I caught the imposter from out of the corner of my right eye. I wanted badly to look directly at him but didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. Kevin and I were standing atop a manufactured ridge outside of Staples Center in Los Angeles, admiring B-list, reality-show celebrities enter the show on a red carpet entrance. We were hours away from our first live U2 concert. We had flown to California for the experience—a resolute vindication of too many missed opportunities and accumulated weeks—months—lost to Rattle and Hum through college. “Hey, there’s that guy from that one show,” I pointed down at the scene as I snuck my head around my shoulder line—chin dropped—to investigate the character just behind me. The imposter shifted—widening his little legs with overdramatic intent and crossing his stubby arms hand-over-shoulder—his strange jacket sleeves hanging out over his thumbs. He continued to face away from the arena, squaring his back against it. He wore knock-off Bulgaria sunglasses and a Peter Grimm straw cowboy hat covering stringy, jet-black hair. I could tell he was listening to us. He had a big nose. He had come to the U2 concert dressed up like Bono. I opened up my right side and shifted a few steps backward to face him. He acknowledged me with a confident grin. I couldn’t help but notice his ridiculous, clumpy boots and pudgy gut that weighed down his black tee shirt inside the flaps of his oversized, shiny leather jacket with strange red stitching. He was short. I couldn’t hold it in.
“Who does that? Who goes to a concert dressed up as the lead singer of the band? What grown-up goes to all this trouble to look like Bono?” I alerted Kevin to the impersonator—speaking loud enough so that he could hear me. I took another quick glance. He caught me looking. “Hey, Bono,” I seethed in pure sarcasm—overemphasizing each syllable, “Nice hat.” He didn’t move. I muttered something about crazy fans as we started back towards the arena. “Let’s go get our seats.” Once inside, we reconnected with our California friends, who had been attempting to get backstage with their music business connections. I was quick to bring up our odd encounter, “Did you see the crazy Bono impersonator standing outside? What a joke!” Ran froze. He looked at me with a stern face. “No. He does that. Bono does that.” “Does what?” “I’ve heard that sometimes he stands outside his concerts like that. Are you sure it wasn’t really him?” I quickly dismissed the idea. “He wouldn’t have just been standing there.”
When the lights came up for the opening song, and Mr. Hewson came marching out in all of his typical bravado, I knew it had been him—even from my distant vantage point. It was the same costume. The same hat. The same strange jacket with sleeves too long. The same big nose. I knew it was Bono then because he was exactly where I expected him to be, doing exactly what I expected him to be doing—singing from the edge of a stage with the Edge, Adam, and Larry. Every characteristic I had weighed against the imposter outside the arena became undeniable proof of identity inside the arena. An article published the next morning confirmed it had indeed been him standing outside Staples Center—the Bono that I mocked. How did I miss it?
I knew what Bono looked like. But seeing him standing alone outside of his concert was so unbelievable that it immediately became suspect. The simple disparity between my expectations and reality fed pride, dismissal, and rejection up against other innumerable pieces of evidence. It was an ugly thing. A shot of humility and a crumb of childlike faith might have entertained possibility. Possibility unlocks opportunity. If this could be true for meeting my favorite musician, could it be true for more significant things?
Sometimes I wonder how often I miss—worse yet, mock—the presence of God in my neighborhood because of my own limited expectations. It certainly seems like God. But why would God be here—doing this—like this—with these people? Why does he eat with these tax collectors and sinners? Where Jesus was, what he was doing, and who he was doing it with overshadowed even his miracles. Context—not content—bred doubt. Jesus would respond to his doubters with something about doctors and patches on cloaks and old wineskins, but, for me today, it may as well have been a reminder of the time that I met Bono and made fun of him. I was actually there to see him—I just never imagined that I would see him in the way he made himself known. That's the scary part. I certainly don’t want to miss the opportunities born from possibilities where the Spirit initiates a new work in making herself known. The ruach blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. Or as Bono would sing, “she moves in mysterious ways.” May we delight with wonder, then, in discovering God in unexpected places. And always be kind to impersonators—especially Santas, Bonos, and Elvi.