By Steve Beard
There is something deliciously ironic about having the world’s most well-known rock star promoting the Bible. But that is exactly what Bono, the globe-trotting lead singer of the band U2, has been doing for the last few years – further adding to his reputation as rock-n-roll’s most effective and enigmatic spiritual provocateur.
When Rolling Stone magazine asked him last year what he was reading, Bono responded: “… there’s a translation of Scriptures – the New Testament and the Books of Wisdom – that this guy Eugene Peterson has undertaken. It has been a great strength to me. He’s a poet and a scholar, and he’s brought the text back to the tone in which the books were written.”
The singer has been anything but timid in promoting ‘The Message (NavPress), a version of the Bible in contemporary language written by Eugene Peterson, a well-known theologian and professor emeritus at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C.
Shortly after the death of his father last year, Bono told the Irish magazine Hot Press that he had read The Message aloud at his father’s bedside. He went on to recommend Peterson’s translation of the Bible: “It’s just incredible stuff.”
Bono quoted from Psalm 116 in The Message at one point or another throughout U2’s world-wide tour. Each night, Bono would give a slight variation on the text which reads: “What can I give back to God for the blessings he’s poured out on me! I’ll lift high the cup of salvation – a toast to God! I’ll pray in the name of God; I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do, And I’ll do it together with his people.”
In an interview with the website @U2 (www.atU2.com), Peterson was asked what he knew about Bono and U2. “A year or so ago (maybe less) their chaplain/pastor who was traveling with them at the time, called and asked me to come to Chicago to meet them,” Peterson responded. “I wasn’t able to get away at the time but I had a lovely conversation with him. And many of my younger friends and ex-students keep me posted on the latest from U2. When the Rolling Stone interview with them came out a few months ago, I got clippings sent to me from all over the world!”
When asked by the website what his reaction was to having The Message quoted in concert arenas around the world, Peterson said: “My reaction! Pleased, very pleased. Bono is singing to the very people I did this work for. I feel that we are allies in this. He is helping get me and The Message into the company of the very people Jesus spent much of his time with.”
A few years ago, Bono made headlines in the United Kingdom for penning the forward to the book of Psalms. It was in his essay that Bono made the case that the Psalms were the first blues songs. “Abandonment and displacement are the stuff of my favorite psalms. The Psalter may be a font of gospel music, but for me it’s despair that the psalmist really reveals the nature of his special relationship with God. Honesty, even to the point of anger. ‘How long, Lord! Wilt thou hide thyself forever?’ (Psalm 89), or ‘Answer me when I call’ (Psalm 5).”
Bono also noted his affection for the psalmist David, who he referred to as the “Elvis of the Bible.” The singer writes, “That the Scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers and mercenaries used to shock me. Now it is a source of great comfort.”
It was reported that Bono wrote the following forward to They’ve Hijacked God, a critique of the modern church by Irish Christian writer Adam Harbinson: “I find solace in places I never could have imagined … the quiet sprinkling of my child’s head in Baptism, a gospel choir drunk on the Holy Spirit in Memphis, or the back of a cathedral in Rome watching the first cinematographers play with light and colour in stainglass stories of the Passion. I am still amazed at how big, how enormous a love and mystery God is – and how small are the minds that attempt to corral this life force into rules and taboos, cults, and sects. Mercifully God transcends the Church which is, I think, the subject of this book.”
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2002 issue of Good News.