Last night on RTE Gay Byrne grilled Bono about what the U2 thought was the meaning of life. Everything was on the table and Bono was open and articulate about his how his Christian faith has affected his life, music and activism. Rather than transcribe the statements of faith Bono made I thought it might be good to re-blog this article that I wrote way back in 2005 (while I was Writer In Residence at Regent College, Vancouver actually!!) for Faith For Life magazine.
As I write I am aware that it is 26 years ago to this very day that I decided to follow Jesus. Actually, I have come to believe that my spiritual journey began about 11 years before that when, as a six year old, I firmly decided that there was no God. It was that moment that, I reckon, God started a gracious relationship with me that I caught up with over a decade later. Whatever the technicalities, as a seventeen year old my life changed forever because I got to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son Of God and a Messiah for the world. Everything about me has been affected by that understanding.
So why should I begin a review of Bono In Conversation with Michka Assayas with a spiritual testimony. Well, one of the many fascinating things about this intriguing book is that Bono’s life is lived under a similar banner of belief to the one I have just described. French journalist Assayas is the perfect interrogator. He is a trusted confidant of Bono. Yet he is also secularist and agnostic who cannot quite accept that a man of Bono’s intelligence and cultural sharpness could believe this Christian stuff. It is ideal provocation that allows Bono to nail his theological perspective. From there it is clearly seen that his life is lived in the light of how he identifies Christ and his identification with Christ.
The clarity of expression when it comes to Bono’s Christian beliefs will be a surprise to even those who believed he believed these things but never expected him to utter the confession publicly again. When Assyas suggests that is Christ among the world’s great thinkers maybe, but son of God might be a bit far fetched, Bono is on it with CS Lewis-like apologetic: “But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that. He doesn’t let you off the hook. Christ says: No I’m not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me a teacher. I’m not saying I’m a prophet. I’m saying: “I’m the Messiah.” I’m saying: “I am God incarnate.”… So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who he said he was – the Messiah – or a complete nutcase. I mean we’re talking nut case on the level of Charles Manson.”
Bono also defines God’s view of the world. He says he loves “the idea that God says: ‘Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s mortality as part of the sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions.’” No hint of the usual modern political correctness or tolerance from an anything and everything goes rock star. Where Bono brings grace to the human condition is exactly there – grace. His relationships with fellow rock stars, no matter how hedonistic or political figures no matter how right wing is laced with a love and mercy that he himself finds in the grace of God. He says: “Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which is in my case very good news indeed.”
That grace is centred on Christ’s cross; “I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.” Bono’s self deprecation is evident throughout which again is neither the regular disposition of rock stars in general or for some who don’t look carefully enough, Bono in particular. A closer look at the songs and performances and you’ll see that any egotistical celebrity poses Bono throws are a role play with the absurdity of his occupation. Finishing many gigs on the Vertigo Tour with Yahweh, a prayer of commitment, that ends with a pleading that God would take his heart and make it break is a little upside down in a music world more renowned for its selfish indulgence. Bono tells Assayas that it is at the Cross where he gets humbled: “The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point it should keep us humbled…It’s not our own good works that gets us through the gates of Heaven.”
The two over riding themes in the book are faith and Africa and on many occasions Bono will go off on a Scriptural story to explain his point even when faith is not the question. At one point Assayas asks him why he is always quoting it. It seems that Bono can do no other. It informs most every aspect of his life. You get a sense, as indeed you get from Neil McCormick’s book I Was Bono’s Doppelganger, that he is the constant personal evangelist. He speaks of having asked Mikhail Gorbachev if he believed in God. He also asks a painter friend if he prays. Other stories have emerged at different times of his sharing his beliefs with Noel Gallagher from Oasis and Billy Corgan from Smashing Pumpkins. It is not that he is invading the private souls of his friends for some heaven and hell project. It is more that he is so fascinated with the things of God that he cannot but involve people in such exchanges.
Elsewhere there are stories of being blessed by Archbishop Tutu and Billy Graham. He clarifies some fans suspicions that the one member of U2 who wasn’t a believer, Adam is now “the most spiritually centred of the band.” At the end maybe too influenced by Eugene Peterson whose paraphrase The Message Bono endorsed he says, “’Be silent, and know that I am God.’ That’s a favourite line from Scriptures. ‘Shut Up and Let Me Love You’ would be the pop song. It’s really what it means. If ever I needed to hear a comment, it might be that.” It is insightful stuff from maybe the most famous pop star on earth. It is a marvellous portrait of a man committed to his faith, passionate about its outworking and mature in his wisdom about life.