Saturday, August 04, 2007

Pastor Gets Inspiration From U2

Lawrence Journal-World, August 02, 2007

Terry Rombeck

When the Rev. Michael Tomson-Degreeff wanted inspiration for his summer sermon series, he didn't look to classic literature or traditional sacred music giants like Handel or Bach.

Instead, he looked to his own CD collection and one of his favorite bands, U2.

On Sunday, Tomson-Degreeff, pastor at Eudora United Methodist Church, finishes up a five-week sermon series based on the songs of the Irish rock band fronted by humanitarian Bono (below).

Tomson-Degreeff found church and Biblical references in the songs, selected corresponding Scripture readings and played the U2 songs.

"I have been a huge U2 fan since high school," Tomson-Degreeff says. "My first U2 concert was a religious experience -- we sang 'Psalm 40' at the top of our lungs for 20 minutes at the end of the concert for the Joshua Tree tour (in 1987). I started out just loving their music, but I have grown to appreciate all of the Christian symbols, themes and Scripture references in their music."

He's used references to U2 songs in the past, but this is the first time he's done an entire sermon series based on the band. Sermon topics, and corresponding songs, have included:

• The role of a rock concert as a worship service and rock stars speaking out about social justice issues ("40" and "Pride").

• Holding faith during times of tension, and having faith ("I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For").

• Forgiveness and grace ("Bad" and "Walk On").

• Embracing all of life, including joys and pains ("Beautiful Day" and "Mysterious Ways").

• Oneness and interconnectedness of life, including unity and peace ("One").

Tomson-Degreeff knows a little about music himself. He majored in percussion at Berklee College of Music in Boston and plays piano, drums, and percussion, as well as writes music and lyrics in a variety of musical styles.

In addition to having great respect for U2's music, he has respect for what Bono has done for convincing G8 nations to forgive billions of dollars in debt for third-world countries, among other humanitarian efforts.

"His impact has been substantial," Tomson-Degreeff says. "He has used his celebrity to raise awareness about social injustices in very creative ways -- most politicians want to meet him, and he uses that to get people in the same room who would not normally talk to one another."

Tomson-Degreeff says reaction to the sermon series in his church -- which is building a new, highly visible sanctuary right off Kansas Highway 10 -- mostly has been positive.

"A few people did not know who U2 are," he says. "Most people have heard of them. One mother said to me that her 17-year-old asked to come to church to hear this sermon series, and that was 'a miracle.' "

There were a few grumblings, though.

"Some have complained about the style of music and volume," he says. "Actual quote: 'When will you do a sermon series on Handel?' "

© The Lawrence Journal-World, 2007.

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