U2 @ Gilette Stadium, Foxborough, MA 09-21-09

I was also directly in front of Edge on September 21 for U2's first night at Gillette Stadum in Foxborough, MA, on this tour. I think I'll post more about it later, but wanted to get some photos up now. You can see lots more photos here, but for now, here's a preview:

Best of of U2 09-21-09-15

September 27, 2009 in Life and Whatnot, Music, U2charist | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

the Hancock UCC U2charist - televised!

As y'all know, on Tuesday evening I played lead guitar and did the vocals alongside drummer Elisa Lucozzi and bassist Roseanne Hebert at Hancock UCC in Lexington for a U2charist with entirely live music.

I didn't know until shortly before the start of the prelude, though, that the service was to be televised (on local cable) and recorded to DVD. *Gulp!* And on my first public outing as a lead guitarist too -- which I was trying to do while also doing lead vocals!

There were some additional challenges as well. Various technical issues meant that I didn't have a vocal monitor as such; we were using our monitors as a P.A. system to project the vocals and drums into the congregation. Even my guitar amps were angled primarily for the congregation to hear; the direct sound out from the amp hit me at about knee level. Guitar cut out during "Sunday Bloody Sunday." My microphone cut out during "Walk On." I missed a chord or two, I'm pretty sure.

In other words, it was rock and roll! I reminded the perfectionist part of me that U2 themselves often have things go awry, and sometimes (e.g., Bono's unplanned and very lengthy plunge into the audience during "Bad" at the original Live Aid concert at Wembley) the Spirit's worked powerfully through it.

I'm still not entirely sure I'm going to watch the DVD. I'd rather judge the evening by what I saw of the congregation's experience of it than by a recording. And by what I saw in the congregation, it was a very, very good night. A packed house pledged their voices to the ONE campaign and gave generously to Oxfam for relief of extreme poverty, and by the end of the evening, I don't think there was a single person in the congregation who wasn't on their feet and singing their heart out.

I'll be posting more about the experience and what I learned from it (yes, I've been doing U2charists for almost five years now, and I'm still learning!) at the U2charist resources page.

March 6, 2008 in Churchiness, Music, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), Television, U2charist | Permalink | Comments (2)

U2charist (with all live music!) @ Hancock UCC, March 4

I'll be singing and playing guitar alongside Elisa Lucozzi, drummer extraodinaire, at a U2charist at Hancock (Massachusetts) UCC on the evening of March 4th. If you're in the area and would like to experience a U2charist with live music -- or to see how you can do a U2charist with entirely live music when you've only got two musicians -- please save the date! We're planning a session in the early evening at which anyone who wants to come to the service but isn't familiar with U2's music can learn songs we'll be singing, then have a break for my voice and Elisa's hands to recover, and then the service will start. I'll announce the exact times soon.

Blessings, and I hope to see some SarahLaughed.net readers there!


For more info on the U2charist, check out the U2charist resources page.

February 19, 2008 in Churchiness, Music, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), U2charist, Where's Dylan? | Permalink | Comments (0)

engaging God's mission

Lately there has some discussion in the partisan blogosphere as to whether one should give to Episcopal Relief and Development if one disagrees with one or more things going on the The Episcopal Church, or to Anglican Relief and Development if one doesn't, or if it's better to give to some other organization entirely.

I plan to update this post to offer links to the organizations I mention and to ones to which I refer, but I want to go on the record as saying immediately and unequivocally:

If you want to give to change the world, to relieve global poverty, than the theological bent of particular people involved in the organization doesn't matter much.

What matters much, in my reading of the life and teaching and death and resurrection of Jesus, God's Christ, is our giving is that we're engaging God's mission by doing so, and that means giving as much as possible from compassion for the poorest and most marginalized and as little as possible from our sense of what will accomplish any partisan church or civic political aims.

So yes, I support Episcopalian Relief and Development, and rejoice when others do. They do amazing work, partnering with indigenous ministries for maximum efficiency and sensitivity to local context, and spending as little as possible on overhead versus aid. I've looked into them, and I feel on solid ground in saying that their work is worth supporting, whether you're an Episcopalian or not, and whether you're a fan of any particular policy or other tendency of The Episcopal Church or not. Episcopal Relief and Development, as far as I can tell (and I would welcome any data I should take into account that might demonstrate the contrary), is doing important and urgent work that's Good News to the poor.

I have not investigated to the same degree organizations such as Anglican Relief and Development (which, as I understand the situation, was formed by groups seeking to break away from The Episcopal Church to provide aid especially from organizations and people who, for a variety of reasons, can't accept funding for or don't feel comfortable donating to anything associated with The Episcopal Church) and Five Talents. I hear good things about what they're doing, though.

What I encourage everyone to do is to INVESTIGATE. Ask questions about how much money goes to fund people in the U.S. (you'd be surprised at how many organizations claim to be about ending extreme poverty involved and that still spend most of their income right here, one white people better off than me). Ask them about their partnerships with organizations indigenous to the populations they serve. Personally, I don't chalk up anything I give to organizations that spend more than 15% of their total budget as PROGRAM budget OVERSEAS part of the 1% that organizations such as the ONE Campaign is advocating.

In other words, how much is my giving helping comfortable American citizens live comfortably while they talk about extreme poverty? Talking about extreme poverty is important, but does not necessarily relieve extreme poverty, and personally I prefer to fun initiatives -- such as Global Voices -- that give voice to people outside the U.S. and who work directly with if not being immediately among the populations most affected by extreme poverty.

And with respect to organizations abroad, how much budget goes to administration as opposed to program -- i.e., the program of relieving extreme poverty, as opposed to talking about relieving extreme poverty? What accountability measures are in place to assure that checks cashed are used by the organization for its stated mission?

Personally, I don't many organizations -- faith-based or no -- that match Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) in terms of efficiency, cultural sensitivity, and working to channel relief in directions that foster autonomy.

If you want to register your disagreement with The Episcopal Church in some way, though, I'm going to do something crazy:

I suggest, a la St. Paul's advice in his letter to the churches in Rome, that you strive to outdo ERD in collections gathered, in accountability offered, and in effectiveness in getting relief and means to economic sustainability to those in extreme poverty. Do that and I'll stand up and cheer at the top of my lungs.

Because in the end -- I have to say as some who takes seriously Matthew's report of Jesus' talking about 'sheep' and 'goats' -- I don't give a rodent's posterior about which organization sends which people which tax form.

I just want a world in which every child has a chance -- clean water, enough food to get by in reasonable health, enough health care to end childhood mortality from diseases we have for decades had cheap technologies to cure, enough education and a clean enough environment to make a living by their own hands.

We could do it -- not just because we have the resources (and we do -- because God has blessed this world with more than enough resources), but because, I think, there's critical mass in this world such that if those of us who believed this but aren't making a big deal about it decided to make a big deal about it, we could witness firsthand the changing of the tide that God is doing.

I'll write more about this soon, I'm sure -- especially given that this is Lent, and that I've got certain ideas (for which I'm deeply indebted to the prophet Isaiah, among others) about in what kinds of fasts God is engaged and honors -- but I wanted to go on the record about this much right now.

Thanks for listening.

February 6, 2008 in Churchiness, Current Affairs, Episcopal Relief and Development, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), U2charist | Permalink | Comments (0)

vacation thoughts

Today is the last day of a truly lovely vacation. I'm writing on the screened-in porch of our cabin overlooking a New Hampshire "great pond" (think small lake), listening to the wind whispering through the trees and reflecting on just how much good it's done my soul to spend a week getting lots of sun, fresh air, and time on the water, preparing and enjoying simple and delicious meals, watching clouds drift across the sky, and thinking.

I did some reading on development to reduce or eliminate extreme poverty. Since the U2charist has taken on such a remarkable life of its own around the world, I've felt the need to be better informed about issues related to extreme poverty. I have often preached and written about the spiritually dangerous position we place ourselves in when our response to poverty is to lob money at or in the direction of poor people such that we feel generous, but retain a death-grip on the power and privilege that keeps us in the position of deciding, in effect, through our charity who lives and who dies. I worry that sometimes when I'm talking with people planning U2charists, where the money should go and why seems like an afterthought. I think about how many times I've heard an American Christian say something along the lines of, "well, it really doesn't matter WHAT you do to help; what matters is that you try to do SOMETHING, and that your heart's in the right place." It matters a great deal, I dare say, to those who do live in extreme poverty whether what you do is effective and for whom, and I want my work to support organizations and approaches that make the most difference for those in greatest need. I think in the months to come I'll do some more blogging about what I've been reading and what thinking it's prompted, though I'm still deciding whether Grace Notes or the U2charist page would be a better venue for it.

But I haven't been spending all of my time or even most of it this week reading and thinking about development. This has been a real, honest-to-gosh VACATION, and the first one I can recall of this length in I don't know how long. I've used many vacation days over the years for speaking or conference engagements, and have sometimes been able to surround the work with a few days in a nice spot nearby to make a sort of working vacation. I've visited family or friends, usually for a long weekend and also often in conjunction with some kind of work. It's a different experience altogether to go somewhere beautiful and quiet -- no cell phone reception to speak of, no Internet access, and no intrusions of concerns from elsewhere. To post my lectionary blog, I drove around until I found an open wireless network -- and New Hampshire must be the top state in the Union for Internet security, as it seems just about everyone keeps their network locked down tight. I finally found a tiny public library -- the Frost Free Public Library, a name which must strike many as ironic in New Hampshire winters -- that was closed, but that kept its wireless up and open. But at the cabin, there's no 'Net at all, so not even Anglican politics could intrude. Lovely.


I'm finding that the Impact self-defense classes I've taken have inspired me to renegotiate my relationship with my body, which I'd been seriously neglecting for quite some time. For my honey's birthday, I arranged for us to take kayaking lessons, and we now have a "season pass" on kayak rentals that lets us try out all kinds of kayaks whenever we want for the rest of 2007. This week, I've been paddling a Wilderness Systems Tempest Pro 170, and I love it. It's a versatile kayak, suitable for ocean use, long enough to track decently, and maneuverable enough to still be fun in quieter water. It's longer and narrower than the kayak I used in our class, which makes it easier to tip and a little more difficult to get into and out of (especially for a gal with dislocating kneecaps), but it's also significantly more responsive, which is fun -- and very useful when the wind kicks up. It's got a composite hull that's lighter and seems to allow for more speed than plastic ones as well, and I've very much enjoyed paddling fast enough to get a nice breeze in my face and to work up a sweat. I'm almost tempted to say that this is the kayak for me, but I do plan to try others, and it's nice in the meantime to have a physical, outdoor activity that I actually love (other than surfing, a sport for which the Charles River and Boston Harbor are far from renowned). I think it'll be good for body and soul for the rest of the season to walk once or twice a week to the boathouse and paddle for a couple of hours.


August 17, 2007 in Life and Whatnot, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), U2charist, Where's Dylan? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

U2charist sermon from Saturday

A number of folks have expressed interest in a copy of my sermon for the U2charist held this past Saturday sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, Journey of Faith Church, and Christ Church in Dearborn, Michigan. I'll probably blog on it later this week -- it was a wonderful, amazing experience, thanks to the hard work of those who prepared it and the good hearts of those who participated -- but I've already posted my sermon from the service here.

(And aside from this most recent sermon, my sermons page is rather out of date; I've got it on my to-do list for this week to upload more of my recent sermons.)

June 18, 2007 in Churchiness, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), U2charist, Where's Dylan? | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

one sermon down, one to go

I've finished the sermon for the U2charist this Saturday in Dearborn. I'm excited about this weekend -- good people, rockin' liturgy, good times!

Now on to the lectionary blog for this week ...

June 14, 2007 in Churchiness, U2charist, Where's Dylan? | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

U2charist in Dearborn, Michigan

For those of you in the area, here's the press release with details of the U2charist in Michigan this coming Saturday. It'd be great to see you there!

Journey of Faith Church to host “U2Charist” service with music of the Irish band U2
Theologian Sarah Dylan Breuer of Cambridge, Mass. will preach.

DEARBORN, Mich. (May 21, 2007) – The walls of Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn are expected to reverberate with the music of the Irish band U2 during a special worship service, known as U2Charist, beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 16, 2007. The church is located at 120 N. Military in Dearborn.

Hosting the service is Journey of Faith Church, formerly known as St. David’s in Garden City. Partnering with Journey of Faith will be the Episcopal diocesan office of Youth and Young Adult Ministries along with Christ Church of Dearborn and St. John’s of Plymouth.

“By Episcopal church standards, our services are highly informal in dress and style,” said Journey of Faith Pastor Mark Jenkins. “We’re trying to reach those who find less traditional approaches to worship more appealing. Hosting a diocesan U2Charist seems like a natural for us.”

Delivering the message for the U2Charist will be Sarah Dylan Breuer of Cambridge, Mass., who developed the idea of the U2Charist service in 2004. Since then the U2Charists have grown beyond their origin in the Episcopal Church to become a worldwide phenomenon.

The U2Charist service focuses on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which have been endorsed by every nation in the world and many religious denominations, including the Episcopal Church, to eradicate extreme poverty and global AIDS.

“Our service will follow the pattern of Journey of Faith’s weekly worship service and incorporate multimedia featuring music from U2 including such favorites as “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Yahweh,” and “One,” added Pastor Jenkins.

The band U2 has given permission to use their music in such services as long as emphasis on the MDG is maintained. Bono, the lead singer of U2, has been very outspoken on issues for social justice and has initiated several programs including the ONE Declaration, www.one.org, an effort to rally people in the fight against poverty and AIDS.

The public is welcome to attend the U2Charist. More information is available by calling the church office at 313-565-5512 or visiting www.JoFChurch.org.

About Journey of Faith

Journey of Faith Church is a small, open group that is highly informal in its dress and worship, which includes a blend of contemporary and ancient forms and prayers. Worship services are led by the Reverend Mark Jenkins and conducted in much the way early Christians worshipped with readings, reflections, prayer and table fellowship. Journey of Faith Church describes itself as being a “journey of faith,” offering a new approach to traditional religion by encouraging each person to experience the spiritual journey in a way that is authentic and honest. Regular services are held every Saturday afternoon at Christ Episcopal Church at 121 N. Military in Dearborn.

# # #

(Photo attached of Sarah Dylan Breuer)

Media Contacts:
The Rev. Mark Jenkins
Journey of Faith Church
[email protected]

Margaret Blohm, APR
Margaux & Associates, LLC
[email protected]

June 10, 2007 in Churchiness, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals (MGDs), U2charist, Where's Dylan? | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

top 10 rejected alternative worship themes

A lot of people have been asking me, as instigator of the first U2charist (held in Baltimore, Maryland in April of 2004) what other liturgical developments are in the pike. What I can say is that, having carefully pondered cultural and liturgical trends, I've decided that the Next Big Thing is most definitely NOT:

  • The Kazoocharist -- in which the service music is led entirely by 30 people playing kazoos.
  • The Magoocharist -- which would have been gravely insulting to blind people.
  • The "I Melt With You"charist -- which may have been well-received by those from my generation who are lovers of one-hit pop wonders. Sadly, I could find no theological justification for such a service, and even those from my high school graduating class couldn't stand singing it ten times in a single hour.
  • The "Chattanooga Choo-Choo"charist -- for lovers of 40's jazz and railway enthusiasts.
  • The R2D2charist and Naboocharist -- for lovers of the Star Wars film franchise.
  • The ShihTzucharist -- for lovers of expensive and diminutive dogs, in honor of which the altar party would wear their hair tied up with a ribbons on the tops of their heads
  • The HoodooGurucharist -- for lovers of obscure alternative Australian rock.
  • The Dewcharist -- a service for computer coders in which Mountain Dew would replace the sherry or port normally used; rejected when no one could figure out whether a Twinkie was or could ever be 'bread.'
  • The Moocharist -- in which chocolate milk would replace the port or sherry to appeal more to children.
  • The Booboocharist -- for fans of the diminutive animated bear of Jellystone Park.

What I CAN say with some authority is that I will be preaching at the U2charist -- held to the glory of God and to inspire deeper engagement with God's mission to end extreme poverty -- in the Diocese of Michigan on Saturday, June 16, at 4:30 p.m. More details forthcoming!

May 22, 2007 in Churchiness, Just for Fun, U2charist, Where's Dylan? | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack

U2 and liturgy

I wish that the AP hadn't picked this headline:

"Episcopal Churches Turn to U2 To Pack Pews"

I was the instigator of the first U2charist in April of 2004, and was a contributor to Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog. For me, preaching and doing liturgy with U2's music isn't about trying to "pack pews"; it's a perfectly natural thing for me to do as someone who grew up with U2's music. In all my travels, I've never met anyone of any age who's been to a U2 concert and hasn't found it to be spiritually uplifting; I think I've learned a great deal about liturgy and the art of leading it from U2.

If you think about it, it's a really remarkable thing that U2 manage to get a stadium full of people standing, raising their hands, singing or shouting something, or waving their cell phones at the same time. They don't pass out bulletins with printed rubrics, and they certainly don't have PowerPoint slides when they sing "Sunday Bloody Sunday" that say, "The CONGREGATION shouts: NO MORE!" So how do they do it?

They PLAN very, very intelligently, sensitively, and carefully. They rehearse a great deal. They're supported by excellent staff and the right kind of technology (which isn't always the most high-tech equipment). And they're sensitive in the moment to what's going on with the congregation (a U2 concert is a participatory experience, and although the band members are for the most part the only people on stage, the concert truly is "the work of the people").

I know, it sounds weird to some people to say that a rock concert -- particularly something with as much spontenaiety as a U2 show -- is carefully planned and extensively rehearsed, but it's true. I can say as a musician that solid planning and lots of practice together are absolutely necessary to free a band to respond with spontenaiety to the crowd. If I'm singing for a band that really knows me, one another, and the material well -- and lots of rehearsal as well as lots of gigs over a long period of time is the best way for that to happen -- then I can dive into the crowd for a few minutes, for example, and know that the band will be able to keep on playing something that makes sense without my vocals while I'm away from the mike, and then will be able to pick up again with my vocals once I'm back on stage. If I'm singing with a band that has played a great deal together, I can decide in the moment based on what I'm sensing from the crowd to draw out a song with a few extra choruses or some improvised snatches from other songs, and know that the band isn't going to be saying to themselves, "No fair -- we're supposed to do the chorus twice and then go into the bridge."

There are few ways -- maybe even no way -- to get that kind of confidence and chemistry in a band without lots and lots of rehearsal. I think the same goes for a team of folks leading a church service. If everyone from the altar guild and acolytes to the celebrant has enough good communication and time together, things will be more likely to go as planned when that improves the worship experience and the team will be more free to do something differently if that's needed in the moment. For example, let's say the power goes out unexpectedly in the middle of the Sunday service -- suddenly you've got no sound system. If the celebrant, deacon, and acolytes all know one another, the space, and the liturgy well -- or better yet, if a critical mass of the CONGREGATION as well as those vested for worship know one another, the space, and the liturgy well, everyone can improvise something -- e.g., moving to the center of the space if that's possible to make it easier for everyone to hear.

Getting that kind of chemistry with a group is about both the quantity and the quality of time together. Rehearsal is almost always better than no rehearsal, in my experience, but it also matters what kind of rehearsal. If a practice session is all about one person telling everyone else what to do and doesn't include mutual listening, the group won't get to know one another as well, and the liturgy is likely to suffer.

The same goes for liturgical planning, in my opinion. It makes perfect sense that at least some of the chief architects of a service should be those with the most liturgical and theological training and experience, but if liturgy is really going to be "the work of the people," then planning it should at some point involve some people in the congregation who are newer to the experience. A U2 concert that included only their more obscure songs rarely played live might thrill a few hardcore fans, but would leave most of the crowd puzzled if not bored -- or absent (the beer stands would get a lot of business!). On the other hand, a band tours not just to entertain, but to teach -- to increase hunger for more of the music by introducing fans to music they haven't heard yet on the radio. The members of U2 choose setlists for concerts that include old and new material, their newest hits and older songs that didn't hit the charts on their first release, and sometimes even material not released commercially at all.

Similarly, great liturgy both celebrates what we've already known and experienced and introduces us to ideas and experiences we haven't had that will deepen our walk with Christ. In my opinion, we're most likely to do that if we get and respond to feedback from newcomers to the congregation and its traditions. That doesn't mean doing ONLY things that are meaningful to people with no prior experience in Christian worship. Liturgy ACQUIRES meaning for us as we experience things that are new to us in a context that is at least partially familiar enough to be meaningful, and ought to inspire a sense that there's mystery in the universe -- things we don't necessarily understand, but don't necessarily have to understand to appreciate. Worship that just strings together pop-culture references in a shallow and trendy way might attract some initial interest, but is unlikely to be edifying in the long term.

On the other hand, worship that is entirely foreign to the congregation and that doesn't provide enough context to learn about what's going on is unlikely to be very edifying. For example, most Episcopalian congregations wouldn't get a lot out of a worship service conducted entirely in Coptic, with some exceptions that are worth noting. You could worship in Coptic with a congregation that doesn't have any prior exposure to the language and have the experience work if there were plenty of non-verbal cues -- e.g., visual or musical ones. Or the Coptic service could work very well indeed if what you're after and what the congregation needs is an experience that does feel foreign. Perhaps the congregation is about to launch a service that better meets the needs of a cultural group new to the congregation, and as part of the preparation to do that, you want a leadership team to experience worship in a language none of them have heard before and pay attention to what that felt like and what challenges and opportunities to enter into worship that posed for them.

Which brings me back to some more lessons in liturgy I learned in part from U2.

U2 plan concerts as whole experiences. They're musicians first and foremost, but they think long and hard about and get tons of advice from experts in the visual arts, for example. They think about how the clothes they wear, how they move, what images are projected on what kind of screen, what will probably be in the air (e.g., it's silly to plan a concert with the assumption that nobody will be smoking, even though it's illegal in most arenas to smoke) and what they want to be in the air (e.g., fog). They think about lighting for the mood of each song and how different lighting can provide cues to the crowd on how to behave. Everybody at a U2 concert knows -- not because anyone passed out a bulletin or offered an explanation before the start of the concert, but because it's instinctive and because of other indirect cues (e.g., the volume of the music) that when the whole arena is suddenly flooded for a moment with white light, you're supposed to jump up and raise your hands above your head. I think you'll know what I mean if you watch U2's performance of "Beautiful Day" and/or "Elevation" from their Vertigo Live in Chicago DVD.

U2 also think long and hard about different kinds of momentum and/or restfulness built up by different kinds of songs, and they structure concerts carefully around considerations of what they need and what the crowd needs. For example, Larry Mullen Jr., U2's drummer, like many, has developed back, joint, and wrist problems, and U2 structure concerts to give him breaks that are as regular as possible. "Elevation" is a song that on the All That You Can't Leave Behind album and accompanying tour was a loud rocker from about the fifth measure,  but in the more recent Vertigo tour is nearly a capella (there's just a quiet two-note guitar sequence and vocals) for the first two verses, so the drummer and bassist get a two-minute break three songs into the concert (a rare treat for a rhythm section). Bono, the lead singer, tends (like most rock singers) to push his chest voice up higher than one can do for long without going hoarse, so there are some songs (e.g., "Red Hill Mining Town") that don't get played live at all, and the band doesn't string together six songs in a row that are loud and high in Bono's range.

They think carefully about songs that in terms of tempo and theme will build a certain kind of momentum and give the audience some well-timed breaks. The current Vertigo tour has a classic example of this in the sequence -- just shy of halfway through the concert -- of "Love and Peace Or Else," Bullet the Blue Sky," and "Sunday Bloody Sunday" -- all medium-tempo songs with a very strong beat that thematically protest attempting to justify violence for political and/or religious ends. They flow right into one another to the point of almost being one long track, which allows the songs to comment on one another and invite listeners to make connections between the political situations the songs were written about (the cycles of violence in Israel/Palestine for "Love and Peace Or Else, "state-sponsored and U.S.-funded terror in Central America for "Bullet the Blue Sky," and I.R.A. and Unionist terrorism in Britain and Ireland for "Sunday Bloody Sunday") and current situations (e.g., Bono often asks for and displays a U.S. flag these days when performing "Sunday Bloody Sunday," inviting comparison of terrorism around "the troubles" in Ireland and 9/11 in the U.S.). But the emotional and musical intensity of those songs would be overwhelming and counterproductive if it continued much longer, so while the next song continues the themes of the three-song cycle it follows, it's usually slow and without a rhythm section ("Running To Stand Still" or "Miss Sarajevo"), giving the crowd as well as the band a chance to breathe and become a little more reflective as the lighting becomes more spare and cool in color, the projected images replaced by darkness. Good liturgy pays similar attention to pacing in music, cadences of speech, sound and silence, light and darkness, and theme.

And finally, at least for now, I learned a great deal from U2 about how liturgy can be participatory. When playing a song familiar to most or all, the band often invites -- sometimes verbally with a shout like "You know the words!" and sometimes visually by holding a mike out toward the audience or bringing the house lights up -- the crowd to sing the whole thing. On a song that most in the audience don't know or don't know well -- e.g., "Fast Cars," which was issued as a bonus track on some editions of their most recent album, but which is absent from most editions sold, and is almost never played on the radio) -- they'll invite participation by pulling someone up to the stage to dance or working in a simple musical phrase or quote from a more familiar song that everyone is then invited (usually with a nonverbal cue) to sing. Bono's improvisations and patter both reflect and intensify the ways in which he responds to or is carried along by the crowd and how the crowd responds to him. I almost never call a U2 concert a "performance" or "show," which sound too much like an activity of a band before a passive audience, much as I almost never call the crowd at a U2 show an "audience."  Every time I go to a U2 concert, I find myself thinking about how intentionally the whole U2 team -- management, visual artists, computer networking people, the techs for the musical equipment, lighting artists, carpenters, and more, as well as the band -- invites the crowd to shape the experience.

That in turn gets me thinking about how the crowd, the people, in EVERY concert and movie and worship service shape the experience everyone has of it. I'll never forget sitting in a movie theater suddenly filled with hooting and howls of laughter when during the trailer for the movie Little Buddha, the audience saw that the Buddha would be played by Keanu Reeves, who then even more than now was viewed as a one-note airhead actor from Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Horror films are MUCH scarier when viewed with audience members who scream or jump when startled. I also recall many experiences of listening to a stand-up comic who probably would have seemed funnier to me if other people were laughing, but a truly flat room is very difficult if not impossible to overcome. And that can be true with liturgy too -- made all the worse if the celebrant, musicians, and the entire worship team isn't sensitive to how people are and aren't responding. Sometimes that insensitivity is due to circumstance -- e.g., the acolytes are new and haven't rehearsed much, so they're trying so hard to remember what's supposed to happen next that they go through the entire service with a pained and very distracting expression that they don't notice people are picking up on and feeling uncomfortable themselves as a result. Sometimes that's affected by the natural abilities of those involved. Usually it's a combination of factors.

Sometimes people experience shows where something goes "wrong" as the best shows of all because of the ways in which one person's weakness brings out another's strength. The Edge sings lead vocals for a verse or a song when Bono's voice is gone. The rhythm section keeps the song going when a key guitar string breaks. The crowd's energy carries Bono along when his father has died and Bono's grief is fresh and raw, and strength is surprisingly made perfect in weakness. And in every case, marvelous and life-changing things happen when the Spirit -- that wind and fire to which we can be more or less open, but never control or even consistently predict -- rushes through the room. As a musician, a U2 fan, and a worship leader, I have to say that rocks -- for a Eucharist, a concert, or anything else.

Photo below: Bono's asperges in Madison Square Garden on October 7, 2005 -- that's me in the yellow circle to the left of Bono getting splashed.


April 17, 2006 in Churchiness, Liturgy, Music, U2charist | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack