In Appreciation of Bono

I recently came across a wonderful interview which featured Eugene Peterson and Bono talking about the Psalms. I was touched by both mens’ humility, their genuine friendship, and their love for the Psalms.

There is also a nice follow-up series of mini interviews between David Taylor and Bono called Beyond the Psalms which are inline later in this post.

Art, U2 and My LIfe

I purchased a Boy album as soon as it was available at my local record store and became a real fan after U2 played the Agora in April 1981. At the time I couldn’t have told you why I liked U2… just that their music moved me.

Between first hearing Boy and U2 coming to Columbus I became a Christian. Before the concert one of my new Christian friends told me that a number of the members of U2 were Christians. I thought it was cool that a band I was into shared my new found faith, but I wasn’t going to see them because they were Christians. I was going to see them because I liked their music. I was also listening to a wide range of music: classical, folk, blues, jazz, and rock. My criteria wasn’t “gospel music”… it was that the music that moved my heart and told the truth, often music that was about justice, compassion, beauty, hope, or dispair.

I have been to a few U2 concerts since that first concert at the Agora… but I am unlikely to go to another. It’s impossible for me to reconcile a $12 ticket in a small venue with hundreds of people with spending hundreds of dollars to be in a stadium were I need binoculars to make out any details of the band. The last time I saw them was in 2015 when our CEO sent my team to use her box as a thanks for exceptional performance on a project.

I was encouraged to cherish art by the writings of Hans R. Rookmaaker, Francis Schaeffer and the example of a number of Christian men who had been “in the faith” longer than me: Frank, Andy, Joe, Rick, and Doug. I didn’t subject artists or musicians to a narrow theological litmus test to be sure they matched my version of orthodoxy. I looked for truth and beauty and sought art, music, film that inspired or challenged me. I was not interested in passing judgement on the art just because the human creator didn’t conform to my narrow theology.

That’s not to say that I am a relativism, or that I believe each person has their own truth. I believe in absolute truth and am pretty sure I know what is true :). And yet, I am aware that I could be wrong so nearly every encounter could teach me something. Sometimes an encounter might strengthen my existing belief, sometimes it might lead me to refine or even change what I believed. As Salman Rushdie wrote:

ideas stood (or fell) because they were strong enough (or too weak) to withstand criticism, not because they were shielded from it. Strong ideas welcomed dissent. “He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill,” wrote Edmund Burke. “Our antagonist is our helper.” Only the weak and the authoritarian turned away from their opponents and called them names and sometimes wished to do them harm.

This is a long way of saying that I don’t reject or embrace people or their work because the agree or disagree with with me. As a result, I haven’t bother looking for people’s hidden agendas or evaluating their complete theology or trying to gauge if they were a “true Christian”. Rather I ask the question “Is there something here for me to learn or to appreciate?”. In the case of U2, there are numerous songs which have touched me over the years. The day Libby died, U2’s 40 ran through my mind, helping me process my grief and encouraging my heart in a way nothing else did. I didn’t feel the need to ask the question “Are they really Christians?” or “Do they have an orthodox faith?”. I just needed some truth for my heart and they provided it by putting part of Psalm 40 to music.

Bono is a Shill?

I shared the video of Bono and Peterson talking with a number of my friends. I was surprised when one of my friends dismissed the video and indicated that they thought that Bono was a shill, not a real Christian. I was surprised by their viewpoint in light of the conversation between Bono and Peterson. I had a generally favorable view of Bono and U2. Was it misplaced? My friend had expressed concerns. I decided it was worth spending some time to see if I should share their concerns. After a bit of time my conclusion was that I saw no evidence that Bono is a shill. Rather I saw quite a bit of evidence that Bono has an authentic faith. This was one of those situations that a challenge / criticism strengthen my belief.

An Orthodox Faith

I found an interview with Bono which discussed some of his experiences growing up, his activism, and then explores the core of his faith. The link to the full interview has been removed, but there is still a clip which discusses Bono’s understand of who is Jesus. What I hear is that Bono believes

  • in a historical Jesus
  • who is the Messiah
  • who was raised from the dead

This certain meets the requirements of Romans 10:8-9 for an authentic faith. Bono uses an argument much like C.S. Lewis’ Liar, Lunatic, Lord debunking that Jesus was merely a good teacher. Bono certainly has confessed with his mouth what the Bible says is saving faith.

I also appreciated his understanding of how Christianity is distinct from other religions, namely grace rather than works or karma.

An Authentic Life?

I can’t know for certain that Bono’s words reflect what’s in his heart, and I think it’s very dangerous to judge other people hearts because we can’t see them, heck, we have enough trouble understanding our own hearts (Jer 17:9). We can attempt to discern what is inside a person’s heart by their outward actions, to look to see the fruit of the spirit in their lives, but this is a pretty risky endeavor. In the case of Bono I am inclined to say his external life and his words seem largely consistent with someone who is authentically following Jesus.

  • He is not shy to talk about his faith and willing associates himself as a christian even though this identification is likely more of a liability that an asset in collecting fans
  • He has invested his time and energy is advocating for the poor and the powerless, the very thing God asked of his people thousand plus times, Jesus modeled, and the Jerusalem church asked Paul to attended to (and he was delighted to).
  • He seems to have a humility. He regularly talks about how much he needs grace. He takes interest in other people rather being focused on himself.
  • He has a generous spirit
  • He seems to be devoted to his family
  • He expresses a real love of God’s word, seems to know it pretty well, and says he desires to have a life shaped by God.

Some areas he has been criticized

  • Advocating for the poor while owning several huge homes, a yacht and private jet
  • His business moved countries to avoid taxes while advocating the companies pay their share of taxes
  • Some of his charities seem to spend a significant portion of their money on sponsoring events rather than actually helping people (e.g. overhead ratio).

Some people say wealth and power corrupt, but I say they just remove people’s restrains revealing what’s in the heart. While Bono is quite rich, it has not turned him into a raging ego-maniac. This suggests a gentle heart. Bono is far from perfect as he is quick to point out himself. He, like the rest of us is in the need of grace. Bono seems to have an understanding of how grace is radical and life changing. He is not religious, but does align himself with Jesus, which is as it should be. We need more people who love Jesus while not being religious.

Other Material

A few links I found in the last day or two which I enjoyed:

Psalm 82 Is a Good Start
Where the Song Is Singing Me
Be Brutally Honest (Answer in 1 one Word)
All Art is Prophetic
Where Death Died

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