Bono: “I took Jesus with me everywhere and I still do.”

Surrender is a beautifully etched scrawl in the sidewalk of rock ‘n’ roll history – right about the time I was coming of age. Bono was four steps ahead (I just turned 58) trying to juggle anger, loss, love, and a unbearable urge to be center stage. Oh, and there was Jesus. And Ali – his wife of now 40 years. There are enough judiciously placed f-bombs to make sure that this is not written off as a modern day religious tract or Pilgrim’s Progress. There are 545 pages for the haters to hate and the lovers to love. Mock him all you want. He’s heard it all before. But in the midst of the chatter of negotiating with politicians, vacationing with billionaires, and saving the world, Bono still seems to be the flush-face Irishman with both oars in the water, paddling like a madman, still trying to save his soul.

“I’d always be first up when there was an altar call, the ‘come to Jesus’ moment. I still am. If I was in a cafe right now and someone said, ‘Stand up if you’re ready to give your life to Jesus,’ I’d be the first to my feet. I took Jesus with me everywhere and I still do. I’ve never left Jesus out of the most banal or profane actions of my life.”

–Bono, Surrender

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Nick Cave and the search for the Divine

Faith, Hope, and Carnage is a fascinating conversation between singer Nick Cave and journalist Sean O’Hagan. Among numerous subjects, it deals most compellingly with grief, song writing, and faith.

Sean O’Hagan: So, back in your younger, wilder days, when you drew on biblical imagery as a source for your songwriting, was that also a reflection of a deeper interest in the divine?

Nick Cave: Well, I was surrounded by people who displayed zero interest in spiritual or religious matters, or if they did, it was because they were fiercely anti-religious. I was operating in a Godless world, to say the least, so there was no real nurturing of these ideas. But I was always struggling with the notion of God and simultaneously feeling a need to believe in something. Continue reading

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The amazing eye of Peter Mitchell

Mr & Mrs Hudson. Wednesday 14 August 1974. Seacroft Green, Leeds © Peter Mitchell

I have grown to simply love the photography of Peter Mitchell, a veteran lensman with a keen eye. His work in Leeds, England, tells tremendous stories. You can read a wonderful portrait of him here. Early on, he had a difficult time selling his work to galleries. “‘Our arty stuff is black and white. How will we sell your stuff? It doesn’t come under nudes, it doesn’t come under landscape, it’s not pure documentary. It’s not totally aesthetic,’” he was told. “I wasn’t a part of one of those small groups,” he told the Financial Times. “I was always quite solitary but that suited me anyway. And I still feel like that.” You can check out his books here.

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ARCHIVES: The Royal Faith of Queen Elizabeth

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth greets employees on her walk from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center mission control to a reception in the center’s main auditorium in Greenbelt, Maryland, 2007. Photo: NASA.

By Steve Beard

There is an intriguing scene in Season 2 of the wildly successful historical drama, The Crown, on Netflix. For the uninitiated, the award-winning series revolves around the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, the now 91-year-old sovereign of the United Kingdom.

At the beginning of episode six, Elizabeth (played by Clare Foy) is studiously watching Billy Graham preach on television in 1955 while sitting with her mother in Buckingham Palace. The Queen Mother (played by Victoria Hamilton) finds Graham to be more than an acquired taste for the upper class British religious sensibilities. She appears perturbed that the public is captivated by a man who learned his trade “selling brushes door-to-door in North Carolina” and that British subjects turned “out in droves for an American zealot.”

“He is not a zealot,” Elizabeth responds.

“He’s shouting, darling,” her mother replies. “Only zealots shout.” Continue reading

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ARCHIVES: A Princess and a Saint

Stamp of Albania

By Steve Beard, 1997

Even weeks after the fact, people are still talking about it. After all, within five days the world lost its two most beloved women. Mother Teresa died at age 87 of a heart ailment. Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris. She was 36.

The comparisons were inevitable. Of course, they could not have appeared more different in appearance or lifestyle. Princess Diana lived in a London palace and was a jet-setter among the richest of the rich. Mother Teresa’s vow of poverty took her to the poorest of the poor in a Calcutta slum. Nevertheless, the two shared a common care for the less fortunate, although they used drastically different approaches.

As perhaps the most photographed woman in the history of the world, Princess Diana successfully used her dynamic charm and beauty to campaign for righteous causes such as extending compassion to AIDS patients, banning land mines, and comforting the poor. Continue reading

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The tenacity of William Wilberforce

By Steve Beard

Published in 2006

If you’ve seen the movie Crash, there is a scene in which Anthony, a car thief, discovers a van with the keys dangling in the driver’s door. Since no one is around, he hops in and drives to a chop shop to sell off the parts. When they open up the back of the van, Anthony and the shop owner are startled to find a dozen Asian men, women, and children. In stunning immediacy, the shop owner offers Anthony $500 for each one without a tinge of reluctance—haggling for humans like used auto parts.

As the 2006 Academy Award-winning morality tale, Crash is loaded with gut-wrenching scenes meant to prick our racial prejudices and stereotypes. The chop shop scene came to mind while viewing Amazing Grace, a film about British abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1833). The movie’s release was timed to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in England. At that time, the British Empire was heavily dependent upon the slave trade and Wilberforce dedicated his entire life to fighting the gross social injustice. Continue reading

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Iconic brushstrokes from Ukraine

Kateryna Shadrina. “Madonna with Child.” Click to enlarge.

By Steve Beard

As I watched the evening news during the haunting first few weeks of the scorched-earth invasion of Ukraine, I could not help but see Kateryna Shadrina’s vibrant image of the Madonna and Child superimposed over the video footage on television of mothers carrying their young children in a panicked evacuation of their homeland.

Although I have half-a-dozen depictions of the Mother and Child in my office, the liquid blues and electric yellows and oranges give Shadrina’s a different dynamic. The 27-year-old artist is an iconographer from Lviv, Ukraine.

Her image wreaked havoc on me.

Visual arts animate the imagination in ways that words alone cannot. To see Michelangelo’s Pietà – the sculpture of the lifeless body of Jesus being cradled by Mary after the crucifixion – is to engage a part of the mind and soul that mere nouns and verbs do not touch. Through painting, Van Gogh helped us visualize the story of the Good Samaritan, while Rembrandt illuminated the story of the Prodigal Son. El Greco told biblical stories in Spanish Renaissance fine art, Howard Finster preached the gospel through American folk art, and Marc Chagall challenged us to see the crucifixion from a different vantage point.

Let me be clear, I am not an art critic. I like what I like. But I also understand there is much to learn through the vision of an artist. “The first demand any work of art makes on us is surrender,” observed C.S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism. “Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way.” Continue reading

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Lenten Underground

“We are together” by Kateryna Shadrina in Lviv, Ukraine. Used by permission of the artist.

By Steve Beard

It was standing-room-only for the noon Ash Wednesday service at my local church. Ushers were pulling folding chairs out of a closet and people were sitting in the hallway outside the sanctuary. Parishioners were literally standing against the back and side walls. It was probably a fire hazard. 

We were all squeezed in to be reminded of our mortality. “Remember that you are dust,” the pastor said as the sign of the cross was smudged on my forehead, “and to dust you shall return.” Stark and sobering.

Six thousand miles away, there were believers in Ukrainian bomb shelters. At the time, the brutal invasion had only been a week old. “We survived yet another horrible night,” reported the archbishop of the Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kyiv on the first Sunday of Lent – the introspective season of denial leading up to Easter. 

“But after night, there comes day, there is morning,” he said. “After darkness, there comes light, just as after death there comes resurrection, which we all today radiantly celebrate!” Continue reading

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Alice Cooper on Sobriety, the Bible, the Devil, and Golf

On Easter, The Sunday Times of London published a “A Life in the Day” feature about the godfather of shock rock Alice Cooper (interview by Danny Scott). The rock legend has sold more than 50 million albums and has been married to his Sheryl for 45 years.

Here are a few of Cooper’s comments:

• I’m up before the sun; 5am is my time. Straight out of bed, make a cup of coffee, grab my Bible, then spend the next hour reading and praying. I read a couple of chapters a day — this is my 12th reading. It puts me in a positive frame of mind. …

• I play golf six days a week, but I could easily play every day of the year if I wanted. Eighteen holes is a lot of miles to cover and it’s the main reason I’m still in pretty good shape at 74. That and finally quitting alcohol.

Thanks to Sheryl — she committed me to an asylum for treatment — this is my 39th year sober. I was never a mean drunk. I was the Dean Martin of rock’n’roll, always on this happy, golden buzz. At first it was fun, hanging out with Jim Morrison, Keith Moon and Jimi Hendrix. Jimi gave me my first joint. We thought we were gonna live for ever, but then everybody started dying. I spent a lot of time with Jim Morrison and I don’t think I ever saw him not drunk or high. On stage he was an absolute professional, but nobody was surprised when he died. …

• Being a dad changed everything for me. It gave me a reason to stay sober. On stage I was Alice but, after the show, I wanted to be Dad. That life was better than a life in the bottle.

Sheryl is also part of my touring show — she plays various characters like the Dead Bride and Madame Guillotine — so we’re hardly ever apart. I love how calm she is amid all the mayhem on stage. People are getting beheaded and everyone is splattered with blood, but I sometimes look at her face and I know she’s wondering if she left the iron on in the dressing room.

A lot of our evenings are spent working with a charity called Solid Rock. We’ve set up places where any teenager can come in and learn any instrument for free. Music changed my life; hopefully, we can change a few more.

If we’re at home we’ll watch a horror movie, but I’m rarely in bed later than 11. Then I pray for a while. I believe in heaven and hell. People think of the Devil with horns and a pointy tail. Man, you are so far off the mark! The Devil is going to be the best-looking, smoothest-talking guy in the room. He’s going to make you feel like a million bucks. But you better watch out because he’s got a whole different set of plans for you.

 

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On a Hill Far Away

“Station of the Cross: Fall” by Ostap Lozynsky of Lviv, Ukraine. Special thanks to iconart-gallery.com.

 

I was in elementary school when I first grasped that the death of Jesus was a big deal. On Good Friday, my mom and dad signed me out of class in time for the noon church service. It was somber and stiff and formal – but I was out of school for the rest of the day. It got my attention.

“On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross,” we sang. “The emblem of suffering and shame / And I love that old cross where the Dearest and Best / For a world of lost sinners was slain.”

Modern day hipsters may roll their eyes at the sentimental lyrics, but they stuck with me. It was a sing-a-long song about the most brutal injustice in human history and it became a well-known gospel chorus for an entire generation. Johnny Cash recorded four different versions. It was also recorded by Al Green, Ella Fitzgerald, Merle Haggard, Mahalia Jackson, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, and Loretta Lynn.

“The Old Rugged Cross” was written in 1913 by a Methodist preacher named George Bennard (1873-1958) who was converted to faith as a young man after walking five miles to a Salvation Army meeting. At age 15, he had lost his father in a mining accident. Bennard found new life and inspiration in giving his heart to a Savior riddled with nail scars who had conquered death. Continue reading

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