I can’t remember the last time I attended an event quite like this.
The Lumineers, as an opening act, were something to watch, but they couldn’t match the artistry and epic presence Bono and his Irish rock band brought to the stage. I mean, who can touch U2?
My friend and I arrived early, and as we milled around the food stands I decided this was the best spot EVER to people-watch. The diversity was unparalleled. Almost every human variation was represented: tall, small, conservative, eccentric, young, old, and everything in between. I could have stayed there watching for hours.
A few minutes before the concert began, we made our way to our seats in the nose-bleed section and observed far below as devoted fans streamed into the Rose Bowl to claim their spots.
Looking out over the 90,000 + capacity arena, it struck me that from our high vantage point, it was now uniformity that stood out, not uniqueness.
When there are that many people squeezed together, you can tell it’s a sea of people precisely because they all have skin and roughly similar body shapes. Individuality is swallowed up by distance and sheer mass.
All of us had come together for one purpose: to be entertained. What before made us distinct, was lost for a time when the music started and we were carried away with Bono’s charisma. The most devoted fans knew every song on the Joshua Tree album and, when urged, exuberantly sang unrestrained. Following Bono’s lead, we became one voice, and all differences were temporarily forgotten.
As the music swelled and faded, with drumbeats alternately anchoring us, or guitar interludes carrying us on wings, I got to thinking. We were there celebrating a man and his band who are living legacies. Through the years, Bono has proven himself to be a remarkable artist, poet, social activist, and philanthropist. He has carved out a place in history based on his unique giftedness and the way he has used his status to benefit others. Strangely, there were moments when I felt myself worshiping God during a song, even though the lyrics had nothing intrinsically spiritual about them.
I was led to praise the Creator, not the man, because I saw a man who was all in, without pretense, embracing his unique, God-given talent and living it out with humility and authenticity. He embodied his convictions and was sharing them in the unique way only he could, inspiring us all to live life fully, look beyond ourselves in order to care for the hurting, and make a difference in the world.
I loved every minute of the show, but when the last song was sung and the lights came up, the feeling quickly faded as I joined the throng of thousands scurrying to get to our cars or shuttle buses in an attempt to reach home before dawn. Even though it was an amazing experience, very little of a tangible sort remained except t-shirts, memories and some cool photos. We had been a passive, yet happy, body of observers celebrating someone else living out their passion.
I had plenty of time to ponder this during our 35-minute trek on foot back to the car. What would it look like if each Christ follower was just as engaged as Bono, using their giftedness, passion and creativity to work toward a common goal? What would it look like if I was truly content with who I am, happy to flow in my gift-mix, and disinterested in comparing myself with others? Instead of being passive observers, or surfers on someone else’s wave, what if the greater body was collaborating to create something beyond ourselves where each person’s role was recognized as necessary for success? Where each one embraced their unique, God-given talents and lived them out with humility and reckless abandon?
THAT, I concluded, would be the church Christ envisioned. His body, His bride, His masterpiece created to do good works He prepared in advance for us to do. With all eyes fixed on Him, and each individual flourishing out of a place of freedom, love would be the common denominator, unity the goal.
Then, when others observed from a distance, it would not be a mere homogeneous throng they would see, but the face of Christ. If they drew near, they would behold distinct individuals walking with purpose, uniquely expressing love with a flare all theirs, knowing their lives mattered and providing necessary contrast and color to the canvas.
Whoever set eyes on that masterpiece would be captivated by the Artist.
That concept transported my thoughts back to an art piece my husband and I had stumbled upon in a local gallery. It was a massive collage by the Thai artist, Virut P, comprised of tiny images torn from magazine pages.
Up close, the artist had painstakingly searched for just the right colors and shapes to join together on the canvas. Some pieces smaller, some larger, some darker, some lighter. All critical pieces for the whole to create depth, texture and contrast.
Regarded from a distance, it was the face of an elderly woman that materialized; a woman with kind eyes peering out intrepidly like one who is seasoned enough not care what you think, but mature enough not to judge. I felt immediately drawn to the piece and have a photo of it on my phone. It makes me smile. Makes me think. Inspires me.
It reminds me that in the body of Christ, God meant the whole to be far greater than its individual parts. But each individual part, with its unique shape, size and color, whether vibrant or subdued, is essential for the beauty of the piece. Essential. Individuality finds its fullest expression in community, and God wants us to show up and be our complicated, creative, irreplaceable, messy selves.
Our corporate pursuit of unity and love forms a magnificent collage that bids all who see it to linger in awe at the brilliance of the Master. Joined together, we become His magnum opus.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. –Ephesians 2:8-10
Tamara Carpenter is part of Newsong’s Board. You can read more of her writing on her blog: tamaracarpenter.com