"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Tuesday, November 09, 2004 Haven't posted in a long time because so much has been going on. Not stuff I can really talk about on a public blog because of various confidentiality issues. Nobody dead. Nobody in the hospital. Just a serious event for our community to deal with ... which we are dealing with in different ways and with remarkable and inspirational resilience. Sorry to be so vague. Contact me personally if you want the details.
But I want to write about something else, something that has me really excited that though I'm sure it has been written about many times in U2fandom and in U2blogdom, well, I haven't written about it yet. It's about the first song off How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb ... Vertigo.
The first couple times I heard it, I thought it was a cool song but nothing too, too special. Sounded more like a really good, hard dance number and I liked the music.
Then, one morning a week or two ago, I was getting dressed and the video came on VH1 ... and it got to the place where Bono is leaning over Edge's shoulder in silouhette saying "all this, all this can be yours" when it finally hit me what was going on in this song ... and it's absolutely brilliant.
You've got to be careful with art saying "this is what it's about" because you never know what was in the mind of the artist unless he or she tells you and also art takes on a life of its own once its created. So I'll say that this is what I see in it.
I see an absolutely brilliant autobiographical work about the band's struggle (and, to a large extent the struggle, period) with the heights of fame and power. It's the perfect introduction to the new album because the last album left them back at the top of the music world and at the same time with Bono as a finalist for the Nobel Peace Prize. The critical issue is that fame and fortune and all that comes with it are value neutral ... it's what you do with it, it's the choices you make of whom you worship in the midst of all that fame and fortune offer that are what's important.
And though it's about the struggle of one small band, it also is about the struggle each of us faces as Americans and that our nation faces as the lone remaining superpower.
The whole thing hit me not just with those words from Bono to Edge, but the way he was standing, whispering in his ear. The pose was familiar and it hit me instantly who it was ... it was Bono playing the quasi-devil character Macphisto from the mid-90s. And the words were the words of Satan to Christ in Matthew 4:9 "All these I will give you if you fall down and worship me." And where did Satan say these things to Jesus ... on the top of a very high mountain showing him all the kingdoms of the world. And what is one of the reactions people have to being up on very high places -- vertigo, a spinning disorientation.
So many of you are probably saying "DUH!" But I'm kinda slow about these things, so it had taken me almost a month of hearing the song to finally put these things together, but when I did I started to look at the rest of the song in a different light. From the opening (uno, dos, tres, catorce) being itself a statement of excess to things that seem to be specifically about the challenges the band faces as a result of its fame. The temptations of the adulation crowds give the performer, the temptation to be worshipped, to believe that you are God.
Lights go down
The jungle is your head
Can't rule your heart
I'm feeling so much stronger
Than I thought
Your eyes are wide
And though your soul
it can't be bought
your mind can wander
The temptation to sell out and produce music for the purpose of keeping them on top (with a humorous self-stab at their inability to dance at least not tempting them to be like N'Sync and the others). Then there's the "Jesus round the neck" lyric which has a great double-meaning of turning Jesus into costume jewelry and at the same time choking him.
The night is full of holes
Those bullets rip the sky
Of ink with gold
They twinkle as the boys play rock and roll
They know that they can't dance
At least they know
I can sell the beat
I'm askin' for the cheque
Girl with crimson nails
Has Jesus 'round the neck
Swinging to the music
Swinging to the music
And then in the midst of the chorus is the presence of God:
I'm at a place called Vertigo (¿Dónde está?)
It's everything I wish I didn't know
But you give me something I can feel
The vertigo fills the jungle of your head with spinning confusion, but God cuts through to the heart in a way that contrasts, that gives us something we can feel.
Then there is the temptation, which has a great edge of fear to it:
All this, all this can be yours
All of this, all of this can be yours
All this, all of this can be yours
Just give me what I want
And no one gets hurt
and finally, the crescendo of where listening to the voice of God, the voice that cuts through to the heart, where that voice leads you in the midst of being so high and Godlike yourself:
I'm at a place called Vertigo
Lights go down and all I know
Is that you give me something I can feel
You're teaching me ...aaahhh
Your love is teaching me ...aaaah
How to kneel
In the midst of all the spinning confusion and wondering what is real, of all the conflicting voices and temptation, the constant is God and God always puts us in a posture of humility ... of having the perspective to recognize who God is and who God isn't.
The root of all sin is idolatry ... putting something or someone or (most often) ourselves in the place of God. As the psalmist says, "the fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom" ... that's not fear like in a slasher movie, but awe and the perspective of who and how big God is and who and how small we are. The realization that even though we may be being treated as gods by the world, we are all still in the presence of the infinite.
Even though this seems to be a personal song about what the band is going through, I think it touches a lot of chords for us as individuals as we deal with these same issues of power. More than that, though I think it strikes a deep chord with us as a nation that stands on perhaps the highest ground that any nation has stood on since the Roman Empire.
Power can be dizzying. We as a nation -- especially under the current administration -- have begun to identify ourselves as agents of the divine and nearly as the divine itself. Certainly, we have identified ourself as the force of absolute good in the cosmic battle of good vs. evil, which at the very least is theologically problematic!
So the questions are for us: Will we use our power to gain more power for ourselves, to "stay on top"? As I traveled even just a little bit this summer, I saw plenty of things that frankly I wish I didn't know. Things about how the U.S. government and U.S.-based multinational corporations are perpetuating cycles of poverty and violence. How will we as a nation respond to this?
Certainly, we are at a point in this history where we can hear the voice saying to us "all this, all this can be yours". And so far, our response has been "just give me what I want and no one gets hurt" ... though, of course, plenty of people have gotten hurt.
There is a real challenge for all of us in this song. There's a challenge for us as a nation and a challenge for us Americans as globally overprivileged individuals. Will we strive to use our power to acquire more power, acting in our own self-interest? Or will we let God's love, a love that recognizes that the highest love is to give up one's life for another, a love that who, "though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross." (Phillippians 2:6-8). Will we forsake a false "mandate of Christ" that is about manifest destiny to be transformed into the image of Christ, which is about the cross?
And so it comes down to one question:
Will God's love teach us how to kneel?
It's not reaching to far to say that how we answer that question will determine not only the fate of our nation but of our planet.
| Mike at 11/09/2004 11:04:00 AM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."