Posts Tagged With: BONO

U2’s Songs of Transcendence

Sunday evening I did something I haven’t done in close to 30 years: I went to an actual record store and bought a brand-new U2 album on vinyl, took it home, pulled out the turntable, put on my headphones, sat on the floor, and stayed up way too late reading the liner notes and listening to the songs over and over again.

Lord, how I’ve missed this particular ritual.

When I was a teenager, late Sunday nights were when I indulged my secret pleasure by listening in bed (clandestinely so as not to incur the wrath of my parents for being awake well past my bedtime) to the “King Biscuit Flower Hour” on WPLR, the classic rock station in New Haven that was one of two (the other being a horrendous pop-40 station) that came in clearly on the FM stereo in my upstairs bedroom.

I listened, religiously, every Sunday night for years, hoping to hear a song by one of the British New Wave bands of which I was fond, or, if I was particularly lucky, by my favorite band on the planet: U2.

Sometimes weeks would go by without hearing a U2 song on those late Sunday nights, my ear pressed to the transistor radio secreted next to the pillow on my twin bed. But then, like a bolt of lightning — I’d hear Bono’s voice or Edge’s guitar begin to keen. It was a wee bit magical, although in retrospect today I might call it sacred.

All the waiting and listening was worth it. Always.

There was an intimacy then to the conversation that transpired between U2’s music and my young heart. It was never about the sound alone — I didn’t care if it had a good beat or if I could dance to it — what touched me, leaving indelible fingerprints on my soul, were the stories, confessions, and prayers wrapped inside the sound.


By the time I reached my room at the top of the unreasonably long, winding basalt staircase that led to the pensione‘s third floor late one night last month in Rome, I was out of steam and both my iPhone and iPad were out of juice. I plugged both devices and left them to charge while I took a quick shower to cool off after a day of hoofing it around the Eternal City in 90-degree weather.

By the time I’d finished my ablutions, put on my pajamas, and climbed into my narrow twin bed (one of the many charms of Roman hotel rooms), the pad and the phone were successfully resuscitated, the soft blue glow of their illuminated screens punctuated by texts and alerts that had queuing during the dormant hours after the batteries ran out.

Sitting cross-legged on top of the duvet, I scrolled through messages and Facebook alerts that announced a surprise: earlier that day in California, U2 had released its long anticipated new album, Songs of Innocence, and delivered it for free to a half-billion iTunes users worldwide.

It took a few moments for that news to compute in my mind. There was an entire album of new U2 music and it was just waiting for me to download it from the (great) Cloud (of witnesses) to listen.

Thanks be to God for a strong WiFi signal.

Thirty seconds later …

I was chasing down the days of fear
Chasing down a dream before it disappeared
I was aching to be somewhere near
Your voice was all I heard
I was shaking from a storm in me
Haunted by the spectres that we had to see
Yeah, I wanted to be the melody
Above the noise, above the hurt

I was young
Not dumb
Just wishing to be blinded
By you
Brand new
And we were pilgrims on our way

I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense out of the world
Everything I ever lost, now has been returned
The most beautiful sound I’d ever heard

Cue the waterworks.

U2 had been working on this album for ages. Five years — the longest the lads have ever worked on one LP before gifting it to the masses. (By the way, I have no interest in wading into the shitstorm that ensued about how the new album was delivered, but I will say one thing: whinging about breaches of privacy over the free copy of Songs of Innocence in your iTunes library is a bit like calling the cops on Christmas morning to have Santa Claus charged with breaking-and-entering.)

To my ears (and heart) it was well worth the wait. So much so that I stayed up listening into the wee hours of the morning that first night in Rome before drifting into sleep with Songs of Innocence on repeat. When I awakened a few hours later to attend a papal audience with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, “Iris (Hold Me Close),” a song Bono wrote about his mother, Iris Rankin Hewson, who died suddenly of a brain aneurysm when the singer was 14, was playing.

Once we are born, we begin to forget
The very reason we came
But you
I’m sure I’ve met
Long before the night the stars went out
We’re meeting up again

Hold me close, hold me close and don’t let me go
Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know
Hold me close, the darkness just lets us see
Who we are
I’ve got your life inside of me

Next month will be two years since I lost my beloved father, Muzzy. Bono’s “Iris” viscerally expresses the untenable paradox between grief’s gaping maw and the expansive embrace of hope that I’ve yet to find adequate words for and probably never will.

Bono says Songs of Innocence is the most intimate album the band’s put out in its 38-year history. That’s certainly how it felt and continues to feel to me. That’s why I bought the album on vinyl even though I already had a free copy on all of my iDevices.

I wanted to touch it, to hold it in my hands, feel the weight of the heavy white vinyl albums, and smell that new-album-smell that in a split second transcends the time-space continuum and transports me back to my teenage self, completely enraptured by the music.

Escape. Refuge. Prophet. Solace. Friend.


Midnight, on the floor of my home office as Sunday became Monday, reading the Songs of Innocence copious (and fascinating) liner notes. This passage from Bono’s essay “Flashbacks 4 Songs of Innocence” slayed me:

We can spend our whole lives searching for cohesion, and in not finding it, turn the world into the shape of our disappointment. Or not. There is no end to grief…that’s how I know there is no end to love.”

Sometimes we have to take inventory of where we’ve been to realize where we are, and where we’re heading. Songs of Innocence does just that. We the listeners accompany Bono, Edge, Adam, and Larry as they trace the path of their youth in 1970s Dublin with its sectarian violence, unbearable losses, the blossom of young love, and unexpected spiritual awakenings that transpired largely outside any traditional house of worship.

My impression is that U2 wasn’t trying to do something new with this album. Rather they sought to create something true — authentic and honest, real and raw. The band seems like it wants to draw its fans close, perhaps closer than it has since its hungry early days, before Live Aid and Zoo TV, before the multi-continental stadium tours and the incessant demands of superstardom created space between us and them.

The photograph on the LP more than hints at this notion. Pictured is a shirtless Larry Mullen Jr., ever the most private and reserved member of the band, embracing his 18-year-old son, Elvis, whose face we cannot fully see but only glimpse in the downy beard of a boy becoming a man.

The image is at once reminiscent of U2’s early albums Boy and War, where an adolescent boy (Peter Rowen, the younger brother of Bono’s lifelong best friend, Guggi) appeared on the LP covers, and a real-time portrait of where and who the band mates are today.

They started this journey together as teenagers (on my sixth birthday, Sept. 25, 1976, by the way.) Now all four men are in their 50s. All are fathers. They’ve grown up but not old. Not yet.

Sonically, Songs of Innocence sounds like no other U2 album. The inimitable roar of Edge’s guitar is largely absent, replaced by more acoustic, intimate guitar styles and keyboards. The influence of some of the artists U2 pays tribute to lyrically on the album — The Ramones, The Clash — can be heard, as well as whiffs of world music, trance dance, and the sacred echoes of African music and other audible exotica.

Among U2’s 13 studio albums, Songs of Innocence is unique.


If I’m completely honest about it, Songs of Innocence had me at Joey Ramone.

The first track on the album “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” is Bono’s telling of his musical epiphany which arrived the first time he heard Ramone sing.

“I sang like a girl … that felt uncomfortable until the Ramones happened to me as they must happen to everyone,” Bono writes in the liner notes. “Joey Ramone sang like a girl, he loved all the great sirens … you could hear Motown, Dusty Springfield, Ronnie Spector. You could hear an echo of your pain in his voice…that’s why you believed him, surfing to the future on a sea of noise.”

In the last verses of the song itself, Bono sings:

I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred
I get so many things I don’t deserve
All the stolen voices will someday be returned
The most beautiful sound I’d ever heard

I found this particularly moving because in my life story, Bono is my Joey Ramone. It’s a story I’ve told in a book or two and that I tell often when I’m asked to speak publicly about grace, but it bears repeating.

One afternoon in the autumn of 1982, when I was in seventh grade, I went to my friend Rob’s house after school. He had older siblings who introduced him to music that the rest of us would have to wait until college to hear. We both loved music and he was eager to share a new band with me.

“They’re Irish, but they’re Christians,” he said, as he took the vinyl LP from its sleeve and put in on the turntable of his parents HiFi. (The “but” still cracks me up, btw.)

The album was October, U2’s second. The song — the first cut on the record — was “Gloria.”

I can remember it vividly. Drums faded in, a bass guitar thumped, and a man’s rogue tenor voice the likes of which I’d never heard before started howling, “Gloria, glo-reeeee-aaah TWO, THREE, FOUR!” as a guitar began to wail.

I try to sing this song
I…I try to stand up
But I can’t find my feet
I try, I try to speak up
But only in you I’m complete

Gloria…in te domine
Oh Lord, loosen my lips

I try to sing this song
I…I try to get in
But I can’t find the door
The door is open
You’re standing there
You let me in

My soul did a backflip.

The words were familiar—a psalm, a chant from the liturgy, an image of Christ standing at the door (of our hearts) and knocking. I recognized them all from church. But somehow they’d never had that kind of effect on me.

As the next tracks played, one after the other filled with biblical imagery and declarations of spiritual yearning, I was  transfixed by the extraordinary mix of faith with rock ‘n’ roll—a forbidden fruit at my house, where we were supposed to be “in the world but not of it.”

Who were these guys? How were they doing this? And could I do it, too?

Hearing U2’s album October for the first time set my life on a trajectory that continues to this day: finding God in the places some people say God isn’t supposed to be; looking for the truly sacred in the supposedly profane; discovering the kind of unmatched inspiration and spiritual elation elsewhere in culture that I had found that day in Rob’s living room.

It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.

And it still is.

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Mourning Madiba: Ndiyakuthanda, Tata

mandela-smileI stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people.

~ Nelson Mandela

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Cry of a Tiny Baby: Merry Christmas, Everyone!

“The idea that there’s a force of love and logic behind the universe is overwhelming to start with, if you believe it,” he told me in his raspy brogue, sipping black coffee out of a Styrofoam cup. “But the idea that the same love and logic would choose to describe itself as a baby born in shit and straw and poverty is genius. And it brings me to my knees, literally. To me, as a poet, I’m just in awe of that. It makes some sort of poetic sense. It’s the thing that makes me a believer, although it didn’t dawn on me for many years.”

– Bono on Christmas and the Incarnation from The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People (p. 10) by Cathleen Falsani. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Kindle Edition.

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Bono Preaches the Gospel of Social Justice at 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 every 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.

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“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.

Watch Bono’s full Georgetown address below:

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. She is also a member of the advisory board for ONE Moms, a project of the ONE Campaign. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @godgrrl.

Photo credits: All photos by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

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Bono to the G8: Transparency, ‘We Won’t Have Food Security Without It’

One of these things is not like the others.

In a room filled with African heads of state, captains of industry, leaders of international development and countless executives from NGOs at the G8 Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security in Washington, D.C. late last week, stood one Irish rock star — Bono, the lead singer of U2 and co-founder of the ONE Campaign.

At first blush (to the uninitiated, perhaps), Bono’s presence might seem incongruous, but most of the folks in the room at the Ronald Reagan building a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue know the Irishman more for his tireless humanitarian efforts than his closet full of Grammy awards. For more than 25 years, Bono, 52, has been involved deeply and effectively in international affairs as a champion for the poorest of the poor.

“We’ve seen the bleached bones of livestock, we’ve seen emaciated children, the withered crops,” Sen. Pat Leahy said during his introduction of Bono, a dear friend of his for decades. “If we don’t find some way to respond to this then we’ve failed, we’ve failed as a world and it’s a shame on our collective souls….[Bono has been] a passionate powerful voice, he’s stepped up, he’s inspired me he’s inspired others

“Because of him, there are millions of people millions of children, who have a better life today, who will never know Bono, who will never meet Bono, but because he spoke to power around the world, and spoke to our individual conscience, to our better angels – because of him, they will have a better life,” Leahy said.

Bono spoke Friday not long after President Obama addresssed the symposium to announce the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition  — an historic effort between G8 member nations, African countries and the private sector designed “to lift 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years through inclusive and sustained agricultural growth.”

A key part of the new alliance is the promise of $3 billion in investments from more than 45 private sector firms around the globe, including U.S. seed, chemical and agricultural equipment companies DuPont, Monsanto and Cargill, for agricultural programs on the African continent in the next few years.

“If you listen – and actually at the ONE campaign we really try to listen to what people in the developing world want  – they will say, ‘We have a lot of what we want already we just can’t get to it,'” Bono said. “‘Make it easier for us to do business,” they tell us, “for our entrepreneurs, for our farmers.'”

“Well, President Obama is talking business this morning. Secretary Clinton is about to talk some business. And we think that’s great. They’re bringing U.S. companies and African business leaders together. That’s exciting. This G8 — its’ not just an aid agenda, it’s a trade agenda. Of course it is. What do you think we are? We understand this.”

In his nearly 20-minute speech, Bono hailed the progress that has been made in combatting extreme poverty, hunger and disease in Africa in recent years. The key to that success and any in the future, he insisted, is one thing: Transparency.

Africa may be home to 400 million of the world’s poorest of the poor, but it is also one of the richest lands on Earth in terms of untapped natural resources (both geological and human), he said. As Africa’s bountiful resources — gold, oil, natural gas, precious metals and mineral deposits — are extracted in the coming years, without transparency billions of dollars will find their way into the pockets of a corrupt few rather than the African people who need and deserve them.

“Can we manage the oil as well as the farmland? Manage it properly, responsibly, transparently?” Bono asked the audience. “Because when we don’t, you know what happens. Hundreds of billions of dollars got lost to oil and gas corruption in Nigeria. That’s what the watchdog groups are telling us. Just mind blowing. Huge numbers.

“Crops need sunlight. So does resource extraction. Both need sunlight’s disinfecting glare. Isn’t transparency the vaccine to prevent the worst disease of them all? Corruption. Everybody here knows that corruption kills more children than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. So that’s what I want to leave you with. That very simple word. That very simple concept. Easy to say. Much harder to realize, especially in law. The word ‘transparency.’

“We won’t have food security without it,” he said. “But we will have oil riches without it but those riches will be held and hidden by very few hands.”

Here below is the transcript of Bono’s address. You can watch the video of his speech in its entirety HERE. His talk begins at the 4:27:30 time mark. 



Better said of Pat Leahy, I would say, prizefighter for the world’s poor. What a sort of righteous voice. Louder – louder than any rock band, actually, that big voice. He’s been to a few U2 shows but I think at heart, he’s a Dead Head. Yes, the mans’ a follower of the Grateful Dead, even with that shiny pate. But no greater prizefighter for the world’s poor and the people who deserve the compliments he’s just handed out are actually in this room.

Thank you, Pat.

And thank you for having me at this incredible forum. It’s a decision you may shortly regret.

You may have noticed that I’m one of the few speakers whose name isn’t preceded by His Excellency or the Honorable. My name is usually preceded by other adjectives. Use your imagination – you’re probably right.

I’ve only 10 minutes, so let me jump in. Ten minutes is not long if you’re Irish.

Bono aka “the girl with a beard” in Ethiopia, 1985.

Bono with his wife, Ali Hewson, in Ethiopia, 1985.

As some of you know it was a famine in Ethiopia by way of Live Aid that brought me into development issues 25 years ago. One of the not unimportant advantages of ending world hunger would be that you wouldn’t have to listen to me or my friends singing about feeding the world when you’re actually doing it. So there’s a lot at stake here.

Strange to say but it’s not just music that is subject to the whims of fashion – development too.  Hunger was kind of off the map in some quarters. Agriculture was old hat in some quarters. Boring. Unsexy. Of course it’s not boring if you live in the Sahel, it’s wasn’t boring to some of the people in this room and outside of it who have been agitating for some time now. This issue lies at the very heart of self-sustaining development. People like Jeff Sachs, Bill Gates, Mo Ibrahim, Tom Arnold I thought I saw there from CONCERN. David Beckmann. I see a lot of friends. The Chicago Council itself whoa re hosting today,  I’d like to thank them for their work raising and banging the drum…So thank you.

The president of the United States as it turns out is also one of them. So I think we should give it up for the president because if the words of his speech this morning are turned into bold action in partnership with the developing world and the private sector, then today was a real moment. And we would love that to be true, and I think that might be true.

Now, Irish people like to think we understand food insecurity. You see, 150 years ago 2 million of us lost our life to the famine and another 2 million became policemen in New York, Boston, Chicago. In those three cities, I’ve never had a speeding ticket. Never! But I’m not going to talk about Ireland or Ethiopia and my time there then or more recently because you’re the professionals, you’re the experts. You’ve seen more than I’ve seen, you’ve seen things you don’t want to have seen, things that have changed the way you see everything else. Things that have changed.

Certainly the conversation has changed. Aid is way, way smarter than it was because of science, technology, accountability, learning from mistakes. And one more thing: It’s finally dawning on most of us that the continent that contains the most poverty also contains the most wealth. Four hundred million of the world’s poorest are in Africa, but the continent is rich. Richer than rich. I mean the land and what’s beneath it.

Imagine 19th century America — plus elephants. Imagine a place of unbelievable plenty. A place bursting at the seams, bursting at the seams of gold, reserves of oil, gas, gold, tin, colt and copper. You heard the president talk about how much of the world’s undeveloped arable land is on the continent of Africa. I think it’s 60 percent. Not to mention the human resources living on top of this wealth. That’s the Africa that’s in the room today and I don’t dare to speak on its behalf. I speak as a fan.

A lot of people say the 21st century is about China. Well, ask the Chinese ‘cuz they’re all over Africa. They figured out by 2050 the population of Africa will nearly double China’s. Think about that. Ask Walmart. Walmart invested  $2.4 billion in Africa. They see the potential. Actually not just the potential, they see the reality.

How many of the Americans here, how many of the Europeans (yuck), wouldn’t swap your economic growth rate with much of Africa’s right now. So the challenge is not the old one of how to make up for a lack of resources, the challenge is how to well manage an abundance of resources and how to make sure this bounty benefits all people over the long term, not just the few people in the short term; how to use this plenty to eliminate poverty, extreme poverty, and this is new.

Now, though the old problems persist, I think you can see today that the way we’re addressing them is different and it has to be. What President Obama’s announced today is new, it’s a new approach to managing these resources as partners, not patrons. Horizontally, not vertically. Not what we give to them but what we, all of us, can do to take plans that are country owned, country led and help them succeed. By the way there are country devised plans ready today that if they are fully supported that will get us to that magic number of 50 million being lifted out of poverty. There are 30 plans ready today to get to that 50 million number being lifted out of poverty. That will prevent millions from stunting.

You know what is absolutely maddening – I know you know – you’re standing in front of some beautiful child who is clearly no longer hungry, but there’s something missing. That cognitive dissonance. And you realize how vulnerable those early years are.

You don’t have to be poor to be utterly impoverished by that sight.

And by the way it’s not just African governments that we’re in partnership, it’s African business, African civil society. That’s what’s changing this whole debate. We’re listening. Can we listen enough? No. So what we’re talking about this morning is what all of us can do to unlock what’s in the soil, in the seed, in ground, in the rock beneath our feet.

Well there’s one rock above ground that I can see now. You know what it is? It’s a headstone. A big slab of granite on what we around here used to call the “donor recipient relationship.” As you know, it’s been dead for a while and this is not even the funeral. This is the wake. It’s kind of an Irish wake. Ya know, people are in a better mood than they should be, just for a second we can raise a glass to past accomplishments in the old mode because some amazing things did happen. Debt cancellation, PEPFAR, Global Fund, MCC. Some crazy and bizarre things happened, too. Rock stars campaigning for historic AIDS initiatives in Krispy Kremes in the Midwest truck stops. And then the darker toe of undergraduates enforcing structural adjustments on countries they’ve never even visited. Ah the good ol’ days.

Bono talks with drivers and the media at the world’s largest truck stop in Walcott, Iowa, during the “Heart of America” tour in December 2002.

Let’s see today as a wake for all of that and its’ come at the right time. Why? Cuz’ guess what? We’re broke.

When the ONE campaign and I go busking for development assistance in this capital and the capitals of Europe in some quarters of the word “aid” sounds like an expletive. Really. It’s like you’ve brought a bad smell into the room. It’s like, ‘Ooh, that guy’s got body odor.’ But we need aid. Of course we still need aid. Of course we do. Does anyone disagree? Anyone apart from brain-dead, heart-dead idealogues or professional controversialists.

Come on. Everybody sane, every sensible person knows that.

The L’Aquila promises must be kept and be a baseline going forward and we’ve got to keep overall aid budgets on track, which is really a tough sell in these times. Has anyone been to Europe lately? Is it still there? I’m a proud European and I believe in the EU. Most people call us the IOU. Zero-point-seven commitment is a serious commitment but it’s under threat and so are the lives that it will support.

Very few countries have been courageous enough to keep their promises on aid. Ireland’s actually been doing it. Sweden and Norway, double doing it. The UK is doing it too. If you see David Cameron having an austerity pint at the bar, please shake his hand. It’s probably a gin and tonic, but shake his hand. Because this is serious leadership, serious courage and it puts him in a fantastic position to build his partnership for next year’s G8 in the UK. We’re counting on Germany, we need France, we need Spain. And let’s face it, a world without Italy would just be boring, ya know. (Thank God he’s gone.)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 25 years of doing this stuff it’s that paternalism – the old way we did development – is no match for partnership. It’s through a partnership, north and south, rich and poor, business and government that will reach our real goal. It’s the thing we all want. It’s the moment that we make aid history. It’s by partnership that we can hasten the day when the developing world will not only feed itself, but feed the rest of us. Because 9 billion people can get pretty hungry. A few weeks ago ONE CEO Mike Elliott was asking Greg Page, the head of Cargill, if a global population of 9 billion (which is where we’re headed) can actually feed itself. “Oh it can be done,” Page replied, “but it can’t be done without Africa.”

If you listen – and actually at the ONE campaign we really try to listen to what people in the developing world want  – they will say, “We have a lot of what we want already we just can’t get to it.

“Make it easier for us to do business,” they tell us, “for our entrepreneurs, for our farmers.”

Well, President Obama is talking business this morning. Secretary Clinton is about to talk some business. And we think that’s great. They’re bringing U.S. companies and African business leaders together. That’s exciting. This G8 — its’ not just an aid agenda, it’s a trade agenda. Of course it is. What do you think we are? We understand this.

Look I could and should go on about Feed the Future more than I am, but I’ve only go ta few minutes left, so instead I ask for your indulgence. Top soil isn’t the only resource we wish to mention here. There are riches. There are riches deeper down.

So before I quit I want to say a few words about oil and gas and precious metals and minerals. Rock stars love shiny things. This is the bling part of my speech. I know I’m over 10 minutes, but just stick with me.

$246 billion. That’s a lot of bling. That’s the value of what Africa’s extractive sector exported in 2009. Six times larger than aid receipts, seven times larger than agricultural exports. You don’t need me to tell you what wealth on that scale could mean for investments in health, education, roads, electricity. The lot. A lot. A lot of power to transform lives.  But only if we don’t blow the cash.

I know I’m not the best spokesman for responsible budgeting. I once bought a hotel. I thought because I stay in a lot of them I’d know how to run one.

But I do at least know that it’s essential that we don’t blow these extraordinary resources.

Can we manage the oil as well as the farmland? Manage it properly, responsibly, transparently?

Because when we don’t, you know what happens. Hundreds of billions of dollars got lost to oil and gas corruption in Nigeria. That’s what the watchdog groups are telling us. Just mind blowing. Huge numbers.

Crops need sunlight. So does resource extraction. Both need sunlight’s disinfecting glare. Isn’t transparency the vaccine to prevent the worst disease of them all? Corruption.

Everybody here knows that corruption kills more children than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

So that’s what I want to leave you with. That very simple word. That very simple concept. Easy to say. Much harder to realize, especially in law. The word “transparency.”

We won’t have food security without it. But we will have oil riches without it but those riches will be held and hidden by very few hands.

Transparency. When promises are made we need to know what they are and how they’ll be fulfilled.

Transparency. When tax dollars are being spent we need to know what good they’re doing.

Isn’t it striking that the people who know the very least about aid flow are the people who pay for it – the taxpayers – and the people whose lives depend on it.

That is insane.

According to the World Bank, since debt cancellation an extra 46 million children are going to school today across Africa. That is incredible, is it not?

But how do we know? Because we insisted on tracking the money.

An extra 46 million children going to school because of solid accounting and smart African leadership. This is ffffnnmm…GREAT!

That’s what we need to do whether we’re talking about aid flows or private investments or national budgets. Track where the money is coming from, and where it goes and what good it’s doing.

This will root out corruption, this will help stem land grabs, this is more efficient. More importantly, it will strengthen the hand of the poorest in whose name this is supposed to be happening.

Look, U.S. Congress has done something truly seismic in this respect, something transformative for the world’s poor and we didn’t even talk about it today, really. Nobody knows about it, nobody except the African leaders who are here. They know all about it.

You know that Congress required extractive companies to publish what they pay to oversees governments project by project with no exceptions. It’s huge. This is knowledge that citizens can use to hold their leaders accountable. It is great stuff.

I personally met with 12 out of the G20 heads of state, rakes of finance ministers on this point. We’re so excited about it.

Why are we doing this? Because we’re listening. We’re listening to the people we seek to serve. And this is what they’re telling us to do.

So if I’ve gone too long and if you’re scratching your heads about why I’ve started on about extractives at an agriculture and nutrition event – and I know Raj [Dr. Rajiv Shah, head of the USAID]isn’t – as we approach 9 billion people on this finite planet, resource scarcity will be a recurring theme and risk factor.

These agendas of food, of land, of water, timber, fisheries, energy — renewable or otherwise — they’re actually the same agenda.

And that’s the key thing I want to leave you with this morning. It’s the same agenda. What started today, what President Obama has announced today, is a sign of what the G8 — and the G20 in six weeks time — can achieve. This can be a one-two punch on a resource agenda that to make this a very memorable year. In the middle of all this economic awfulness something could actually happen here.

Africa rising. Africa starving. It’s the clash of the clichés. Poverty and plenty. They’ve coexisted in Africa, they coexist here. You heard the president talk about hunger in America. This is the paradox of the world we live in and that most people in this room have given their lives to resolve.

And can I say, to end, can I say how humbled I am to be in this company. I work hard on this, part-time. You have spent your lives trying to cure these ills — your whole lives — to cure the most troubling contradictions of life on this Earth. It’s hard but you’re still here. Still fighting this fight. Even fighting about how to fight this fight. — a fight toward fairness, against despair, against the depravity and the depressing injustice of hunger.

This could be the moment when the people you serve, the people who till the soil, who draw the well from deep down beneath it, see most or more of that benefits of that vital work. This could be the moment that all of us as partners see the scales tip from poverty toward plenty. How peaceful this century turns out to be and how prosperous it turns out to be might just depend on this.

Thank you for your patience. Thank you.


Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. You can read Cathleen’s spiritual profiile of Bono in her book The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People. Follow her on Twitter @GodGrrl.

Categories: From, GODSTUFF | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Jack Heaslip: “What if God is even greater than we think?” (Oh, Yes.)

Apologies for the dodgy photo, Jack. The only one we could find is your Interpol mug shot (apparently.)

Our wonderful friend Jack Heaslip (possibly the coolest man alive) gave the church my family attends, Little Church by the Sea in Laguna Beach, Calif., the most marvelous of gifts last weekend: His presence.

Jack, who hails from just north of Dublin in Howth, County Fingal  (by way of County Mayo), Ireland, was our guest at the weekend at on Sunday, blessed us by delivering two poleaxingly beautiful sermons at the morning services. An ordained Anglican clergyman, for the last 15 years of so, Jack has been the chaplain for the band U2, traveling all over the world with Bono, the Edge, Larry and Adam, ministering to the band and their small city of 500 crew members who build the sets, hang the lights, move girders, construct the huge Claw for the 360 tour and help put the show on for untold thousands of fans.

Jack had a few days of leisure in Los Angeles before U2’s shows at Angels Stadium in Annaheim this coming weekend, so graciously agreed to join Little Church for worship and teach us a thing or two about this God of Grace of ours.

Unfortunately (the devil was, apparently, in the details) the audio recording from the church sound board went wonky and didn’t record Jack’s sermons for the usual MP3 posting on the church Web site. So (with apologies to Joe O’Herlihy) the only audio we have is from my iPhone from the 8:30 a.m. (read: early) service. I’ve tinkered with it a bit and the sound quality is passable, but you’ll have to excuse hearing every breath, snort and chortle of mine as the phone picked all of them up from its perch on the pew next to me.

Here is what Jack, with his inimitable good humor and wisdom, shared with us. May his words bless you as much as the did those of us lucky enough to have heard him in person.

(The passage Jack preached from, Ephesians 3, is reprinted below the audio link.)

Jack, thank you for … you. And for your generosity of time, spirit and friendship. Laguna misses you already. You have a home here, spiritual and otherwise, anytime you want it.


Ephesians 3

from The Message (MSG) Para-translation by Eugene Peterson

Ephesians 3

The Secret Plan of God

 1-3This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so-called. I take it that you’re familiar with the part I was given in God’s plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief.

 4-6As you read over what I have written to you, you’ll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God’s Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.

 7-8This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

 8-10And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!

 11-13All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!

 14-19My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

 20-21God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

   Glory to God in the church!
   Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
   Glory down all the generations!
   Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

Categories: LURKING IN THE NARTHEX | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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