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On - Bono since 9/11
A cover story article that Stocki wrote for the latest issue of Faith for Life where he looks at U2's walking on since his book Walk On and 9/11...
So I am sitting on Talk Back in the BBC Radio Ulster studios with my then-colleague in Chaplaincy Andrew Forster. We are being asked about the demise of the Christian church because some Archbishop in England has given it the last rites. Mark Carruthers the presenter looks at me and says, “Steve, I was at Slane Castle a couple of weeks ago and watched U2 as they held 80,000 of Ireland’s youth in the palm of their hands. Will the Church ever be able to exert that kind of influence ever again?”
Great question, Mark, especially to a man who was about to bring a book out on U2! I doubt it, was the beginning of my reply, BUT (sometimes you hate the but, but here!) if you are telling me that rock music is the biggest influence on today’s youth and that U2 are the most influential band in that genre then I am reasonably happy that a Christian agenda is still being put forward at the heart of our culture.
The month before this interview was quite a 28 days. At the beginning of September 2001, U2 played a home coming concert at Slane Castle, County Meath. It was the second Saturday in a row that they had rocked 80,000 people on the banks of the River Boyne. A year previous they had released All That You Can’t Leave Behind and returned to the very top of the rock music tree. They had conquered the world again and the people of Ireland were proud and wanted to celebrate the fact. On the day of the second concert the Republic beat Holland to qualify for the World Cup Finals; U2 were champions already. As well as celebration there was powerful and poignant reflection. The first Irish gig since the 1998s Omagh bomb charged “”Wake Up Dead Man”” with mournful and Psalm like power. “”Sunday Bloody Sunday”” became a prayer as Bono marched up and down the heart shaped stage screaming,
Put your hands in the skyBono’s dad had been buried days before the first concert and Kite was charged with personal loss all heightened by the bands parents and children being present, Bono’s daughter even dancing on stage. Then in the conclusion as the roaring war-like rumble of ”Bullet The Blue Sky” kicked in the backdrop flashes up USA, UK, CHINA, FRANCE and the song rages, “as we walked into the arms of the world.” There is a sense of injustice of needing a Jesus to over turn the tables of governments who invest and trade in death and destruction. U2 in two hours brought all the emotion of their day into a rock show simply like no other. They ended with that entire audience singing hallelujahs, not that worship is anything new to U2 concerts; the crowds left in the 80’s singing Psalm 40.
Less than two weeks later, the prophetic power of their arms statements took on a tragic reality as hijacked planes plunged into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the world would never be the same again. As hope and any kind of certainty lay forever scarred who would bring any words of wisdom or strength. Where would the priests and pastors appear from in a world that had rejected its spiritual centre during modernity and felt nihilistic in the midst of post modernity? It would for sure not be men like me in clerical collars. As we all looked to the screen or speakers for comfort of any sort, All That You Can’t Leave Behind took on an eerie feeling of having been written for such a time as this. A whole generation was stuck in a moment that we were finding no way out of. There was even a song called “New York” that U2 would play in that city as they took the message to the very heart of the hurt. Bono told Niall Stokes of Hot Press magazine, “And a lot of the themes and the moods of All That You Can't Leave Behind seemed to just make more sense. I don’t think they changed. The obvious stuff like New York or a song about depression like “Stuck in a Moment,” kite songs about letting go of people you don’t want to let go of, all of that seemed to really connect.”
So indeed would “Walk On” as it was transmitted via satellite on the Telethon for the Heroes. Beginning it with a naked vocal of the first verse of “Peace On Earth” and then going into the new U2 anthem, as it built to its worshipful climax, the pastor and priest upped the spiritual anti and led the world from mourning into worship as he had at Slane and throughout the tour. The absurdity of giving thanks during the deepest of tragedies and most acute pain and hurt seemed to bring Biblical-like comfort. This was the song that released most tears and touched most souls with the lightest touches of healing. The holy man had visited the mourning home to bring God to us and point us to Him. Around the time Bono shared how Eugene Peterson’s paraphrases of the New Testament and Old Testament Books Of Wisdom had given sustenance to see him through. He hoped for a new beginning in 2002 for himself, his family, the band, and the world especially those countries still looking for Jubilee.
That Jubilee would fill Bono’s diary for the next few years as he campaigned for the DATA organization that keeps Debt, AIDS and Trade in Africa at the top of western governments agenda. As well as campaigning in the White House or Westminster Bono has also been attempting to mobilize the Church to play its part. His high profile media interviews as on Larry King have been very up front about the role his faith plays in his mission. In a recorded message for a Christian music festivals he says,
“Today in the next twenty four hours 5,500 Africans will die of AIDS. Today in childbirth 1,400 African mothers will pass on HIV to their newborns. If this isn’t an emergency, what is? In the Scriptures we are not advised to love our neighbor, we are commanded. The Church needs to lead the way here, not drag its heels. The government needs guidance. We discuss; we debate; we put our hands in our pockets. We are generous even. But, I tell you God is not looking for alms; God is looking for action. He is not just looking for our loose change he’s looking for a tighter contract between us and our neighbor.”
To be speaking at a Christian festival even in a recorded message is another twist in Bono’s life. When I wrote Walk On, back in 2001, U2 were beyond the Christian pale but these last number of years has seen a huge move from the Church towards Bono and from Bono towards the Church. On his Heart Of America Tour in 2003 Bono spoke at Wheaton College, met with Christian leaders like Bill Hybels and hung around in Nashville with stars of the contemporary Christian music world. He seems to have reached out towards mainstream Christianity. The Church to has begun to recognize the authenticity of Bono’s faith apart from an idiotic attack on him in an editorial of Christianity Today which had the audacity to sell the same issue with Bono on the cover. To be fair, Cathleen Falsani’s “American Prayer” article in that magazine was outstanding. The Christian music world have just released an album called In the Name of Love with the stars of its subculture covering U2 songs and Get Up Off Your Knees has added another book unlocking the keys to the spiritual treasure trove to be found in U2 lyrics. series of sermons by a variety of clerics and Church leaders it throws pastoral and prophetic caress and collision out from the songs that have been a soundtrack to a generation.
So Bono keeps walking on and very much following Jesus of Nazareth as he goes. Some will damn him to hell because he swears but when Jesus was separating sheep from goats it was not our language that condemned us it was what we did with the homeless, the sick and the poor. If it was works, spiritual piety or social action that got you to heaven and thank God it is not then I think Bono would be in long before most of the rest of us!
Steve Stockman 5/22/2004