Like the rest of the iTunes world, I got the new U2 album Songs of Innocence for free.  Of course I downloaded it to my iPhone as quick as I could.

I should back up a bit.  There are fans, and then there is me.  As regular readers here know I have an eclectic taste in music, ranging from Yo-Yo Ma to Johnny Cash to Led Zeppelin to the Cranberries.  But, for me, nothing comes close to U2.  It has been that way since I was a teenager and I heard “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” on the radio, and then that weekend bought The Joshua Tree cassette.  That’s right, it was a real cassette.  I wore it out within the first two months and had to buy another.  I think I bought about four copies of it on cassette.

So, I’m somewhat of an expert.

The most interesting thing about Songs is the free release to the public.  Some have mistakenly said that the album was free, but that is wrong.  It was bought by iTunes, and they are giving it away as a joint publicity for the iPhone 6 and iPhone watch release.  Trust me, U2 is getting paid.  They always get paid.

Now, to the music.  I assume that is why the one or two of you that have read this far are still with me.  Songs is a good album.  It is not great.  The first tune, “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” gave me hope that the group might be going back to their punkish roots (think Boy or The Unforgettable Fire) or better yet the rock-n-roll feel of War or Rattle and Hum.

Sadly, that was not what I heard.  Songs sounds more popish to me.  I think they are trying to hit the great mix they achieved on How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb between rhythm and blues, pop, and rock.  I don’t think they quite achieve that.  I do think it is a better album than No Line On The Horizon, which, for me, was not that great.  It’s not as good as Achtung Baby, which was a rock-n-roll album for the 90s.  It’s better than Zooropa.  But even Zooropa had one of my favorite U2 songs ever, “The First Time.”  If you don’t know that song, you need to.

The top three songs on the album are:  “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”, “Raised by Wolves”, and “The Troubles”.  “Volcano” is also catchy.  Those are my stated favorites from the album, but the one I keep humming is the opening from “California (There is No End to . . .”

The bummer of this album is they worked on it for six years.  For that kind of investment, I’d expect something a little better, or more moving.  Even a bad U2 album, say, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, is still better than just about anything else going on.  I mean, All That You Can’t Leave Behind was a terrible album but it still had one of the best U2 singles ever in “Beautiful Day.”  I think “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” might have a similar lifespan.

Apparently they are working on a follow up called Songs of Experience. I wonder if this album is really just a teaser, and the real juice will be on the next one.  That would be nice.

One thing about this record (I just dated myself with that word, didn’t I?) that I did like is that it did remind me of The Joshua Tree in that the latter songs are, as a whole, my favorites.  It is what we would have called the “B” side when I was a kid.  Has there ever been a “B” side as good as The Joshau Tree?

  • “Red Hill Mining Town”
  • “In God’s Country”
  • “Trip Through Your Wires”
  • “One Tree Hill”
  • “Exit”
  • “Mothers of the Disappeared”

No.  I’ll go ahead and answer that.  Songs reminds me of that because the last half of the album, from “Volcano” to “The Troubles” is darker, but more emotionally moving than the first half.

So that is my opinion.  Oh, I miss the 80s and 90s.


II want to put on record that I’m not really feeling the whole “Bomb Syria” thing.  I’m channeling my inner George Lucas on this one.  You know what I’m talking about–in every Star Wars film some character, somewhere, says “I have a bad feeling about this.”  That line is usually uttered about the time things fall apart.

For consistencies sake, I had a similar bad feeling about Iraq and Afghanistan but no one  was listening.  I remember having a meal with a friend of mine at the time of the invasion of Iraq and we talked about it at length.  We decided that we shouldn’t invade, but that this is what empires do and this is what militaries want to do.  We were kind of fatalistic about it because we knew no one was listening. Please be mindful that I am not against the use of military and I am not a pacifist per se.  Sometimes the military option is the only viable option and those who serve our country in the fighting forces are among the bravest and noblest people in the world.  I was against invading Afghanistan and Iraq  because I didn’t really think it would solve any of the problems.  Those wars were more about vengeance for 9-11, and I understand why people felt he way they did, but as a historian I just don’t see how military action helped anything in those places.  It’s like we never learn from our past.

Now, back to Syria.  I just don’t think this collision course our government has set is a very good idea.  Here is why.

1.  If we strike Syria, will is end the bloodshed and violence.  No.  It will not.  If we attack it will escalate violence.  More children will die if we attack than if we do not.

2.  Our leaders seem very convinced that they know exactly what happened with the chemical weapons in Syria–that it was Assad who released them as an act of aggression.  These are the same officials who didn’t know what happened in Benghazi and who seemed surprised by the Arab spring’s origins in Iran where they allowed it to be brutally suppressed with almost no support from the West.

3.  Senator Susan Collins from Maine said yesterday that one of the reasons she was ‘undecided’ about action in Syria is that the “credibility” of the President of the United States had to be maintained.  I’m sorry, but saving face is not a good reason to kill anyone, ever.

4.  I can’t believe President Obama really wants to attack Syria.  I just can’t.  Therefore, if he attacks, then something else is going on.  When President Bush invaded Iraq (not Afghanistan) I argued that even though I was against it, I will support the President because I’ve got to believe he knows something I do not.  If Obama ends up leading us to attack Syria, I’ve got to likewise believe he knows something we do not because, and this might sound harsh, a dictator far away who is mean to his own people doesn’t seem just cause for the United States to get involved.  Obama can’t want this, so something else is at play.

5.  As a child of the Cold War I don’t trust Russia.  Whatever Putin says is to be viewed with great suspicion, but I do believe he is looking for a chance to reclaim Cold War status as a superpower and he will use Syria to do it.  I am not afraid of World War III erupting, but I am afraid of a Korea or Vietnam–distant wars fighting an enemy well supplied by Russia, China, or Iran.

6.  Israel.  Nothing we do in the Middle East should be done without thinking about the impact of one our true ally in the region.  If we attack Syria it will magnify the instability of Egypt and Libya.  The result will be that we will have created an even greater powder keg for the Israelis and that doesn’t seem like a good thing.

7.  Lebanon.  Does anyone else remember the Marines in Lebanon in 1983?  We were just trying to help then too.

I predict there will be no strike against Syria.  This is all just brinkmanship–Cold War style–and the threat of intervention is designed to get a response from Russia, which we got yesterday.  At least, that is what I am hoping for.


Wednesday night I finished our last small group of the spring semester.  Most of groups will break for the summer (although we will still have a Sunday morning “study” option during the summer).  During the spring we have been studying Amos.  Someone said, “I love my small group, but I was beginning to hate Amos.”  Everyone (besides me) seemed to agree.  What she meant was that Amos is a real downer.  The whole book could be summed up as “Israel–you’re terrible and now your going to die forever.”  Even the remnant speech at the end is about Judah, not the northern kingdom.

Contrary to my group, however, I dig the book of Amos because so much of it is ethics.  Amos spends most of his time calling out the injustices that Israel (and other peoples, including Judah) have committed.  Here is my survey of the ethics in Amos.

1. Unprovoked violence against other nations is wrong. (1:3)

2. The enslavement of other people is wrong. (1:6)

3. Violation of covenants (treaties of peace) is wrong. (1:9)

4. Murder of innocents (unborn babies) is wrong. (1:13)

5. Believing the lies others tell (naivete) is wrong. (2:4)

6. Slavery of your own people is wrong. (2:6, 8:6)

7. Ignoring the needs of the poor is wrong. (2:7, 4:1, 5:11, 8:4)

8. Usury is wrong. (2:8, 8:6)

9.  Refusing to do justice is wrong. (5:7, 15, 24)

10. Taxing the poor is wrong. (5:11)

11. Taking (and offering) a bribe is wrong. (5:12)

12. Living in luxury with no concern of others needs is wrong. (6:1-6)

It is for these violations that Amos screeches the loudest and it is for these violations that Israel is being punished. Notably, it is because of the people’s unethical behavior that the Lord hates their religious practices and literally ignores their prayers (5:21-24).  Amos makes rousing statements that the Lord has rejected the worship and ritual of Israel not because of the form or method, but because their behavior was so unsustainable.

It is not our worship or our doctrinal statements that earn God’s blessing.  It is the way we treat one another and the way we treat other human beings.  The weak, the helpless, the hurting, the poor, the alone and the needy are people created in the image of God just as we are.  If we say we love God, then these people will matter to us.

I could expound on the application of these for many words but I’ll only share two thoughts today.  First, the international aspects of ethics seems to be something our culture needs to pay attention to now.  Treaties, drones, wars, economic sweat shops, and protests in far away places are all ethical issues.  The second thing that strikes me is that much of what passes as politics in the United States is actually ethics.  Euthanasia, welfare, homelessness, banking, abortion, and war are all essentially ethical questions.  Part of the problem we have (in the United States) is that the left is biblical on some issues like welfare, workers rights, and suspicion of banking but the right is biblical on other issues like abortion, euthanasia, and prosecution of criminals.  There is no biblically consistent ethical block in our political landscape.




Today is the National Day of Prayer.  Sadly, this seems to be a mostly political occasion, and official Greenbean philosophy is to be very non-partisan.  However, I do believe in prayer.  Here is my prayer for our nation.

Lord, there are many things in our nation which are good.  These include freedom, liberty, general prosperity, and goodwill.  Our nation contains many hard working, devoted, caring, generous and compassionate people.  I give you thanks for these.  Specifically I give you thanks for the people who serve the public good such as all of our armed forces, veterans, firefighters, law enforcement, doctors, nurses, medical professionals, teachers, airplane pilots and many more than I can name.  I thank you for the many people in our country who follow you.  I pray that we will be such a glowing reflection of you that others will see and decide to follow you as well.

However, there are some serious problems in our land too.  These include unemployment, financial mismanagement, homelessness, addictions, and faulty world-views.  In addition, we have been at war for over a decade.  Please help us to end these entanglements responsibly and bring all of our troops home safely.  Protect us from terrorism, both domestic and abroad.  I pray for the economy to improve and that everyone who is willing might find work.

I lift up to you our national leaders.  I pray for President Obama.  I ask for his health, safety, wisdom and integrity as he leads us.  Grant him wisdom to speak truth and to follow truth.  I pray for the national discourse to soften.  Move us from our polarized positions to a place of unity so that we may enjoy the blessings, together, of our bountiful land.

Father, I pray that my children, all of our children, will never know what hunger, war, pornography, execution, violence, murder, abortion, homelessness, or want is.  Instead, help us to build upon the wonderful nation we have inherited a society that reflects your image and values the gift of life in the pursuit of liberty.

This is my prayer, and I make it in the name of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, Amen.