Tips  on spiritual growth, emotional health, and relational healing.


A Rock Star and a Pastor: 6 Takeaways from A Viral Video About The Psalms

May 5, 2016

***I typically share interviews on my blog each Thursday. However, sometimes I stumble on an interview or conversation which has been insightful or inspiring for me. In these instances (today being a prime example), I share an interview here along with my reflections on its content.

Recently, Fuller Studio (a project sponsored by Fuller Seminary based in Pasadena, California) released its first short film. The film documents the friendship of Bono (of the band U2) and Eugene Peterson (pastor, writer, and the man behind The Message translation of the Bible).

The film begins by telling the story of how Bono and Peterson became aware of one another and the friendship which emerged. If you haven’t seen the 21 minute video, you can watch it below.

I was mesmerized by the film. I’ve been a fan of Bono for about 10-15 years, ever since my friend and music maven, Matt Mugford, introduced me to the band in college. (Matt is a huge U2 fan and now serves as a music supervisor at NBC). I read The Message in college but it wasn’t until I read A Long Obedience in the Same Direction in the fall of 2006 when I really developed an admiration and appreciation for Eugene Peterson’s writings. The book explores a section of Scripture known as The Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 121-135).

The bulk of the film includes an interview of Bono and Peterson conducted by Fuller professor David Taylor. Reflecting on their conversation on the Psalms and this unique friendship, I had 6 takeaways I’d love to share with you.

1. There is incredible power within imagination, wonder and art.

“The Psalms showed me that imagination was a way to get inside the truth.” -Eugene Peterson

We live in a world which constantly diminishes wonder and imagination. With shows like MythBusters, Sports Science and spoiler alerts, we don’t cultivate a sense of wonder. Children are allowed to use their imaginations but we rarely encourage it within adults. Yet, the Psalms are chock full of metaphors and symbols which can only be understood if we engage our holy imaginations. Each Psalms is a work of art which speaks powerfully, even after thousands of years.

2. People are attracted to vulnerability and authenticity.

“The Psalms have this rawness, this brutal honesty – both the explosive joy and the sorrow and confusion. That sets the Psalms apart for me.” -Bono

73 of the 150 Psalms (nearly half) are known as psalms of lament. In these poems and songs, the authors are calling out to God out of pain, frustration and grief. Both in ancient times and the present day, a vulnerable and authentic moment, especially in art form, draws and woos the reader. We live in a world where we’re constantly on alert for deception and inauthenticity. When we share vulnerably with each other, we lean in and come closer.

3. True honesty is still a rare commodity.

“The text isn’t smooth nor nice or pretty…but we’re trying for honesty, which is hard in our culture.” -Peterson

In a world where we are enamored by beauty, we struggle to simultaneously sustain honesty. What is marketed as beauty is often as inauthentic as it gets. True honesty has always been rare and it often means not perfect, less than excellent and rough. But if the choice is rough and real or smooth and fake, Peterson and Bono and many others are drawn to the former not the latter.

4. Christian art has a long way to go.

“I find a lot of dishonesty in Christian art…that’s why I don’t trust it.” -Bono

Bono offered a great challenge to Christian songwriters. As a pastor, I’m regularly chided for how little Christian music I listen to. While there are some modern worship songs I enjoy, I find much of the modern Christian music scene to be plastic and unengaging. The fact that Thomas Kinkade was the most popular Christian artist for decades says something about the kind of art which is preferred – fake, isolated and incomplete.

5. We need a way to process our emotions and give vent to the violence within us.

“We need to find a way to cuss without cussing and the imprecatory Psalms give us that avenue.” -Eugene Peterson

Peterson has some fascinating thoughts on why we need ways to vent the violence within us, without hurting or wounding others. Whenever I’ve directed friends or acquaintances to read the harshest Psalms, they are shocked to find such harsh language in the Bible. However, these words could be pasted into our journals or the transcriptions of our conversations. Luckily, the Hebrew leaders knew well enough to include such pieces within the Hebrew Scriptures.

6. You never know who you will impact or who you’ve already impacted.

“I’d never heard of Bono before. Then one of my students showed up in class with a copy of the Rolling Stones—Rolling Stones?—and in it there was an interview with Bono in which he talked about me and The Message. He used some slangy language about who I was, and I said, “Who’s Bono?” They were dumbfounded I’d never heard of Bono, but that’s not the circle I really travel in very much. That’s how I first heard about him.” -Eugene Peterson

Peterson never set out to write a translation of the Bible for rock stars. He even turned down Bono’s first invitation because he refused to miss a publishing deadline. Peterson started translating the Bible as a way to help his friends and church members learn how to pray with more honesty and meaning.

Most of us wonder on a semi-regular basis, “does what I’m doing matter? Would anyone miss me if I wasn’t here?” Sometimes these questions come out of a deep depression; other times, we feel a futility in our work or a meaninglessness amidst all the busyness. This moment with Bono and Peterson was a frank reminder for me – you never know who your life and work will impact and most of us also don’t know who our life and work has already impacted.

Bono Eugene Peterson interview

I’m grateful for Fuller Studio and this film. Incredible conversations emerge when you bring people together who see the world from different vantage points. When different perspectives are appreciated and given a voice, tremendous learning can take place. I feel there is a genuine give and take between Bono and Peterson, as if both have gained new insight and understanding from one another’s experience and point-of-view.

Maybe the greatest personal benefit to this video is I left without man-crushing on Bono or Eugene Peterson more (though I do want to go visit Peterson’s cabin in Montana and I would love to have coffee with Bono). I finished the video moved and inspired to read through the Psalms again, with a new perspective and appreciation for their role in our world.

If you’ve never read Peterson’s translation, check out Psalm 40 from The Message here. Also, you can get a physical copy here.

I’d love to hear from you about your thoughts after watching the film and reading my review.

Do you have a favorite Psalm? What did you take away from the video?

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