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THE GOD FACTOR: INSIDE THE SPIRITUAL LIVES OF PUBLIC PEOPLE (2006)
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!
THE DUDE ABIDES: THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE COEN BROTHERS (2009)
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.