When I considered the names of men to put in this book it was overwhelming. Hence I tried to tell the stories of either those who had been overlooked or those who might be well known but their faith story has been ignored by the media and the masses. The names in this book include John Newton, Charles Tindley, Charles Wesley, Branch Rickey, Norman Vincent Peale, Albert Schweitzer, Jimmy Valvano and a host of others. Yet the one that may surprise you the most in the hero whose story have presented as a preview to this book — rock music superstar Bono.
Rarely does anyone see Paul Hewson without his dark glasses. He seems to wear them everywhere. They are almost as much a part of his iconic image as his music and charitable causes. In a way those glasses visually define the Irish rock singer the world knows as Bono. Yet the tinted spectacles are not a stage prop. They actually serve a real purpose. As the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer told Rolling Stone magazine, “I have very sensitive eyes to light. If somebody takes my photograph, I will see the flash for the rest of the day. My right eye swells up. I’ve a blockage there, so that my eyes go red a lot. So it’s part vanity, part privacy, and part sensitivity.”
If the eyes are a window to the soul, this entertainment legend’s eyes reveal a soul that is in tune in with not only the ever-changing world of music, but the rock-solid teachings of Jesus Christ. After all, those same sensitive eyes have allowed Bono to see suffering where millions of others see nothing. Those eyes lead him into worlds and situations others ignore. Through his eyes we see Bono’s heart and come to know his passion.
Talent might be the reason he has been nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe, and Grammy, yet it is his faith that has led Bono to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three different times. Most importantly, it is the singer putting that faith into action that led Time magazine to name Bono one of the “100 Most Influential People” in the world. The product of a the mixed marriage of a Catholic mother and Protestant father, born in the midst of some of the bloodiest days of religious and political strife in Ireland, he seems an unlikely candidate for a worldwide instrument of Christian change, but that has not stopped the short, stocky singer from emerging as a bridge between cultures, faiths, and races. In a world where fame and fortune are the ultimate most men strive for, this Irishman has taken these two rare commodities and made them into something greater—a platform for a calling. Ironically that "platform" was built from the wood of a rare American tree.
In the mid-nineteenth century, settlers had to traverse the hazardous desert areas of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada on their way to California. As they steered their wagons through the hot, parched sands of the massive Mojave Desert, they noted a tree that somehow thrived in conditions so foreboding little else survived. These hearty pioneers saw this tree, with its skyward-facing limbs covered in long dark green leaves, as a symbol of faith. To these weary travelers it appeared the trees were reaching out toward God in hopes of receiving his blessing. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the image created by these slow-growing trees reminded many of these travelers of the Old Testament prophet Joshua.
Almost two centuries later, Paul “Bono” Hewson looked upon the same scene. In fact, as the Joshua Trees often live more than two hundred years, he might have even been seeing the same trees that once grabbed the attention of early American pioneers. Like those who came into this desert before him, the Irishman was also struck by their stark beauty, incredible resilience, and undying determination. And like those earlier visitors, what he observed in the desert reminded him of something of much greater scope than even the vast wastelands of western United States. Even as those trees reached toward heaven, Bono felt himself seeking God. He too was reaching up in an effort to find a way to do the Lord’s work in his own world.
In the next few weeks after viewing those trees, Bono would compose much of what would become one of the most important pieces of music in the history of rock. When he and his band, U2, cut The Joshua Tree, it would not just cement their place as the world’s premier rock band, but build a platform of both fame and fortune that would allow them to speak about a message baptized in faith but only fully realized in works. It was an electric moment when the group’s spiritual message merged with their unique sound, yet few then realized what it would mean to millions of poor, sick, dying people all around the globe.
The Joshua Tree marked not the zenith for U2, but just the beginning. But to fully understand the mighty works built by the music and the work inspired by a tree, one has to go back to 1960 and the place a rock star was born.
Bono’s musical masterpiece was created from almost three decades of life experiences. Raised just outside of Dublin, the future star was the second child of Bobby and Iris Hewson. Those who knew the active youngster often referred to him as an “exasperating child.” He possessed boundless energy, infinite curiosity, and a great desire to learn. He questioned everything—demanding answers on subjects ranging from the color of the sky to biblical history—while also constantly finding new ways to get into trouble. Upbeat by nature, he nevertheless saw pain and suffering and considered the cost of both. Even as a child he noted the poverty and despair when traveling through the Dublin slums and wondered what could be done to change the fortunes of these poor people. It seemed that when people hurt, so did he. Even in grammar school his sensitive eyes noted the pain of others.
A part of this sensitivity to suffering could probably be traced to his parents. Though they came from vastly different background and seemingly much dissimilar perspectives, they easily presented their faith in words as well as actions. Yet even as Paul embraced the Christ his parents called Lord, he noted the irony of the spiritual war that split Ireland’s Catholics and Protestants and kept his parents from worshipping their common God in the same church.
“I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays while my father used to wait outside,” he explained. “One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.”
This unique perspective would ultimately drive the young man away from organized Christianity and push him to something that put wings to his prayers—going beyond the ways of the church in order to do the ways of the Lord. Yet a transformation like that could not happen without power. And like most teens in the early 1970s, Paul was powerless to act on his vision. Yet the fact he noted the central irony of his parents’ faith—brought together by Christ and separated by man—showed a depth of understanding that set him apart from his peers and would lead to him someday changing the perspectives of millions.
To say that the youngest Hensen was a different sort of lad was stating the obvious. Though he could be tough when standing up for what he believed, he seemed to have been born with the soul of an artist. While others ran in fear from honeybees, he was known to lift them from hives, speak to them as they perched on his fingers, then set them back down on their homes. He was just as kind and gentle to senior citizens as well as kids who didn’t seem to fit in with their peers. Although he was talented, intelligent, and creative, it would take a tragedy to add two other essential elements to those gifts— focus and drive.
At the age of fifteen, Paul was attending his grandfather’s funeral when his mother died of a brain aneurysm. He was devastated. Seeking an outlet for his grief, he turned to music. Listening to the top rock acts of the day inspired the boy to focus on playing the guitar and developing his vocal skills. After all, starting with Elvis, that was how young men gained the spotlight that paved the way to fame and fortune.
Not content to play alone, Paul responded to a notice posted on a bulletin board. Another high school student, Larry Mullen, wanted to start a band and had advertised in order to attract a few likeminded kids to an open audition. Along with Paul, guitarist Dave Evans, who was known as “The Edge,” and bass player Adam Clayton showed up with their instruments. At the time Mullen was the best of the lot and Paul was no doubt the worst. At that first rehearsal what gained Paul a spot in the group was more his poetic skills and his rather theatrical personality than his music. Even when he was bad and had problems carrying a tune, he was still bigger than life when he picked up a microphone.
Like thousands of other high school bands, the group would have probably gone nowhere if the four had not all been students at the progressive Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Clontarf. The school’s headmaster, John Brooks, encouraged thinking, discussing ideas, and debate. When kids told him they didn’t like the way a class was conducted or a schedule was made up, Brooks challenged them to present a way to do things better. A driven, Christian man, Brooks wanted his students to not just live a faithful life, but be spurred into action. He seemed to believe his students could fix the ancient religious strife in Ireland if they would get beyond labels and put their faith into action.
When Brooks learned of a new rock group being formed by some of his most unique students, he saw it as a sure way to keep the kids off the streets and out of trouble, as well as give voice to a new generation’s ideas. With the help of a teacher he trusted, Brooks encouraged the quartet, even allowing them to use the school auditorium on weeknights and weekends for rehearsals. Brooks giving them access to this venue provided the fledging rockers with the hours they needed to hone their undeveloped skills. It was during the time of maturation that Paul, who had already gone through several nicknames including “Steinvic von Huyseman,” “Houseman,” and “Bon Murray,” became “Bonovox of O’Connell Street.” Bonovox, a Latin word for “a man with a good voice,” was a tribute to Paul’s growth as a singer. Overtime, the vox was dropped, and the boy was known to his classmates as simply “Bono.”
Beyond his work in the band, which first played at local church-sponsored gatherings, Bono was a stolid student who loved history. Yet it would not be his grades or his knowledge of the past that took the young man out of the Dublin suburbs to meeting with presidents and popes, it would be his group—U2.
In the mid-1970s, Dublin was an ethnic and cultural melting pot. Not only was Irish history found in this ancient city, but a wide range of peoples from all over the world now lived in the area. This mix of old and new created an Ireland that blended everything from American TV, to British rock music, to local theater Irish. Into this mix came Bono, whose writing style included all of these elements, plus a deep thirst to create music with a message. Yet at this point the sound U2 was producing was hardly revolutionary. In fact, as the band played clubs in Dublin and later in London, the only thing that set them apart was the lead singer’s dynamic charisma. He had the “Elvis” factor that drew people toward the stage even when what he was singing didn’t stick in their minds. This showmanship paved the way for CBS Records to take a chance on signing U2 to a recording contract.
In 1980, the band had a single that saw moderate success, but their album failed to generate much in the way of sales. Unable to create enthusiasm in London, U2's future looked bleak until the group was booked on a tour of the United States. This American experience put the band on the map. A tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” marked their first chart success in 1984, but it was U2’s dynamic stage performances that really built their reputation. They seemed to possess a joy in performing that few other groups could match. With a hint of optimism and joy, U2 lifted the audience to a higher plane, while many others often left their fans in a blue funk. Americans related to it in a unique way that had been missed in the UK. So while they were little more than another band in their hometown, they were seen as innovative superstars in the United States.
As fans latched on U2, Bono embraced America, completely entranced by the country’s great contrasts. He marveled at the huge cities, the diverse culture, and the wide-open spaces filled with breathtaking natural beauty. Yet he was also shocked by the USA’s violence, poverty, and appalling waste of God-given resources. He sensed the nation had dynamic potential but wondered if it was dying spiritually. It was a place that wanted so desperately to be seen as Christian while at the same time many of its people seemed to try to run from that label. Yet rock’s latest and largest icon was not running from it. During a period when other rockers embraced all kinds of New Age themes, he told both the press and his fans, “One other thing you should know . . . we’re all Christians.”
Many thought Bono’s claim might spell an end to the band’s success in mainstream rock, yet while this religious admission might have been front-page news for other groups, it was largely ignored in the case of U2. Hence, for the moment, the message the singer wanted people to hear was generally lost as well.
Seemingly overnight, U2 became hot, and as his group toured the globe Bono’s sensitive eyes were opened to a plethora of conditions he had never fully comprehended. The poverty he saw in many places sickened him. As money and fame rolled in, a time when he should have been on top of the world, his heart grew heavy. He found himself with more questions than answers. Why was he being blessed when so many were starving to death? Why was he on the cover of Time and Rolling Stone when millions of dying babies were being ignored? Where were the world’s priorities?
The men who made up U2 all read the Bible. The members often discussed certain elements of the gospels and how they related to what they observed in their travels. Many times they asked what Christ would have thought of the world they saw each day. In fact, when Rolling Stone questioned Bono if U2 was a revolutionary band, he replied, “If sitting in the back of our bus and reading the Bible makes us revolutionary, then I guess we are (revolutionary).”
He told writer John Waters, “Judeo Christianity is about the idea that God is interested in you.… This was a radical thought: that God who created the universe might be interested in me . . . It is the most extraordinary thought (that God is interested in us).”
Yet sitting and reading the Bible, knowing God loved him, being blessed more than he could imagine, and being worshipped as a rock idol on stage were simply not enough for the singer. Bono honestly felt that being blessed meant that he needed to bless others. Thus, in 1985, when Bob Geldof organized the Live Aid concerts, U2 was one of the first to jump on board. Bono and the group were thrilled to have the opportunity to play in a concert where all the money would go to feeding starving people in Africa. As the world tuned in, scores of the globe’s greatest acts, including U2, took to the stage and raised more than $200 million to fight the famine. Yet after the televised concerts in England and the United States ended, almost all the entertainers went back to their mansions congratulating themselves on their splendid act of charity. One did not. For Bono singing was not enough, he had to do more. What he did would complete his transformation from a man who spoke and wrote about faith to a person who boldly lived his beliefs.
After his Live Aid performance at Wembley Stadium, Bono and his wife, Ali, caught a plane to the hardest hit famine-plagued region of Africa. The couple spent the next six weeks quietly working in an orphanage in Wello, Ethiopia. What he saw as he watched children die in his arms overwhelmed him. Live Aid was not enough; Bono had to do more. He had to wake up the world to the plight of millions of poor people. He saw this blight as a crime against humanity and God. He would not accept that so many had to die because of corruption, neglect, and indifference. It was time someone put the spotlight on these hard-to-stomach facts. Who better to do that than a person whom the spotlight followed everywhere he went.
Bono could have gone to a large church to make his statement, but he felt that affiliating his calling with any one Christian group would limit the work that could be done. What he did had to be nondenominational, otherwise it would become like his early church experience had been: people left on the outside looking in while others worshiped according to rules written by man.
Bono was consumed by this kind of vision when he stood in the American desert and looked at the Joshua Tree. Seized by a passion that flowed from his writing into every facet of his life, he knew it was time to create his masterpiece. Little did he realize how God’s hand in this work would literally change his life as he dramatically changed the world.
Like the man himself, Bono’s songwriting had matured. He was now trying to impart something that went beyond the norms for the rock genre but didn’t quite cross over into Christian music. The spiritual message was subtle, but through carefully crafted lyrics featuring incredible emotional insights, the musical parables were there for those who wanted to hear them.
The Joshua Tree was something incredibly different for rock music. The album had a big sound surrounded by lyrics that embraced huge and complex ideas. In words that reflected on everything from love to the human condition, this incredible work revealed the writer’s soul. There were no hooks or gimmicks here, simply Bono at his rawest. As fans listened, they not only enjoyed the music; they thought about what he was trying to say.
With Live Aid behind him, the little guy with the big voice and now even bigger ideas convinced his band mates that a homecoming concert in Ireland could be used for something greater. Thus, even though it was not announced to the press, all the proceeds from the event were given to charity. This was just the seed money for what the singer wanted to accomplish through a combination of his faith and fame. It was simply the start of a long list of good works.
As the power and success of The Joshua Tree was making it the most important album of the era, U2’s talkative singer was speaking of his trips to third world countries more than he was speaking of his music. It was clear in the way he spoke that he did so not to bring praise for his efforts for the poor, but to try to put the focus on hungry, dying people who needed help. With this unique message of concern, almost always couched in biblical analogies, Bono grew from just another rock star into a man who had something to say and demanded to be heard.
As people listened his message, they began to question where Bono had learned this philosophy. When asked to flesh out his reasons for reaching out to the poorest of the poor, the rock star spoke of the Sermon on the Mount, the directives of Paul, the parables of Christ, and the wisdom of David. Yet, even as he explained what he had gained from knowing the Bible, he also shied away from putting a Christian label on himself. When others attempted to frame his work in this context, the modest man pointed to his own shortcomings. He explained that he was far from a saint and nothing like a preacher, yet even as he begged off the title of Christian leader, he continued to mention tithing and compassion. No rock singer had ever spoken this way before, and yet, rather than driving people away from U2’s music, this declaration of faith seemed to draw even more fans to the group.
In a move that would have seemed normal in country music but completely foreign to rock, Bono began to read Psalms 116 before singing “Where the Streets Have No Name.” He surely realized as he read the Scripture that for many in the audience it was the first time they had ever heard something from the book of Psalms. He also had to know that some might go back home, find a Bible, and start reading it for themselves. A few might just find God and faith in the process. So the man who constantly claimed he wasn’t a preacher had somehow found a missionary’s voice.
Now completely sure of his calling, more and more Bono combined biblical statements with modern realities as he pointed out at the National Prayer Breakfast and many other public forums, “It’s not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It is not an accident. That’s a lot of airtime, 2,100 mentions.”
He began to use the attention draped on him by the press to emphasize the need to make a statement. He explained that seeking the Lord’s blessing was not enough. He felt it was time to get involved in what God was doing because it had already been blessed.
“You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor. ‘As you have done it unto the least of these my brethen, you have done it unto me.’ Matthew 24:40. As I say, good news to the poor (National Prayer Breakfast).” (
In 2005, Bono told Rolling Stone, “I believe there’s a force of love and logic . . . behind the universe. And I believe in the poetic genius of a creator who would choose to express such unfathomable power as a child born in 'straw poverty.’ The story of Christ makes sense to me.”
As his voice and influence continued to grow, Bono even more fully embraced faith and more often quoted the Bible, but still did not align with the organized church. When asked why he could speak so clearly of God’s love and not be a part of a fellowship of believers, he explained that it was the lukewarm believers that drove him out of church. Bono didn’t want a cold passion; what he needed was a church excited enough about God to actually get their members involved in using their money and putting legs to their faith. That is what he saw God demanding of him. That is he how he read Jesus’ words to all believers. So he expected no less from every Christian church.
By 2000, Bono’s charity work was touching millions. He was giving away much of his own fortune as well. Yet more than that, he was seemingly everywhere there were poor people. He wasn’t just viewing the problems; he was getting his hands dirty through actual work. He then returned to the concert trails to expose what he saw.
Bono's example of putting his faith in action brought invitations to speak with everyone from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush. The fact that Pope John Paul II and noted evangelical protestant icon Dr. Billy Graham both scheduled meetings with him clearly showed that Bono had built a bridge across denominational splits that had once separated worship opportunities for his own parents. He told those great Christian leaders, as well as thousands of others in a host of different interviews with both print and video media, “I cannot escape my conviction that God is interested in the progress of mankind, individually and collectively.” His statement confronted two areas most European and Americans avoided—religion and politics.
HIV/AIDS soon became a part of Bono’s public outreach. He compared the disease to the leprosy of Christ’s era. He pointed to how Jesus had met this earlier problem head on and how, thanks in large part to Christian concerns and actions, leprosy had been all but eliminated. He forcefully demanded that this same kind of action had to be taken today with AIDS. He pointed out that tens of millions of children were losing their parents to the disease and who was going to care for those children? Bono argued Christians had to step forward and become their brother’s keeper. Bono’s powerful message was cited as one of the reasons the United States dramatically increased foreign aid to Africa.
In a move that shocked many conservative Christians, Bono was asked to speak at the 54th National Prayer Breakfast at the White House in 2006. Dressed in his traditional black attire, wearing his glasses and earrings, the rocker challenged politicians, visiting pastors, and laymen in ways no other speaker at the event had ever done. He held a mirror up and forced them to look at their lack of action. He also presented a window to a world that few wanted to see, but how they listened!
In part of his prepared statement he said, “I was amazed when I first got to America and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Some tithe up to ten percent of the family budget. Well, how does that compare with the federal budget, [which is] the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people of the world? Less than one percent.
At the White House in 2006 he added, “I would suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing . . . Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional one percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor.”
After the meeting, President Bush, who had many of his own policies challenged by the singer, said, “He’s a doer. The thing about this good citizen of the world is he’s used his position to get things done.”
Another convert, Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals, added after the Prayer Breakfast of 2006, “He’s ready to be used by God in whatever ways he can, and if we were all so willing, the world would be a better place.”
A rock star showing the light to presidents and preachers! Who would have thought it possible? Probably only a man like Bono, who had the vision to see things as Christ saw them.
Today, using his Christian faith as a foundation, he openly criticizes governments for not spending more on foreign aid. He constantly points out that for a few dollars villages can be saved in Africa. For the lack of those dollars thousands die needlessly each year. He continually makes the statement, “Why should where you live determine whether you live?” His direct words get to the heart of a message many Christians had either forgotten or ignored for generations.
As he told President Bush, “God will not accept that [ignoring the plight of the poor in Africa]. Mine won't, at least. Will yours?” It is a challenge few want to hear, but Bono regularly pushes it anyway. And when regular churches begin to see this as their cause, there is little doubt he and millions of others will again be excited by organized Christianity.
For the moment, the rocker is content to continue on a solitary mission of hope and faith. He continually points out in his speeches on African poverty, “We have the cash, we have the drugs, we have the science, but do we have the will to make poverty history?” And, to emphasize the answer to that question, he has put his money where his mouth is.
Many have felt that Bono has done enough. His work and his words have mobilized thousands of people and raised millions of dollars for those he calls “the least of these.” Yet when asked when he will quit traveling hundreds of thousands of miles and giving up almost all his free time to what he sees as the cause of Christ, he often cites what could be his motto, “You don’t quit halfway up Mt. Everest.” Therefore, he keeps reading the Bible, studying the world’s greatest problems, and praying over both of those things.
When he was asked what made U2 so successful, Bono told Rolling Stone Magazine, “All you need is three chords and the truth to succeed in rock and roll.” Something as simple as that might be all you need to do mighty works of faith as well—a great message boldly wrapped in biblical truth. How powerful can that message be? Can one man of faith speaking Jesus’ words really change the direction and attitudes of people and governments?
When trying to explain the burdens placed on the backs of so many African nations, at the 2006 White House address, Bono gave an American president and many other world leaders this simple statement, “On so many issues it’s difficult to know what God wants from us, but on this issue, helping the desperately poor, we know God will bless it.”
Thanks to Bono’s words and influence, many of the world’s richest nations have agreed to cancel the debt of the eighteen poorest African countries. That means that monies once used to pay interest on millions of dollars of loans can now feed millions of starving people. Few things have ever showed the power of faith like this one act of governmental forgiveness.
As a teenager, Bono dreamed of becoming a rock star. Yet his vision took him so far beyond that initial dream. He recently wrote in the book “On The Move,” “God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who had infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.”
Bono is with the poor, and his prayer is that Christians everywhere join him in living out Matthew 25:35-40. By using his sensitive eyes he has had the vision to see where God is and the faith to join the Lord in those tough places. Bono’s faith had changed the world and he wants others to join his band of faith and action. He honestly believes that like U2, you too, if you have the faith, can make an impact on the world.
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Stories Behind Men Of Faith