I don’t attend many rock shows and concerts these days. Ticket prices, plus downtown parking and other expenses, make it difficult on the bank. Having a four-kid family makes it difficult on the home schedule. Having a ministry job with naturally fuzzy work/home boundaries makes it difficult on the life-planner. So, attending the U2 concert at Denver’s Invesco Field this past weekend was no small feat.
Say what you want about U2. Sure, the musical style they coined has so permeated modern pop rock (and, as a subsidiary, modern worship) that their sound seems over-used and cliché to artsy ears. (If someone wants to lambaste modern worship guitar playing, all he or she has to do is crack a joke about the ubiquity of the dotted-eighth delay.) But let’s not forget several things. They were among the pioneers of that sound—driving, ambient, atmospheric, cinematic. The Edge was a leader in effects-savvy lead guitar-playing, over against guitar-and-amp, lick-laden, speed-soaked flash. Lyrically, they’ve always been profound and provocative. And, they have to be on the short list of the most successful, lasting, and influential rock bands of all time.
For all those reasons, I felt it was worth shelling out the cash to participate in a moment in rock history that I’d value, given my vocation as a church musician zeroed in on the rock genre. U2 has been planting their mothership 360 stage in stadiums across the world, and, boy, is it a sight to behold. The production is unparalleled; it is the rock show to end all rock shows.
But what made the show in Denver unique, from a worship/church/theology/culture standpoint, was that here we have one of the more overtly “spiritual” bands in mainstream rock taking the stage on May 21, 2011—the night hyped up by a false prophet as being the date of Christ’s return. I overheard more than one pre-show conversation among the 80,000-person crowd making reference to all of the end-of-the-world news. So, the stakes were high. What would U2 do? What would Bono say? Everyone was waiting.
Ultimately, U2 offered a sarcastic yet purposeful response. They incorporated their song “Until the End of the World,” from Achtung Baby, into their extended lineup. Verses 2 and 3 are below…a double-entendre of personal story and biblical metanarrative:
I took the money
I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think
You lead me on with those innocent eyes
You know I love the element of surprise
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You, you were acting like it was the end of the world
In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret, waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You, you said you’d wait till the end of the world.
You can see and hear their performance below. Bono began the song by saying, “This is for the Reverend Harold Camping,” followed shortly thereafter with, “Such a disappointment!” So, on rapture-night, U2 rang in the pseudo-parousia with a bang.
In the middle of this song is an extended chanting of “love, love, love,” etc. I’m not sure what’s behind that, lyrically, but here’s my guess…at least this is my guess as contextualized to the immediate referent, Harold Camping. If we would spend half as much energy loving and living out God’s mission as we do prophesying doom on this broken world, just imagine the result.
My most esteemed professor, Craig Blomberg, wrote a terrific, biblical response to all of this, which ends up sounding much the same as what I perceive to be the Irishman’s counter of Camping. After thoroughly explaining why the Bible is clear on the fact that we can’t know the day or hour, Blomberg concludes:
How about we just assume that we might have several millennia of world history left and get on about all the things Christ has called us to do to make the world a better place, from evangelism to social action to everything in between, and once and for all end this escapist mentality that obsesses over a pretribulational rapture and doomsday watches of all different kinds on top of that! To quote a line from that fun movie of a couple of decades ago, “Network,” “I’m mad as h— and I’m not going to take this any more!”
I, for one, raise a salute to all attempts, be they from rock stars or New Testament scholars, to undo the damage wrought by false prophets in this world. Both Bono and Blomberg have helped remind me to keep the main thing the main thing. So let’s all get back to work, for goodness sake.