Monday, May 29, 2017

The Gospel According to Bono

Last week I watched U2 perform their album, The Joshua Tree, live at the Rose Bowl.  They are on tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of their breakout release.  While I like U2, I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a huge fan to the point of saying, "OMG, I have to see this concert!"  (Although I do admit regretting not taking the opportunity to see them live on their PopMart Tour back in 1997, after hearing how elaborate and technically advanced their show was.)  But I do remember one summer listening to that album on a seemingly endless loop while painting a house with the campus ministry I was involved with at the time.  We would take breaks from the heat and discuss the spiritual themes in the songs we were listening to.  Those discussions planted seeds that grew when I read about how and when the band was baptized early in their career and how seriously, if unorthodox, Bono took his faith.

On the one hand I admired Bono's boldness on the global stage- meeting with world leaders, advocating for the poor and hungry.  But on the other hand I found his politics and sanctimony tiring- there are times when it seems like Bono is everywhere with a solution for everything.

So a live concert celebrating the milestone of an album that played an important part of my own spiritual development seemed like a perfect excuse to see and hear the man himself.  (That, and the added bonus of taking my wife out for a rare time without the kids)

U2 wrote The Joshua Tree as a love-letter to America.  Their songs reflected the landscape they encountered while touring for their previous albums.  Bono describes their album as describing not just the physical aspects of the United States, but also the emotional and spiritual (a point he made during the concert and referenced in just about every article written about the album).  And the titular tree, standing alone in the desert, symbolized hope- reaching heavenward out of desolation.

The "gospel" that Bono preached that night was one of hope.  Prior to one of his songs, Bono proclaimed, "it's Saturday night but let's sing like it's Sunday morning! Lift up your hands!"  He didn't shy away from politics, and yes he was heavy-handed at times.  But that sense of hope permeated the concert, from his on-stage antics to the videos playing behind him (including at one point lyrics from Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech).  The album is described as celebrating not what America is, but what it could be.  And that is the good news of U2.

Regardless of political platitudes and playing up to the climate of the time, Bono gives hope for a country that his once-nemesis Ronald Reagan described as a "city on a hill".  There is hope for a country that claims to be over 70% Christian, despite our politics and policies betraying such statistics.  There is a hope for a country with more resources than most of the world combined.  There is hope for a country to overcome systematic racism and what Pope John Paul the Second described as a "culture of death".  There is hope for thousands of concert-goers who feel energized by current events to just do something to make this world a better place.

Maybe music isn't the appropriate means to deliver such a gospel.  Perhaps Bono's ego makes him a self-serving messenger (his sit-down with Eugene Peterson would suggest otherwise).  But that doesn't invalidate the message.  We should be striving for better- better politics, better relationships, better stewardship.

Maybe we should listen as Bono admonishes us to "take it to church"


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