I’m staring at a computer screen in my Colorado office one fine fall day in 2001 when the phone rings. “Hello, my name is Jack Heaslip,” says a voice with a foreign accent. “The boys in the band call me Father Jack, and I’m their chaplain.” He proceeds to tell me his role in helping to bring together four aimless souls at an Anglican school in the mostly-Catholic Republic of Ireland. They formed a garage band that went on to become the renowned and durable rock & roll group known as U2.

Father Jack continues, “The boys were staying up way too late after the concerts, and facing all sorts of temptations. So we started a practice of having them study a book or the Bible together, and they’ve read a couple of your books, including What’s So Amazing About Grace. Well, we’re all coming to Denver for a concert in November, and Bono would like to meet with you. Would that be all right?”

I love music, and listen to it all day long as I work. But I have a limited range: classical music written before the twentieth century. Yet even I have heard of U2, so I tell Father Jack that I’d be happy to meet with Bono.

Bono with the U2 band

A few weeks later Father Jack phones again from Ireland on a staticky line. “Philip, it turns out that all four of the boys want to meet, so I need to ask you a favor. Could you find a restaurant with a private room just a couple of blocks from the hotel where we’ll be staying? We can all have lunch together with you and your wife, but it needs to be in a secure place because there will be fans milling around.”

Janet, my wife, takes on the restaurant assignment, and soon locates an appropriate venue. We’re eating dinner at home one night, and out of nowhere she says, “Philip, since U2 is coming to our turf, I think we should pay for the lunch. That would be the gracious thing to do.”

I stare at her, aghast. “What? This is the $100 million Elevation Tour they’re on! I read that their daily overhead for the 104-member touring group is $750,000. Lunch for seven is a tiny blip of an expense. They’ll never even see the bill, it gets gobbled up. For us to pay makes no sense. They asked for the lunch, not me.” Round one.

Two weeks later, the issue comes up again during another dinner. Janet says, “I’d like to revisit a conversation we had concerning the lunch with U2. You’re right, they always pick up the tab on a tour like this. That’s my point. You wrote a book about grace. Maybe we should show them some grace with a wholly unexpected gesture.”

As calmly as I can, I repeat my arguments. “Paying for a lunch means nothing to them. Yes, we could probably afford it, but why should we spend all that money unnecessarily.” Round two.

A week before the concert date, Janet raises the issue once more. After thirty years of marriage, I’ve learned a few things. I respond, “OK, I can tell this is important to you. I don’t really understand why, but if it’s important to you, it’s important to me too.” She thanks me, and says she’ll call the restaurant and give them a credit card they can charge directly, to avoid any arm-wrestling over who pays the bill. I surrender.

Bono and U2 performing in concert

On the day of the concert, we go to the hotel in downtown Denver where the band is staying. Mobs of teenagers are standing outside, trying to get a glimpse of their idols. Father Jack spies us in the lobby, introduces himself, and says, “As you can see, we won’t be able to walk to the restaurant, not with this crowd. So a limousine will soon pull up, and you can hop in with Bono. The others and I will see you at the restaurant.”

Sure enough, the restaurant has an elegant private room, though it faces the street with café curtains blocking the view. At first, we see the bobbing heads of fans as they jump up to peer inside. The restaurant hostess dispatches security guards to keep the crowd away, although one eager fan manages to sneak inside and gets Bono to sign his sunglasses.

In advance of our lunch, the worship leader at my church, worried about my ignorance of rock music, has burned a CD of U2’s greatest hits for me to listen to, and I’ve come prepared. He needn’t have bothered. The guys talk about their families and life on the road for a while, until Bono takes over. He’s come to talk about issues.

They’ve just arrived from New York, where Mayor Rudy Giuliani gave them a tour of the World Trade Center disaster site. An unabashed admirer of the United States, Bono feels the attack like a blow to the gut. He’s read an article I wrote about it [linked here] and quizzes me about every detail.

Meanwhile, a server enters the room several times to take our order and, noting the intense conversation, steps back outside. Finally the Edge stops her and says, “We haven’t had time to review your appetizers. Why don’t you bring us one of each.” Ka-ching—I silently calculate how much that will cost. “Oh, and could you bring us a few bottles of good wine, both white and red. Ka-ching, ka-ching.

Lunch proceeds for three-and-a-half hours, with our talk centering on Bono’s activist agenda. The previous year he had lobbied President Clinton and the U.S. Congress on the Jubilee 2000 project, which helped cancel $100 billion in debt for thirty-five of the world’s poorest countries. President Clinton joked that a stranger wearing sunglasses and with only one name showed up in the White House one day and wouldn’t go away until Clinton met with him. He credits Bono for persuading senators on both sides of the aisle to agree on debt forgiveness.

Now that George W. Bush has taken office, Bono has his sights on the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa. He’s contemplating a plan to take a cross-country bus tour to Christian colleges and megachurches, speaking to them about AIDS. He quotes Bible passages on justice and compassion, and fires off statistics on the disease that threatens to produce fifteen million AIDS orphans in Africa.

We could talk for hours more, but eventually one of the band members checks his watch and says, “Hey, we have a sound check in about an hour.”

“Right,” says Bono. “And one of the crew has a birthday tonight. We need a place to hold a party.” Just then the restaurant manager ducks in to see if we need anything else. “Good timing,” Bono says to her. “We’re looking for a place to feed the whole traveling gang tonight. You’ve provided a great lunch. Could you accommodate our whole crew for dinner tonight—including a big birthday cake?”

“Uh, how many would that be?” she asks.

“Just over a hundred, if everybody shows up.”

She blinks, and gulps hard. “Sure, Mr. Bono. We’ll close the restaurant and make it a private event for your crew.”

While she’s standing there, Bono asks Father Jack to take care of the bill. “Oh, that’s not necessary,” the manager says. “The Yanceys have already paid.”

Bono stares at her blankly, as if she’s told a joke. “It’s true,” says Father Jack. “They insist. It’s an act of grace.”

Bono looks at Janet and then at me. I mumble something about wanting to extend grace since they are on our turf. “But, but…OK, thank you very much. That is indeed gracious. But when are you coming to Dublin? We’ll treat you right.”

And so it happens that the following year we dined with the Edge at a Dublin hotel owned by U2 and spent the night in Bono’s guest house. At breakfast the next morning, Bono burst in from the airport with all the excitement of a rock band groupie: “You won’t believe where I’ve just been. First I met with President Bush on HIV/AIDS. Then I went to Black Mountain, North Carolina, to see Billy Graham, who gave me his blessing!”

Moral of the story: listen to your wife.

Surrender, by Bono

Between last November and May of this year, Bono gave twenty-six solo shows in seven countries. He stood onstage in medium-sized theaters rather than outdoor stadiums, with no pyrotechnics and no backup from the band, just a cello, harp, and keyboard. It was a book tour like no other, introducing his memoir Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story, which he wrote “all by meself” during the pandemic, when concerts were canceled. He titled the book tour “Stories of Surrender: An Evening of Words, Music and Some Mischief.”

At the end of each stop on the Stories of Surrender tour, Bono thanked the United States for letting him in and for responding to his appeals for justice. “We all need your country to exist. America is a song not yet written. The whole world is waiting to see what America is going to be.”

During the show, one of the most famous musicians in the world gave intimate glimpses of what had formed his distinctive life:

—The early years, when band members joined a small, charismatic house church called Shalom. “Religion can get in the way of Jesus,” Bono reminisced, and this church called him back to a New Testament time when people gathered together and honestly grappled with what a Jesus follower should look like. They parted ways when some in the church became convinced the fledgling band should break up. Bono disagreed: “Jesus is very rock ’n’ roll to me,” he said. “Turns out, you can change the world and have fun at the same time.”

Bono and Ali

—His marriage to Ali. When Bono’s mother died, leaving him emotionally adrift, Ali became the shoulder on which he leaned. He pursued her for almost a decade before she agreed to marry him. Ali had her own career goals, and the public spotlight of her workaholic husband led to marital strain. But they stuck it out, and last year celebrated their fortieth anniversary. “Grow up,” she told him—“but not completely.” He took her advice: “I’m still a boy, but a better man because of this woman.”

Bono, photo by Gary Roebbelen, World Vision,

—The six weeks in 1985 that he spent in Ethiopia with Ali, in the midst of the AIDS crisis. They worked in an orphanage, where he composed songs for the kids about eating their vegetables. “Those weeks changed me forever,” he said. “They lit a fire in me that has never gone out.” Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have publicly thanked Bono for his leadership in a campaign that is credited for saving twenty-five million lives in Africa.

—His tireless activism, culminating in his One campaign, and Product Red. Bono gets criticized for trying to save the world. “I care about justice. If there’s justice, we don’t need charity. Poverty is not natural, but manmade, and can be overcome by the actions of women and men—most likely women.”

—His defiant faith. As he told an agnostic French journalist, “It’s a mind-blowing concept that the God who created the Universe might be looking for company, a real relationship with people, but the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma. …I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”

In Yahweh, a song he often performs before stadium crowds, Bono offers God his hands, which clench into fists, his mouth “so quick to criticize,” and finally his heart: “Take this heart, and make it break.” He told me once, “It’s crazy that because I’m a rock star, people listen to what I say about politics, and justice, and poverty, and Jesus. But there it is. As long as I have the platform, I’ll keep having my say.”

Don’t ever stop talking, Bono. But don’t stop singing either. You’re spreading the message of grace in places where it’s rarely heard.




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60 responses to “Lunch with Bono and U2”

  1. Richard Herzog says:


    Thank you for this article. I have recently read Bono’s book and I have been a U2 fan since LiveAid. I recently did a devo using his book as a guide for the non-profit I work for, Feed My Starving Children. I wanted to share with my co-workers that a fellow advocate for justice, mercy, and grace can be found in unexpected places, including a rock band.

  2. Lois Cornwell says:

    Wow wow wow, my 70th birthday is tomorrow and I found this article this morning. It was a wonderful example of what God wants his children to do. Share the gospel in every way you are able. God’s grace is sufficient for every person. All we have to do is except Jesus salvation as a free gift to have a heavenly home waiting for us. Thank you so much for your awesome article. I look forward to reading more of them.

  3. ilein Taipe says:

    Hi Philip, I 100% agree with the comments that say you are truly a writer that gets our attention.

    I am rarely a reader (working on it for stillness;)) but I am glad that I subscribed to this blog because once I start reading whatever you write, I’m stuck!

    Can I ask, was it bono’s face or comments that made you feel it was grace that him and his bandmates felt for you taking the check for lunch?

    Or you feeling the conversations and the company was worth it? just trying to understand why were you finally okay and at peace for taking the bill. thanks. Blessings

    Look forward to more. 🙏🏼

  4. Becky Roberts says:

    Have been a fan of U2 since 1981, remember hearing at Lookout Mountain church about your lunch. Read carefully all of Bono’s book. He is spiritually brilliant. The rock star has always strengthened my heart with his lyrics and even more his actions. 25 million alive because of hunger relief! May we all long for justice.

  5. Dave Ray says:

    Love it! Keep telling such compelling stories!

  6. Fabrizzio says:

    I really like this article. I started to listen U2 because of my brother Jonathan, who passed away in 2008. I still listening songs of U2. And i always remember an interview of Bono and Bill Hybels in a leadership summit where Bono asked something like: what would happened about the Church reunited looking for some solutions about an global issue, like a cure for cancer or VIH?

  7. Yvette says:

    Enjoyed flashing back in time with you through this post. During the 1990s, my husband’s grandmother (Grandma Louise) could not stop talking about your book, “The Jesus I never Knew” – and so that came to my mind when I saw this post linked on Goodreads tonight. And I think that you are the one who introduced us to Babette’s Feast, the award-winning movie that continues to be a top movie for me.
    Anyhow, I was expecting to hear a little bit about some delicious food in your post – instead – we got the point of view of graciously picking up the tab and how God led it (even though I am sure Bono assumed all those book royalties made it chump change for someone with a house in Evergreen too – hahahah)
    Anyhow, it was nice to learn more about Bono and his activism. I heard he was a great guy and although I was never really a U2 fan (even though so many folks were and are) I did like their big radio hits and as a little girl, I LOVED the New Year’s Day song.

  8. Andy says:

    I’m impressed that after Bono said about the birthday party you didn’t get heart attack thinking about the bill 🙂

  9. Ann-Elise Madeira Grosser says:

    My husband and I absolutely loved this! I actually tried to read “Surrender”, all 1000 or so pages, but, since I am a classical musician, I didn’t know a lot of the people Bono referred to throughout his memoire. But I did skim the book enough to find his desire to live out his faith inspiring. Your synopsis, though, of the pivotal events of his life, helped me pull it all together!

    And good for you for listening to your wife. Great reminder that “even” famous, rich people need to receive grace from those of us who are “mere” mortals.

  10. I love a lot of U2 songs like “The Wanderer” and “The Fly” and “Lady with the spinning head. I wonder what Bono means in the song “In Gods country” when he sings “the greatest gift is gold” and what the lyrics to “Is that all” mean? and who is saying “What do you want” on the song “Zooropa” and is the title for the song “The three sunrises” about The Trinity of The Father<Son,and Holy Ghost?Are the lyrics to the song "Gone" about Bono being cautious about the temptations of fame? Why is U2 ok with being pro choice up to 9 months of pregnancy for any reason? in light of Jeremiah 1 "The Lord knows us in the womb? Why is U2 ok with homosexuality in light of Romans 1 :22-32? Why is U2 ok with vulgar language ok in light of Ephesians 4 and Proverbs stating it dirties a good clean stream? Please answer here and on Facebook page "U2 music fans"

  11. Julie Rowe says:

    I’ve read a lot of articles (and books) about Bono in the last 30 years, and this was quite good. Thank you.

  12. Darin H says:

    Thank you for this Philip. Bono inspires me because he freely admits he is not perfect, but it never stops him from trying his best to live out his faith and serve Jesus. Reading about Christians like him really helps me. I felt the same sense of admiration for Johnny Cash. God bless!

  13. Bill Hayden says:

    God is not limited by the religious walls that men erect. After all, He took the dust of the earth and made us in His image and likeness for His glory. Can He not use U2 for His Glory?

    We know so little about the Wonder of the Sovereignty of God. Thank you for another glimpse of His Amazing Grace!

    Bless you, Brother Philip!

  14. Ann Shelley Foster says:

    Surrendering to a wise wife is always successful. And thank you for your influence on the Bono “family”

  15. J. K. says:

    Mr. Yancey, thank you for another beautiful article. You always inspire me. Your book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, changed my life, reinvigorated my flatlining “traditional Christian faith,” and set my spirit on fire for Christ, my Lord. I tried to take the recognition of my own “God box,” and the way grace completely obliterated that same box and set me free to know God and to share this radical grace with anyone who would stand still long enough to listen.

    After years of abuse by traditional churches, by Christians, of always being made to feel the outsider I still am, I should not have been surprised the Christians around me wanted exactly nothing to do with grace. I was met with disbelief; was appalling to my family for “selling a license to sin;” shamed for asking questions about God and Hos Love and Christ’s “Whosoever” invitation that was mentioned frequently but never actually practiced; and after trying for years and then receiving death threats for my “blasphemies,” I began to lose hope. I eventually walked away from Christ entirely and wandered in the wilderness for years. Praise God! He never walked away from me! In recent years, “He came and collected me,” and showed me how that grace held me right in the palm of His hand. My desire to share radical grace with everyone and to be a bridge-builder is back and stronger than ever.

    Mr. Yancey, I just want to thank you for sharing your brave and honest and beautiful journey with us all and for personally shining Christ’s Light into my pit of despair and disillusionment with “Christianity,” in general and with many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. The God we represent is, sadly, not always the God we present to others.

    God used you to build a bridge to me when I first read What’s So Amazing About Grace in 1997/1998 and it changed my life. It’s never left me (still on my shelf today) and now, in 2023, after the pandemic, unprecedented violence, global upheavals, war, witnessing total political corruption, general lawlessness, the personal loss of my loved ones, and finally the loss of my self, I am reminded that I am held by this Amazing Grace… it never let me go. God has used Bono and U2 to shine His Light on me as well.

    To all those who have wandered in their own wilderness; to all those who have questioned, “Where is this Jesus you mention and His ‘Whosoever’ Grace;” to all who feel like outcasts… I say, “Look up. Jesus is calling you by name. You ARE welcome in His Kingdom. Come, “taste and see that He is good,” and get your fill of His radical Grace.”

    Thank you, Mr. Yancey and may Our Lord hold you close and wrap you in His inexhaustible Grace and unfathomable Love, now and forevermore.

  16. Robert Killian-Dawson says:

    Now that’s a lunch I wish I’d been at. I’m curious as to what the bill came to, but I’m sure you’re far too discreet and polite to tell! I’m betting though, that it had commas in it. Hope you’re keeping well and not letting the health challenges you talked about in a recent post get to you. Thanks for all your great work. Best wishes, Robert

  17. Richard Cameron says:

    Bono does much good with his fame in terms of alleviating poverty. I can only applaud that. But in spiritual terms where is he? The man cussed and swears like a trooper and I don’t see Jesus in him, only a social gospel.

  18. Scott La Point says:

    As I read this, I found myself incredulous that someone so famous and respected could break down the walls of religion and faith and state it so simply. I will never have the platform Bono has, but I can share with him the idea that karma can’t excuse me for the mess that I am. I have to trust that Jesus is enough, because what else do I have. Yes, it’s “mind-blowing” (Bono’s words) to think that God actually likes me, wants to know me and that He accepts me as I am. Thank you for that reminder, Philip, that stick in the gut that grace is all is takes to makes me right with God. Like Bono, I’m “holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”

  19. Mary Kay Hogan says:

    Amazing story! I’m glad to know two of my favorites, Philip Yancey, and Bono, have a history!

  20. Peggy Yearsley says:


  21. Trevor Storey says:

    Reading this early in the morning so encouraged by the story! Sharing a house with my Mate who took his Dad to U2 concert in Sydney! Some how his Dad met up with Bono back stage! He told his family he met this Irish guy back stage with a funny name! So the story goes!

  22. my Mom is dying; reading this-fills me w Awh, tears! i lv you, as my friend, Mr Yancey, over t decades; pastor loves Bono too; Glad v much sharing this; it is rich; thank you

  23. Ed Murray says:

    Thank you for this great info about Bono and his “amazing grace” or actually about how he has used God’s amazing grace.

  24. You paid the heavy lunch bill. Thank you for living the grace you write about. You inspire us to do the same. Walk our talk.

  25. I am 94 years old and only vaguely know who Bono is, but I am glad to know that he is my Christian brother, and I thank God for both of you.

  26. Arne Bergstrom says:

    A small correction. When Bono and Ali were in Ethiopia in 1985 it was during the famine that devastated the country. World Vision hosted them. Helping in the context of famine is what had the significant impact on Bono and Ali.

  27. Silna Sunwoo says:

    Love it! Wish I can share it on my Instagrams.. I don’t do facebook or twitter..

  28. Debbie Porter says:

    Once again, encouraged by your words and storytelling. I can only simply say, thank you.

  29. Olivia says:

    What a wonderful God
    Bono: What a witness. What a heart. What a life

  30. Deborah Cushing says:

    Thank you. Your honesty is refreshing. So tired of self-centered Christian leaders pushing their agendas. After all it is about Jesus. And he was about justice and grace. Thank you also for sharing Bono’s words about women. Wonderful to read of that kind of support.

  31. Rene says:

    Very blessed article about a much admired Bono. All the glory to our gracious God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
    Rene Walker, South Africa

  32. Thank you for this story of good things.

  33. Kathryn says:

    What a great story, especially when the Edge ordered “one of each” appetizer because they didn’t know what they wanted! Your grace was not returned void! I read “Surrender” and Father Jack featured quite a bit so it was fun to read about him in another context.

  34. Donna Younglove says:

    Great article – thank you

  35. Dana says:

    This story was medicine that my soul really needed.

  36. OldBob says:

    Information oldBob needed to know about Bono.

  37. George Sellards says:

    What a wonderful insight and telling of Bono. I had no idea he was this devoted to serving our LORD. I do so enjoy your blogs and look forward to reading your updated version of What’s So Amazing About Grace.

  38. Mike Loomis says:

    I laughed, I cried, and I was changed. Thank you Philip, Bono, and God.

  39. Ginny Kreeft says:

    Love this!

  40. What a special story about how Christ has affected his life Glad you listened to your wife. What a special couple. We love your books and studies

  41. K.Terry Brown says:

    Wow – I love Bono’s music but thought his concern for justice was just a way to promote his records. You have so opened my eyes to a living testimony like no other. I shall not be so quick to jump to assumptions!

  42. Sharie Bowen says:

    Thanks, Phillip, for sharing this. What a blessing to read for this 80 year old.

  43. Wijke Hails says:

    What a wonderful story! I love your books, I love Bono, and I love heart-warming stories. Thanks for this.

  44. Sam says:

    What an incredibly compassionate and complicated man. Bono and his bandmates have changed the world on so many levels, and it is clear that the gospel has changed them as well. Thank you for sharing your story about the band that is STILL rocking our world.

  45. Steve Ripley says:

    I was introduced to you years ago by Rachel Williams. You two were in the same college. Her husband was director at Camp Barakel in Michigan in mid-80’s. Since then I have followed and read you. This story on Bono is wonderful and continues to challenge me on my spiritual journey. Keep up the great writing brother!

  46. Amazing text. 2 men that have a lot of my admiration.
    Thank you, Bono, for songs that built in me pieces of who I am becoming.
    Thank you, Philip, for the books and texts that built in me pieces of who I am becoming.

    And, Thank You, Jesus, for this crazy harmony between unexpected and unknown people like all of us.

  47. Thanks for an encouraging read about how our God uses all kinds of souls, and knits us together– and for your wife’s understanding of hospitality — I would like to know more of Father Jack, btw.

  48. Tina Cooke says:

    Dear Philip,
    Thank you for writing this wonderful piece on Bono. Thank you for persevering in being yourself (transparent and undeterred in following Jesus). Thank you for encouraging both my husband and myself through your writing and your speaking. Thank you to Janet, too. For not minding all of the publicity/expectations placed upon her, where your life and work has taken you guys and for standing tall and grace-filled alongside you. Totally marvellous. (Threefold cord and all that!). Generosity flows from hearts that have been broken by the Love of God and only a few dare to pray the prayer “Take this heart and make it break” – I’m in no doubt that among others, you two encouraged Bono when you said ‘yes’ to his request to meet you years ago and where you paid the bill! Thanks again for sharing this brilliant story!

  49. Sharon Vance says:

    Love this! Grace indeed!

  50. Linda L Hoenigsberg says:

    Thanks for this! I learned so much more about Bono…someone I greatly admire. I remember when he went to Flathead Lake, MT (my home state) to visit Eugene Peterson. I so enjoyed your post, Phillip!

  51. Robert kalb says:

    I wish he could’ve met Paul Brand

  52. Darlene Hixon says:

    Thank you Philip for posting this beautiful testimony of a man who won’t let Grace go!

  53. Angela H says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with Bono and U2. I’m so relieved that even famous authors and rockstars find it awkward about paying the bill at the restaurant. Love how you showed grace. Love what Bono says about grace too. We need less religion. More love and grace. Much love and respect to you.

  54. Mrs Alice Allsworth says:

    What a wonderful story.

  55. Glenn says:

    I so enjoyed this blog post. Inspiring!

  56. Ginger Kelley says:

    Awe-inspiring to hear this story. Although God’s grace abounds everywhere, sometimes we fail to notice it in all sorts of everyday happenings. Thank you.

  57. Jackie King says:

    When one sows the seeds of justice and compassion they can harvest amazing love filled grace and mercy. Thank you for being such a wonderful sower. Blessings.

  58. Ralph says:

    You know that your younger readers are going to just gush with envy at the fact that you’ve met and visited with one of the biggest rock bands ever! Seriously, though, it’s amazing the places the message of grace can get you into when it’s put out there for everyone. “the thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.” I’d concur. Grace to you, Philip.


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