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When you marry at 23, enter the ministry at 25, and pay off graduate school loans through your thirties, you forgo the concert scene. Yet because I am the pastor to the coolest community, I received, along with my husband, our music director and his spouse, u2 tickets with our Christmas bonuses. Little did I know back in December that simply watching Bono walk on stage would be a profound spiritual experience. In fact, my first concert in years, on a perfect July evening, was a Pentecost. Instantly, as Bono’s voice broke over the crowd of nearly 20,000, the air changed. The gathered multitude was on fire with the Holy Spirit. We were speaking in a new language of song and dance that connected us, beyond our backgrounds, beyond our age, even beyond our religions.
It might seem obvious I would connect spiritually to u2 live in concert since Bono is an outspoken progressive Christian. I have been following his global activism for years. Yet nothing Bono said about global poverty and AIDS surprised me, nor did the live music stir in me some new religious conviction. Instead, it was the electrifying Spirit that reverberated between Bono and the crowd. That Spirit unleashed a new and surprising experience. Bono’s mere physical presence—not his words, not his powerful song—charged the crowd. Never before in my life had the Spirit felt so palpable, so alive, so on fire. The Spirit’s electricity was multiplied by the gathered thousands. In that moment I wondered: What it was like when Jesus entered Jerusalem? Was the air charged with this same electric Spirit?
I am grateful that in my early Sunday school days I was exposed to the meek and mild Jesus. I have needed him throughout my life—a non-judgmental presence, always ready to listen and comfort me through hard days. But when I left childhood, I craved more than just the placid Sunday school Jesus who always held a well cuddly, smiling child on his lap. I rejoiced in my teens when I learned that Jesus upended tables, and I celebrated in college when I learned that Jesus excelled in theological sparring with the Pharisees.
Jesus was much more dynamic than Sunday school images suggest. In fact, Jesus must have possessed an electric charisma. I imagine that Jesus’ presence was so powerful, so magnetic, that those gathered to hear him preach were charged by his physical presence, just as the crowd of concertgoers were charged by U2. How else can you explain that Jesus’ ministry lasted perhaps no more than 3 months, yet he changed the course of history? How else can you explain that a man who overthrew no power structure, conquered no lands, published no books, and whose followers were a motley crew of ill-connected commoners turned the world upside down? Jesus possessed none of the worldly power we still value in our culture today, but Jesus did possess something much more powerful: charisma.
Charisma derives from the ancient Greek word, khárisma, that describes a divinely given power or gift. In Hebrew texts, charismatic leadership is generally signaled by the use of the noun “favor” (hen). These differing roots have merged through the multiple translations of the Bible to describe something divinely different and special about religious leaders who have received God’s favor. This favor, this gift, this charisma, is power rooted in the Spirit.
Bono is not Jesus. He is an imperfect, broken human like the rest of us. He knows it and admits it, thank God. Yet, like Jesus, God has given him a powerful spiritual gift. For this reason, as I felt the air electrify around me, watched people moved beyond their differences by song, saw them swaying to the music, I felt that I had some sense for what it must have been like to be in the presence of Jesus.
Jesus was a rock star. His charisma moved people to understand God anew. He electrified the air as he moved through the countryside and into Jerusalem. His vision broke open people’s hearts and changed the way they viewed the world, and in the end it was his God given Spirit-Gift that changed the world.
Rev. Abigail A Henrich (ehm!) is an ordained minister who earned her stripes at Princeton Theological Seminary and Colgate University. That said, Abby is really a mother-pastor-spouse who lives in a kinetic state of chaos as she moves from her many vocations: folding laundry, preaching, returning phone calls, sorting lunch boxes, answering e-mails, and occasionally thinking deep thoughts in the shower. Unabashedly she is a progressive Christian who believes some shaking up has got to happen in the church.