Review: Hillsong UNITED Live in Manila
21 November 2006
Ninoy Aquino Stadium
When I first heard that Hillsong UNITED would play in Manila, I must admit that I wasn't as thrilled about the idea as my friends were. Not because I didn't like them; there's a reason why UNITED's songs are a staple at FullCup after all -- they're talented musicians and, more importantly, their songs speak to FullCup's young regulars -- but the thought of going to a worship-concert that is predominantly more of a concert than worship initially didn't sit well with me.
To be fair, I have always been a tad uneasy with corporate/group worship. I'm more of a one-man-raging-at-the-storm-and-his-God kind of guy. Even at church, I always sit nearest to the window, eyes closed or locked to the distant sky. As I sing with the congregation, I'm flung light years away -- to a place where there's only me and my God. As some friends who have witnessed the rare tears I let go during worship ask me why I cry, I always give them the same answer: if I can't cry to my Father, to whomelse can I cry? In short, for me, worship is an extremely intimate and personal event. Having around 30 or so people with me is disconcerting enough -- what more with a couple of thousand?
But it was a concert, so I decided to go. Some might say that it's a praise and worship event and not a concert, but that's not being honest -- we came there for the band; otherwise we wouldn't have needed to pay P800 to get in. Ask anyone who argues if they'd pay that much to watch FullCup Project or Alab or any other worship team in the various churches in the metropolis. Yeah, I thought so too.
So I came into the event with misgivings. If it were packaged as a concert, I wouldn't have had any problem, but the event's tagline pegged itself as "the worship night of your life" -- a tall and presumptuous claim by the marketing people, if you ask me. Besides, I believe one of the must-do's of a praise and worship team is to never NEVER interfere with the worship of the people -- either with botched playing/singing or by the 'celebrity status' by the team. If a guy comes to church primarily to hear the team perform and secondly to worship, the whole point is ruined for me.
As concerts go, UNITED did extremely well. From the get-go, everyone in the stadium was jumping up and down, joining in at virtually every song of the line up. Nevermind that the venue was too small, or that the organizers continued their bad habit of overselling tickets, or that the aircondition was woefully ill-suited for the number of people who came, or that five minutes into the concert and the combined sweat of the throng and space constraints of the venue gave an unpleasant smell, or that the LCD screens were ridiculously small, or that the organizer's spokeperson kept using the Name of the Lord to manage the crowd. The band was superb, the audience extremely enthusiastic. As concerts go, we were having a hell of a good time.
Fortunately, 'a good time' is so... pedestrian, compared to the plans of my God. Sometime after the first two or three songs -- just after letting the people scream out their excitement for actually being in a UNITED concert -- the whispers of the Spirit began stirring in the heart. The circumstances might have been far from perfect, but Jesus did promise that whenever two or three are gathered in His name, He will be there. And as He has always been, that night too, He was faithful to His word.
A little later in the evening, the band gave exhortations and clarified the purpose of their tour -- something that the Spirit was already whispering in our souls. Between shouting and praising and clapping, and singing, some of us found ourselves talking with God despite the stars right before our eyes.
God is in control. I was reminded of that last night as I sang along with the Christian's counter-culture version of the Black Eyed Peas, U2, or any of the hottest bands these days. If I believed that God is able to work through my sins and shortcomings, why shouldn't He be able to do the same despite the complications brought by UNITED's talent and fame and the star-struck attitude of the audience?
Somewhere along the way, we found ourselves worshipping, more than joining in on the concert. Suddenly, the songs were not just excellent, they were true. Despite my initial misgivings, I found myself having the time of my life -- like any other time I was aware of my God's presence.
In the end, as one of my most favorite UNITED song goes, my God saves the day, and His Word never fails. My God made a way... it's gonna be all right. A good time is not what He intended, therefore He gave us an amazing grand time. UNITED's passion and performance was able to usher us into communing with our God -- and that, I think, is the highest praise that can be given to any worship team.
Author Notes: This review is also posted on FullCup's new site. It's still under construction, and we'll launch it real soon, but hey, feedback on the new site is welcome Ü