(This Sunday night (Nov 9th 2014) in Fitzroy @ 7pm sees Performances and Theological Thoughts on U2's Songs Of Innocence... I will be bringing the theological thoughts between the songs performed by Chris Wilson, Dave Thompson, Caroline Orr & Peter Greer, Thomas McClure & Jonny Fitch, Neil Sedgewick... this article is my apologetic as to why I might have something to say... ALL WELCOME... free with voluntary offering)
At Greenbelt 2005 I did a seminar on U2’s Vertigo album and the South African idea of Ubuntu. I had just spent three months on sabbatical as Writer in Residence at Regent College, Vancouver, where I finished the updated version of Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2. For three months I had far too much to think about this band. So, during my seminar I threw out a couple of hunches. They were such flimsy hunches that I certainly hadn’t included them in the update. First, for a laugh, I suggested that maybe the Spanish in the song Vertigo was a result of Bono reading Dora The Explorer to his children Elijah and John. Maybe! The other, that was slightly more substantial but no more convincing, was that the only song off How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb that was not performed on the Vertigo tour was Crumbs From Your Table. As that song was pointed at the Church I wondered had they not played it live as there was less point playing it to a wider audience than the Church. Maybe! Well, unbeknown to me, Willie Williams, the band’s lighting and stage designer, was sitting down the back beside my friend Martyn Joseph. On my sharing of this hunch he turned to Martyn and said, “Nice idea but actually they just can’t get the rehearsal together!” If I ever did another book on U2 that might be my title; “Nice Ideas But Maybe...”
When I was writing Walk On I was pretty sure that my knowledge of U2 and evangelical Christianity gave me a firm foundation for my pontifications on the meaning of U2’s work and faith. Yet, it was all second hand surmise. I had made a conscious decision to take that approach as in my book. I didn’t actually want Bono to explain his work. My reason for writing was as much about the lack of thinking and artistic discernment within Christendom as it was about U2. I had been exasperated for years that Christians didn’t get U2’s faith. I mean, “you broke the bonds/and loosed the chains/carried the cross/ and my shame/ you know I believe it!” It is hard to miss. So I wanted to show that an average intelligence like myself was able to decipher Christian content in rock music! I am still not sure how I came to write that book but it was a privilege and I always felt that I wrote it on behalf of a thousand U2 fans who could have written the same things but somehow I was the one who did it for us all. Once someone had written down the Christian ideas that were evident in U2’s work and Relevant Books had published them they somehow took on a robustness that they didn’t have when we chatted about them over a coffee or a pint.
Which brings me to events like The Meaning Of Life programme on RTE when Bono did an “everything is on the table” interview about his faith and life with Gay Byrne. Every time Bono is going to talk about his faith I am more apprehensive than excited. I have a lot at stake! As soon as that first Walk On hit the stores in 2001 most everything Bono would say about faith would be checked against my hunches! When he opens up like he did on this programme I have a lot to lose! I was watching the programme just hoping that Bono would not say something like, “well there was this guy from the north who wrote a load of nonsense about me having a Christian faith...”
Bono’s conversation with Gaybo didn’t let me down. Indeed I suppose the downside was that as a man who researched this band meticulously over a five year period there was nothing in it I didn’t know, or at least think I knew! It was quite a remarkable hour of Christian profession. Of course I had been growing in confidence on my hunches when the two books, Bono On Bono: Conversations With Michka Assayas and U2 By U2, had assured me and never contradicted. However, there was something about this TV show that you felt was hearing it literally from the horse’s mouth. The explicit nature of Bono’s testimony was refreshing, revealing and for me reassuring! For many years U2 refrained from making any comments about their Christian faith. Here was a 52 year old man with nothing to hide, talking about Jesus, believing in the afterlife and his family praying on their bed. He went back to the late 70’s revival and how the Shalom fellowship used Jesus to get them to give up rock and then how manager Paul McGuinness used Jesus to get them to go back on the road!
The naysayers, and there are many, will have got just enough fodder to maintain their anti Bono campaigns. He wasn’t convincing on the transparency of U2’s tax strategy. It was above board and all; just not robust enough to impress his opposition. I am sure a few of his Christian statements will get dissected by the doctrinal police. However, all in all, it was an astonishing testimony of Christian faith in a world that is secular at least and anti Church at worst.
As I had sensed down all the years of following U2 this was a man with a reasonably orthodox evangelical Christian faith, if he doesn’t exactly dot all the ‘t’s and dot all the ‘i’s theologically. His critique of Church is the same in 2013 as it was in his earliest interviews in the rock press - God is much bigger than religion! That love should always be more important than definitions of faith was a great exposition of 1 Corinthians 13. As always Bono made fun of his Messianic complex and was again what many people miss, humble about his own abilities. For him, that God is interested in the detail of our lives is proven in the fact that someone like him who started with average talents is part of the biggest rock band in the world. For him that is a blessing. It has been a blessing to a lot of the rest of us too.
For me, good news, I think I can now rest easy; I think I got it right!