The new U2 album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, came out today. Ordinarily I wouldn’t comment on this, but recently I’ve been reading a biography about U2. Put that along side my roommates’ intense love for the band and a weekend spent actually listening to some of their songs and you have more than enough reason to sit up and take notice of the four men from Ireland.
Before coming to college and rooming with U2 fans (every year) I couldn’t name a U2 song. If one was playing on the radio, I wouldn’t have known. I was raised on Christian music (by my own choice, certainly not by my parents’ will) so I had an extremely limited knowledge of mainstream music. Oddly enough, my strict desire to hear only Christian music kept me from hearing what has to be the most honest Christian band I’ve ever heard.
I’m throwing those labels around pretty loosely and probably offending some people with that use. U2 is not a “Christian” band in the typical sense. Every member of U2 is not a Christian. Their CDs aren’t released on a “Christian” record label, their singles aren’t played on “Christian” radio stations, and you can’t buy their albums in “Christian” bookstores. I use the term “Christian band” so loosely because I have little respect for it.
Despite being so un-Christian, according to my strict, self-imposed musical upbringing, U2 has some of the most provocative, most inspiring, most honest lyrics I’ve ever heard. How typical of a contemporary Christian music listener that I mention lyrics first. Their music is probably a better testament to their standing as one of the best bands period. When I hear a U2 CD I’m left scratching my head. It’s so good I don’t know quite what to do. That doesn’t happen when I listen to Audio Adrenaline.
What impresses me most about U2 is how they deal with their faith. Three of the four band members profess to be Christians. That very fact is something a lot of Christian music listeners can’t handle. There’s a certain tension in that statement that U2 has chosen to live with. It’s a tension we don’t like to acknowledge in the church. Yet it’s a tension that’s crucial to the advance of the gospel. So why do we shy away from it?
Furthermore, the Christians in U2 don’t act like Christians. They do crazy things, like participate in a Greenpeace action to dump barrels of radioactive waste near a nuclear plant or call up a frazzled resident of Sarejevo during a concert to raise awareness of the bloodshed and oppression. That’s not what Christian bands do. Christian bands stop the show to talk about sponsoring a child. They don’t talk about war. They don’t talk about the environment.
U2 also does other things that trouble the Christian subculture. U2 doesn’t come out and say things simply. Their lyrics aren’t inundated with the words “God,” “Jesus,” or “Lord.” Their songs contain something you might call poetry, something very unfamiliar in the Christian music scene. U2 also tackles difficult issues in this poetry. They ask tough questions and they don’t always have answers. Most Christian bands like to have pat answers by the end of the CD. After all, we can’t leave the listener in uncertainty. Never mind that most of life is uncertainty. U2 has found a way to exist in that uncertainty.
I could go on waxing eloquently about this band. It’s pretty obvious I’m impressed with them. But they do have their faults. They’re not a perfect band, they’re not the end-all example of what a band should be. But they just seem to have something that we in the Christian community have completely forgotten.
I’m just tired of a subculture existence. Jesus is bigger than that. And it saddens me that when someone comes along expressing Jesus in ways bigger than our subculture we can’t handle it, and we ignore them.