Spiritual But Still a Bit Religious: The U2 Church | Sojourners

Spiritual But Still a Bit Religious: The U2 Church

"It is rock 'n roll, but it is also deeply and overtly spiritual." Photo via Steve Mann/shutterstock.

 If you’ve been reading our blog or have checked your iTunes last week you’ve noticed the power couple of Steve Jobs’ ghost and Bono working together again. (Anyone rememberthe U2 iPod?) I’ll leave it up to music critics to debate the musical quality of the album and the potential violation of the now infamous iCloud downloading music for each Apple user. But there is one other issue to discuss regarding the U2’s recent release: God.

In a recent article published by The New Yorker, author Joshua Rothman takes an in-depth look into the spirituality of what some would call the world’s most popular rock band. Throughout the years, Bono’s religious roots have not been a secret.  Books such as Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog and We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel according to U2 have been published within the last decade. The Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed Bono in lectures and Bono has preached at the National Prayer Breakfast

One of the most interesting aspects of Rothman’s article was the citing of “churches around the world celebrating U2charists.” Churches as far as the Netherlands, Austria, Mexico, and as close as Iowa, Baltimore, and Maine have celebrated U2charists, a communion service accompanied by U2 songs in lieu of traditional hymns. Rev. Paige Blair, of St. George’s Episcopal Church of Maine, was one of the first religious leaders to host such a service. According to Rev. Blair:

“the liturgy itself is pretty traditional — it has all the usual required elements: a Gospel reading, prayers, and communion from an authorized prayer book. The music is really what is different. And yet, not so different. It is rock 'n roll, but it is also deeply and overtly spiritual.”

Rev. Blair and his parishioners decided to pursue this alternative form of worship “after they we kept finding [them]selves talking about how U2 had been important on our spiritual journeys.” Looking at the lyrics for songs such as “Yahweh,” “Psalm 40,” and “If God will Send his Angels” it is easy to draw religious significance. One can also read deeper into U2 classics such as “With or Without You” and “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with religious connotations.

It is true that interpretation and meaning are always relative, but using U2’s discography in place of modern-day hymns, where does the line between tradition and modernity lie?

For this millennial, it’s somewhere in between. U2’s ‘thin ecclesiology’ appeals to me because it models the seasons of doubt and faith in an honest medium rooted in the authentic presence of Jesus. Bono said in an interview with Michka Assayas his “understanding of the Scriptures has been made simple by the person of Christ. Christ teaches that God is love. What does that mean? What it means for me: a study of the life of Christ.”

We now do not need to see the statistics to know that the millennial generation is leaving the church at increasing rates. If you’ve read Sojourners’ recent blog series, Letters to a Dying Church you’ve also seen that responses to this generational and societal decline from Church have been broad and diverse.

I believe that one area where the “U2 Church” flourishes and more traditional churches fail is making space for authentic doubt. Paul Tillich said, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” Feeling affirmed and supported in any community during periods of doubt is an arena that I believe many people are yearning for.

For me, journeying with U2 during periods of doubt when I feel like “[God]You bury your treasure where it can’t be found/But your love is like a secret that’s been passed around” and times of contentment when “I don't know how these cuts heal/But in you I found a right/If there is a light/You can always see” has been a nourishing and fulfilling aspect of my faith journey.

In whichever medium the Lord comes, as a Christian I won’t turn away. And with last week’s feeding of [a lot] more than 5,000 iTunes with free music, I’ll take my church in whatever way I can.

Kaeley McEvoy is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners.

Photo: Steve Mann/shutterstock.