There is no them
There is no them
There is only us
There is only us
– from “Invisible” by U2
No one could preach a better sermon than the one U2 preached Monday night on Jimmy Fallon’s big night as the host of the new Tonight show.
The Tonight Show, since 1954, has been a cultural icon, bathing bedrooms across America in the blue glow of late-night television. After Johnny Carson’s 30-year signature, followed by 22 years of Jay Leno, with a brief 6-month intermission with Conan O’Brien, Fallon’s show had the look of a new dynasty being born. With its new location (New York), new set, new host, and U2 performing their new hit “Invisible” 70 stories up on the roof of the Rockefeller Center in front of a stunning sunset over New York, it was an auspicious beginning.
The rooftop song, “Invisible,” has a bridge where Bono sings, over and over, There is no them/There is no them/There is only us/There is only us. It’s a message I have articulated numerous times here from the Catch, as I am particularly sensitive to using the terms “us” and “them” from my familiarity with an evangelical fundamentalism that fostered this kind of thinking. To hear it showcased in such a setting showed me that it is more than a Christian cultural phenomenon, it is something embedded in our human nature. And it is not good.
Certainly “us” and “them” are pronouns necessary for communication, but something sinister happens whenever they are used together. Whenever “us” and “them” are used as a dividing line within humanity, you are putting yourself in the inside and kicking somebody else out. Whenever “them” is sinners, or the poor, or an ethnic group, or nationality, or religious group, or race, or sex, or sexual orientation, something ugly happens. There is a human separation. There is a category created where there shouldn’t be one. There is a wall created – a fence, a barrier – that can create anything from hostility to major wars.
Here is the crux of the matter: “Us” includes me; “Them” does not. Any use of the word “them” that leaves me out leads to arrogance, bigotry, and all the flaws of the Pharisees. When you think about or encounter anyone who is a sinner, or poor, or from another ethnic group, or nationality, or religious group, or race, or sex, or sexual orientation other than yours … that’s your group. “They” are “us.”
Yes, the more you meet “them” and get to know “them” and love “them” you will discover that “they” are “us” – that indeed, the song is right: There is no them/There is no them/There is only us/There is only us.
Though the rooftop performance by U2 was stellar, the real “moment” in the show came when Jimmy Fallon got his wish and invited U2 to sing a song on the set of the Tonight Show from the couch. Producing two acoustic guitars and a tambourine, U2 performed an “impromptu” version of their Academy Award nominated song “Ordinary Love” from the movie, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”
In a musical and emotional crescendo that culminated in a standing ovation, Bono rang out the words:
We can’t fall any further
If we can’t feel ordinary love.
And we can’t reach any higher
If we can’t deal with ordinary love.
Ordinary love breaks down the thickest walls (there are no thicker walls than the walls of apartheid in South Africa) and turns all of “them” into “us.”
We should all have a little “them” meter going off in our brain whenever we start to use the word, just to check ourselves on how we are doing. If you can’t put “us” there instead, don’t even say it.
Like I said, no one could preach a better sermon than the one U2 preached Monday night on the Tonight Show. Jimmy Fallon even asked Bono to sermonize over a coffee mug … and he did.