U2’s NLOTH spiritual resonances (part 3)
The 3rd instalment…In my mind, these 2 songs go together – they’re both counter-cultural.
– Stand up for your love which is emphatically NOT RIGHTS (Stand Up Comedy)
– [then what appears to contradict the previous quote, there is one right that does still matter] the right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear. (I’ll Go Crazy) For this is essential if one is prepared to love.
But the important thing is that they counter the culture of both the world and the church (see the little old lady below) – because of LOVE! Which in many ways puts them on a more biblical trajectory than any of us might care to realise. But then, if there is the prophetic and psalmic in the songs on this album, this should not be surprising. And someone who speaks such a message is bound to get brickbats flung at them – from everybody. Just as well there is the personal relationship that supersedes all others – a question of vision taking precedence over visibility… (Moment of Surrender). That’s not to say that Bono takes himself too seriously – fortunately there are hints that he doesn’t… (although sometimes, one might wish he would take himself even less seriously than he does!).
Well, this is the song that makes ‘love’ come out so big on the wordle (see previous NLOTH post). It’s repeated over and over, despite being chanted almost inaudibly. It’s ramming the point home. But this is no soppy romanticism; it’s a call, not to arms of course, but to action. Or perhaps even better, it is a call to arms opened wide.
The tempo, driving rhythm section, the almost retro 70s feel (you can almost see Steve McQueen accelerating over a San Francisco rise) all serve to galvanise and propel us out … to love. This is the MLK dream. But there is an aspect of comedy to this standing up – because self-sacrificial love gets you into the most surreal, even absurd, situations (like when Bono & Geldof find themselves visiting the former Pope, Bush & Blair).
the wire stretched in between two towers… stand up in this dizzy world where a lovesick eye can steal the view. I’m gonna fall down if I can’t stand up for your love. Presumably the imagery is of Philippe Petit, the guy who did a tightrope walk in 1974 between the twin towers of the New York World Trade Center (and who is the subject of the recent documentary film, Man on Wire). Just thinking about stepping out onto such a rope is enough to make one balk with vertigo. But I’m gonna fall down if i can’t stand up for your love, or rather if i can’t serve in your love. It is risky love – but if we’re not serving ‘your love‘ what alternative is there but falling…? Could this have anything to do with Peter stepping out of the boat onto to the water…? ≈ Matt 14:24-33
the DNA lotto may have left you smart, but you can stand up to beauty, dictator of the heart it doesn’t matter what makes us who we are (whether our genes or upbringing or circumstances); the obsessions of our culture age (beauty, smarts) are no match for the fruit of the spirit and the Christian’s trinity: I can stand up for hope, faith, love (explicit reference of course to 1 Cor 13:13, Colossians 1:5, 1 Thess 1:3, 5:8). And of course the greatest of these is love.
But then here comes a provocative challenge to the church (and it’s one of the most powerful images of the whole album): But while I’m getting over certainty stop helping God across the road like a little old lady. Ouch. A hugely suggestive image and one that’s lodged firmly in my head (and it keeps reminding me of that youtube classic that did the rounds a couple of years ago, the old lady and the airbag!!). How many of us have presumed to think God owed it to us, looked to us, depended on us? Who do we think we are? Shush now, cease to speak that I may speak (Unknown Caller). This is all reminiscent of Psalm 50 – esp v7-10 – hear, o my people, and I will speak… I am God, your God… I have no need of a bull from your stall… for I have the cattle on a thousand hills). This is a rebuke the church STILL needs to hear, as we invest in our programmes, strategies and schemes – God is bigger than all of that. To suggest that we need to get over our certainty will for some be a red rag to a bull of course – esp those who fear all things postmodern. But then, if it is a matter of thinking we’ve got everything sussed and that our own way of doing God’s business is THE way, then such certainty surely justifies such a rebuke for what is little short of idolatry. God is sovereign – so get out from under your beds, c’mon ye people, and serve… with love…
But there is an absurdity in the fact that it takes a rockstar to rebuke the church (though perhaps not without precedence in that God will use fruit-farmers, revenue-men and even donkeys if he has to). And Bono has the grace in this song to realise that. He’s the first to admit that he has a healthy ego – but my ego’s not really the enemy. He’s a small child embarking across an 8-lane highway on a voyage of discovery (presumably like the proverbial chicken who crossed to find out what was on the other side). He knows that far from giving God a hand across the road, he’s the one who needs all the help he can get. The tongue is delightfully planted in his cheek though – he’s the little Napoleon in high heels… a small man with big ideas‘. Stand up to rockstars like that, if you must. But isn’t the point even if you think they’re absurd, egotistical and presumptuous little men, don’t lose sight of the point: love? Stand up for that. Why? well it’s obvious isn’t it? because God is love! (1 John 4:8-16) C’mon ye people…
A number of initial reactions have not taken kindly to this song, not least because of the title. It sounds a bit like the sort of improvised lyric that sounded cool at the time, but that doesn’t really say anything. But it is a multi-textured song, musically and lyrically. And like Stand Up, it’s about an almost desperate yearning to love – and without such love, I’ll go crazy. But in order to love like that, could it be that a little craziness will be involved? That’s the need to cry or spit, a sweet tooth‘s need for sugar – and this, my favourite – the need for every beauty to go out with an idiot? There is a madness to love, after all – hence the sadly archaic word, lovesick (cf. The Madness of Love by one Hadewijch of Antwerp). It’s even worse when unrequited – for a girl who’s a rainbow who loves the peaceful life. For how can you stand next to the truth and not see it – oh, a change of heart comes slow.
But there is surely/inevitably a spiritual element to this as well? As one reader, Jason Primuth, nicely observed in an email to me this week with his comparison with Jesus speaking to the pair on the Road to Emmaus – Lk 24:25-27. The chorus is resonant of the pilgrimage psalms – presumably no accident, if rumours of the follow up album later this year are to be believed (apparently to be called Songs of Ascent). Just as a human (marriage) relationship is a lifelong journey, so is that of the disciple – a journey all the way to the light. Do you believe me or are you doubting?
Every generation gets a chance to change the world – remember Bono at the G8 summit – “this is our moonshot“. Any confidence we can have is because the sweetest melody is one we haven’t heard. Is that just the-crock-of-gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow pipedream? Or something more tangible? Well, if there is a real perfect, love that drives out all fear. We’re back in the realms of that 1 John 4 passage again, (here quoting v18). And if this is precisely what love does, then it is no surprise that the right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear. Because, let’s face it, that’s exactly how a billionaire rockstar tackling global poverty looks! But so what! Who cares what the passersby think?
Love is a tough call, though. It is a mountain not a hill to climb. It takes time – a change of heart comes slow. Sometimes, the only thing you can do is shout – and go crazy and look ridiculous. And notice the shift in the final chorus: listen for me, I’ll be shouting, shouting to the darkness squeeze out sparks of light. cf. 1 John 5:5-9. But fortunately, yet again, this is no solitary journey – halfway, the song acknowledges Baby baby i know i’m not alone. She’s joined him. And the climb at the end is one where she is no longer doubting but they’re starting out together. And WE’RE going to go crazy if WE don’t go crazy tonight.