What Bono Taught Me

In 1999, I added something to the top of my bucket list: see U2 live in concert before they stop touring. I had just seen Rattle and Hum, a great documentary following the musicians’ early journey, and I was captured by the passion that seemed to flood out of every song. I kept thinking with every cd release (which were few and far between), this could be the last one. My chances keep getting fewer. But those scrappy Irish lads kept touring, singing, and talking about the least of these.

A couple years ago, nearly ten years after initially adding them to my list, my wife surprised me with tickets. It was epic. She was pregnant with our daughter, who seemed to kick in time as Bono crooned and danced and spotlighted his bandmates.

And then, near the end of the concert, it became something else entirely. Bono stopped after a song and caught his breath as he thanked the audience for their participation to help free a woman who had been held as a political prisoner. He exhorted and challenged tens of thousands of people who filled the statium, “We’re not done yet! There’s still a lot of work to be done to bring basic, foundational rights to people around the world.” He talked about food and water and justice for the oppressed. He told us how to get involved. He went from singer to CEO, and we were all, not employees, but teammates on a quest together, and this was our state of the union and the strategy for moving forward.

And then he sang some more. Not songs about the poor, but songs about love, loss, and even about producers he’s worked with.

What I learned from Bono was this:

1 – There’s no such thing as a singular calling.

So often we feel that if we are not “paid and employed” to do the thing we love, then we are a failure. But ‘do what you must’ and ‘do what you love’ were never mutually exclusive, and we must pursue them both. Bono doesn’t have to write songs exclusively about the poor in order to be one of their biggest voices. What does this say about Christoan music?

2 – It is possible to live 100% in the gifts, passions, and calling God has given you.

Watching Bono, I got the overwhelming sense that here was a man living in complete fulfillment, and yet with an aching desperation for the work to be done. Every gift he had was being used to its fullest. And it was one of the most convicting things I’ve ever seen.

3 – Sometimes pure and focused passion trumps passive attempts at perfection.

Bono doesn’t seem too concerned with things like bar-room language, smoking, or pious appearances. He’s a man on a mission. Some of the most powerful leaders, both in the bible and in today’s world, have been hugely flawed men and women whose passion and desperation pushed them to places of enormous impact, despite the way they looked to others. Sometimes we seek perfection, ultimately as an excuse to keep us from what we’re afraid of. We don’t feel ready, so we do nothing and justify it by the sad state of our heart, when God might have used our movement to bring life to those very parts of us. Are we willing to be seen in public, bringing an impact, but with all our flaws visible? Is there any other way to bring true impact?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…

James 1:27

I’m no Bono worshipper. He’s imperfect like everyone else. But when he sings and you can hear the ache pouring from his lips, when he calls the world to accountability on many of the most important things to God’s heart, he is living in the fullness of who he was created to be.

Now that I know it’s possible, I want it!


So what does fully alive look like for you?