Saturday, April 25, 2009

Caller ID

The music of U2 has been Christian for a very long time, and by that I mean informed by a Christian world view. What does such a worldview mean or look like in rock'n'roll?

"Unknown Caller", the fourth track on U2's latest album No Line on the Horizon, and the title of this new blog, is nothing if it is not stirring musically and structurally. Beyond this, though, the song is about the prayer of a sinner and the results. It is a wonderfuly limited summation of the kerygma of Christianity.

The song opens with hope: Sunshine, sunshine. The Christian is to work out his salvation in fear and trembling, as St. Paul said, but he can have confidence in the fact that there is a salvation made available, already won in a sense because it is attainable. However, sin is still a reality and the sinner in the song is

... lost between the midnight and the dawning
In a place of no consequence or company.
3:33 when the numbers fell of the clock face.
speed dialing with no signal at all.

Like many of us, this sinner finds himself totally alone and in a dark night, wondering where it is that he ought to turn. The hour is 3:33 (between midnight and dawning) and this is the witching hour, literally. It is exactly the oposite time of day from when Christ died on the cross and won us that sunshine. In this moment of darkness, then, the sinner is searching for hope. He can do nothing else but pray, even though he does not know if there is anyone on the other end of the line, "speed dialing" even, just going through the motions of a prayer he's said a million times. But low and behold, unexpectedly, God answers.

Go, shout it out, rise up.
Escape yourself, and gravity.
Hear me, cease to speak, that I may speak.
Force quit and move to trash.

In Christianity we don't conjure God or make him into anything we want. He comes to us. He reaches out when we are lost. Even when we don't believe in him he can give us hope and tell us to rise up, get over our sinfulnes and the gravity of despair and trust in his mercy. We need to silence ourselves to be able to listen to him, however, to be able to quit the program of constant desparation and toss it out with the trash.

The song continues, then, with the sinner who is back to recalling his own sins:

I was right there at the top of the bottom,
On the edge of the known universe
Where I wanted to be.
I had driven to the scene of the accident
And I sat there waiting for me.

Searching for ourselves we often only find the worse part of our pasts. We want to be fulfilled, but can find only the "accidents" of our sins. We end up, then, like St. Augustine who wrote that he was hiding behind himself from God. He sat there in sinfullness waiting for himself only to find misery. He and we are restless. But then God speaks again:

Restart and reboot yourself
You're free to go
Shout for joy if you get the chance
Password, you, enter here, right now.
You know your name so punch it in.
Hear me, cease to speak, that I may speak.
Shush now.
Then don't move or say a thing.

Be born again. Baptism is a restarting, a recreation of what we are and can be when we accept the salvation which Christ offers us. We are free to go in order to do good, to shout for joy, and to enter into the fulfilling and authentic humanity that we have been seeking. Indeed, once we have accepted this freedom offered to us by Christ crucified, we who were restless can now rest in him and not move or say a thing.

Bono once wrote about the wonder of grace. It is popular now, and has been for some time in the West, to talk about Eastern mysticism and religion as though they are comparable, or "pretty much the same thing" as our Western religions. At the center, however, of the doctrine of Karma is the notion that we get what we deserve, that over time, over incarnations we ultimately pay for all the sins we commit. What goes around comes around, the great circle of life. Christianity is different. Grace is different. In the turning of the wheel Christ bursts in and forgives us. We ultimately don't pay for our sins. Purgatory is a sad comparison to the suffering we ought to endure for the sins we commit. No, at the Christic point of history grace breaks the chain of Karma, of getting what we deserve, and introduces mercy so that like the sinner in the song, we are no longer lost but found and found out by God.

So who is the Unkown Caller? We are, in a sense, if we are still searching for ourselves. But I believe that God is the ultimate Unknown Caller. He calls unexpectedly, not allowing us to prepare ourselves before we smugly answer the call knowing who's on the other end. It is God who moves in mysterious ways.

Shush now.

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