BY PHIL KLOER
Cox News Service
ATLANTA - The song has been sung at almost every concert U2 has played on this American tour. It comes near the end of each show, sometimes at the very end, when band and audience are both a bit worn out:
"I waited patiently for the Lord," lead singer Bono cries out. "He inclined and heard my cry."
It's a 3,000-year-old song that never made the pop charts, just the Old Testament. As in Psalm 40.
U2's version is simply called "40" and was played last week during the band's sold-out show here.
It was also played Sunday at All Saints' Episcopal Church's special service -- a U2 Eucharist.
The events are mirror images of the same body of work: a rock concert in an arena that sometimes felt like a worship service, and a worship service in a church that felt like a rock concert.
The mega-selling Irish band -- sometimes called the biggest rock 'n' roll band in the world today -- is not marketed as Christian music but as rock music, despite a body of work that constantly references the Bible, deals in apocalyptic imagery and addresses Jesus directly.
"The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or running away from God," Bono said in a recent Rolling Stone interview. "Both recognize the pivot, that God is the center of the jaunt."
Some fans cleave to U2 because of the band's Christian message; some despite it.
"As a teen, I came to them with secular ears," says the Rev. Noelle York-Simmons, associate rector at All Saints', who preached at Sunday's service.
"Even before I knew about their Christian heritage and the Christian message, I just thought it was good music, and fun to listen to."
When the Rev. Tom Buchanan, education and youth director at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Alpharetta, Ga., taught a course last month on "The Gospel According to U2," about two-thirds of those who showed up hadn't realized the extent of the biblical language and the struggles with faith embedded in U2's music.
"People today are very spiritually hungry, and they're looking for something that's real, that transcends the vacuity, the emptiness of culture today," Buchanan says. "U2 taps into that.
"It's not just a me-and-Jesus thing" in their lyrics, Buchanan continues. "U2 gives us a vision not only of personal meaning, but also integrating the quest for personal meaning with the quest for a better world."
"Their repeated theme is about focusing on something besides yourself," says Laura Haynes Burlington, who put together the All Saints' service. "It's not about sex and it's not about money and it's not about something that can be packaged."
Although Bono is the singer, lyricist and spokesman for the band -- and the one whose Christianity gets the most attention -- the group itself has been immersed in the Christian faith since its beginnings in the late '70s in Dublin.
Guitarist the Edge (Dave Evans), drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and Bono (Paul Hewson) went to Bible study together as teens and were deeply involved in a charismatic Christian sect called Shalom. (Bassist Adam Clayton is usually left out of discussions of the band's faith; Steve Stockman's book "Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2" calls Clayton "a skeptic.")
Bono has proved to be a provocative and articulate apologist, managing one foot in Christianity and the other in the distinctly unChristian world of rock music, while never losing his balance.
"The whole thing about rock stars driving cars into swimming pools -- that's not rebellion," Stockman's book quotes Bono as saying. "Rebellion starts at home, in your heart, in your refusal to compromise your beliefs and your values."
The band's first album, "Boy," was released 25 years ago, in October 1980, and its first American concert was December 1980. In that span the band has released many songs dealing with God, including "Gloria" ("Oh Lord, if I had anything, anything at all, I'd give it to you"); "God Pt. 2" ("Don't believe that rock 'n' roll can really change the world"); "Yahweh" ("Take this soul and make it sing"); and its anthem of the restless faith journey, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."
U2 will be in concert in St. Louis on Dec. 14, and in Omaha on Dec. 15.