I love you, Bono. You’re an awesome dude and the lead singer of the greatest band in history, in my humble opinion. But, I think you’re way off on an important piece of your recent interview, and it’s the part now playing around the world.
Bono recently was filmed with the brilliant Eugene Peterson discussing the Psalms, and 90% of the interview is right on point. The 10% though, is tough for me, because it deals with a feeling towards Christianity, the church and Christian music, and it’s something far too commonly encouraged in our culture today. Here’s what the lead singer of U2 had to say –
“I find in Christian art a lot of dishonesty, and I think it’s a shame,” he continued. “I would love if this conversation would inspire people who are writing these beautiful… gospel songs, write a song about their bad marriage. Write a song about how they’re pi**ed off at the government. Because that’s what God wants from you. I am suspicious of Christians because of this lack of realism.”
For the record, Bono has stated he is a Christian. According to the most accurate online surveys of church attendance, about 55% of American Christians are walking into a church this morning. When we do, most of us will soon be greeted with worship songs, the same music Bono is referring to above. This isn’t about the 20 year old Jesus Freak, which musically is a brilliant album, produced by the same man who worked with REM and Nirvana in the nineties. This is about the songs we sing together and how we come together in the body. This is about the perception of the church preaching feel good messages, feel good music, and basically it’s about a superficial religion pumping us off while blowing us off.
I know these churches. I’ve been a part of leading them. They grab you with the guitar and hook, sometimes help you forget reality, and cast the baggage you came in with into the abyss, at least for the next 90 minutes. When it’s over, folks can drive to their Sunday lunch, then race home to get the kids to practice, and go to bed at night dreading their Monday morning and the week ahead. Maybe the perception is Christian music and art today is simply just enabling a white-washed feel-good religion helping us to forget about our lives and embrace a utopia that doesn’t really even exist. From the outside, this is what you can see looking in. From the inside, however, it’s a whole different vibe.
For me, I rejoice around my Sunday morning adventures. I look for something encouraging and uplifting, and I don’t want to boil everything down to the nitty gritty of whatever is culturally bothering us. I don’t, because there is always time for the tough conversations, isn’t there? Aren’t our worlds often blown apart by what’s wrong in our world. The arts, for me, should reflect the best of God first, not the worst of this world. It’s ok to be honest, but too often the cynicism about Christianity in our culture today has more to do with the current flow of writers and media, and not reality. Maybe you don’t want to share my optimism, and I’m good there. Call me a superficial nut bag, but I think Bono is off here, and here’s maybe the biggest challenge he has in this dialogue –
Bono is an incredibly talented musician, but if this is important to him, why doesn’t he lead us? Why hasn’t he seen the gap and gotten to work? He has the talent and prowess to take on such a challenge. He could create an art program at the largest Christian school in the country, Liberty University, and lead a new generation. Or maybe host a weekly online teaching series with musicians, writers and other artists. He could create a foundation, build something amazing to really dig in and create a new culture of arts in the church. He could bring artists together and host conferences around the world, and leverage the resources at his disposal to do something about this. He could be the first of what he is talking about, and write and release a Christian album, and then a worship album and bring the gospel to so many who may have never heard it.
As you enter your church today, however you enter your church today, God knows your heart and will supply what you need. Don’t worry about enjoying a super chipper song about the love of God. And don’t shun away from embracing the freedom and good news of the gospel. Life is hard yes, and it’s good to live in reality, but don’t question your relationship with God because you sing Jesus loves me when you get a little bummed. We don’t need more of a cynical attitude towards Christian music and the arts. We need the followers of Jesus to stand up and right the wrongs they see in this world, which, in many ways, Bono is great at doing. If he wants to criticize something, though, he should probably consider he, more than anyone else I could think of, could encourage change here, and change always begins with hope. Enjoy your Sunday morning, my friends, and enjoy it in whatever way you think God wants to love and enlighten you.