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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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GGNFT (Ethiopia Edition): Teddy Afro

God Girl’s New Favorite Thing for Oct. 12, 2012:
Ethiopian Pop Star Teddy Afro

ADDIS ABABA — Pretty much everywhere we’ve gone in Ethiopia this week, we’ve heard Teddy Afro’s voice.

The 36-year-old Ethiopian singer whose given name is Tewodros Kassahun or ቴዎድሮስ ካሳሁን in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, is sometimes referred to as the “Michael Jackson of Ethiopia.” But, to my ear at least, he’s more the equivalent of, say, Ethiopia’s Usher (if he were more political, that is.)

Afro’s debut album, 2001’s Abugida, spawned several hit singles, including “Halie Selassie” (his tribute to the late Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I), and “Haile, Haile,” which honored Ethiopian Olympic runner Haile Gebrselassie.

It was his third album, 2005’s Yasteseryal, the release of which coincided with a national election in Ethiopia, seems to have put him on the map and squarely in the crosshairs of some members of the government. Its themes of peace, unity, social justice and true political reform managed to irritate some politicans than the government banned four songs from Yasteseryal.

Afro has a new album out called Tikur Sew (the Amharic for a “black person”) that’s getting a lot of play over here. It’s his first new album since his arrest, trial and imprisonment on hit-and-run manslaughter charges in 2008 — charges that many maintain were spurious and politically motivated. The singer served a little more than a year of a six-year sentence before an appeals court released him for good behavior.

The video for the title track of his new album, Tikur Sew, is “based on the historical Battle of Adwa (March 1, 1896) in which Ethiopian forces, under the leadership of Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taytu Betul, defeated the invading Italian army and secured Ethiopian sovereignty,” according to its official English description on YouTube.

Afro’s music is can be catchy and kitschy, or controversial and thought-provoking. Afro is an iconoclast that way — an iconoclast with a voice and beats that will make you want to drop it like it’s hot.

I’ll leave you with Afro’s tribute to Bob Marley (and dare you not to chair dance at least a little bit.)

Cathleen is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Read more of Cathleen’s posts from her Ethiopian journey by clicking on the links below.

Ethiopia: The Face of God

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think


Categories: From, ONEMOMS | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ethiopia: The Face of God

BAHIR DAR, Ethiopia — When I posted this photograph of a beautiful little Ethiopian girl holding a daisy a few days ago, my friend  and fellow author Christian Piatt responded on Twitter with a four-word comment:


“The Face of God.”

Christian’s remark stopped me in my tracks … because it’s absolutely true.

The Bible even tells us so.

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:27

When I look into the eyes of the hundreds of Ethiopian children I’ve met, given high (and low) fives to, fist bumped, hugged, and waived to in the last few days, my thought is always the same: Oh my God, they are so beautiful.

What I didn’t recognize Christian’s profound four words is that Oh my God, they are so beautiful is also a prayer. A “wow” prayer, to borrow an idea from Anne Lamott.

Since Christian called my attention to the face of God, I haven’t been able to look at any of the remarkable souls I’ve spent time with here in Ethiopia without thinking about God’s face.

That Divine Spark reflected in our eyes. Our faces and bodies, hearts and souls all beautifully and wondrously made in the image of the Creator.

Nowhere is the face of God more evident than in the faces of children. They haven’t learned to cover up their divine face with masks yet, like so many of us adults have. Their joy is pure and unfettered, as is their fear and pain.

Below you can see for yourself what I’m on about — the face of God in the faces of a few of the hundreds of Ethiopian children I’ve been immensely blessed to meet on my journey to their truly sacred land. (More on that last bit in a forthcoming post.)

Oh my God, they are so beautiful.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

All photos by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

Cathleen is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Read more of Cathleen’s posts from her Ethiopian journey by clicking on the links below.

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

Categories: From, GODSTUFF, ONEMOMS | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

GODSTUFF: Justin Bieber not afraid to use the ‘J-word’

When Justin Bieber strode onto the stage of the Gibson
Amphitheatre in Los Angeles on Sunday (Aug. 7) night to accept a Teen
Choice Award, he thanked his fans profusely, then quickly turned his
attention to something more eternal.

“I wanna say that anything is possible if you set your mind to it,”
the Canadian superstar said, grasping the award’s blue-and-yellow
surfboard that towered over him by several inches. “You gotta keep God
first and always remember to keep family first.”

Then, pointing toward the crowd with a sweeping gesture, Bieber
added, “Jesus loves every one of you!”

It’s hardly unusual for celebrities to give God a shout-out at award
shows. In fact the phenomenon has become so ubiquitous that one critic
wondered whether throwing out “God props” had jumped the shark.

But what young Bieber said is different. It wasn’t the rote “I want
to thank Mylordandsaviorjesuschrist” that we’ve heard so many times from
the awards podium, often uttered by artists collecting prizes for music
or films that would be hard-stretched to conceive as honoring the
Creator. (See: Plenty of hip-hop and rap artists.)

Bieber, who is never shy about talking about his Christian faith,
went beyond the approved script for Hollywood expressions of faith,
invoking the “J-word” and taking it several steps further by telling
whoever was listening that they are, in fact, loved by Jesus — and not
the less specific “God.”

Anyone who has paid attention to the Cinderella story that is
Bieber’s warp-speed rise from obscurity in small-town Canada to the most
popular teenager on the planet will know that in addition to being cute
as a button and preternaturally talented, “the Biebs” is a bona fide
person of faith. In fact, he’s indicated that the name of the album he’s
in the studio recording right now will be “Believe.”

Rarely does Bieber, who turned 17 in March, miss an opportunity to
talk about his faith, whether in an interview with Rolling Stone, on
numerous talk shows or even on the red carpet. He seems keenly aware of
the blessings that have come his way and exactly where they have come

“All the blessings I have come to me from God,” Bieber told Rolling
Stone in February, adding that he feels obliged to “plant little seeds”
of faith with his 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 poignancy of Bieber’s comments about Jesus, made after receiving
his award from Sean Kingston, a close friend and touring partner who had
been badly injured in a jet-ski accident, surely was not lost on
Beliebers glued to their TV (and computer) screens.

For weeks after Kingston’s accident in Miami, Bieber took to Twitter
offering his prayers for his friend and asking fans to pray for him,
too. When Kingston left the hospital in June after making a full
recovery, Bieber tweeted, “God is so good. … I love you, bro.”

If Bieber’s acceptance speech Sunday was any indication, perhaps the
pop idol’s feelings about explicitly telling his fans about Jesus has
evolved over the past six months. He’s growing up, finding his voice
(musically and otherwise) and becoming even bolder about what he thinks
and feels.

“Justin Bieber, like many teenagers, says what’s on his mind,” said
Diane Winston, an expert on media and religion at the University of
Southern California. “After winning four awards, he felt Jesus’ love. He
probably felt enough of Jesus’ love for everyone in the room, and he
said so. … Last night’s audience saw that uncensored and spontaneous.”

Still, Bieber’s invoking of Jesus is unusual for a celebrity. Image
is everything for celebrities, and most try to appeal to the widest
audience possible.

Most teen stars are more carefully produced and packaged than a pair
of glass slippers, polished to perfection (at least on the outside).
Apart from giving superficial nods to faith as a means of assuring their
fans’ parents that they are inoffensive entertainment, it’s rare to hear
a teen star talk about his or her spiritual beliefs with any depth and

Perhaps having reached the highest stratosphere of ubercelebrity has
made Bieber immune from worrying about alienating his audience. The lad
has 11.6 million fans on Twitter — known collectively as “Beliebers.”
That’s larger then the population of more than a few countries.

Or maybe Bieber represents not only a new breed of celebrity —
allowing his fans unprecedented access to his life and thoughts via more
than 10,000 tweets since 2009 — but a new generation of “believers.”

The way Bieber speaks about his Christian faith is neither defensive
nor offensive. He doesn’t sound like he’s trying to be right, pious or
triumphant. Rather, the way he speaks about his beliefs feels like a
genuine extension of the way he connects to his fans. Authentic. Humble.

Bieber’s mother, Pattie Mallette, a deeply faithful woman who
embraced Christianity not long before she gave birth to her only child
when she was just a teenager herself, has said she believes Justin has a
“prophetic call” to be the “voice of a generation.”

As Bieber approaches his 18th birthday and the threshold of
adulthood, his voice is growing stronger and clearer.

Millions of fans around the globe hang on his every word. And when
Bieber says “Jesus loves every one of you,” many Beliebers might
actually believe him.

Categories: GODSTUFF | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

GODSTUFF: Advice for the Gentleman from New York

New York Rep. Anthony Weiner’s cybersex scandal is an opportunity for schadenfreude born in late-night-talk-show-monologue heaven.

Oh, Anthony. What a spectacular shande, he of the unfortunately appropriate surname. So many jokes, so little time …

The congressman has been caught with his pants down (literally), the protagonist of a modern-day morality tale of lust and hubris, set in tragic motion when he exchanged sexually explicit and thoroughly naughty messages with a number of young women who are not his wife.

When his misdeeds first began to emerge, Weiner lied in an attempt to cover them up. He said his Twitter account had been hacked. When evidence mounted against him, however, Weiner finally confessed.

“I have not been honest with myself, my family, my constituents, my friends and supporters, and the media,” the tearful congressman admitted. “To be clear, the pictures were of me and I sent them.”

Weiner, 46, was a rising star in the Democratic Party, considered by some to be a future mayor of New York. The Jewish congressman is married to a Muslim, Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Alas, Weiner’s political star is no longer in ascension. It has, by most accounts, crashed and burned. Spectacularly so.

Weiner is an easy target for ridicule. His actions were inexplicable and foolish. His very public fall from grace is an opportunity to judge and gloat with abandon.

Yet rather than heap coals on the fires of the Weiner roast fueled by our collective indignation, perhaps it’s more edifying to look at this scandal as a teachable moment — both for him, and for us.

In Weiner’s Jewish tradition, the word most commonly translated as “sin” is the Hebrew word “het,” a term that means, essentially, to “miss the mark.” Sin is an act, not a state of being. The idea is that if someone misses the mark, there is always an opportunity to recalibrate, aim and try again.

Four rabbis offered their advice to the embattled congressman, both profound and practical.

“Were he to come to me for counseling, my first conversation would be, ‘Anthony, why? What was going on in your life physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, etc., that you had this need for sexting?”‘ said Rabbi Allen Secher of Whitefish, Mont.

“Next step: ‘Anthony, why did you feel the need to lie to cover your tush? It is there the damage lies. But now that you have owned up to it, your punishment is going to be living with it — within your family and your constituents.”

Secher recalled a saying from the Talmud: “A liar’s punishment is that he is not believed even when he tells the truth.” Weiner, he said, has “a long row to hoe to rebuild that trust,” but he can do it. “I forgive you,” he said. “Others will too. And in time, you’ll forgive yourself.”

That said, Secher doesn’t believe Weiner’s actions constituted adultery. “Stupidity he committed, but not adultery,” Secher said. “His offense was lying. The emails were just plain silly.”

Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro of Baltimore concurred.

“I would tell him that his biggest mistake was lying,” he said. “At the moment he lied, he lost public trust. He sacrificed his integrity on the altar of self-preservation. For most people this is normal behavior. For a leader, it is inexcusable.”

Now that Weiner has confessed his sins, his responsibility is to make “teshuva,” (literally “a return”) or repentance, Shapiro said. “I would advise him to resign, to withdraw from politics, and take some time to focus on and appreciate all the amazing blessings he has in life.”

Rabbi Irwin Kula of New York City, author of “Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life,” urged Weiner to make amends and honestly examine his conscience. Plus, he added, “No public comments for at least a month!”

“He has three different commitments that he needs to address: his wife, his constituents, and himself/God,” Kula said. “My first piece of advice is not to confuse these with his political office or future political career. Saving his career cannot be a goal.”

Weiner would do well to look to the great Jewish sage Maimonides and his ‘Four R’s’ for further instruction, Kula said:

Recognition of what he really did.

Regret for what he did.

Repair of his own character and the relationships he damaged.

And reconciliation, “which will only happen in the end with his doing the work and a bit of grace,” Kula said.

Kula also had counsel for the rest of us: “I would teach very seriously how … our interest in and judgment of Weiner is damaged, projected self-judgment of our own very distorted culture and our own hidden secrets.”

Similarly, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, founder of the Jewish social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek in New York, suggested a longer view of the Weiner scandal and its broader implications.

“The misuse of social media can lead us to prioritize weakly bonded relationships with strangers over our more strongly bonded relationships with family and colleagues,” Yanklowitz said.

“As public figures, the demands for cheap relationships with little authentic meaning … are all the more enticing, and it’s all the more important for us to be cautious and prudent in our dealings.”

This commentary originally appeared via Religion News Service.
Categories: GODSTUFF | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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