Friday, 2 October 2009

Conference finds a little faith in U2

DURHAM -- Ten years ago I heard a band from southern Ohio play U2's "Desire" with an acoustic guitar, a washtub bass and a rack of percussive chimes and shakers. At nearby Cedarville College, the Baptist school I attended, we weren't supposed to think about -- let along sing about -- "the fever when I'm beside her ... desi-eeyi-eeyi-eeyi-eeyer."
Growing up in the evangelical church, I learned suspicion of U2. We all knew they had belonged to a charismatic Christian church back in the '80s and liked to sing about Jesus, but what about Mephisto, Bono's "Dark Lord of Rock" from the "Zooropa" album?
I was a sophomore in 1997 when a senior tried to scalp tickets for the "Pop" tour; I was tempted. Then I heard the song "Wake Up, Dead Man," confirming what I had been told about U2 and other so called "Christian" artists: They were wolves beneath that wolfish face paint, leather pants and dark shades.

Back then, the prevailing wisdom at my alma mater was that U2 was just another "secular" band -- useless, at best, for the important work of saving souls and, at worst, a tool of Satan. Bono didn't actually help his case, what with calling the Risen Lord a "dead man" and all.
As a class officer planning student activities, I tried to book a band from Columbus who played original songs but also covered U2, along with some other bands.
"Are these guys a Christian band, or are these just Christians who have a band?" was the e-mail response I got from an administrator.
Students complained to their professors when a guest lecturer showed a U2 video in a compulsory chapel service.
We have all come a long way since then. As a rule, I am indifferent toward celebrity, and I don't want to lay messianic expectations on Bono any more than I do on our president.
But the man is my hero. He has used his one-of-a-kind voice to tell the world about AIDS in Africa and Third World debt and probably helped to save some souls in the process.
At my church, we often sing along to songs such as "Grace," "One" and "Walk On" modern-day hymns that unearth the human condition and let a little heaven shine in.
More important than my own metamorphosis, though, is the fact that Cedarville -- now a university -- has seen fit to give the biggest-band-in-the-world its own academic conference.

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