Named among the Best Non-Fiction Books of 2006 by the Christian Science Monitor
When religion reporter Cathleen Falsani climbed aboard Bono’s tour bus, it was to interview the rock star about AIDS awareness. Instead, they plunged into a lively discussion about faith. “This is a defining moment for us,” Bono said. “For the culture we live in.” Spirituality clearly now plays a key role in the United States. But what is also clear is that faith is a more complex issue than snapshots of the country convey. Jesus. Buddha. Kabbalah. Angels. This may be a nation of believers but not of one belief—of many. To shape a candid picture of modern faith, Falsani sat down with an array of people who shape our culture, and in turn, our collective consciousness. She’s talked about Jesus with Anne Rice; explored “Playboy theology” with Hugh Hefner; discussed evil with crusading attorney Barry Scheck, and heaven with Senator Barack Obama. Laura Esquivel, basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon, Studs Terkel, guru Iyanla Vanzant, rockers Melissa Etheridge and Annie Lennox, economist Jeffrey Sachs, Pulitzer-winning playwright John Patrick Shanley—all opened up to her. The resulting interviews, more than twenty-five in all, offer a fresh, occasionally controversial, and always illuminating look at the beliefs that shape our lives. THE GOD FACTOR is a book for the believers, the seekers, as well as the merely curious among us.
From Christian Science Monitor In an absorbing first book—The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People—she takes the reader along on spirited, often-surprising interviews with more than two dozen creative artists and thought-leaders. The journey becomes engrossing because of the remarkable openness and candor she encounters among the famous, as well as the depth and variety of their beliefs… This sensitive spiritual portrait of popular culture evokes, in thought-provoking fashion, the vibrant and highly individualized nature of contemporary faith.
From Chicago Tribune Cathleen Falsani is above all else, an exemplary conversationalist…She is enthusastic, well-read, articulate and open-minded. [In The God Factor,] she sweeps us right along… She has done what only great interviewers have the wisdom and patience to do. She has set the stage and dimmed the lights just so. She has invited us in to the conversation and left us with wonder, confusion, elation and grace.
From Publishers Weekly Starred Review. Religion reporter Falsani dishes up a whimsical and absorbing collection of interviews with assorted literati and glitterati, dissecting issues of faith, ethics and personal spirituality. Since several of these profiles originated as columns in the Chicago Sun-Times, it is perhaps not surprising that many of the interviewees have a Chicago connection, like radio shock jock Mancow, Smashing Pumpkins lead Billy Corgan and Dusty Baker, the manager of the Cubs. But the questions undertaken are truly universal. Some of the stars evince a fairly traditional stance on faith, including observant Muslim basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon, who prays in Arabic daily and runs all of his businesses according to the anti-interest tenets of Islamic law; novelist Anne Rice, who has recently returned to the Catholic faith and written a novel about Jesus’ childhood; or Bush speechwriter and policy wonk Michael Gerson, a committed Protestant who like Falsani is a graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois. Others, like musicians Annie Lennox and Melissa Etheridge, fall into the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd, borrowing creatively from both Eastern and Western religions to craft a personal spiritual practice that works for them. Still others—primarily writers like Studs Terkel, Tom Robbins and Jonathan Safran Foer—place themselves in the agnostic camp. Falsani handles the profiles with sensitivity, painting the book’s diverse spiritual seekers with compassion and grace. (Mar. 14, 2006)
Included are interviews with Sherman Alexie, Bono, Dusty Baker, Sandra Bernhard, Sandra Cisneros, Billy Corgan, Kurt Elling, Laura Esquivel, Melissa Etheridge, Jonathan Safran Foer, Mike Gerson, Seamus Heaney, Hugh Hefner, Dr. Henry Lee, Annie Lennox, David Lynch, John Mahoney, Mark Morris, Mancow Muller, Senator Barack Obama, Hakeem Olajuwon, Harold Ramis, Anne Rice, Tom Robbins, Russell Simmons, Jeffrey Sachs, Barry Scheck, John Patrick Shanley, The Reverend Al Sharpton, Studs Terkel, Iyanla Vanzant, and Elie Wiesel.
Justice is getting what you deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. And grace is getting what you absolutely don’t deserve. Award-winning author and columnist Cathleen Falsani says, ‘People regularly ask me why I believe in God. The simple answer … is grace.’ In Sin Boldly: A Field Guide to Grace, Falsani explores the meaning and experience of grace through story and song, quotes and photos. Falsani says, ‘Grace makes no sense to our human minds. We’re hardwired to seek justice, or our limited idea of what that means, and occasionally dole out mercy. Grace is another story.’ Sin Boldly is an uplifting, multifaceted, and thought-provoking look at what makes grace so amazing.
From Publishers Weekly Ranging from Chicago to Kenya, New Orleans to Ireland, Big Sky to Graceland, Falsani dons her investigative cap and scouts for grace. This religion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times is a charming guide to places and people who reveal “grace when and where it happens.” Eschewing technical theological definitions, Falsani opts instead to tell how she has experienced grace. And we are vicarious travelers, seeing grace—”audacious, unwarranted, and unlimited”—through Falsani’s eyes. She marvels at the devotion of young people who crowd to the pope’s funeral and at the astoundingly independent women of Asembo Bay in Kenya. She wrestles with anger at a misogynist Tanzanian tour guide and anger at God when her mother and beloved cat face cancer. We traipse along with the author and eavesdrop on her conversations, both external and internal. The result is a pastiche of images meant collectively to reveal God’s grace. Though some may find the premise contrived, only a fierce cynic could fail to be drawn in to Falsani’s tales and candid reflections.
From USA Today Anyone scanning the spiritual horizon for flashes of faith’s quietly splendid moments might use this bird-watching handbook for grace….For her first book, Falsani interviewed celebrities about their spiritual lives. For this one, she turned her journalistic skills on herself.”I started thinking about … where I experienced grace, and then I set out for new experiences, confident that grace would show up. Grace always shows up — if you have eyes to see it.”What doesn’t show up in the book is theology or doctrine. It is filled with art, music and movie references. “It takes art to talk about grace. It’s always more eloquent,” says Falsani, whose favorite T-shirt says, “Jesus is my mix tape.” Falsani goes “gracespotting” from Montana to Malawi. In Africa, she was so taken by an AIDS orphan with a heart defect that she spent a year orchestrating life-saving surgery for him. Falsani later learned that the [Chichewa] word on the boy’s T-shirt the day they first met translated to “grace.”
From Spirituality and Practice The grace of God is greeting and meeting us every moment; it’s just that we don’t take the time to discern those abundant gifts. Most of the essays are about the process of “gracespotting,” a spiritual practice Falsani picked up from a rabbi in Montana. She mines the meanings in a visit to Elvis’s home Graceland with a friend; walking the labyrinth; visiting a radio station and considering the mystical qualities of music; being in Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II; journeying to several countries in Africa; pondering her attraction to Ireland; coping with her cat’s cancer; dealing with the hate e-mail from Christians who objected to a column she wrote on Jerry Falwell; paying tribute to an octogenarian wheelchair-bound Catholic nun as a witness for God’s love; and reveling in the natural world while staying at a cottage in Vermont. It is a grand and glorious spiritual practice to be on the constant lookout for signs of grace. Falsani models for us what this means in these robust essays. She concludes: “You can call it what you like, categorize it, vivisect it, qualify, quantify, or dismiss it, and none of it will make grace anything other than precisely what grace is: audacious, unwarranted, and unlimited.” In the end, it’s all about grace. Amen!
Whether you’ve seen only a couple or every single one of their 14 films enough times to quote them by heart, you know Joel and Ethan Coen make movies like no one else in cinema. The Oscar-winning Coen brothers’ quirky and enduring films are rich with meaning — much of it hidden just beneath the surface, gems of spiritual and existential insight waiting to be excavated. Join award-winning religion columnist Cathleen Falsani as she explores the deeper truths found in these engrossing movies. Falsani examines each of the Coen brothers’ films, from their debut, Blood Simple, to their latest, A Serious Man. Ranging from iconoclastic comedies such as Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski to an unblinking treatise on the nature of evil in No Country for Old Men, the Coen brothers have created moral universes in which some of life’s essential questions are asked — if not always answered. By turns thought-provoking and entertaining, you’ll come away with a new admiration for these sometimes bizarre, always clever, and unmistakably virtuoso filmmakers and their films.
From Publishers Weekly It must be true that God can be found even in the quirkiest of places. Chicago Sun-Times religion journalist Falsani mined the 14 films (since 1984) of Joel and Ethan Coen to find God and to articulate their spiritual and religious questions and challenges. The Coen brothers have a reputation for injecting a lot of dark humor into their movies, but as the author illustrates, the comedy is an avenue to deeper issues. Death, betrayal, greed, the seeming absence of God and the dire consequences of one’s choices are the complex themes expertly handled by the filmmakers. Falsani does not posit that these films are overtly religious, but she does successfully convey their spiritual insights about the human condition. Each chapter provides a movie plot summary and concludes with an insightful segment dubbed The Moral of the Story. Falsani is an expert at pop culture analysis and her love for the celluloid arts shines forth brightly—her interpretations are nuanced and sophisticated without being pretentious. Film lovers, whether religious or not, will be pleased.
From Roger Ebert “The Dude Abides.” These words are so emblematic that they inspired a book title, The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers,by Cathleen Falsani. This is a serious book, though far from a dreary theological work.
Justin Bieber’s rise from “regular kid” to one of the most famous people on the planet has captivated a nation of devoted fans called ‘Beliebers.’ With hit records, 8 million followers on Twitter and the third-largest grossing documentary film of all time, the 17-year-old Canadian pop star dubbed ‘Super Boy’ on Rolling Stone’s recent cover has countless fans who hang on his every word. But is there more to this pop idol’s startling success than his legendary haircut and unusual talent? ‘The success I’ve achieved comes … from God,’ Bieber says “I feel I have an obligation to plant little seeds with my fans. I’m not going to tell them, ‘You need Jesus,’ but I will say at the end of my show, ‘God loves you.” The bold yet humble faith that grounds Bieber’s worldview may just be the key to his extraordinary appeal. Recognizing that music and film are the language of this new generation, author and religion journalist Cathleen Falsani’s hope is that this book will encourage faith leaders as well as parents to engage with popular culture in a different way so they can better talk to their kids about what matters most.
From BlogHer.com (Isabel Anders)
“Parents would do well to pay close attention to their children’s passions,” writes Cathleen Falsani in her new book on pop singing sensation Justin Bieber, Belieber! She advises: “Some indeed may be short-lived, but others are indicative of the orientation of a child’s heart and mind, a trajectory that could last a lifetime” (p. 9).
When we listen to our own lives, including taking careful notice of the music that moves our souls—and here she quotes Christian author Frederick Buechner, we might “realize that something deep beneath the surface of who you are, something deep beneath the surface of the world, is trying to speak to you … ”
She had an experience similar to this herself as a young teenager, discovering Bono and U2 as a Christian band and its members as mentors to her faith. And it has uniquely prepared her to write the story of Justin Bieber, the young Canadian performer everyone’s talking about who leaped from obscurity to Madison Square Garden sold-out-ness in not much more than a year. His is “the closest thing to a real-life Cinderella story” that any regular guy might want to experience in America, she concludes.
Falsani’s book is for the true “beliebers” among us, those who track their heartthrob’s every move, social media posting, and meaning uncovered in the words of his songs.
But more than that, Falsani is an apologist for Christian belief and practice in a skeptical world, and through several heart-felt chapters in her own voice, she also offers a primer on prayer, the power of conversion, and the workings of Christian community.
The book explores Justin’s relationship to his mother, Pattie, who has boldly declared of her son, “His purpose is to be the voice of an entire generation. To raise up the [moral] standard … ” As one who has herself had a dramatic conversion to Christianity, she personally calls young people to a “culture of honor”—to be a “revolutionary generation,” to show the world what that looks like. Arguably, this young superstar’s example helps to broaden the scope of how Christianity can be expressed today in popular culture….
Well researched and wittily written, with personal emotional verve, Belieber! is packed with practical suggestions for expressing and furthering peace and justice in worldwide ministries, in the spirit and example of this young man who, despite his many naysayers and even enemies, seeks to #killemwithkindness.
From BookSaint.com: What is most valuable in this book is the perspective of faith, of how God has helped Pattie hold her life together, despite her traumatic childhood. It also tells of how much Jesus has meant to Justin Bieber. From an unknown bathroom singer to a world famous performer, Bieber has become one of the hottest superstars in this social media age. The book details the timeline of Bieber’s rise, and how he and his mum has relied on prayer and on their faith in God to help them through. It also makes reference to the never-say-die effort of Scooter, who diligently seeks to give Bieber a chance at stardom. Falsani brings us many details about the lives of Pattie, Scooter, and his close friends. There are multiple stories and quips of how many individuals, especially the younger generation becomes curious about the faith of Justin Bieber. Although the author did not manage to interview Bieber personally for this book, this book is by itself an engaging enough read. The questions at the end of the book enables readers to asks themselves questions about faith too. It can be a good way to introduce Justin Bieber and his faith to beliebers everywhere.
DISQUIET TIME: RANTS AND REFLECTIONS ON THE GOOD BOOK BY THE SKEPTICAL, THE FAITHFUL, AND A FEW SCOUNDRELS (co-editor with Jennifer Grant, 2014)
The Bible is full of not-so-precious moments, from murder and mayhem, to sex and slavery. Instead of turning a blind eye to the difficult (and entertaining) passages of scripture, editors Jennifer Grant and Cathleen Falsani decided to take them head on. An incredible cast of contributors tackles the parts of the Bible that most excite, comfort, frustrate, or soothe, with arresting insights like:
- What the heck is the book of Revelation really about? (The answer will surprise you.)
- How do we come to grips with the Bible’s troubling (or seemingly troubling) passages about the role of women?
- Why did the artist of the oldest known picture of Jesus intentionally paint him with a wonky eye—and what does this strange choice tell us about the beauty of imperfection?
Unique, earnest, and insightful, this is a fresh, wonderful way to liven up one’s “quiet time” with the Bible. It was written by and for Bible-loving Christians, agnostics, skeptics, none-of-the-aboves, and people who aren’t afraid to dig deep spiritually, ask hard questions, and have some fun along the way.
From Booklist: The writers come from all walks of life—“nonconformists and oddballs”—and approach the Bible in their own idiosyncratic ways. But while the writers may take the Bible seriously, that doesn’t mean they can’t have fun in the process, for, as the subtitle also suggests, the moods reflected here are often irreverent, even playful.
From Trish Ryan: My favorite part of this collection is that while I didn’t agree with everything the different writers say…I didn’t feel like I had to. Do you know what a surprise that is? I kept waiting to feel that defensive mechanism go up inside me, but it didn’t. There was no expectation of uniformity or call for everyone to fall in line. This collection is such an inspiring picture of what real faith, lived with real people, looks and feels and reads like.
“This is a sturdy book, a thoroughly satisfying and totally credible book. Well-conceived and well executed, it offers honest words about holy things, which means that it is also a brave book. I, for one, am grateful.”—Phyllis Tickle, author, The Age of the Spirit
“Cathleen and Jennifer are wonderful writers as well as wonderful people and this collection of wonderful essays is in a word: Lovely. You thought I was going to say ‘wonderful,’ didn’t you? I’m AN ENIGMA!!”—Pete Holmes, Comedian and talk show host
“Disquiet Time takes us down a thrilling, provocative, and often beautiful path that leads to the deepest parts of ourselves, and the deepest parts of Christ. This book is for folks who don’t just want to read the Bible; they want to laugh, wrestle and cry with the Bible. And that’s just the place God wants us to be.”—Joshua DuBois, former head of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and author of The President’s Devotional
“Disquiet Time is a devotional for humans, a daily reading for the messy, doubt-filled, sometimes irreverent people who love God or hope to some day. Though hinged on some of the Bible’s most deranged narratives, [the book]…is strangely comforting, a spiritual hodgepodge that is deep and convicting, hopeful and honest, quirky and wise. For believers, cynics, and misfit souls, Disquiet Time is a welcomed invitation to doubt, laugh, fight, debate, and trust.”—Matthew Paul Turner, author of Our Great Big American God and Churched
“This rich collection of essays is thoughtful, engaging, and provocative. A must-read.”—Margaret Feinberg, author of Wonderstruck