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What You Need to Know about the Bono-Peterson Interview

  • Michael Lee Stallard
  • 2016 29 Apr
What You Need to Know about the Bono-Peterson Interview

Bono and Eugene Peterson: More in Common than You’d Imagine

Have you watched the 20-minute video of Bono and Eugene Peterson conversing about the Psalms? I highly recommend it (as do an increasing number of people on social media). At first you might think they are an unlikely pair: Bono, the Irish rock star, smartly donned in leather jacket, tinted glasses and earrings, and Peterson, an elderly, soft-spoken pastor and teacher, and the author of The Message, a modern-daytranslation of the Bible

Their day-to-day lives are vastly different. In fact, Peterson chuckles about his lack of pop culture knowledge. He had never heard of Bono, the lead singer of U2, until one of his students brought to his attention that Bono spoke about him in an interview with the magazine Rolling Stones [sic]. In telling the story of how these two men came to be friends, we learn that Bono first reached out to Peterson back in 2002 to thank him for his writing that “speaks to me in my own language” and the impact it was having on Bono’s life. The first invitation to be Bono’s guest at a U2 concert was turned down. (“Who turns down an invitation to hang with U2?,” Peterson is asked. “I had a deadline,” he replies.) Later, he and his wife, Jan, took Bono up on an offer to attend a U2 concert in Dallas. Describing the experience, Peterson refers to the mosh pit as a “mash” pit -- pausing to ask, “is it a pit?” He laughs, and we laugh along with him.

The heart of the video is their conversation around the table in Peterson’s tranquil lakeside cabin in Montana, facilitated by David Taylor, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary. It is clear from their interactions that Bono and the Petersons have formed a fond connection. Knowing a bit about their backgrounds, I was drawn to what they have in common.

Profound Love of God and of People

SEE ALSO: Bono and Eugene Peterson Deliver Amazing Video on the Psalms

One sign of an individual’s profound love of God is that he or she truly loves people.  You can see this in Bono’s life. Many know from media reports that Bono and his wife, Ali, devote significant time and resources to help the poor, including refugees. What you may not know is Bono’s long history of loving and caring for his bandmates.     

U2 began when its four members were 14 and 15 years old. Larry Mullen Jr., U2’s drummer, lost his mother in a car crash about a year after the band started. Bono reached out to Larry to help him through a difficult season. Bono’s mother died when he was 14 years old so he could feel Larry’s pain and mourned with his friend. 

Some years later, U2 was offered its first recording contract, contingent upon replacing Larry with a more conventional drummer. Bono refused. He would not accept a recording contract if it meant dumping his friend, even if the contract came from one of the largest recording labels and at a time when Bono and the band were nearly broke.

Bono has been there for his other bandmates, too.  When The Edge, U2’s lead guitar player, went through a painful divorce, Bono was there for him.  When Adam Clayton, U2’s bass player developed a drug and alcohol addiction and showed up to a concert so intoxicated he couldn't perform, Bono and the guys didn't throw Adam overboard for letting them down.  Instead, they adopted the motto that “everyone gets through this alive” and they helped Adam overcome addiction.

SEE ALSO: Bono Shares his Faith in Prayer, Miracles and Jesus

I learned about Eugene Peterson’s profound love of God and people reading his memoir, The Pastor. One of my favorite books, it’s an account of the people and events that shaped “Pastor Pete,” as he was called by the young people in the congregation in Maryland he and Jan served for nearly 30 years. The Petersons embraced humbly loving and serving the people in their congregation, connecting them with “…God and Scripture and prayer.” Peterson shunned anything he viewed as putting a distance between God, him and people, including “the American Way,” which he described as “…rampant consumerism that treats God as a product to be marketed,” “…dehumanizing ways that turn men, women and children into impersonal roles, causes and statistics,” and “…the competitive spirit that treats others as rivals and even enemies.” Reading The Pastor, you see that Peterson loves people and sees them as unique individuals created in the image of God and loved by Him.    

Connecting People with God

Bono and Peterson’s meeting is what Peter, the Apostle, might have viewed as the “kingdom of priests” in action.  Let me explain. 

In 1 Peter Chapter 2, Peter wrote: “…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” The early Christians would not have thought of themselves as priests. The function of priests was to connect the Jewish people with God and the Law was clear that priests were to be from the tribe of Levi (the word “levi” means connect). There were strict rules in place about how and when and who could approach God on behalf of the people. Jesus changed that. Mark’s account of the death of Jesus on the cross includes a curious statement. He wrote, “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:37-38). What is the significance of the curtain? This is the curtain that separated the people from the holy of holies. Only certain priests were allowed to step into that sacred space. In parting the curtain, God communicated that the old priestly order was no more. Individually, we are now the priests and together we are a royal priesthood charged with connecting people with God and empowered by the Holy Spirit for that purpose.

SEE ALSO: Singer Bono and Author Eugene Peterson Teaming Up to Make Film about the Psalms

Bono and Peterson model the priestly calling. Bono connects people with God through U2’s music and his actions to help the poor and dispossessed. Peterson connects people to God through his preaching, teaching and writing. The Message began as a way for the people in his congregation to understand Scripture. Today, there are 17 million copies of The Message in print.

In this age of dissension, watching these two very different men of faith join together to encourage people to engage with the Psalms made me wonder how I and other followers of Jesus can come together in new ways, despite our differences, and connect people with God and with each other. 

My work focuses on helping people who feel disengaged and are struggling in the workplace because of cultures of control or indifference. Turning that around is all about infusing connection into the organizational or team culture, and my colleagues and I have seen employees and organizations thrive when that happens. If you are struggling at work or know of others who are, please sign up for several free resources my colleagues and I would like to share, including a download of my first book, Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity, our 28-page 100 Ways to Connect e-book, and a subscription to the semi-monthly Connection Culture email newsletter.

This conversation between “companions in faith,” as Peterson speaks of Bono, around the honesty found in the Psalms is sure to attract the attention of U2 fans across the globe and may prompt some to pick up God’s Word for the first time.

What action might you take to team up with others in a way that connects with people and helps connect them with God?

Michael Lee Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners, is co-founder of and co-developer of the Culture Quiz. He speaks, teaches and consults with leaders of business, government, healthcare and higher education on workplace culture. His most recent book is Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work.   

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Publication date: April 29, 2016