“There’s cathedrals and the alleyways in our music. I think the alleyway is usually on the way to the cathedral, where you can hear your own footsteps and you’re slightly nervous and looking over your shoulder and wondering if there’s somebody following you. And then you get there and you realize there was somebody following you: it’s God.”— Bono
Rock ‘n’ roll has long been called the “devil’s music.” But for many U2 fans, it’s also been known to uplift and awaken our spirituality. Christian Scharen, currently Vice President of Applied Research and the Center for the Study of Theological Education at Auburn (he also taught at Yale), examines how U2′s music not only makes our feet move, but also moves our hearts, minds and souls in his thought-provoking book “One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God.”
Scharen is a long-time U2 fan who knows both the band’s music and how the teachings of Biblical scripture is infused into nearly every one of U2′s songs, not only in the obvious like “40” from 1983′s War album, a song taken from Psalm 40 and refrain from Psalm 6, but less apparent songs like “Discotheque” from 1997′s Pop.
One Step Closer is divided into three parts, which Scharen calls steps. The first part is called “Singing Scripture,” in which Scharen points to the ways scripture speaks of God’s work, using various voices of scripture like psalms, prophecies, parables and the apocalypse. Scharen takes these aspects of the scriptures and shows how these elements are evident in U2′s music.
In the second part of the book, “Singing the Cross,” Scharen uses such themes as faith, hope and love and explains how these themes are evident within U2′s music. He also discusses how these themes have tension with less lofty themes that we found ourselves struggling with like despair and selfishness.
In the final section, Scharen introduces the idea “Singing the Truth,” a way to live the cross. This section takes in account on how U2 lives out their faith. Most of us aren’t unfamiliar on how the members of U2 live out their faith beyond the boundaries of their music, especially regarding Bono’s tireless work on behalf of the African continent.
Throughout the book, Scharen gives examples of U2 songs and how they relate to different scriptures and themes found in the Bible. For songs embodying themes of faith and doubt, Scharen offers songs like “I Will Follow” from U2′s 1980 debut Boy and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” from 1987′s The Joshua Tree. In songs with themes of the saint and the sinner, Scharen mentions songs like “Bad” from 1984′s The Unforgettable Fire and “Acrobat” from 1991′s Achtung Baby. Scharen quotes lyrics from these songs to make the reader understand the themes and also asks the reader to think of other U2 songs that follow various Biblical ideas. I can imagine this inspiring U2 fans everywhere to run to their CD collections or grab their digital devices to find U2 songs that follow these themes. I also wonder if Christian U2 fans will open up their Bibles to find different scriptures that relate to U2′s music.
Though a Lutheran pastor and a professor of divinity, Scharen takes a critical look at the modern church and asks it to take a good, hard look at itself. Religious institutions have to ask themselves why so many U2 fans feel no connection to the church or religion as a whole, but find God’s word or a “higher power” in U2′s music. Scharen isn’t afraid to tell the modern church to get over “religion” to get over its obsession of piety and judgment of everyone and everything. The goal of the modern church, instead, should be to inspire, forgive, uplift and do good work in the world around us. I know as a lapsed Roman Catholic turned Unitarian Universalist full committed to my faith, I have more often felt the spirit of something greater than I at a U2 concert than I ever did in all my years of going to Mass (but service at my UU church comes pretty close.
I don’t think you have to be particularly religious or even a Christian to gain something from this book. Religion is a fascinating topic, especially in how it can relate to modern music. Furthermore, Scharen gives thorough explanations of different aspects of scripture for readers not quite up on their Bible studies. Fortunately, Scharen is respectful to those of all religious backgrounds. And though “One Step Closer” is a scholarly book, it isn’t dry and acts as a reference to both U2 fans and those looking to know the Bible more fully.
In a world where religion is often quite polarizing in these troubling times, Scharen offers U2′s music and its messages as a unifying force. In “One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God,” the secular and the sacred aren’t mutually exclusive.