catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 12 :: 2003.06.06 — 2003.06.19


Christians on the cutting edge

Several months ago, I found myself sifting through the bargain bin at a Christian bookstore trying to waste time while a friend was attempting to find a gift. Why do I feel the need to justify my presence in a Christian bookstore? I?m not entirely sure, but the book I found in the bin would work as the start of an explanation. The book?s title was something like The 100 Greatest Christian Albums of All Time

. Although discussion topics abound after simply reading the title, one listing in particular caught my attention. Sitting at number six (number six!) was U2?s Joshua Tree. After I got over the fact that one of the best albums ever was placed behind Amy Grant, among others, I read the description (very, very loosely paraphrased?you?ll get the gist):

U2?s Joshua Tree was their most spiritual release since October, when three of the four members of the band professed to be Christians. Unfortunately, they went the way of the world in the 90s and bought into all of the excesses of rock ?n? roll.

The thing that struck me most in the description was the idea that U2 stopped creating Christian art in the 90s. Once again I could take this thing in a million directions (What is Christian art? Can non-Christians create Christian art? etc.), but I?m trying to stay on track here. U2 probably created some of the most accessible, thought-provoking and intelligent religious music, and presented it?through the packages of both the ZooTV and PopMart tours?more effectively and cunningly, than any other artist in the 90s (please note the numerous qualifiers before beginning a debate). Maybe the authors of the list simply didn?t get it. Many Christians (including myself at first) simply took U2 at face value during the 90s and never bothered to look beyond the over-stimulation to see what U2 was really saying.

So, if for no other reason than to explain some of the dichotomies of U2, I?m happy to see that someone has finally written a book that specifically addresses these issues. Steve Stockman, a Presbyterian minister from Northern Ireland, chronicles the interwoven nature of U2?s music and faith in the book, Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2.

Stockman begins his book by providing some background information on the environment U2 grew out of, which should be of particular interest to North American Christians. When the band got its start in the late 70s, there wasn?t any form of Christian subculture?Stockman calls it the ?Christian ghetto??in Dublin. So even though three of the four members were Christians, they never were pigeonholed into playing exclusively ?Christian? music or forced to break into the mainstream from a Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) market. They just did what came naturally to them, combining their faith with what they considered to be their God-given vocation, music, and playing it in whatever venues they could, including pubs and other concert halls not typically visited by specifically Christian artists. As Stockman reveals throughout the book, U2?s faith is interwoven through the work of their entire career.

One of the most interesting themes Stockman explores is how U2 has worked towards being on the cutting edge of the music industry and how, as Christians, that?s right where we ought to be. Of course, balancing on that line between sacred and profane isn?t easy. U2 has arguably been at the forefront of the industry for almost two decades, and sometimes, through their searching and prodding, they have gone down roads that some Christians might frown upon. But, ?Maybe the times [U2] have stumbled and admitted their imperfections have been worth the risk to be boundary-pushers in a world the Church has neglected,? writes Stockman. ?Jesus always seemed happier with followers who would chop people?s ears of with swords than He was with people who claimed to have kept all the commandments.?

Many other topics are covered quite well in the book, but I don?t need to go into all of them here. Even though it isn?t a particularly difficult read, I?d recommend Walk On as either a companion (if you?re familiar with U2 and their work) or as an introduction (coupled with the videos Rattle and Hum and ZooTV: Live from Sydney). If nothing else, it is a good exploration of one band?s attempts towards being faithful to their vocational calling.

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