Dirty Day: Part Two

I got a very helpful post today from Beth Maynard of Get Up Off Your Knees/U2 Sermons (http://u2sermons.blogspot.com/) re: Dirty Day: Part One. She writes that there are other influences that (hint) "... at the same kind of U2 attraction to the dark - while just being constitutionally unable not to experience the dark as the place where the glimmers of new light come through." I am so grateful for her words because as I continue to meditate on this song and its importance to me at this moment in time, additional ideas come to mind. First, is A Litany of Darkness and Light from the United Church of Christ which reads in part:

We wait in the darkness, expectantly, lovingly, anxiously, thoughtfully. The darkness is our friend. In the darkness of the womb, we have all been nurtured and protected. In the darkness of the womb, the Christ-child was made ready for the journey into light... It is only in the darkness that we can see the splendor of the universe - blankets of stars, the solitary glowings of distant planets. It was the darkness that allowed the Magi to find the start that guided them to where the Christ-child lay. You are with us, O God, in darkness and in light. Sometimes, in the solitude of darkness, our fears and concerns, our hopes and our visions rise to the surface. We come face to face with ourselves and with the road that lies ahead of us. And in that same darkness, we find companionship for the journey... We know you are with us, O Lord, yet we still await your coming. In the darkness that contains both our hopelessness and our expectancy, we watch for a sign of God's hope. (From the New Zealand Book of Prayer, NCH No. 880)

Here is that same critique from the periphery - the cry of the wounded and outcast - that is a part of "Dirty Day" in both word and sound. The music begins with an industrial drone with an insistent bass riff that explodes into a wall of guitary wah-wah sound and drums:

I don't know you and you don't know the half of it
I had a starring role I was the bad guy who walked out
They said be careful where you aim 'cause where you aim you just might hit
You can hold onto something so tight
You've already lost it
Dragging me down, that's not the way it used to be
You can't even remember what I'm trying to forget
It was a dirty day - dirty day

Been there? How did Richard Farina put it: been down so long it looks like up to me? As Old Testament professor, Walter Breuggemann, reminds us: in times of cultural chaos or injustice, God's people are called to listen to the scriptures - and voices - from the sidelines. Think Job: "Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge...? I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees." (42: 3/5) Think Jesus before the self-righteous and at a feast table with whores, drunks, collaborator and losers: "Go learn what this means, 'The Lord desires mercy, not sacrifice.'" (Matthew 9: 13)

Dare I included Dylan? "I ain't gonna work on Maggie's Farm no more!" Or Ginsberg: "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix, angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night..."

U2 used one of America's masters of the darkness (and light) - the Priest of the Beats: William Burroughs's - during their ZooTV special and his "Thanksgiving Prayer" is as true today as it was so many years ago.

Fear of the darkness keeps God's people from seeing the truth - the light - the beauty as well as the horror: It's a dirty day...! (This reworking from "Taxi Driver" is incredible!)

Darkness, truth, the voices of the discarded - and beauty. More than most in pop culture, U2 grasps the connection between repentance, renewal and beauty. Whereas their predecessors in punk - Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Television and Patti Smith - laid claim to the Beat critique, these musical pioneers told their story with violent and ugly sounds. Indeed, much of the punk aesthetic was about rage and the primal sounds of life in the city.

The ugly and harsh sounds of rage are one avenue in art notes Makoto Fujimura; in his recent reflection on the recent death of painter Robert Rauschenbusch, he writes:

I had been working on a Refractions entry on the works of American contemporary artist Jasper Johns, when the news of Robert Rauschenberg passing away hit the news wires. Rauschenberg was Johns' comrade in the frontlines of the avant-garde art world. Both artists are now considered seminal and central to twentieth century American art... They were misfits, but the island of Manhattan did serve as a perfect backdrop to these artists' existential dramas. Surely, there was to be a unique destiny for those willing to eek out a meager living in their illegal lofts, without having to sell a single painting for many years, receiving ridicule after ridicule if they were fortunate enough to have their works shown.
These vanguard creators always lived in tension, both in their art and in life, often juxtaposing contradictions together in a patchwork. No simple or singular definition of their art, or their lives, would suffice: they were surprisingly varied in their personalities, political persuasions, and aesthetic dispositions, but found a common ground in their ambitions and in their brokenness...

The world they depicted anticipated the spiritual climate of post-modernity, and the multi-media culture to come. Avant-garde expressions and artifacts echo Hazel Mote's "Church without Christ" in Flannery O'Connor's "Wise Blood." If to O'Connor the south was "Christ haunted," then so was the avant-gardes scene in lower Manhattan. What is in the negative can be revelatory. Negative spaces are just as important as positive shapes, so we learn in a drawing class. If a chair is to be drawn, a good instructor will help the student pay attention to the shapes in between the legs of the chairs, or the back rests, as much in the "positive shapes" of the chair itself. In the same way, these artists depicted the spiritual climate by negative shapes, but by doing so they effectively described the shape and influence of the churches they rejected.

Their observations serve as an invaluable service for the church, as they gave shape to the spiritual vacuum that pervades our culture today. They are important precisely because they depict an honest spiritual wrestling within empty spaces... Late in his life, Rauschenberg, influenced by the art and culture of India, stated; "everything is relative, that everything is acceptable, and that you don't have to be afraid of beauty, either." Of course, critics sneered, for the notion of beauty was taboo in late twentieth century art... (But) perhaps the resurgence of material and beauty in the art world that we are experiencing today began with Rauschenberg's generous art. Quintessentially American, original and prolific, Rauschenberg's images do lead us, like a strange red nosed reindeer, right into the thick fogs of our post-modern night. His images, even in decay, would resonate to those who look for signs of good fortune from a strangely, but beautifully, collaged sky. (See, Refractions, http://makotofujimura.blogspot.com/2008/06/refractions-28-island-of-misfit-toys.html)

By embracing beauty, however, U2 - like a growing movement in this post-modern context - plays with our limited appreciation of beauty in the hope of taking us into deeper truths. Eugene Peterson writes, "One of the maddeningly enduring habits of the human race is to insist on domesticating God. We are determined to tame God... (and) figure out ways to harness God to our projects." (Introduction to Get Up Off Your Knees, Whiteley/Maynard) With wit and paradox, poetry and rhythm U2 reminds us that even losers like the father in "Dirty Day" have a truth to tell.

What's more, their life in the gutter is not the end of the story. Think prodigal son (Luke 15: 11-32.) Think St. Paul (Romans 7: 14-8:2.) Or St. Peter after betraying Christ (John 21: 4-19) "When you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go... follow me.."

In this era of shock and awe - terror and the coming to pass of our worst nightmares - U2 invites us to go into some of the places we do not wish to go - and they do so with beauty. Sometimes it is a harsh and challenging beauty, sometimes it is playful and paradoxical, but always they let the Spirit lead where it will. These days may run away like wild horses over the hill but still there is always a glimmer of light within the darkness. Think: "Mysterious Ways." Think: "Vertigo." Think: "God Part Two." Think: "Last Night on Earth" (on which I will bring this reflection to a close with more tomorrow.)


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