So. Last Sunday I went way out of my comfort zone and did something that I admit I’d been vaguely thinking of doing since I joined my church: I led a service. And not just any service. This was a service about one of my biggest passions–the music of U2. It was a long, stressful process for me to build a service, but somehow I came out of it okay. Well, better than okay. People actually liked it. And not only liked it, but it seems a lot of people–even those who were not even familiar with U2’s music–identified with it. After the service, a few people who’d lost their spouses revealed themselves to me, a few others shared their own experiences at a U2 concert, and others still told me that they now were going to look up some U2 music. Mission accomplished, right?

The idea for this service came out some discussions with a fellow cyclist and UUer, Brad, about how I felt that our church should play some U2 music because of the spiritual themes in the music. I’d been to a few Christian churches and noticed that they were playing modern–albeit, Christian rock–music and it occurred to me that mainstream U2 could be played in the same slots at these churches. And if a mainstream band like U2 could be played in a Christian church, they naturally could be played in a UU church, especially since the themes tended towards the humanistic and anti-war values UUs share. Sure, there are some overtly Christian themes to U2 music as well, but, so what? The U2 version of Christianity is inclusive and loving. I know UUs have trouble saying the word “God.” Still, I thought, if my fellow parishioners could understand the context in which Bono uses the word God, then perhaps they too would see the intrinsic beauty in the music.

Of course, I know I’m not the first person to come up with using U2 music in church. U2charist has been doing it for quite a while and I was actually pointed in their direction when the idea for doing an entire U2-based service was suggested to me. I would still enjoy attending a U2-based Christian service if such an opportunity arises.

What started out as a conversation with Brad about him learning a few U2 songs to perform in church became a joking threat by me to do an entire service about U2 which, as things naturally go, was a threat I was quickly called out on by another member of the church, and then the next thing I knew, I was filling out an application to the programs committee, and then before I knew it, I was given a date to do it. And the rest, they say, is history. (At a UU church, you can’t speak too loudly about ideas you have because someone from some committee will overhear and you’ll be asked–nicely, of course–if you’d like to take up that effort. I assume, though, it’s probably that way at a lot of churches…)

The next step after being given a date on which to deliver a service was total and utter panic. I wanted to do everything right, give the perfect service that gave people a nice rounded experience of U2. I wanted to relay my personal love of the band–why they have always meant so much to me–as well as familiarize others with U2 who might know nothing about them. So music was a necessity. Fortunately, I managed to drag Brad into the fire along with me since our conversations started the whole thing. I gave Brad two CDs of my favorite U2 songs and basically told him to pick whichever two he wanted. This worked out nicely–he chose “Miracle Drug” and “Yahweh” (see, we didn’t use the word “God”!), both from the 2005 Vertigo release.

I was really fortunate because another girl in the congregation named Katie stepped up and offered to sing either “With or Without You” or “Where the Streets Have No Name.” I totally jumped up at “Streets” because I’d already referenced it in the first paragraph of my sermon (the first page of my sermon was written before I was even given a date; I knew how I wanted to start it). I love “Streets” even though it’s been played incessantly on the radio and is probably the only song almost everyone–U2 or non-U2 fan alike–knows. Katie has an excellent voice. I’d heard her perform a song at our last Music Sunday service so I was really excited that she wanted to perform at my service too; I knew she’d be a great addition.

I was just amazed how things started to fall into place. It was a little hard to get people moving; UUs tend to procrastinate. But once I got the ball rolling, everyone was quick to start helping out. I was initially focused on my sermon but as it came on two weeks before my service, I started to panic about the rest of the script. Fortunately, I was paired with Eric, one of the worship associates, and he was a lot of fun to work with. He helped me chose the hymns we would use. We picked “Now Let Us Sing” and my favorite, “Come Sing a Song With Me” because these were more modern and they are about music itself.

Since I realized early on that the direction my sermon was headed was leaning towards music as emotional healing, Eric decided to select a story for our “all ages” section of the service that focused around a boy who found comfort from music while in a hospital recovering from surgery. Eric also decided that his reading would focus on a more scientific study of how music therapy aids in patient recovery. We would have a healthy UU mix of emotional, spiritual, and scientific side to the topic of music as therapy.

At first, I was going to skip the unison reading portion of our format; however, Eric encouraged me to use some U2 lyrics and, though I worried about U2 lyric overkill (since I was using lyrics for the pre-service chalice lighting and he was using lyrics for his call to worship), I decided on three stanzas from “Love Rescue Me” as they seemed singularly appropriate to the heavy topic of grieving that unfolded in parts of my sermon. And, well, it’s a spiritual love referred to in the song. I believe in love as the one thing that saves us all. And maybe–just maybe–a part of me still needs a little rescuing. I guess this also explains my current obsession with the ending lyrics of “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”:

Let me love you true. Let me rescue you.

Same concept. Though “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” refers to romantic love, I like the idea that love can rescue a person. In a way that is not dysfunctional, but healthy. The love of parents, friends, God, life itself–whatever lifts you up and brings you back into the world. Love is hard-earned. Like riding your bike up a hill, you only get love if you’ve worked for it. You can just as easily replace the word “God” with “love” in “Love Rescue Me.” Due to the UU phobia of the word “God” (but not Yahweh), “love”‘ was probably the better word choice.

Love rescue me
Come forth and speak to me
Raise me up and don’t let me fall
No man is my enemy
My own hands imprison me
Love rescue me

And the sun in the sky
Makes a shadow of you and I
Stretching out as the sun sinks in the sea
I’m here without a name
In the palace of my shame
Said, love rescue me

I’ve conquered my past
The future is here at last
I stand at the entrance
To a new world I can see
The ruins to the right of me
Will soon have lost sight of me
Love rescue me

Last minute inspiration hit a few days before the service when I was listening to a CD of songs I’d cut for a friend (but have not yet seen him to pass off to him). I realized that I didn’t have music selected for the prelude (while people are gathering in the sanctuary). We were already suffering confusion with arranging musicians to lead the hymns. I decided to bring “Windows in the Skies” on CD to play during this period. I figured this way people would also get to hear a sample of pure U2 music. And “Windows in the Skies” is perfect as it’s a happy praise song about love causing miraculous changes in the world and it contains several Biblical references.

One of our oversights happened at the beginning of the first service when we realized that we had forgotten to get someone to play the doxology on the piano… Whoops! But I have to tell you, the doxology never sounded so beautiful as it did being sung by the whole congregation sans music. It really added something, I think, that felt very much in the spirit of my service. We also had to sing the children out of the service–as is our tradition–without piano accompaniment. It sounded better than it ever has. In my humble opinion.

Neither service was without a slip-up. During the first service, Eric forgot the sheet that contained his call to worship so he had to wing it. He did a very good job, even admitting to his error. Our congregation is good-natured and we don’t take ourselves, or our rituals, too seriously. So it went over fine. I didn’t remember how to light the chalice (only did it once) and blanked like a deer in headlights when the moment came to do it; I had to have Eric lead me through it. For some reason or another, my brain had a horrible time trying to process the phrase “which you will find in the pocket on the seat back in front of your pew” when reading the standard part of the welcome and announcements that told people where to find visitor cards to fill out. I stumbled over the words during the first service and totally messed them up during the second service, giving away to laughter, after which I waved my hand in the air and said, “Well, you where they are.” 

We were much better with the second service. Eric retrieved his call to worship (lyrics from “Stuck in a Moment”). I lit the chalice properly (but had accidentally blew it out when I blew out the lighter and so I had to light it again). We were by then used to the concept of singing a cappella the hymns, doxology, and children’s exit. I stumbled over different words in my own sermon than I’d done in the first service (saying “synthesizers” twice instead of “sympathizers”). But these were little things, hardly noticed, and they did not disrupt the quality of the service. In fact, the imperfection seemed to make it all the more beautiful.

Somewhere in the middle of all nervousness, amidst the bumps, something very holy happened. I don’t know if other people felt it. It may have been just an internal feeling. But I was moved. I must have done something right. I could feel it–an energy I poured out into the whole presentation. I didn’t sense boredom when I got to the part I worried about losing people in–my page describing “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” I felt like I was holding everyone’s interest. People laughed at the appropriate places. I must have read with enough inflection. I felt I had my audience’s attention.

Katie and Brad both exceeded all my expectations in the performance of their songs. It was just so thrilling hearing them both not once, but twice, and to enjoy the joyful sound they made. I didn’t expect anyone to sound like Bono; however, in their performances, they would have both done Bono proud. They definitely helped set the mood for the service. They each put a little of themselves into their singing, even if Brad insists he copied his style from Bono. Both of them definitely contributed to the spirit of the service.

I almost cried in the middle of my sermon during the second service, at the part where I related Bono’s cries of “Won’t you come back tomorrow” in “Tomorrow” to my own pleas to my husband. It was an odd moment because Brad had asked me after he first service if I had had trouble reading the very personal parts of my service. I’d said no because I was so far beyond those days now that they didn’t have as much impact on me anymore though I could write beautifully about it. Not so true, I guess. Perhaps during the first service I was just so nervous that I didn’t really have the sense of mind to think about my words as I said them. But reading my sermon during second service, I was actually simultaneously thinking about the words I was saying and trying to figure out how to say them with better inflection. Because I was listening to myself, I actually started to feel them. Feeling them is bad. At least, when you’re trying to speak and you’ve still got three pages of words to get through. It was really hard to change the direction of tears that were about to form. I had to refocus my energy totally on the words, shut off the secondary dialog I was having with myself. In this case, it was okay for my audience to tear up, but certainly not me. It would have put me at a dead stop…

So, um, needless to say, I was wrong; those thoughts still do have impact on me. I guess that’s good for the sake of my memoir. I can’t make my readers feel if I myself don’t feel…

I have to admit that I was absolutely taken aback and humbled by all the praise I received for this service, both in person at church and then later by various friends who posted on my wall on Facebook or to the world in their statuses about my service. I seriously didn’t think I would get so many compliments. We all show appreciation for our lay friends when they lead a pleasurable service; I just didn’t think mine would really be one of them. I knew a few people would find it interesting and such. I didn’t expect people to walk out on me or anything. I guess I just expected a few mild thank-yous. I now feel guilty for every receiving line I’ve avoided after church to thank a person for the service they led. I’m just not comfortable doing the whole handshake thank you thing. But I felt totally comfortable on the other end of the receiving line and this surprised me too. I thought that would be most nerve-wrecking part of the whole ordeal… what do you say to all these people who want to shake your hand and converse with you? Apparently, it’s very easy! Much easier than trying to talk to people during our coffee hour between services.

Anyway, I left church on Sunday exhausted. But happy. And relieved. I’d pulled it off, I’d done a great service (if I do say so myself?), and, amazingly enough, I had a spiritual moment amidst a service I wrote. Maybe it was simply the open-armed acceptance–validation–I received from other people. I know that sounds rather selfish. But the truth of the matter is, I really don’t think too highly of myself or my writing. I guess I live in a world in which my inner critic screams at me all day. Like a needy child, I crave validation through the praise of others. I won’t believe I’m good until other people tell me. Even though I came into that service happy with what I wrote.

I know. Who cares, right? I love to write, so I should just keep doing it. That’s all that matters. Still. Why else would a writer write but to be read?

I think this service did something else for me too. It reminded me that I actually kind of like taking leadership roles. Over the last year, I’ve been trying hard to hone my public speaking skills by forcing myself to volunteer for these sort of tasks at work and at church. Heck, I used to be a trainer by profession. I used to be somewhat good at speaking in front of people. Dare I say, I even used to like it. But something happened to me in the year Mike died. I kind of folded inside myself and I stayed there. I refused to put myself out on the limb and I just kind of side-lined my way under the radar at work and play. Do one thing every day that scares you, goes the line from that “Sunscreen” song by Baz Luhrmann. I’ve been trying to live by that. Time to come back outside of myself. Time to follow my dreams, no matter how hard or painful they are to make happen. (And writing, my friends, good writing is a very painful process, as all my Facebook friends are all too aware…)

Anyway, the service wasn’t perfect and I know a lot of things I’d do differently if I ever did another service. I also couldn’t have had as successful of a service if it wasn’t for the following people: Eric, the worship associate assigned to my service; Brad, for his wonderful music; Katie, for the great rendering of “Where the Streets Have No Name” as a ballad; and Judy for putting together the awesome order of service. Thanks, everyone!!

And some pictures!

This was the lovely cover designed by Judy Brannan, the UUCK’s talented administrator, using photographs provided by Matthias Muehlbradt from (my new favorite U2 fan site containing the most complete database of U2 set lists on the internet). Thanks, Matt, for letting me use your awesome photos!!

The lovely Order of Service.

And here’s me in front of the church bulletin board that has my name on it. *Squee* My name on a sign, at last!! Maybe someday when I get my memoir done, I’ll have the pleasure of this experience again. Anyway, I’ll post sometime this week about my experiences leading a church service, when I’ve recovered. I’ve  had a long, stressful day, and I’m about ready to crash. But it was wonderful, beautiful, holy.

Me, my name on marquee, what more could a girl ask for? (And, yes, I'm wearing a 2001 Elevation Tour shirt....)

Musical Healing (Reading 1)

I wrote and delivered the following as the first reading at the service, Spiritual Journeys through the Music of U2, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent on October 24, 2010.

I went to my first U2 concert on May 3, 2001—a mere three weeks after my husband Mike died. I’d bought the tickets with three other friends many months earlier and, though I’d skipped a number of other commitments I had made prior to Mike’s death, the U2 concert was the one event I still had the heart to attend. I don’t remember many details of 2001—I suffer a kind of grief-shock black-out from that year—but that U2 concert was one of the bright spots of happiness that stand out for me in that year post-Mike’s death.

We originally had bought the cheapest tickets, which gave us nosebleed seats in almost the very last row at the top of the Gund Arena. My friend Kamill, however, knew one of the people who worked at the Gund, and he asked him if we could get our seats upgraded. His friend told us that he would see what he could do, that he’d come get us at our assigned seats if he could get us better seats. From our seats in the nosebleed section, we watched the opening act jump around like miniscule ants on the stage and collectively sighed, depressed. It didn’t seem possible to us that any better seats would be available to us.

The opening act had finished and we were waiting impatiently for U2 to take the stage when Kamill’s friend appeared. He motioned for us to follow him… We got up, excited, following him down, down past all the rows of the upper level; down further into the lower level. And then down again into the last section before the floor. And then he started leading us forward towards the stage. With each step, the details of the stage came into focus. I could see roadies running about preparing the equipment for U2. I would have been happy if he showed gave us seats at any point on that lower level, but he just kept moving us closer and closer and closer. Until we were just left of the stage. Section 123, second row from the floor of the arena. Right next to the stage.

Throughout the show, we were close enough, as I’ve always said, to see the band members sweat. In fact, we had a clear view of The Edge throughout the entire show as he generally stood on our side of the stage. It was completely awesome. For two or three hours, I lost all thought of my problems and of losing Mike. I forgot about my pain and my sadness. My spirit was lifted up by the freedom of sound, of Bono’s voice and his passionate delivery of each song. Being at that U2 concert was better than any anti-depressant drug I could have ever been prescribed for my grief. Being given the gift of the best seats I’ll ever get at a U2 concert in my life, at that moment, was more holy than divine intervention itself. For just one night in that very long year, I was the same girl I’d always been. It felt good to not be a widow for just a little while.

Spiritual Journeys through the Music of U2

Below is the sermon I wrote and delivered at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent on Oct. 24, 2010. It was a blast. More details to follow.

U2 has always been the background music of my childhood and adolescence. Every time I hear their song “Pride (In the Name of Love),” I’m reminded of summer days when I’d go to work with my dad, the forbidden ice cream he would buy me from the convenient store nearby, the smell of his work van as we bounced along the bumpy suburban Cleveland streets. At the height of U2’s popularity, when their most widely beloved album The Joshua Tree was out, I was a young teen just discovering myself and the words of “Where the Streets Have No Name” appealed my youthful longing to begin an adventure of my life—“to tear down the walls that [held ] me inside”.

Each of their releases remind me of a period of my life. I distinctly remember listening to their 1991 album Achtung Baby as I drove to work and school throughout my sophomore year of high school. I listened to their 1993 release Zooropa on the way to a family reunion in Wisconsin the summer between graduating high school and attending college; the song “Dirty Day” repeated over and over in my headphones so that to this day the song conjures an image of the beaches of Kenosha. Pop was released in 1997 when I graduated from college, and though I’ve only recently bought the CD, the songs “Staring at the Sun” and “Discotheque” remind me of the excitement of graduation, the fear that I would never find a job, the confusion over what I was going to do with my life.

It wasn’t until late 2000 with their release All That You Can’t Leave Behind that their music started to become more deeply significant to me. I was by then a young, married career woman, full of idealism and hopes of an exciting new future. I immediately fell in love song “Beautiful Day” for its upbeat sound and hopeful lyrics that hinted slightly at some of the troubles of the world while expressing a kind of delighted praise.

See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
See the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors come out….

In an email to my late husband, I excitedly wrote of the experience of listening to this song for the first time on the CD: “It makes me want to lay on the floor and feel the Earth move. Sometimes I can see myself dancing in the sunlight of the future, feeling free and easy. Things really aren’t that bad, after all. I can go anywhere in the world, feel anything I want to. I want to live a grand adventure every moment of my life… I want to feel the wind in my face from every point on the planet.”

As inspired as I felt at that moment (and you can tell from this email excerpt that I was then in a good place in my life), things abruptly changed for me just a few months later when my husband died. And then All That You Can’t Leave Behind contained the songs that became, by mere circumstances of timing, the dirge for my grieving. Whenever I listen to that release, I can’t help but remember the insanity that was my life in 2001—the loss of my husband, the cascading events of emotional strife with his family and myself, the growing disconnect with my friends who didn’t seem to really understand what I was going through. And then, only five months later, September 11th.

The song “Walk On” became my anthem. Though it is really about the imprisoned Burmese political leader Aung San Suu Kyi, I felt the words of this song spoke directly to the turmoil going on in my life.

And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong …

I envisioned the Darkness as the line between life and death that separated me from my husband. I was caught within the darkness, held prisoner by my sadness, and daylight—the possibility of renewal—was a long way off. I wanted to turn back—leave myself stuck in that place of memories—but this song was telling me to be strong.

Walk on, walk on …
What you got they can’t steal it
No they can’t even feel it

Those words reminded me that the love I felt for my husband was something a lot of people have never had a chance to experience in their lives. It told me to forgive my friends and family for not understanding what I was going through, to forgive all the people who had said thoughtless, insensitive things to me about grief and my husband’s death. Most importantly, it told me to let go of my anger. To walk bravely on.

Though a chosen atheist since the sixth grade, I began to re-explore spirituality. My husband’s death had rattled what I thought were pretty firm foundations as far as faith—or my lack thereof–went. But like an atheist in a foxhole, as the saying goes, I no longer felt secure in believing in nothing. It was at about this time that a whole new dimension of my favorite band’s music opened up to my thirsty soul. I’d always known that at least three members of the band professed themselves as Christians; however, it never occurred to me how many of their songs actually made reference to the Bible, Christian mythology, and faith itself. These messages were never overt but you had to have to theistic background to understand the references. In exploring faith for the first time since my childhood, I finally had the tools and background with which to really listen.

It’s not that U2 is a Christian rock band; I like to think of U2 as a mainstream rock band who happens to also be Christian. Their music speaks of the emotional—and sometimes shakable—manic-depressive nature of faith. There are songs of praise and songs of sorrow; songs of love and songs of anger; songs of hope and songs of doubt. There are also songs about the current state of the world—a call to action, a call for peace, a call for social change. U2’s music bespeaks a tolerant, humanistic Christianity. The kind of Christianity I’d jump right into if I had heard it preached somewhere and honestly followed.

You don’t have to know anything about the band U2 to recognize the name of its front man, Bono, for he is known internationally for his work as a political and human rights activist. Yes, he has a real name—it’s Paul Hewson—but he’s adopted the stage name “Bono” from a nickname a friend gave to him as a teenager. The remaining, often lesser known, members of U2 are: The Edge (whose real name is David Evans) who plays guitar and keyboards, sings backup vocals, and co-writes with Bono many of U2’s songs; Adam Clayton, the bassist; and Larry Mullen Jr., the drummer.

As the story goes, the band that was to become U2 was formed when Larry Mullen posted a notice seeking musicians for a rock band at the secondary school all three attended in Dublin, Ireland. Of the four, only Larry and The Edge actually had musical training; Adam had a bass but didn’t really know how to play; Bono could play some guitar and had not originally set out to be the vocalist. But what this would-be band lacked in actual talent in their humble beginnings, they made up for in enthusiasm for music.

They very briefly called themselves the Larry Mullen Band, then Feedback, and then The Hype. They came up with the name U2 after the spy plane because they liked the open interpretation of the name. They wanted to use something fresh, something that stood apart from their contemporaries who used nouns turned proper preceded by “The.” They also wanted to avoid bad puns like The Beatles. However, Bono later admitted in the book U2 by U2 that he hates the name U2. “Soon after it caught on,” he states in the book, “I started realizing that it too was an awful pun. That hadn’t dawned on me either. [Y-O-U T-O-O]. Oh no!”

In their early years as a band, Bono, The Edge, and Larry were heavily involved in a fervently religious group called Shalom. Right at the point when U2 was about to take off, during the recording of their second album, Shalom pressured the three to quit the rock band to devote their lives to more spiritual pursuits. The Edge and Bono did briefly quit the band while Larry quit Shalom. Eventually both The Edge and Bono did return to the group, having reconciled with themselves that their spiritual beliefs did not conflict with their desire to be rock-n-roll musicians. Says The Edge in U2 by U2, “I felt very clearly that this band had something unique and special, and it was completely bogus to suggest that you couldn’t have a legitimate spiritual life and be in the rock-n-roll business. That was a very dangerous piece of nonsense.”

Out of this period of religious fervor came one of U2’s most overtly spiritual albums, and also one of my personal favorites, October. The songs from October are full of youthful energy and desperate longing—emotions with which I could identify even before I truly understood the words. When I began to pay attention to the words, I found a whole new connection to the spirit of my favorite band. In particular, I identified with the song “Tomorrow” as I realized it was Bono’s response and attempt to come to terms with his mother’s death when he was a young teenager. It is a dirge that captures little flashes of funeral imagery:

Outside, somebody’s outside
Somebody’s knocking at the door
There’s a black car parked at the side of the road
Don’t go to the door, don’t go to the door

These words remind me of the constant influx of people into my home in those dark days leading up to my husband’s funeral; perhaps Bono was trying to capture a similar image from his own memory. Between the images of loss is a chorus that begs, “Won’t you come back tomorrow?” Confronted with the profound, unexpected loss of my husband, my own repeated cries into the darkness of my empty house were something along the lines of, “Why did you leave me?” and “Come back. I promise I’ll be a better wife.” Similarly, Bono echoes a plea to his mother in the fervor of the song’s ending where he repeats several times, “I want you to be back tomorrow / Will you be back tomorrow / Won’t you come back tomorrow.”

In the last stanza of this song, Bono also professes his belief in God and the return of Jesus with the implied suggestion that because he believes, he will see his mother again. I identify strongly with the hope expressed in this section of the song. Because I’ve also hoped—and still hope—that someday I will be meet Mike again when I too die. It’s the one hope to which I still cling even though the logical part of my brain says it’s impossible. So I’m right there with Bono when he sings the last lines:

I’m going to be there, mother
I’m going to be there
And you’re going to be there…

There is a hurried, unedited earnestness to the songs on October. Each song flows from one to the other in a poetic stream of consciousness—a journey of through the soul of U2 in which you come out on the other side just a little bit changed. I love this about U2. Each album stands on its own as a separate work of art with a different mood and tone. The strength of U2 lyrics is in the words they use to paint a single feeling, thought, idea.

One of U2’s most noted and consistently relevant songs is “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” This song references the 1972 event known as Bloody Sunday in which six civil rights protesters were shot by British soldiers in Derry, Northern Ireland. Because one of the major sources of contention between the continually battling factions in Northern Ireland was based on the two religions of Catholicism and Protestantism, the song contrasts Bloody Sunday to the events of Easter Sunday—a religious holiday shared by both religions.

And today the millions cry,
We eat and drink while tomorrow they die.
The real battle has just begun.
To claim the victory Jesus won.

In the early 1980s when this song was first performed live, Bono marched around stage, waving a white flag and inviting the audience to shout with him, “No more!” Because he didn’t want to be confused as a sympathizer for either side of the conflict, he prefaced each performance with the disclaimer that “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was not a rebel song; it was an angry protest against the bloodshed inflicted by and on both sides.

In the years following the song’s initial release, acts of terrorism perpetrated by the IRA gave the song additional teeth. On November 8, 1987—while U2 was on tour in Denver, Colorado—eleven people were killed when an IRA-planted bomb exploded near a war memorial in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. That night yielded one of the most emotional performances ever of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in which Bono broke into a full-out angry rant condemning the bombing and the sympathizers to the IRA’s cause. The performance is captured on U2’s Rattle & Hum documentary and is quite powerful.

After that performance, U2 didn’t play “Sunday Bloody Sunday” live for many years. However, it returned to set list of some concerts during the 1990’s. It again became a consistent song on the set list for the 2001 Elevation tour, the most memorable rendition filmed on September 1st—just days before September 11th—at Slane Castle in Dublin, Ireland. At this show, Bono closed out the song by reciting the names of the 29 victims of the 1998 car-bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland.

Despite its very specific references to the Irish political scene, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” has, over the years, become U2’s song of protest against war, injustice, and discrimination where ever it may be in the world. During every show of the 2005 Vertigo tour, Bono donned a handmade headband bearing the popular Coexist symbol and broke mid-song into an impassioned plea for peace between the three Abrahamic faiths and ended the break with a beautiful hymn-like song. On the current concert tour, scenes from the 2009 Iranian election protests—with green Persian writing over top of them–are projected on the screen above the stage as the band plays the song.

A lot of people are put-off by U2—particularly Bono—because they take an “in your face” approach to expressing their views. Some people seem to think celebrities should keep their mouths shut, leave the thinking to the “real” people. Bono would probably agree with you. In the song “Stand Up Comedy,” he mocks his own influence and encourages us to think for ourselves:

Stand up to rock stars, Napoleon is in high heels
Josephine, be careful of small men with big ideas.

I have no problem with a band with the popularity and influence that U2 has acquired using their means to effect change in the world. To speak out against injustice. To give voice to those who don’t have the power and influence to do so for themselves. I admire U2 for being so upfront, so vocal. It’s exactly the same way I go about inspiring change in the world.

Because of this, U2 speaks to me emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Their music has lifted me from the depths of sorrow and inspired me in times of great joy. They’ve made me more aware of the world by talking openly about those horrific events that have taken place in parts of the world the American news somehow fails to cover. I’m more socially conscious because of U2. I’m also here, alive, saved. Inspired, awake, and filled with the challenge to find grace in each new day. In that spirit, I close with a statement by Bono from U2 by U2:

For all that “I was lost, I’m found,” it is probably more accurate to say, “I was really lost, I’m a little less so at the moment.” And then a little less and a little less again. That to me is the spiritual life. The slow reworking and rebooting of a computer at regular intervals, reading the small print of the service manual. It has slowly rebuilt me in a better image. It has taken me years, though, and it is not over yet.

What I Learned Writing a Sermon

So today, I finally finished my sermon entitled “Spiritual Journeys Through the Music of U2” and I’m fairly certain I’m ready to give my two performances at 9:30am and 11:15 at my church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent next Sunday, October 24th. (Shameful plug.) The script for the entire service is almost finalized. I’ve got my musicians; my worship associate is on-board; all systems are go. I’ll do some minor editing of my sermon over the next week, but the bulk is done. I’m ready.

So what have I learned from this experience? Other than the hard, cold truth that sometimes what we ask for is exactly what we get (I once posited that it would be nice if our church had some U2 music in the service… and the next thing I knew, I’d been asked to lead a service on U2).

Well, first off, working on this sermon has given me a greater appreciation of U2. If such was possible. And I guess it was. Over the last month, in search of sources of inspiration on youtube, I’ve found U2 music I never knew existed, an entire movie written on an idea Bono had (The Million Dollar Hotel which turned out to be a really good movie), and countless tour footage I’d never previously seen. I became infected with a great U2 fever. And now I’m attending two concerts in 2011–East Lansing, Michigan and Pittsburgh, PA. And, to make matters worse, I bought general admission tickets to the Pittsburgh show; I’m planning to spend all day in line on the slim hope that I can get a good standing space close to the stage. I long to repeat my 2001 experience in being about to see the band members sweat. And… my love for Adam Clayton has fallen to the wayside for an intense love/appreciation/jealousy for Bono’s lyrical talents.

Additionally, in writing this sermon–in having something every day that I had to focus on, even though it became at times the bane of my existence–I’ve rediscovered a new fervor for writing. Once this sermon is out of the way, I plan to turn my sights to my memoir. I can do anything, right? While writing this sermon, I finally purchased a netbook, which gives me the chance to get away from my house and do some serious writing. The change in atmosphere and getting away from all the distractions of home have made it easier for me to sit down and write. It’s time o get a move on with my goals. I need to write my memoir. I need to get it out there.

Along the road to writing this sermon, I actually have come up with an idea for a fiction story! I don’t know if it would be novel-length or a short, but the idea has to do with putting myself in the very big shoes of a rock star. It’s a workable idea and I’m not going to reveal too much but I’m really excited. It’s a rare moment when I have an idea for a fiction story and I’ve been actually kicking around two for the last month now. Once the memoir is written, perhaps I will again have time for some fiction? Can I make it as a fiction writer? Probably not. But at least it will be fun to do some writing.

Support. I seem to have a lot of that. Friends from church and elsewhere have turned up to support me in my efforts to do a sermon. Lately I’ve been undergoing a lot of change. My new job has had me doing many more presentations that I’m comfortable with. But, really, I think a person should do one thing every day that scares them (that’s not an original thought, I got it from that “Wear Sunscreen” song from several years back, but nonetheless it speaks the truth). I think I’m the type of insecure person who needs validation by standing up in front of people and letting it all hang out. Seriously, there’s a quote from Bono in U2 by U2 along those lines, something like, “You’re insecure, so you become the singer in a rock band.” It’s true. People like me should be forcing themselves out of their shells. They have a lot to offer the world and a personality to fill it. They–we–just need to believe in ourselves more often.

My mom always said I was a leader that no one followed. Probably true. I like to take leadership roles in things; my fear keeps me from doing it. Despite the fact that when I do step and do things, I quite often find I do a good job. To that end, I’m vowing with myself to do more for my church. I already do a lot for ABC. I should contribute freely to the communities that give so much to me. Life is so short. We get to carry each other, as Bono says in the song “One.” It’s not always easy. But taking the easy road is so much less fulfilling.

Still, one of the final things I’ve learned in doing this service is 1) I don’t think I want to become a UU minister (which was a thought I once entertained when I first became acquainted with UUism) and 2) I definitely never want to go to grad school. Granted, I’m sure that in writing memoir or a fiction story, if I were to ever get picked up by a real publisher, I would suffer the same stress that I have over the last three weeks. Still, I think writing an interesting speech is a completely different art from writing an interesting book. And I think I’ll stick to the book writing, such that it is.

I just hope I keep the momentum going. I’ve been forced to think solely about one thing for the last three weeks and it’s been stressful. I look forward to normal life when I don’t have the stress of anything in particular bothering me. Yet, I can’t use this sudden free time to let myself become lazy. I’ve gotta keep my eye on my goals. I’ll never get anywhere with my writing if I just let myself succumb to my natural tendency to do nothing. Momentum. Must keep it going.

I hope I don’t sound too full of myself with this entry. I’m not saying my sermon is the best sermon since Jesus preached on the mount. But, hey, it’s my story; it’s how the music of one band brought me home to health. They don’t even know I exist. I’m one of many who have probably found comfort in a few songs sung by a band I love. Still. If it weren’t for them, I don’t know how else I would have found the strength to walk on.

Anyway, it’s been a long three weeks but now I’m ready to relax for a few days and recover. And then… who knows what else? I’ve got stories in my brain. Songs in my eyes. Maybe someday I can fulfill a dream.

If I could dedicate my sermon, I’d dedicate it to Mike. Who unfortunately is the reason for all my stories right now. His death caused me seek recovery through writing. Once I get past our story, hopefully my heart will find more to tell. Until then, he’s my constant, urgent inspiration.

Winding Down

We’re entering a patch of Indian summer this weekend. It’s kind of nice after four days of rain and gray skies last week (which included the weekend). I rode to work this morning. It may be the last time I do it. It was about 43 degrees at start time, and then I had to wait until about 7:15am for the darkness to let up a little. Yeah, I have a bike light (and a frakking bright MiNewt at that) but I’m not entirely comfortable riding in complete darkness, though there is somewhat of a holiness in it. You just can’t go as fast as you want–you have to make sure you only ride as fast as you can react to what enters the beam of light in front of you. So I waited for dawn to begin. I only have a narrow window in which riding to work is practical or feasible. I like to be out of the house at 7:30 at the latest as that will get me to work around 8:30. It takes about a half hour to clean up and do my hair before I can start work. So I can’t really go in any later as that would get me in after 9.

Anyway, as you can imagine, I was a tad cold this morning. I don’t like cold. I have to minimize on what I would normally wear on a cold day because whatever I wear in the morning has to be packed in the warmer afternoon, and after my clothes in the rack pack, there’s not really a lot of room. So if it doesn’t fit into a jersey pocket or my full rack pack, it’s not getting worn into work. Today I wore a short sleeve jersey (my new STP jersey!) over top a wicking under shirt. My core felt warm, but my extremities–arms, fingers, feet–suffered the most, though it wasn’t too bad. I had on tights over my shorts. For some reason, tights always make me feel heavier. I felt great all the way until I had to climb Snowville. Ugh. One week off from a commute to work (due first to bad weather, and then a cold) and I’m back to ground zero, it seems.

I left work around 6, which is my usual to avoid traffic as well as make up for my 30 minutes of prepping before actually beginning my work day. Of course, my last six miles were in the dusk light. Which I didn’t mind so much. It was kind of thrilling in a way. Much more thrilling than starting a ride in darkness, ending one in darkness seems kind of spooky, exciting. It was only 7:23 when I got home, but it looked like summer 9:30. Ah, how time just passes by. It’s October: the end of the cycling season, the waning of the year.

I don’t know what happened this year. It’s not just me; everyone else is remarking how fast it was. Are some years faster than others? Did we all just end up in some sort of worm hole? The science fiction blog cast I listen to–Escape Pod–had a story a month or two ago where all the people in it found out they were living in an algorithm designed to see how people deal with certain social scenarios. What if we’re in some such computer simulation? What if someone pushed fast forward through some boring part of the simulation and we all felt it and here we are? It could be true. God is just a bunch of computer geeks programming us. Huh.

I’m not sure there’s anything remarkable to say about 2010… It just was. I did a lot of riding. I had a great trip to Seattle. There was a lot of stuff in between but I don’t remember most of it. And here I am. On a warm October evening, sitting in my backyard with a campfire, typing away a directionless blog entry on my new netbook. And so it goes. I suppose it was a good year for some. Lots of hook ups going on in my bike club. Good for all those people. Yipee.

I switched jobs in August. I left the world of tech writing to return to the world of quality assurance where I get to break things on a daily basis. To be honest, my work life has never been better. I feel respected in my current position. I’m asked my opinion on things. I get to learn new stuff. I think I work well with my team lead. I just had the busiest week of my life since joining the company two years ago and I feel like I’m contributing something to the company. Job satisfaction sure makes it easier to go into work. Believe you me, it’s a much more pleasant work environment when you feel like you’re a valuable member of the team. This experience in QA is a lot better than my previous one. In my previous experience, the developers had their cubes upstairs and stuff got sent down to us to test, out of the blue. Well, I mean, they were assigned to you by your supervisor. But on a new enhancement, all you got were some specs and some notes. You had to figure out how it worked or you went upstairs to talk to the programmer. There was very little room for interpretation. We didn’t have Project Managers (PM) to intermediate. We had little say.

However, in this job, I’m aware of what is going to be created before the developer works on it. My team lead has to make sure I understand what change is going to be made, and then he asks me to contribute customer tests for it. I can ask questions and make suggestions. I’m listened to. It’s great. When I turn in a possible problem from testing, I’m greeted with a good attitude rather than a defensive one. I don’t think I’ve been happier in a job in a while.

The whole vibe of the company has changed since we restructured earlier this year.  I don’t think it’s just because I’ve switched jobs, either. Everyone sees a bit less stressed and little happier. The new PMs are slowly injecting some order into the chaos. A lot of people have changed positions (like me) and I think this has allowed people who felt stuck to find something more interesting to motivate them. I’m excited because we really seem to be making improvements. And I’m finally not bored. I’m constantly challenged. I think I will be staying here for a while. Maybe I can finally beat my record of 5 years of employment with one company…

I think in order to do creative writing, I needed to not be technical writing. Truth be told, I really hate technical writing. Like everything else in my life, it took going back to it to realize that I didn’t want to do it. Losing my husband really put me off course for a lot of years. I may still be off-course (I have a lot of issues with death still), but at least I’m going off in my own direction again. Like I was before Mike met me. Everything up until now seems to have been a long struggle to figure out who the individual of Heidi was. Yeah, nearly 10 yeas of crazy post-Mike Heidi has brought me here. It shouldn’t have taken this long, but here I am. I’m finally comfortable with myself enough to say that I like being alone. I’m okay being alone. I am not looking for someone to replace the gap Mike left. I could live the rest of my life like this. I am doing the things I want to do–travel, cycling. I don’t need anything else. Others may pity me for remaining single or not having children, but they shouldn’t. I’ve not stopped living. I’m doing just what I want and I don’t have to report to anyone. This is where I was headed when I met Mike. So I’m finally me again.

I really don’t have time right now to be involved with anyone, anyway. I’ve got too much going on. I’ve got my cycling, first and foremost. And soon I’ll be skiing. I’m pretty sure no one wants to do these things as often as I enjoy doing them. I’m performing a sermon at my church. I’m taking care of a lot of things in my bicycle club. I’m training customers on a webinar next week. I’ve got a full life. This is not a line I feed to myself to make me feel better; I truly believe it. People who would pity my situation would not understand from my perspective. You don’t need a significant other or children to have a complete life. Sure, those things are great. But not everyone gets them. And if it doesn’t happen to you–if it never happens to you–you can’t stop breathing. There are other unimaginable possibilities for life. We all don’t have to tread the same path to enlightenment… Besides, some people’s enlightenment is other people’s jail (like me, having children).

I didn’t meet my New Year’s resolution to get something published. However, as evidenced by all those blog entries, I’m finally working on the stories that would possibly comprise said memoir. I think also that I’ve had a lot of growth this year by branching out. I’ve let the inner Heidi–the one who really does like to lead things–come out by offering to teach training classes at work and do this sermon (which I’m still writing). I’m pushing myself beyond my boundaries. It’s been so easy in the last ten years to just let things happen around me. I know that I enjoy doing things where I’m in a kind of training or speech-giving role (okay, I’m an attention whore), so I’m trying to overcome my fears to do them. Secretly, I’ve been harboring a desire to become a worship associate at my church. But, sshhhhh — don’t let anyone at my church no that. Ooops. Too late?

Anyway…. I can’t say that I feel completed. But I feel like I’m putting my boots on and marching forward. And, also, I’ve found happiness in U2 of the late. There’s rumors of a Pittsburgh show and I just may buy a ticket for a second round after my much postponed concert that has been rescheduled in June… Not quite a groupy; just a 2-concert groupy. What can I say? Me and two million other people are U2 fans….

So, that’s where I’m at now… Just filling you in… Stay tuned. I’m bound to return to writing interesting things once this sermon is out of my way…

Top 10 U2 Songs of All Time (IMHO)

I’ve been a little quiet of the late because my head is fully engaged in pumping out a sermon that I’m delivering at my church on Oct. 24th called “Spiritual Journeys Through the Music of U2.” I know you’re probably surprised that I didn’t choose to deliver my first lay-led service on the topic of cycling or the spiritual aspects of cycling–both ideas of which are totally viable. However, I’m a multi-dimension person with other passions besides cycling and one of those passions is my absolute and complete love for the band U2. Which, admittedly, has reached full-blown feverish levels since I began gathering the inspiration to write this sermon a little over a month ago.

The writing’s going a little slow; as of today, I’m only on the bottom of the second page. I plan to write five pages figuring that will be about the 20 minutes–if you include my stuttering and sweating–and probably about all people can handle of my unbridled idolization of Bono. I need to get back into the zone and get the writing into a flowing place, as the kind of zone I get into when I’m writing these blogs. Do or die, I’m locking myself in my house on Saturday until I get this thing done. I didn’t know when I accepted this challenge of leading a service for my church that it would be like writing a paper for college…

Anyway, since I’ve been doing all this research, I figured I’d share the benefit of some of it on my blog since today I can’t seem to get going on writing anything else. Through extensive youtubing in the last few weeks, I’ve determined my favorite U2 songs ever and I’m posting them with explanation as to why below.

10. Sunday Bloody Sunday – War – “This song is not a rebel song,” says Bono in 1983 when introducing the song at Red Rocks Amplitheatre in Denver, Colorado. Oh, but, Bono, it is your rebel song. Since the early 80s when he marched around stage bearing a white flag, Bono has always turns this song into a sermon on peace whenever he performs it live. Sometimes he’s angry, sometimes he’s near tears, and sometimes it’s a prayer. Every time he sings this song, it’s something new and I love it. He entices me to stand up, even in my living room while watching a show on DVD, and scream right along with him, “No MORE!”

My current favorite rendition from the live at Slane Castle DVD from the 2001 Elevation Tour:

The classic Red Rocks rendition (my, how they were young):

9. Drowning Man – War – “Rise up, rise up / With wings like eagles / You run and not grow weary.” (Isaiah 40:31) This song is just so beautiful from the lyrics to the electric violin at the end. You could say it’s the voice of a Christian trying to bring a lost soul into the fold; or it’s God trying to call a lost child home. It’s an invitation to a warm embrace. It’s easy… just take my hand…

8. With a Shout (Jerusalem) – October – It’s not secret that October is one of my favorite U2 albums. It’s also the band’s most outwardly spiritual album. Kind of ironic for an agnostic, huh? But it’s their passion I get right on board with. This song is sung by young men desperately seeking to know God. “I want to go. To the foot of Mt. Zion / To the foot of He who made me see…” It’s full of youthful spit and energy. And the tune is enigmatic. Kind of reminds of me standing in Rome touching the walls of the Colosseum, trying to connect with all the souls that once moved in and out of that arena. For just one moment, you can feel as though you were really there in the same time and place.

7. Tomorrow – October – My appreciation for this song really increased when I realized it is really about Bono trying to come to turns with his mother’s death. Who exactly is Bono talking to in this song when he implores, “Won’t you come back tomorrow?” His mom? Or Jesus as some of the other imagery in the song suggests? Or is it both because if Jesus returns to Earth, he can see his mother again too? “I’m gonna be there, mother; I’m going be there!”

It’s some of Bono’s best lyric writing to me. He can paint an image simply with a few words: “Outside, somebody’s outside / Somebody’s knocking at the door / There’s a black car parked at the side of the road / Don’t go to the door, don’t go to the door.”  I’m transported back to a moment when my own front door was swinging open constantly with people coming in to support me in those days after Mike died. There is a point when you don’t want to leave your house and face the reality of that black car (the hearse) that awaits; nor do you want to open the door to the new rush of guests with their hearts full of well-wishing.

6. Electrical Storm – a single – I just discovered this song a few weeks ago in my youtube browsing. Where has it been my whole life?! Well, it was apparently one of those bonus tracks added to a best of album that I didn’t get because I already had all the songs since I , as a fan, own all of their releases.

“The sea it swells like a sore head / And the night it is aching / Two lovers lie with no sheets on their bed / And the day it is breaking.” — A struggling relationship, the tension of a post-9/11 world, both sewn together into this hauntingly beautiful song that reminds of me the last, dramatic days of several of my own past relationships.

5. In God’s Country – The Joshua Tree – In this song, America is characterized as a “desert rose / dressed tall in ribbons and in bows / like a siren she calls to me.” I think this song talks of the double-edged sword of the greatness that is America–grand in scale to everything, but yet, at the same time, we’re a bit too used to what we have. We’re are a land of excess, of unimaginable riches in a lot of ways. But we’re also a land of waste. A land of people with no real connection to what’s going on with the rest of the world. I think Bono, as an outsider, can see this better than perhaps we do ourselves. “I stand with the sons of Cain,” is the last line of the song, “burned by the fire of love…” Seems to imply an untempered jealousy, maybe?

Well, if anything, this song has a kick-ass The Edge styled guitar riff to warm us all up, no matter where we stand politically!

Original form:

A cool live version:

4. Breathe – No Line on the Horizon – My immediate favorite song from their newest CD. This song is full of hope and love and praise. I cling strongly to the words, “I found grace inside a sound / I found grace and it’s all I’ve found / And I can breathe.”– Music cleanses my soul, brings me out of my funk. A song as beautiful as this can have me singing at the top of my lungs in the car on the way to work. In one, simple moment, I can feel released from any depression or sadness I’m feeling. All it takes is one beautiful note that sends goosebumps along my arms…

There’s an inherent struggle in this song that I can identify with as a widow. “Every day I / die again and again and I’m reborn / Every day I / Have to find the courage to walk out / into the street / with my arms out…” Every day of my life since losing my husband–since coming to terms with my mortality–has been a struggle with myself to overcome my own depression. Symbolically, I have to find the courage to walk out of my house, put my arms around the world–around life–and say that everything is okay. I can do this, I can step forward, I can move. I can love. I can form bonds with people. It’s okay. Something I do matters. This song just connect with me on that level… I don’t know what Bono was going through when he wrote this song, or what his particular struggle with life entails, but I can say that mine involves the very act of forcing myself to breathe each and every day… even when breathing hurts… I guess this is the interpretation of the song from someone who battles with a lot of depression… But this song accurately describes how I push myself forth every day. My own little internal pep talk to myself.

Oddly, “Breathe” has not really been performed well live in the 360 tour and was, in fact, removed from their set list in the 2010 leg of their tour. I don’t know why it doesn’t seem to work well live. I think it’s probably one of the only U2 songs I could actually sing decently myself. Below is a decent version from a pre-tour No Line on the Horizon promotional tour. (The studio track is way better…)

3. Miracle Drug – How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb – “Of science and the human heart / There is no limit / There is no failure here, sweetheart / Just when you quit” — This song also sailed me through another rough period of my life–the tail end of the anger phase of my grief. It’s upbeat and hopeful. I believe in the spirit of the human heart. And science. And it has a damned cool Edge guitar riff in the middle that causes goose bumps to surface all over my body.

I liked the song even better when Bono explains what it is about in U2 by U2: There

was a boy who came into Mount Temple just as we were leaving. He had been deprived of oxygen for two hours when he was born and developed cerebral palsy, so he was paraplegic. It’s written from his mother’s perspective. It’s abut her faith in her son when for nine or ten years she had no idea if he was a conscious, sentient being or not. The hospital, the carers, the doctors and nurses could not guarantee her that he was awake to the world. But she believed it. She saw something in his eyes that was the light of being. And she had enough faith in her instinct and in her love for him to teach him, to read to him, to talk to him as if he was there. And then, aged eleven, this drug appears on the scene which frees up one muscle, which is the neck muscle, and allows him to move an inch. And through that movement he was able to type out all the stories and poems he had in his head for all those years. He had a little unicorn device attached to his forehead and his first poem was called “I learn to bow,” which is about this mechanism of the head movement but it’s also his poem of gratitude to God, who I think he felt had worked through science to free him up.

2. Walk On – All That You Can’t Leave Behind – In a way, my whole sermon is about this song. Though the song is actually about Aung San Suu Kyi, it’s always been for me a very personal song that supported me during the roughest days of my grieving. “And if the darkness is to keep us apart / And the day light feels like it’s a long way off / And if your glass heart should crack / And for a second you turn back / Oh, no, be strong” — I always felt like this song was speaking directly to me. In the darkness time of my life, this song brought me back into the daylight and taught me how to breathe again.

1. A Sort of Homecoming – The Unforgettable Fire – The album The Unforgettable Fire was inspired by an art exhibit that displayed paintings commemorating the bombing of Hiroshima. There’s a mood in this album that’s laid back and nostalgic; this song is the best of them. Whenever I hear it, I picture driving home from southern Ohio in the golden light of a fall evening. I must have bought this CD in the fall. I remember playing it a lot when I was working out-of-town for my first real post-high school job. All of the lyrics are poetry–not one particularly stands out to me. It just seems like returning home after being estranged or sent away. I’m not quite sure what it means, and maybe Bono didn’t either, but it’s always my favorite U2 song.

Hmmm… maybe some of these songs will end up in my sermon….?