My first introduction to the 'theology' of U2 and its applicability to modern worship contexts came from the book 'Get Up Off Your Knees : Preaching the U2 Catalog' by Raewynne J. Whiteley. This book is addresses some of the same material, and is a good companion to Whiteley's book.
Vagacs makes the apt point that music of U2's sort is the poetry of the modern age. Adults young and old don't tend to learn poetry, but they do remember song lyrics, and many of these song lyrics contain deep, meaningful, spiritual content. Vagacs taps into the categories of biblical interpretation and meaning-making of Walter Brueggemann (one of my personal favourites), and looks to the medium of modern rock and roll ('potent poetry' that 'allows the artist to express raw emotion and high intellect simultaneously') to be a means toward an 'alternative universe of discourse'.
It isn't simply in the lyrics of U2 songs that the call to fulfilling a moral purpose, a gospel statement if you will, comes into being. Bono has taken upon himself the task of educating and drawing the media spotlights to issues of world poverty, hunger, and financial mismanagement that is a somewhat ironic stance for a 'pop star'. However, no one else seemed to be stepping up to the plate. Bono was honoured with the Bill and Melinda Gates by Time magazine, not for fame and fortune, but rather for turning fame and fortune into a force for good in a specific, savvy and increasingly effective way.
There are elements in U2 songs that all Christians can find familiar - hope and despair, faith and doubt, longing and desire, dealing with injustice and finally finding grace. All of these things, from lamentations to psalms and proverbs, have parallels in both biblical and U2 lyrical words. Vagacs deals with the idea of the postmodern (an idea he admits is difficult to define, particularly in so short a work), and demonstrates in many ways that U2 is a postmodern embodiment of many biblical themes.
Vagacs includes a litany inspired by U2 lyrics, merged with themes and words from the gospel of Mark. Vagacs also includes a discography, source lists, and a recommended readings list. These are handy things for those who might want to further their study, or incorporate U2 into actual worship services.
Vagacs includes a glossary of terms at the start, rather than at the end. This is both for U2 fans who are not theologically/philosophically trained, as well as for those theological types who don't have a wide exposure to modern popular/rock music. Vagacs states, 'My hope is that this book will be of interest to U2 fans, offering them perhaps another perspective on U2's lyrics. I would also hope that those who are Christian, or religious, would recognize that the marriage of theology, faith and popular culture is not only possible, but relevant and fruitful as well.'
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Vagacs does many unique and intriguing things in this little volume. He examines the collective works of U2 through the theological lenses of Walter Brueggemann to interpret their albums and specific songs. The categories he borrows from Brueggemann are the themes of hope amidst despair, social justice and eschatological anticipation, exile in a scorched land, and finally grace and resurrection.
Vagacs was drawn to undertake this endeavor after attending a U2 concert, which raised a number of questions in his mind. He states: "They prompt me to ask what is it exactly about U2's music that captivates people from such a diverse demographic, not to mention geographic, diversity? Is it their consistency, or their cohesiveness as a band? Is it their commitment to the music and each other? Is it U2's concern and involvement with social justice issues? Perhaps it is simply the fact that they generate great music?" (p.ix)
Vagacs believes that there are 4 categories of readers for this book:
1. You are neither a U2 fan nor a Christ follower.
2. You are a U2 fan with no real connection to Jesus Christ.
3. You are a Christian with no real connection to U2.
4. You are both a U2 fan and a Christ follower.
No matter which category you are in, this book can be informative, both on the history of U2 and the progression of thought through their music, and the spiritual imagery and implications of their work album by album. No matter which of the four you are, this book will open your eyes.
Brian Walsh in the introduction states: "Rob Vagacs does not come to worship at the shrine of U2. That would be a blasphemy to his own faith and a terrible disservice to the band. Rather, this book opens our eyes to light that is shining in the midst of the darkness of a postmodern world." (p.xvi) I believe it sums up the book well. This book will not herald U2 as the light, but as light bearers in a darkening world. This book will help you see light around you, whether in other people, music, or even theology.