The Worship of U2, Part Two
As increasing numbers of young people are becoming disillusioned with organized religion and are turning to more subjective expressions of spirituality, church leaders are desperately struggling to engage them in meaningful ways. Unfortunately, no blueprint exists for how best to go about it. Consequently, some attempts succeed while others go horribly awry. I think contemporizing worship, as important as such a thing may be, is seriously misguided if it is taken to be the solution to the problem. One difficulty is that it can lead to the church becoming too heavily influenced by the culture rather than being a prophetic voice to the culture. This results in churches with McDonald's drive-throughs attached to their buildings and ATM's in the church lobbies (I am not making this up), or churches that turn the worship assembly into a spiritualized version of the AMC Plaza, thus creating a Christian form of one-stop shopping. I can't help but think of the church in Kansas that decided to entice young people with beer by holding weekly meetings in a local bar. When the church becomes dominated by marketing strategies designed to fill seats, we have gone seriously off-course. When the church becomes indistinguishable from the culture around it, it ceases to be the church.
Having said this, I'm not quite sure what to think of a recent development that was brought to my attention (thanks to Patrick Mead for turning me on to this). An article in the "Scotsman" refers to Episcopal churches that have created "U2 Eucharists" in a stated attempt to attract more young people. First off, it worked. These Friday night U2 Eucharists have been attracting as many people as typically attend their Sunday morning services. The service involves the use of U2's music within the context of a prayer service.
My response to this is somewhat mixed. In line with my previous post, there is a fine line between worship and idolatry that can be easily blurred and I wonder where a U2 Eucharist stands with respect to that line. Is this simply an attempt to utilize the language of the culture as a way to open people's eyes to God or is it a well-meaning marketing ploy that obscures the distinction between fandom and worship? I don't know the answer to that question so I will leave that up to whoever reads this. I do, however, find it ironic that Bono has become more of a prophetic voice to the church than the church currently is to the culture. As of late, Bono has made a career out of calling Christians to task for failing to live out an authentic Christian existence characterized by helping the poor and seeking social justice. There is great irony in a church using U2's music as an attraction to get people into the church building while Bono is trying to use his music to get Christians out of their church buildings and into American ghettoes and African villages.
On the other hand, I am intrigued by the Episcopal church's use of U2's music. Two of the songs included in the service are "Peace on Earth" and "40", both laments. Since we in the church have such a paucity of lament songs in our hymnbooks, perhaps we need to look outside of them to find the words to lament. In fact, one of the Episcopal church leaders interviewed for the article suggests that it is only a matter of time until some of U2's songs become a part of the church's authorised hymnal. That would be an interesting day. This past weekend I spoke at a retreat in which I lectured on the role of the Psalms in U2's music. During the worship period after, Chris, the worship leader, led us in singing a medley of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" and the contemporary hymn "Open the Eyes of My Heart." The seamless blending of these two songs perfectly captured the seeking language of lament and the confidence of faith, thus more faithfully representing the spirit of the Psalter than virtually any current hymns in the church's musical canon.
I'm not sure where all of this is leading, but it seems to me that as churches continue to seek creative ways to engage the culture with the gospel message, some of which will lead to success and others to widespread embarrassment for the entire Christian community, it will at least be anything but boring.