Tuesday, August 09, 2005

It's Cool

I learned the words of Psalm 40 from U2. Back in Junior High, they had this really great song called "40" on the "War" album. Back then, I remember us thinking it was "totally cool, dude!"

"I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry," Bono mumbles in the opening strain. It was one of those lines that you had to really work hard to understand fully, rewinding the cassette tape four or five times to make sure you really got it. And then, once you got the words, you still had to really work hard to understand it fully. What exactly does it mean to say that God has "inclined" such that my meager cry could be heard? We didn't know for sure, but Bono was singing it, so we thought it must be cool.

"He brought me up out of the pit, out of the miry clay." Yes, this was a sublime poetic expression of human desperation - "the pit" and that "miry clay" that could cling at your feet and drag you down down down into despair and anguish. Man, that Bono can really turn a phrase. He is so cool!

"I will sing a new song." "Set my feet upon a rock." "Many will see and fear." Every line was a pearl of poetic profundity set to a rock and roll rhythm ... and God saw that it was cool.

Imagine my surprise the first time I read Psalm 40, verses 1 through 3 out of the book I perceived as definitely not cool, none other than the Holy Bible! At first, I was shocked that God would stoop so low as to steal U2's song. But then I realized that it was actually U2 singing the psalm! The psalm actually came first, and Bono wrote a song using it. And (big duh) that's why the song was named "40," which prior to this time I had never really figured out.

U2 singing a Bible song. I was astounded! Could the Bible be ... *gulp* ... cool?

Since that time, of course, I have noticed the Christian content of much of U2's music. In fact, I have noticed Christian content in a whole lot of popular (read that as: cool) culture that would not otherwise be considered Christian. It goes to show that the Gospel can be conveyed by a whole slew of different media. In other words, "When in themes of glory, I sing the new, new song 'twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long" (from the old, old hymn I Love to Tell the Story).

This leads me to some questions: Is the church trying to force the overwhelming power of the Christian Gospel into the same old medium? Is "the way we used to do it" still a sufficient means of conveying the love of Christ to our hurting, helpless world seeking meaning and purpose?

Here's a scary question: Is the church risking becoming irrelevant not only to our world, but also to God? In other words, if we (the church) are not careful, is God going to be looking for someone else (like, maybe U2) to convey divine love and grace into the world? I believe that God never gives up on people, but might God some day give up on the church?

Man, I hope not. I know with the certainty of faith that the church is still the best way to convey Christ's love, but I also think that if the church remains stuck in the miry clay of outdated ecclesiology, God will find another way to get the message across. I mean, God can use a silly story, a basket of fruit, or even a talking donkey to get the word out, so clearly God can use whatever God wants. After all it is the word of God we are dealing with, not the word of church.

I first heard Psalm 40 when Bono sang it. I figured out, because of him, that the Bible might just possibly be cool. (You might also use the word "relevant" in place of cool.) How will today's world get the message that God's word is cool for them? Will it continue to be through the church? Let us pray that it will be so.

Grace and peace,
Joe Cool


David said...

May I play Devil’s Advocate for a moment?

Why should we pray that it will be through the church that God works? Shouldn’t we pray, rather, that God is able to work powerfully and effectively, however it comes to pass?


; )

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that I clicked on the link about the talking donkey. I thought you were saying you learned something about God and the Bible in Shrek. Can't remember ever having heard that one before.

Micah said...

Dude, you don't even mention (though, perhaps you have seen) this interview with Bono on Christianity Today's website. Also, no preaching Bono fan should be without Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog, a collection of sermons based on U2 songs, edited by some of my colleagues in the Episcopal ministry. And don't forget to keep up with their blog U2Sermons.blogspot.com