Bono, U2 and Spirituality: Introduction by scholar and author Beth Maynard

Bono of U2 closeup This U2 Spiritual Resource Page was written by scholar, pastor and author Beth Maynard, a noted expert on the band and its influence. It’s goal is to help newcomers and even many longtime U2 fans orient ourselves to resources on the spiritual influence of the band. At least 1 million small groups meet in congregations across America and around the world. If you’re thinking of preaching, teaching or writing about these themes, you might want to start digging right here …

By Beth Maynard

Bono U2 singing The classic general introduction to U2 from a spiritual
perspective is Steve Stockman’s chronologically organized Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2; “Stocki” is an Irishman who
has been writing on the band since the early 80s and knows their milieu intimately.  Additional works by Robert Vagacs (some
excellent insights), Christian Scharen, and Greg Garrett fill out this shelf.
    However, most of the best theologically informed writers on
U2 are working in journals, magazines, and online. I won’t take time to point
out academic or narrowly focused treatments, but among many good general
U2-and-God pieces are those by Steven
Harmon
and Mark
Meynell
(click on their names to download PDF documents).
    The Damaris Trust has
published free
discussion guides to the last three U2 albums
, and I’d be remiss if I
didn’t mention that half of my own group curriculum from the preaching
anthology Get Up Off Your Knees, “Pursuing
God with U2,” is available
free online as well (download the PDF)
.

    Since U2 lyrics reflect a thorough immersion in Biblical
thought and language, it’s often useful to turn to Drawing Their Fish in the Sand,
an online archive of scripture allusions in the band’s work.

    Moving from reflection on U2 to material directly by the
band, one option that will spark thought is Bono’s National Prayer Breakfast
sermon in 2006, which can be viewed here (a 22-minute clip via CNN and YouTube) or purchased
as the book On The Move (including
photos from his service in Ethiopia with World Vision as a young man).  An often-reprinted excerpt
from Bono in Conversation
, displays
the singer at ease in the role of apologist for faith.

    And then there’s listening!  Novices should certainly explore a best-of album, or a
classic like The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby; however, U2 are above all
a live band whose vision cannot be fully grasped from their studio material,
which is in essence a preliminary sketch for what they eventually achieve in
performance.
    Their slogan: “Live is where we live.”
    So I’d recommend a trip to YouTube. Either look up performances of your own
favorite songs, or observe a few characteristic U2-plus-their-audience moments (via these links to YouTube clips):
Where The Streets Have No
Name
(2001),  Sunday Bloody Sunday (1988—contains profanity), Mothers
of The Disappeared
(1998—in Santiago with the real mothers brought
onstage), the love song to the Holy Spirit Mysterious Ways (2009)
and the ZooTV iteration of The
Fly
(1993) with Bono in character and disorientation on the agenda.

    One final way to follow up would be with material
recommended by the band. C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape
Letters
may be the only work of theology name-checked in a rock video; it inspired
the “banality of evil” character MacPhisto during their ZooTV tour.
    Bono blurbed and often cites the Bible
translation The Message by Eugene
Peterson (in return, Peterson has offered a richly textured take
on the band’s art
).  Philip
Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace
lies behind the closing song on All That
You Can’t Leave Behind
.
    Tougher
reads are Noreena Hertz’ The Debt Threat and
Jeffrey Sachs’ The End of Poverty (introduction
by Bono), which flesh out the rationale for the band’s high-profile advocacy
for global development efforts like the Jubilee
debt cancellation initative, the ONE Campaign,
the Edun and Edun Live organic
clothing line, and (Product) RED—each worth a look and together bearing significant responsibility for
millions of dollars of “justice not charity” support reaching sub-Saharan
Africa.
    A similar organization, created by the U2 audience and focused on safe
and clean water supply, is the African
Well Fund
.

    It’s a cliché to point out that the band’s name is a pun:
You, too, can be part of this.
    With that outlook, it’s no surprise that I need to tell you that this
guide just skims the surface of ways spiritually-minded listeners can interact
with U2’s material. Come on in and mix it up; there’s room for everyone.

    Beth Maynard is a pastor and spiritual director from
Massachusetts. She serves as an adjunct instructor at Gordon-Conwell
Theological Seminary and has been maintaining the U2 Sermons blog tracking
theologically-informed interaction with U2’s art since beginning work in 2003
on the book she co-edited, “Get Up Off
Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog.”

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