Vasco’s Story on The Story with Dick Gordon

In 2009 and 2010,  Dick Gordon, host of the late, great “The Story” program on public radio, interviewed God Girl about how she first met the miraculous and magical boy Vasco in Malawi in 2007, how he came to Chicago for life-saving heart surgery in 2009, and then how Vasco became GG’s son by adoption in 2010.

It’s the best story we know. An astounding tale of crazy leaps of faith, twists and turns, divine reversals, and the power of “why not?”— with God’s fingerprints all over it. “The Story” went off the air when Dick retired in 2013 and the links to the episodes online went dead. We thought the recordings were lost forever.

But then a few weeks ago, a friend of Cathleen’s, the author and all-around mensch Melanie DeJonge, found the radio recordings downloaded to one of her old external hard drives and sent them on to us.

Bless you, Melanie!

So here they are, back by popular demand, Vasco’s story from American Public Media’s “The Story with Dick Gordon”:

Part One: Vasco’s Heart


Part Two: Vasco’s Heart (And Update)
Vasco’s story here begins at the 12:35 mark

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.

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.

Happy 50th Birthday, Mr. Bono

On this day in 1960, a wee child with an enormous spirit was born in Dublin, Ireland.
His parents named him Paul.
We call him Bono.
Like untold millions of people around the world, B has touched my life in a transformative way. On this his half-century birthday, I am deeply grateful for his presence in this world of ours.
Rock on, B.
And thank you.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from Mr. Bono:

“The idea that there’s a force of love and logic behind the universe is overwhelming to start with, if you believe it. Actually, maybe even far fetched to start with. But the idea that that same love and logic would choose to describe itself as a baby born in shit and straw and poverty, is genius. And brings me to my knees, literally,”

Mommyhood, In Six Words

Imagine writing your memoir — a story that encapsulates all of who you are, what you’ve experienced, wrestled with and loved — in six words.

That was the challenge posed by Larry Smith and Tim Barkow, founders of SMITH magazine, back in 2006. They took their cue from a literary legend about Ernest Hemingway who is said to have, as the answer to a bet, written a six-word short story: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”

A few weeks ago, the folks at the ONE campaign — the international non-profit grassroots organization, co-founded by Bono of U2, that aims to mobilize supporters to work against extreme poverty and global disease — asked me to write a six-word story about motherhood.

As part of its new campaign to empower women worldwide (70 percent of the 1.8 billion people living in extreme poverty are women), Women ONE2ONE, ONE commissioned a few prominent women — actors, artists, advocates, politicians, business leaders, philanthropists and the odd ink-stained wretch — to write a six-word story, a la SMITH magazine, about mothers.

Yikes, I thought. I’m a novice at this whole mommy-hood thing. I’m not sure if I’m fully qualified.

I’ve been a mother for just a year now. In fact, it was on Mother’s Day 2009 when my son, Vasco,  then a terribly sick, not-yet-10-year-old African orphan we had helped bring to the States for life-saving open-heart surgery, climbed onto my lap, for the first time, in the middle of a church service and fell asleep.

Vasco chose me, even though I didn’t realize it in those emotional moments, mid-sermon, tears pouring down my face. Only in hindsight did I understand that it was precisely then that I became a mother for the first time.

Surprised by motherhood, you might say. I’m still surprised, reeling and indescribably honored by the 180-degree turn the trajectory of my life took last year.

My own mother, thankfully, is still with me and, in her late 70s, fiercer than ever. In crafting my six-word story, I thought about her and the other women who have mothered me throughout my life. And then I examined my own, wobbly-kneed foray into motherhood and all that I’ve learned about being someone’s Mom.

Here’s what I came up with:

“Agape dispenser, grace holder, fiercest advocate.”

Motherhood and grace are inextricably intertwined in my mind. A wonderfully wise man told me, while we were discussing grace a few years back, that many of us first experience God’s grace—that unearnable gift of unlimited, unmerited love, compassion and mercy—through our mothers.

We see grace first in our mother’s loving gaze. Agape is the Greek word for unconditional love and although mothers aren’t the creators of grace, we are, in a very tangible sense, its dispensers. Grace moves through us.

Not long ago, I asked another wise soul, the author and mother Annie Lamott, if she thought we could be grace for another person. She thought for a moment and answered, “I think we can hold space for one another.”

In that sense, I believe I held space in my heart for the child that would become my son until he arrived. I hold space for him still —grace space—for untold lessons learned, challenges met, and hurdles soared over—until he’s ready to move into them. It’s what mothers have done throughout human history; part of the job description.

Fierceness is the first quality that comes to mind when I think of mothers. I was blessed with a mother who is unfailingly fierce in her love for my brother and me and, now, her grandson. She is like Esther, the wily and faithful queen from Hebrew scripture. Daring. Brave. Wise. Strong. Dangerous, in the best sense of that word. And she, like Esther, is an advocate for her tribe and beyond, giving a booming, unwavering voice to the voiceless.

ONE has invited mothers and children around the globe to write their own six-word stories about motherhood at By Wednesday morning, nearly 6,000 stories had been posted on the site.

This Mother’s Day, take a few minutes to craft your own story and lend your voice to a creative effort to empower, embolden and elevate women worldwide.

In the words of another ONE six-word author, Pam Cope, co-founder of the Touch A Life Foundation for exploited children:

“End poverty? Empower moms globally. Solved.”

You can call him Al(fred)

In case you missed it, yer man, Bono, had another of his fascinating (and entertaining) op-ed pieces in last Sunday’s New York Times:


 I spent March with a delegation of activists, entrepreneurs and policy wonks roaming western, southern and eastern Africa trying very hard to listen — always hard for a big-mouthed Irishman. With duct tape over my gob, I was able to pick up some interesting melody lines everywhere from palace to pavement …

Despite the almost deafening roar of excitement about Africa’s hosting of soccer’s World Cup this summer, we managed to hear a surprising thing. Harmony … flowing from two sides that in the past have often been discordant: Africa’s emerging entrepreneurial class and its civil-society activists.

It’s no secret that lefty campaigners can be cranky about business elites. And the suspicion is mutual. Worldwide. Civil society as a rule sees business as, well, a little uncivil. Business tends to see activists as, well, a little too active. But in Africa, at least from what I’ve just seen, this is starting to change. The energy of these opposing forces coming together is filling offices, boardrooms and bars. The reason is that both these groups — the private sector and civil society — see poor governance as the biggest obstacle they face. So they are working together on redefining the rules of the African game.

Entrepreneurs know that even a good relationship with a bad government stymies foreign investment; civil society knows a resource-rich country can have more rather than fewer problems, unless corruption is tackled.

This joining of forces is being driven by some luminous personalities, few of whom are known in America; all of whom ought to be. Let me introduce you to a few of the catalysts:

John Githongo, Kenya’s famous whistleblower, has had to leave his country in a hurry a couple of times; he was hired by his government to clean things up and then did his job too well. He’s now started a group called Inuka, teaming up the urban poor with business leaders, creating inter-ethnic community alliances to fight poverty and keep watch on dodgy local governments. He is the kind of leader who gives many Kenyans hope for the future, despite the shakiness of their coalition government.

Sharing a table with Githongo and me one night in Nairobi was DJ Rowbow, a Mike Tyson doppelgänger. His station, Ghetto Radio, was a voice of reason when the volcano of ethnic tension was exploding in Kenya in 2008. While some were encouraging the people of Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa, to go on the rampage, this scary-looking man decoded the disinformation and played peacemaker/interlocutor. On the station’s playlist is Bob Marley and a kind of fizzy homespun reggae music that’s part the Clash, part Marvin Gaye. The only untruthful thing he said all evening was that he liked U2. For my part, I might have overplayed the Jay-Z and Beyoncé card. “They are friends of mine,” I explained to him, eh, a lot.

Now this might be what you expect me to say, but I’m telling you, it was a musician in Senegal who best exemplified the new rules. Youssou N’Dour — maybe the greatest singer on earth — owns a newspaper and is in the middle of a complicated deal to buy a TV station. You sense his strategy and his steel. He is creating the soundtrack for change, and he knows just how to use his voice. (I tried to imagine what it would be like if I owned The New York Times as well as, say, NBC. Someday, someday…)

In Maputo, Mozambique, I met with Activa, a women’s group that, among other things, helps entrepreneurs get seed capital. Private and public sectors mixed easily here, under the leadership of Luisa Diogo, the country’s former prime minister, who is now the matriarch in this mesmerizing stretch of eastern Africa. Famous for her Star Wars hairdo and political nous, she has the lioness energy of an Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Ngozi Okonjo Iweala or a Graça Machel.

When I met with Ms. Diogo and her group, the less famous but equally voluble women in the room complained about excessive interest rates on their microfinance loans and the lack of what they called “regional economic integration.” For them, infrastructure remains the big (if unsexy) issue. “Roads, we need roads,” one entrepreneur said by way of a solution to most of the obstacles in her path. Today, she added, “we women, we are the roads.” I had never thought of it that way but because women do most of the farming, they’re the ones who carry produce to market, collect the water and bring the sick to the clinics.

The true star of the trip was a human hurricane: Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese entrepreneur who made a fortune in mobile phones.

I fantasized about being the boy wonder to his Batman, but as we toured the continent together I quickly realized I was Alfred, Batman’s butler. Everywhere we went, I was elbowed out of the way by young and old who wanted to get close to the rock star reformer and his beautiful, frighteningly smart daughter, Hadeel, who runs Mo’s foundation and is a chip off the old block (in an Alexander McQueen dress). Mo’s speeches are standing-room-only because even when he is sitting down, he’s a standing-up kind of person. In a packed hall in the University of Ghana, he was a prizefighter, removing his tie and jacket like a cape, punching young minds into the future.

For the rest of Bono’s latest op-ed, click HERE.


Why do we believe?
Is it a learned skill?
Or is it a gift, like faith or joy or grace?
Can we lose the ability to believe, or never have it to begin with, depending on the hand life deals us?
I’ve been ruminating on the nature of believing since watching and re-watching the new documentary film, “Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story.” The 90-minute film, released on DVD last month, deconstructs the career of comedian Eddie Izzard, a man who is, perhaps, the funniest person alive.
Izzard has been a favorite of mine for years. His seemingly-stream-of-consciousness ramblings on everything from jam to Jesus are infectiously funny and eminently smart. I’ve seen Izzard perform live and watched, I believe, everything he’s ever committed to film — from comedy stand-up and  feature-film roles such as the voice of Reepicheep in “Prince Caspian” to his virtuoso turn in the (sadly) short-lived TV series “The Riches.”
He is, in a word, brilliant.
 Izzard, who is a transvestite and often performs in women’s clothing and full makeup, first won my heart when I watched his 1999 stand-up film, “Dress to Kill.” It was his mercilessly funny (and frighteningly astute) take on religion and faith that grabbed my attention and my funny bone.
JESUS: “Look Dad, I went down there, I taught ’em to hang out, be groovy, drink a bit of wine, they split into different groups! You’ve got the Catholics, the Protestants, the Jesuits, the Methodists, the Evangelicals, the free Presbyterians, the locked up Presbyterians… the Quakers, the Bakers, the Candlestick Makers… The Mormons are from Mars, Dad, we’ve had that checked out.”
GOD (in the voice of James Mason): “And what does the Holy Ghost think of all this?”
JESUS: “Oh, he’s useless, Dad. Got a sheet over his head these days.”

God, in Izzard’s acts, is always Mason. (And Moses  [and sometimes King Henry VIII] sounds like Sean Connery.)
Here’s his take on the history (and present) of Anglicanism:


While he maintains that he is an atheist, Izzard regularly draws on religious history and theology for comic effect. The spiritual, it seems to this fan, fascinates him. Even if he doesn’t believe.
Izzard’s “Believe” is different from all his other performances. Maybe that’s because it isn’t. It’s real — a behind-the-scenes look at the comic’s struggle over several decades to achieve success. “Believe” paints a compelling — at turns hilarious and intensely moving — psycho-spiritual portrait of Eddie the artist.
In it, we learn how driven Eddie the man is. And, to an extent, why.
You’ve got to believe you can be a standup before you can be a standup,” Izzard says. “You have to believe you can act before you can act. You have to believe you can be an astronaut before you can be an astronaut. You’ve got to believe.”
Izzard learned this lesson, we are told, while he was a street entertainer in London’s Covent Garden in the late 1980s, when he borrowed the ropes and chains from another performer’s act and had an audience member tie him up. Once, Izzard explains, he was bound too tightly, so tightly, in fact, that he couldn’t escape. He had to dismiss the crowd and ask friends to free him.
The performer to whom the ropes and chains belonged told him: “If you think you can’t get out, you will not be able to get out. You have to believe you can get out. It’s psychological.”
(In an odd aside, while watching footage of Izzard in Covent Garden in 1987 in “Believe,” I realized that I recognized him from the summer I spent on the same London streets performing as a “mime for the Lord” during missions trip when I was 16. Small world.)
Izzard, 48, was born in Yemen, and raised in Northern Ireland and Southern Wales. His mother died of cancer when he was just 6 years old. He caught the bug to perform as a schoolboy, shortly after his mother’s death.
Driven, unbelievably so, is the way Izzard comes across in the documentary. He just wouldn’t give up until he made it. Big. He worked hard, made sacrifices and nonsensical leaps of faith to get where he is today.
In a particularly poignant scene toward the end of the film, Izzard talks about his mother.
“I think that performing was about trying to get everyone to love. You’re trying to get the love of the audience, and that was the big swap from mom’s love not being there,” he says, choking back tears. “The big problem is that everything I do in life is trying to … uh … get her back.  I think if I do enough things that maybe she … that maybe she’ll come back.
“Yeah,” he croaks, “I think that’s what I’m doing.”
Izzard’s confession reminds me of something Bono of U2 told me a few years back. Bono’s mother, Iris, died suddenly — of an aneurysm at the funeral of her own father — when the rock-star-diplomat was 14.
“People think performers — that it’s all about love me, love me, love me. And they’re right!” Bono said as we rode a tour bus through Nebraska. “It’s not that they want everyone in the crowd to love them. It’s usually just one person and the crowd has one face. It could be a lover, it could be somebody who bullied them at school; it could be their teacher, it could be their father. That’s my theory. Most great performers are performing for one person.”
Who’s yours, I asked Bono, who had, moments before, plopped down next to a startled male reporter and rested his head in the guy’s lap. He was kidding around. Or was he?
“That’s why I was just getting comfortable there,” Bono joked. “I was trying to figure that out.”

Back in 2006, Bono interviewed Izzard for a special edition of the UK newspaper The Independent. The two men talked about losing their mothers at a young age.
“The conclusion I have come to is that the audience is a surrogate affection organism for the loss of my mother’s affection,” Izzard told Bono. “A mother gives unconditional love (some mothers don’t, but my mother did), but an audience’s love is totally conditional. You have to deliver. Consequently, I believe my desperation to deliver is to get this love out of an audience. That is what kept, and keeps pushing me.”
“Ditto to a similar beginning,” Bono replied. “The loss of my mother definitely started me singing and writing, but the audience was probably some sort of attempt at my father. It goes without saying, if we were of completely sound mind and proportion in our thinking, we wouldn’t be performers.”
Madonna’s mother died when she was just a girl. John Lennon lost his mother when he was young, and so did Orson Welles.
Perhaps great art arises from the lost thing. Whatever it might be.
My own mum lost her mother when she was 3 years old. While Helen hasn’t aspired to super-stardom (at least not in a worldly sense), I see that same kind of drive in her demonstrated most vividly in her faith. She pushes herself to trust this loving God, to ingest as much of the Word of God and sound teaching as she can. That search, for her, is all-consuming in much the same way that Izzard’s creative impulse is for him.
Maybe the loss of that original, organic unconditional love —Bono once told me that his first experience of God’s grace came from a mother’s love — is what leads some to believe deeply (as it did Bono and my mother) and others to lose their ability to believe altogether.
Izzard had to believe in himself. The power of his believing earned him great success.
Still, the lost thing remains. And Izzard keeps striving for more. To do more. Create more and better. To be more and better.
He is a generous man. Last year, with only a few weeks’ training, Izzard ran 1,100 miles around the British Isles — the equivalent of 43 marathons in 51 days — to raise more than $300,000 nearly $2 million for charity. It seemed as though sheer will and a stubborn belief that he could do it because he said he would, kept him going.
I wonder, though, as a fan and admirer, whether some day all that hard-practiced believing and will-driven running might bring him to the place where he can believe in the unconditional love of a God who knows him and loves him just as he is.
Until Izzard can move into the space where he can believe, I’ll believe for him.
Eddie the man, you are loved. By millions of fans and by your biggest fan: the Creator with a capital C. The same One who made the heavens and the earth, bees and coffee, Rwanda and France, radioactive socks and cupboards.
Only the One loves you the most.

“America’s Song”

As seen on Miz O’s show this a.m. and last week, here’s the gorgeous, soulful new ode to a new day in America, written by and david foster, and featuring performances by Seal, Mary J. Blige, Faith Hill and Bono.

May God keep us together.
Amen to that.

I’ve got chills

And Adam looks like he’s freezing his arse off. But B’s in great voice.
To see them on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, singing that song … whoah.

HBO is broadcasting the “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial” LIVE beginning at 2:30 p.m. EST. Click HERE to watch it online. And click HERE to listen live on NPR.



The first openly gay Episcopal bishop.

The first female president of the Disciples of Christ.

The president of the Islamic Society of North America (who also happens to be a woman).

Three rabbis.


And one Hawaiian shirt-wearing mega-church pastor.

What do they have in common, besides taking part in the official festivities surrounding Barack Obama’s inauguration as the 44th president of the United States?

They’re all praying.

All of them.

Sure, Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Southern California, whose sartorial sense leans more toward Jimmy Buffett than Billy Graham, is giving the official invocation at the inauguration Tuesday. But Obama has invited a number of other prominent religious leaders — from his own Christian tradition and others — to provide spiritual support.

Much was made of Warren’s being chosen to fill the role so often played by Graham in inaugurals past. (Graham, 90, is not in good health and no longer travels far from his home in the mountains above Asheville, N.C.)

A lot of people call Warren a homophobe. Granted, he did support Proposition 8 in California, to outlaw gay marriage, a move I thought was both thoroughly wrongheaded and out of character for him. Homosexuality and gay issues have hardly been the hallmark of Warren’s ministry at Saddleback and his uber-bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life.

Like many traditional religious people, Warren believes homosexual acts — if not homosexuality itself — are sinful, per Scripture. But does that make him a homophobe?

I’m still on the semantic fence about that one. Plenty of people saw Warren’s invitation to pray over the newly sworn-in president as a slap in the face of the gay community.

Some of that outrage was tempered when word got out earlier this week that Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church — and the man whose ordination sparked so much tumult in the American church and within the worldwide Anglican community — will lead prayers Sunday at the official kickoff of the inauguration festivities at the Lincoln Memorial.

During the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral on Jan. 21 — the day after the inauguration — Obama has asked the Rev. Sharon Watkins to preach. She is the first female president of the Christian Church, better known as the Disciples of Christ.

Among the artists providing the musical portion of the celebration/service at the Lincoln Memorial are Bono, Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, and Garth Brooks.

So . . . I’m not sensing any kind of covert sectarian message in Obama’s ecclesiastical choices for the inauguration.

Still there is a message being conveyed, be it spiritual or political or both.

When I look at the lineup and design of the faith-infused events around Obama’s inaugural, I see a new story — one of radical inclusion that echoes the plurality of our new president’s spiritual and social formation as a child. His mother, a secular humanist for lack of a better no-size-fits-all label, exposed her children to Christianity as well as Islam and other world religions, cultures and philosophies. She was a student of the world and her children were, too.

When Obama embraced Christianity, he did it as an adult. The choice was his, and he chose the historic black church and the United Church of Christ denomination. He also lives next door to a synagogue in Kenwood and knew the rabbi there well enough to call him his own.

If the religious voices involved in celebrating his inauguration are a harbinger of his political style, they say to me that the Obama administration will be one marked by collaboration and cooperation, not coercion or mandate (divine or otherwise).

“I take this to be an indication of how he intends to govern — moving away from the polarization and bitter partisanship of the past,” said Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Barnard University in New York and author of God in the White House: How Faith Shaped the Presidency from John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush. “It’s more inclusive. He’s bringing more people around the table and allowing them to express themselves.

“He’s somebody who knows his own mind and yet is willing to entertain differing opinions and points of view, unlike the current president,” Balmer said. “I think it’s an administrative and executive style that represents a dramatic break from the past.”

His choice of Warren may have been motivated by political strategy or it may have been far more pastoral and personal. While they’ve been friendly for a number of years, as Warren and other prominent evangelical leaders began to turn their attention (at last!) to moral issues such as AIDS in Africa, global poverty and the environment, the relationship between the pastor and the president-elect has not been perfect. I’m told there were a few bumps in the road after the so-called “Civil Forum” at Saddleback, where Warren hosted Obama and John McCain. Some folks felt McCain was given an unfair advantage, while Obama was blindsided.

“It shows that he’s a big man,” Balmer said of Obama’s invitation to Warren to pray at the inaugural. “He’s a gracious person. Boy, what a welcome change that’s going to be.”

Can I get an “amen”?