Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On Evangelism, U2 Style

Okay, I went to the U2 concert Saturday night. I was a newbie, and now I am writing the required blog to gush about it. If you don't believe it is required, just go the Sojourners website and catch Jim Wallis' blog about taking his son. Of course, I did not have the lighting manager hear about me being there and seeking me out in the crowd. Ah well.... Oh, and good luck getting off of the Sojourners email list once you sign up.

Anyway, the really frustrating thing about writing about U2 concerts is that everything that all those other people have written about them is true. Yes, it is a fantastic concert. Yes, the sound system is amazing (for $25 million, it should be. And there are 3 of them floating around the country because they take so long to put up and take down.). Yes the visuals were spectacular. Yes, the political message was well handled; as an Episcopalian, I loved seeing Desmond Tutu talking about the One Campaign. Yes, I was moved when Bono brought the young boy up on the stage and ran around the outer circle before giving him his sunglasses (I admit, I would have been happy to be that boy, and even happier to be going to school on Monday wearing the glasses!).

And yes, without calling it this, they created church. Thousands of people all tuned to one wavelength and feeling both transformed and transformational. Not bad, especially since half of them don't even realize that that was what they were doing.

So what do I write, other than I get why people are willing to pay for the tickets and know I will do it again? Heck, I seriously toyed with cutting out of work and driving to Atlanta to see them tonight!

How about this? Can the rest of you so-called evangelists hitting us over the head with Jesus and the Bible take a cue from these guys? No, you don't have to be incredibly talented and the biggest band in the world to spread the gospel. But you also don't have to guilt people, shame them, or bore them to death to make your point. What might help is if you showed some genuine joy and enthusiasm about how your relationship with Jesus is changing your life rather than just telling us about it with stern or angry looks on your face.

I know Bono and friends are Christians. Only an idiot has missed that piece of information by now. I can read their lyrics or hear Bono's speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. I recognize biblical quotes in the lyrics that show they really have read more of the Bible than a few pithy lines lifted from the Gospels. See where their money is going (e.g., carbon offsets for the eco-damage of the set). The thing that oozes out of them though is that there actually is some attempt to live as Christians going on here.

Are they perfect at it? Of course not. Could one argue that the extravagance of the rock star life is goes against the very idea? You could make that case, arguably. But then they have never set themselves up as model Christians. In fact, they do one of the evangelical no nos, which is to admit to their imperfections--without getting caught. (Have you listened to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"? A great song about being believers but still struggling with what that means.)

More than anything, they present themselves as works in progress. They never claim to be saved; their salvation is being worked out, through the grace of God, every day in their lives; it's not some sort of static event.

Oddly enough a whole lot of people who will never enter our Churches are finding a lot in this that attracts them. If they got this same attitude from the Christians they meet, maybe they would be ready to explore faith with you. Too often, we ask, no, demand vulnerability from people joining the church ("Confess your sins!"), but show none of it in return, wearing the armor of salvation against the seekers as if they are the enemy.

Three years into this campus ministry business, I keep finding myself in a recurring conversation with students. It starts with a sentence like "I think I am called to ordination except I don't think the Church will accept some of my views. I think I am a heretic." What this usually means is that someone in their local parish (that is, some clergy or church school teacher) has manages to create a wonderful box for Jesus, and now the student is starting to see God outside of that box and getting afraid of the implicactions about what they thought they knew.

Now, if that is the message we are spreading to people feeling a spiritual pull towards God, what are the others getting? For the record, I have heard a few challenging statements, but only one that might even remotely qualify as heretical. You would be surprised at the relief these conversations offer to the students. People what are we doing??!!! No excommunications so far, much less burnings at the stake.

So, yes, I paid out my $100 for the show, and got no promises that my wealth would increase, my arthritis would be healed, or my soul mate would come to church next week and we would start a spiritually deep but chaste relationship. And for that money, I got a great musical show. And I also got an invitation to join something wonderful. For a couple of hours, I was able to go into my spiritual self, not pushed but given permission in the form of a very attractive invitation. And I did not have to pass the tests, learn the order of service, juggle the hymnals, or put fake contact information in the visitors book. Can your last visitors say the same thing?

And, yes, I'll do it again. And the left side of my brain will probably try to look at how they do it. But I'll bet the right side will take over and just let me experience the moment, rather than analyze it. Hope to see you there. And you will just have to live with the cheesy U2 quotes as updates on my Facebook page for awhile.

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