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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What's In A Song? Where The Streets Have No Name

In 1987, U2 released a thoroughly captivating album entitled "The Joshua Tree" Music for the masses. The opening cut captured them at their best: a gradual unfolding of layered guitars driving bass and drums that eventually explodes into a peaking chorus:

Where the streets have no name
Where the streets have no name
Were still building
Then burning down love, burning down love
And when I go there
I go there with you...(its all I can do)

The song was an attempt to recognize that in some parts of the world there are people who try to pinpoint one’s religious affiliation and economic status by identification with the street they live on.

Ok…. I know this song is permanently embedded into the psyche of many a hipster, almost to the point of nausea. I'll admit there are times when U2 force me to sigh over their perceived dominance in the music business.

Still, "Where the Streets…" is an important song because I can relate to it on a number of different levels:

The desire to get out of the city and be more connected with the natural world;

the yearning for a spiritual dimension beyond the "trappings" of the city.

I also see what is perhaps the most literal meaning behind the song- a desire to transcend urban labels of class, race, status, and place.

All of us recognize that neighborhoods and communities ought to be clean, vibrant, and filled with caring people working toward a common ground. In fact, we should never give up in our attempts to build lasting social networks that are committed to sustainable growth, environmental improvement, religious, and racial acceptance.Unfortunately, there are times when a neighborhood, a street, or even a large community gets a label tagged on it. We all have seen it: "So and so comes from that part of town, or we don’t want those types in our neighborhood, or all the blanks live on that street." Might this be true on your street?

U2 lead singer Bono explains further:

"Where the Streets Have No Name is more like the U2 of old than any of the other songs on the LP, because it’s a sketch - I was just trying to sketch a location, maybe a spiritual location, maybe a romantic location. I was trying to sketch a feeling. I often feel very claustrophobic in a city, a feeling of wanting to break out of that city and a feeling of wanting to go somewhere where the values of the city and the values of our society don’t hold you down. An interesting story that someone told me once is that in Belfast, by what street someone lives on you can tell not only their religion but tell how much money they’re making - literally by which side of the road they live on, because the further up the hill the more expensive the houses become. You can almost tell what the people are earning by the name of the street they live on and what side of that street they live on. That said something to me, and so I started writing about a place where the streets have no name." Wikipedia- "Where The Streets Have No Name"

I currently live in a moderate sized city consisting of several neighborhoods (and streets) that collectively make up what we know to be the Duluth community. I love this city and have admired it for some time before moving here three years ago. There are many, many wonderful people who live here and contribute to the growth of the city in countless ways. Duluth can and should boast of having several engaging and talented civic & religious leaders who are committed to addressing many of the current socio-economic problems we face: homelessness, lack of affordable housing, racism, education costs, property taxes, etc.

But like many cities, we have to deal with the tag. On occasion I have noticed that Duluth gets split into an East vs West dichotomy. The east is "characterized" as wealthy and white while the community in the west is "seen" as mixed racial and low income. Is it media perception or folks spreading rumors? Maybe there are long-standing historical conditions that lead to the creation of this perceived fracture. I’m not sure. I guess cities can be complicated at times.

Two years ago I participated in a Duluth Diocesan sponsored program called Just Faith- a ten month formation process whose goal was simply to empower people of faith to develop a passion and thirst for justice. One of the most gratifying components of the experience were events called "Border Crossings".

Now I know what your thinking, you travel to another country to learn about world poverty or hunger. No, No….I’m not talking about that. A border crossing is an opportunity to "cross over" socio-economic or racial borders within our community. To meet and listen to people that you might not ever have the chance to meet. By really listening to each other, sharing our fear and joy; all of us came to realize how much we need each other in order to fully function as a viable community.

Occasionally, we neglect those who do not have a voice. A single mother who struggles to feed her children and work a living wage. A young man who just lost his job and can’t afford health care insurance. There are many examples as you might imagine. But the beauty of meeting someone for the first time in this environment can be a blessing. For me, it’s in those open, non-judgmental conversations that we truly hear one another. Or as Mother Teresa put it, "to see the face of Christ in each of His numerous disguises wherever we go."

In 1987, "Where The Streets have no Names" seemed like just another creative rock song from a blossoming band out of Ireland. Today, it’s meaning and value bears fruit when we consider it’s implications, especially if you live in a city that doesn’t want to recognize it’s own common streets.

Check this out: Seeing Others

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