NOTE: I wrote this piece for the Patheos blog on the subject “Spiritual Lessons I Learned on My Summer Vacation.”
I was a late arriver to the world of U2. They’d been popular for decades before I realized that the band who wrote Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, also wrote other great songs.
U2 came to Washington, DC on the first leg of their 360 Tour in September 2009. My husband and I bought mezzanine seats and loved the concert. As the 360 suggests, the stage set-up includes a circular runway out into the crowd, which connects to the stage by moveable bridges. Thanks to the giant screens, I watched the fans adore Bono beneath those bridges, their hands waving in the air.
When U2 added a Baltimore stop to the end of the tour, we decided to go again, but this time as real fans, General Admission. We arrived at the stadium three hours before the doors opened and joined a zigzag line that had begun the previous night. The sun beat down while we chatted with other fans. A few were our age, but most were the ages of our children. It didn’t matter, they were all our new best friends.
U2 fans are family, someone said, and there was a murmur of agreement. A guy selling beer made frequent stops. A whisky flask passed by with regularity. Even with all this good cheer, the wait was interminable. I shifted side to side. When was the last time I stood in one place, in the sun, for this many hours? Now and then I changed places to wait for a stinky porta-potty. I wondered why we didn’t just buy mezzanine tickets like last time. Could the fan experience possibly be worth this? Why was I suffering for a man named Bono?
Eventually someone came to dispense the precious bright-green wristbands. According to the stamped number, we were within the first 500 people. The stadium holds more than 80,000. When the gates finally opened and we poured onto the field, I was incredulous that we could make our way around the circular runway, to the very edge of the stage. We were eye to eye with the security guy on the other side of the railing, so close we had to tilt our heads to see over the edge of the stage.
After the initial euphoria, there were two more hours of sunlight to endure, plus a warm-up band. A woman on my left asked me my name and said she was Bridget. Then she introduced me to her nieces, Irish beauties in their early teens with wavy brown hair and freckles.
Before I could even confirm the girls’ names in the noise of the crowd, Bridget got serious. She pointed two fingers at my eyes, then to the girls’ eyes. Girls! This is Ruth. You got it? While I get snacks, she’s here. You understand?
I was taken aback, so I teased: What, do I look like a mother?
Oh, I trust everybody at a U2 concert, Bridget said.
After she returned with French fries and water bottles, Bridget told me about her family. She had flown out of Colorado for this concert, and the girls had flown out of New York. The entire extended family was present, in various locations, which she pointed out around the stadium. Bridget said, My family can’t agree on a single thing. Not politics. Or religion. Or anything. But we all love U2. It’s the one thing that unites us.
One of the nieces piped up, U2 was playing when I was born. The other, not to be outdone, said, I was conceived to U2. Their freckles glowed. Or that may simply have been the sun, setting behind them.
Bridget continued to expand our little circle, bringing in a young man on her other side and the people in front of us. She was a natural evangelist.
Maybe the church parallels are obnoxious, but I can’t help them. I can’t help wishing we had more people like Bridget, spilling passion and warmth. I can’t help wishing our Presbyterian family could agree that, despite everything else, we all adore the band. And maybe that’s enough.
At last the warm-up band, Florence & the Machine, played. Then, after a total of six hours of standing, it was time. The U2 band members took their places. Adam Clayton, the bass player, was directly in front of us. A few yards to his left, Bono grabbed the mike. Further back, Larry Mullen was barely visible behind his drum set. On the other side of the stage I could see The Edge’s stocking cap.
The first number was Even Better than the Real Thing. The sound quality was incredible and the lyrics surprisingly clear:
Give me one more chance
And you’ll be satisfied
Give me two more chances
You won’t be denied
You take me higher . . .
You’re the real thing
I threw my arms overhead and waved them side to side. I had suffered to be here. I had united with my fellow fans. I had earned my place at the band’s feet. And now it was time for the adoration to begin, and I didn’t intend to hold back!
How can I say this without sounding ridiculous? Well then, I’ll just say it. The feelings I experienced were cosmic. The music transported me to another place, a place as close to the Kingdom of God as I’ve ever been. I felt mystically connected to the 80,000 other people in the stadium, strangers all. I didn’t want any song to end. Call me Peter, but I wanted to build a booth and stay forever.
Preachers like to say that actions precede feelings. Have you heard that truism? If we want to feel loving, we need to first act in a loving way. If we want to feel full of faith, we need to act faithfully. If we want to feel like a disciple of Jesus, we need to act like a disciple.
But it wasn’t until I was in that stadium with my hands in the air that the power of this really hit me.
You got to do what you should
With each other
But we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other