Monday, November 14, 2011

U2, Divine Belly Dancers, and Potty Talk

This coming Saturday will be the Twentieth anniversary of the release of “Achtung Baby,” U2’s seventh, and in some ways, most important album. It carried them out of the eighties, out of their more purely serious, activist phase into the flippant, fun-loving but still persistently preachy Nineties U2 and beyond.

For me it was a bit disappointing at first. I had heard of them with “Joshua Tree” and bought into them with “Rattle n’ Hum.” “Achtung” didn’t sound like U2, and of course that was the point. I graduated High School less than a month after the release and in college the next two years I couldn’t avoid hearing these songs everywhere I went.

Some of the songs annoyed me at first with their dance-y repetitiveness and their well, silliness. Where were the guys who talked about serious issues and meaningful things? Then I began to hear interpretations that intrigued me. Could “Mysterious Ways” be about the Holy Spirit? Surely not. That video was full of belly dancers!

“One” was a different story from the beginning. I loved the song. I loved the videos, all three of them. Years before I would move to Germany and get to know Berlin for the amazing city it is, I was prepared through the experiences and impressions U2 shared with the world.

By the time “Who’s Gonna Ride…” came out I was hooked. This was still the band I had grown to like in the 80s. (I wouldn’t love them until much later. “Pop” took years for me to accept.) Not everything U2 did or does is great, but they pushed me a lot in my faith journey. Really.

These are the guys that had me questioning a lot of my assumptions about what it means to be a believer. Before “Achtung Baby” was under the impression that a person’s choice of words—their vocabulary—was more of an indicator of a person’s faith than how they treated poor people or dealt with injustice in the world. I wasn’t ever taught that, but I picked it up somewhere.

(Amazing as it may seem, I come from a tradition that implies you can claim to be a follower of Jesus and not care about poor people—since it is likely their fault that they are poor—but you better not use any words that mean excrement in daily conversations. When you do need to talk about excrement for some valid reason you must only use approved words.)

At any rate, these guys got me to struggle with what I as a mere individual can do in the face of wrongs and injustices in the world. How I can best use my energy and time in life. Probably even the drastic changes my career plans underwent while I was in school. I still don’t use certain words in conversation but that is not a condition of my faith; it is more a sign of maturity and a well developed vocabulary.

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