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

    By Jeremy | October 18, 2005

    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. 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 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 to me it revealed 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.]


    Topics: articles, culture, emerging church, evangelical, evangelism, missional | No Comments »

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