Thursday, May 01, 2008

Does MacPhisto have a prayer?


"Jesus laughed in the Holy Spirit; and prayed, 'Daddy, I thank You that You have hidden Your secrets from the professional and the religious; and instead embedded them as gifts to the children and the childlike."
-Jesus' prayer in Luke 1o:21

So many Christians..especially those that Christians like U2 call "squeakies,"
didn't get (or "got" and didn't like) U2's 1990's incarnation as prophetic subversive, over-the-top satire and commentary-kitsch: ZOO TV/POP MART.
Disappointingly, but predictably, it was pastors who in particular who didn't take the time or imagination to get the point; they often "slid down the surface of things" and concluded U2 had backslidden, and unfound Who they had been looking for.

Of course, Bono dressed as the devil would raise a red flag (:

But only for those who haven't read Screwtape:

Bono's 'Satan' persona, Macphisto, has probably raised more Christian hackles than anything else U2 have ever done, with most Christians failing to understand what Bono is up to. In an interview with a prominent Irish paper earlier this year Bono commented that the whole concept of the Macphisto character was one of mockery - taking his idea from the adage 'mock the devil and he will flee from you.' Such irony and tongue-in-cheek humour is common throughout the work of the band and is a very effective way of bringing people to think about the good and evil in the world. Bono mocks to make his point - and this point is transferred to thousands of people with an effectiveness that preachers can only dream about.

The Church has never coped well with its artists and U2 are no exception. They have refused to play by anyone else's rules, and have frequently overstepped the tight boundaries of 'permissible behaviour' drawn up by the church. As a result the church has often viewed them with suspicion. Even one of their most explicit songs of Christian faith and longing for a better world, "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" was taken by many Christians as evidence that U2 had lost their faith..

..Bono: One night I was doing my Elvis-devil dance on stage with a young girl, in Wales, and she said "are you still a believer? If so, what are you doing dressed up as the devil?" I said "have you read the Screwtape Letters?" Which is a C.S. Lewis book that a lot of intense Christians are plugged into. They are letters from the devil. That's where I got the whole philosophy of mock-the-devil-and-he-will-flee-from-you. So she said "yes" and I said "so you know what I'm doing." Then she relaxed and said "I want to bless you."

The MacPhisto character as "obvious" a devil persona as one could create (red horns), but is also in a very postmodern way far more fluid as to exactly "who" he represents and re-presents. The Elvis connection was intriguing, as was MacPhisto's earlier pre-incarnation/cousin: Mirrorball Man, the televangelista (Follow the "obvious" and ancillary matches between "Matrix" characters and who they partly portray: For example, Neo is clearly a Christ-figure, but he is also every Christian; Trinity is obviously a Trinity figure, but also the Holy Spirit; Morpeus morphs between John the Baptist and Peter; Cypher is Lucifer..Hello? Lu-Cypher.. and Judas; etc.).
The history and evolution of the MacPhisto has been well-traced here.

But a conversation with Ryan yesterday (a link to his blog here for no other reason than a shameless plug) got me rethinking why I almost always use clips of MacPhisto when I teach my Ministry Skills Institute courses for pastors and leaders longing to engage culture; and especially when i am asked to teach on spiritual warfare.

The final night of the ZOO TV tour, in particular, raises several points.

For one, Bono makes explicit the devil typology; and to get a jab, apologetic and word to any squeaky pastors still listening (drawing a fish in the sand), he digs deep theologically into the sovereignty of God (see the important "The Devil is God's devil" connections here)...and in/directly alludes to the critiques: "People think I've forgotten about Him, but I haven't"...

Not to mentions talking points around theodicy; fallenness, free will and just about everything else systematically brings up; but is more helpfully addressed in systemic theology....and courses for pastors on U2.

Here it is; exegete it:

As a bonus to fans/fanatics, here's a rare clip of Bono singing "Desire" in full MacPhisto character. The band soon dropped this
song from MacPhisto's repertoire (though Vincent Price , Alice Cooper, and St. Schizoprenia would like it), moving into some fascinating and telling theological territory. Why were certain songs appropriate for MacPhisto to sing? There was "Daddy's Gonna Pay Your Crashed Car," of which Bono has said, "Daddy" could be God or the devil (See Tim's helpful commentary here)....and "Ultraviolet," long rumored to be the "prayer" of Satan to Jesus; wanting to know if he can be redeemed. I think "Acrobat"(a sort of commentary on Romans 7, among other things) was also sung a bit by MacPhisto; amazing theological lessons there; my son has always seen the "bastards" as demons and/or religious "squeakies".

Maybe the two are synonymous.

Which is why MirrorBall Man (the televangelista)=MacPhisto=Elvis=us.
And there "is no them; there's only us."


Maybe I am a squeaky bastard.

PS.Here at this link is some fan discussion on theology U2 1990s style.. I have thought more about MacPhisto in my older article copied in red below. Read on at your own risk. But I do make the claim that not only is 1990s U2 consistent with what they were before (more obviously Christian); but what they did for at least two tours in the 2000s (more obviously Christian).

Which means MacPhisto still inevitably shows up; though not in drag.

Bless you, Ryan!


The story is told that in the painting "Checkmate," the MePhisto character (an alternate name for Satan that we have already eluded to Bono co-opting and tweaking the spelling a bit to MacPhisto) is gloating over his winning chessboard move over the only other character in the painting, Faust (Hello? Recognize that name from operas) The "Bomb" CD is a virtually a tribute to Bono’s dad, Bob Hewson, who is "the last of the opera stars," Bono sang on "Kite" on the "Elevation tour; and .the "reason why the opera is in me," his son sings in "Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own"); which is also the name of the painter. The point of the piece is that sometimes man is checkmated by the devil. The legend accompanying the painting is that one day, a Russian chessmaster (in many versions, Gary Kasparov), noting the theme and the title, but having scrutinized the chessboard to the sudden realization that by the artist’s accident, the
Linkgame does not have to end in obvious checkmate (He sees a possible move that Faust could take and win), yells out in the museum to the shock of the other observers: "It’s not true! It’s a lie! He’s not been checkmated!" Of course, this story "preaches," and has for hundreds of pastors over the years(one example here ), that:

Though it may look like the devil has won, Jesus (and the Christian) do indeed have the victory after all.

Nice story, you say? Good point, even if a bit cliché? But it is the same story and same point as the "Vertigo" song/sermon. Christ’s love is "teaching me to kneel" and defeat the satanic temptation to make "all of this" mine. So the joke is on the devil, God used the enemy’s plans and temptation to make me stronger, invoking God’s sovereignty, just like Jesus did in the wilderness "vertigo" temptation in the elevated place of the temple pinnacle. It was tough, taxing; swaying and dizzying; and I may have escaped by the skin of my teeth (or the crucifix around the neck), but I made it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah ….that’s how the song and the Scripture and the story ends..The devil does not have us checkmated after all.

By now, all intelligent readers, the kind who dig for profound symbolism sometimes occurring in Bono’s more spontaneous/singing-in-tongues (the band calls it "Bongolese"), scat singing moments; those sections that don’t always make the lyric sheet and show up in concert in varying versions; will have already answered the question: "What moves this theory about a direct connection between the "Checkmate" painting and that deceptively simple IPOD-selling song? Note well, even the "official" CD lyrics, for once, quote Bono’s spontaneous scatting lyrics in the midsection of "Vertigo." And they agree with what he seems to be clearly (!) saying in live television versions so far: "CHECKMATED!" (usually followed by "Hours of fun!" and something else not as easily decoded. Some have heard, in alternate versions, "shots fired/shots fall or "gospel!" Interpretation of scat-tongues-art references, anybody?)

Oh, it shouldn’t go without saying that Bono, as an avid chess player, who surrendered dreams of being a professional chessmaster years ago, as those passions were channeled and steered towards… I should say elevated (But remember the Rabbi Cohen would warn that "elevation is not sublimation," so "chess" references are allowed to resurface)… into rock stardom and Kingdom-preaching. And in a very fun and perceptive article, Angella Pancella goes as far as to suggest that chess strategy is Bono’s overall life-strategy. "No really; that’s my theory," she winks. Pay this perceptive ‘hours of fun" article a visit here.

All this to say: It’s a spiritual sequitur, a logical syllogism for all of life: Elevation leads to vertigo. And as we flow with that process, we find that Christ, and those of us in Christ on this ride, win and checkmate life and Lucifer through hard-won kneeling persisteverance. It does flow. Yet it’s not a shoe-in that we "go with the flow" of all that the Bus Driver has been hired to rabbinically teach us through the crucible and crisis of vertigo, and thus come out stronger. Passing the twin tests of elevation and vertigo ; and the truth itself , is designed to set us free; but sometimes it is sovereignly destined to first make us miserable. Freedom, though free indeed, has a pricetag indeed. And on this particular temple-bus at the pinnacle of the elevated Andes , that freedom had a scent which, though in reality the aroma of heaven, had me begging for a barf-bag and a miracle drug. And a "fast car" off that mountain (Oops, yet another new U2 song relates here! More in chapter four)


But when the reason is righteous, and the season is right, one should invite and even invoke vertigo! "If it be Thy will," of course, but more times than we have guessed or gambled, the will of God WILL will it.

I occasionally enjoy playing devil’s (uh, I should say "angel’s") advocate when I preach and teach. I often ask a group "shock-value" questions as a wake-up and shake-up call to the necessity and validity of the vertiginous (yes, it’s a word!) encounter; the test of temptation. In light of the fact that "sometimes we can’t make it on our own, " and need to go with Jesus to hear, and experience, a challenging and dizzying "Sermon Way Up the Mount," disciples need to remember to remember that in those disequilibrating times when elevation gives birth to vertigo, let the Spirit be midwife, and what will mercifully be born again and again in you is untold freedom and hilarious strengthening. Here, then is the first question I might cast out: "How many ever pray the Lord’s Prayer, including the line ‘Lead us not into temptation?’"

And since all answers are a nodding "yes and amen," the subsequent question has earned a hearing: "Would, or could, GOD ever lead anyone, then, into temptation?; especially since we have been taught by Jesus Himself to pray it would never happen?" Since most have detected that, by my mischevious inflection and sly smile the expected right answer is "Of course!," it’s an appropriate time to take holy advantage of the stunned to silence room and have them turn from their shock to either Matthew 4:1 or Luke 4:1. Either verse reads right on the lines that "God, the Holy Spirit" is without apology recognized; indicted as the Agent leading someone into a very real and literally demonic temptation.

And just who that Someone is, is telling and is troublesome: "Then the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil." Granted, and important to highlight: God does not do the tempting; the tempter is clearly the devil, but in God’s stunning sovereignty, he has personally arranged the time and place of the temptation; He Himself has set the boundaries and parameters of the boxing ring; He himself is out in front ushering Jesus..and often us..right into a head-on . What in heaven’s name and hell’s court is verti-going on?


"The devil is God’s devil!," a much better theologian than me, but one also famous/infamous for "shock value sound bytes" quipped a few hundred years ago. By that biting byte, Martin Luther has not more than he could chew in, mouth. He meant simply that God is so supernaturally and sovereignly ‘in charge’ that he is even in charge of, Superintendent of; in fact he created, "Ol’ Scratch."..Satan himself. Which is why the Spirit can risk, allow, even set-up our wilderness temptations with Satan. He can trust, that like Jesus, who "at the end of this satanic temptation, came out of the wilderness stronger and more full of the power of the Spirit, and more prepared to minister than ever, " (Luke 4:13-14).

We who follow in the footsteps of Christ, even and especially when they lead to the devil’s door and an "elevation plus" vertigo test, we pass the test! And the joke is on the dumb devil, Ol Scratch scratching his damned head as we..the eternally undamned and newly undammed…come out stronger in Spirit. And if Romans 8:28’s al- inclusive sweeping claim that "God works all things together for good for those who love God, and are the called according to his purpose" is taken at face and faith value, that "all things" includes "all" all things, including satanic temptation, and Satan himself. With that Romans verse in mind, a more modern theologian, one who is in league with Luther (and U2) in that she was also earthy in a heavenly way, one tested and tempted in the evil vileness and extreme vertigo of Ravenbsruck concentration camp, one Corrie Ten Boom, offered this prescription, "When the devil sticks his gun of accusation or condemnation in your face, just stuff Romans 8:28 in the barrel of that gun, and turn things around by stuffing it back in his face."


Let’s take the test. Only two possible answers for each question below: A)God or B)Devil. Choose only one each time. Sounds easy, so take the test, without looking up the accompanying Scriptures until you have turned in your exam. (Number two pencil only, please):

1.)Who sent an evil spirit to terrorize Saul? (1 Sam. 16:14; 18:10)
2.)Who sent a deceiving and lying spirit? (1 Kings 22:22)
3)Who authorizes satanic harassment of Job (Job 1:12)
4)Who can destroy both body and soul in hell? (Matthew 10:28)
5)Who sent a deceiving influence, so that wicked people are damned? (2 Thess. 2:11)

How did you do? Isn’t it obvious that the only correct answer to each of the above is..God!?
Huh? Is that the good news or the bad news, you ask? Whose side are you on, anyway? Cool down, mama! Now you can look up the Scriptures, and triple check that I am not just making this up, or nuts. I think the lesson, though so much more should be said to be sure our theology is biblical and balanced, is: God is so sovereign that he uses..and even though we are not as comfortable as these Scriptures sometimes are in saying so, He is some sense "sends"…. evil, and wrings good purposes out of them. He is not evil, nor the author of evil; and does not enjoy our suffering and evil; he does not want AIDS, cancer, rape, slavery, etc…...but the devil is God’s devil. God is either good and sovereign or not. These Scriptures, stretching and shocking as they are, actually steer us towards his radical "in charge-ness," He is ridiculously sovereign. The devil is active, but he is on a leash…a long one, granted..but God’s grabbing the other end.
OK, four more questions. Ready? Of course not! Same two possible answers, God or the devil, for these below:

1)Who sees to it that a sinner is saved? (1 Cor. 5:5)
2)Who is the god of this world? (2 Cor 4:4)
3)Who helps keep Paul humble? (2 Cor, 12:7)
4)Who teaches Paul not to blaspheme? (1 Tim 1:20)

All done? You got an "A" of course, if every answer above is, as verified by the verses, .the devil! Don’t get me wrong, the devil ain’t good, but he works for God at the end of the day. Church folks don’t get this. Bono gets it. As much as he hates, and campaigns against the devil’s evil (and he and we should) …God uses evil. He wins. Satan is trumped and checkmated in the End. This is the full-orbed gospel, an the message of Elevated Vertigo.
Yes, these are the other shocking questions I love to ask at church gatherings. Did they work?


"This generation will be remembered for three things: the Internet, the war on terror, and how we let an entire continent go up in flames while we stood around with watering cans. Or not," Bono preached to evangelical congregations on his Africa awareness tour, hoping for crumbs from our generous spread and table. "Let me share with you a conviction," he often challenged a hushed church, " God is on his knees to the church on this one. God Almighty is on his knees to us, begging us to turn around the super tanker of indifference on the subject of AIDS."

He is right.

Even though we can lean back on the lavish and wild sovereignty of God to work good out of evil, nowhere does that justify us doing nothing so that evil (temporarily) prevails because we know that it will (at the End) be vanquished. And there is enough evil and suffering in the world..and in us; we don’t need to ask for any additional of either, even if we know they force us to grow. Yet, when it is a God-thing, and a "Holy Spirit set-up," there is wealth and wisdom in a holy lingering and loitering at "a place called Vertigo," again, as/ if/when God leads. This is not a passive indifference, this is an active trust that when we are forced, by God and/or circumstances, we can fall to our knees (of course, a wise theologian/activist is quick to add there is a time where God calls us to "please, please, get up off your knees" and butts, and battle evil) in know Who is in charge..

But these activist times to be an enemy of evil in practical ways, is not what I mean by lingering in Vertigo. Even though the unease and suffering we submit to, and absorb there, might feel the same brand as the evil we are to fight, it is not. Another caution: the lingerer in a personal vertigo season of testing, must be prayed up in Vertigo , or s/he will be preyed on. A "just passing through" temporary resident of Vertigo Heights must be intrinsically and insistently motivated in that lingering by a Holy Spirit-inspired calling and quest to plunder and sqeeze and seize life-lessons about oneself that can be learned at no other locale. The joke is on the devil. His bomb is defused and dismantled. It is of course easy to cross the line, and stay too long, as St. Bono has often admitted; either because it feels like God is still wanting you there; or just because "swaying to the music" is fun. "I might sit down with the devil, but I’m not going to have coffee with him". More recently quoted in context of raising AIDS awareness and taking teasings and flack from mates for courting of politicians, popes and presidents , "I’d have lunch with the devil, if it meant money for Africa." Bono is characteristically first to admit "I’m not the best commercial for Christianity", and readily owns up to the truth that his discernment radar has not always tracked, especially in the disorientation and dizziness of fame and spotlight. Fame might be a gift from God that the devil is quick to distort (remember Mirrorball Man…or MacPhisto to the fans: "You’ve made me very famous, and I thank you"); but "celebrity is (also) currency," Bono tells Oprah, the church, and anyone who listens. The devil’s jokes always backfire, Corrie. Every good gift comes from God. Including one of the often dissed and dismissed gifts of grace: Vertigo.


C. S. Lewis, as previously mentioned, is such a lamppost for Bono (What other theologian is referenced in an animated music video for a "Batman" movie song…only U2 could be behind that! ) that we probably don’t need to link you to any more examples, except to say if you don’t know the story about the "dancing Squeaky" and how a common love for Lewis saved the dance and day for her, and her dancing partner, a Mr. Paul Hewson with horns, here’s the scoop.

Lewis was at his best at reminding us of everything we should’ve known: there are not two gods, God and the devil, who have always existed and are opposites in the all-American "good guy, bad guy" scenario. This ridiculous theology, though, is often our default, unconscious understanding. Many evangelicals will actually suggest that the devil has always existed, and always been bad; forgetting that "Evil is only fallen good," and God made Lucifer; made him good; he simply chose to fall and attempt to claim God’s throne.

That is Christianity; the "good and bad eternal opposite" jive is dualism, related to the hell of extreme Hellenism. But the radical monotheism of Christianity, in which we and three forth of U2 live, move and have their being there is by definition , and design a one-God deal; and He so big that the buck stops with Him, meaning laments like "Jesus.. I know You’re looking out for us..but "sometimes Your hands aren’t free?" are doubts cased in honest faith, which can stand up in Gethsemane, Vertigo or hell-on-earth.

It is no coincidence that both signature songs we have been feasting on here, "Elevation" and "Vertigo" have been accused of being throwaways, musically and lyrically. The deceptively simple rockroots music and fun melodies/riffs, and our inherent Western lens of dualism, may cause some to altogether miss the glorious depths of the lyrics of each, and the holy linking of the two: Elevation leads to vertigo. I hope it doesn’t take the bus ride from hell..I mean Lima to Huancayo…for many to make the link and leap.

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