Standing Up, Walking On

by Heidi Unruh

On Sunday, October 18, I drove for four hours to a U2 concert. Not normally a concert-goer, I felt afterwards like a shell worn smooth by the waves of sound and light pulsing from the stage. We came home in the wee hours, exhilarated and exhausted.

Then, 17 years later on October 18, I did it again.

When we discovered that U2 was playing relatively near us on the exact anniversary of my first concert experience, my husband—whom I met the day after that first U2 concert—insisted that we find a way to go, bless him. (Though trying to write this column after getting home around 5am shows that I'm either dedicated or crazy.)

Besides a new song list, the main difference from the earlier concert was the change in tone, from narcissistic glam-rock to glam with a social conscience. At one point Bono, co-founder of

the One Campaign,( urged the crowd of some 50,000 to join the "Stand Up and Take Action" initiative in support of the Millennium Development Goals—( and we all obediently and literally stood up, waving lit cell phones like torches. OK, it was a cheesy moment, but I went with the tide.

Then Bishop Desmond Tutu appeared on the ginormous high-tech video screen to talk about "the kind of people who make a difference." With his trademark grin, he called on the assembled crowd to make our mark on the world on issues such as extreme poverty and AIDS. You can be that kind of people, he told us—half assurance, half challenge.

I couldn't help but think that this "kind of people" are also the ones who tend to get brutally murdered in the streets, as we were reminded by images of the protesters for democracy in Iran that accompanied the anti-war song "Bloody Sunday." Or who are imprisoned for their activism, like Aung San Suu Kyi, who was placed under house arrest by the Burmese military junta after being elected Prime Minister in 1990. U2 dedicated the song "Walk On" to her heroism. (For inspiring stories of Christian heroes of faith who died and lived for the Micah 6:8 call to "do justice and love mercy," see the "Not to Be Forgotten"  profiles from PRISM magazine.)

How easy and exciting it is to stand up for the idea of justice. How extraordinarily difficult it is to "walk on" through the valleys and over the mountains of actually doing justice, on a path almost inevitably marked by suffering.

Much has been written about U2's subliminal and subversive brand of Christianity. Do they sell Christianity short by preaching a Christ-less social gospel? Do they replace the distinctness of Christian discipleship with an indeterminate theism and sentimental quest for the "one"-ness of all humanity? Are they using faith to sell albums, or using their fame to sell faith?

Jason Byassee, ( Duke Divinity staff and U2 fan, says there is a risk in the band's populist social activism that "God's good news in Christ can be easily reduced to do-gooderism, … reducing faith to the sum total of our impressive good deeds," but that this danger is checked in balance with "U2's passionate love for humanity and its fury at how we treat one another."

I don't know how the line should be drawn for judging U2's statements of faith. Personally, I'm more concerned about where the line will come down for me. On judgment day, God won't be quizzing me on U2's theology but on my own lived response to the grace and truth of Christ—how I have "worked out my salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).

I wonder if Aung San Suu Kyi ever wonders, in her prison of a home, whether it was worth it to leave the comforts and prestige of an academic and diplomatic life in London to return to the oppressive political climate of Burma. To risk putting herself forward as a candidate in the besieged pro-democracy movement, only to have the people's victory quashed by a power-greedy military junta. To stay in Burma when given the opportunity to leave, even though it meant being separated from her children, even though it meant grieving as her husband died alone of cancer in England, because she doubted she would be able to return to Burma to finish her life's work. To keep believing in and advocating for nonviolent political change, while marking off two decades' worth of days of violent military rule. I wonder if she ever regrets her choice to stand for justice.

And then I think of another kind of regret. Mark 10:17-21 tells the story of a seeker of truth, who chased Jesus down to ask him the burning question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus rattled off the usual list of Commandments, which the man had devoutly observed since childhood, but they both knew that mere piety could not satisfy the relentless hunger in his soul.

"Jesus looked at him and loved him. 'One thing you lack,' he said. 'Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.' At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

We have two choices. We can either go on our way with our intact treasuries of time and treasure, comfort and ease and safety, and an insatiable spiritual sadness because we failed to spend it all on what really matters. Or we can choose a different way, the Jesus way, that leads to very hard places, with only Jesus' love as our compass and reward. I can imagine a vast "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 21:1) cheering on those who set out on this improbable path of justice and peace and love, with exponentially more excitement than the floor crowd at the concert yesterday.

As International Justice Mission President Gary Haugen writes in Just Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian, "Do we want to be brave or safe? Gently, lovingly, our heavenly Father wants us to know that we simply can't be both."

She's a rainbow and she loves the peaceful life

Knows I'll go crazy if I don't go crazy tonight

There's a part of me in the chaos that's quiet

And there's a part of you that wants me to riot

It's not a hill, it's a mountain

As you start out the climb

Do you believe me, or are you doubting

We're gonna make it all the way to the light

But I know I'll go crazy if I don't go crazy tonight


Every generation gets a chance to change the world

Pity the nation that won't listen to your boys and girls

Cos the sweetest melody is the one we haven't heard

Is it true that perfect love drives out all fear?

The right to appear ridiculous is something I hold dear

Oh, but a change of heart comes slow

It's not a hill, it's a mountain

As we start out the climb

Listen for me, I'll be shouting

Shouting to the darkness, squeeze out sparks of light


– U2, "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" (

In addition to being the ePistle's Public Policy community editor, Heidi Unruh is director of the Congregations, Community Outreach and Leadership Development Project, providing research and consulting on faith-based community ministries. She is also the co-editor, along with Ron Sider, of Hope for Children in Poverty. (


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