504 Back to U2! Forward to a landmark conference on their spiritual influence

When we published an interview about the spiritual influence of U2, we heard from many readers who welcomed these insights. Although U2 has been described as “the best band in the world,” after three decades of popular music, the truth is that many people still haven’t immersed themselves in the band’s remarkable music and message. We may know Bono’s iconic image at a glance—but know much about his lyrics or the specifics of his global activism? Well …
    We also heard from readers who said, basically: Glad you’re finally on board with this—but we’ve known about this for years! Let’s get more people listening, engaging, preaching and talking about the themes that are near and dear to these prophetic voices.
    One reader of our U2 story who responded in a very helpful way is Beth Maynard, a seminary instructor, pastor and author from New England who works with the influential U2-and-Spirituality Web site: U2 Sermons.
    To help ReadTheSpirit take our readers—the veterans and the newcomers among us—deeper into this popular subject, we invited Beth to write two stories for us. (The second is a Resource Guide for starting to explore U2’s spiritual themes.) AND, the first is …


By Beth Maynard

    Being with people who love and study something you love and study, whether that’s modern art, shipbuilding, or Jane Austen, is always a delight. From October 2-4, the first ever academic conference on U2, The Hype and The Feedback, is going to gather representatives of the sizable community of people who find this band’s work worthy of thoughtful discussion.
    Scott Calhoun is the conference director, and I jumped at his invitation to assist on an advisory committee.

Why am I so enthusiastic about this?
    Well, the plenary speakers are an amazing lineup. I can’t wait to shake the hand of Agnes Nyamayarwo, an HIV+ nurse from Uganda who works with The AIDS Support Organization, the charity to which we donate all royalties from the anthology of sermons working with U2 songs I co-edited, “Get Up Off Your Knees.”
    It’ll be fascinating to hear Neil McCormick, whose book “Killing Bono” is full of hilarious anecdotes about being in high school with U2 as well as scenes of the Bible studies they attended, address how the Dublin of that era shaped the band’s ethos. Among others are Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor from Rolling Stone, and Matt McGee, author of “U2: A Diary.”
    In these days of internet connections, long-awaited “in the flesh” rendezvous are an exciting part of any gathering like this one. There is a whole group of people whom I’ve gotten to know as part of the dialogue about U2 and theology but, for the most part, will be meeting in person for the first time in Durham, among them Steve Catanzarite, whose book for the 33 1/3 series journeyed through Achtung Baby like a Roman Catholic pilgrim. Also on deck are two professors with whom I’ve exchanged emails about their college courses on U2, Tim Neufeld and Darel Paul. And these are only a few of the names I immediately recognized when I first saw the list of papers.
    It’ll be old home week!

    Most of these folks are academics, but by no means all, and there are plenty of “just fans” registering as well. I like this mix a lot, and it seems characteristic to me of U2’s career-long interest in breaking through dividing walls, their unrepentant mix of high and low culture. In the same way, while several of the presentations draw on the band’s Christian commitment, you couldn’t talk fairly about U2 without also crossing many other borders to learn from presenters who understand economics, foreign policy, music theory, Irish studies, fandom, literature, political science, medicine, African studies, and more. And it’s some of those presentations that are going to make choosing which panels to attend very tough.
    I love the idea of people who really know the topic helping us grasp the impact of longterm U2 conversation partners like Yeats and Salman Rushdie—
    Folks who analyze imagery for a living helping us delve into common U2 motifs like death, surrender, fallen angels, irony, the interface between spirituality and sexuality—
    Experts who have more to go on than breezy celebrity profiles asking hard questions about how Bono has presented Africa in the West, and looking at U2’s influence on funding for antiretrovirals—
    A Ph.D. candidate who has been studying U2’s impact on people’s commitments to activism presenting her research (let’s hear it; has this 3-decade campaign of theirs worked, or not?)—
    The African Well Fund, a group of U2 fans who have raised over $750,000 to bring clean water to Africa, talking about their work—
    And did I mention we’re all going to the Raleigh concert on U2’s 360 Tour in the middle of the conference? Imagine the conversations on the ride home!
    One of the papers titles itself from a provocative question Bono used to shout in concert when concluding a song written with Judas as narrator: “Is this rock ‘n’ roll?” I love that question because it can be how you start to feel as you learn more about this band, the waves of intellectual give and take that connect them to so many major artists and writers, their sometimes too-serious activist purpose (who does satellite linkups to war-torn Sarajevo in the middle of a show?), their odd mix of well-read allusiveness and nervous need to be popular, and the unforgettable fire of their surrender to Jesus Christ.
    Wait, you start to say; is this rock ‘n’ roll?
    But it is, and getting together with people who are eager to talk about how, and why, and so what, is going to be amazing. 


    Beth’s second story follows next on this page. We invited her to write a Resource Guide digging into U2’s spiritual themes—aimed at people just like you and me who want to know more. So, do you? Scroll down explore Beth Maynard’s Resource Page on U2 for Newcomers.

    (Beth Maynard is a pastor and spiritual director from
Massachusetts. She serves as an adjunct instructor at Gordon-Conwell
Theological Seminary and has been maintaining the U2 Sermons blog tracking
theologically-informed interaction with U2’s art since beginning work in 2003
on the book she co-edited,
“Get Up Off
Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog

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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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