Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Divine moves – my 8th U2 publication

I’m delighted to welcome this into the world of academic scholarship and U2 studies …

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U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher, edited by Scott Calhoun, in the Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music. The book has garnered some superb endorsements: “beautiful … smart … truly excellent … lively, provocative … wide-ranging, deep and thoughtful” from the likes of Clive Marsh, Head of Vaughan Centre, University of Leicester and Rupert Till, Professor of Music, University of Huddersfield. The book builds on existing work in U2 studies by examining U2 not only theologically, but in relation to the religious impulse, in particular in relation to sound, space and the affective experience of fans.

My chapter is titled “Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways.”” It began life at a Sarah Coakley symposium in 2010. The piece was re-worked based on feedback and then submitted for publication. It was affirmed by the editors but not accepted (apparently it messed with the purity perceived to be needed in the discipline of systematic theology). Then in 2015 there was a call for papers. In between, I had been reading Paul Fiddes Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context and that gave me the impetus to develop the Coakley/Mysterious ways/Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture thinking further (here was my initial abstract). I rate this chapter the most difficult but most satisfying piece of writing I’ve done in relation to U2. In the chapter, I engage extensively with two systematic theologians, Sarah Coakley and Paul Fiddes, in dialogue with the development of Mysterious Ways. This involves tracing album covers, video analysis, live performance and U2′s place-based relationship with Morocco.

In summary, I have argued MW is a performed pneumatology, a song in which the Divine is a Passionate Dancer, intimately involved in creation, inviting us to participate in the mystery of movements that reach, teach and move

To make this argument has required a movement in two directions. Musically, what is the song saying? I have argued that U2 have a visual pre-occupation in 1991 and a sonic pre-occupation in 2009. The visual pre-occupation is clear when the design of the covers’ of the Achtung Baby album and MW single is analysed in relation to the video of MW. It makes sense of the use of the belly dancer in the live performance of the ZooTV tour. The sonic pre-occupation is consistent with the fusions of Moroccan music, U2’s hopes in recording in Fez and the “let me in the sound” themes of the NLOTH album. U2’s sonic search makes sense of the re-interpretation of the live performance of MW in the 360 tour. Hence internal factors, including the location of artistic exploration (for MW in Fez), shape live performance. Given this visual, sonic and geographic analysis, MW can be interpreted musically as a reaching for the feminine and an embodied, immersive participation in a reaching for the other.

Theologically, I have argued that God is not male, remote and coercive. Rather God can be imaged as feminine – moving, reaching, teaching – inviting us to participate in immersive, embodied, ecstatic Divine life. The work of two contemporary theologians, Sarah Coakley and Paul Fiddes has been considered. Both understand God in Trinitarian terms, as three movements in which the Divine is passionate, self-giving love and participates in creation in ways that are ecstatic, sonic and participative. Considering U2’s live performances of MW on the ZooTV tour in conversation with Sarah Coakley allows us to see prayer as ecstatic participation in the Spirit. Considering U2’s live performances of MW on the 360 tour, can be interpreted as God in three movements – reach, teach, move – with and for creation. A theology of sound allows us to see the interplay between Divine and creation as a sonic atunement in which all of creation is invited to freely participate in multiple ways. This ensures Christian particularity, consistent with U2’s stated religious beliefs, while providing freedom in which varying degrees of incorporative participation, from any and all concert goers, is possible.

Hence theology provides a way to parse the complexities of U2 and religion, offering a set of analytical frames that clarify the development in U2’s performed pneumatology. Equally, what emerges is a quite a different place in which the mystery of religious experience can be located. Live performances at a rock concert become a “thin place” for Divine encounter and ecstatic experience an ideal way to encounter the Divine.

It is my 8th U2 related publication – made up of 5 book chapters from 5 different international publishers, along with 1 dictionary entry and 2 popular pieces. When I began academic writing, I would not have dreamed that I would be published in places like religion and popular music. But as a theologian of culture, a missiologist interested in life outside the church Western and a practical theologian with a commitment to embodiment in practices, it has become a rich and life-giving vein of inquiry.

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“Saying no: U2’s response to the evils of the refugee crisis.” Zadok (in press).

“Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways”” U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher (Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music), edited by Scott Calhoun, Bloomsbury Press, 2018, 43-60.

“U2 Praying the Pattern of the Psalms in Paris.” Equip 30, 2017, 20-21.

“Let “us” in the sound: the transformative elements in U2′s live concert experience,” U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments (For the Record: Lexington Studies in Rock and Popular Music), edited by S Calhoun, Lexington Books, 2014, 105-121

“Public Lament,” Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament, edited by MJ Bier & T Bulkeley, Pickwick Publishers, 2013, 205-227, (co-authored with E. C Boase).

“Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study,” Interfaces. Baptists and Others: International Baptist Studies (Studies in Baptist History and Thought), edited by David Bebbington and Martin Sutherland, Paternoster, 2013, 292-307.

“U2,” Don’t Stop Believin’. Don’t Stop Believin’: Pop Culture and Religion from Ben-Hur to Zombies, edited by Craig Detweiler, Robert K. Johnston and Barry Taylor, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, 125-127.

““Bullet the Blue Sky”: the evolving live concert performances,” Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 edited by Scott Calhoun, Scarecrow Press, 2011, 84-97.

Posted by steve at 10:13 AM

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