Last Sunday night Patty and I saw U2 at the Rose Bowl. So much has been written in response to this tour, commemorating the 30-year anniversary of the Joshua Tree album. I’ve seen so many Instagram photos from friends at the show. So many fond memories relived. My social media feed has been saturated with this event. I’m sure yours has too.
But it feels impossible to relive such a profound moment in my own history without doing some soul searching and reflection of my own. These songs, like Bono said that night, are more our songs than theirs. And this concert did something for my heart that all their shows in between hadn’t. At that first Joshua Tree concert, something was stirred in me. And now, thirty years later, I realize that it is still stirring.
Thirty years ago, when I saw this show, I was the age of my son. I wasn’t old enough to drive. My youth pastor drove a bunch of us to the show for night #2 at the Coliseum. The Pretenders were the opening band, but the Dalton Brothers opened before them. I remember the lead singer saying they only played two types of music, country and western. We practically booed them off the stage. Only to find out the next day that it was U2 dressed up as cowboys, performing Hank Williams songs for their own amusement.
That night was like a rite of passage. My heart soared. That red-orange screen as the band entered is still emblazoned in my mind. I remember the chorus of thousands of people singing every word to every song. It was a church choir like I’d never experienced it before.
There was already so much significance tied to this band for me. U2 War was the first album I ever purchased…on vinyl…from a Christian Bookstore. To all those raised evangelical, you might remember those concerned arguments about whether or not U2 was a “Christian band.” As silly as that question might appear today, it really seemed to matter at the time. Now it just makes me cringe.
When the Joshua Tree album came out, it never left my tape deck for that whole year. I loved every single song. But, if I’m honest, there was that one song that caused me a bit of angst… “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Bono calls it a gospel song with a restless spirit. That one song worked in my heart, like a splinter.
“I believe in the Kingdom Come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one.
But yes, I'm still running.
You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Of my shame, you know I believe it.
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.”
At first, I remember feeling confused. What did he mean, he hasn’t found what he’s looking for? Isn’t Jesus enough? I felt abandoned. I clung to songs like “40” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as anthems of my own faith. But for Bono to express such seeming dissatisfaction with his own faith, to admit he was still searching, left me broken hearted. I had lost my standard bearer.
But the chorus of that song wouldn’t leave me alone. It was so brutally honest. It put its finger right on my own wound. It touched the question I was trying not to ask. “Is this it? Is this enough? Is this all there is?” Sunday school had taught me not only the right answers, but that it broke the rules to even verbalize such questions. Doubts signified disbelief, and underneath them a lack of faith. If Jesus wasn’t enough, then you were doing something wrong. You were the problem.
But over the years, the courage behind those lyrics gave me the freedom to admit that Bono’s questions were often my own. That the simple formulas, three point sermons, and evangelistic tracts left me feeling less certainty of faith, not more. The more I insisted on being right, the less confident I felt.
The cracks in my faith were widening. I’d seen too many leaders fall. Too many wounds given in the name of love. Too many unanswered prayers. And in a world with such brokenness, the simple answers became embarrassingly small. It had to be bigger than all of this, right?
Yet my core beliefs felt unchanged. As others looked on my doubts and questions with concern and even suspicion, my heart cried out, with Bono’s, “You know I believe it.” Like that father blurting out to Jesus, “I do believe, help my unbelief.”
As U2 came on stage, Larry began that familiar drum cadence of Sunday Bloody Sunday, followed by Edge’s guitar riff (the “stairway to heaven” for the guitar players of my generation), and a single spot light illuminated each member of the band.
I can't believe the news today. Oh, I can't close my eyes and make it go away.
As they walked out, my eyes started pouring tears, embarrassingly, salty stinging tears that frustratingly kept me from seeing clearly. I tried in vain to wipe them away.
Buechner says, “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”
All these years later, the questions still remain, and my answers feel even less clear than they did. The doubts have changed and deepened, moving me outward towards something more. But I’m learning to make peace with the questions and doubts, to not force the answers that continue to elude me, and to trust that everything will be answered in its proper time.
Thirty years later, I have learned to live and remain in this in-between desert place. In this gap between salvation and redemption. I am still learning it. I am still running.
The Poet, Rilke, says, “Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
And the answers lie in the longings. Those longings tell me that we are made for something more. That the yearnings for justice, love, and mercy, will ultimately prevail. And what I believe, and know in my heart, is that we’re being drawn towards it. Towards what C.S. Lewis calls, the echo of a tune that we have not yet heard.
Sometimes the church has been accused of being so heavenly minded that it is of no earthly good. But on this evening, the concerns and conflicts in the world weren’t set aside. They remained front and center. The political conflicts, the battles for equal rights, the refugee crisis, the fight against aids. In the midst of the world’s brokenness came a call to engage. To not look the other way. To act.
Leaving that night, I felt something stirring again. In the midst of a world that is so broken and filled with pain, and hurt, and evil, I felt caught up in the truth and beauty and power of love casting out fear. That light can overcome darkness. That mercy will triumph over judgement. That all things can be made new. Once again, I felt hope.