Posts Tagged With: justin bieber

On Justin Bieber’s Annus Horribilis : My Interview with Joshua DuBois

justin crying believe

Justin sheds tears in this still from his film “Believe.”

My friend Joshua DuBois writes a column for The Daily Beast. While I haven’t talked publicly about Justin in a long while (as I mentioned earlier I felt I had nothing helpful to say) I trust Joshua as a good man with the heart of a true pastor so I agreed. I’m pleased with the result, which you can read in its entirety HERE. But thought I’d also share the answers I sent him as a few were edited for length, etc.

It’s Sunday. Let’s remember our little brother Justin and his family in prayer.


Q1. Cathleen, is Justin Bieber’s arrest and recent troubles evidence of a deeper spiritual struggle, or simply the normal behavior of a 19-year-old seeking to find his way?

A1: Joshua, I think the most honest answer I can give to this two-part question is: Yes.

Yes, Justin’s arrest and (mis)behavior of late (and I’m talking about the last 18 months or so, at least from what little we know publicly about his life and activities, much of which he’s provided himself via Twitter/Instagram and the like, as well as through video and photographs from the paparazzi, which hounds him) seems to me to be the outward manifestation of some of what’s going on with Justin spiritually.

And yes, I do think that some of this is “normal” behavior for a 19-year-old boy/man seeking to find his place, stance, and stride in the world. I have a 19-year-old nephew who is just a week younger than Justin. He’s a freshman in college and experimenting with new freedoms — most often making good, sound decisions, but sometimes not. That’s normal. When I was 19, I spent a lot of time depressed, wearing black, sleeping 14 hours a day, while listening to The Smiths and The Cure and mooning over the 19-year-old man/boy who’d broken my heart. That, too, is normal.

But what we have to remember is that Justin, while a “normal” kid in many ways, is living a life that is anything but normal. At 19, I had a $100 stipend (it may have been a lot less than that, it fact) from which I lived. Justin has more money than most small nations in the developing world. So what and how he is able to “act out” and the magnitude of his less-than-stellar decisions is a whole different ballpark. And so, then, too is the worldwide amplification of his worst public moments, the world’s access to and judgment of them, and (I would imagine) the level of his embarrassment, shame, and humiliation.

Q2. From the time you wrote “Belieber” – which quotes Justin as saying, “The success I’ve achieved…comes from God,” to today, clearly something has changed. To what do you attribute the apparent radical shifts in Justin’s character and life?

A2: I don’t necessarily agree that “clearly something has changed.” I am far from an apologist for Justin (whom I don’t know personally, just to be clear), but I think you can know and love God, be cognizant of where the blessings in your life come from, believe in the God of grace, mercy, redemption, and salvation; and still make incredibly stupid mistakes. Just because Justin is famous doesn’t make him inure to the pitfalls of being human, young, and at least occasionally idiotic.

What has changed, in my opinion, is how much we see of his misbehavior in public, and the extent to which, again publicly, we see him thumb his nose at authority and, at least in some sense, his legions of very young, very impressionable fans.

I have a 13-year-old niece who is a Belieber (aka big fan of Justin). When news of his arrest broke earlier this week, she texted her mother from school, saying, “Mommy, Justin Bieber is in jail!!!!” She clearly was heartbroken, worried about Justin, and trying to make sense of why he’d do what he apparently/allegedly did. Her mother reponded by saying, in part, “You know God loves him and this might be just how he comes back to living in a way that pleases God and tha tis much happier and healthier for him.”

I’ll add my amen to that.

I also have the sense that Justin’s parents — biological and chosen — let go of their parental responsibilities for Justin far too soon. Again, I don’t know Jeremy Bieber or Pattie Mallette (his biological parents), nor do I know Scooter Braun (his manager who has played the role of a surrogate parent for much of Justin’s career), but when a child turns 18, yes he or she is of the age of majority, but that doesn’t mean one’s job as a parent stops. In fact, the transition from boy-to-man or girl-to-woman is the time in many children’s lives when they most need a parent’s guidance and involvement, even if it’s precisely the time they want it least.

If it’s true that Jeremy Bieber was present for Justin’s Big Mistake in Miami Beach, whether he was “partying” with his son or not, the elder Bieber entered the land of Bad Parents the moment he let his child get behind the wheel of a car whilst impaired. Justin may not have been drunk, but (if police reports and the glassiness of his eyes in his mug shot are any indication) it sure looked like he was higher than Jerry Garcia at Woodstock. Jeremy Bieber is still physically larger than his eldest child. I have a teenage son who soon will be bigger than both his father and me. If we were standing there while our drunk/stoned/rolling-on-Molly/otherwise-impaired son attempted to get behind the wheel of a car and drive it (whether it was a rented Ferrari or our 22-year-old Miata) we would physically stop him, even if that mean tackling him to the ground or dragging him out of the driver’s seat, or jumping on the hood of a moving automobile. Jeremy Bieber apparently did none of those things and that’s a world-class PARENT FAIL.

I wonder whether there are any people in Justin’s inner circle today who are there simply and only because they love him for who he is and not what he is. That seems to me to be the most significant shift I’ve watched from a distance in the last few years.

Q3. Some folks watch Bieber’s challenges with bemused interest, others with disgust, and others with genuine concern. What are the responsibilities of a society – and of people of faith – towards a mega-star facing this type of trouble? Do his fans enable his behavior?

A3: We have the responsibility to be kind to one another, and that responsibility extends to celebrities, too. We’re the ones who placed them on their teetering pedestals. Justin didn’t ascend his without our help. So when they tumble off, the fact that we cheer and sneer is awful, hypocritical, and deeply, sometimes savagely unkind.

As for people of faith, we should be rushing to his aid in whatever way we can, which for the vast majority of us is prayer. Pray for Justin. Pray for his family, blood and chosen. Pray for Justin’s friends. Pray for God to send Justin his Anam Cara – soul friends, the rarest and most valuable and necessary kind for any of us to have as we navigate our lives on this side of the veil.

Don’t shame Justin. Instead, let’s remind him of who he is: A beloved child of the Most High God whose love for Justin is the same as it was last week and last year and every moment since he took shape and form in his mother’s womb. There is nothing Justin can do to make God love him any less and there is nothing Justin can do to make God love him any more.

Grace isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card, but it covers not just a multitude of sins – it covers them all. Even if you’re a celebrity. Even if you act like an entitled, spoiled brat. Even if you get drunk and pee in mop buckets, or swear like a sailor at the cop who’s arresting you for drag racing. Even if you get behind the wheel of a car drunk or stoned and you drive it and you hit someone and you kill them. God loves you. And God’s grace is still available to you. Grace is the final word and we should remind Justin of that.

Q4. How can Justin turn it around – practically, emotionally and spiritually? If you could speak with him today…what advice would you give?

A4: As a mother and a person of faith who has made myriad mistakes (some of them fairly epic) in my lifetime as a believer, I don’t think Justin can turn this around. I KNOW HE CAN TURN THIS AROUND. But in order to do that, he needs a sabbath. A long one. Out of the public eye and surrounded by or at least accompanied by someone who loves him, will be honest with him, kick his arse when he needs it, hold him while he bawls his heart out, and make him matzo ball soup. He needs time to heal (and no, I don’t think he should go to rehab – I don’t believe he’s an addict) with the help of people who can help him get healthy, whether they are therapists or clergy or friends (famous or not).

I know for a fact that several older celebrities — goodhearted people of faith who share Justin’s Christian faith and upbringing and have been in the business since they, too, were teens — have reached out to him as mentors and friends in the past, but were rebuffed. Now is the time, Justin, to let them help you. Let them accompany you through this difficult time.

Find a spiritual director or pastor or rabbi or clergy person (and please not the kind who is interested in having his or her picture taken with a pop star or asking you to endorse his or her latest book) and lean into their wisdom and care. Let them remind you of God’s promises to all of us. Also read Eugene Peterson’s “Run with the Horses.” You are a Jeremiah.

And then go away. For as long as you need to go away to get well and remember who you are and why you are here. Don’t worry about your career or the Bieber Industrial Complex. Those people got on fine before you arrived and started lining their pockets with Benjamins and they’ll be fine if (and hopefully when) you take a break for a few months or years or however long you need to be whole.

AS an artist, you break yourself open and pour yourself out. It’s like Eucharist. But you can’t share that amazing gift of Eucharist with the world if your internal well is dry.

Go fill it up. Let people help you find a way to do that. Be gentle with yourself – shame is not helpful – but neither is arrogance.

SAY YOU’RE SORRY TO YOUR FANS. Fans like my 13-year-old niece. Don’t just tell them how much they mean to you and thank them for putting you in the spotlight and giving you this life. APOLOGIZE FOR NOT BEHAVING THE WAY YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD; FOR NOT BEING YOUR HIGHEST AND BEST SELF.

And then go take care of you. Not for the sake of your career, but for the sake of your heart, mind, body, and soul.

Justin, I’m sorry for being party to the atmosphere of media pressure around you that at the very least contributed to where you are right now. Please forgive me. I don’t want to sell another copy of the book I wrote about you. I just want you to be well. And if there’s anything I can ever do to help you privately to get whole, please call on me.

Praying for you, dear brother in the One who loves both of us more than we ever could fathom.

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On Justin Bieber’s Arrest in Miami Beach

justin mug shot

click photo to go to full story

Thank God no one was hurt in the alleged drag-racing incident in Miami overnight that led to the pop star’s arrest.

But Justin IS hurt. He’s been injured in a way that’s worse than what could have happened in a car wreck.
I had hoped he’d avoid taking this path, the one far-more-traveled-by than the one he should have taken. He can change course, right the ship, and carry on paying it forward. But he’s going to need help (divine and human). It’s going to take time.
And he’s going to have a lot of amends to make — but NOT for the sake of his career.
I wish I could dispatch (Justice League-style) a few particularly wonderful clergy and musician friends to grab him when he’s released from the lock-up and bundle him off to somewhere safe and private where he can deal with the mess he’s made and still know that he is loved by God exactly the same (and just as much) as he was before he started misbehaving, and that grace is there for him.
For all the media who have been contacting my agent to talk to me about Justin’s arrest: I have been turning down interview requests for months because I have had nothing constructive to say. But I do now.
And it starts with an apology to Justin for being a part of  the media pressure that contributed to his arrival at this troubling, scary, and sad place.
Justin, I am sorry. Please forgive me.
“Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change.” ~ Richard Rohr

My media colleagues:To request an interview, please contact my agent:


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My Open Letter to Justin Bieber on

Puff the Magic Dragon. Screen capture from "Puff the Magic Dragon and the Land of Living Lies" via

Puff the Magic Dragon. Screen capture from “Puff the Magic Dragon and the Land of Living Lies” via

Below is an excerpt from “My Take: An Open Letter to Justin Bieber” posted on today:

“…Last year you reached a milestone when you turned 18. You are living in a liminal state, standing at the threshold between childhood and adulthood, still more boy than man.

Times of transition and change are difficult for anyone, never mind someone whose every move in public is chronicled by relentless paparazzi and other members of the media. You must be gentle with yourself as you navigate these new waters, but you also must be diligent to guard your heart and mind more now than ever.

Whether you’ve partaken of the “sacred herb” just once or burn more cabbage than Tommy Chong at a Furthur show is not the issue that most concerns me.

It’s the decision to light a spliff or one-hitter or cigarette or whatever it was in that Newport Beach hotel room last week where folks were snapping pictures with their smartphones that troubles me.

What you do and say echoes around the world. Your very young fans watch and listen to you carefully. When they see images of you with a butt or blunt in your hand or waiting for a friend to pour you a glass of vodka, the message they receive is inconsistent and confusing.

I can’t imagine that was your intention, if you gave much thought at all to what you were doing before you chose to do it, but that’s the reality.”

Read the letter in its entirety HERE.


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Justin Bieber Thanks His Mother for Faith, Strength (and Helps Single Moms While He’s At It)

What can I give back to God for the blessings he’s poured out on me? I’ll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to God! I’ll pray in the name of God; I‘ll complete what I promised God I’d do, and I’ll do it together with his people.

~ Psalm 116:12 (The Message)


Pattie Mallette and her son, Justin Bieber, in NYC last year.

You might not be a fan of Justin Bieber, but I’m willing to bet there’s at least one young person in your life who is.

And while it may be hard for us adults to believe, young Bieber, the Canadian pop superstar, has brought the Gospel — of social justice and otherwise — to millions of fans (who call themselves “Beliebers”) around the globe.

Today — just in time for Mother’s Day — Bieber, 18, released the new single “Turn to You” from his forthcoming album BELIEVE. It’s a love song — a tribute to his mother, Pattie Mallette, who gave birth to her only child when she was just 17 years old. Both Bieber and Mallette are devoted Christians (evangelicals, in fact) and neither is shy about speaking about their faith publicly.

“God is the one that is orchestrating all of this and giving [Justin] such incredible favor,” Mallette said in an interview with the Hollywood Prayer Network last year. “And he knows that it’s for a purpose and a plan. And he’s not sure what all that entails yet and how he fits into that, but he knows that it’s by God’s hand.” Later this year, Mallette will release Nowhere But Up, a memoir (presumably chronicling her journey of faith and motherhood of the most popular teenager on the planet) with Revell Books, a division of the Christian publishing group Baker.

Mother and son are deeply committed to giving back (Bieber often uses the phrase “paying it forward” when talking about his charity and justice work with fans) to wit Bieber announced that proceeds from the new song, “Turn To You,” will go to a shelter for homeless women in his native Ontario. Publicly Bieber has been involved in a copious amount of charitable work, including raising funds for water projects in the developing world, disaster relief, and building schools in for the poorest of the poor in Africa, Asia and South America.

Bieber tweeted to his 20 million+ Twitter followers: “Happy Mother’s Day Weekend. this is for my mom and all those moms out there. here is #TurnToYOu”

He added, “#TurnToYou is out in some countries. Out later tonight in US and Canada. Help moms in need. Give them strength. thank u mom.”

This is not the first time Bieber has chosen to donate proceeds from his music to charity. A portion of the proceeds from his 2010 album, My Worlds Acoustic, which included the song “Pray,” went to the Children’s Miracle Network.

“I am in the position to give back thanks to my fans and God,” Bieber said at the time of the album’s release. “I wrote ‘Pray’ thinking I wanted to help others and I feel like I have a responsibility to do so. What is the point of doing all this if you can’t make a difference in others’ lives? This album is a gift to my fans and the money raised from it allows us all to help out.”

“Turn to You” by Justin Bieber

You worked two jobs
To keep a roof up over our heads
You chose life for me
No you never gave up
I admire you for the strength you instilled in me

You were so young
You were just my age when you had me
Mom, you were so brave
There was nothing that would stop or get in our way
And I know you will always be there for me

So when you’re lost and you’re tired
When you’re broken in two
Let my love take you higher
‘Cause I still turn to you

It was ’94
The year that everything started to change
From before, You had to be a woman
You were forced to change your ways
To change your ways

Then you found the Lord
You gave your life to Him
And you could not ignore
The love he had for you
And I wanted more of your heart

So when you’re lost and you’re tired
When you’re broken in two
Let my love take you higher
‘Cause I still turn to you

I don’t know what I’d if you left me
So please don’t go away
Everything that you are is who I am
Who I am today

So when you’re lost and you’re tired
When you’re broken in two
Let my love take you higher
‘Cause I still turn to you

‘Cause I, I turn to you

Justin’s album BELIEVE is scheduled to drop on June 19.

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. She is the author of four nonfiction books, including her latest, BELIEBER!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl.

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‘Why I Hate Religion But Love YouTube’

Early this year I visited the Episcopal parish outside Chicago where my family and I used to worship before we moved to California a few years ago. About a dozen 12-to-14-year-olds gathered in a classroom used for daycare during the rest of the week. They pulled out cushions and gathered in a circle on the floor, falling over each other like puppies and talking nonstop.

The lead teacher began with prayer and then asked the kids to share about the previous week. For the better part of 45 minutes, the kids shared their triumphs and trials—a Spanish skit due in the morning that several were dreading, a classmate who was injured during a lacrosse game, a sick neighbor, a good grade on a science test, an upcoming three-day weekend, etc.

As each of the young teens shared, the others attempted to listen with care, but their boundless energy (and ample hormones) often erupted into a cacophony of asides, flirty joking, and epic fidgeting. It was exactly how you’d imagine an assemblage of a dozen junior highers might look and sound. Barely controlled chaos.

That is, until the teacher pulled out his laptop computer and described a video he was about to play called “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” The four-minute video was created by and features 22-year-old Jefferson Bethke, a spoken word artist, eloquently voicing his frustrations with organized religion. He says in part:

What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion? … I mean, if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches but fails to feed the poor? … See, the problem with religion is it never gets to the core. It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores …

As the video began to play via YouTube on the teacher’s laptop, the room grew still. The kids were absolutely rapt. You could have heard a pin drop.

After the video ended, the teacher opened up the floor for discussion, and the Sunday school students were chomping at the bit to share their responses. They politely took their turns, speaking and listening respectfully, and their feedback was fascinating.

A pudgy, bespectacled lad with obvious intelligence and a charming guilelessness as yet untouched by teenage self-consciousness said that, while he appreciated what Bethke had to say, in his experience religion had been a good thing. No one at his church would be unkind to anyone who walked through the door on Sunday morning, no matter what his or her race, sexual orientation, or cultural circumstances might be. He had no frame of reference for the kind of frustration Bethke expressed in his video.

Some of the kids nodded in agreement, while a few others pushed back, gently, saying that they understood what Bethke meant or knew people who felt the same way.

It was a fascinating interaction to witness, and, frankly, quite encouraging for me as an older believer. What struck me most, however, was the undeniable draw and power the video had on these members of whatever we decide the generation after Millennials will be called. The video spoke their language.

And this experience is not just anecdotal. At this writing, Bethke’s video had been viewed more than 19 million times and had spawned dozens of video responses, more than a few of them from kids the same age as the ones I hung out with in St. Mark’s Sunday school classroom.

The lesson for me, as the parent of a middle school child, was to pay closer attention. To popular culture and new media. To the music I can’t stand but my son can’t get enough of. To the trends and fads that seem utterly vapid to me but have meaning for kids my son’s age even though they might not yet have the language to articulate it. To the passions of children and their language, even—or perhaps especially—when it sounds foreign to me.

May we grown-ups remember that no one knows how the seeds planted in a young heart will grow, blossom, and transform our world.

Cathleen Falsani (@GodGrrl) is web editor and director of new media for Sojourners and author, most recently, of Belieber!: Fame, Faith, and the Heart of Justin Bieber. This column originally appeared in the April 2012 edition of Sojourners Magazine.

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Justin Bieber’s Ecce Homo

Now, before you sprain an optic nerve rolling your eyes, let me begin by saying, “Yes.”

Yes, I realize that the vast majority of The Dude Abides readers do not fall within young Mr. Bieber’s target demographic.

Many of you likely are asking yourselves (perhaps out loud, as we adults are wont to do), “Who the heck is Justin Bieber and why should I care?”

But please indulge me for a few more sentences before you click over to “Seven Sites I Should Be Wasting Time on Right Now” or similar.

You might not have a clue who Bieber is. Or, if you are aware of the existence of the crown prince of Stratford, Ontario, you might not give two hoots about him. But I’m guessing that there is a young person in your life who does.

So, for the sake of the children, please hear me out.

Justin Drew Bieber, age 17 ¾, is a Canadian pop singer and, without a doubt, the most popular teenager on the planet. (I am not exaggerating.) You may have heard his earworm hit single, “Baby.” To refresh your memory, the chorus goes like this: “Baby, baby, baby OH! Baby, baby, baby NO!

Perhaps you’ve heard it in recent weeks while shopping at the mall or emanating from your daughter/granddaughter/niece/little-sister’s bedroom (or her Justin Bieber singing toothbrush in the bathroom. Yes, that’s a real thing. I have one. Well, two, if I’m going to be completely honest about it.)

Justin also happens to be, to use a popular bit of Christianese, a “believer” — and quite an outspoken one at that.

It is entirely possible that Justin has more of an influence in the young-person-you-love’s life than any clergyperson — living or dead — does. That sounds scandalous, I know, but it’s true.

That is part of the reason why it might be helpful to know a bit more about him — and his burgeoning faith.

The lad’s faith was explored to a certain extent in his record-setting hit documentary film, Never Say Never, which is the second highest-grossing feature-length doc in U.S. history, right behind March of the Penguins and one place above Michael Jackson’s posthumous This Is It.

In his world tour last year, Justin grossed something in the neighborhood of $53 million. He sold out Madison Square garden in 22 minutes, and his first three albums (he only has the three so far) debuted at No. 1 on the charts.

He is an ubercelebrity, with more than 16 million followers on Twitter, more than 39 million fans on Facebook and his channel on YouTube has been viewed more than 81 million times since his mother set up the account five years ago next week. He’s even sung for the President — four times, most recently during the annual Christmas in Washington concert. (Sasha and Malia Obama are huge fans.)

In fact, Justin was discovered on YouTube. It’s part of the Bieber legend (albeit a true part) that the legion Beliebers, as his fans are called, know by heart. His is a modern-day Cinderfella story, one that, even if you divorce his faith from it (though that would be nearly impossible), is patently inspiring.

Here’s the short version:  Justin was born on March 1, 1994 to Pattie Mallette (then 17) and Jeremy Bieber (then 19), who were engaged at the time of their son’s birth but never married and split when he was an infant. He always has lived with his mother, who raised him as a single parent in Stratford (home of that famous Shakespeare festival), but his father, who has since married and has two young children, always has been a part of his life.

Mallette had a difficult childhood and troubled teen years, but had what she has described publicly as a visceral encounter with Jesus Christ not long before she became pregnant with her only child, and committed her life to Christ. She raised Justin in an evangelical Christian church, where she was involved deeply in its prayer ministry and music.

As a toddler, Justin would accompany his mother to music rehearsals and “jams” with musician friends from their church, and it was during this time that he first showed rather preternatural musical ability. By the time he was in grade school, Justin had taught himself to play the piano, guitar and drums. (He also plays trumpet.) And he had a soulful voice well beyond his years.

But Justin seemingly was more interested in sports than music for most of his childhood, until five years ago, when he surprised Mallette by asking for her permission to enter a talent contest at a local youth center. (He placed third.) Like so many of us parents do, Mallette captured Justin’s performances on a hand-held camera and posted the amateur videos to YouTube, so out-of-town family could see them.

As the months passed, however, Justin and his mother noticed the YouTube “hits” counter climb into the hundreds and then thousands. It was obvious that the youngster’s musical stylings had reached an audience far beyond his extended family. Eventually, a young music producer in Atlanta, Scooter Braun, stumbled onto the videos, and quickly became convinced that Justin had real talent and potential.

Braun tracked down Mallette in Canada and cold called her. She wanted nothing to do with her only child entering the frightening world of professional music. But Braun, who is a religious Jew, convinced her to give him a chance. Even though they didn’t share the same spiritual tradition, Braun spoke the language of faith and shared Mallette’s fundamental commitments to God and family. After praying for discernment with church elders, mother and son flew to Atlanta (their first time on a plane), met Braun and the rest, as they say, is history.

Justin didn’t go looking for fame or fortune. They found him. He’s not a product of the Disney machine or a prefab package constructed by a team of marketing geniuses at Nickelodeon. Nor is he a Hollywood scion who inherited his celebrity as a birthright.

He was — and to a certain extent still is — a regular kid, if one with blessed with extraordinary talent and audacious divine favor.

Despite his unfathomable fame (and all that it brings, for better and for worse), Justin seems to have stayed firmly grounded. You don’t find paparazzi photos of him stumbling drunk out of a nightclub or behaving in an untoward fashion, like so many other young celebrities. He is basically a nice kid.  Respectful. Hard working. Kind, gracious and generous. And he doesn’t take himself too seriously.

His fans know this. They know his story, feel a kinship with him — “If it could happen to him it could happen to me — never say never!” is a familiar Belieber refrain — and are passionately protective of him as a result.

Justin has never been shy about his faith, whether in interviews, in his film, his autobiography published last year, on the red carpet or during awards shows. (Last year, while accepting a Kids’ Choice Award, he turned to the audience and said, “Jesus loves every one of you!”) That said, to my ear he is most articulate about his faith not through anything he says, but in what he does, which includes vast charitable endeavors on behalf of children and the poor, and a constant litany of tweets expressing his gratitude (to God, his family and his fans) or urging his followers to, as he says, “#payitforward” and “#makeachange.”

He is, in a sense, laying the groundwork for an awareness of the social gospel for a generation that will, sooner than we realize, become leaders in our society and our world.

As he approaches his 18th birthday, Justin’s public expressions of faith have become more frequent and even more personal. Last week, the world discovered that he’d had a large portait of Jesus — the classic “Ecce Homo” Jesus with a crown of thorns and upturned eyes — tattooed on the back of his leg. It’s his third tattoo, joining the black Hebrew letters for “YESHUA” on his rib cage that he had inked last year on a trip to Israel and the small outline of a seagull on his waist, a 16th birthday present and that matches one his father bears in the same location.

I don’t think getting a good-sized tattoo of the Ecce Homo on the back of his leg was a choice that is going to win him too many new fans — especially among the parents who make up his largest shadow demographic fan base. (Next to teen and tween girls, women 35 to 50, I believe, is his next largest fan group. In other words, the Moms.) I dare say it was decidedly not a strategic marketing move designed by Team Bieber and exhaustively tested in focus groups.

It seems to me that it is an authentic expression of his growing, maturing and evolving faith. Some kids his age — depending on their predilections — might get a huge tat of indecipherable Chinese characters or of Stewie from “The Family Guy.” Justin chose a classic depiction of Jesus. If he’s going to make choices about permanent body art at 17, at least he’s making meaningful ones.

When I was Justin’s age, I was beginning to move away from simply mimicking my parents’ faith and beliefs, and making them my own. I think that’s what we’re seeing him do now, whether it’s in his choice of body art or in how he has, in recent months, been more explicitly vocal (unprompted, largely) about his faith.

What I appreciate most about Justin’s expressions of faith is that the lack the tenor of triumphalism and, to a certain extent, tribalism that is all too common among his peers and co-religionists. His is a nuanced articulation of faith, which speaks both to how genuine it is and how it is evolving and becoming his own.

Listen to what he says in his latest interview, with Elliott David of V Magazine, that hits newsstands Thursday:

ED You’re working so hard. As you said, this consumes your life. So what do you look to for strength? I know you are religious, right? 

Justin Bieber from V Magazine

JB I don’t think I’m religious. I am spiritual. I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins. I believe that he put me in this position, and that I have to always give him the glory he deserves for putting me here. But I don’t consider myself religious. A lot of people who are religious, I feel like they get lost. They go to church just to go to church. I am not trying to disrespect them at all, you know, whatever works for you; but for me, I focus more on praying and talking to Him. I don’t have to go to church. I haven’t been to church in a long time, but I know I have a relationship with Him. People can be like, “If you don’t go to church, what do you mean, how are you a Christian?” But I am. I talk to Him, and that’s all.

ED I read that your mom said she had a personal encounter with God, and she believes you are here to inspire and brighten the world. When you talk to Him, do you feel like you have a personal encounter, or are you just expressing how you feel? 

JB You know, my ma has always had God around me, has always made it really apparent. She never pushed it on me, but she always brought me to church and she put me in Sunday school. When I was little, I did these things: “prophetic words,” which is sort of like fortune telling, but from God. They said in one of those tapes—when I was really young—that I was going to be the voice of the new generation. So, I don’t know what that means. It could just mean that I’m here to make music and inspire people. That’s all I know. I just want to be able to be a good influence on people. I know I’m going to make mistakes, because I’m young and I still love to have fun. I’m not perfect. I think everyone makes mistakes, and that’s what life’s about, you know? 

Justin is at once a reflection and shaper of his generation. (A recent survey of “Millennials,” i.e. kids Justin’s age, found that 72 percent claim to be “more spiritual than religious,” a phenomenon that one mega-church pastor called “more spiritually honest.”)

But does he have a prophetic call? Is Justin Bieber the voice of a generation?

I’m inclined to believe both may be true.

Whether you are starting believe it as well, or have gone back to rolling your eyes, doesn’t really matter.  Divinely called, or just plain lucky, the lad’s voice is reaching millions of kids around the globe.

And they’re listening. Perhaps the rest of us pay attention, too.

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners, where she edits its God’s Politics blog. She is author of four nonfiction books, including her latest, BELIEBER!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber.

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