Thursday, March 04, 2004

U2 and the Psalms...

Matt over at Wheat & Chaff is having a discussion that was started, I believe, by a comment that a church can use U2 songs as worship during a church service. Matt posted lyrics from a few U2 songs that, as he put it, "are the lyrics of someone who has no confidence in God to solve the world's problems or to show real love for people." In updating the post he linked to another blogger, John, who gave a pretty good interpretation of some of the songs that Matt referenced in his post. John also linked to a piece of prose written by Bono (Paul Hewson), the lead singer of U2. It is this piece by Bono, The Psalms - an Introduction, that I want to address. Bono exemplifies the type of person who is passionately caught up in the experience of life. Just watch one of his performances and you can see that he is an artist who feels his work flowing throughout his entire body. But for all his passion, he sacrifices a bit of common sense sometimes. Remember the movie that U2 made back in the '80s... Rattle & Hum? Bono spray painted some monument in San Francisco (I think) and was arrested for vandalism. His reply? "I'm an artist, not a vandal." Cute, but on his subsequent return to Ireland he saw, on a grafitti covered wall, "I'm a vandal, not an artist." Come back down to earth Bono and lace some rationality into your emotion. In The Psalms - an Introduction, Bono declares that he doesn't much care for the liturgical and rational aspect of religion. After reading the piece I can understand why. While he has evidently found "an experiential sense of GOD," he appears to actually know very little about the Christian faith. His enthusiasm towards certain Psalms is fueled particularly because they are, as he puts it, the blues. As he states,
That's what a lot of the psalms feel like to me, the blues. Man shouting, at God - ‘My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me?’ (Psalm 22). ...Abandonment, displacement, is the stuff of my favourite psalms. The Psalter may be a font of gospel music, but for me it's in his despair that the psalmist really reveals the nature of his special relationship with God. Honesty, even to the point of anger. ‘How long, Lord? Wilt thou hide thyself forever?’ (Psalm 89) or 'Answer me when I call' (Psalm 5).
Never read a Bible Verse. The instruction from Greg Koukl would serve us well here. Even a cursory study of the Psalms will reveal that they weave emotion and theology together. Walt Russell has said, in his book Playing With Fire, that the very essence of the Psalms unites human experience and emotion with a vibrant theology about God. They are not simply man shouting, at God. The Psalms are complex and well structured pieces of literature. They employ a complex pattern of poetry called parallelism that we in the West are typically not familiar with. This parallelism is broken down into various types such as, synonymous, antithetical, synthetic, specifying, and intensifying. There are several categories of Psalms such as, Lament, Declarativie Praise, Descriptive Praise, Didactic, and Song of Trust. The Lament category, what Bono calls the Blues, are typically either an individual lament (e.g., Psalm 5 & 22) or a communal lament (e.g., Psalm 89). Within a lament we typically find this literary structure:
Introduction Lament Confession of Trust Petition Confidence of being heard Vow of Praise
Bono seems to just want to focus in on the lament portion of a Lament type Psalm. You can't do that and be true to the intent of the authors! The Psalm was meant to be read or sang as a whole. The meaning of the text comes not simply from the individual verse or section of verses but from the entire unit (i.e., chapter). Yanking one or a few verses out of the particular Psalm negates the intended impact of the Psalm. Bono is certainly within his rights to compose a song in which he sings of his own personal blues. If he wishes to inform us of his personal struggles with faith and God by yanking select verses out of the Bible, then let him. But do not compare such incomplete complaints to the vibrantly complete theology inherent in the Psalms; and certainly do not recommend using such narrowly focused editorials as worship songs in church.

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