On Saying “No” to Famous Rockstars
I speak for many pastors who would, like me, declare that the life and writing of Eugene Peterson was and still is of profound impact. In light of his passing not long ago, I thought it would be fun to share this reflection about my own favorite “Eugene story.” It involves Bono…so, what more do you need to know in order to read on? 😉
If a world famous rockstar requested a meeting with you, would you accept?
A good friend of ours once received such a summons recently, and she humbly accepted. It was Bono. And I was so happy for her…while also being very jealous.
And then there are others…
Several years ago, a friend reminded me of a YouTube video of a magnificent conversation between Bono and Eugene Peterson about the Psalms (You can view that video in its entirety here). The conversation had first been initiated by Bono, who had read some of Peterson’s books and wanted to meet him. At first, Eugene declined the request to meet because he was in the middle of translating the book of Isaiah for what has now become The Message, a contemporary paraphrase of the Bible.
In the video, there is also a conversation with Eugene where the interviewer expresses shock that the pastor and writer would turn down a meeting with the world famous rock star for any reason. Speculating that this could have been the first time anyone ever turned down a meeting with Bono, the interviewer said, “This is Bono we’re talking about, for goodness sakes!”
Eugene Peterson humbly responded to the interviewer, “But this is Isaiah we’re talking about.”
Having gotten over the shock myself that anyone would turn down a meeting with my favorite rock star since high school, it then dawned on me that for Eugene Peterson, there was already something there that made him completely free of any need to be “in the presence of greatness.” Peterson, like all of us who are part of God’s family through Jesus, already lived in the presence of Greatness Himself, every day of his life.
In Jesus, we have been affectionately named and are so secure in our Father’s love, that we are free even to turn down a meeting request from a world famous rock star. Put another way, the love of God, when believed and received, frees us from any need to be noticed, to make a name for ourselves, to find significance through achievement and advancement or from having access to fame and fortune. We already have these gifts and these blessings in abundance—in infinite supply—from the Father who is not blind to our value but who sees us and loves us dearly.
What struck me most from the video of Bono and Eugene was how free Eugene was to relate to Bono as a valued, fellow carrier of the Image of God and fellow wrestler, instead of relating to him as an untouchable, world famous star of the stage. There was no fawning, no getting tongue tied, no nervousness, no intimidation felt—only kindness and attentiveness—in this exchange between two flawed, fearfully and wonderfully made humans.
Because Eugene was secure in the Father’s blessing, he did not need Bono’s company or approval. He did not need for the rest of the world to know that he, Eugene Peterson, had been sought out for friendship by a world famous rock star. There were no name-dropping press releases or selfies followed by the caption, “Y’all! Hanging out at my house with my good friend, Bono.”
Of course, sharing these kinds of experiences in healthy ways can be fun and wonderful. But all Eugene Peterson wanted in this instance was just a quiet conversation with his new friend in the woods of Montana. Secure in the blessing and favor of the God who sees and celebrates and enjoys him, Eugene was free to simply love and listen to the man in front of him like a brother. The man happened to be a world famous rock star, but even more than that, was a fellow Somebody who, like Eugene, had had the spell of fame broken by the bigger, better blessing of the Supreme Somebody, Jesus Christ.
The point is this, I think. Once we begin to fear God—that is, once we start ascribing supreme significance to his presence with us and his gladness over us versus all of the more fragile and fading pronouncements coming from other lesser, fragile and finite voices, once he becomes the one and only Star in our eyes—we’ll be free to look outside of ourselves and to start loving and serving. The very last words of Jesus’ life, “It is finished” are also the very first words that our Father in heaven has pronounced over us. When we realize this, then these words of King David can also become our theme song:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.
(Psalm 27:1, 9-10)
It seemed that Bono found what he was looking for (pun intended) in the woods of Montana with Eugene Peterson. But Eugene Peterson was not the answer for Bono as much as he was a gateway to the answer. Because for Eugene Peterson and Bono, Jesus has become the answer to the insecurity and restlessness and the dark nights of the soul.
Jesus is the true Star of whom all other “stars” are merely a fading shadow. Eugene has passed from us, and eventually Bono, invincible as he seems, will also pass.
But there will still be Jesus.
On the cross, Jesus the Famous One lost his spotlight, and with it the Father’s blessing. In exchange he received a curse, so that we, who have all our lives lived beneath a curse, could receive the Father’s blessing—coupled with the roaring applause of a great cloud of witnesses, from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
On his way to the cross, Jesus released his grip on the Father and cried, “Not my will, but yours be done,” so that the Father could forever tighten his grip on us.
On the cross, Jesus, who is the firstborn of all creation, gave up his birthright so he could pass it on to us, so that we could find what we have been looking for.
Because of this great love of Jesus, we are now free to choose an encounter with Isaiah over an encounter with a world famous rock star. Because, even though our stars will all fade and fall someday, Jesus is the Star who will continue to rise, both now and forever, as the one who rose from the grave and is making all things new.
Isaiah, the one whom Eugene Peterson preferred over even Bono, reminds us of the Father’s permanent presence and applause and blessing—with hopeful, healing words:
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as a young man marries a young woman,
so shall your sons marry you,
and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you.
Let’s take comfort in this reality. We are pursued, seen, and infinitely loved by a Star who is even bigger…much bigger…than rockstars.
And that’s something that even a rockstar can be glad about.