Bono: Conversations With A Burning Flame

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I just got done reading a book that I honestly didn’t expect to like as much as I did. I picked it up on a whim because I had a gift card and the hardcover was only 5 bucks on the bargain table at Barnes & Noble. The book is called “Bono” and is a series of interviews by Mischka Assayas with, you guessed it, Bono: celebrity humanitarian, friend of world leaders, religious mystic, hedonist, equal parts stump preacher and traveling salesman, and of course the mercurial frontman for arguably the biggest rock band in the world: U2. That Bono is one of the more intriguing personalities in the worlds he inhabits of politics, entertainment, and spirituality is an understatement, and I expected this book to interesting, but I didn’t expect it to enthrall me the way it did.

My reading discipline right now is that I read a book that I ought to read, usually of a theological nature, as part of my devotion time in the mornings, and then at night before bed I read a book that is less demanding – usually a novel, a book that I want to read before going to sleep. “Bono” was going to be my junk food read, and the first night I cracked it open I couldn’t put it down, staying up ‘til the early morning hours. It was clear that my devotional reading times were going to take a hit. I was having trouble sleeping (we were away from home) so I would take a sleep aid and the countdown would begin: I knew I had 20 minutes before I would be sleepy. But through bleary eyes I fended off sleep to read “just one more chapter”.

Admittedly, I’ve been a U2 fan since high school and have had a man-crush on Bono ever since. But even if you’re not a fan, I think there is much to tickle the mind in this book. He’s lived a remarkable life and could be a case study of passion. It’s set up like an ongoing interview, where Assayas asks a question and Bono responds, back and forth, as we eavesdrop on a conversation about music, faith, politics, humanitarianism, and other big ideas (like the kind of landscape artist bassist Adam Clayton would be if he hadn’t ended up in a rock band.) Assayas clearly disagrees and challenges Bono on his humanitarian idealism and his belief in God among other things, which makes for a livelier and more interesting conversation than if he’d succumbed to hero worship and fawning. At first I found Assayas’ contrariness annoying, but in the end was grateful for the conversation it produced. The only thing I wondered is where the conversation would have gone if Assayas was more religiously minded – how much deeper would it have gone?

Still, of particular interest to me was the way Bono speaks often and explicitly about his faith – seeming to almost be looking for opportunities to talk about this part of his life. I remember first seeing the U2 album “Boy” in a Christian record store in Sioux Falls, South Dakota when I was a kid and being intrigued. I passed over it at the time opting instead for Amy Grant’s “Age To Age” album because I thought she was prettier, but as I got older I was more and more taken by this Irish band whose album I would find in our local Christian bookstore but who I would also hear on the radio and on my favorite T.V. shows like “21 Jump Street” and “Miami Vice”. These guys were apparently Christian, but they were cool, too, and listening to U2 gave my burgeoning sense of Christian identity some much desired street cred. U2’s music became a sort of handshake between me and my Christian friends. They belonged to us. And of course, that’s what almost ruined everything.

In the late 80’s and the 90’s most Christians I knew felt betrayed by U2 as the sincerity of their faith came into question and became a source of ongoing debate for the next 15 years. Some are still suspicious. Bono got sexier, could be spotted smoking, drinking, dressed in drag, and cussing like a sailor. It was confusing to young believers who had never been equipped to understand much beyond the black and white accoutrements of an over-simplified Christian worldview.

But deep down I never lost faith. I still bought U2 albums and pored over the lyrics looking for clues. My searches were rewarded in songs like One, Until The End of The World, The Wanderer, and Wake Up Dead Man, just to name a few. These songs were soul-searing confessions and a yearning for grace with a capital G. With the release of “All That You Can’t Leave Behind” it appeared that the burning spirituality that had seemed to lie dormant for some was once again U2’s calling card.

Had they ever lost faith? Or were they just trying to avoid being ghetto-ized by the evangelical subculture who wanted to make them the poster children of hip Christianity?

“Bono” addresses this and offers an explanation for some of their antics in the 90’s. One of the things that I was reminded of was that though U2 is one of the most successful rock bands in the world, they’ve always defied convention. “Joshua Tree”, though one of the most successful records of the 80’s, doesn’t sound like a conventional 80’s record. They were rock stars that were always playing against type, and as Bono describes it, that’s what the 90’s were about. U2 was earnest and unpretentious when the musical zeitgeist of the 80’s was all about glam and fashion (think Culture Club & Duran Duran). But when alternative rock music went mainstream with Nirvanna, Pearl Jam, and others in the 90’s, that’s when U2 went glam and got sexy. What was more countercultural than doing a disco album in the 90’s? Bono maintains that the heart of U2 never changed, they were just looking for new ways to challenge the conventions of their time, to mock the rock star myth.

These were the kinds of insights I expected from this book, and while it was all very interesting, it turned out to be the least compelling part of the book. It was rather his stories of growing up with a stern father, his married life of more than 25 years to one woman, the stories of his times in Africa and San Salvador that would lead to his advocacy for the world’s poor, his Christian philosophizing, and his relationships with some of most influential people of our times that made for long nights where I couldn’t put the book down. I loved reading how important it his to him to get the blessing of older men. He never misses the opportunity to ask for it, kneeling before men like Billy Graham, Nelson Mandela, and Pope John Paul to ask for their blessing.

He shared remarkable stories like the one of Mikhail Gorbachev’s recent unexpected visit to his house for dinner one night, stuffed animals in hand as gifts for Bono’s children. (Over dinner, Bono asked Gorbachev if he believed in God, Gorbachev’s answer was no, but he believed in the universe). Of great value to me also were the insights into Bono’s creative process. For years he’s managed to write songs both accessible and artistic and it stirred my own creative juices to hear how he approaches his craft.

One of the other things that really made an impression was how from the very start U2 understood what they were doing as worship. There is much talk now of Christian artists wanting to break out of the evangelical “ghetto” that stifles so much good creativity. But long before this was a common conversation, these scrappy Irish kids who could barely play their instruments were instinctively blazing a trail around the ghetto, setting the borders on fire, on their way to becoming in maybe the most important sense a truly “Christian” rock band.

This was meant to be a short review (my reviews here are always too long), but I keep finding aspects of the book that seem worthy to mention. I’m going to practice some self-discipline now and say that you’ll just have to read the book.

U2 is genuinely a seminal band who have inspired many imitators but no equals. Reading this book gives gives you a peek into the life of a truly passionate, intelligent, big spirited (if not big headed) artist who has the appearance of fearlessness and whose megalomania is bewilderingly matched only by a profound humility.

Thank God I’m done with this book so now I can get some sleep at night and return to my less “flashier” devotional studies.


28 Comments

  1. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    I just got back from seeing the IMAX U2 3D show, and it was such an intriguing concept– a larger than life, 3D concert video. As I replay what I saw then in my mind now, it has the distinct feeling of being there at the show.

    I read Bill Flannigan’s book on U2 and found it so very helpful in gaining insight into what the 90’s were about for this band. Flannigan got more or less unlimited access to the band from the Zooropa days through Pop, and you catch a glimpse into the extreme intentionality of this band. It’s a much better read and much more insightful into their faith than many of the works out there intentionally written from a Christian persepctive for the purpose of demonstrating their faith.

    Some friends and I used to ask who you could remove from the four principle characters in Seinfeld and still have Seinfeld as we know it. Were any of those characters “dispensable?” Our verdict was if you lost one, you lost the show. When I think of U2, its the same thing– Bono is certainly larger than life, but the sound and feel of that band relies on each of the four (and some would argue Lanois and Eno too). They are one of the soundest examples of a real band I think we’ve ever seen in the history of recorded music. (Man, that sounded lofty. But is it not the case?)

  2. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Bono expresses often how much he needs this band. He expressly says he’d never venture out into a solo career. He shares quite affectionately about each of his bandmates and it’s clear that his security and confidence comes in large part from being a part of that community of guys. Their relationships are quite remarkable. He plays the role of the front man well, but entertains no ambitions of doing anything apart from the other guys.

    And when I’d read what I’d written above before posting it, I kept thinking that I needed to use the word “intentional” about their work and everything they do, but decided I’d probably written too much already. So thank you, Russ, for saying it for me!

  3. Loren Eaton

    I once had a conversation with the associate editor of an evangelical entertainment magazine about Bono. We were discussing how he went in one album from “God has got his phone off the hook, babe. / Would He even pick up if he could?” to “Grace, / It’s a name for a girl. / It’s also a thought that changed the world.” I said that Bono must be comfortable with contradition. The editor said he thought Bono’s art thrived on it.

  4. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    I loved this book. I was especially happy to read about Larry (or was it Adam) finally getting on board spiritually. I always wondered how there was one odd man out like that.

  5. Tony Heringer

    I read this book in conjunction with” Walk On” by Steve Stockman. I followed Jason’s pattern using the Stockman book for devotion and the Bono book and U2 music for fun.

    I’ve loved this band since War and have seen them live twice, but frankly stopped listenning to them after Rattle and Hum (called “Prattle and Hum” by one writer). I never stopped liking them, but for a number of reaons honed in on different types of music for a number of years.

    As my kids approached the teen years and have, thanks to dad, gotten into the band, I started listening to them more and picked up a copy of Achtung Baby! with plans to make my way through the 90s music that I missed. I have the current stuff (Veritgo and All You Can’t…) and really enjoy the current U2 music along with my old favorites – War, Joshua Tree, etc..

    There are three things that stick in my craw related to this book. First, Bono downplays personal righteousness. None of us are perfect, but Bono seems to take his Christian liberty for license–especially in the areas of vulgarity, profanity (buyer beware this is an R rated book) and drunkeness. It is also distressing to look at the company he keeps or perhaps the company he doesn’t keep. Paul says clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Bono clearly states he doesn’t attend church. Body life is critical for faith to grow, without it understanding Scritpure becomse very difficult along with living it out. Which is ood given Bono’s call for the world to come together. He’d have greater reach and impact if he availed himself to a resource that needs to be awakened to action in the areas he is passionate about — the Bride of Christ.

    Which brings me to my final issue, and one the book deals with head on. In the interviews Assyas calls Bono on his sincerity related to Africa and Bono really doesn’t answer all that well. No one now denies that man is focused on the subject today, but it doesn’t seem to hold up that from Live Aide to now he has been the champion of this cause. The late 80s and most of the 90s seem to be Bono’s Me time, whether it was all an act or not, you didn’t hear much from him until near end of the 90’s and now he is really coming on strong. But even there, he sees the solution by way of human means and doesn’t place much, if any on reliance on God in this process.

    All of which leads me to believe him to be more spiritual than Christian. That was the great challenge of the book, how do we define a true faith? Can Bono be the mess he is and compensate by doing some externally nice things?

    Like him or not, you get a pretty good picture of the guy from this book. I like Bono, I just don’t hold him up as a paragon of Christian virtue and still have a tough time calling him a Christian just because he says he is. This book really challenged my own faith and when you put it with Stockman’s book, well, you’ve got a potent mix that can strecth you.

    By way of contrast to Bono, read “An Arrow Pointing To Heaven” which is about the life of the late Rich Mullins. When I think of Bono, I often think of Rich. They seem to be cut from the same cloth, but where Bono talks a good game, Rich lived it.

  6. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I’m afraid of sounding like I’m picking a fight, and that’s really not my intent, but I do want to challenge some of your statements here. I really don’t want to come off like a bully, but your comment gets right to the hear of the very reason why I wrote a review of this kind of book here in the rabbit room.

    I’m wondering if reading Stockman’s U2 book simultaneously with “Bono” cast it all in a different light and accounts for why my reaction on some of what you mention here is nearly the opposite of yours. I have not read Stockman’s book, so you may be more knowledgeable than I am. However, I still have a few things I’d like to address.

    I think we have to always remember the context of Bono’s life. Bono is a rock star, and certainly this book is an interview with a rock star. There are certain conventions a rock n’roll star is more or less obligated to honor if he is to be a legitimate rock star. Otherwise he’d lose his credibility – which is the most important currency he has.

    Also, this is a conversation he’s having with an unbeliever, and I think the book reflects his diplomacy and gift of being all things to all people. Is he two faced? He might be, but again I’m tempted to see it as a virtue and a necessary asset to who he is as Bono and also to who he is as Paul Hewson, the man behind the myth. My read on it is that Bono is speaking the language of the people who will most likely be the “audience” of this book. Bono has a great knack for knowing his audience and how to speak their language. The way he speaks at the MTV music awards is different from the way he speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Duplicitous? Maybe. Effective? Absolutely.

    When I consider that he is talking with a French journalist who is scornful of his faith and his humanitarian idealism, I think it’s quite remarkable that, in that context, he still shares so openly and often about his faith – his Christian faith (at one point even sharing the gospel with Assayas!). To suggest that he is not a Christian and merely spiritual, I think, is unfair.

    Which brings me to one of my chief concerns with western Christianity – the way that it trains us to judge persons and situations solely on external qualifiers. If Bono smokes, drops the F-bomb, or is known to occasionally drink too much, we assume he can’t be truly Christian. (Never mind that great heroes of faith through the ages have been known to engage in similar activities. Martin Luther was rambunctious even by our contemporary standards). We get hung up on these things that really don’t matter. But when Bono risks his rock and roll credibility by championing the poor in the name of Christ, many Christians are still suspicious. What more does he need to do?

    Bono as a regular churchgoer? I know that at least in two different instances in the book he talked about dramatic recent experiences he had when he went to his local church. Could he be more devout? Surely, but he never claims to be anything other than who he is. In fact he is very open about the fact that he thinks he shouldn’t be an advertisement for Christianity. But that is exactly why I think he is a pretty good advertisement. He is at ease with both the ideal and the less than ideal Bono – the virtuous Bono and the Bono that is daily in need of grace. And this is what Christian faith is all about, isn’t it? His openness about his foibles is refreshing and even exemplary to me.

    One of the things I didn’t like about the Rich Mullins book you mention is that it casts Rich in a much too virtuous light and in some ways I think softens the potency of the grace that Rich sang so faithfully about. I know several of Rich’s friends who felt similarly about the book. A much better book, in my opinion, would have shared more of Rich’s less than ideal antics and thus put God’s grace on display instead of Rich’s virtues. I mean no offense to the author, I know he worked hard and the truth is that the Christian market wouldn’t have embraced that real of a book, so I’m sure he did the best that he could do all things considered. But my point is that as good as it is, I think it would be better if it were more raw like “Bono”.

    And in regards to the sincerity of his activism, Bono talks about his many efforts to serve the poor through private endeavors with his wife. He wasn’t interested in taking on a cause publicly unless he thought he could really make an impact. If you remember, he likened it to listening for a good melody. When the Drop the Dept campaign first spoke with him, it was then he realized that this was a catchy melody that the whole world could sing, and he knew this was the time to do something. As it gained steam, the climate was right to bring this other cause to the spotlight: AIDs in Africa. This, too, was a compelling melody he thought he could get the whole world to sing.

    Is Bono an opportunist? Yes, but I think in the best and most artful of ways. Has his activism won him popularity? In some circles, yes, but no one could have predicted it. There are still many who wish he’d just shut up and get back to work. It’s unseemly for rock stars to carry on the way he does.

    As far as the company he keeps, we know he has spent time with and sought the blessing of men of faith like Nelson Mandela, The Pope, and even Billy Graham. The book recounts the time he asked the former leader of the largest godless nation on earth whether or not he believed in God. Again, what more does Bono have to do to win the approval of conservative Christianity?

    Well thank God it appears he doesn’t put too much stock in the church’s approval. I honestly wish I were that free. Admittedly, I play the church game of trying to look the part of the virtuous disciple with few vices. I dole out my confessions with too much calculation. This is why I find Bono so refreshing.

    I’m afraid I’m in danger of sounding like I’m trying to defend him as the paragon of virtue. I’m really not, I just think he is an intriguing Christian man who has lived a compelling secular and spiritual life, and I’m interested and troubled by the way our cultured Christianity in the west tempts us to ridicule him. Actually, it’s less him I’m concerned about and more our fruitless tendency to major in the minors and put too much stock in external qualifiers that in the end I suspect matter so very little.

    More and more I think the best career move U2 made (that ultimately gave them the currency they now have to champion the poor) was to alienate evangelical Christians in the late 80’s and 90’s. It was way too easy for them to do, just be a little vulgar and drink alcohol. They were never more in danger of being dismissed as irrelevant then when they were being embraced by the church as the poster children of “cool Christianity” – a lie that the evangelical subculture still foists on it’s constituents. Were the 90’s Bono’s “me-time”? Maybe, but the compelling faith dialogue was never absent from their music in my opinion. It just came from a different angle.

    One of my favorite U2 lyrics came from their most ridiculed record, POP:
    “Jesus, he never let me down
    Yeah Jesus used to show me the score
    But then they put Jesus in show business
    And now it’s hard to get in the door…”

    I always thought of this as a prophetic statement of where the church was headed, and in so many ways I think we’re there.

    I sincerely hope I didn’t come off as too contrary to the last post, I guess it’s all just my opinion in the end. At any rate, I hope this is a worthwhile dialogue and is good grist for the mill.

  7. Tony Heringer

    Contrary? By no means. I’ve listened to U2 from a time when I would not have identified with Christ at all to the present day when I would say my love for Christ is great–but feels like “a drop in the ocean” (to steal a line from Yahweh :-)).

    Let’s face, you and I live in a Christian sub-culture. However, with dialogue of this kind we can seek to turn it into the kind of counter-culture that made the early church so potent. I don’t want to dig into this further here because you are right brother, it will sound like we are just having the usual debate so prevelent in our sub-culture and really the culture at large in America.

    However, I’d like to explore this further as the implications are big. Perhaps we can write the definitive Rich Mullins bio? Or better yet we can dig further into what it means to be Christian? These are the types of things that Lewis, Tolkein and the other occupants of the literal space we are virtually repsenetning here argued endlessly about — among other things. 🙂

    Love what you all are doing and if you want to chat offline about Bono or the topic in question, email mail me and we can chat over the phone. The hard thing about this form of communication is it is easy to miscontrue intent/emotion.

    Also, related to this subject, I took my son to see U23D last night. We were escaping a house full of girls (my daughter’s ballet class). It was awesome! A must for all fans of the band.

  8. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    So gracious of you, Tony. I actually reread my post again this morning before a long 8 hour drive through Illinois, and wondered if I was too aggressive in tone. I think I took portions of your post, ascribed my own interpretation of what you were saying, and then used it as an excuse to flame out and burn an imaginary straw man. I was a part of a very legalistic church in my formative years as a believer and admittedly I look for just about any kind of excuse to offer up my diatribe against any perceived legalism. It’s my own baggage as much as anything.

    Thinking about it afterwards, you’re right that Bono probably doesn’t make the ideal example of Christian virtue for more impressionable believers. But for me he’s an intriguing man of faith. I guess what I’ve been exploring in my own walk is how I don’t make a good example of Christian virtue either – I’m just pretty good at playing the part of looking like I do. Therefore I’m always attracted to believers who look just as much like a pirate as they do a monk. Bono falls in that category in my mind.

    Anyway, I’m grateful for your posts, Tony. I apologize for pouncing too eagerly on your earlier post.

  9. Bill

    Wow, lots of great commentary; however, I’m reminded of something I heard that a young, Christian band said one time: “We’re not Christian musicians; we’re musicians who happen to be Christians.” Immediately it may not strike you as anything said in error, but the statement was made in such a way as to make the “cool guy” rock-star image take precedence.

    Actually, I think there’s a lot of similarity between this statement and something you said, Jason (and please don’t take this as picking a fight!) – “Also, this is a conversation he’s having with an unbeliever, and I think the book reflects his diplomacy and gift of being all things to all people.” The point I’m making here is that we as Christians simply can’t be all things to all people. If Bono – or any of us for that matter – is hung up on being a rock-star when people want us to be a rock-star, or a Christian when we’re supposed to act like a Christian, there is a serious dilemma. Our primary focus is on Christ, and we are first and foremost, Christians! Christians who may happen to be prayerfully seeking and doing God’s will here on earth, whether that be glorifying Him through music, or whatever other job He has us doing. Our purpose is to share the Gospel, not be all things to all people. This probably has more to do with the current state of the church than anything else as churches seek growth tactics and marketing strategies rather than the face of God.

    I’m in no position to condemn Bono. We are all sinners in desperate need of repentance and God’s grace; however, as the Bible says, we should not use liberty as a cloak for vice. Isn’t one of the major criticisms of the church hypocrisy? If we are going to call ourselves Christians, we should seek to live it. Contrary to the legalistic way of just outwardly displaying certain behavior, we should admit that we are all faulty! We are wretched sinners, but sinners who are constantly praying for God to change us by the power of His Holy Spirit, and trusting that He will. All that to say that anyone who has truly surrendered their life to Christ will exhibit that change, never becoming perfect, but constantly on their face before the cross praying that He would increase, and we would decrease.

    I know you guys already know this; I guess it just helped me to write it all down here so that you know where I’m coming from. I too grew up in a legalistic church, and rebelled significantly on my journey back to Christ. I was really caught off guard when I showed up at the church my wife and I attend now and found real Christians admitting their faults – not offering excuses, but pouring their hearts out to God for Him to change them. And guess what – He does! Sure we all have our faults, but when Bono gets on national TV and drops F-bombs or engages in other poor behavior, you’ve got to question his authenticity. Is this judging? Sure. At some point you have to make some sort of judgment on whether someone is being honest in their profession of faith. Am I condemning him to hell (the true biblical sense of the Matthew 7 passage that I’m sure you’re thinking of)? No. But do his actions communicate a man who is truly surrendered to God?

    In the end, Bono has to answer to God, not us. The same goes for us – we will answer to God, not others. So when it comes down to it, do we want to be all things to all people, or all we can be for Christ?

  10. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Really, I feel kind of foolish here – it was never my intent to defend Bono’s Christianity. I’ll state again that I don’t think Bono should be the poster child for Christian virtue. And again, neither does he. However, it seems clear to me that he is a sincere Christian man.

    Again, I feel foolish, but all the same I just want to address a few things you mentioned and hopefully clarify or offer another perspective. When I talk about Bono’s gift for being all things to all people, what I’m referring to is his apparent sensitivity to his audience. Is he duplicitous? I think so, but I also think it serves him well. Is it a compromise of his Christian faith? I think you could make an argument that this falls in the category of our call to be “crafty as serpents but gentle as doves.” (Matt 10:16) I think he walks an interesting tight-rope and does it pretty well. Does he do things that don’t sit right with me? Yes.

    But another issue is the difference in our sensitivities. For instance, the f-bomb doesn’t offend me that much. I don’t go around using it all the time, but it’s ultimately just a word, a combination of letters, that we assign meaning to. I believe a Christian ideal is to refrain from coarse talk, but in the grand scope of the gospel it does seem to me to be minutiae. Which brings me to why I bother to stand up for Bono here at all, because one of the things that I believe is plagueing Western Evangelical Christianity is that we major in the minors. Bono can lead the charge to serve the least of these in the name of Christ – and this is one of the major commands of the whole of scripture – but if he cusses, we call his faith into question.

    I know, I know, he’s done more than cussed a few times, but in light of everything else – his advocacy for the poor, sharing of the gospel, shameless profession of faith – I just don’t see how we can continue to hold him in suspicion. Let me say, too, that I think some of his less righteous behavior is clearly an attempt to keep from being made the poster child for Christianity. In some ways you could almost interpret it as a humble deflection.

    I do know what you’re saying and I agree with you in a lot of ways. I really don’t want to be guilty of venerating Bono too much. Here’s my concern, though: I think we can get so worried about upholding the gospel that we miss the point of the gospel. Here’s an example of what I mean…

    I work with World Vision who I believe to be one of the greatest Christian humanitarian agencies in the world. They are the best at what they do and they are committed to their Christ-centeredness. World Vision went to a communist country a number of years ago (I won’t say where so I don’t put anyone at risk) and asked to serve their poor. This country said they could come and serve their poor, but would NOT be allowed to bring bibles or even staff members for the projects. This government instead would provide 100 nationals for the staff, all of this in hopes of prohibiting World Vision from sharing the gospel.

    I suspect that the attitudes of many Evangelical Christians would be to abandon the work since they would see little point in moving forward in the face of such restrictions. Why bother if you can’t share the gospel? World Vision, however, said, “whatever you say, we just want to serve your poor.” And that’s what the gospels ask of us: to love and serve the poor without agenda but with the truth in mind that it is Jesus himself that we are serving.

    The remarkable thing is that within the first year, over half of those 100 nationals became Christians. And this is because the work World Vision does begs the question: why are you doing this? The answer of course is Jesus.

    So this is all I’m saying. I’m inclined to forgive Bono’s rock star indiscretions (of which there are relatively few) when I see that his lifestyle begs a question for which the answer is Jesus.

    He’s annoyingly megalomaniacal at times and I’m really not interested in making a case for his faith. Again – and I think I’ve stated this a number of times in this post – what I’m most interested in is examining our own attitudes about what qualifiers we look for when labeling somebody a Christian or not, or even a “good” Christian or one who lives in compromise. Most of the time I think we are off the mark. Bono to me seems like a litmus test in this regard, or at the very least a good conversation starter.

    Bono, really, is not much different from ministers and Christian musicians who I know personally and are beloved by the church culture. Many of them have a public face that they wear to appease less mature or overly earnest brothers and sisters. This face is different from their private face. Are they two faced? I prefer to think they are sensitive to the weaker brethren, but I suppose maybe to a degree they are. What’s refreshing about Bono to me is that he is who he is. He doesn’t try to try to please churchgoers, at least. And I think that’s what has driven the church crazy at different times in his career.

    One last thought, though, that I do really agree with you about Bill. I heard a quote recently about how just like there were two thieves on either side of Jesus when he was crucified, there are two thieves of the gospel today, and they are legalism and license. We need to be aware of both, and if I come off as championing license in this conversation about Bono, then I do apologize. That has not been my desire or intent. I agree with you that license will drain our faith of it’s vibrancy.

  11. Chip Webb

    In looking at the controversy swirling back and forth, it strikes me that much of it probably comes from testing whether Bono fits into one particular box: that of an evangelical. Bono is not one, and even less so an American evangelical. (Evangelicalism does not look the same in different countries!)

    But when I say that Bono is not an evangelical, I’m not saying that Bono (a) is not evangelistic or, more importantly, (b) is not Christian. He most certainly is evangelistic at times, as demonstrated not only to an incredible degree in this book, but many situations over the years (e.g., talking with Michael Stipe about God, giving people copies of The Message). You can be evangelistic without being an evangelical.

    More importantly, his theology on most of the essential elements of the faith (e.g., the atonement, the resurrection) is thoroughly orthodox with a small “o.” On social issues, he too frequently (for my comfort level, at least) strays from Scripture and traditional beliefs, but from all I’ve read, he could recite the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds without ever crossing his fingers.

  12. josh

    I can identify with Bono a lot. I cuss, I drink, I hang out with some rough characters… I do pretty much everything he does that gets him ridiculed, but nobody has ever really had anything bad to say about me. Why is that?

    When it comes to cussing, I sometimes let one slip in moments of fear, surprise, anger, or just simply to do it now and then.

    When it comes to drinking I have the occasional beer or glass of wine when i’m out with friends. There have been times i’ve had a few too many, but it was only intentional once or twice.

    When it comes to hanging out with rough characters, they’re friends of mine and I love them. Someone on the outside looking in would say i’m “in bad company” and they are corrupting my character. But to me, they’re poeple I love and I am going to be their friend regardless of whether or not they ever come to accept Christ. I can’t force them and i can’t be a perfect example of what Christianity is all about, but I can love them as good as I know how.

    I think, in the end, that’s all Bono is trying to accomplish.

  13. Richards

    With regard to Arrow Pointing to Heaven, the endorsed biography of Richard Wayne Mullins, I agree that it makes too much of a saint of Richard. Ironically, Richard hated to be put on a pedestal. The book makes that point over and over, but it keeps setting him right back up there where he didn’t want to be. Those who loved him natually want to say only good of him, especially since his death. Richard himself always knew that the Christian music industry he was a part of would not let him publicly confess any specific failings or sins for fear of alienating his audience. Yet honesty was his heart’s blood, the essence of his spirituality and the wellspring of all his lyric genius. He ached to attach more importance to grace and less to his widely manipulated saintly stage personna.

    Which would be better, I wonder. . . a gritty bio of Richard as broken he really was, or an inspiring book which made him out to be someone he really wasn’t? I’m pretty sure which one he’d be inclined to publish if he had a choice.

  14. Tony Heringer

    Richards,

    Now we have a third author for the definitive Rich Mullins bio. Thanks for stepping up. Once Jason gets his new album done perhaps we can get started? 🙂

  15. Richards

    Sure, I’d be happy to contribute. Just send me a line when you want to get this thing off the ground. I have to warn you, though, I’m a woman. Smile.
    Where do I send an email to contact you?

    Richards

  16. Tony Heringer

    Richards,

    Why would you have to warn me? Women and men share this cyberspace in peace. Click on my name to send me an email. I’m not in a position by profession (software consultant) to drive a book project, but would certainly collaborate in the process with you and Jason should all parties be up for it, proper resources and permissions are secured etc.

  17. Richards

    Thing is, I’m not able to click on your name for whatever reason. You’re the software expert. . . you guide me!

  18. Richards

    I’ll explain the woman thing in an email. Proceeds would have to go to Compassion International, of course. Richard has many new fans who have come to know him after his death; some may have a less realistic view of him as a result of becoming acquainted with him through Jones’ book. You know the book you propose will be very unpopular with certain fans and most likely it will irritate Richard’s family, who have already authorized the present bio and are not interested in another. Everything published would have be be substantiated by multiple witnesses and ubsubstantiated research materials would have to be kept strictly confidential to avoid spreading unfounded gossip. The benefit of exposing the work of grace needs to be weighed against the harm of dividing the body. So I ask you and Jason to pray about it and I trust you to exercise discretion.

    Richards

  19. Tony Heringer

    Richards,

    I got the email and replied to it. Sorry about the confusion, I thought at one time you could click on a name to be directed to email; however that appears to be only for websites. Another Rabbit Room change?

    For anyone interested in the fuss over the Rich Mullins book here is a review that gets to the heart of the matter: http://media.www.ndsmcobserver.com/media/storage/paper660/news/2003/09/04/Scene/Putting.A.Humble.Man.On.A.Pedestal-457342.shtml

    I think this review is a fair assessment and talks to some of the issues raised by Richards and Jason.

    I’d call James Bryan Smith’s treatment of Mullin’s life more of a spiritual autopsy than a biography. Smith is after the core beliefs of the man. I think that happens in this book and it didn’t make me think any more or less of Rich. The Bible is clear that we are all sinners and only in Christ do we have any hope at all. Rich Mullins, from all I can tell, not just from this book but from folks who knew him, his words in print and music, encountered Jesus and lived out in a way that did point to Christ and not himself.

    “An Arrow Pointing To Heaven” did make me consider what I believe and cause me to ask “Would my beliefs be this clearly articulated should someone write about me after dying so suddenly? – no time to put one’s affairs in order, so to speak. I think it serves that purpose well and it’s a question I think about often and challenge others to do the same.

    As for Bono, my feelings are about the same. Jason and I have spoken in person on this topic so no need to beat a dead horse. If anyone else feels strongly about the topic, then go out and get face-to-face with someone on the other side and talk it out. It’s not a big deal to me, I like Bono and was just voicing a gut reaction to the book. Since that time there have been many lively discussions in this space about what it means to live a life of faith in Christ in this fallen world. Lord willing, there will be many more to come.

    Be God’s,

    Tony

  20. Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Holy smokes, I just checked in on this thread and it looks like I’ve gotten roped into writing a book! Yikes!!

    I don’t think I’m your guy for this job, on account of the fact that I stutter.

    (I use that excuse for everything…)

  21. Richards

    Hi, Jason

    My fingers get tangled, but I don’t let it stop me from writing! Don’t worry; it’s not too late to back out. Someone would have to be very committed to iconoclasm to attempt a book like Tony describes at this point.

    It hit me lately that somehow Richard has become what he never meant to be. There is serious talk in some quarters of nominating him for sainthood. I guess I find that disturbing. His life and mission was so opposed to drawing attention to his righteousness, because without Christ he didn’t have any. His first and foremost description of himself was sinner. And he wasn’t just being humble to be pious: he had a lot to be humble about.

    He also loved to see people work out their own salvation. He didn’t have any desire for his life example to be anyone’s shortcut to grace.

    But I am sure I don’t entirely understand the point of sainthood, so I hope any Catholic brothers and sisters will not be offended by my ignorance on the subject.

    I have mixed feelings about the counter-biography idea because people need a hero, and in some ways Richard is filling that need. But on the other hand I know how much he hated the pedestal. His honesty would never allow him to be comfortable up there. And the miracle, he would tell us, was always in the perfection of God’s love, never in Richard’s ability to be perfect.

    Tony, could you try sending that email again? It looks like I did not get it yet.

    Richards

  22. Tony Heringer

    Richards,

    I will re-send the email. My wife, who is a writer, is intrigued by this idea. Who knows something may come of this yet.

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