Bono: A Sort of Prophet

Some thoughts on U2's Bono... Aside from being a big U2 fan, I've always appreciated lead singer Bono's thoughtful reflections.  He has always been a deep thinker.  As his fame was taking growing, he ditched everything and went to Central America to see the Civil Wars first-hand.  Not many self-absorbed Rock Stars would risk their life to head into mid-1980's Central America.  He was the one who introduced a generation of us to Amnesty International.  After the Live Aid performance in 1985 (which along with Queen's, was the best of the massive extravaganza), he devoted himself to learning more about Ethiopia.  And he didn't do what a lot of celebrities do---hire a publicity firm to put them in good photo-ops, memorize a few key facts, and exploit suffering as a way to build up their image  (their are entire agencies that specialize in doing that for celebrities).

No. Bono, a ridiculously passionate person, became an expert in these subjects.  He became a student, a learner, and an evangelist about the power that people could have to make a difference.  Sometimes it seemed laughable to people---Bono in his black "fly" outfit in some poor village in Africa telling us that we could see infant mortality rates plummet if we would only do our part.  But sure enough, that is what has happened in Africa and other parts of the world.  Bono met with Presidents, Prime Ministers, and the head of corporations and tried to make giving to charity cool--which he did.  Bono did the very non-rock star thing of hanging out with George W. Bush and got a pledge for US assistance against the fight with AIDS which has been a serious-game changer.  And he quickly credited Bush with having gotten that right. That took guts.  He put the cause ahead of the coolness, although he always self-consciously points out that he's a "rock star."  "You may be wondering what a Rock Star is doing at a meeting of the G8?" etc.

His band certainly struggled with the amount of charity and long-winded sermons he would give.  They eventually ended up in U2's concerts:  The lights dim and Bono gives some speech about saving the crustaceans instead of launching into a blistering "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Some fans have turned away tired of the pomposity and piety, but most have stayed.

Most remarkably to me, it was Bono, long before any academics wrote about this, predicted that the end of the Cold War would make Berlin a hub of experimental art and freedom, and that the downside would be that society would get lost in virtual reality.  The themes found on the 1993 album Zooropa, which was basically formulated in Berlin during the making of "Achtung Baby," pointed to the world we now live in.  During the first Gulf War in 1991, he discussed the effects technology would have on war and how soldiers could be disconnected from the damage they wrought through new weapons--which today can be exemplified by drones.  In the marvelous book "U2 at the End of the World"  Bono's prophetic thoughts are captured as he camps out in this new unified city of Berlin.  Bono once met John Paul II and the Pope put on Bono's "fly shades."  It was perhaps the most remembered photos of JPII's papacy outside of the assassination attempt.  The Pope and Bono had very similar views of the upcoming 21st century.  Both of them were eager to put the ideological warfare of the Cold War aside, but both harbored skepticism as to whether humans could handle the freedom that would be unleashed through globalization.  They were oddly kindred spirits in many ways.

I think he also put his finger on the "Clash of Civilizations" idea long before Harvard's Samuel Huntington wrote the famous Political Science book which caused so much controversy and, itself, became viewed as prophetic after 9/11.

Although I'm a huge Beatles fan and love John Lennon, Bono is John Lennon 2.0.  He's not a lazy, idealist mostly lost in self-absorption and dysfunction as Lennon was.  He does his homework and his ideas are rooted in reality.  Many of his insights in "U2 at the End of the World" are true, profound, and simply brilliant.

Long before the Post-Christendom emerging movement began taking the stage, Bono was a symbol of what a post-modern Christian could be.  Back in the late 80's, he challenged the church to be less about dogma and more about experience.  Less about concrete theology and more about mysticism ("Mysterious Ways".)  Most of all, he was pretty emphatic that Jesus would have been with the AIDS sufferers and the poor.  This was about 15 years before Evangelical Christians started using this same language.  Perhaps it was because he grew up in Ireland in a Protestant-Catholic environment and he had plenty of time to mull the ineffectiveness and hypocrisy of the institutional church in Ireland.  Whatever the reason, one could easily look at interviews from the mid-1980's and find that Bono sounds like a Gen-X preacher talking to Relevant Magazine.  No matter how you cut it, that's pretty remarkable.  It's no coincidence at all that many Gen-X pastors grew up on U2 music.  Perhaps they might have given up if someone like Bono had not talked of a new way, and then mostly walked his talk.

Bono will be the first to tell you he's no saint.  But even that is a pretty big break from where we were in the old days.  Bono has always been fascinated by the concept of Grace "Grace makes beauty out of ugly things," primarily because of what it means for him.  He has once said that this is the reason he doesn't become a follower of other religions:  because he hasn't seen anything like the concept of Christian grace.

Nobody is arguing that Bono should be your pastor or your spiritual hero.  But it's worth noting that in the world of rock n' roll, we've never seen anything like him, and that often, he is worth listening to when he speaks, not just when he sings.

(In this video, Bono discusses an epiphany he had as he watched his father die of cancer):