Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What about joy ...specifically? i'm in favor of it.

"What was the sermon about, honey?,"
the wife asked the husband as he returned from church.


"Uh, what did the pastor have to say about it?"

"He was against it."

I told this ancient joke, and probably apocryphal story, about President Calvin Coolidge, the man of few words in my preaching class the other day.

It was to make a point about making a point.

It was a challenge to reach for a more specific focus to sermon than just being generally and generically "about" God, love, faith, prayer, sin etc.. The classic example in homiletics texts is "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection," a Thomas Chalmers message not just about love in general and abstract, but in specific concrete about how a new love replaces others.

But now I am wondering if the simple basics of a message can sometimes be complete and complex enough..

It all started with U2...as usual.

Yes, I have been incorporating lessons from U2 into the preacghing class ("The U2 liturgical plot") How could I not?

But but not having yet attended a U2 concert on this current tour, I have been
folllowing reports, reviews, impressions of the flow of the show...and several have noted
that unlike most tours, the overall flow of the setlist/liturgy/narrative arc is not immediately intuited or obvious. So often we sense we are being taken somewhere. Ironic this time, as this time Bono often remarks in concert that due to the stage looking like a spaceship, the band is indeed "taking you somewhere."

Where to this time? What is the liturgical leitmotif? The messages can seem too multiplex, confued, busy, or too upstaged by the stage. What is this tour's "homiletical plot"?
Where do we find a specific narrow (and thus, broad) proposition (uh, wrong term for postmodern preaching...how about "proposal" Pomo!)?

Or does the leitourgia have or need a name? (I am anxious to read Beth's impressions after having seen her third show of the tour).

Bono himself admits:

"There's not one grand overarching theme, but there is a sense of location, where you're a tiny speck in the cosmos. It's intimate, by the way. The show takes you through all these different worlds and mood swings. Catharsis is the posh word, I think."

On the tiny speck on the cosmos, perhaps part and parce; of the problem is the band can apprear as such, in the shadow (and lightshow) of the largest stage in all rock history.
Stages, when staged, always steal shows.
Ask the EBay Atheist.

Or anyone whose seen this tour:

At 164 feet high, the “claw” towers, making us all feel small. Many times during the evening, the Claw threaten to steal the show, blowing smoke and making light beautiful.

Maybe that's OK, too..anything or body that can make Bono look small is no small genius.

It also seems the band has been hijacked by the space and spaceship themes.
I still think it's a clawthedral.
Even if it is spaced out.
I still think everyone should read Beth's article as an orientation to the claw:

Sound and Light: Contemplating the Claw’s Combination of Surrealism, Sci-Fi, and the Sacred

But framing the show, by way of songs over the soundsytem are "Space Oddity" and "Rocket Man"...such seems a false inclusio, non sequitur, a falsely unifying unifeier, a liturgy misnamed.
(Though the meeting of heaven and earth IS a clear message, if not metarrative, of the current album). Bono started the tour talking about cathedrals, now he's talking spaceships.

USA Today got it; calling it a "sonic temple" and "steel cathedral."
(More on this )

Then again maybe a thesis, theme is too much to ask.
Maybe what they are after is a melody:

The overall melody is that of joy. This is not a band dragging around America what is probably the most expensive stage in history. This is a band enjoying themselves and their music, finding grace inside their sound.
And if the melody is "one we haven't heard" yet...so no wonder we miss it.

Either way, I'm so sure USA Today is right in their other articles' headline:

"U2 never lets the massive 360 Tour props dwarf the music

But maybe melody/message/medium of joy is enough:

"What was the sermon about today, honey?


"Uh, what did the preacher say about it?"

"He was in favor of it."

Maybe that's epic enough for our era.

Maybe that itself will preach.

"There's fun and frolics here. Real joy, and that's the essence, the life force, of rock 'n' roll."
-Larry Mullen

And maybe it has taken a few months on the road for a more specific narrative to emerge.
One reviewer at atu2.com was at the recent Raleigh concert,
There was no “Your Blue Room” – instead “In A Little While” filled the gap, which people enjoyed a helluva lot more. “Man takes a rocketship into the sky” fits brilliantly into the show. Putting “Mysterious Ways” third in the set works beautifully after “Get On Your Boots.” The way they reworked the first 8 songs in the set made sense to me, and based on the audience’s reaction, I wasn’t the only one. I can’t think of one thing about the performance that made me scratch my head and wonder “what the heck is going on here?” It felt like the glove of old…fitting perfectly, warm and snug. This night, they took me on an emotional journey and I was happy to let them take me wherever I needed to be.
I hope that this trend continues in Atlanta and beyond. I feel like the tour started tonight and NOW the gloves are off

How about you? How does the reworked setlist/liturgy (work in progress?) clarify the sermon's narrative arc/plot...or at least focus the flow:

  • Breathe
  • Get on Your Boots
  • Mysterious Ways
  • Beautiful Day
  • No Line on the Horizon
  • Magnificent
  • Elevation
  • In A LIttle While
  • New Year's Day
  • I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
  • Stuck In A Moment
  • Unforgettable Fire
  • City of Blinding Lights
  • Vertigo
  • I'll Go Crazy - Remix
  • Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • MLK
  • Walk On
  • One
  • Amazing Grace/Where The Streets Have No Name
  • ---------
  • Ultraviolet
  • With or Without You
  • Moment of Surrender

Maybe the point is we don't need to get the point.
Could be the narrative of the album is still embedded in the show...just embedded too well.
Perhaps the process..or the melody...the overtone...is what counts.

If we even have to know what it is, or is about.


The show typically serves up seven No Line tunes, three or four played at the top, a defiant refusal to be locked into the past. For Mullen, U2's evolution crystallizes in the techno-twisted take on I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Crazy Tonight, during which he pounds an African djembe drum while strolling the runway.
"We take a pop song and turn it into this dance rave madness — in a stadium," he says. "How did I get here? It's not what any of us expected to be doing 30 years later. That's the guiding light. It's about our need to expand and our audience accepting things they may not even understand."

Granted, wanting an audience/congregation to "accept things it doesn't understand" can be cultish...but it can also be inevitable.

Who fully gets it all? Bono man once preached abiut the "ineffable, unknowable love of God."

Tim asks, following some helpful notes on Beth's talk at the U2 Confernce:

Question: What are the implications of people participating in the “leitourgia” when they don’t know they are, when they don’t understand the subtext of U2’s work? (i.e. singing “Still Haven’t Found” or “Yahweh” or “Unknown Caller” but not knowing what they are singing.) A related question: What does it mean historically when people engaged in the traditional liturgy but didn’t understand what they were doing?

Crucial question, since Bono is unofficially leading Christian worship for a congregation in which half may be officially Christian (""Put your hands in the sky/Put your hands in the air/If you're the praying kind, turn this song into a prayer...but note well at 3:14 here that even the unpraying kind experiment with prayer..or at least with hands in air..)

I don't know about the faking thing, the "acting as if it were true" trick.

But that's how I came to Christ.

Maybe that's all of us at all times..

Back to discerning the theme of the theme, Tim posted after the Raleigh concert:

I'm speechless.... I'm exhausted.... We went crazy tonight.
In a nutshell, I'd call it a party of grace and love. More in the next few days.

That's how it is. We have only generic and woefully inadequate words after coming home/down . It takes a few days, weeks, years to find the full flow.
In fact, I am still taking in the implications of a U2 concert I attended a few decades ago.

I am still speechless and exhausted.

I'm not sure what it was about.
(I fumbled a post here).

Maybe joy.

Maybe against sin.
I'm not certain, but I am sure God met me there, and I'm still drawing from it, and drowning in it today.
And exegeting after the fact,
Maybe someday I'll find the sermon thesis I'm looking for.
Or maybe knowing I am less in favor of sin, and far more in favor of joy because of it is all I ever need to know.

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