Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My First U2 Concert

I've followed and been a fan of U2 for awhile now, but Saturday night was my first U2 concert experience. The first stop of their 20 city North American leg of their 360 Tour. The Fray, one of my favorite bands, opened at the packed Invesco Field at Mile High.

U2 came with 102 trucks and spent 4 days putting together their $70 million stage.

I've been to some incredible concerts in my day, but this one topped them all. It was pure spectacle combined with a deep concern and passion for good music and social justice. If U2 comes to a city near you, don't even think about missing them.

U2 played many of their classic favorites and played quite a few songs from their latest album.

Since the concert was on May 21st, 2011 (a date suggested by Harold Camping to be the end of the world), Bono humorously dedicated "Until the End of the World" to Mr. Camping.

But the highlight of the night came during a 4 song set before they walked off stage for the first time. This stage that had been the scene of a raucous rock concert turned into a holy space of worship and concern for those who endure injustice at the hands of the empires of this world.

The apostle James, in one of the few and clearest mentions of religion in all of Scripture, defined religion like this: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world" - James 1:27.

With those for eyes to see, Invesco Field, usually a coliseum filled with football, scantily-clad cheerleaders, and loud cheers, turned into holy ground. It even felt more worshipful than most of the more than 1,500 worship services I have been a part of on Sunday mornings throughout my life. Bono led the crowd in songs of lament, hope, and unity.

The band lowered the lights a bit and started into "Sunday Bloody Sunday" while showing scenes of oppressed people throughout the world. It was interesting to see people shout and cheer to this lament, a song that speaks out against the historic bloodshed in Ireland. In fact, one of the most iconic moments of U2's early years is the footage of Bono parading a white flag around with "Sunday Bloody Sunday" blaring in the background."How long must we sing this song" sounds hauntingly like the words of authors of the Psalms.

Following "Sunday Bloody Sunday," Bono led the crowd in a repeated refrain of "Rejoice" to a new melody the boys had created.

Then, Bono introduced a video with the recently freed Aung San Suu Kyi thanking U2 fans for lifting their voices to free her from house arrest in Burma. As Bono puts it, Aung San Suu Kyi is to Asia what Nelson Mandela is to Africa. That video was followed with "Walk On," a familiar U2 song written for Aung San Suu Kyi praising her for her activism in fighting for freedom in Burma. And as if on cue, Amnesty International workers carried in candles representing the 3,000 prisoners who are still unjustly imprisoned in Burma. And one of the great lines from that song, "a place that has to be believed to be seen," took on a whole new meaning in the midst of this 4 song praise service in the middle of a rock concert in Denver.

The band then followed with one of their most acclaimed songs "One," which took on an incredible sound in the midst of this worship chorus.

And before the encore, the band finished with "Where the Streets Have No Name." It was an incredible song set. And the worship of the crowd (with eyes to see and ears to hear) was a more authentic cry to God for justice, unity, and lament than perhaps any worship service I have ever been a part of.

And at the end of their encore, they finished the concert with one of my favorite songs, "Moment of Surrender." It was the perfect ending to an incredible night!

I was forced to ask, "How could our worship experiences be more authentic like my experience at the U2 concert?" I know the spectacle and setting had much to do with the impact I felt. But could we write more authentic lyrics? Could we write songs of lament to fill our normally joyous celebrations.

As I sat with a couple who feared the lost of their unborn child in a service recently, the worship that so normally fills my soul with passion and love for God suddenly echoed back so hollow. Where was the note of lament for this couple? Where was the cry of desperation to God? It was nowhere to be found in that service and I'm afraid that's too often the case. But plant that couple in the midst of 80,000 people in Invesco Saturday night with ears to hear, and I think their experience might have been much different.

We need musicians and writers who will chart a new path for Christian artistry. I'm so glad there are bands like U2 that remain in the secular scene to bless a wider audience. But Saturday night made me cry out for more bands like Derek Webb and Gungor who will sing it like it really is and write lyrics for our services that seem to miss the mark so often.



Monday, May 16, 2011

Love Wins - Pt. 4 The Most Threatening Virtue

So, Rob Bell came out with a book a couple of months ago. I'm not sure if you've heard about it. It's created quite a conversation.

Here's the link to the video that caused all of the controversy:

Controversial? Yes.
Important Conversation? Yes.
Questions people are asking today? Absolutely!

Now I must give an obligatory warning like every preacher gives. Do I agree with everything in this book? No. Do I agree with everything in any book? No. that that's done let me get real with you.

I have read the book (important distinction because many who have critiqued Bell failed to read his book before doing so). I have listened to him speak on two occasions on his book tour. I heard him speak and he answered one of my questions at his book signing at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Highlands Ranch. I also heard him speak at Denver Seminary the following day. I've been a Rob Bell fan for quite a while. And I'm still a fan!

He's willing to tackle questions that most aren't willing to touch. And while he might come off as a shallow, emergent, trendy preacher with dark-rimmed glasses, he's got some theological depth to him.

I appreciate his first century Jewish background work and how his relevant messages reach a postmodern crowd.

There are people who disagree with what he says, but I think most are unknowingly more upset with how he says it. He writes for a postmodern crowd that appreciates the right questions more than the right answers. And Rob asks questions that must be asked.

His view of the new heavens and the new earth are spot on. His chapter entitled "Does God Get What God Wants?" is worth the price of the book.

Some have labeled him a universalist, which is absolutely incorrect if you've read his book closely. He's certain some individuals will choose hell even though they have the opportunity to receive God's grace.

I guess my question comes down to practice. Most of us would reject the descriptor of universalist were it used to describe us. And on a theology paper I would reject that title as well.


How many preachers are practical universalists when it comes to preaching funeral sermons? (I say this knowing some of you have likely heard a few preachers condemn people in the coffin.) In practice, when it comes to the moment of death most of us are either universalists or agnostic at worst.

And even if you're ready to send people to hell at funerals, most of us at least are generous enough to let God be the judge in the end. And most people I know are this way. If asked who is going to hell, they will back away from answering and admit, "Well, I'm not the judge. God is the judge."

The truth is, we don't know and we aren't the judge.

But the scary thing is that I think some of us desire for hell to be more populated than heaven. And that is not God's desire. God "wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:4) Perhaps we should want the same thing!

The truth is C.S. Lewis wrote some of the very same things that Rob Bell has written (perhaps parable form is safer). And he is the poster child of the same conservative evangelical critics who condemn Bell as a heretic.

I like how Rob described what he was doing in his book while he was at Denver Seminary. And I think we should be after the same task.

He said, "This books sits on the edge between urgency and possibility. It's my intention for it to sit there."

In other words, we should live our lives with all urgency and passion to welcome the kingdom of God to earth. Rob's book isn't a call for complacency while we wait for God's grace to invade our dispassionate lives. In fact, I would argue the escapism of evangelicalism's traditional story about heaven and hell lacks more reasons for urgency about life on this earth. So, we are urgent to proclaim and live the good news welcoming God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

On the other hand, we hope for the possibility that God's grace might just be larger than our box often allows him to be. We live with urgency, but we leave open our judgment to the Great Judge who happens to want all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

But perhaps what concerns me most is the angry response of Christians to Bell's book. My question is this: If claiming too many people will go to heaven is heresy, why don't we consider it heresy to claim too few people will go to heaven?

I want to live with urgency as I welcome the kingdom of God to come in its fullness on earth as it is in heaven.
I also want to live with the possibility that God might be more gracious than our imaginations can fathom.
I want love to win! Do you?


Monday, May 02, 2011

Al-Zarqawi & Bin Laden: Same Story

I'm copying a blog post I wrote June 9, 2006 - almost 5 years ago.

These words are just as relevant as they were then. Substitute Al-Zarqawi's name for Osama bin Laden and I think I'd write the same words today.


Which Terrorists?

As I walked into class today, I was informed of something that made the class cheer in approval. As I turned on the radio, I heard that it was a good day. As I turned on the tv, I was forced to look at the face of a man who was supposed to bring me joy.

Normally a seminary class cheers when God has answered a long awaited prayer request. Usually my radio makes me feel good when my sports team wins or when one of my favorite songs comes on. Most of the time I rejoice when I look at the tv and see the hopes of the homeless being answered on Sunday nights on ABC.

However, today was not such a day. In fact, I might sound un-American, but that is not my biggest worry right now. Today a man was killed and millions rejoiced for that reason alone. Al-Zarqawi, the second greatest threat in the Eastern World, expired. No, I take that back, he died by means of two 500 pound bombs. Pardon me if I don't rejoice. Pardon me if I don't feel like singing praises to my God right now for upholding the cause of America. My veins don't bleed red, white and blue when my country's best news this year is found on a tv screen showing a dead man's face.

I have to admit that my ideas have changed in the past few years. Four years ago I would have thought this was a great thing, but as I am mastered more and more by Scripture and God's Kingdom, it becomes more difficult for war and fatalities to bring a smile to my face. The Kingdom of God asks different questions than how can we preserve our lives best in America. I have stopped pretending that God favors America any more than anyone else. I have stopped praying for God to bless America and start blessing the world.

Call it pacifism if you want. Call me a coward, but I don't think justice is served in retaliation and I don't think this endless string of violence will end with one more assassination of an Arab person (or Arab target as many call it). I don't have many answers, but I have a model to follow in all of this. Christ has taught me to follow his path down the road to the cross. I am called to turn the other cheek and pray for my enemies.

Sure, we need to uphold the cause of the oppressed and there may be justification somewhere in all of this, but surely we can hold our cheers when we hear of the loss of a person's life. We must mourn for those the terrorists murder, our troops and our enemies. I can't quite see Christ rejoicing in this news today.

The best news I heard tonight was from a father whose son was beheaded by al-Zarqawi a couple of years ago. Larry King interviewed him and asked him some volatile questions. He asked him if al-Zarqawi's death brought any closure. The father said (paraphrase), "No, any loss of life is a loss for all of humanity." King went on and on trying to get the father to admit some joy or relief in this death, but the father obstinately denied feeling any relief or vindication. Al-Zarqawi's death would not bring his son back and vengeance wasn't the answer.

Wow! What a testament. Perhaps we can learn from this father. I'm not sure what I really believe. I don't condone terror or rejoicing in the death of another person, but what do I do with with the murder of an unrepentant sinner? Is it ever right to condone and rejoice in the death of another? I need more time to reflect and think, but I'm not sure I can do this.

It was sickening to hear the applause of classmates today. It was gross to hear a radio personality claim victory in the death of another. It was appalling to continually see the face of a dead man on tv tonight. I am a part of the Kingdom of God. My goal is for all people to be transformed by the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We must lay down our lives for the sake of others. We must share the good news with those easy to love and those difficult to love. In short, we must be Christ to a world in the midst of suffering, terror and murder. We must proclaim, "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!" not only to the Arabs but to ourselves when we condone acts of terror abroad and among our friends and relatives.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.