Bono fatigue

I was reading this somewhat interesting piece on “emergent” Christians in Austin, TX and found myself pondering a deep mystery: why are all these post-evangelical, post-conservative, post-modern, post-whatever Christians so into U2?

“For the emerging churches, (church is) not a place, it’s a people,” Gibbs said. “It’s not a weekly gathering; it’s a seven-day-a-week community. And you don’t go to church; you are the church.”

That doesn’t mean emerging Christians have turned their back on observing the sabbath, but their services are a far cry from what many grew up with. They might use literature and poetry in the liturgy or play U2 and Van Morrison songs before and after the service.


Charles Whitmire, pastor of Crestview Baptist Church, began noticing that the young professionals moving into the church’s North Austin neighborhood would rather go for a bike ride on Sunday morning than sing “The Old Rugged Cross” with a congregation where the median age is 70.

So with his members’ support, he established Phoenix Church of Austin earlier this year. Whitmire leads the evening services in the sanctuary, and his first service included references to Bono and David Letterman and featured a driving rock band. Whitmire, an avid cyclist and screenwriter who fits the demographic he’s trying to reach, had bumper stickers made up that said “Make Church Weird.”

I don’t really have an opinion one way or the other on the value of the whole emergent/emerging church thing. A lot of it seems to me to be a kind of intra-evangelical dispute with younger people breaking away from the bland megachurches and Republican politics of their elders. So, I take it that part of what it’s trying to do is to appeal to “da yoots.”

Hence my question: what’s the deal with all the U2? U2 is old people’s music! (By which I mean music enjoyed by people my age.)

I mean, I like U2 as much as the next guy (well, some of their stuff, anyway), but are they really that big among people, say, under the age of 25? (This is not a purely rhetorical question; maybe they are.)

Part of the whole U2 obsession (extending even into the stolid mainline with “U2charists” and the like) no doubt has to do with Bono’s status as vaguely Christian global do-gooder. And, yes, you can find all kinds of religious themes and references in U2’s music. But I can’t help but wonder whether gen-x goateed “emergent” pastors aren’t doing the same thing that Baby Boomer evangelicals did: projecting their ideas of what’s cool onto the young people they’re ministering to. All the facial hair, tatoos, grunge-y rock, candles, and angst – it’s sooo 1990s, people!

On the other hand, if someone wants to put on a Killswitch Engage eucharist, I might be interested…


8 thoughts on “Bono fatigue

  1. Camassia

    Of course, Van Morrison is even older people’s music. Maybe it’s being Irish?

    Seriously, you may be right. There are some musicians, though, who seem to keep getting new fans in every generation — Dylan and Pink Floyd spring to mind. I don’t know if that’s true of U2 or not. I know some U2 fans in their twenties in my church, but of course this is the seminary crowd, not young folks who are disaffected with church in general.

  2. bs

    U2 isn’t particularly important to the young folks, and I don’t expect that that will change much for future generations. That is not to suggest that they will not be played on the radio for a long time to come, only that they will not occupy a place of significance on the youth pop cultural radar.

    The bands that garner such rabid followings with each successive generation tend to be on the weirder side of things–see, e.g., the velvet underground, david bowie, dylan, eno, the stooges, mid and late beatles, and (to some extent) elvis. That is not to suggest that more conventional bands will not get perennial followings of some kind, just that they won’t generally be rabid–see, e.g., the baffling fact that young people continue to see steve miller band and jimmy buffet concerts, ac/dc, led zepplin, and almost anything else from the 70s or 80s played on hard rock radio.

    To be sure, early U2, like the Boy and October era, is pretty edgy, but my guess is that the sermons reference Joshua Tree and thereafter.

    On the other hand, it’s unwise for one to think that he or she has cultural matters all figured out, particularly when it comes to young people and art.

  3. What’s a yoot?

    As regards U2, I think it’s not just that they have religious themes but what kind of religious themes they have. Standard Christian rock is so trite that it makes you want to puke, but U2 manages to mix faith and dissatisfaction in equal parts (I wrote this a couple of years ago as I was discovering this fact). This is really what the emergent church is about, at it’s best.

    On the other hand, I’m sure you’re right that there a large measure of thirty-ish people projecting themselves onto their (hopefully) younger parishoners. I have a lingering suspicion of emerging churches that’s captured well by a couple of descriptions I heard on Beliefnet — “fundies with sofas”, “Baptists with goatees”. I’m sure it’s tough organizing a community around the principle that the people you’re trying to attract don’t trust other people.

  4. This projection is something I see A LOT among the leadership of many of the “young adult” groups in our area. It is, as you point out, the same sort of projection that the boomers did to us with their acoustic guitars and vaguely folkish sing-alongs.

    Our group doesn’t do that. We don’t follow trends. We are who we are and we do what we do. Which is also why our group is the the “black sheep” of young adult groups in our district and conference, and probably why we’ve actually had some measure of sucess in bringing younger adults into the congregation and getting them active in the ministry of the church unlike the other groups who seem to be little more than (literally) flash-filled websites, ideas culled from ministry books, and wishful thinking.

    Sorry, I haven’t vented on that topic in well over a week and it had been building up.

  5. D’oh!

    Well, I guess I’m glad that my pop culture references aren’t so out of date that nobody gets them. On the other hand, I seem to have a tin ear for blog banter. 😉

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