Pop Psalmists; Ministers Cite U2, Dylan

Article excerpt


The Rev. Beth Maynard preaches from the Psalms in the Bible, but she also likes to quote what she considers to be modern-day Psalms - the songs of U2. As pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Fairhaven, Mass., she has quoted the lyrics of "Tomorrow" when teaching about the life of the apostle Thomas and "God Part II" when teaching about Lent. Mrs. Maynard appreciates the theme of social justice in "Pride (In the Name of Love)." She also relates to the longings associated with earthly life in "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

"The Psalms are about praise, lament and confession," Mrs. Maynard says. "They are not just positive statements about God. They bring a lot of emotional honesty at looking at life. Rather than writing about Christianity, U2 write honestly about life from a Christian worldview."

U2 is not the only contemporary act whose fans find spiritual insights in its songs. Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash also have delivered soulful pleas to God, full of faith and doubt.

While visiting with other clergy, Mrs. Maynard realized that she wasn't the only one who quoted U2 songs from the pulpit. After consulting with the Rev. Raewynne Whiteley of Trinity Church in Swedesboro, N.J., they advertised for submissions for sermons based on the lyrics of the Irish rockers. The result is "Get Up Off Your Knees, Preaching the U2 Catalog," which features responses from Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants and evangelicals.

"U2 is unusual because of the very clear theological allusions," Ms. Whiteley says. "I've quoted from other songs, like Frank Sinatra, but they usually don't have the depth that U2 songs have. I only use pop music two or three times a year in a sermon. I don't want to artificially stick it in my sermons. Otherwise, my parishioners get very bored, especially because they all probably aren't U2 fans."

The psalmists were the rock 'n' roll artists of their day, says Brian J. Walsh, campus minister and professor of theology of culture at the University of Toronto. Mr. Walsh contributed two sermons to "Get Up Off Your Knees," including "Walk On: Biblical Hope and U2." In his sermon for "Wake Up Dead Man: Singing the Psalms of Lament," he references Psalm 44, in which the psalmist cries out to God in a moment of despair.

"Psalm 44 is even more abrasive than the U2 song," Mr. Walsh says. "The psalmist is more radical than Bono."

People should spend more time looking into the theological implications of all types of modern songs and artwork, says Steve Garber, senior fellow for the C.S. Lewis Institute in Annandale. He is inspired by the apostle Paul, who in his day quoted the poets in the marketplace of Athens.

Mr. Garber wrote two sermons that appear in "Get Up Off Your Knees," based on the U2 songs "When I Look at the World" and "Grace."

"Our task is to read the culture around us," Mr. Garber says. "Be attentive to the important voices. All things that are said aren't valuable, but some things are very valuable. ... You can't talk to serious people in their teens, 20s or 30s who aren't very interested in what U2 says. …