Relevant?

Relevant Magazine recently posted this article on their website. The article is written by a woman named Tara Leigh Cobble who had a bad experience at a U2 concert. In a nutshell, she was shocked by Bono’s saying over and over ““Jesus, Jew, Mohammed-all true. Jesus, Jew, Mohammed-all true.” This made her feel as though Bono was promoting a universalist mindset when it comes to faith. Bono, being someone many christians look up to, seemed to be promoting something that makes many christians uneasy. The problem with this article was that she didn’t understand clearly what Bono was actually saying and she didn’t do much research to support the point of her article. Based on the show I personally witnessed in Las Vegas and the live dvd of their Chicago show Bono was saying “Jesus, Jew, Mohammed…it’s true… all sons of Abraham.” That statement is actually true and doesn’t promote a universalist agenda but rather it points out that these faiths have a commonality and that we should build upon that common bond in peace rather then continuing to blow each other up.

Just as one would expect, the writing and publishing of this article on Relevant’s website has caused quite a stir. People who embrace Bono are defending his statement and those who are simply sick and tired of the idolizing of Bono are generally supporting her concerns. Needless to say, it’s become a very heated and much talked about piece. The blogosphere is having at it, much like me, and the Relevant.com message boards are on fire with activity with people expressing their views.

What’s very interesting about all this is that this article is not the first offering of an opinion on Bono and U2 by Relevant Media. They published a book by Steve Stockman entitled “Walk On” which chronicles the spiritual journey of U2, but focuses heavily on Bono and his Christian faith. This book seems to fall in direct opposition to this recent article because it makes a very strong case for the genuine Christian faith that Bono indeed promotes and does his best to practice. Steve Stockman, on his website, released a very well written response to the Relevant piece and I highly recommend it. Here is an excerpt:

Just one last thing and I promise I don’t mean it to be a cheap shot. Tara says of this rock concert moment, “It was, without question, the most disturbing experience of my life; I felt like I’d been covered in bile.” We have thousands of children dying because they don’t have the water and drugs that we take for granted. We have three people having more control over wealth than the sixty poorest nations. We have wars raging, some of us involved in the killing of thousands of civilians for the most dubious of reasons. We are raping the creation of our God and Father and it is causing catastrophic “natural” tragedies. In the season when God made himself poor, we are lavishing one another with joke presents and gratifying our sick materialism while people die of hunger. Only 13% of evangelical Christians in America are interested in helping with the HIV/AIDS pandemic in southern Africa. Anti-Christs are rampant and ravaging the world and the most disturbing thing is a misquote from a rock star. God forgive us. At least Bono believes He will!

I realize that although this was very poor display of journalism, it was an honest mistake by the author of the article. She misunderstood the concept Bono was trying to communicate and her article was written out of that misunderstanding. But what I’ve had a hard time understanding is why the editors of Relevant Media would allow this story to be published in the first place. With some simple fact checking, which is a very basic practice for any credible journalistic effort, this confusion could have been avoided and Bono would have not been represented in a false light. Whether we love or hate Bono, none of us would want to be falsely criticized due to misinformation like he has been by this Relevant article.

If Relevant Magazine wants to remain true to their name, they must do better than to allow this story and stories like this to appear under their banner of “relevance”. They’ve set the bar high for themselves as simply being “Relevant” at all times is not easy. Nevertheless, this is what they are striving for and I wonder why they don’t consider that this story and others like it will work towards the undermining of their overall effort. Yes, this story has caused quite a stir and has brought with it a huge amount of attention and debate. I’m sure that relevant.com is experiencing a spike in traffic and more attention for their book “Walk On”. I’m sure they will sell a few more cute t-shirts with witty christian sayings on them. These are all great things to happen when operating a for-profit business but they come at the cost of a hollow relevance.

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18 thoughts on “Relevant?

  1. Hi Zach,
    You’ve obviously taken some time to think over this. You may want to stop by the link below where I share two quotes from Tara Leigh that I think are worth consideration. I discovered them in my personal research and an e-mail exchange with the author, who I’ve never spoken to before. These are also available at the Relevant forum, but may be harder to find there.

    http://parkeb4.blogspot.com/2005/12/u2-controversy.html

    I’ve really appreciated your TheoHacks show to this point, as John can tell you. Keep up the thoughtful contributions to this and other dialogs.

  2. The author discusses her “main point of the article” in the link above, about how it being not the quotes, but the fact that she “idolized” Bono. However, she spends about four sentences in the second to last paragraph expressing this “main point.” So much for her excuse of not having enough room because of the “format” of the online article.

    And she does say that “I’m not saying Bono is the antichrist” but she did include the fact that her friend told her that she felt she was “witnessing the antichrist,” and that she felt the same as her friend did.

    That plus the whole covered in bile comment –. I’m not mad because I’m a U2 fan or because it’s Bono. I’m a bit annoyed at her rather shameful journalistic tactics — on purpose or not — that she employed to “dismantle” a public figure on such a platfrom as Relevant.

    In addition, shame on the Relevant team for bypassing their fact-checking here … but it is a trend to pick on Bono of late … so maybe that’s the problem with being “Relevant,” you’re always hoping on band-wagons.

    But whatever keeps the sales up and the traffic flowing for inward-facing for-prof’s and their writers, eh?

  3. Parke, if the whole point of the article was for Cobble to communicate the idea that it’s bad to idolize Bono at the expense of following Jesus, then my response to that idea would be, “no shit”. i think Cobble could have communicated this without slandering another believer.

    besides, if you are a publication allowing artists in the christian music world to write your “op-eds”, then I guess you have a little criticism coming your way.

    after i bought a dozen “jesus is my homeboy” t shirts from the relevant “store”, i listened to the podcast and they said that Steve Stockman will be writing an article for Relevant in response to the cobble piece. after i bought some relevant wrist bands, i thought to myself how that article might be really cool. you know, an article written by an actual professional writer who can hopefully avoid slander and hyperbole for dramatic effect.

  4. You make a good point in saying that Relevant should have checked the facts before printing such a loaded piece – it’s an aspect of this whole argument that I hadn’t considered before. But, I sense a good deal of hostility towards Relevant in general. Maybe you could give us a post on that subject? I know that Relevant is flawed, but I think to write it off is a dangerous mistake. It’s a great forum for young Christians to discuss things that matter.

    It’s just that I see this dislike of Relevant by you and others to be indicative of major problem with “progressivism” – they want change and discussion, but when it comes, they are never satisfied, and they are always, always above it; they’re always too smart, too cool, too spiritual.

    We should welcome arguments like this and thank Relevant for providing us the opportunity.

  5. Matt, I don’t dislike relevant. I do feel it has benefits for many young christians, but when something like this happens, I hope they use it as an opportunity to sharpen what it is they do and that’s the point of my post. I am clearly not saying that we should ignore relevant magazine altogether, but if we care about being progressive, then I know relevant can do much better than circulating this article.

    My comments regarding the relevant store may seem a little bit more biting. That’s because I think the relevant store is absurd.

  6. Ok….”absurd” might be too strong a word. I’ll settle for “a bit silly”. They have published some great books, but I guess it’s the witty christian t-shirts that make me cringe.

  7. Ha. Well, I like the idea of the book label, and have thoroughly enjoyed one of those books (“Flashbang”), but I haven’t checked out the rest of the relevantstore. For the record, I’m of the opinion that pretty much any “Christian” t-shirt and most “Christian” merchandise in general is a silly idea, so I see your point.

    And you’re right about the magazine. I think that even though it’s a few years old, it’s still a young thing, and I think they’re still finding their footing and their place. Hopefully they’ll learn through things like this.

  8. Please pardon my Zach for going a bit off topic here — but I remember the very first issue of Relevant and the first year or so of the online magazine and their ideals and goals and directions as stated then. Granted things change — but they have taken a giant leap into a commercialized Christian corner; something that they once (ever so smoothly) disapproved other Christian organziations from doing.

    Whereas once content involved something organic, relevant, and authentic, now there is alot of typical Christian advertising, alot of typical merchandise, and alot of the “Church” midnset being rehashed in a format with a bit “hipper” of a layout. But again the company is a for-prof and this is apparently what it takes to “make it” in a Christian marketplace.

    For me, personally, I just saw this as one more piece in a landslide that goes from independent integrity to Christian band-wagon hoping; something that is a bit disheartening to see to those of us who remember what the original Relevant was like.

  9. I entered the dialog, at Relevant, my blog and here because I and others were starting to think of Tara Leigh, the writer, in the abstract sense. Relevant’s editorial actions or lack thereof and the effectiveness of the article should be examined, but that was never my aim.

    Frankly, I’ve had my fill of issues as a moderator. I’m more concerned that whether we write articles or respond to them we consider our impact on the people involved. Others have Bono more than covered. I’m contributing what I can about the writer, suggesting we extend grace and learn what we can from the experience. Mainly, I wanted to offer you and others here the opportunity to consider some additional thoughts in the process.

  10. Extending grace is a great thought Parke. If I’ve not extended grace to Tara Cobble then I apologize. I guess my whole point is that if Cobble and the editors of Relevant had extended a little grace to Bono, we wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.

    Relevant is indeed important for christians and it is a valuable resource. If that is going to remain the case, then slandering and misrepresenting a fellow believer, in this case Bono, should not be used as an opportunity to spark “healthy discusion” or to learn about a certain issue. There are other, or more graceful ways to bring about discussion and debate.

    Thanks for your comment and participation on this blog. Its forced me to review my words and has nudged me to clarify my position.

  11. I think we’ve both challenged each other in good ways. I’ve certainly benefited from your words. I hope you and my fellow commenters here have a good Christmas Day with family or friends.

  12. Indeed, everyone here was challenged. Tara is a person and should have grace extended to her indeed, and hopefully something was learned by her out of all this as well. Forgiveness and grace are a must, and this really is a matter that has probably caused alot more argument against fellow believes then it should, all over the web.

    As a Christian, I will say it is hard for me not to be judgemental towards Tara based on what was written and towards Relevant for the lack of accountability behind it; but in the Kingdom of Christ, this is really a silly thing to argue about.

    At the same time, as a writer and a reader, it will be difficult for me now to trust much of her work without second-guessing, and has lessoned my desire to work with Relevant on any future writing. So is that where discernment would then come in, rather then judgement? Not sure.

    But regardless, what’s done is done and pretty much everything has been said that can be said.

    On that note of awkward transition, Merry Christmas.

  13. (wow…looks like I missed a lot. Our computer had a virus.) Overall, I’d like to see the writers of Relevant take some time to read through many of the books available to teach one how to think criticly about art, Christianity, and how the two come together. We have over a hundred years of godly philosophers and thinkers who have fascinating theories on this subject, and Relevants writers could become stronger and more powerful by taking time to develop their technique. I find their writing to generally be “relevant” but not challenging.

  14. thanks for the comment randy. maybe you’ve noticed but i’ve removed the link you listed. i don’t want links to that blog anywhere near this blog and i hope you understand why. thanks.

  15. Hey Zach! I know this is an old post, but I stumbled upon it in a Google sesh and just wanted to point out that I gave up on Relevant a long time ago when I heard Cameron said on his podcast that he hated Star Wars and thought anyone who liked it was a real geek… At that point I knew his magazine/website/podcast, etc. wasn’t going to be very “relevant” to me…

    I know it sounds fickle and shallow in light of the point Steve Stockman’s making. But I’m on Steve’s side, and Bono’s side, too. What that has to do with Star Wars, I don’t know.

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