Interview: Cathleen Falsani, Part One

We have a special treat for you today! 4word had the opportunity to talk to Cathleen Falsani, also known as God Girl. For the past 15 years, Cathleen has written about religion and popular culture. She is an award-winning columnist for the Religion News Service and Sojourners Magazine and the author of several books, including her forthcoming BELIEBER: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber.

Cathleen chatted with us about living an authentic faith in the workplace. In fact, she had so much wisdom to share that we’ve decided to split her interview into two posts. Stay tuned for part two later today! In the meantime, enjoy Cathleen’s unique story.

---------------------

4word: What inspired you to become a journalist and blogger who, as you put it, writes about "the busy intersection of faith and culture?

Cathleen: I’ve been a person of faith all my life, but my family’s background didn’t fit neatly into the evangelical, Southern Baptist context in which I was raised. On both sides of my family, everyone is very Catholic. Coming out of that culture, I was always a bit different, and I suppose that led to a quirky point of view on the world. Personally, I’ve often encountered the Holy in places that are wholly unexpected for a lot of evangelicals. And I find that intriguing.

I had a mentor in graduate school, Roy Larson, who had been a religion reporter for the Chicago Sun Times. He taught me something called the “God factor.” Religion reporting doesn’t need to be just institutional, because there are religious elements permeating culture. To make our stories really interesting, we should go looking for the God factor in stories about politics, sports, pop culture and education. That is something I have just run with, and it’s become my specialty over the years. It’s endlessly fascinating, always surprising, and it’s where people have the easiest time engaging.

4word: So what made you interested in Justin Bieber?

Cathleen: I’m fairly certain I had never heard one of Justin’s songs until I decided to do this book project. I knew who he was, because I’m a chronicler of pop culture, but my son was actually the first one to ask me about him. He came home one day and said, “Mom, who’s Jason Beaver?” I laughed and explained it to him. A few weeks after that, Justin was on the cover of Rolling Stone, and I noticed that the subheading of the article was “Super Boy: God, Girls and Plenty of Swag.” It was the “God” part that made me go: “huh?”

So I read it, and I was impressed with the way he spoke about his faith in the interview. There was a quality about what he said that is rare among Christians. I think he’s a really exemplary teenager and has a shot at being a profoundly influential adult. He’s changed the music industry, and he’s also changing what it looks like to be a person of faith for a whole new generation.

What I most like about him is how authentic and genuine his message feels. This isn’t something the focus group came up with; it comes through loud and clear that this is the position of his heart.

4word: From your study of Justin Bieber, what would you say to young professional Christian women (YPCWs) who want to excel in their jobs and are not sure how to work their personal faith into their professional life?

Cathleen: I think they can take a cue from Justin: just be true to yourself and what you believe. But look at the way he expresses his faith. He doesn’t seem to be terribly concerned with being right, but he seems incredibly concerned with being kind. I think that says more about his faith than anything else. I think YPCWs should model that in the workplace. If you feel compelled to talk about your faith because you think they’re wrong, you might want to “check yourself before you wreck yourself.” If you have to make the choice between being right and being kind, be kind.

I think it would mean a lot more to people if you were caring, if you listened to them, if you did your job to the absolute best of your ability, and if you apologized and made amends when you made a mistake. That says more about Jesus than all of the tracts you could pass out or whether or not you leave a Bible on your desk.

I think I’ve learned a lot of that by watching Justin, because that’s how his message comes through. There’s a quote that’s attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that I think about often, “Preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words.” Justin is pretty good at that.

---------------------

That’s all for now, ladies. Part two will be posted later today. If you can’t wait until then, you can always visit Cathleen’s blog or follow her on Twitter: @godgrrl.