Edmonton – June 2, 2011 – In 1988, in Anzac, Alberta I painted the walls of a Northland School Division teacherage making it home for my wife and I in our second year of marriage. That fall, I listened and painted as a song aired for the first few times on the local FM radio station from Fort McMurray featuring Robbie Robertson and familiar ‘Joshua Tree’ vocals as back-up to the song with also familiar chiming guitar work. As I listened I was confirming the sacred arena that the lyrics were dealing with. Backing to the song was provided by Bono and Edge of U2. The song, Sweet Fire of Love, alluded to and opened out the experience of awakening to the Holy Spirit’s work. In the lyrics, awakening was the issue and the story side of the song had a biographical element, something true and encountered by members of U2.
I would read about such awakening in Steve Stockman’s Walk On – The Spiritual Journey of U2, a book originating in response to a Canadian in Vancouver, British Columbia challenging Steve to set out proofs that members of U2 were Christian. There was much disbelief about U2 being Christian. The band’s appeal to audiences would seem worldly and something quite far away from … ministry. Yet, Steve set about looking through the U2 canon to establish context and biblical reference for U2 songs and in doing so exposed the bad and good, the hurt and the love experienced in the current Church. Moreover, Steve considered the role contemporary secular and Christian music play in overcoming or ameliorating a grace-filled Christian walk.
Throughout this time of challenge regarding U2’s credible Christian walk, Steve hosted a Sunday radio show called Rhythm and Soul on BBC Radio Ulster (8:00 p.m. – Ulster, 1:00 p.m. – Alberta) that examined Christian message found in contemporary Christian and secular music; over the internet, I tuned in from 2002 to 2007. By the time Rhythm and Soul completed its run, Steve had written three books considering music in the Christian walk, completed a Masters of Theology, led youth (young adult) missions trips to Cape Town, South Africa and had served as Dean of Derryvolgie Hall at Queens University in Belfast, Ireland. In the summer of 2005, I enjoyed an hour’s visit and dialogue with Steve at Regent College (Vancouver, British Columbia). After a few years, Steve became chaplain at Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast, Ireland; he now has a blog that follows from his Rhythm and Soul days and his Rhythms of Redemption blog – its called Soul Surmise. For Steve, Bono of U2 remains his favourite Irish pastor. For me, I finally got to see U2 in Edmonton, Alberta at Commonwealth Stadium in my forty-ninth year, days before I would turn fifty – 2 June 2011.
The photographs presented here capture something of the evening. It being an overcast day on June 2, 2011, the night became chilly and U2 donned extra clothing to stay warm. The evening held stories of Bono hitch-hiking in a Vancouver rainstorm and being picked up by a Vancouver Canuck’s player who Bono rewarded with tickets to the Edmonton performance. Bono sought out a female audience member to sing a Canadian tune, Neil Young’s Heart of Gold. The whole of the stadium knew each song of the U2 canon; all sang with U2, and together. As I would remark later – I was glad to be able to take my wife, daughter and son to see a live performance by a band whose music has filled our home through the years – a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime night.
Here’s the set list.
Curious quote for the pondering:
“… some may call it blasphemy
But I believe it’s true
God lies there beside you in the gutter
And grace, like a mother holds you.” ~ Steve Stockman, from poem, Up on Scarlet Street
Listening to Ryan Adams’ Wonderwall from the album, Love is Hell
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