POSTED ON AUGUST 15, 2007:
Rock of Ages?
God the Mother? "She Moves in Mysterious Ways" was another example. Maulden said the "She" in the song could also apply to the Holy Spirit.
"I like to think of Jesus, like, with great big eagle wings and singin' lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd with, like, an angel band . . . ," said John C. Reilly's character in the movie Talledega Nights during an impromptu theological discussion occasioned by a pre-meal benediction.
While there are also those who "like to picture Jesus as a ninja fightin' off evil samurai," (if you haven't seen the movie, don't read too much into it), Reilly's character certainly isn't alone in his preference for a pop music-friendly God, or at least for God-friendly pop music.
While the "Rock Star Jesus" image was evoked for comic effect (a joke at the expense of the characters, mind you, not at the expense of a certain Son of God), there are congregations nationwide and in Tulsa that have been turning to rock music for weightier purposes.
For instance, the staid Episcopal Church has been the subject of worldwide attention for its "U2charist" services, which incorporate the musical offerings of a certain Irish rock band.
Also, a local downtown church began a series this week entitled "the Gospel according to the Beatles," which, as the title indicates, examines the parallels between the messages of John, Paul, Ringo, and George and those of another John and Paul, and some guys named Matt, Mark and Luke, too.
Meanwhile, some other church groups are co-mingling secular tunes with more overtly religious music for more general purposes.
While the approach is certainly not without its critics, adapting popular "secular" music for sacred purposes is nothing new.
It's believed that many of the hymns composed by Martin Luther were simply his theology set to the tunes of popular bar songs of his day.
According to ministers of the U2charist, though, the music of Bono, The Edge and the rest of the band already comes ready-made for church use.
Downtown Tulsa's Trinity Episcopal Church began its U2charist services in June, but the practice has its roots in the St. George Episcopal Church in York Harbor, Maine.
"The spirituality of a lot of people in that congregation was informed by U2's music and they'd have Bible studies and meetings where references and tie-ins to the music of U2 came up a lot," said Trinity's Rev. Kristina Maulden.
As the connection between their own spiritual understanding and the music and lyrics of U2 became more openly shared and acknowledged, the congregants at St. George eventually formalized it by using the band's songs in its liturgy, beginning about two years ago, she said.
The innovation was apparently a hit, as Episcopal congregations in other areas also picked up on it and did the same, most recently in Tulsa at Trinity.
Maulden said the next U2charist will be held on August 19, and then they plan to have them on the fourth Sunday of every month at 5pm.
She said the service follows the same format of a traditional liturgy, the only difference is that U2 songs are used in place of traditional hymns.
"Some of their music is very explicitly Christian while some is at least socially conscious," Maulden explained.
As an example, she pointed to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (arguably their best song, if you ask a certain reporter).
"As Christians, we're still bringing about God's kingdom on earth, but when we see poverty our hearts should cry out, 'I still haven't found what I'm looking for,'" she related.
"She Moves in Mysterious Ways" was another example.
Maulden said the "she" in the song could refer to a woman, but could also apply to the Holy Spirit.
While the services sport the "U2" name, Maulden said the use of their music is the only connection the phenomenon has to the actual band.
"There were people who came to the first U2charist who thought U2 was actually going to be playing there," she recalled with amusement.
"Our venue would be a little small for that," she said.
Along with lending their name to the service, the band has also agreed not to charge royalties for use of their music so long as any money made goes toward the United Nations' "Millennium Development Goals," which are, by the year 2015, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education in the world, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, ensure environmental sustainability, and create a global partnership for development.
Maulden said such aims are in keeping with the message of many of U2's songs, which she hopes will spur members of her congregation toward concern for the less fortunate and the pursuit of social justice.
She also said the example of the band's front man should do the same, while also providing a point of connection for spiritual seekers.
"The thing that I admire about Bono is that he's really searching," Maulden said.
"He's a little unorthodox in some of his pursuits, but he articulates this struggle of seeking after God and wrestling with our doubts that makes him relevant to a lot of people," she said.
Maulden was careful to point out, though, "We're certainly not creating a Cult of Bono."
"Our preaching is always centered on God, according to Scripture," she stated.
Despite such assurances, Maulden said not everyone is a U2 fan, nor a fan of the way the band's songs are used in services.
She pointed to a recent letter to the editor in the local daily paper in which Trinity Episcopal Church's leadership was called "spiritually ignorant" for having "moved away from doing things according to Scripture" and for "just entertaining people."
Maulden said such critics likely haven't attended a U2charist service to inform their objections.
"I don't think they really understand the whole point of it," she added.
However, she acknowledged that there is the danger of "just entertaining people" if attention isn't kept where it should be.
"If you're careful about how it's presented, it will keep the focus on God and keep us looking at how to eliminate poverty in our own small way," Maulden said.
Gimme That Old Time Band
Meanwhile, another local church leader is using the Beatles' music as a point of connection to spiritual things.
This past Sunday, Pastor Deron Spoo of downtown Tulsa's First Baptist Church preached the first installment of an eight-week series entitled "The Gospel according to the Beatles."
"There's a spiritual significance that has been attached to the Beatles that hasn't been found in most other music--not with Elvis, not with Chuck Berry; the closest second would be U2," Spoo told UTW.
While those might sound like fightin' words to Episcopalians, the Baptist continued, "I think, 40 years from now, U2 will have that same recognition as the Beatles."
Spoo said he conceived of the series after reading a book of the same name by Rolling Stone magazine's Steve Turner, which explores the religious backgrounds of each of the Fab Four.
"Even though (the Beatles) walked away from the church, it still informed them in the writing of their lyrics," he said, noting that "the words 'love' and 'help' were some of the most oft-used words in their musical vocabulary," and often in ways that can be interpreted in a Christian sense.
"I wouldn't be able to point to a single song and say, 'That's about Jesus Christ,'" Spoo said, but he explained that the Beatles' songs dealt with universal themes that parallel teachings within the Bible, which he said he's using in an effort to drive those teachings home.
"Music is a great tool to make learning the Bible memorable," he said.
For instance, the series' first sermon referenced the song "Eleanor Rigby," "which is a song about loneliness," the pastor said, which ties-in to teachings from the book of Ecclesiastes on the same subject.
Also, the song "All You Need is Love" will be used to communicate the concept of "love" as it relates to the teaching from the first Epistle of John (not Lennon--the other one) that "God is love."
Like the U2charist, "the Gospel according to the Beatles" also has its naysayers.
Spoo said he hasn't heard any direct criticism, but some amount of disapproval has found its way to his ears via the proverbial grapevine.
"Most of it is from people who still have it kind of deeply ingrained in them that the Beatles are 'anti-Christian,'" he said, recalling a certain infamous comment made by John Lennon about the Beatles' and Jesus' relative popularity.
Spoo noted, though, that Turner's book relates how Lennon later expressed regret for the comment through the course of his correspondence with Oral Roberts during his brief "born again" period in the late 1970s.
Other criticism comes from those concerned about the sanctity of Christian teachings being watered-down or compromised as Spoo and others try to make it "trendy."
"Western Christianity has developed a false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular," responded Spoo to such criticism, noting the apostle Paul's practice of preaching to Greeks and Romans in terms of their own cultural language, as he did in his famous sermon on Mars Hill in Athens.
"All truth is God's truth, and if there's an ounce of truth in the Beatles, we have an obligation to hear it," he said.
While Spoo and Maulden are preaching the Gospel according to the Beatles and Bono, some other churches are using a more varied catalogue of secular music to try to get their messages across.
For instance, Grace Toninato, music director for Guts Church, said her congregation plays non-religious-themed music to open services, but overtly Christian-themed music is used for worship and during the actual service.
Examples of opening music at Guts are "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," "I'll Be There," a few Blondie songs and--you guessed it--some U2 hits.
"Our goal is to create an atmosphere that's lifted and fun," said Toninato.
"We want our services to be fun and attractive so we can reach anyone and we can make church more relevant," she added.
She said the only criterion for the opening music is that it be uplifting.
"As long as it's not a bummer message or going to bring someone down," she described.
Guts Church also has its share of critics for the practice, Toninato said.
"That usually comes from the religious people--the traditionalists," she said.
"Our church doesn't tend to look at what other churches are doing, though," Toninato added. "Our pastor preached in jeans back when that was considered a 'sin.'"
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