So I’m on Sabbatical for the next few weeks from preaching. Leslie and I are so thankful for the wisdom of the Highland shepherds to work into every the rythymn of every year a season for rest and long term planning. We’ve spent the last few days with friends and family in Arkansas, swimming in rivers, shooting skeet and riding four wheelers…Yes I know, how very metropolitan of us.
But before this week, on the very first day of my sabbatical I got a chance to go to my first U2 concert. For over a decade I’ve listened to Bono sing about the Kingdom of God in sometimes cryptic and sometimes explicit ways. They are by far my favorite band, and Saturday night reminded me of why.
The faith of U2 has been the topic of a dozen books, and a thousand sermons. Bono has led the world in issues of justice and even said some very prophetic things to the leading powers of the world. He’s been espoused by people like Rick Warren as an authentic Jesus follower, and demonized by more conservative Christians who just couldn’t understand a “secular” rock star singing about Jesus stuff.
But that’s exactly what they are.
We live in such a superficial culture. If you ever doubt that, just TIVO the show Toddlers and Tiara’s one time. And it might be easy to try and write U2 off as one more example. But before the concert began we watched on the big screen statistics about world poverty, deaths from disease/poverty/abortion/war…which is not what you might expect before a rock concert. And yes, they were rock stars. Bono is the best showman I’ve ever seen. But it’s all connected to something larger.
A friend of mine made an observation that I appreciated. He said that U2 concerts are a bit like parables. There are people smoking weed, and acting like they are just at another rock concert. But for those with ears to hear, they are singing about the gospel over and over again. (At one point Bono prayed the Psalms, and during one chorus tag, he repeated over 20 times “Where were you when they crucified my Lord?”)
From helping to free Iranian’s wrongfully imprisoned to being addressed by both Bishop Desmond Tutu and Astronaut Gifford (in space) U2 makes sure to connect the music to the dreams behind it. It was always about something bigger than just the concert. And it was different. When have you ever heard a rock band lead Amazing Grace? They are living out the Gospel with shades on.
Toward the end of the concert there was a moment that I found rather insightful. Bono was reminiscing about the people in Nashville who had helped U2 start the (One) Campaign to end world hunger. He talked about a meeting that happened 12 years ago with them in room with Amy Grant and Jars of Clay and…Michael J. Smith. Which is actually not his name.
Michael W. Smith is probably one of the most famous Christian Music artist in the world, and Bono can’t remember the briefing that he got earlier reminding him of correct initials.
I recently read Gabe Lyons’ book, “The Next Christians.” In it Lyons is pretty hard on the Christian sub-cultures that we have created through the years. He’s gentle and affirming about some of the good that has come out of these ministries but is pretty challenging to that whole approach. He points out that the Western Christian social positions have basically entailed retreating and condemning the broader cultures at large. We have gotten really good at being offended and walling ourselves off from the rest of the world. And then, certain Christians would react to this sepratism and attempt to be relevant. Which typically meant that they would just rip-off popular culture and add Jesus’ name in there somewhere.
But, what Lyons argues, is that Christians should try to be relevant. They should try to be counter-cultural. They live in the same world as everyone else, they eat the food, wear the clothes, but their passsions are diverted to radically different things. They don’t live behind walls but live among (like the Jesus they follow) but they also are distinct in the things that matter. So sometimes they are tailors or businesspeople, sometimes they are bakers or bankers. And sometimes they are rock stars.
There is an anonymous letter that was written in the 3rd century to a Roman scholar, trying to explain the phenomenon of Christianity. The author explains Jesus followers like this:
“They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land…They obey the established laws, but in their own lives go far beyond what the laws require. They love all people, and by all people are persecuted. To put it simply: What the soul is in the body, that Christians are to the world.”
I think it’s indicative that the biggest Christian artist that we have, Bono didn’t even really know his name. Now that’s nothing against Smitty, I like his music and he certainly has a gift. But what if our Christian sub-culture didn’t exist? Michael W. Smith would have shared that talent with a bigger world, and yes it might have been harder. He might have had to employ a different strategy, and Bono might just know his name.
I like that this anonymous author ends by saying that Christians are the soul for the world.Maybe that what our Jesus movement is missing these days. Soul.
So thank you Michael Peters for the ride.
Thank you Josh Graves for the tickets.
Thank you Bono for the soul.