Common Ground Begins on Higher Ground

Paul David Hewson is an Irish singer and songwriter from Dublin, Ireland. Paul and his mates began their band, Feedback, in the mid-1970s, performing globally to millions of devoted fans over the decades.

While you may not recognize Paul and Feedback, you will recognize their more common names, Bono and U2.

Recently, I read Bono’s autobiography, Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story. His story is an amazing tale, weaving together rock-n-roll with a social conscience. Bono and U2 have successfully released numerous hits, but their greatest achievements are outside of music.

According to Bono’s ONE organization,  the rock-n-roller was a leader in Jubilee 2000’s Drop the Debt campaign for African countries. In addition, he fought against HIV/AIDS and extreme poverty, co-founding sister organizations ONE and (RED).

With ONE, Bono lobbied heads of state and legislatures, helping to ensure the passage of global health and development programs. To date, ONE and (Red) have generated more than $700 million for the Global Fund to treat and prevent AIDS in Africa. Since 2020, ONE and (RED) have also been fighting COVID-19 and its impact on the developing world.

While reading Surrender, I was struck by Bono’s compassion, generosity and ability to understand the importance of the common good. However, one story stood out from the entire book and inspired me more than any other.

While working on global poverty and AIDS, Bono met with civil rights icon and singer Harry Belafonte. Belafonte encouraged Bono to work with his opponents to further the common good by recalling a story when Martin Luther King Jr. taught everyone a valuable lesson.

After John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, he appointed his brother Robert Kennedy to be the attorney general. Many within the civil rights movement were furious, noting that just because someone was a Democrat did not mean they supported civil rights.

Belafonte recalled that King grew weary of the conversation, slamming his hand down upon the table to reset everyone’s thoughts. “Gentlemen,” King began, “is there not one positive thing you can say about our new attorney general?”

“Not one thing,” came the reply. “That’s what we’re telling you, Martin.” They continued, “He’s an Irish redneck who has no time for the Black man’s struggle.”

“Then,” King rebutted, “I release you into the world to find one thing because it’s that one thing that will open the door for our movement to pass.”

Bono reflected on the lesson. The rockstar declared, “At the feet of Harry Belafonte, I learned the most valuable lesson to carry me forward. The search for common ground begins with the search for higher ground.”

Wise words.

Jesus said it another way: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven, for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:43-45).

As a man of peace and justice, Jesus understood the importance of seeing the humanity in everyone – even those with opposite views and cultures. How often do we see Jesus engaging those with different religions and perspectives? His engagement had less to do with conversion than it did with encouraging others to live into their true selves.

Romans, Samaritans, Jewish leaders, tax collectors or sinners; it really did not matter to Jesus. He saw everyone as creations of the divine, flesh and blood roaming the earth in an attempt to find shalom.

As we assess our own lives, let us remember the example of Jesus and the words of Bono. The world stands at great odds these days. It would be easy to slip into the mindset of plotting against our enemies, seeing them as subhuman in order to best them.

However, that is not the way of Jesus. The way of Jesus advocates for the common good – including for our enemies and opponents. Sometimes the common good means bringing corrupt systems towards justice, which might seem like painful consequences for the powerful. Yet, reconciled and just systems free both the oppressed and the oppressor.

The only way to make this possible is to find common ground with our opponents, but as Bono pointed out, the search for common ground begins on higher ground. This is how he worked with the Bush administration, fighting poverty and HIV/AIDS in Africa.

George W. Bush committed billions of dollars to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. Bush’s commitment to the effort led Bono to develop an ever-growing friendship with the former president. The only way this friendship happened was by each man looking past their differences so that together they could bring shalom to part of the world.

In our own lives, let’s look around for those relationships that might be difficult to cultivate and take longer to develop.

The world has too many problems for us to continue tearing each other apart. We need to find common ground to make the world a better place for everyone; thus, let’s begin our search from the vantage point of higher ground.

Maybe then, we will find that place together where the streets have no names.

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