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!!