14th August 2006
I’ve been on a bit of a U2 kick lately (what else is new, you may ask!). Here’s a cute story to illustrate: the other day my family and I went to pick up my oldest daughter from summer camp. My five year old son ended up riding back from the camp with friends. As soon as they got going, my son asked if they had any U2 to play and said matter-of-factly how “my Dad REALLY likes U2″ and then he proceeded to sing his unique rendition of “Elevation.” Last week’s interview with Bono at the Leadership Summit only further fuelled my U2 obsession.
I thought I would share with you the top
10 12 songs from the U2 corpus that have been the most spiritually significant in my Christian walk. So this list is not a list of my favourite U2 songs — while there would be some overlap, that list would include a number of other less spiritually profound U2 songs (like Numb, Elevation, and Discotheque, among others).
As always, I found it very difficult to limit my list to only the top ten, so I decided to make it twelve (a nice Old Testament number). So, without further ado, counting down from 12, here is my list of…
The Top 12 Spiritually Significant U2 Songs
12. “40″ (Lyrics; from War 1983; Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This classic rendition of Psalm 40 has been used to close many U2 concerts. The line “How long to sing this song” — which is actually not in Psalm 40, but is inspired by the cry “how long” found in numerous psalms — expresses the longing for God’s intervention that characterizes many U2 songs.
11. Wake Up Dead Man (Lyrics; from Pop 1997; Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This song is perhaps U2′s darkest lament. The song opens with a cry to Jesus: “Jesus, Jesus help me / I’m alone in this world / And a f*cked up world it is too / Tell me, tell me the story / The one about eternity / And the way it’s all gonna be.” The theme of the absence of God, expressed in the name of the song, comes to the fore in the rest of the lyrics: ” I know you’re looking out for us / But maybe your hands aren’t free.”
10. Peace on Earth (Lyrics; from All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000; Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). Written by Bono after the Omagh bombing in August 1998, this prayer of lament takes its cue from the angels proclamation to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus (Luke 2:14) and asks, where is this peace on earth? “Jesus can you take the time / To throw a drowning man a line / Peace on Earth.” This dissatisfaction over the gap between “hope and history” is a major theme of U2′s music and is expressed well in this song: “Hear it every Christmas time / But hope and history won’t rhyme / So what’s it worth / This peace on Earth.”
9. Gloria (Lyrics; from October 1981; Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). In the early years as U2 was finding their spiritual moorings, perhaps this song expressed their faith and devotion the best: “I try, I try to speak up / But only in you I’m complete … Oh Lord, if I had anything / Anything at all / I’d give it to you.”
8. Crumbs From Your Table (Lyrics; from How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb 2004; Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). When I first heard this song I was moved and convicted. But then I watched the DVD that came with the CD and listened to Larry Mullen note how he was so drunk when they wrote that song that he doesn’t even remember writing it! Talk about a downer! But then I read a great blog entry on this song from Spera In Deo where he relays an interview with Bono about the song that redeems the song in my eyes. Here is an excerpt:
About the Crumbs song, he [Bono] told the story of the Irish nun, Sister Ann, who’s story broke his heart. She lives and works near a sewer and brings in people who live in horrific conditions. When he visited her, he saw people who were sleeping “three to a bed.” I had previously thought the song was about Bush’s promised–then rescinded–offer of $15b in Africa aid. But it turns out it is really (also?) about this nun and how some people in the world await crumbs to fall from the feast table of American Christianity (You speak of signs and wonders / But I need something other / I would believe if I was able / But I’m waiting on the crumbs from your table).
Bono also made a passing reference to the title of this song in his interview with Bill Hybels when he was talking about his work with the ONE Campaign and how they want to raise awareness and money for this cause “without coming with our heads bowed and cowed and, you know, looking for the crumbs from the table; we believe that the poor deserve an honourable place at the table, they deserve the head of the table, as God would see things.” Amen.
7. Until the End of the World (Lyrics; from Achtung Baby 1991; Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). The lyrics of this song contain one side of a post-resurrection conversation between Jesus and Judas: “I took the money / I spiked your drink / You miss too much these days if you stop to think / You led me on with those innocent eyes / You know I love the element of surprise / In the garden I was playing the tart / I kissed your lips and broke your heart / You, you were acting like it was / The end of the world.” The ending of the song is somewhat ambiguous, but I think that it holds out for love and forgiveness for even the likes of Judas: “Waves of regret and waves of joy / I reached out for the one I tried to destroy / You, you said you’d wait / ‘Til the end of the world.”
6. I Will Follow (Lyrics; from Boy 1980, Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This was probably the first U2 song I ever heard. Before I was a Christian I had bought the album Boy and quite liked this song. This album was, in fact, the only one that survived my very brief “fundamentalist” phase when I burned my entire record collection. Boy was spared because I heard from someone that U2 was a “Christian” band! I have no recollection of what I thought the song was about early on, but after I became a Christian I took the song as a response to Christ’s call to follow him. This interpretation of the song really comes to the fore in the live version on the Elevation 2001 DVD where Bono intersperses even more lines from the classic hymn Amazing Grace.
5. Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of (Lyrics; from All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000; Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). While written about the suicide of Michael Hutchence (from INXS), this song is about hope in the midst of crisis. It’s about staying the course until daybreak, recognizing that in the grand scheme of things it is but a moment. “And if our way should falter / Along the stony pass / It’s just a moment, this time will pass.”
4. I Still Haven’t Found What I am Looking For (Lyrics; from The Joshua Tree 1987; Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This song is at once both a clear affirmation of the band’s faith (at least three of them at that time) as well as an expression of striving for a theological home: “You broke the bonds and you / Loosed the chains / Carried the cross / And my shame / All my shame / You know I believe it / But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”
3. Yahweh (Lyrics; from How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb 2004; Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). OK, how can a Old Testament professor not like a song with the title “Yahweh”?! This song is a moving prayer for Yahweh (the Hebrew name for the Old Testament God) to intervene, to transform the singer: “Take this shirt / Polyester white trash made in nowhere / take this shirt / and make it clean, clean. Take this soul / Stranded in some skin and bones / Take this soul / and make it sing…. Take this heart / And make it break.” But it also has elements of lament, questioning God about suffering and why God is not acting: “Yahweh, tell me now / Why the dark before the dawn?”
2. Walk On (Lyrics; from All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000; Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). Inspired by Burmese human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi, I read this as song about persevering in the life of faith. It’s about leaving everything that hinders you behind and walking on because life is more than this life: “You’re packing a suitcase for a place none of has been / A place that has to be believed to be seen.” When my Dad was dieing of cancer, this song spoke to me perhaps more than any chorus or hymn; that’s why it makes number two on my list.
1. Sunday Bloody Sunday (Lyrics; from War 1983; Amazon.ca | Amazon.com) This is one of U2′s most moving songs — and my all-time favourite. In many ways it is an anti-war athem that helped define a generation. I still get shivers down my spine when listening to it (I actually rarely just listen to it; I usually sing along at the top of my lungs!). The songs asks, like “40″, “how long must we sing this song?” and also affirms a partial realised eschatology: “The real battle just begun / Sunday bloody Sunday / To claim the victory Jesus won.” The most stirring version of this song is found on the Rattle and Hum DVD (Amazon.ca | Amazon.com). This performance was filmed in Denver the evening of 8 November 1987 — the same day an IRA bomb killed thirteen innocent people at Enniskillen. In the middle of the song, after rehearsing the day’s tragic events, the emotional Bono declares, “f*ck the revolution!” A close second is on the Vertigo 2005 DVD where they go stright from “Love and Peace or Else” to “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”
There are many other U2 songs which are spiritually significant. Some that deserve honourable mention include, Pride (In the Name of Love), With Or Whitout You, Where the Streets Have No Name, One, Acrobat, The Wanderer, The Playboy Mansion, When I Look at the World, Grace, Love and Peace or Else, and All Because of You.
What are your top spiritually significant U2 songs?
UPDATE: You will want to see my “Addendum to U2 Spiritually Significant Songs: The First Time”