Arts & Culture & Public Square

Stewarding America: U2’s Challenge to Uphold Liberty and Justice for All

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I was surrounded by a sea of twinkling smartphone flashlights lifted to the sky as tens of thousands of fans sang in unison, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

On a warm summer evening at FedEx Field, we all were enjoying U2’s “The Joshua Tree” concert in Washington, D.C. Their stop in the nation’s capital was part of the 30th anniversary tour of the release of the “The Joshua Tree” album, a Grammy-Award winning, top selling album of all time with over 25 million copies sold.

It was my first U2 concert, and it was everything I had hoped for—the stunning visuals, the band’s signature “ambient”-style rock music, the pulsating crowd. Yet, I left with both a longing and a discomfort that was provoked by the music and its message. I think that’s exactly the response the band had hoped for.

“The Joshua Tree” album includes some of U2’s most popular and spiritually-provoking songs, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and “With or Without You.” The album was an outgrowth of both the band’s love for America but also its growing awareness of global poverty. After a trip to Africa prior to the album’s release, the band’s lead singer Bono told The Rolling Stone magazine:

Spending time in Africa and seeing people in the pits of poverty, I still saw a very strong spirit in the people, a richness of spirit I didn’t see when I came home…I saw the spoiled child of the Western world. I started thinking, ‘They may have a physical desert, but we’ve got other kinds of deserts.’ And that’s what attracted me to the desert as a symbol of some sort.

And that’s allegedly why they chose the name for the album as “The Joshua Tree,” a tree that thrives in the desert.

Thirty years later, poverty and injustice are still at the forefront of the band’s collective mind. Throughout the concert, Bono passionately prodded the audience in the world’s most powerful city to pay attention to the cause of the poor, the vulnerable, and the oppressed. He celebrated the great American experiment of freedom and flourishing and reminded us of the world’s innate desire to experience the same.

“America is everybody’s country,” Bono said. He challenged the audience to understand that we as U.S. citizens are America’s stewards and must be vigilant to uphold its founding ideals.

Americans may disagree on how best pursue those ideals, but we can join U2 in the outcry over injustice in our fallen world. Things are not the way they’re supposed to be.

But the band’s music is not just an outcry, it’s also a chorus of hope and of longing for something good—of finally finding what you’re looking for.

As believers, our hope transcends America; stewarding America well is not simply about sustaining the country itself but about doing our part within God’s grand plan for restoring all creation.

The pivotal component in this plan occurred 2,000 years ago, as Jesus announced the in-breaking of his kingdom, a new reign that would champion the very things that U2’s music longs for:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19)

Many of America’s founders were inspired by this biblical vision of “liberty and justice for all”—for everyone to have the opportunity to live into their God-given design and, as George Washington said, sit under their own “vine and fig tree.”

As IFWE economist Anne Bradley has written, the founders paved the way for us to freely use our God-given creativity to enjoy the fruits of our labor and to bless others through our work:

The society created by the founders’ courageous actions has allowed individuals to benefit themselves and others through markets by using their gifts, talents, and resources to create value in a world of scarcity. This is the basis for flourishing.

During the concert, Bono spoke out about the refugee crisis and showed us a video of a Syrian girl who gave us a tour of her refugee camp and told the audience she wanted to be in America. Her longing to be free and to grow up and become all she was designed to be is a God-given desire within us all.

Our founders risked their lives to establish religious, political, and economic freedom to provide individuals, like this little girl, the freedom to flourish. How easily we take this freedom for granted.

As we celebrate Independence Day today, join me in thanking God for the blessing of freedom and in making a renewed commitment to the role we each can play in stewarding America well.

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