U2 - Evangelists of the Reign of God
I experienced U2 live for the first time on Tuesday night (October 6) with my 15 year old son, Noah. We made the four hour drive from Nashville to Atlanta, arriving at the Georgia Dome about an hour before show time. We had floor tickets so we took up positions very near the outer catwalk of the immense “Space station” stage designed for the 360 Tour. There was a festive spirit in the crowd. Some of which was fueled by the ubiquitous beer vendors.
U2 took the stage after an impressive set by their opening band, the British trio, Muse. Larry Mullen, Jr. walked onto the stage, took his seat behind his drum kit and began to play a driving solo. He was soon joined by Adam Clayton’s bass and the Edge on guitar. Last on the stage was Bono. He walked to his microphone like a boxer ready for a fight. As soon as he grabbed the mike the band broke into an impressive performance of “Breath” from their latest record, “No Line on the Horizon.” This was followed by “Get On Your Boots” and the classics “Mysterious Ways,” “Beautiful Day,” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Bono concluded “Beautiful Day” with a stanza of the Lennon & McCartney “Blackbird.”
The stage, which looks like a giant space ship, gives the band the ability to get close to the audience. It offers excellent sight lines and a catwalk that extends out into the audience. Several times during the show all the band members walked around the catwalk and interacted with their fans. Even Larry Mullen was liberated from the drum kit during the performance of a re-mix version of “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.” He walked around playing a handheld drum. I also noticed that the drum kit platform rotated to allow Mullen to occasionally see the fans behind him. Bono, of course, used the entire stage. He was everywhere; running, jumping, singing. At one point he pulled a woman out of the crowd and danced with her.
U2’s set list that covered most of their recording career. They closed the main set with Bono talking about the importance of non-violent resistance to oppression, acknowledging the people of Iran protesting a stolen election. The stage was enveloped in green light while images of the recent struggle in Iran were projected on the huge video display above the band as they played “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.”
Bono then acknowledged that Atlanta was the home town of one of the greatest leaders of non-violent resistance, The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. In honor of Dr. King, he sang MLK (from the “Unforgettable Fire” album). Finally, an appeal was made for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese leader who has been under house arrest for over five years. Bono sang “Walk On” while about 50 people walked onto the catwalk holding a mask of Aung San Suu Kyi in front of their faces. This marked the end of the main set.
Immediately before the band came onto the stage for the first encore, an image of Bishop Desmond Tutu’s smiling face appeared on the 360º video screen. He told us that we are all “One” in our common humanity. We are responsible for one another. Tutu joyfully told the crowd of the thousands of lives that have been saved in Africa with the advent of HIV/AIDS drugs and mosquito nets. Many of those children who are alive today will become doctors and scientists and leaders who will solve many of the world’s big problems. Tutu told us that anything is possible when we all work together as “One.” Then the band returned to the stage and played “One,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Where the Streets Have No Name.”
U2 played two three-song encores. It was a great show. Noah and I had a wonderful time. It was worth all the effort to get there.
As I reflect upon what happened that night, as I look at the set list, and Bono’s appeals for non-violence and inviting his fans to participate in non-violent resistance of oppression, saving lives and helping to prevent disease, it dawned on me that we had been part of an evangelistic event. Certainly, on the surface the evening was a very good rock concert. But when you look below the surface through the words of the songs, the talk of non-violence and an invitation to participate in the work of saving lives, ending war, and resisting oppression I realized that U2 is a powerful evangelist for the reign of God.
U2’s songs tell stories about faith, doubt, hope, suffering and love. They sing about the world as it is and the world as it will be. At several points in the show Bono segued from one of his songs into a gospel song (I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - Stand By Me & Sunday Bloody Sunday - People Get Ready). Near the end of the show, following his performance of “One,” he sang the great gospel hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Many in the crowd joined him. The entire concert was a powerful presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ: the good news of the coming reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. It concluded with an invitation to participate in the work of preparing this planet for the coming reign of God.
Bono tells us that the kingdom of God is breaking out all around us. We can see it if we have eyes to see and hear it if we have ears to listen. It is in the Iranian people protesting a corrupt authoritarian government through non-violent demonstrations. It is in the gentle witness of Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest in Myanmar for the crime of winning an election. It is in the work of countless people distributing life-saving drugs to fight HIV/AIDS and mosquito nets preventing Malaria in Africa.
U2 is proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. They don’t sing love songs about Jesus. While it is clear in the words of many of the songs that Bono has a deeply personal and intimate relationship with Christ, he doesn’t sing about accepting Jesus as a personal savior. On the contrary, his songs are more genuine evangelism because they tell stories that emerge from the gospel Jesus himself preached and lived, the reign of God. The relationship with Jesus comes when people respond to the good news and participate in the way of Jesus, which is the way of self-giving love. People will meet Jesus when they open themselves to their neighbor, especially the neighbor who is poor or sick or oppressed or mourning.
Jesus was the evangelist of the kingdom of God. The kingdom broke out everywhere he went: people were healed, sight was restored, the oppressed were set free, and the dead were raised. Jesus’ life is love incarnate; loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. This love is the good news at the heart of U2’s music and their live performances. It is the character of God and of God’s kingdom.
If evangelism is proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ so that it is good news to those who hear it, and inviting people to participate in Christ work of preparing this planet for the coming reign of God, then U2 is an evangelist.
U2 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, GA
October 6, 2009
Get On Your Boots
Beautiful Day - Blackbird
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - Stand By Me
Stuck In A Moment
No Line On The Horizon
Until the End of the World
The Unforgettable Fire
City of Blinding Lights
I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight (remix)
Sunday Bloody Sunday - People Get Ready
Where the Streets Have No Name
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender