Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bono: "Don't lose your faith in this holy clown/idiot"

It has been fascinating to follow the changes in the prophetic prayer rap Bono has been adding to live versions  of "Moment of Surrender" in the last couple years.   But I was pretty sure I heard a new and intriguing twist the other night in Oakland.  Frustrated that I didn't think to record it, and that the full version wasn't on YouTube yet....I was thrilled that St. Seth (who was there with us), pointed out a recording...that proves I heard right.

Some history, and then the recording..

The first (?) version  appeared out of nowhere on Saturday Night Live (NBC has taken it offline),
and  wasn't incorporated into concerts for awhile,
but by the time of the Rose Bowl concerts, captured in the DVD here below (see 5:40ff), it showed up, and showed up emotionally (see comments at "Moment of....Prayer Rap").

It usually goes something like this:

Life is short…it’s the longest thing you’ll ever do
The worst, the curse was that your dreams come true
God is a mirror in which each man sees himself
Hell is a place where you don’t need any help
When I first met you, your face was like snow
Wherever you went, I wanted to go
Your face, your grace, your can of mace
Your case as you put it down
8:17 on the ground
Your faith in a clown
Don’t leave me now, Lord, in this song
Don’t leave me now
Alone in this song 

One of the hot debates was " Was he saying 'clown," 'crowd,' crown,"??.... I usually opted for "clown";
hoping he was drawing (again) from the "holy fool" tradition and referring to Jesus and/or himself as the clown..

"Holy fool" backstory:
Bono: (Paul McGuinness) would sit me down and say, “You have what it takes. You must have more confidence in yourself and continue to dig deeper. And I don’t be upset or surprised when you pull something out of the depth that’s uncomfortable.”
Assayas: So you discovered things that, on first glance, you’d rather have kept hidden? What were those?
Bono: The gauche nature of awe, of worship, the wonderment at the world around you. Coolness might help in your negotiation with your world, maybe, but it is impossible to meet God with sunglasses on. It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw. That’s the connection with great music and art, and that’s the other reason you wanted to join a band: you wanted to do the cool thing. Trying to capture religious experiences on tape wasn’t what ypu had in mind when you signed up for the job.
Assayas: What about your own sunglasses, then? Do you wear them the same way a taxi driver would turn off his front light, so as to signal to God that this rock star is too full of himself and not to hire at the moment?
Bono: Yeah, my insincerity… I have learnt the importance of not being earnest at all times. You don’t know what’s going on behind those glasses, but God, I can assure you, does. (53-54)

Sans glasses, still wearing wisdom, and more irony than one might think. It’s just been properly retooled and “dreamed up again” for a new millennium. He’s still a:

“Holy Fool,” which is a wonderful tradition of the Eastern Church who periodically pops up here in the West. In the Russian tradition, some of the saints would do almost anything to avoid being perceived as saints. One of them kept offering to wrestle bears so people would think him a nut and not praise him as a saint. In the West, St. Philip Neri acted goofy, partly because he enjoyed being a goof and partly to throw people off the scent of his sanctity and keep them from gushing over him. When offered a cardinal's hat, he proceeded to play football with it. Currently, we saw something of the Holy Fool in Forrest Gump a few years ago. All such fools have one thing in common: they know they are not wise. Similarly, those who are convinced of their innate wisdom are invariably great ninnies. It's far better to be a fool for Christ than to be a fool on one's own. Today, thank God for the folly that is his wisdom.

1 Corinthians 3:18: Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.
-Mark Shea, Daily Cathloc Exchange Devotional, Aopril 1, 2005

He’s still a holy fool, just more stripped down and streamlined. Far more subtle, no devil mask. But how is is that, on this current tour, he can dedicate “Running to Stand Still” to the troops in Iraq with a straight poker face, let alone without a McPhisto/devil mask to make the irony obvious? Does no one get it? Has anyone booed? No, they applaud what they perceive as patriotism (and they are partly right) and miss and misunderstand the subtle point (War is an exercise in death; in futility, and in standing still). Applaud is what they should do……but for another reason altogether: the singer has just brilliantly and understatedly (!) pulled off a holy fool moment. And dismantled death even. Even if not many “get it.”

A couple years ago, Towers commented on my blog:

I would venture an as yet unspoken theory that Bono is in fact saying "8:17 on the ground - your faith in a clown" as a reference to 1.) the approximate start time of the concert..? 2.) the clown as himself. Picture - it's 8:17, the crowd is on the crowd, ready for 'Space Oddity' and lift off with 'King of your Love' and the drum roll of 'Breathe.' Everyone's enthralled. In keeping with the themes explored in 'Stand Up Comedy' (sadly unplayed as yet) perhaps Bono is here having a go at the idea that people place faith in rock stars who, despite pomp and circumstance, are essentially clowns.  -see comments here,  Towers,  
I agree that it is likely 8:17 (and not A-17 as many think), as originally every song on "No Line" included a time reference...and Towers' guess is as good as any in context.


what i thought I heard in person the other night  was  that "Don't put your faith in a clown"   had become "Don't lose your faith in this clown" (Either way, Bono would be meaning himself, unless he pointed upwards, which I didn't see.
Here is the audio, check out 7:58..it's pretty clear:

LATER NOTE: FINALLY FOUND A FULL CONCERT VIDEO VERSION.  HERE IT IS, pick up the video at 5:45 mark: (Note: I make the case that you can often tell when Bono's about to move into a prophetic section...you can watch his hand start to shake or swirl...LOL, I guess he's been to Toronto.  see below and especially "Without You" at Slane here):

I realize he could be praying that GOD would not lose his faith in "this clown"=Bono.
He sure assumes a posture of prayer as soon as he finishes saying it the last time.
Considering what happened next...which was amazing:

..definitely one of the highlights, check out what happened at the very end as the band meets Wojtek,  This whole thing felt prophetic as I watched it, as if the guest was sent to bring a blessing to the band and to the U.S with his visit...and gift to Bono.  Of course, it is yet another refreshing example of how U2 honors fans......and a reminder that Beth is right: Bono does not bring only girls up on stage:

             - link: "Wojtek flew twenty hours...without an airplane")

...suffice to say I haven't lost my faith in either clown.
When Bono was 'foolish' enough to let Wojtek up on stage, it was holy foolishness.
When someone holds up a sign that says "Bono: I flew 20 hours to be on stage with U2,"
and Bono is humble and holy enough to let it happen..

..wow, once some folks travelled  eight hours to meet me..That was holy and humbling enough.


We were minding our own business, teaching for a small group at our church by the brothel (see both here) in  Huancayo, Peru...when these men  (video below) showed up unannounced.

No one knew them, so Ken greeted them and found they has somehow heard from the grapevine that we (some special gringos) were in Huancayo; they had travelled for eight hours on mountain roads, on the chance that we might be able to pray/commission them for their ministry: they run an intercession/outreach center  from the poorest apartment complex in the country.

Sometimes when North Americans teach in Latin America or Africa, the locals think we are especially anointed, or will blow on them/knock 'em down like the televangelists on TBN.  This was different.  They just felt like we had something for them.

-Link: "you travelled eight hours to meet US!?"

Count me a holy fool.

I even wore a clown suit once..maybe I'll buy it back..story and photos here..


if the "holy fool" language trips you up, would it trip you up more to use the phrase "idiot"?:

I would love to browse the books by Bono's bedside.
We have long known he has read
Eugene Peterson (some see direct Peterson inspirations in this album),
Brennan Manning (great story)
Phillip Yancey (great story) ../

We have just confirmed a long suspicion he has read John of the Cross!

Why would he not be referencing Dostoyevsky's "The Idiot" in "Crazy Tonight"s use of ":idiot" language?
The title character is not only a Christ-figure, but his development was influenced by the "holy fool" tradition (which Bono directly utilized in the 9os).  -full story


  1. you are now way passed obsessed with boNO and you are into Idolatry with a capital "I".

    You should consider banning yourself from ever writing about boNO again!

  2. Wow.

    I stumbled into your page out of serendipity and I treasure these moments when I find someone else who "gets" Bono.

    Greetings from Paris!

  3. Thanks..bless you big time in Paris!


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!