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"If a U2 show is going askew, as it can, the one song you can rely on to get that room back is 'Where The Streets Have No Name.'" — Bono

Transcript: Bono - Husband, Father, Advocate (Focus On The Family Interview)


On June 25th, Bono was Jim Daly's guest for a Focus On The Family radio interview. The interview was taped on May 23 in New York City, while U2 was working on its next album. Audio of the interview is currently available on Focus On The Family's website, and we've done a transcription of the interview that's presented below.

John: Today on Focus On The Family we'll talk about poverty and justice, and love and mercy, with a rather unique guest. His music has encouraged a generation of fans, and he's galvanized an enormous outreach to the poorest of the poor. I'm John Fuller and our host is Focus President and author Jim Daly.

Jim: John, some of our listeners could have guessed from the music that today's guest is U2's lead singer, and activist, Bono. And as we get started today, let me read one of my favorite quotes from President Theodore Roosevelt that perfectly -- I think -- sets up the program today. He said in part:

"It's not the critic who counts. It's not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who's actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who spends himself for a worthy cause."

And John, Bono is a man who has "spent himself for a worthy cause," and he's known great success, both in his career as a musician, and in his work as a global advocate for the poorest of the poor. He's also the co-founder of The ONE Campaign, and their motivation is to help people who are suffering. And we had the privilege to catch up with Bono in New York City, where the band U2 is working on their next album.

John: That's right, we met him at the offices of The American Bible Society in Manhattan, and we're of course very grateful to them for the use of their beautiful headquarters there for this. And Jim, as we talked with him and you interviewed him, I think you two really hit it off very well.

Jim: Well, he's actually very interesting to interview and I think that Irish connection meant something -- you know, we share that common heritage. But John, I appreciated his heart. There are a lot of people who can be critics, like I just mentioned. But Bono seems very genuine. I'm sure on stage he's very confident -- that's part of the stage craft. But in person, he's a very humble guy and you can really feel his passion for the less fortunate. It's what he wants to talk about.

Bono grew up in Dublin with a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, during the "Troubles" of the 1970s, and I think that's one of the reasons that he's uneasy with religious labels, because of what he experienced during that time. He saw a lot of harm coming from religion. But, as you're going to hear, he's a believer in Jesus Christ, and professes Christ as his Savior. In fact, Bono's spiritual journey has been greatly influenced by a mutual good friend -- Eugene Peterson, who's the author of The Message. And he's also written a great book called Run With The Horses that has had a great influence on Bono and many of us. And I think folks are really gonna enjoy this interview.

John: Here's Jim Daly and Bono on today's Focus on the Family.

(interview begins)
Jim: Let's start with your marriage and your family, because this is Focus On The Family, and so many people are interested in the health of the family, the well-being of the family, because we think it's the institution that God put in place to bring life about. And you've been married to your wife for 30 years in a business that rips marriages apart. How have you done that?

Bono: I'd say my Missus is patient more than anything. I married an extraordinary woman. In fact I -- the same week I joined U2, I met Ali. Ali Stewart. And she's a mysterious ... creature. I still don't quite feel like I've gotten to know her. I'm still trying, and we've just been through everything together. And I think, to answer your question seriously, probably, you know, I think she's very self-reliant. So, I would need her more than she probably needs me. I hold onto her very tightly.

Jim: I think one of the amazing things about marriage and why God designed it the way He did is, that it puts two people together and you have to kind of rub off your selfishness, which we're all selfish by nature, as human beings.

Bono: Well, you know, if I would say the job of love -- maybe "job" is the wrong word -- is to realize the potential of others, so if you're doing that equally in a relationship and both of you are fixed on realizing each other's potential, you're probably gonna get places. However, if that's a one-way street, I think it's a very different matter.

But it's also true in friendships. It's also true in in the wider family sense. We must you know ... the waste of human potential is one of the reasons why I became an activist, because again, the job of love is to realize potential. And when you see lives squandered in the developing world because they cannot get access to medicines that we can buy in any Duane Reade here in New York, or they can't vaccinate their kids for measles, then you know something's up. And then you have to serve that. Again, because that's the potential of the world we have -- the job of love is to realize that potential.

Jim: Absolutely. Did you see a difference raising two girls and then having two boys a little later? Did you see a difference in that?

Bono: Yeah, I did a bit. I mean, it's a funny thing. They say that with parenting, you go back to the age you were at with your children. So, I remember with the girls, I remember putting them to bed and songs would come into my head that I didn't think I knew -- melodies, nursery rhymes, obviously that my mother had sang to me or recited when I was going to bed. So it awoke memories. There's something beautiful about that. It can also bring a pain, of course, when you have kids, because you bring up if you had any bruises and/or wounds of a certain age. I don't know if that happened to you. Did it bring back painful memories of your own childhood when you had kids, Jim?

Jim: Oh, it did. You know, what I was gonna ask you about, in fact, was the loss of your mom, because I lost my mom when I was 9-years-old and the pain of that as a boy ... my mom was my world. I loved my mom. She had that great Irish sense of humor and she just held it all together, even in our poverty. We grew up in some of the poorest parts in California. Lived in Compton and ... but she was she was my world and that rocked me. And you lost your mom at about 13-14, is that right?

Bono: Yeah, I did. She was a very humorous character. I do remember that. I don't have a lot of memories of her, which is an unfortunate situation.

I do remember my mother once, 'cause I was clearly an obnoxious kid and she was counseled by a neighbor to get me some better discipline. So, she got a cane. And she hung it up in the kitchen and the angle was, you know, if I continue to my obnoxious behavior, she's gonna get the cane down. So --

Jim: That's a threat.

Bono: I can't even remember what happened, but I do remember, she went for the cane. She's right, this is it! And she started chasing me down the hall. I start running away from her. And when I looked back, I was terrified. I looked back in fear. I just saw her. She was just laughing her head off. [laughter] And so, that's I think, a clue to her. I wish I had more.

And then a beautiful thing happened. Somebody in an airport met a cousin or something and there was a film -- Super 8 footage that a distant family member had of my mother at age 24, playing rounders on the beach. And the tape arrived and I was kind of trepidatious and I went and I put it in -- it was on a VHS or something like that -- and I was waiting. I was bracing myself. And then I just saw this beautiful creature running in this kind of Super 8 movement, you know, and she just -- after having hit the ball.

So, you know, I look forward to meeting her again. But the the loss of that is significant for me. I filled it with music and and it deepened my faith, I suppose.

Jim: How did your dad react? That's part of your story that I've read, that it created distance, it seemed like between you and your dad.

Bono: Oh, my dad was just trying to keep it together. It didn't feel like that at the time. It felt like he was being a sergeant major. And my brother was seven years older and I was like just ... I found it quite annoying. And I've sort of apologized in many ways since to my father for that.

Jim: That Scripture in Psalms that talks about God being close to the brokenhearted and saving those crushed in spirit, does that mean something to you?

Bono: Yeah. Well, I mean, look -- David, you know? First of all, David's a musician and so I'm gonna like him. He's promised he's gonna be king, correct? He goes up and he ends up to play harp for King Saul, who's agitated, and music will still him. So, he meets Jonathan. They hang out together. It's all going well. David must be thinking of the prophecy by Samuel -- it's all gonna work out. This is great.

Next thing, Saul tries to kill him, throws a spear at him. His life is turned upside down and he lives. He has to run for his life. And in that cave that he hid at on the edge of Israel is where he wrote the psalm. We call that "The Blues" in music.

And what's so powerful about the Psalms are, as well as they're being Gospel and praise -- songs of praise -- they are also the Blues. It's very important for Christians to be honest with God, which often, you know -- God is much more interested in who you are than who you want to be.

Jim: And really, that's the faith you're living. And sometimes it gets you into hot water with the more orthodox folks, because they see you as edgy, maybe too edgy at times.

Bono: You're still talking to me!

Jim: Right. No, I mean -- but I love it. I love it because what I see in you is that drive for orthopraxy, the "doing of the Word." Judge me by what I do. And, you know, in Christian circles today, we've really lost that ability to do the Word, rather than just speak about it, haven't we?

Bono: Yes we have. And it's a ... you've gotta be very careful that grace and politeness do not merge into a banality of behavior, where we're just nice, you know. Sort of "death by cupcake," you know. And politeness is, you know, is a wonderful thing. Manners are, in fact, a really important thing. But remember, Jesus didn't have many manners as we now know. And He didn't have to.

Jim: He said it like it was.

Bono: Yeah. He just spoke directly to the situation. I always think of that dude who came up to Him, you know, saying [whispering], "Listen, I think You're incredible. You are amazing. You may even be God incarnate, and all of that. But I've just gotta go and bury my father, you know, 'cause I've had a trauma. You understand." And Christ says, "Let the dead bury the dead."

Jim: Seems cold-hearted.

Bono: No, seems punk rock to me. It's like, He knew. He could see right into that fellow's heart. He knew he wasn't coming and he was just -- it was pretense. And so, we've gotta be a bit more cutting edge. Not look to the obvious signs of righteousness. Jesus was very suspicious of them. And I think, look deeper. Look to the actions.

And remember -- and I'm always amazed. We worked for the Drop the Debt campaign -- Jubilee 2000 -- which was, you know, an organization ... the idea behind [that was], What can we celebrate the millennium with? How about countries getting a chance to start again? The poorest countries on earth, who owe us all this money, that was pushed on them years and years ago during the Cold War. They can't pay back the debts. It's unjust. Let's sort it out. Two septuagenarian Christians set up this movement called Jubilee Movement. And it focused on the Jubilee text about, you know, setting the slaves free.

But the other thing about the Jubilee year is, Jesus begins His ministry by what? By quoting Isaiah. He walks into the temple and He said, "that the blind may see, set the captives free, the poor..." -- all of the sort of justice agenda. That's how Christ began. So, if we aren't following that, that's what was at the heart of -- apart from personal redemption, which is the key -- the second most important drive of the entire New Testament is against injustice and where we see it, in little or large ways.

Jim: And so often, in the Christian community, we're even judgmental about the justice piece. You know, that people that are justice-minded -- be leery of that, because they're not orthodox.

Bono: We can be a pain though! [laughter] I don't -- people should be -- it's also cool to find us a pain because that's another kind of piety is, you know, what I'm doing here. We've gotta be careful about this stuff, you know, gotta be quiet about it. Sometimes do the stuff and uhh ... serve.

Jim: And what Jesus did so well was bringing truth and grace together in one cup. And that's what He wants from us.

Bono: Beautiful phrase.

Jim: So often those that struggle with accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior -- it's the idea that He's the Messiah. In fact, you were asked about that by a journalist. How did you respond to that?

Bono: Jesus doesn't let you off the hook. The Scriptures don't let you off the hook so easily. So, Jesus died on a cross with "King of the Jews," as the Messiah. In fact, if He'd just given that bit up, you know, [He] would not have had the crucifixion. And Pilate was saying it's unnecessary. Everyone was, "this is kind of mad." Because when people say, you know, "good teacher," "prophet," "really nice guy," and this is not how Jesus thought of Himself.

So, you're left with a challenge in that, which is either Jesus was who He said He was, or a complete and utter nut case. You have to make a choice on that. And I believe that Jesus was the Son of God. And I ... you know, I understand for some people -- and we need to, if I could be so bold -- need to be really, really respectful to people who find that ridiculous and people who find that preposterous.

Jim: Rather than combative.

Bono: Yes, we need to be very -- because it sounds so mad and I see it on this in a poetic level. I see it in the literal level, but I see the poetic. The idea that there's a force of love and logic behind the universe.

You know, in John we have, "In the beginning was the Word," you know, "and the Word was" -- they used the word logos, which is in the original translation. And you get this sense of this unfathomable love and logic behind the universe. But it has to describe itself, you know. How do you describe it? And then you see this child born in straw.

And it's so perfect to me. At a particular time, at a particular community, so that you don't have to go to university and do a Ph.D. to understand this stuff. It's ... you just go to the person of Christ. That's how I do that and we have to -- it's very annoying following this person of Christ around because He's very demanding of your life.

Jim: It's very hard.

Bono: And it's hopeless trying to keep up with it.

Jim: In fact, Bono, C.S. Lewis has a great quote which I love, that -- he said this: "When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that's left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less." That is powerful, isn't it?

Bono: Yeah, that could turn up on the next U2 album, but I won't give him or you any credit.

Jim: [laughs] That's fair. I don't mind.

Bono: Okay.

Jim: But it ... it really does. It speaks to the self-righteousness of humanity. And when we think we have it all together, it's probably a point when you don't have much together at all.

Bono: It's very, very important. The hypocrisy of the human heart is a remarkable thing. And the piety of the faithful can be a really annoying thing -- and judgmentalism. It's so, so important, you know, not to be judgmental.

Jim: Let's talk about the band. We need to talk about that. That's important. It's U2. When you were 15 and you met your wife, Ali, there was another thing that happened that week. Amazingly, these two things happened at the same time.

Bono: Well, she's 15; I was 16. See, I was a year older. Not wiser.

Jim: Oh, you're bragging now.

Bono: But yeah, that was a great week for me.

Jim: How'd that happen? What -- how did that come about?

Bono: I don't know, you know, it's a real blessing -- friends. I had a friend, a guy called Reggie Manuel, who -- when Larry Mullen put a note up on the board in high school, looking for people to join the Larry Mullen Band -- my friend drove me there. I didn't want to go there. I was shy to go there. Shy to confront that side of myself, even though I knew as a kid that I had melodies, you know, wake up with melodies in my head. And it's like inherited wealth. You know, this is a gift. It's not something I earned or deserved. I was given it and I try not to let it make me arrogant. Other things make me arrogant.

Jim: Like what?

Bono: Umm ... insecurity.

Jim: Really?

Bono: Of course!

Jim: You're insecure? Bono.

Bono: Have you -- insecurity is your best security if you're an artist.

Jim: If you use it.

Bono: Because you know, you write out of that emptiness. You write out of that hole, that void. You're filling the void. For me, you know, it was probably came out of loss, as you talked about earlier. But you know, they call it the God-shaped hole, don't they? But music fills it. So, no, no -- I've noticed that I'm particularly annoying when I'm feeling vulnerable.

Jim: Let's talk about what you've done, because I again, I think this is so critical. I know you wouldn't put this on your own back, but some of the stats that I've read -- when you started working with governments around the world, and particularly the U.S. with PEPFAR and other efforts -- when you look at what's happened and I'll just give a couple and I'd love for you to share more, which you did in Long Beach at the TED Conference.

But over 7,000 kids each and every day live because of that collective effort, that you really did push in the beginning when it comes to AIDS and helping kids get through disease and malaria and other things. In addition to that, the debt relief effort that you've done -- fifty-one million children in Africa can go to school because those governments can allocate resources to education, rather than paying on the debt load. That is visionary and I think it comes right from God's heart.

Bono: You're absolutely right; it's a much grander vision. We have a pastor who said to us, he says, "Stop asking God to bless what you're doing, Bono." Which by the way, I constantly do. He said, "Find out what God is doing, 'cause it's already blessed." And when you align yourself with God's purpose as described in the Scriptures, something special happens to your life. You're in alignment. You start to get into alignment.

And on debt cancellation, it is a remarkable thing to see -- when people get organized, like they join ONE, you know, we've now, I think, three million members. And it's really important, because politicians will tell you, it's very, very hard to make these decisions. Especially a difficult time in America, you know, difficult harsh economic times. And even if -- it's not even one percent of the GDP of the country, of the national income of the country, it's a tiny fragment of that, 0.25 percent. Half of that goes to Israel and Egypt. So, it's a tiny bit that goes to the world's poor.

It's still hard to to allocate these resources. You know, you can really do it. You make a priority of your country. It is, to me, as historic and valiant an effort as the U.S. intervention in the second World War to save European lives. Most of the nine million lives that are now saved, HIV-AIDS sufferers, are paid for by the U.S. So, I think it's two-thirds. This should be shouted from the rooftops! This is a heroic American story. And I am here to thank the American people for that.

And I also want to thank the evangelical community for that, because it wouldn't have happened without their leadership, because they, like myself, pestered George Bush and the administration, who actually deserve praise for starting this out.

President Obama has followed through on it. It's always been bipartisan. It goes back to a bill in the Senate called Kerry-Frist. But you know, it was the evangelicals did that.

There couldn't be a clearer analog with leprosy than AIDS. And the fact that it's difficult and awkward does not mean we can walk away from it. It's the story of the Pharisee and the Samaritan. People don't understand in that Scripture -- the Samaritan was at odds with the ideology of the person he stopped on the road for. This is why we call it The ONE Campaign. This is the one thing you can agree on. You can disagree. You and I can have many disagreements on many philosophical, theological things. But on this, we know we can agree on. And it's as a result of that "oneness," if you like, the world has changed shape for nine million lives. And think of their families and their friends being transformed by American leadership. It's fantastic.

Jim: Bono, let me say thank you. Thank you for your heart. I know that you get criticism about being unorthodox, but I love what you're doing and we'll put some of the resources on our website, where people can connect and find out how to get involved. Thank you for being with us.

Bono: What an honor. Thank you.

(end of interview)

John: A very interesting and rather unique Focus On The Family interview today for you, featuring Jim Daly talking with Bono, from the rock band, U2. That discussion taking place at the headquarters of the American Bible Society in Manhattan, just a couple of weeks ago.

Jim: I'm very grateful that we had this opportunity to talk with Bono and introduce him to you, whether you've heard of the band U2 or not. He's a man who has such a passion for the poor and he has worked tirelessly for over 25 years. I mean, just think of that. It reminds me of Wilberforce -- to make life better for those caught in extreme poverty, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and as he said there, John, making a difference in the lives of nine million people.

John: Now that's a number that bears repeating. That is a lot of folks being touched.

Jim: And you know what? That's why he deserves respect. And I think it's so important to bring to everyone's attention this idea that is Scriptural, that we need to be able to work with people with different expressions of our faith and be the hands and feet of Jesus as we reach the poor, and the widows and orphans, and do the things the Scripture and the Lord asks us to do. And he's doing it.

(C) Focus On The Family, 2013.