I didn’t know the word subversive when I moved to the United States. One of my friends/mentors introduced me to the word. Subversives intend to destabilize in a manner that is not a head-on collision. It is like the scattering of seed or the telling of parables, instead of planting a full grown plant one buries a seed under the ground. This seed has within itself the slow momentum of change or subversion. Sub = “from below” + vertere = “to turn”.
The person who taught me this has a link with the subverters I saw in action last night. Last night’s U2 concert was a classic example of the planting of seeds and subverting. As one hundred thousand people rocked to the singing, dancing and amazing visuals from one of the most successful bands of all time the potential of turning from below was released. Friends who have been to U2 concerts have told me that it is a spiritual experience. They weren’t wrong.
U2 masterfully weaved themes of humanity, love and freedom into the concert. A part of Mandela’s freedom speech was shown, Hugh Masekela performed as a guest artist and there was a message from Desmond Tutu. During Sunday bloody Sunday images of the Egyptian revolt was shown. There were also mentions of the AIDS pandemic and political prisoners and the band’s work with amnesty international.
The moment that blew me away was when the band introduced the famous song, “where the streets have no names” with a rendition of “Amazing grace”. Thousands of people were singing, jumping and crying together.
It is this capability of weaving that makes U2 one of the most subversive bands around. It felt like a worship experience … but better. Better in the sense that the weaving went beyond singing songs to God in the “Jesus-is-my-boyfriend” fashion. It was a singing that moved beyond individualism towards something bigger, or someone better. It moved between individual and community into the dark allies of issues needing justice.
Three of the four band members are Christians. At an early part of their career, which started in 1978, someone in their church had a prophecy that they should stop the band. When the band returned from a successful tour to their fellowship,“ … which at that time they craved and thrived upon, they were looking forward to the support of their spiritual family. Instead, they entered a tense situation where the fellowship was split over whether God wanted U2 to carry on or pack up their instruments”. [Walk on: The spiritual journey of U2 p.28]
They decided to keep on playing and applied themselves towards something bigger than the Christian ghetto. In Bono’s own words,It was hard to leave, but we didn’t understand we were kind of shunned. There was a moment where myself and Edge sat around and we thought: ‘Well, maybe we should knock this group on the head. Maybe it is frivolous, maybe these people are right, maybe this is just bullocks, this being in a band, and maybe just ego, and maybe we should put it behind us and just get to the real work of tring to change our own lives, and just get out into the world. There’s much to do there.’ For a couple of weeks, we were at that place. Then we came to a realization: ‘Hold on a second. Where are these gifts coming from? This is how we worship God, even though we don’t write religious songs, because we didn’t feel God needs the advertising.’ In fact, we ended up at a place where we thought: ‘The music isn’t bullocks. This kind of fundamentalism is what’s bullocks’. [Bono on Bono p.148-149]
It was this break with fundamentalism that moved them into the finer art and subtleties of subversion. This same fundamentalism was the reason why I only discovered the band in the late nineties. Before then I wasn’t allowed to listen to them because it was not Christian music.
As I mentioned three of the four are Christians. Adam is not and having him in the band is one of the reasons why I think they are subversive. In the words of Stockman, “Having a sceptic so close to their sense of vocation forced the band members to apply theur faith to wider issues than if they had been a naive, homogeneous bunch of believers.” p.32
Now back to my friend who taught me about being subversive. One day he got a phone call from Bono’s camp, you can read more about it here.