I am co-teaching a class with Barry Taylor this quarter and I love it! Barry and I go a a few years back -- we both shared the same mentor (Wilbert Shenk, postmodern Western missiologist) and the same passions: investigating post-Christendom forms of spiritual engagement with Western culture. We've also shared a deep admiration and passion for the music of U2. For years we discussed teaching a class on their music, their engagement of the culture, and their spirituality. Last year we decided we should move beyond the 'good idea' stage and just do it.
We just finished the fourth week of the class. It has been a good ride. Barry situated rock music in terms of its relationship to other genres. He discussed the punk scene in Ireland and Great Britain in the 1970s which formed the backdrop for U2. Barry, a Brit, a former roadie for AC/DC, and an accomplished musician himself, has experience that matches his academic credentials. He brings alot to these discussions.
Barry also discussed the shift rock music made in relation to technological advances. The move from vinyl to CD to IPOD represented dramatic changes, as well as the advance of studio recording equipment. The advent of MTV greatly transformed the landscape as well. All of these changes (among many others) formed the context in which U2 came to be.
I discussed the social history of U2 -- seeking to place them in their context in Ireland and specifically Dublin, in the 1970s. I discussed the history of the four individuals, Paul (Bono), Larry (Jr.), The Edge (Dave), and Adam. We talked about the religious background of the four families. We also looked at Derek's (Rowen) family and their background that had a strong influence on Paul (Bono)'s spiritual formation.
I discussed the non-denomational co-ed context of Mt. Temple Comprehensive, where they all met in their teens. We identified the strong influence the charismatic teachers had and the mini-revival experienced there in 1976.
I explored Lypton Village, the alternative reality created by Paul (Bono) his friend Derek (Guggi) and Fionan Hanvey (Gavin Friday) formed with other like-minded friends. In that village, they imagined an entirely different future for themselves. Two performance groups emerged from Lypton, the Virgin Prunes and U2...
We talked about their transition from Feedback to Hype to U2, their early concerts, and their pursuit of the all-too-elusive recording contract. We looked at their relationship with their significant others -- Ann, Aislinn, and Ali and their new relationship with Paul McGuinness (and Kathy).
I explored Bono, Larry, and The Edge's relationship with the non-denomational and charismatic Shalom community from 1979 to 1982 and their constant wrestling with the question whether God, rock and roll, and the church were compatible.
And, of course, we simply listened to the music and watched the live shows (the best part). Now, it is week four and we just finished the first chapter of their career (Boy/October/War & Under the Blood Red Sky). It is 1984 and we are shifting to the Eno/Lanois years. We have 22 more years to cover in six weeks!! I hope we can make it!! We will have various guests joining us in the class, which will add alot to our experience of the band.
This is a mission class, so we hope we might get some clues from U2 as to how Christians might engage contemporary culture in a way that resembles Jesus and the kingdom.
Our goals for the class are to:
Identify and analyze rock music in terms of themes.
Critique the religious and theological themes embedded in this musical literature.
Evaluate the contribution of U2 to Christian witness in contemporary culture
Participate in social justice work such as Drop the Debt, Aids Africa, etc.
Unfortunately, I do not have the class 'online', so my Internet friends cannot track with us. However, I will give updates periodically as to what we are learning together...