When Bono met Eugene Peterson…

John J. Thompson

Fuller Studio released a short film today wherein a middle-aged rock star and an older pastor sit sipping coffee and discussing the nature and significance of the Psalms. I’ve never craved a seat at a table so strongly in my life.

Anyone with even a passing awareness of U2 will know that the Psalms have been a key text for the band since their very beginning four decades ago. As chief lyricist, Bono has often used these ancient hymns and prayers as a template for his own work. In 1999 he penned an introduction to a Pocket Canon version of the Psalms. Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible into contemporary language, The Message, came along a bit later and Bono has been a vocal fan — frequently quoting from it at U2’s shows and on Twitter. In the introduction to this short film, entitled Bono & Eugene Peterson: The Psalms, we endearingly learn how little Peterson knew of Bono, U2 or mosh pits until the singer began publicly mentioning his work.

The centerpiece of the short film is a simple conversation between Bono, Peterson and David Taylor, professor of theology and culture at Fuller Seminary. The three sit around a table at Peterson’s idyllic Montana home and trade observations about their own history with this ancient text. “The only way we can approach God,” Bono suggests, “if we’re honest, is through metaphor, through symbol. So art becomes essential, not decorative.” Peterson recalls his confused introduction to the metaphors of the Psalter as a young boy growing up in a conservative Christian family that took the Bible literally. “I was starting to read that he keeps my tears in a bottle, shields, javelins… God is a rock? Come on!” The two riff off of questions presented by Taylor (sometimes with frustrating brevity) about the nature of spiritual metaphor, the importance of emotional honesty before God and the resource that the Psalms are for those who engage them openly and honestly.

The tone is gentle, warm and open. Bono sings a Church of Ireland rendition of Psalm 23. Peterson describes why he undertook the massive project of translating Scripture. Bono challenges Christian artists to write truer songs. The whole thing is only 20 minutes long, so you should probably just watch it:

Topics: Music, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Theology & The Church, The Bible