U2 and my faith journey-remembering a fateful night twenty-two years ago-
I’ve been a fan for twenty-two and a half years. When I was getting ready to graduate high school, my father gave me tickets to see Popmart, and a fan was born. Soon after, I located a used copy of War and spent graduation gift money on their newest album, Pop. That summer, in between working as my aunt’s live-in babysitter, I did little else but ride my bicycle and listen to those albums on my Discman, crying out to a God I wasn’t sure I even believed in anymore.
Of course, that summer soon morphed into my first semester of college. I began that year confused and ready to break away. Into what, I wasn’t sure. I didn’t want to be a small-town girl anymore, so I explored the local scene and all of the temptations that rebellion offered, diving into a relationship with a local rocker in his mid 20’s who was, let's just say, experienced. Though I wasn’t ready, and I tried to refuse, I became experienced as well. I also became lost and full of shame. It wasn’t what I wanted to be. Still, I didn't believe I could go back. I was an acrobat. I couldn’t return. I may have wrestled with God at night, but I knew I wasn't winning.
Soon after that night of experience, I did break-up with the guy, but I still felt homeless and aimless. I tried to attend church but felt cold. I tried to pray, but I heard no answers. I tried to sing but only felt discord. Still, War and Pop seemed to offer some solace, and while listening to them during a long overnight paper writing session, something or someone seemed to breakthrough. I had just finished listening to “Wake Up Dead Man” and found myself praying it. When “Surrender” followed, I heard something or someone from the other side. My body felt strangely warm and I saw myself as Sadie. I recognized that I must. No, that I could surrender. Who seemed so far off now held out His hand, asking me if I would, and also promising me that I could, with His help, follow.
What that following would look like, I wasn’t sure. I wanted to love God and man. I became a passionate death penalty activist and became obsessed with volunteering, on the first front. I also returned to the church. The night after that aforementioned late-night revelation, a floormate invited me to attend my dorm floor’s bible study. Through that link, I started attending a charismatic Christian college fellowship called X Alpha. The aspects of Christian faith I encountered in that group blew my mind, to say the least. I still remember standing near the stage during worship and being prayed over in tongues. I felt that heat again, much more intense, and a love for God that I couldn’t put into words. Imagine my surprise when I picked up a copy of the first U2 book I read, The Unforgettable Fire, and discovered that twenty years ago, several members of my favorite band had encountered a similar situation.
I suppose that is a huge part of why I feel such a kinship with the band and especially with Bono. He, like me, seeks to love God and people like Christ does, but he also admits that he often feels more like he doesn't deserve the high calling of Christian. Additionally, he, like me, remains fascinated with Christian spirituality and its intersection with life and art. Reading interviews with U2 has introduced me to writers, singers, and artists which have helped me better understand my world and purpose, like CS Lewis, Bob Dylan, Saint Francis, and Dostoevsky. When I read that I’m not the only one who has dug into theology and philosophy to better understand myself and God, I feel a little less alone.
In the Orthodox tradition, there is something called the holy fool, and I think this may be part of why I'm so fascinated. Christians who did things that were foolish and silly to emphasize the maxim that God chose the foolish to confuse the wise were referred to as holy fools. Although I don't think it is intentional, the band and Bono's sometimes ridiculous appearances are part of what endears me to them. It makes them feel approachable and relatable. As I relate to their music and thoughts, I can let down my guard and fears. I can let go. I can recognize my brokenness and wayward heart, rather than deny it. My skittishness in church sometimes makes this kind of honesty difficult. I know that I should be this open and willing to reveal, but as I shared before, I still struggle to trust others. By playing the fool, U2 invites my trust and willingness to listen. Perhaps I am a fool as well, but I am very grateful to have had U2 in my journey.