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Tribute to Eugene Peterson: Password Entered

@U2, October 23, 2018
By: Tim Neufeld

 

"What can I give back to God for the blessings he's poured out on me? I lift high the cup of salvation, a toast to our Father." This was Bono’s transition on the Elevation tour, from the shadowy lament of “Bad,” through a rising chorus of “40,” and finally into a triumphant “Where The Streets Have No Name,” bringing a cathartic explosion of sound and light, hands raised in both victory and surrender. The frontman’s words were from Psalm 116 in The Message, Eugene Peterson’s inspirational translation of the Bible using everyday language. The scene remains a poignant reminder of Peterson, who passed away on Oct. 22 at age 85.  

Though the term “fan” might be a stretch, the elderly Peterson certainly considered himself a friend of the band. Bono started talking about his love for Peterson’s translation of the New Testament and Psalms back in 1999, signaling it as a favorite on his booklist. He also read portions of The Message to his dying father in 2001, and in 2002, sent a recorded thank you to the biblical scholar, expressing no small amount of awe and humility, saying: 

Hi, Mr. Peterson, Eugene. My name is Bono. I'm a singer with the group U2. I wanted to sort of video message you my thanks, and our thanks in the band, for this remarkable work you've done. There’s been some great translations … but no translation that I’ve read that speaks to me in my own language.

When asked in an @U2 interview by Scott Calhoun what he would like to say to U2 in return, Peterson responded, “Thank you for preaching to all the people who will never listen to me or read anything that I write! And for doing it with such integrity.” He continued, “I just feel grateful to [the band] for being obedient to the gifts that God has given them.”

Peterson’s influence on U2 shows up in numerous places over the years. In the Foreword to The Message 100: The Story Of God In Sequence, Bono recalls, “I discovered Eugene Peterson’s The Message through the Psalms. In the dressing room before a show, we would read them as a band, then walk out into arenas and stadiums, the words igniting us, inspiring us.”

Along with The Message, Bono endorsed another of Peterson’s books, Run With The Horses, a commentary on the prophet Jeremiah, calling it a “powerful manual” and confessing, “Eugene’s writing has kept me sane.” During both the Innocence + Experience and the Experience + Innocence tours, U2 littered the crowd with pages from Alice In Wonderland, Dante’s Inferno and dozens of different Psalms selections from Peterson’s translation. And in 2015, Bono sat down with Peterson for a filmed interview, talking in depth about theology, art, U2 and the Psalms. 

Peterson reflected on the importance of U2’s music and cultural engagement in Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching The U2 Catalog, by Raewynne Whiteley and Beth Maynard:

Prophets confront us with the sovereign presence of God in our lives. If we won’t face up, they grab us by the scruff of our necks and shake us into attention. Amos crafted poems, Jeremiah wept sermons, Isaiah alternately rebuked and comforted, Ezekiel did street theater. U2 writes songs and goes on tour, singing them.

Peterson asks, “Is U2 a prophetic voice? I rather think so.”

In Milan, on Oct. 15, U2 performed “One,” a standard in their encore. But on this night, Bono included a dedication near the end of the song and a rare coda not yet heard on the Experience + Innocence tour. Standing in solidarity with his band mates, Bono offered a crescendoed plea: “Hear us coming, Lord. Hear us call. Hear us knocking, knocking at your door.” The dedication was to the ailing Eugene Peterson.

There’s an odd little lyric in “Unknown Caller” from No Line On The Horizon. In a section that juxtaposes the storyteller’s despondent perspective with the unexpected, yet hopeful presence of the divine, an exuberant voice — presumably God’s — shouts “Password, you, enter here, right now.” Bono sheds a bit of light on that lyric in the liner notes for Songs Of Experience:

The lights of home. I’ve always known that joy cannot be contrived, that it’s a wellspring of a life being lived and being loved. In The Message, Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, I read Psalm 100: “Enter with the password ‘Thank You!’ and make yourself at home.” What a line.

Peterson’s life was one of deep gratitude, joy and tranquility, lived in service to others. His friendship with and influence on the band, especially Bono, was a treasure. The password has been entered. The upload complete.

Rest In Peace, Eugene.


To read more on Eugene Peterson, see the following @U2 articles:

Eugene Peterson: U2 Connections,” by Angela Pancella

Bono’s Prophetic Vox,” by Scott Calhoun 

Watch Bono and Eugene Peterson Talk about the Psalms,” by Sherry Lawrence

Behind the Scenes: More from Bono & Friends on the Psalms,” by Scott Calhoun

Ancient Psalms for a State-of-the-Art Tour,” by Tim Neufeld

(c) @U2/Neufeld, 2018

Photo from Bono & Eugene Peterson: The Psalms 

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