Belieber! Fame, Faith, and the Heart of Justin BieberBelieber! Fame, Faith, and the Heart of Justin Bieber
Cathleen Falsani
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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 of 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.
     

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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 contract.

2. Have you been able to speak with or interview Justin since this book has been published?

No.

3. Do you have a favorite Scripture verse?

Ephesians 3:20-12 (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?

Yes.

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 life?

10. What 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.

11. Did 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!

12. Did 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.

13. Do 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:

1) 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.”

2) 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.

3) From Joan Young, an acolyte at an Episcopal parish where I worshipped in college: “None is worthy, but all are welcome.”

14. Do 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. :)

 

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