“I think the most important thing, the most important element in painting a picture, writing a song, making a movie, whatever, is that it be truthful,” said U2’s Bono in a Mother Jones magazine interview in 1989. Art is about truth. Which is why Madeleine L’Engle described art as an incarnational activity. Too bad Christians often muck it up.
“I think carrying moral baggage is very dangerous for an artist,” Bono said in a Beliefnet.com interview in 2001. “If you have a duty, it’s to be true and not cover up the cracks. I love hymns and gospel music, but the idea of turning your music into a tool for evangelism is missing the point.”
It’s not as simple as the Contemporary Christian Music scene would have us think. Anyone could tell you — and the Rolling Stone critics gladly will — that the number of Jesus’s per minute is not proportional to the greatness of a song. Glossing over the doubts and the difficulties of faith does no service to Christianity.
“Rock ‘n’ roll, and the blues, they’re truthful,” says Bono, again in the 1989 Mother Jones interview. “It says in the Scriptures, ‘Know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ So, there is this feeling of liberation in the blues for me. There is salvation in the blues.
“[But] Gospel music is about a step of faith, which is a whole different concept. The idea is that you step into a world where, if you like, the kingdom has come. You step into it, and you affirm that. You step into that and you sing! You know, people singing gospel music, they crowded into the churches from the ghettos, to make that ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho/And the walls came tumbling down’ step of faith. In their real life, they were living in leaky, rainy conditions, they were living in a sewer. So that’s not the truth of their own experience.
“The blues is the truth of their own experience, therefore closer to this idea of ‘knowing the truth and the truth shall set you free.’ In the Psalms of David, there is this powerful wailing against God. You know, ‘You call yourself God!’ and ‘Where are you when I need you?’ The Psalms of David are the blues, and I get great comfort from that.”
Modern Christian music often seeks to step into that kingdom come and look beyond the sewer of our current conditions for the hope that comes from above. And that’s all well and good. Some days we need to say, “I could sing of your love forever.” But where Christians so often fall short is in admitting that sometimes they don’t feel like singing of God’s love. We don’t sing the blues. We’re afraid to admit our doubts, we’re afraid to show weakness, we’re afraid we’ll look like we don’t have it all together. Which is completely true. And rather than making us look strong in our faith, it makes us look that much weaker.
“I like the anger of the blues,” Bono told Beliefnet, “I think being angry with God is at least a dialogue.” Christians are often too afraid to dialogue with God, something the Bible is full of. Something Jesus did in the garden the night before. We’re too afraid to dialogue with God, and we’re too afraid to dialogue with the unbeliever. Bono went on to say that anger with God and questioning God is all through the blues, and it runs right up to Marilyn Manson. Few Christians would be willing to acknowledge that someone like Marilyn Manson is asking honest questions of God. But Manson great up as Brian Warner in a youth group and a Christian school that lacked the grace to sufficiently answer Warner’s questions. We create our own enemies.
“These are big questions,” Bono said. “If there is a God, it’s serious. And if there isn’t a God, it’s even more serious.”