|1. Where did you get the idea to write this book?
Well, one afternoon early last March, I
was having lunch with one of my closest friends in Laguna Beach, Calif., where
we both live, and were chatting about several book ideas I was noodling at the
time. I’d had a book come out in 2009 call The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers, which I enjoyed creating and my friend said
(jokingly, I thought at first), “You should write a book called ‘The Gospel
According to Justin Bieber.” And I laughed. But he said, “I think I’m serious.”
We began talking about Justin, whose music we weren’t fans of but who was
intriguing as a popular culture figure because of his unbelievable success and
passionate fan base. What was it about this kid that made his fans so devoted
and protective of him? I love writing about music, as it is a place from which
I derive a lot of inspiration spiritually and has had, through the years, a
powerful influence in my own life. The idea of exploring Justin’s story and his
appeal and — based in part on an interview I’d just read with him in Rolling
Stone, in which he spoke so eloquently
(and, to my ear, genuinely) about his Christian faith — was terribly
intriguing. And the new challenge of writing for a largely younger audience —
teens, tweens and their parents, youth workers, pastors, teachers etc.
— was one that I thought would be fascinating as a writer and cultural
critic. By the time we’d finished our lunch, I’d already sent my literary agent
a text telling him about the Bieber idea. Two weeks later, I had a book
2. Have you been able to
speak with or interview Justin since this book has been published?
3. Do you have a favorite Scripture verse?
(from The Message paratranslation by Eugene Peterson) “God
can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or
request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by
working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”
|4. What kind of difficulties did you run into when writing this book?
Quite honestly, there
weren’t many at all. Perhaps the greatest challenge was the time and effort we
put in early on in the writing and research process trying to get Justin to
talk to us. That was sometimes frustrating and, of course, we were disappointed
we didn’t have the chance to sit with Justin and talk to him in person about
his faith and his journey. But, that said, I tried always to remember that I
wasn’t in charge of the book. That was God’s job and if God wanted Justin to
sit down with me for a chat, then that would happen. And if that wasn’t meant
to be, I had to rest in the knowledge that it was part of God’s plan.
5. What did you enjoy the most about writing Belieber?
That’s a great
question and one I hadn’t thought about, really, until you asked it. Truly, it
is the people I’ve met and come to know through the project. I’ve “met” (in
cyberspace) dozens and dozens of kids from all over the world who have reached
out to me because of the book and shared both what Justin’s influence has meant
(and continues to mean) to them as well as their own questions about faith,
life and God. I’ve come to know a group of extraordinary women, too, through
the book — members of the nonprofit group Moms4Bieber. They’are all mothers
(and parents in general) who were, like me, surprised and enlivened by Justin’s
witness in the world and who have been inspired by his example to do what they
can to change the world in a positive way. And then, in a fashion, I’ve gotten
to “know” Justin, his mother, his traveling family (Mama Jan Smith, Kenny
Hamilton, Ryan Good, Scooter Braun and his family, his grandparents, and
others), and his mentors (Usher, chief among them) by studying their stories. I
have a great affection and respect for each of them and often remember them in
my prayers. They are a blessing to me and so many and I thank them for
surrounding Justin with love and support, helping to keep him grounded and as
“normal” as possible in the most extraordinary of circumstances.
|6. What sort of feedback have you received from the book?
I’ve heard from hundreds of fans around
the globe via Twitter and email since I started working on the book. I’ve heard
from Jewish kids in Israel, Muslim teens (both girls and boys) from the Middle
East, Africa, Europe, and Indonesia. I’ve heard from Buddhist and Shinto fans
in Japan, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Catholic kids in South America, the
U.S., all over Europe and the former Soviet Union. They’re all intrigued by his
faith — even if they don’t share it and come from a different faith tradition
or none at all — and want to know more about it and his story. It’s
extraordinary the reach Justin has and the barriers that he so naturally and
with great love crosses all the time.
And then, the most moving to me, are the kids I’ve heard from (including
a few I know personally) who say that the way Justin expresses and lives his
faith has made them reconsider faith — and God — for themselves. They
began praying because he encouraged that. They opened a Bible for the first
time on their own because they heard him talk about stories from the Bible.
They decided to give faith a try because of Justin’s faith and the
encouragement Pattie Mallette (who often communicates with Justin’s fans via
Twitter and never fails to mention Jesus, scripture, the power of prayer, etc.)
has given them, as well. Would that all of us who call ourselves followers of
Christ would be so articulate and effective in sharing our faith and, more importantly,
God’s love with the world around us.
Additionally, since the book’s release,
I also have heard from people who know Justin personally and from a member of
his inner-most circle, who have read the book and, I’m very blessed to say,
have told me that I got it right — that I captured who Justin and his faith are
and represented them well. That’s both a huge relief and a joy for me as a
writer and as Justin’s sister in the faith.
7. You’ve stated in the book and in interviews that you’ve read every tweet that
Justin has made, how long did it take you to do your research through Twitter?
The whole research
and writing process took about four months of intensive work and during that
time, I spent hours reading Justin’s tweets (both from the past and in
real-time) as well as many, many hours corresponding with his fans around the
globe via Twitter and email.
8. Do you still follow Justin through interviews and tweets?
9. If you could ask Justin one thing, what would it be?
Tell me the story of
how you encountered the angel at camp. What do you think that means for your
kind of message do you want your readers to take away from this book?
For Justin’s fans, I hope they would
see clearly through the book how much God loves them and that God can do
ANYTHING. For the grown-ups reading the book, I encourage them to
pay closer attention to the things that their children — or the kids in their
life that they care about — are passionate about because sometimes they speak
to the orientation of a child’s heart and spirit. We never know how the seeds
planted in the heart of a child will grow. It’s advice I’ve tried intentionally
to heed in my own life, with my son and other children I love, and hope that
others also will take the time to do so, too.
you learn anything new about yourself or your faith after completing this book?
I wouldn’t say it’s
new, necessarily, but there was certainly a crystal clear affirmation of how
God has worked in my own life in powerful ways since I was a child. By looking
for God’s fingerprints in Justin’s life, I saw them vividly in my own life
story as well, and that was a huge bit of grace for me. All the disparate
connections, encounters and experiences I’ve had in my 41 years really do hang together when I’m able to pan out and
glimpse the big picture — the macro-level story that God alone is writing.
Thanks be to God for that!
you have a different goal for this book from your other books and writings?
Yes and no. My aim in
this project, as it is in all of the writing and speaking I do professionally,
was to honor God, express eloquently how much God loves each and every one of
us, and to represent to the very best of my ability the subject I’m writing
about — in this case, young Justin and his burgeoning faith — as
accurately and respectfully as I possibly can.
Beyond that, in BELIEBER! I’m writing for an audience that is new to
me. By and large, in my professional life my audience is both adult and general
— in other words, I usually cast the widest net possible in terms of
audience, as I have for years as a newspaper reporter and columnist. In this
book, however, I knew I’d be writing for a largely younger audience and, moreso than in anything
else I’ve written in the past, a Christian audience as well. That’s one of the
things about the project that appealed to me, as I knew this new audience would
stretch me as a journalist and author, and it has. I really enjoyed writing for
teens and their parents (and adults who love them) and doing it with great
respect and without condescension. I’m terribly pleased with how the book
turned out and greatly blessed (and humbled) by the deluge of positive feedback
I’ve received from readers all over the world.
you have any advice for your readers?
I’ll pass along three
bits of best advice, if you could call it that, I’ve ever received:
From Frederick Buechner: ““Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless
mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the
excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden
heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life
itself is grace.”
From my college philosophy professor, the late great Dr. Arthur Holmes: “All
truth is God’s truth.” Doesn’t matter where you find it or who says it, if it’s
true, it’s from God.
From Joan Young, an acolyte at an Episcopal parish where I worshipped in
college: “None is worthy, but all are welcome.”
you have any future projects on the horizon?
I have several book
projects in the works as well as ongoing collaboration on a feature-length
documentary film. I can’t tell you more than that without having you swear an
oath of silence. :)