Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I went to a U2 concert (and other reflections on missional living)

I went to see U2 at the Staples Center on November 2, in Los Angeles. Regrettably, it's my first U2 concert. In 1993, I had an opportunity to see U2 in Madrid with a bunch of college buddies, but that was at a time in my life when I viewed the world through fundamentalist Christian lenses (I actually wrote a paper my freshman year naively claiming pride in fundamentalism), and perceived that my testimony would somehow become "defiled" if I hung out at bars and rock concerts. (Check out Matt's post on viral sin for more on this misguided view.) It was a contradiction embedded in a zealous, (dare I say it?) Pharisaical faith. While I knew intellectually that the New Testament Jesus sought out the company of "sinners," turned nonalcoholic beverages into fine wine, identified with "the least of these," and did so many things that fundamentalist American Christians conveniently avoid, it never occurred to me to question why fundies were so disengaged until ... May 1994. I had just completed my junior year and this time time we were on the Greek island of Santorini. Jason arrived a day or two after the rest of us, and we were catching up on a busy semester while enjoying another spectacular Aegean sunset with friends. When the sun dipped beyond the horizon, the group headed off to a bar and Jason invited me to go. For the first time in three years, something in me compelled me to say yes.
[Click images for larger view. These pictures are of the actual sunset in the story.]

We sat at the bar mostly small talking, him with his beer and me religiously sipping a Ginger Ale with lime. About an hour later, ten or twelve students decided to return to the hotel pool. The poolside conversation wandered back and forth from Greece and summer plans to music and movies. Someone even mentioned Star Trek, making me wonder what I was doing there.

Then Debbie, always good for a provocative question or incendiary comment, turned to me and asked, loudly enough for all to hear, something like: "So Jeremy, what is it with Christians and martyrdom?" The rest of the conversation seemed to screetch to a halt as I stammered about in search of an answer, saying something about having an eternal perspective and finding meaning in life in what endures rather than that which is temporal. Truthfully, I don't remember exactly what I said, but what happened next I'll never forget. It became a defining moment of my college career and helped transform my thinking on how to engage unbelievers in questions of faith.

At first glance, Debbie's question may have seemed cynical, but it betrayed a sincere curiosity about Christianity in general and, more specifically, how Christians relate to the real world. It also struck a nerve with the rest of the group, because the ensuing dialogue lasted hours, until 3 or 4 am, and the size of the group grew steadily as students dragged in from late night parties and found their way into our circle. When enough people got chilly, we even moved indoors to the floor of one of the hotel rooms. I felt like the sacrificial lamb forced to endure rapid fire questions, the focused attention of skeptical college students, and the vulnerability of laying bare everything I believed. But at the same time I knew that I was experiencing an answer to years of prayers that God might somehow use me to reveal Himself to my friends.

The next day on the beach, Al approached privately to talk about the night before. He had been at the pool, quietly observing the conversation, and something stirred inside him. He said the experience reminded him of the stories he had heard in Catholic school of how Jesus dialogued with pharisees and sinners. He confessed that his was a nominal, cultural faith, and that the prior night challenged him to dig deeper. What should he read that summer, he asked.

I recommended the Gospel of John, as any good fundamentalist would, and to my surprise he actually read it. The following semester he signed up for a Bible study on John in my dorm room. One night, he was the only student who attended, but together we revisited the first chapter -- the one on the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, the incarnational stuff that we had experienced together three months before in Santorini.

Al accepted Christ's invitation to follow Jesus that evening, one of only two students I prayed with in this way in seven years at NYU. The second, Gene, made a similar decision as Al two years later, when he "dwelt among" Al and me as our roommate.

I had started my university career thinking I was sent to be Billy Graham on campus. I believed that if I would preach, "they" would come and receive Jesus. I was wrong. In hindsite, I can't help but wonder that if I had spent less time trying to "evangelize" in the fundamentalist sense of the word and more time "living among" my peers -- socializing after hours, attending U2 concerts, being involved in their lives -- then maybe I would have been a more effective "witness" in the incarnational sense of the word. Whenever I was most effective, it seems I was doing the small things, like sipping coffee in the dorm's courtyard, working on a group project, or chatting around a pool after hanging out in a bar.

[Jason (l.) and Al (r.), in Greece. Al graduated Harvard Law in 2002 and now works at a DC law firm after clerking for a DC Circuit Court judge. Jason graduated Columbia Law, works at a NY firm and represents Generation Xcel and Abounding Grace in their ongoing eviction battle.]


At 10/19/2005 06:04:00 PM, Anonymous David Ramos said...


I too lived in fundamentalist bubble for all of ten years. Interesting enough it took a song to shake me up. I heard this (dare I say) secular song that I immediately liked, and asked the person next to me what the name of that new song was. His response floored me, he looked at me with bizarre look of disbelief and said, "New song? That's an oldie!" The song was apparently seven years old and it was the first time I had heard it.

Looking back now I believe that my time within these paradigms was necessary and even helpful (God definitely knew I needed strict boundaries). They were building blocks that led to a deepening of faith as well as allowing for my own maturity.

May the Lord continue to use you to reach the world for Christ.


P.S. If you can get me tickets I'll pay for them and go with you!

At 10/19/2005 07:24:00 PM, Anonymous Timbo said...

Double check your date. U2 is at Staples Center on November 1st and 2nd, they are not playing on the 3rd, and they are in Vegas on the 4th and 5th.

At 10/19/2005 08:15:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Del Rio said...

Tim, you're right. It's the 2nd, not the 3rd.

David, I wish I had extra tickets to share, but a friend is hooking me up with one of his.

At 10/20/2005 07:21:00 AM, Anonymous David Ramos said...

Enjoy my brother, I'm sure it will be a night to remember!

At 10/21/2005 02:52:00 AM, Blogger Gene said...

“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.” (John 1:10) I dwelt among AL & Jeremy and they knew me not! Just kidding.

Regarding your missions comments:

I have heard leaders claiming that their ministries had converted thousands and thousands. But I wonder if all of those thousands or even millions of people who claim to believe will enter heaven? Only God knows.

What about those who have never and will never hear the name Jesus. Many people will never see, read or hear any words of the bible. Today more people hear because of technology & the global media, but many will still never hear. The bible says there is no excuse. (Romans 1:20 NIV) And yet there is hope because it also says: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand”. (Romans 15:21 NIV) I like to think God can get it done without people help. Can people fail to spread the Gospel to everyone ever born? You better know people can fail. Only God is perfect. People have not spread the gospel to every person ever born. But I like to think God has His ways to overcome mankind’s limitations.

Regarding going to Bars and U2 concerts:

Paul discussed the “strong and weak” Christians. The strong not caring about eating meat sacrificed to idols. The weak thinking God would judge them for this. Paul talks about being all things to all people - if it meant saving them. He was also willing to give up his own salvation to save his (Jewish) people. In the end he was willing to do absolutely anything to lead a person to the Lord. This is the sticking point here. But there will be consequences: physical, mental and possibly spiritual.

Paul of the bible gets beaten, insulted, and then finally murdered. But these are just physical hurts. The worst that could happen at a U2 concert is listening to Bono’s political opinions! LOL. Not to mention ringing ears if you are near the speakers.

Secular environments are often depressing and just outright evil. After a while I think it gets to most people to live in this kind of atmosphere. Ideally we are supposed to guard our hearts more than anything else and keep ourselves pure. However, someone who really knows God and loves Him with everything they’ve got can go almost anywhere. But you know all of us are imperfect. And we all will fail and even fall. Remember Paul had a thorn in his flesh, too.

In the end there was only one who literally “went into hell for a heavenly cause”. Jesus already did the impossible and nothing we do will ever come close to that.

Glory be to the Lord.


At 10/22/2005 04:58:00 PM, Blogger Gene said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10/22/2005 05:04:00 PM, Blogger Gene said...

Just wanted to apologize for the earlier post. It was written with the mind and not from the heart. I just wanted to say that I am very grateful to have met people Al and yourself. I think you are what the bible calls the light of the world and the salt of the Earth. I am grateful for Abounding Grace & Generation Xcel. I am grateful to have met so many good people. Without you guys the world would be a much darker place. A good seed grows and multplies. Better to have a few good seeds than many bad ones. God Bless You!


At 10/26/2005 05:03:00 PM, Blogger Jeremy Del Rio said...


No need to apologize for either comment. They're all great questions and insights. The sruggle to reconcile head/heart issues and know how to balance the tensions inherent in "being" a witness are ongoing for me as well.


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