And I Must Be an Acrobat: (Lent Day #3)

U2 Lent AcrobatFor nearly three decades now, I have lived with the music of U2 as a near constant companion on my journey as a believer.  Unlike most of the other popular “Christian” bands that have come and gone, the music of these four Irishmen has never once tried to condescend to me.  It has never asked me to mask my darker impulses.  It has never asked me to renounce my doubts or my fears.  Instead, for thirty years now, the music of this singularly unique band has born witness to the failures and injustices of this world, even as it has consistently pointed forward to a time when the grace of Christ will make all things anew.  And so, for that very reason, as I continue forward 0n my journey into this season of Lent – a season of critical, self-reflection – I have decided to finally begin the series that I have long wanted to undertake – a series on the theology of U2.  And what better place for me to begin this series than with a little known rarity called “Acrobat” from the 1991 recording, Achtung Baby.

For those that are primarily familiar with the work of U2 from the 1980s, “Acrobat” signaled a sharp, snarling, even venomous, departure from much of the idealism that had marked the band’s earlier work.  Whereas, in the past, Bono had often given voice to pious platitudes (see “Tomorrow,” “Gloria” and “Drowning Man,” etc.), here he turned his attention and his frustrations upon the Bride of Christ (signified as the “girl” in the first stanza) and rails against her hypocrisy even as he struggles with his own.  Listen in.

Don’t believe what you hear
Don’t believe what you see
If you just close your eyes
You can feel the enemy
When I first met you girl
You had fire in your soul
What happened your face
Of melting snow
Now it looks like this!

From time to time, as I have listened to this song over the past few years, these opening lines have become something of a prayer for the Evangelical Church.  “Don’t believe what you see.  Don’t believe what you hear.  This show, this cacaphony of sound that mascarades as worship music, these church growth techniques that promise you a bigger and better production – don’t believe it!  For the enemy is found in the form.  What’s happened to you?  What’s happened to your purity?  What’s happened to the church that once nurtured me into the faith?”

And you can swallow
Or you can spit
You can throw it up
Or choke on it
And you can dream
So dream out loud
You know that your time is coming ’round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down

And this is where my prayer has become a plea to those that have read what we have written on Blood Stained Ink and The Elephant’s Debt.  You can swallow what many of the churches have brought into the sanctuary.  You may even choke on it.  But you have another option as well.  You can spit it out, throw it up.  You can dream of something better. You don’t have to listen to the ways of the “bastards” – the Fatherless of our secularized culture.  Their voices may be ringing loudly in the ears of the affluent celebrity pastors that are shaping us, but you don’t have to accept what they are bringing into the church.  This never was about being “relevant!”  And your time – the time when all of this will be remade into something fresh, something untainted by human ambition – its coming “Soon.”

No, nothing makes sense
Nothing seems to fit
I know you’d hit out
If you only knew who to hit
And I’d join the movement
If there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine
If there was a church I could receive in
’cause I need it now

To take a cup
To fill it up
To drink it slow
I can’t let You go
I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that
And you can dream
So dream out loud
And don’t let the bastards grind you down

These are probably my favorite lyrics within the entire song.  For here, even as we witness Bono taking the church out to the woodshed, he admits to his own hypocrisy and his own desperate need for the eucharist –  for true communion with the Christ.   And I love the fact that his prophetic statement against the church ultimately results in him turning his accusing finger upon himself.  So many times over these past two years, as Ryan and I have written on the problems at Harvest Bible Chapel and on the problems within the larger Evangelical community, I have been made acutely aware of my own short-comings and my own need for the grace that can only be found in the bread and the wine.

Oh, it hurts baby
(What are we going to do now it’s all been said)
(No new ideas in the house and every book has been read)

And I must be an acrobat
To talk like this and act like that
And you can dream, so dream out loud
And you can find your own way out
You can build and I can will
And you can call, I can’t wait until.
You can stash and you can seize
In dreams begin responsibilities
And I can love, and I can love.
And I know that the tide is turning ’round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down

And so today, as the song comes to its blistering close, I leave you with these words that were initially found in the original draft of the song, but were excised in the final cut.  They are a prayer, of sorts, aimed heavenward – a prayer for grace recognizing the simple truth that I, too, am broken.

When the sky turns to purple and the moon turns to blood
Will You dig me out when I’m face down in the mud?

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