Bono's American Prayer
"The world's biggest rock star tours the heartland, talking more openly about his faith as he recruits Christians in the fight against AIDS in Africa."
No poet—and Bono, the 42-year-old lead singer of the Irish rock band U2, considers himself a poet—enjoys having his verse scrutinized. And no musician likes to have to explain what a song means.
Nevertheless, for more than 20 years Bono's fans have been attempting to gauge his spiritual well-being by what he sings, what he says in interviews, talk shows, and awards programs, and what he does or doesn't do in public.
For many Christians of a certain generation, combing through the lyrics of U2 songs (nearly all of them written by Bono) in search of biblical images or references to Jesus Christ and his teachings is almost a sport. Consider it a cross between exegesis and Where's Waldo?
He doesn't attend church regularly. He prays frequently. He likes to say grace before meals. He tries to have a "Sabbath hour" as often as he can. His favorite Bible is Eugene Peterson's paraphrase, The Message. He hangs out with Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones, but on a recent visit to Nashville he spent the morning palling around with Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant.
Bono knows the subject of his personal faith is of great interest to others, although he's certain that interest is misplaced. The inquiries don't seem to bother him—Bono seems comfortable with who he is. He just celebrated his 20th wedding anniversary with his high-school sweetheart, Alison Stewart, his band had one of its most successful years artistically and professionally, and he has found his calling, on and off stage. Rarely has Bono talked explicitly about his faith and beliefs. But as he has begun to recruit churches this past year in the fight against AIDS in Africa, that seems to be changing.'Hi. I'm Bono.'
Born Paul David Hewson in Dublin, Ireland, to a Roman Catholic father, Bob Hewson (who died of cancer in August 2001), and a Protestant mother, Iris Rankin Hewson (who died when Bono was 14), he has long carved his own path to Christ irrespective of institutional religion.
Bono, a moniker given him 30 years ago by his longtime friends and taken from the name of a hearing-aid store in North Dublin, has always straddled Protestantism and Catholicism looking for a "third way."
He attended Mount Temple High School, Ireland's first nondenominational coeducational school, which was designed to educate Protestant and Catholic children together in Ireland's troubled sectarian society.
After his mother died unexpectedly, Bono, David Evans (who is now known as U2's guitarist The Edge) and Larry Mullen Jr. (U2's drummer) were all involved in Shalom, a loose evangelical group that met for song, worship, and Bible study.
But when Shalom evolved into something more structured, more akin to the institutional religion he finds uncomfortable, Bono, and soon the others, left.
"I just go where the life is, you know? Where I feel the Holy Spirit," Bono told Christianity Today. "If it's in the back of a Roman Catholic cathedral, in the quietness and the incense, which suggest the mystery of God, of God's presence, or in the bright lights of the revival tent, I just go where I find life. I don't see denomination. I generally think religion gets in the way of God.
"I am just trying to figure it out. Everybody wants to make an impact with their life, whether it's small scale with friends or family—that's really big, is the truth—or whether it's on a grand scale, in changing their communities and beyond. I just want to realize my potential." He recalled one pastor's recent advice: Stop asking God to bless what you're doing. Find out what God's doing. It's already blessed. "That's what I want," Bono said. "I want to align my life with that."
March 2003, Vol. 47, No. 3