When the world’s biggest rock star sits down for home-baked cookies, a cuppa, and a heart-to-heart chat with one of the world’s leading spiritual writers, you know it’s going to be a fascinating conversation.
That’s the basis of a film called Bono & Eugene Peterson | THE PSALMS, released this week by Fuller Studio.
The short film tells how the U2 frontman and Eugene Peterson, the Christian author and writer of The Message Bible, struck up a friendship over their common love of the Psalms – the poetic book in the centre the Bible, made up of prayers and songs to God.
We watch as Bono turns up at the Peterson’s property in Montana, sits down at the kitchen table, and settles in for a chat about the Bible, art, emotions, suffering—and the importance of being honest.
Bono’s Message: The Church Needs More Honesty
Honesty’s a theme that Bono’s not shy of; he’s famous for songs that lay bare the troubles of his soul.
In the PSALMS film, he tells Peterson and interviewer David Taylor that the world needs to hear more honesty and vulnerability from the world of Christian music and art. It’s the central message of the film.
“I find a lot of dishonesty in Christian art,” Bono says. “And I think it’s a shame because these are people who are vulnerable to God, in a good way – porous, open.
“I would love if this conversation would inspire people who are writing these beautiful gospel songs, to write a song about their bad marriage, or about how they’re p***ed off at the government. Because that’s what God wants from you. The truth. And that truthfulness – ‘the truth will set you free’ – will blow things apart.
“Why I’m suspicious of Christians is because of this lack of realism. I’d love to see more of that”
“Why I’m suspicious of Christians is because of this lack of realism. I’d love to see more of that in art and in life and in music.”
He says that his thinking about the arts was greatly influenced by Eugene Peterson’s book, Run With The Horses.
“Why do we need art? Why do we need the lyric poetry of the psalms? Because the only way we can approach God is if we’re honest – through metaphor, through symbol… so art becomes essential – not decorative,” he says.
Honesty Is What Inspired ‘The Message’ Bible
Eugene Peterson, whose Message Bible now has 17 million copies in print, says that a search for honesty was what got him started on the translation in the first place.
“I started by translating a psalm for a single person, to try to get them to realise that praying wasn’t [about] being ‘nice’ before God,” he explains.
“I would translate a psalm that I thought fit them. The psalms are not pretty, they’re not nice. And I would ask them, ‘just pray this psalm, using my translation. I think I’m doing it about as close to the Hebrew as I can get it’.
“It’s not smooth, it’s not nice, it’s not pretty, but it’s honest, and I think we’re trying for honesty. Which is very, very hard in our culture.”
The Psalms Teach Us To Be Honest With God
In the film, both Bono and Peterson talk about their childhood memories of the Psalms. Bono loved their lyrics from an early age.
“I remember the Psalms from a little Church of Ireland church…as a child. I remember thinking, ‘great words, shame about the tunes’, except for ‘The Lord is My Shepherd, which was a great tune.
“They have this rawness, a brutal honesty. Whether it’s [written by] David or not, doesn’t matter, the psalmist is brutally honest about the explosive joy that he’s feeling and the deep sorrow or confusion, and it’s that, that sets the Psalms apart for me. And I often think ‘why isn’t church music more like that?”
“It’s one of his best songs… it reaches into the hurt and disappointment and difficulty of being a human being”
U2’s song, ‘40’, based around Psalm 40, is one that Bono often sings in his concerts and which Peterson loves.
“I think it’s one of his best songs,” Peterson says. “It’s one that reaches into the hurt and disappointment and difficulty of being a human being, and acknowledges it in a language that’s immediately recognisable. There’s something [in it] that reaches into the heart of a person, and the stuff we all feel, but many of us don’t talk about.”
‘Let Your Feelings Out’, Says Bono
When interviewer David Taylor puts a subtle challenge to Bono on whether art can over-indulge the emotions, Bono defends his position as an artist.
“I’m an ‘opera singer’, and so I let those feelings go through me and come out,” he says. “Having feelings is perfectly normal.
“Why do I like the Psalms? I like David very much. He danced naked in front of the troops. That’s one reason I like him. And his missus was not at all happy. It’s this abandonment. You’ve got to get it out. It’s important. And dancing is very important, and understanding our bodies as well as our minds and our spirits.
“The three-personed God, the trinity, is reflected in our body, mind and spirit. And we really do ignore this.”