May 24, 2013
Tomorrow is a day of international protest against Monsanto (http://occupy-monsanto.com/), the American-based multinational agricultural and biotechnology corporation. To mark this occasion, we invited Marenka Cerny, admin for the Facebook page Bono and Monsanto Forum for Conscious Debate and Discovery https://www.facebook.com/BonoMonsanto, to share her work, activism, and thoughts in a guest editorial on U2’s Bono supporting Monsanto in his strategies for fighting poverty in Africa. We at the webzine encourage fans to read, research on their own to reach their own conclusions, and act as they are so moved. –Andrew William Smith, webzine editor
Perhaps years ago the technique of genetically engineered crops was understood by Bono as the miracle Africa needed to produce food in extreme climates. Maybe it actually is. We are calling for Bono to speak explicitly about GE technology and the maligned practices of the chemical-agriculture companies. In the meantime, we are examining the evidence that humanity is being used as a science experiment for profit and without permission.
We created the Facebook page Bono and Monsanto Forum for Conscious Debate and Discovery four months ago in response to the cognitive dissonance that has resulted from the involvement of one of the most politically influential and venerated artists of our time in highly questionable activity with potentially disastrous consequences. Because he has the hearts of millions and the ear of every political leader—and because he is a most beloved, consummate, and sagacious poet of our generation—Bono deserves the respect of accountability.
Wikipedia describes “Bono [as] one of the world’s best-known philanthropic performers and was named the most politically effective celebrity of all time by the National Journal… He has been dubbed, “the face of fusion philanthropy,” both for his success enlisting powerful allies from a diverse spectrum of leaders in government, religious institutions, philanthropic organizations, popular media, and the business world, as well as for spearheading new organizational networks that bind global humanitarian relief with geopolitical activism and corporate commercial enterprise…”
At one time or another, we have all been let down by people we look up to. But in this case, the effects of Bono’s actions are far-reaching in potentially dangerous ways. His tacit alliance with the chemical companies is confusing. We are wondering what his motivations are. With his 25+ years experience lobbying to end extreme poverty in Africa, is this truly the best way he can see to get Africa the food it needs? What does he think about feeding Africa and the world genetically modified food? Bono gives very brief mention in these two links to chem-ag companies and indirectly to the technique of genetic engineering, one in a newscast and one speaking to the pre-G8 symposium a year ago:
For a partial transcription—“Bono Addresses global leaders on hunger, agriculture and transparency at pre-G8 symposium”
In this interview, Bono references “whole new methods of agriculture to increase productivity” within the first minutes. “Bono – Well Paid Spokesman for the Elitists” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CvlQLcyawg
This is the main article that has been reposted many times since the G8 Summit last year.
ActivistPost: “U2, Bono? Celeb partners with Monsanto, G8, to biowreck African farms with GMOs”
Most comments on the web about Bono and Monsanto are about giving up on him (to put it mildly). We’re looking for the fans who care about what’s in our food and don’t want to give up on him. Of course Bono’s allowed to make mistakes, be a bad-boy rock star, or be misguided, and still be loved. Through our Facebook page, we seek to know whether Bono’s intentions to solve extreme poverty have been compromised from extraordinary altruism to a power-hungry alliance with the chem-ag companies for global domination of the world’s food supply. We hope that’s not true—we want to think Bono can be a venture capitalist and still be cool. We want fans to speak louder—we need him and want him on our side—to say, Bono, please come back. Whatever the results of this conversation, our advocacy and engagement are not about disrespecting Bono. We seek to understand the apparent dissonance between his actions and his words.
Seeking transparency for unconscious and unconscionable capitalism are not just a luxury of an armchair activist, but imperative for humanity’s future and present. The research that is available shows that as well as the apparent dangers to human health, genetically-engineered (GE) crops are known to damage topsoil through monocropping, to require ever-increasing amounts of pesticide, and have not yet proven to reliably produce higher yields. Monsanto has been strong-arming the U.S. government and small farmers around the world, and has spent tens of millions of dollars to withhold labeling of their products. GE science is young, and the long-term effects on humans and the environment are unknown.
10 Reasons Why We Don’t Need GM Foods
After 5 months of searching for the backstory of how it is Bono seems so comfortable promoting GE food in Africa, there’s also the larger question of the approach of capitalism as a solution to poverty, which is a fundamental part of Bono’s speeches in the past decade, and which he calls “Entrepreneurial Capitalism.” Is this a viable subset of capitalism, the basic existence of which is not to provide social service agencies, but to make a profit? We’d be curious to hear from everyone who is criticizing Bono’s association with Monsanto what you also think of capitalism and corporate power as a means for ending extreme poverty.
We are gathering energy to add to the momentum of the world’s resistance to the chemical companies’ intention to control food production and distribution on this planet. Many people have alternative solutions to meeting the needs of the world’s food supply. Help us to compose and promote a letter to Bono and others. Tell us what you think of all this and ask any questions. Help us address the question of revering the work of an artist while questioning their integrity elsewhere. What would you say, in your own words, to Bono? –Marenka Cerny, Life-long U2-lover, Admin on Facebook: Bono and Monsanto Forum for Conscious Debate and Discovery https://www.facebook.com/BonoMonsanto
‘Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad’ is a stunning song written for Sinatra. For those who are pro-Bono and anti-GMO, this is surely one of our songs in this moment in time.
Two shots of happy, one shot of sad
You think I’m no good, well I know I’ve been bad
Took you to a place, now you can’t get back
Two shots of happy, one shot of sad
Bono, Two Shots of Happy, One Shot of Sad
also (poor video quality but beautiful performance) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzgCPimHu7w
“Frank Sinatra just blew me away. Actually, me and Edge wrote a tune called ‘Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad.’ We made a drinks cabinet shrine to Frank that when you open it plays that song! We’ve never released it… I sent it to him for his 80th birthday, full orchestra, the whole thing. Quite an indulgence.” – Bono, NME 1997
May 10, 2013
Back in December 1984, I went to my first U2 show at Detroit’s Fox Theater. The first leg of the Unforgettable Fire tour, it was the band’s last set of “intimate” shows before graduating to arenas and stadiums. After the gig, I was that 17-year-old hardcore fan who waited dutifully in the Detroit winter weather by the backstage door. Eventually our patience paid off, and we met everyone in the band except for Larry.
The most memorable moment from that night aside from the concert itself was asking Bono for a hug and Bono generously sharing it. Today, I wish I could give Bono another hug. Today, the man born Paul Hewson turns 53.
Another U2 album finally appears eventual or inevitable, perhaps by the end of this year. At this late stage in their career, each record could be the last. And each record could tarnish with dismissal or disdain or varnish with more adulation and praise their creative reputation. But see, this fan kind of needs a new U2 record just about now to distract me from the rest of the U2 newsfeed.
Bono is all over the interwebs today. Even as the Twitter and Facebook feeds are filled with birthday blessings from fans and charitable groups like (Red) or the African Well Fund, other sources like Google news alerts just blew-up with the latest phase in Bono backlash. Because Dave Marsh reviews Harry Browne’s forthcoming book The Frontman. As we know this leftish Springsteen scholar Marsh has devoted decades of an entire career tangent to tagging Bono with the online rhetorical graffiti of gritty shame and righteous blame.
But Marsh’s latest screed on Counterpunch counters the viciousness of his previous attacks with a tone of pity. Bono is no longer an object of scathing leftwing critique but an object for a softer but no less mean-spirited ridicule. Marsh feigns feeling sorry for Bono and calls him pathetic. For not knowing any better. For being a tool and a fool. We’ll have to see how this new lesser-evil Bono-hate all fits with Browne’s book when it is actually released soon. Besides Marsh, also cluttering my newsfeeds was yet another article articulating the band’s problematic tax practices and a blog responding to Marsh, neither agreeing with him or taking him on.
As U2 fans, we have a choice whether or not to engage with criticism like this. Some choose to ignore it; others take a defensive stance. My perspective has always been one taken from Bono’s lyrical playbook: “stand up to rock stars.” Or put another way, practice critical fandom. Despite what others say, he’s neither saint nor messiah and is worthy of constructive pushback, especially if it comes from a good place. I definitely don’t see Bono as an uber-capitalist “lapdog for neoliberals” as he’s been called, and at the same time, I don’t think we need to be lapdogs or sycophants for Bono or U2.
At the recent U2 conference, Laurie Britt-Smith and I and some of our co-presenters engaged in a critical dialogue about some of the queasy reservations we have about digital activism, capitalist charity, and how these apply to the ONE campaign and product (RED). We hardly reached conclusions or consensus, but in light of those conversations and these recent attacks on Bono’s political and economic perspectives, I have some tentative shots into the ongoing online conversation I’d like to launch.
Bono is not and has never been a leftist in the sense that Marsh, Browne, or the editors of Counterpunch are. Moreover he’s not and probably will never be a rightist as some critics have complained. Is he an intellectually weak, foolish, and hypocritical liberal as is also proposed?
I don’t know how I feel about liberalism or capitalism beyond the degree to which I participate in both by necessity. But I do know what I perceive as the source of my activism and Bono’s: Jesus and the Bible; spirituality and scripture; the new commandments of radical love and service taught by the carpenter from Nazareth. What’s been called the preferential option for the poor. Bono’s lack of economic literacy, or worse, allegiance to wrong-headed economic mentors, may make me and others uncomfortable and may play into the hands of the problem-creators rather than the problem-solvers, yet Bono’s biblical, musical, and poetic literacy remain on target in my eyes and heart.
In 2005 just after How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, as much as I loved that record and the subsequent Vertigo tour, part of me wanted to give up on Bono for his self-imposed public silence on the Iraq War, for hanging so intimately with people like George Bush and my then least favorite Tennessean Bill Frist. That year, I picked up Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas. Not only does the frontman answer all his critics in a nuanced manner, he diminishes and self-deprecates his own significance. The alleged egomaniac also has a streak of deep and deferential humility.
But more than that, he speaks ever so elegantly and evangelically about his faith in Jesus and how Christian religious perspective, spiritual practice, and central gospel narrative inform everything he does. Like Bono, I am no economist, but also like Bono, I take seriously the Biblical teachings about poverty and justice.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to see Jesus in the (RED) campaign, but Bono’s willingness to work with Bush, Clinton, Obama, Gates, Sachs, and others comes from statements like this, that he attributes to lessons he learned from Martin King: “Don’t respond to caricature—the Left, the Right, the Progressives, the Reactionary. Don’t take people on rumor. Find the light in them . . .”
It’s hard to understate the light that Bono and U2 have given us with songs and albums and concert tours. But Bono also reminds us that there’s some of that God light in people as different as Bill Frist is from Dave Marsh and in people from other faith traditions, as his COEXIST bit on the Vertigo tour so strongly stated.
The odd rivalry between Marsh and Bono, according to the critic, began with a mediocre review of The Unforgettable Fire. Marsh claims to have given Bono a book about Elvis because Marsh didn’t get “Elvis Presley and America.” As I listen to that deep track off Unforgettable Fire for the umpteenth time, I don’t know that I get it either, but I get what it does to me: how it gets me, how it’s music that takes me outside the music, that gives me knowledge more than ideas, connection more than critique, grace more than karma.
I don’t mind standing up to rock stars. But I don’t mind standing up to grumpy rock critics with an axe to grind either. But I’d rather not stand up to anybody and instead look for the light within, for the Christ within all. And I’d like to give Bono this virtual hug on his birthday. Fact is I’d like to give Dave Marsh one, too. They both probably need a hug more than either would admit. –Andrew William Smith, Editor
Photos are by Andrew Smith from outside the Vertigo tour show in St. Louis in late 2005.
March 30, 2013
Back in 2003, Beth Maynard and Raewynne Whitely released a book of sermons about U2, subtitled as a text on “preaching the U2 catalog.” Around that time I did not consider myself a Christian, but Maynard’s “U2 Sermons” blog that followed the book was deeply influential in jogging my memory about Jesus and how Bono’s prophetic Christian message on top of Edge’s guitar was the primary pull that turned me into a U2 fanboy, early in the 1980s when listening to Boy, October, and War.
Being reminded of this sacred synchronicity of how spirituality and rock music dynamically distill themselves in U2 helped me find God again in the lyrics to the 2004 smash album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Listening to that album and its followup No Line On The Horizon led to my “Moment of Surrender” at a U2 concert in North Carolina in October 2009, where I fell to my knees and wept during the closing song and in my heart recommitted my life to Jesus. Granted, this submission to my higher power had actually been going down throughout that year, but this particular concert-closing contained an element of altar call for me.
Back in the 1980s, U2 lyrics were the stuff of Sunday-night youth group discussions at my Presbyterian church in suburban Detroit. A U2 concert at the Joe Louis Arena on the Unforgettable Fire tour was a church outing for Christian teens at my church and I imagine many others like ours all over the US at that time.
Just as Maynard and many of her minister colleagues managed to make a book out of how we could preach the U2 catalog, I am currently focused on how we can pray the U2 catalog, treating the songs as prayers and psalms, incorporating U2’s lyrics and music into our daily devotional life.
With the headphones in private, or blasting loud from the best speakers in the house, listening to U2 has always been an almost ritualistic spiritual encounter for me. Taking the cue from what Bono has disclosed in interviews about songs and psalms, we can develop a notion of devotional listening, taking it from a casual sonic comfort and transforming it into a more refined example of what some people call a “spiritual discipline.” But before delving deeper into some of the U2 songs that we could treat as contemporary psalms (as I hope to do in other articles), we can look at Bono’s relationship with the music that inspired him as a youth, as well as at his relationship with the psalms of the Bible and how these both inspire the music he’s made.
In a 2005 interview with Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone, a middle-aged Bono divulges how in his youth his own spiritual practice began in a similar way with the popular songs of Dylan and Lennon, of folk, rock, and punk. Bono recalls:
“Even then I prayed more outside of the church than inside. It gets back to the songs I was listening to; to me, they were prayers. ‘How many roads must a man walk down?’ That wasn’t a rhetorical question to me. It was addressed to God. It’s a question I wanted to know the answer to, and I’m wondering, who do I ask that to?”
Like so many of us, Bono had intimate spiritual encounters with the headphones on.
He told Wenner, “I was in my room listening on headphones on a tape recorder. It’s very intimate. It’s like talking to somebody on the phone, like talking to John Lennon on the phone. I’m not exaggerating to say that. This music changed the shape of the room. It changed the shape of the world outside the room; the way you looked out the window and what you were looking at.”
Bono actually experienced an apostle Paul kind-of-moment listening to the secular prophet Lennon. “I remember John singing ‘Oh My Love.’ It’s like a little hymn. It’s certainly a prayer of some kind – even if he was an atheist. ‘Oh, my love/For the first time in my life/My eyes can see/I see the wind/Oh, I see the trees/Everything is clear in our world.’ For me it was like he was talking about the veil lifting off, the scales falling from the eyes. Seeing out the window with a new clarity that love brings you. I remember that feeling.”
This idea, then, of “songs as prayers” has captivated Bono since the beginning. So by the time the band gets to writing its own albums, Bono’s spirit and mind are captivated about how to tap that root and how to kneel to touch the sky. In the book U2 By U2, he reveals the creative process that brought us the song “Gloria”:
“But I believed – and still do – that the way to unlock yourself, creatively and spiritually and pretty much every other way, is to be truthful. It’s the hardest thing to do, to be truthful with yourself. And if you’ve nothing to say, that’s the first line of the song, ‘I’ve got nothing to say.’ So I started to write about that. The song ‘Gloria’ is about that struggle. I turned it into a psalm. I try to stand up but I can’t find my feet. I try to speak up but only in you am I complete. Gloria in te domine. Wild thing for a twenty-two year old. Gregorian chant mixed with this psalm. It was a stained-glass kind of song.”
“Gloria” appeared on the band’s second album October, when spontaneously and prayerfully unlocking the truth within carried an added importance due to the unfortunate loss of Bono’s lyrics notebook before the recording process. On the follow-up disc called War, as the band wrapped up its recording session, with their time in the studio all used up and another band waiting in the wings, the album felt one song short.
“Let’s do a psalm,” blurted Bono, who opened the good book to Psalm 40. Simply called “40,” the closer to that record became the traditional closer to U2 concerts for many years, with countless in the crowd repeating the chorus, long after the band left the stage: “How long to sing this song?” When most people think of U2 and the Psalms, it’s this text that comes to mind.
Years later on the Elevation Tour that followed the album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, Bono took a knee and prefaced his performance of “Where The Streets Have No Name” with a brief recitation from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Psalm 116: “What can I give back to God for the blessings he’s poured out on me? I’ll lift high the cup of salvation—A toast to God! I’ll pray in the name of God; I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do, And I’ll do it together with his people.” The revival that the band’s career experienced in the early 2000s certainly felt worthy of a “toast to God.”
In 1999, when Canongate published a pocket-paperback edition of the Psalms in the UK, Bono’s words provided the introductory remarks. There, Bono makes the important point that Psalms are as much blues as they are gospel, explaining, “Abandonment and displacement are the stuff of my favorite psalms. The Psalter may be a font of gospel music, but for me it’s despair that the psalmist really reveals and the nature of his special relationship with God.” This tension between gospel and blues that Bono locates in an ancient text actually forms the central attraction found in much great rock music.
In his immediate appreciation of the Psalms, Bono compares the honesty of these sacred texts to likes of Lennon and Dylan as well as to Al Green and Stevie Wonder. Echoing a sentiment he will share later in the interview with Jann Wenner, Bono writes, “Words and music did for me what solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do – they introduced me to God, not belief in God, more an experiential sense of GOD.”
It’s this profound experiential sense of God that so many of us fans draw from U2’s music. Clearly this happens at the rare communal concert experiences every few years with a few thousand fellow devotees. But it also happens every day. Away from church, often alone, frequently with the headphones on, these songs reach and touch us deep down inside. And even old songs feel like new songs. And how long will we sing these songs? A lifetime, for many fans, won’t be long enough. –Andrew William Smith, Editor
These ideas will be addressed further in a presentation at the U2 Conference in Cleveland and in a study of specific U2 songs as prayers.
December 26, 2012
Bono has a thing for Christmas, having called it the “Carnival in the cold.” Bono adds music and many meanings to this holy hybrid of the sacred and the secular, the cozy and the commercial.
For a moment on Monday, we thought the U2 news-blast of the 2012 Christmas season was going to be the length of Adam’s hair. Or the release by U2.com of a new live version of “Angel of Harlem.”
But then Bono changed all that by showing up for his annual busking gig on the streets of Dublin, in an upscale shopping area called Grafton Street.
Joined this year by Glen Hansard and Lisa Hannigan and others, Bono busked for donations to the Simon Community (http://www.dubsimon.ie) and indulged us with a set that included: 1. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home); 2. I Believe in Father Christmas; 3. Silent Night; 4. Desire/Not Fade Away. A YouTube version of the full show is here: http://youtu.be/9kZNGSP88lg
To see a bazillionaire big-shot rock star of Bono’s backstory becoming a busker, if even for a mere few minutes surrounded by adoring fans and clicking cameras, brings to the front of our consciousness the common Christmas theme of social reversals and sacred inversions that form the core of the religious narrative for this festive holy day.
Back in 2005, with the release of the book In Conversation With Michka Assayas, Bono reveals his own amazing interpretation of the religious nature of Christmas myth with a personal and theological story of his own Christmas re-conversion:
“I remember coming back from a very long tour. I hadn’t been at home. Got home for Christmas, very excited of being in Dublin. […] On Christmas Eve, I went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.[…] It’s kind of a tradition on Christmas Eve to go, but I’d never been.
I went to this place, sat. I was given this really bad seat, behind one of the huge pillars. I couldn’t see anything. I was sitting there, having come back from Tokyo, or somewhere like that. I went for the singing, because I love choral singing. […]
But I was falling asleep, being up for a few days, traveling, because it was a bit boring, the service, and I just started nodding off. […] Then I started to try and keep myself awake studying what was on the page. It dawned on me for the first time, really. It had dawned on me before, but it really sank in: the Christmas story.
The idea that God, if there is a force of Logic and Love in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself and describe itself by becoming a child born in straw poverty, in shit and straw…a child… I just thought: ‘Wow!’ Just the poetry … Unknowable love, unknowable power, describes itself as the most vulnerable. There it was. I was sitting there, and it’s not that it hadn’t struck me before, but tears came streaming down my face, and I saw the genius of this, utter genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this. […]
Love needs to find form, intimacy needs to be whispered. To me, it makes sense. It’s actually logical. It’s pure logic. Essence has to manifest itself. It’s inevitable. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.”
Rock music’s interesting relationship with Christmas gets revived with all the holiday releases each year. And in Bono’s case this year, it comes to us in the form of a rugged hand-made video clip, in the form of a busking rich man, in the form of reflecting with Bono on the deeper essence of the season. May this Christmas time be one of love, logic, and re-conversion for U2 fans and everyone, everywhere.
—Andrew William Smith, Editor
November 14, 2012
Reposted with permission from http://sojo.net/blogs/2012/11/13/bono-preaches-gospel-social-justice-georgetown
“Do you think he’ll sing?” the girl in the row behind me wondered aloud.
“I hope so,” the young fellow beside her said before continuing, “My dad would freak. He was a big fan of U2 when I was growing up. He used to play this one album,The Joshua Tree, over and over again.”
His father was a fan.
I am a thousand years old, I thought to myself, as more Georgetown students filled the seats around me at the university’s 111-year-old Gaston Hall, the main lecture hall on campus named after Georgetown’s first student, William Gaston, who later served as a member of the U.S. Congress.
The hall, decorated with stunning art-deco-era frescos and the crest of every Jesuit institute of higher learning, has hosted many dignitaries over the years, including Presidents Obama and Clinton, Vice-President Al Gore, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to name but a few.
“So if he’s not going to sing, is he just going to talk,” another student asked, with a distinct whiff of disappointment in his voice.
“I hear he’s an awesome speaker, though,” still another student said.
The students who packed the auditorium, many of them from Georgetown’s Global Social Enterprise Initiative at the McDonough School of Business and more than a few donning black t-shirts with the insignia of the ONE Campaign (of which Bono is a co-founder), weren’t sure what to expect from the famous Irish rock star and humanitarian.
A concert? A lecture? Another boring speech?
I’m fairly certain none of the students present for Monday night’s event, sponsored by the Bank of America and The Atlantic magazine, anticipated hearing Bono, the 52-year-old lead singer of U2, preach.
But preach he did.
After an introduction by Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America (whose presence was greeted by some grumbling from the students seated around me, one who suggested in a stage whisper that they start a chant from the Occupy Wall Street movement), Bono bounded up to the lectern, grinning with his blue eyes flashing excitement from behind his trademark rose-colored shades.
“Thank you, Brian — a gentleman in a world where, uh, that quality is not always on tap,” Bono began, as the crowd roared. “The band wanted me to say thank you to you too, Brian, because, as you heard, the band are committed to the idea that ever school kid in Ireland should have access to free music lessons if they need ‘em. So Brian has been helping us out with that.”
(That seemed to quell any unrest about having one of the world’s leading bankers in the room.)
“I don’t know if this is a lectern or a pulpit,” Bono told the crowd, folding his arms on the wooden podium in front of him, “but I feel oddly comfortable. It’s a bit of a worry, isn’t it? So … welcome to Pop Culture Studies 101. Please take out your notebooks. Today we are going to discuss why rock stars should never, ever be given access to microphones at institutes of higher learning.
“You will receive no credit for taking this class,” Bono joked, “not even street cred — it’s too late for that. I will, of course, be dropping the occasional pop culture reference to give the impression that I know where your generation is at. I do not. I am not sure where I am at.”
Good. I’m not the only one who feels ancient amidst this audience of youngsters, I thought.
“And the first existential question of this class might be, ‘What am I doing in [Gaston] Hall?’” Bono quipped. “I could be down having my third pint at The Tombs….Pop culture references. Rock star does research.”
Score one for said rock star. The room erupted in laughter at the mention of one of the campus’ legendary watering holes.
“I heard Election Night was quite messy on the pint front. Isn’t it amazing how three pints can make everything seem like victory, but four or five and you just know you’re about to taste defeat,” he continued. “Anyway, congratulations are in order. Not just for turning out in record numbers, but — forgetting politics for a minute — for electing an extraordinary man as president. I think you have to say that whatever your political tradition.”
Bono also congratulated the audience for being freed from the “tyranny” of political “attack ads.” Imagine, he said, if they never went away, if attack ads were the norm for everything, even, say, college admissions.
“Hello. We’re Georgetown and we approved this message,” he said in the stoic voice of a political ad announcer. “Let me say a few words about some other fine institutions you might be considering. UVA: Thomas Jefferson, what have they done to you? Syracuse: A school whose mascot is a fruit. Duke: A school that worships the devil.
“Georgetown – you’re in with the other guy! Georgetown has God on its side. Everyone knows God is a Catholic, right?” said Bono, whose late mother was a Protestant and late father, Bob, a Catholic. “Two words: Frank Sinatra. That proves it!”
All jokes aside — and he was terrifically witty throughout his nearly hour long address — Bono turned his attention to his true passion: helping the world’s poorest of the poor.
“I’d like to hear attack ads on things worth attacking. If there was an attack ad on malaria, I’d get that, because 3,000 people die every day — mostly kids — of malaria. Let’s have an attack ad on malaria. Let’s have an attack ad on mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS. I’d get that. Choose your enemies carefully because they define you. Make sure they’re interesting enough because trust me, you’re going to spend a lot of time in their company. So let’s pick a worthwhile enemy, shall we?
“How ’bout all the obstacles to fulfilling human potential — not just yours or mine but the world’s potential?” he continued. “I would suggest to you that the biggest obstacle in the way right now is extreme poverty. Poverty so extreme that it brutalizes, it vandalizes human dignity. Poverty so extreme it laughs at the concept of human dignity. Poverty so extreme it doubts how far we’ve traveled in our journey of equality; the journey that began with Wilberforce taking on slavery and a journey that will not end until misery and deprivation are in stocks.”
Were Bono an actual preacher, that was where he would have pounded his fists on the pulpit.
Painted on the wall behind the podium where this unlikely preacher of the Gospel of Social Justice spoke are the Latin words: Ad majorem Dei gloriam inque hominum salutem. Earlier, Georgetown’s president, John De Gioia, reminded the students of their meaning: “For the greater glory of God and the betterment of humankind.”
The Abolitionists. The Suffragettes. The Civil Rights Movement.
Social movements have always been powerful, Bono told the audience, but there is something special about this moment in history — it’s “transformative.”
“This moment, this generation [has] the chance that you have to rid the world of the obscenity of extreme poverty. Wouldn’t that be a hell of a way to start the 21st century?”
You could have heard a pin drop. The kids seated on either side of me were leaning forward in their chairs. They were listening with the attentiveness professors only dream about. Bono had their attention and kept it as he told them about the power they have to make changes — significant, global changes — by the conscious choices they make about how they spend their money, through social media and emerging technologies, by making sure their politicians keep the promises they’ve made about foreign aid funding in Africa and the rest of the developing world.
Something big was happening in the room. You could feel it. A palpable presence. I’d call it the Holy Spirit.
And it reminded me of a night 10 years ago at another college campus, when Bono spoke at my alma mater, Wheaton College in Illinois. At the time, I was traveling with Bono and his organization DATA (a predecessor of ONE) across the Midwest where he was trying to get American evangelicals (in particular) to turn their attention to the AIDS emergency in sub-Saharan Africa and to do something about it as a matter of justice — as a matter of the heart of their own faith.
Bono’s address at Wheaton fell about half-way through the Heart of America tour and it was a turning point not only for the tour, but for the movement it sparked. American evangelicals — the great “sleeping giant,” as Bono called them at the time — woke up, got involved, and worked for change. The monumental successes in alleviating crushing debt, supplying life-saving HIV/AIDS drugs, malaria netting, and the funds to put millions of African children in school for the first time are a testament to what transpired in Wheaton’s Edmund Chapel in early December 2002.
I know students who were there that night who’ve gone on to dedicate their careers and lives to helping the “least of these.” I, too, jaded journalist and wounded evangelical as I was at the time, was changed. Healed. Inspired and transformed.
The same thing was happening in Gaston Hall last night.
“Those people I’ve been talking about today — the poor — they’re not ‘those people,’ they’re not ‘them.’ They’re us. They’re you,” Bono said toward the end of his address. “They dream as you dream. They value what you value. There is no them, only us. The American anthem is not exceptionalism, it’s universalism. There is no them. Only us. Ubuntu. ‘I am because we are.’ There is no them. Only us.”
Maybe it’s a sheer coincidence (I’m doubtful) that the motto of Georgetown, a Jesuit university, is Utraque Unum, which means “both into one.”
Ultraque Unum in Latin.
Ubuntu in a dialect from South Africa where Archbishop Desmond Tutu — the man Bono only half-kidding says he works for — has taken the word as his own life’s motto.
Bono turned his attention to the Jesuits and their founder St. Ignatius of Loyola, to whom that Latin quote on the wall of the Gaston hall often is attributed.
“St. Ignatius, he was a soldier,” Bono began. “He was lying on a bed recovering from his wounds when he had what they call a conversion of the heart. He saw God’s work and the call to do God’s work. Not just in the church, in everything, everywhere. The arts, universities, the Orient, the New World. And once he knew about that, he couldn’t unknow it.
“It changed him,” Bono said. “It forced him out of bed and into the world. And that’s what I’m hoping happens here in Georgetown with you. Because when you truly accept that those children in some far off place in the global village have the same value as you — in God’s eyes or even just in your eyes — then your life is forever changed. You see something that you can’t unsee.”
Sitting there, tears dripping down my cheeks, I could feel it. Minds were opened. Hearts and eyes were, too.
Who knows when we look back 10 years from now, what the result of some of those Georgetown students seeing what they couldn’t unsee will be.
May we all have the eyes to see it.–Cathleen Falsani