. Useful in looking at the idea of a parable or another angle for trying to untangle this difficult parable"

At the SBL in New Orleans (Who Dat?) I found this book by Westminster John Knox which might be useful to anyone who wishes to pursue the idea further-the book is more on the spiritual and ethical side but well worth a look.

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