A Gathering Voices post by Greg Garrett
Last week I reported on my talk at Villanova University on the Irish rock band U2 and the 5th Century theologian Augustine of Hippo. It's not ridiculous: they both love music, they both have a sense of faith as an onward journey toward God, and both seem to adhere to Augustine's "two-fold commandment" crystallizing Christian faith as Christ did: Love God, love your neighbor.
We're all told that our faith should be lived out in faithful community, and one of the big knocks on U2 by some Christians is that they aren't churchgoers. As Christianity Today said several years back, many Christians suspect that the band's ecclesiology is weak ("paper thin" was atually how CT described Bono's understanding of the Church). What maddened some was that Bono was lobbing criticism at the American church for it's failure to respond to the AIDS pandemic; who was he to call churches to account when he didn't even belong to a faithful community?
What I argued in We Get to Carry Each Other, though, is that U2 actually constitutes a faithful community. Like a house church, they have been reading their bibles and praying together for decades; they travel with a chaplain, an Anglican priest, who has been with them for many years. They create worship experiences whenever they perform. And they have carried out all the functions of a faithful community--loving each other, forgiving each other, pushing each other, supporting each other.
U2's history is full of stories of how the band works as a community. Each member signs off on each song, or it doesn't move forward. Sometimes that means conflict. But it also means the best possible music.
There are also stories about how the members of the band have been there for each other, loved each other, and held each other accountable. When bassist Adam Clayton's substance-abuse problem caused him to miss a show, the other members of the band knew how awful he felt. (Augustine said, preaching on Matthew 18, that Jesus told his followers to try to reconcile with those that had hurt them because those who had fallen had also hurt themselves by hurting their brothers and sisters). But as drummer Larry Mullen, Jr., said, the band also knew things couldn't go on this way.
So they held Adam accountable. They loved him as he wrestled with his demons.
And now, years later, Adam is the one his brothers go to when they are hurting and in need of comfort.
Sounds kind of like, I don't know, a church, maybe.
Augustine argued that we love God most obviously through loving our neighbors. U2 brings that teaching to life in their own community. But our love for neighbor should also spill over the bounds of the faithful community and out into the world, and U2 illustrates that too.
U2 has fought against hunger, violence, and injustice in Africa, Central America, the Gulf Coast, Asia.
So I think Augustine would tell us that, rock band or no, they are carrying out God's two-fold commandment really well.
Additional Resources from www.TheThoughtfulChristian.com
- Journey to the Common Good, by Walter Brueggemann
- Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society, by Marva J. Dawn (Click here to download the FREE Leader's Guide that goes with the book)
- "Helping Your Teen Connect to Their Church Community," by Sue Washburn (Parenting Study)
- "What Community Will You Seek?" by Martha Miller (Youth Study)