Monday, November 22, 2004

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

The stores in PJ say U2’s latest album How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb would only be available Wednesday. I don’t know what is it about Bono, The Edge, and co that’s gotten a hold on me. Maybe ever since Joshua Tree which was really the first U2 album I heard. Of course, reading about the band’s purported Christian roots back in IVP’s now defunct campus magazine HIS didn’t hurt their image as the world’s greatest rock ‘n roll band, although that title was a little slow in sticking - then.

The November issue of UNCUT had Bono on the cover titled, Dancing With The Devil and a track-by-track preview of U2’s long awaited album. Written by Steven Dalton whose previously bad reviews of U2’s Zoo TV tour in 1993 earned him Bono’s ire, the writer has evidently repented judging by his obvious veneration. But what caught my eye was Dalton’s opening paragraphs which referenced how far U2 has come through the years:
“When it began, they were painfully sincere Christian rockers saving mankind from sinful temptation. Now they are wealth-flaunting, model-shagging, leather-clad space lizards drunk on their own narcissism and hypocrisy.

Bono tries to change the channel but it makes no difference. On every station across a million TV screens, he finds only his own demonically grinning face. Satan’s very own spin doctor, cackling insanely as the flames rise up to consume him…”
"Painfully sincere Christian rockers?" Hmm.

1993 was also the year Bono introduced his audience and listeners to MacPhisto, his horned onstage alter ego. But Bono is not just your regular rock poseur. The thinking man’s rocker, the band with a conscience - respect Bono and U2 have earned after they leveraged their fame in newfound celebrity activism. Bono’s DATA (Debt, Aids, Trade, for Africa) has made headlines and put him on the cover of TIME (“Can Bono Save The World?”). Not to mention Christianity Today.

Like some kind of Faustian exchange, U2’s transformation was just a tad too hard to swallow to those who thought they had the band all figured out. Are they Christian? Hey, what’s with the excess? Have they sold out? Does it matter? There’s Bono, whom we were told, who lugs a dog-eared copy of Eugene Peterson’s The Message everywhere he goes. Is this what fame does to you?

In a Rolling Stone interview in the early 90s regarding his stage persona Bono said, "People thought we were just mocking rock ‘n roll stardom and all that, but I was just owning up to it. I was owning up to the side of yourself that is a megalomaniac."

Then you read Anthony DeCurtis’ interview with Bono and the singer declares, "The most powerful idea that's entered the world in the last few thousand years—the idea of grace—is the reason I would like to be a Christian." (More on the interview here).

There’s a kind of face-off with the claims that Jesus makes and the way Christianity is expressed. It’s a tension we all live with. For some, the dichotomy is reason enough to throw in the towel and walk away in disgust. There's a lot of things wrong with the church, with the way christians live, etc. Sure, there's a lot of hypocrisy, yet I don't know if that says more about human nature than the veracity of the Christian faith. The thing is, whatever its incarnation, truth is never easy to handle, because it invariably makes demands. If God exists, the greatest challenge is dealing with His claim on us. On me.

It's not my business to ask if Bono’s a Christian. I think what draws me to Bono and U2 are the questions they raise. Of course, and the music they make. Great music, like art is born out of deep tension, a yearning for something more that defies our materialist perception of reality, a need that requires expression, nay, satisfaction. Hence the rage - for truth, justice, love, beauty. Perhaps it's like what C.S. Lewis wrote:"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

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