That’s how Joshua Rothman pegs U2 in an essay exploring the faith behind their music:

In some ways, this seems obvious: a song on one recent album was called “Yahweh,” and where else would the streets have no name? But even critics and fans who say that they know about U2’s Christianity often underestimate how important it is to the band’s music, and to the U2 phenomenon. The result has been a divide that’s unusual in pop culture. While secular listeners tend to think of U2’s religiosity as preachy window dressing, religious listeners see faith as central to the band’s identity. To some people, Bono’s lyrics are treacly platitudes, verging on nonsense; to others, they’re thoughtful, searching, and profound meditations on faith.

Christianity Today regularly covers U2, not just as another Christian rock band but as one of special significance. In 2004, the magazine ran an article about Bono’s “thin ecclesiology”—his unwillingness to affiliate himself with a church—that sparked a debate about the health of organized religion. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, addressed the issue of Bono’s belief in a fascinating 2008 lecture about the place of organized faith in secular society. “Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog” is one of several books exploring the theological ideas in Bono’s lyrics. Churches around the world have held “U2charists”—full services at which traditional church music is replaced with songs by U2. A few years ago, an Episcopal priest I know helped organize one at a church in New Jersey; the service, which featured a huge sound system, stage lighting, cocktails, and a bonfire, raised around forty thousand dollars for an orphanage in Cameroon.

Meanwhile, Nathan Hart looks at religion’s place in their just-released Songs of Innocence:

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Faces Of The Day

Sep 21 2014 @ 5:04pm

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For his book The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride, Sébastien Lifshitz collected portraits of gay relationships he found at yard sales and flea markets:

Lifshitz, who also made a documentary film on this subject, raises an important point when he reminds us that all of these photos are pre-digital era: “Because to obtain these images, they had to have gone to a small neighborhood photo lab to develop the film and then go back to pick up the prints. They, therefore, had to run the risk of exposing themselves socially. The need to keep a memory of their love was certainly stronger than the disapproval of some business or any concerns about what others might say.”

Lifshitz spoke about the collection in an interview earlier this year:

Who are the individuals featured in these photos?

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The Buddhist As Novelist

Sep 21 2014 @ 4:57pm

Discussing her new novel, A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki connects her Buddhism to her writing, noting in particular the way her “sense of self is a more shifting (shifty?) and pluralistic entity” than is typical:

A Tale for the Time Being plays very overtly with this notion of self or selves, which in Buddhism is called no-self, or anatman. Buddhism teaches that because everything is impermanent, there is no fixed self that remains unchanged in time. And Buddhism also teaches that there is not an independent self, that can exist separate from others. Thich Nhat Hanh calls this interbeing. So what we experience as the self is more like a collection of fluid, interpenetrating, interdependencies that change and flow through time. The title, time being, refers to just this, and the novel, with its two narrators Ruth and Nao, is a kind of overt performance of these Buddhist propositions of interbeing and time being.

I think in my previous work, too, the choice of narrative voice, or voices, is related to my pluralistic sense of self. This was true even before I knew much about Buddhism. I’ve never been able to write from a single point of view, or even stick to a single grammatical person. All my novels contain multiple narrators, some of whom speak directly, using the first-person pronoun “I,” and others less directly, using third- and sometimes even second-person pronouns. The use of these pronominal shifts and multiple POVs destabilizes the sense of there being a singular “author” running the show, in charge of the fictional world, and I like that ambiguity. In the past, I’ve tried to write in an omniscient voice, but the characters refuse to cooperate.

Mental Health Break

Sep 21 2014 @ 4:20pm

The magic of acrobats:

CJ Werleman fisks Sam Harris over his recent post emphasizing the connection between Islamic doctrine and jihadist violence, noting that “maturing counter-terrorism analysis has brought new information to light.” He uses the example of Anwar al-Awlaki to show the limits of Harris’ approach:

Harris’ contention that terrorists are motivated more by the writings of the Koran, rather than by economic, political, social, and military oppression, is based on feeling rather than fact. Harris is unable to explain the transformation of U.S.-born terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki’s views in the decades before his death, because there is no evidence to suggest that a religious awakening led to his adoption of a radically different theology. When the 9/11 attacks occurred, al-Awlaki told journalists: “There is no way that the people who did this could be Muslim, and if they claim to be Muslim, then they have perverted their religion.” Explaining the concept of Jihad, he said, “If there is an invading force from outside, then we would, too, struggle to defend ourselves, and that is where armed combat occurs. So actually, fighting is only part of a jihad, and it’s considered to be a defensive force in order to protect the religion.”

The U.S. government had determined al-Awlaki to be a moderate, and he even spoke at a lunch event at the Pentagon. By 2010, however, he had become increasingly disillusioned with U.S. foreign policy…. Al-Awlaki’s radicalization is consistent with the historical pattern of political activists adopting a belief in terrorism when political action fails to bring about change. “From the French anarchists who began bombing campaigns after the defeat of the Paris Commune, to the Algerian FLN struggling to end French colonialism, to the Weather Underground’s declaration of a state of war following state representation of student campaigns against the Vietnam war,” terrorism is nearly always rooted in political and economic oppression says NYU adjunct professor Arun Kundani.

Christopher Massie, however, points to others who think more like Harris:

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The Things They Carried

Sep 21 2014 @ 2:27pm

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Thom Atkinson photographed the battle kits of British soldiers over the course of 1,000 years:

The series, appropriately titled Soldiers’ Inventories, starts with the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and chronicles the gear soldiers carried into 12 other battles, from the battle of Waterloo to the war in Afghanistan. “Britain spends a lot of its time fighting people,” says Atkinson.

Each photograph is like a wartime version of Things Organised Neatly. Of course, the kits include things designed to kill people in ever more efficient ways. But they provide a glimpse into what the boredom and monotony of war, with things like playing cards, checkerboards, and iPads. To gather the objects, Atkinson visited living history communities, whose members collect such things for for reenactments. He would spend hours organizing the gear just so, beginning with bigger pieces like a musket or a jacket and filling in the holes with smaller objects. “It’s a lot like Tetris,” he says.

The above kit was fit for a knight during the siege of Jerusalem in 1244. See more of Atkinson’s work here.

Faith That Aches

Sep 21 2014 @ 1:25pm

This month saw the publication a new volume of poetry from Christian Wiman, Once in the West. Paul Otembra notices “the spiritual ache” coursing through the book:

The poems are continually looking for ways to make something of the frustrations and doubt. This is not the same as trying to make sense of them, and it is uncertain whether these poems believe that is even possible, let alone advisable. Instead, Wiman suggests “to make of the ache of inwardness— // something, / music maybe.” Everything here hinges on that qualifying “maybe.” It is not a shrug of surrender. It is recognition that the singing, while perhaps helpful, is not abundant compensation for suffering. All these poems can claim is to “sing a little nonce // curse / for the curse // of consciousness.” The songs are not plaintive. There is too much edge to the voice for that.

Putting these latest poems in the context of Wiman’s previous writing, Joe Winkler observes the way violence is a preoccupation of his theology:

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Reading Into Your Self

Sep 21 2014 @ 12:29pm

Roxane Gay, who calls herself “the product of endless books,” shares the ones that shaped her the most:

The sweetest, most wide-eyed parts of me are made from the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. They were some of the first books I read, and as a young girl in Nebraska, I loved knowing there were interesting stories to be told about life on the plains. This is also where my imagination began to swell. I imagined making candy with snow and maple syrup. I could hear the timbre of Pa’s voice as he teased Half-Pint. I envied Mary’s grace under pressure. I loved Almanzo Wilder. I loved him fiercely, that country boy. When he began courting Laura, I imagined what it would be like to ride in his sleigh with him, my face chilled against the brisk winter air, the rest of me warmed beneath heavy blankets and the rushing blood of Almanzo next to me, the thrill of his hand in mine.

The sweetest, most wide-eyed parts of me are made from Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea, Lucy Maude Montgomery and Little Women, Louisa May Alcott.

I was a shy girl, but when I read, I was adventurous. Books made me bolder. I read stories, the titles of which I can no longer remember, about young girls embarking on thrilling adventures on wagon trains and fending for themselves, panning for gold. The Chronicles of Narnia made me believe I could slip into a wardrobe and emerge in a completely different world. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time helped me embrace my intelligence, showed me how I was not merely bound to this world, not at all. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory made me believe anything was possible if I allowed myself to believe.

The First Responders Of Syria

Sep 21 2014 @ 11:24am

Matthieu Aikins captured the above footage in Aleppo last June, when he spent a week accompanying the Hanano Civil Defense team to sites of death and destruction. He recounts how the volunteer rescue team responded after a helicopter dropped two barrel bombs on civilian land:

A rebel shouted from the road: “There are children in that car.” Annas ran over to a little blue sedan that lay crumpled near the site of the second bomb; it looked as if it too had fallen from the sky. He started prying frantically with a crowbar at the rear door; a mother and her children were still in the back seat. The mother had been decapitated by the blast, and the children were pale and immobile. As he hefted their small bodies out, he saw why. The little boy was missing his right leg below the knee, and had bled to death. His sister had taken a fatal piece of shrapnel through her chest.

The site was close to several hospitals, and the wounded — including the driver of the sedan, the children’s father — had already been carted away. The team realized they were just recovering bodies from the wrecks. But they worked urgently; the site was wide open and exposed and the helicopter might return at any minute. It was hot and there was a sharp stench in the air, more acrid than blood. Someone yelled that a plane was coming, and the crowd broke and ran in a panicked herd. But it was a false alarm. When the last body was out, the team climbed back into the truck and headed toward the old station; the whole affair had taken 15 minutes.

Keep reading Aikins’ harrowing account here.

The View From Your Window

Sep 21 2014 @ 10:50am

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Chicago, Illinois, 2.29 pm