Religion Dispatches has a thought provoking essay up this week on U2 frontman, Bono and the dangers of a shallow engagement with Christ’s real work of reconciliation and peace.
Author Ben Swihart tells about his first encounter with the U2 juggernaut; after a friend offered him a ticket to a U2 show. As he sits in the stadium among the faithful awaiting the emergence of the man himself he too begins to feel the spirituality of the moment;
“Maybe this dude was the real deal. While waiting for the founder of the ONE anti-poverty campaign, the author of the corporate (RED) campaign against HIV/AIDS, and the role model for American evangelicals (not to mention multi-platinum rock star) to come to stage, my friend proclaimed, “I think Bono just reads poetry when he’s not recording,” barely giving the screen another glimpse.
“you made that mistake, scratched your initials in the paint
an unmarked crown victoria pulled up, full of white men
they grabbed your wrist & wouldn’t show you a badge
the manager clucked behind the counter, thick as a white hen
they told your friends to run home, but called the principal on you
& you learned Black sins cost much more than White ones.”
-excerpt from “Ghazal for White Hen Pantry” By Jamila Woods
In a city that is predominantly black, a stadium full of white people who paid more than a Benjamin for tickets is not going to be the nexus for authentic justice conversations. I work for a white, affluent, suburban, mega-church, so I’m used to that. But at that moment, before the music even started, I knew what my friend was referencing—I was about to get spiritual too.”
But as the crowd exults as the concert continues, Swihart begins to wonder;
“Three beers in, “Pride (In the Name of Love)” was exploding from the guitars. Bono wailed “shots rang out in the Memphis sky” while a montage of Martin Luther King, Jr., flashed in the background, and the subtle reminder that white supremacy killed a preacher and a prophet has me feeling the Spirit.
Then 60,000 white people screamed at Bono’s pandering, “America! You are the Dream!” Meanwhile, I couldn’t stop wondering how many of them were updating their status to “MLK never blocked traffic!” while we marched for Laquan McDonald and Rekia Boyd.
Four beers in, and Bono is giving my now drunken neighbors credit for being AIDS activists, since we (presumably) paid our taxes to a government that has advocated for the subsidized drugs that have saved millions of Africans. I guess he isn’t an American, so I can’t be too hard on him for not understanding that the same government he is praising also ignored the very same problem when it was predominantly the LGBTQ community taking the brunt of that epidemic. Oh yeah, and 45 hasn’t paid income taxes in like 18 years. Is that the reason he wasn’t on the guest list?”
Is the U2 experience, the rapture of the audience, perhaps getting in the way of real and meaningful engagement? Is it a kind of voyeuristic spirituality rather than a real connectedness? And is there a lesson in this that might be helpful to the church, the Jesus Movement? Are we sometimes offering voyeuristic spirituality instead of the real thing?
“In much the same way, I’m wondering if my evangelical friends’ love of U2 says something about the ways we are being shaped in the church too. All too often, the Sunday experience is very similar to my Bono encounter: read some liturgy, listen to a concert, hear a few words, and bam! All of a sudden, just like we are all now recognized as AIDS activists for having paid our taxes, we are all now devout Christians because we stumbled out of bed on Sunday morning. But listening to worship music does not a Christian make, and perhaps our shallow understanding of activism is mirrored when we refer to a U2 concert as a spiritual experience.
I pay my tithe, you mean I have to volunteer too? We hired a children’s pastor, why do I also need to talk about spiritual matters around the dinner table? We have a hospitality ministry, why do I need to be nice to people? Our mission and evangelism committee covers outreach, so surely I don’t need to love my [poor/minority/LGBTQ/etc.] neighbors.”
Perhaps if Bono could hold back from equating buying a concert ticket with tacking the real issues of our world?
“I’ll make a deal with you, Bono: I won’t let us think that showing up on Sunday morning makes us a Christian without doing the hard work of reconciliation. You don’t let us think that purchasing our concert ticket is helping to dismantle patriarchy, racism, and economic structures of oppression”