Wednesday, May 03, 2006

READ THIS IF:Your favorite song about heaven is NOT "I Can Only Imagine"

"People always ask us what our favorite song about heaven is." the contemporary Christian musician said. "Well, 'I Can Only Imagine' has a very special place in our heart; but there's a song we grew up on that talks about heaven being a place where all the glory; all the honor, all the recognition and attention revolves around Christ and Christ alone.."

First comment by many of you:

"Yeah, I can relate to there being other songs about heaven being my favorite on the topic. 'I Can Only Imagine' by Mercy Me is a classic song, but a bit poppy for my
taste. Mercy Me often seems, to me, a bit syrupy. I am curious to hear what song this person nominates...I bet it's not my favorite (U2's "Where The Streets Have No Name"), ...that's too "out of the evangelical box" for a Christian artist to name; and it's not by an officially Christian band. And of course, though it's stirring and worshipful, it never once explicitly mentions Jesus.

Watch this clip, drop a jaw, eat a few words, and continue reading below:

The quote was indeed from Bart Millar, frontman for MercyMe itself! And the song that the very boys known as the "one hit wonders" (and "one trick ponies," ), admit that their sentimental pop anthem "I Can Only Imagine" is overshadowed by U2's "Streets."

You just saw the perform it...I am sure at the expense of some CCM "friends."

Que paso?

Not only that, but MercyMe's new CD is truly their first "rock" record (as opposed to pop); and is so edgy that it's being called their "Jesus Freak" (DC Talk's disc that radically switched genre from previous rap/r and b to raw rock!). The band is interviewed about this shift in this Christianity Today article.

Now, readers who know me (and my CD collection) well are perhaps worried that I have gotten old. I have in fact gotten old, but I have not backsildden..uh, forgive me, changed my musical preferences..enough to claim I really love, love the Mercy Me version of "Streets," or even intend to but the new Mercy Me Cd. I am sure they are great guys, and I'm thrilled and intrigued about their new direction, but...yadayada
(Now that that qualifier is out of the way, I won't have to beg that readers stop sending me Carman videos...)

Ah, "Streets," that U2 concert staple that even on an off night, "achieves liftoff," as Bono would have it. Bono himself admits, ironically, that the lyrics are half-baked and well, more "MercyMe"-like than classic U2. But it's a song with deep stark soul. And such soul is not for sale; the band nixed $23 million for its use in a commercial.Bono said elsewhere: “'Streets' the one song we can guarantee God will walk through the room as soon as we play it”.

To which Al Rogers quips: "It sounds like U2 did not want to risk God’s arrival at a gig being confused with a product which the song might have been used to advertise."

By the way, regarding "Streets" being "about heaven," Bono has made pretty clear that is not a radical misread; even changing lyrics in concert to "Where the streets have no shame..." and tagging on endings like "Then there will be no time for sorrow/Then there will be no time for shame/Then there will be no time! (lyrics borrowed from "The Playboy Mansion"...but that's another story!)
But it is too simplistic to say it is "just" about heaven; though it starts and ends there. The last thing we want to do is celebrate U2's "evangelical faith" and baptize them as CCM heroes. God deliver us. As always, Beth Maynard has some of the most penetrating thoughts about U2. She suggests:

To say "Streets" is about "heaven" in that very limited and popular-piety sense sells a spacious song way short. But it's a very different matter to view that song as expounding Jesus' much richer, more complex, and more paradoxical proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

The "room God walks through" on streets is decidedly on earth; not heaven. There ARE no streets in heaven...there is ONE street; that's precisely the point (I know you were taught in well-meaning Sunday School classes about "streets of gold," but a quick Bible check will correct us). It's Kingdom come on earth (partly and propleptically)as it is (perfectly) in heaven; but the streets are in Dublin; Ethiopia; New Orleans, and most recently Africa (watch this and weep!)
So in a delightful irony, a song that many believers intuitively knew was about the Kingdom of heaven invading earth, has been critcized by conservatives for lacking its previous "spiritual context" in its current tour version. Why? Because the opening prayer is about Africa; not a biblical Psalm as usual. Give me a break, please. What does the Kingdom have to do with Africa?! What does a question like that have to do with Christianity!

A poem i once crafted:

"Thy Kingdom come

on earth
on Fulton Mall
on time
on me

in Africa
in hell
in droves
in me.."

Or has Beth Maynard concludes:

That ("Streets" as expounding Jesus' much richer, more complex, and more paradoxical proclamation of the Kingdom of God) has room for both what people loved about the song on the Elevation tour (the manifestation/ecstatic experience of the Kingdom now), and for what concertgoers are wrestling with about the Africa version (the not-yet demand that the Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.)

.... speaking from my personal perspective as a believer, "Streets" is the opposite of "utopian"; it's reality therapy. Which is why I cringe to see its vision relegated to pie in the sky when you die.

For another good time on the streets, here below is the video of U2, at SuperBowl 2002 halftime, offering up "Streets," to God in a secular arena, just two months after 9/11.
(Why wasn't THIS the most famous halftime appearance ever? There was no wardrobe malfunction...)

The names projected on the screen are those claimed by the hijackers (making the heaven/eternity connection chilling); the intro to the song this day is Bono gently praying aloud...twice even...Psalm 51:15: "O Lord, open up my lips, that I might show forth Thy praise." Then after a Pentecostal "glory run" by Bono, the song moves explosively and reverently into a song that is... well, what Bart Millard of Mercy Me has called "our band's favorite song about heaven"

Imagine that!

Even if it's not "just" about heaven; it's all gospel.


  1. Great article. Thanks. I posted a link to this on my blog.

  2. Found you through Amber's link. Thank both of you!!!!! (Amber knows how I feel about U2)

  3. this was an exceptional read . . . thanks!

  4. They've been playing this for ages. I personally saw them play this back in a 2002 concert and then in 2003 at Creation West.

    At the latter, Bono was featured extensively on video, having partnered with Michael W. Smith to spread the message about Africa and the ONE campaign.

    But even at that, MercyMe were playing this before then anyway.

    So, not as newsworthy as you think...


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!