Interview: Cathleen Falsani, Chicago Sun-Times Writer and Author of ‘The God Factor’

July 31, 2006


By Jake Olsen
2006.07

Over the course of five years, Chicago Sun-Times‘ religion writer Cathleen Falsani interviewed 32 well-known people—among them intellectuals, artists, political pundits and rockers—for her book, "The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People." Subjects like Bono, Playboy founder and editor-in-chief Hugh Hefner and singer Annie Lennox all opened up to her questions about their individual faith and deeply held beliefs and doubts. Interference.com got to return the favor, asking her about the difference between religion and spirituality, how 9/11 impacted our faith, and even the similarity between church and a good U2 concert.

How did the interview process change or challenge your faith?

It didn’t change it in terms of the quality of what I believe. I didn’t go from being an evangelical Christian to being a Buddhist or anything like that. It did by virtue of the intimacy of the conversations I had and the candor and the generosity of spirit that the folks in the book offered to me. Beyond that, each one of them said at least one thing that I’ve continued to ponder since our encounters that really enlivened my faith. Some of it was challenging. Some of it was perplexing. Some of it was heartening. But every one of them said something that I’ve continued to carry with me. One of the first things that I think about when I wake up is something that one of them said to me and so I think that it’s enlivened my faith, but hasn’t changed what my faith is. In my best moments, it’s changed how I live my faith as a believer.

Russell Simmons was an unlikely source, some people might think, for spiritual wisdom, but he said something I think about all the time. Actually I think he’s quoting Louis Farrakhan when he says, "If you’re going to be a Christian, be a practicing Christian. If you’re going to be a Muslim, be a practicing Muslim. If you’re going to be Jewish, be a practicing Jew." And that’s something that I think about all the time. If I say I’m something, what does that really mean? And I hope people read it and come away with a similar experience. The book starts with a quote from one of my professors from college, Arthur Holmes [Wheaton College Professor Emeritus of philosophy and author]. It says, "All truth is God’s truth," which is something I think I heard in my sophomore year in college and have always said I believed. But this process of interviewing the people for the book, of talking to lots of different kinds of people with many different kinds of experiences in a short period of time sort of focused that and made that more real to me in a much different way than it ever had been before. And now looking for what God’s trying to tell me no matter who it’s coming from is something that I think about all the time in my interactions with everyone.

In my best moments, I try and be very conscious of the fact that everyone, as I understand it, is a child of God and everyone, whether they believe on paper the things that I do or not, might have something that I can find out God needs to tell me that I couldn’t find from any other source. Someone asked me previously in an interview, what did I learn, how has it changed the way I look at life. I think I listen more carefully, or at least I try to, both to the people around me and look for that still, small voice that the Bible talks about. I think I’m, in my best moments, much more respectful of the transcendence that’s all around, the fact that all truth is God’s truth and I should be on the look out for it. For many years something also that I learned fairly early in college was from a book that I read for theology class called "The Go-Between God," talking about how God is the bridge between people and that God makes the space for us to connect in a way that we wouldn’t otherwise and that’s something I think about in a much more visceral way now than before I wrote the book.

I’m kind of picking up that that’s the challenge you have now is to be on the alert for the divine.

Right. Keep awake and be listening carefully. Literally and figuratively.

Were there any interviews that stood out to you?

There are certain people that you connect with, by virtue of your personality, your shared history or something. Some people, you just connect with and you have no idea why. There are some people that I felt a different kind of a connection with although I felt something with every person there, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the book. People often say, "What’s your favorite chapter?" and, you know, it depends on my mood, but the one that I say most consistently is John Mahoney, the actor ["Frasier," "Say Anything"]. And John is someone who I’ve sort of known—vaguely—as a very loose acquaintance for a number of years. I’ve gotten to be around him in social settings and he’s a very, very gracious, kind, lovely man, and that’s his reputation. So here’s somebody I knew a little. I had kind of went into the interview thinking I sort of knew his story: you know, Irish Catholic, man of a certain age … I figured I sort of knew a little bit. I always try and leave my preconceived notions behind, and I’m pretty good at it. So by the time I got into the little restaurant to have lunch with him I was sort of like, let’s see what we find out, but I had no idea what I was going to discover and how moving it was and how much faith is the center of his life and how he has a deep well of love and faith and peace and other things … joy and that’s where this kindness comes from that he’s got this reputation for being unfailingly kind.

I found out during the course of our conversation that that’s actually a very intentional practice for him. So I learned so much about someone that I thought I already knew and that’s one conversation that I think about all the time. It was beautiful. It was quite sacred. A lot of these encounters were really sacred … very intimate, and I didn’t have to pry, people wanted to tell me things. John was one of those people. I had this happen to me a number of times. We were kind of done and he actually left to go ostensibly to put coins in the parking meter and have a cigarette and came back and when he came back in he decided he wanted to tell me something. John’s intensely private and he had told me something that I certainly never would have known to ask about. And he just felt he wanted to. [Rock singer and musician] Melissa Etheridge did the same thing. I don’t ask a lot of questions during these interviews; I didn’t have to. This wasn’t like prying a clam open by any means, these folks knew I was coming. Some of them had weeks or months to prepare and many of them really had things that they wanted to get off their chest. They all stand out to me in different ways. But John’s the one I always come back to and, of course, Bono. He’s in a category by himself, the wee Irishman. There is a reason we start with him and end with Elie [Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize-winning author of "Night"]. If you read the introduction to my book, that’s fairly self-evident. That and the fact that I spent more time with him than most of these people and it was over time.

You mention in your introduction how listening to "October" in your friend’s basement set you on a path to find God "in the places some people say God isn’t supposed to be." Would it be fair to call the song an inspiration?

Well, I don’t know if it was the inspiration for the book, it certainly set me on a particular trajectory that I’m still on 30 years later, sort of an inspiration for the way I see the world. Probably everything I’ve done in life was fueled by the catalyst of that epiphany that I had listening to that song when I was 12. And it was something I didn’t realize until I started working on the book and I saw life come full circle, as they say. That’s something that’s not supposed to happen more than a couple times in life, and usually when you’re much older so I’m very careful not to step in front of buses. I’ve seen about 10 of these things come full circle. I’ve had a lot of clarity about all these disparate things in my life experiences and parts of my history that at first seemed eclectic and wacky before and now they made sense, and he’s one of them. And that moment is one of them.

Is that by design on your part?

No, I’m an idiot. I think it’s God, more and moreso. Something I started trying to do a few years ago and do even more consciously since the whole book experience is to get out my way, just get out my own way and try to let God do whatever God’s trying to do. I could not have designed the perfect mix of people in this book. I could not have made them say the things that they said. I could not have planned the experiences that I did. The happenstances of the connections that a lot the people in the book have to each other that I had no idea about when I asked them to talk to me. There’s too much intricacy and serendipity not to think that, maybe that was the spirit moving. I don’t think it’s me. I’m just trying to get out of my own way.

I’m reminded a little bit of CS Lewis [author of sci-fi and Christian-themed novels] in some of what you’re saying. It seems to be that he was kind of willful about letting the self die, which is one of the hardest things in the world to do. Are there any other authors, or would he be a legitimate influence?

Oh sure, CS Lewis, [priest and author] Henri Nouwen, [Pulitzer Prize-nominated author and lecturer] Frederick Buechner, [author and professor] Anne Lamott, who’s a goddess and a prophet and I hope to be one 10th of her when I grow up one day—but without the dreadlocks. Those are just off the top of my head.

You mentioned that it seemed kind of serendipitous about the folks that came in to be interviewed. How did you pick them? Were there any you wanted to get but that you couldn’t?

I mostly picked people that I thought were interesting, or I liked what they do, or I heard them say something once that I thought was intriguing. But about 85 to 90 percent of the people in the book I had no idea what their spiritual predilections might be or not be before I asked them. Obviously, somebody like [Toronto Raptors center] Hakeem Olajuwon, I asked because, 1) he’s interesting; and 2) he’s a Muslim. Somebody like Elie Wiesel, I mean, I knew he was Jewish. But I didn’t know the answer to the great question about his faith: Is it still there? Is it not? Did you ever come out of that? If so, why? How? There are people like John [Mahoney], who I thought I might know his history but I didn’t. [Journalist and author] Tom Robbins I asked based on a complete fallacy from something I had read online. Apart from the fact that he’s one of my favorite authors in the world, a lot of his books deal with spiritual issues in the most irreverent of ways. I didn’t know what Melissa Etheridge’s background was. I asked [director] David Lynch because I knew he was a transcendental meditator, that’s why I asked him. It was kind of counterintuitive to the idea of what you think of when you think of a transcendental meditator and then you have "Blue Velvet." How does that work?

Most of the other people, I just thought they were interesting and they had a certain quality about them of introspection. There was something about them that made you think there were some deep waters there. And also they had a certain quality of openness about them. If I felt that someone wasn’t being genuine, or if they were giving me stock answers, or more so if they were just full of it, that this wasn’t the real person, you know, they’re not in the book. But that didn’t happen very often at all.

Were you able to call them on that?

No. I could have, I certainly could have. This book was done intentionally in a non-combative, non-dialogical way. I told them when I approached them, "I’m not going to judge you. I’m not going to say whether what you believe is real, right or wrong or genuine or otherwise." That wasn’t my job. My job there was very intentionally to not call them on disconnects that I might have seen or something that I thought was wrong or something that was factually wrong or whatever. That wasn’t my job. That would have led to a very different kind of conversation where I think they would have been far less candid than they actually were. I just let them say what they really said they believed.

Did you often have to fight the urge to proselytize?

I always fight the urge to proselytize. I don’t think proselytizing is a particularly helpful means to an end, at least not in the ways people think it is. People ask me about evangelizing. We all evangelize, we just do it in different ways. But to just hand you a tract about Jesus and the New Testament is not the way I did it. If they found out later that I’m a Jesusy—which is a better, more unloaded word—and they thought, "Wow, she wasn’t judgmental or mean-spirited" or many of those other things they may think about when you think about evangelicals, my work here is done. I don’t try to proselytize or evangelize intentionally through anything I write. I like to think of my life, in my best moments—when I’m getting out my own way—does that. The best way to evangelize is by living well and by loving well. And I tried to be loving with all these people. That I think I accomplished.

Your interview with Hugh Hefner seemed to surprise both of you. Can you talk a little about that?

Like I said, I really try very hard to leave my preconceptions in the car, but when you drive up to the Playboy mansion and the guy comes down in his silk pajamas, it’s hard to leave all of that in the car. It’s impossible to leave all that in the car. I think Hef was expecting someone very different and he was expecting a very different conversation. He’s talked about religion over the years, mostly about its role in society and how un-helpful it can be. I wanted to talk to Hef about Hef. It wasn’t a bad conversation at the beginning. The first 10 minutes he was giving me very thoughtful answers, but there was sort of this tension in the air. Very subtle. He was incredibly gracious, very kind, was listening carefully. But there was just a veil between us. And it wasn’t until we found common ground, completely in a different place, that that veil kind of blew away and we had the kind of conversation that you saw in that chapter. Our common ground was movies. I asked him, "What’s the most spiritual film you think you’ve ever seen?" He kind of hemmed and hawed and said, "You know, I’m not really a big fan of DeMille and those big biblical epics." I interrupted him, which is something I normally don’t do and I said, "Can I tell you mine? It’s ‘Harold and Maude.’"


(Photo credit: (copyright) Paul Natkin, 2005)

His face just melted into a huge smile. I didn’t know when I said that, but Bud Cort, who played Harold, is a good friend of his and still comes to the mansion on a fairly regular basis. Ruth Gordon, who played Maude, and her husband, who was a director, were also very dear friends of his and that it’s one of his favorite films. He said, "Well, if that’s what you’re talking about when you say spiritual, that’s a whole other ballpark." And then it was a completely different conversation. I like to think that was that "Go-Between God" that I was talking about. When I do interviews, I try to be very present, I try not to think about the next question I’m going to ask. I try to be really listening to what the other person is saying, because that’s the most respectful thing to do, is to be fully present. In this case, I was doing the "help-me help-me help-me" prayer, because it just wasn’t going where I thought it should be going. I didn’t know how to do that. "Harold and Maude"? Who knew? It’s brilliant. It’s one of the most soul-raising movies I’ve ever seen. It’s wonderfully quirky and very ’70s. It’s fabulous.

Was there anything that surprised you about your interview with Bono?

Everything, in good ways. The first time, when I knew I was going to be talking to him and spending this time with him on the road, I was absolutely terrified. Not that I was worried about me, I was worried that he would be a jerk or something and that I would be crushed. I was so concerned that he wouldn’t be what everyone expects him to be in those good ways. Thank you Jesus, he was better in every way and more delightful and more loving and more generous of spirit and smarter and funnier and naughtier and more profound and more deeply faithful than I could have wished him to be, and it was wonderful spending time with him. Life changing for me in some ways, because he is a very challenging person to be around in terms what it really means to be a faithful follower of Christ. I think I say somewhere in the book that he makes me want to be better in lots of different ways, to do more. He’s just that kind of guy. He’s not like Yoda or anything. There’s a difference between my experience with Bono, who’s incredibly profound in his wonderfully profane way, and Elie Wiesel. There’s a difference there. Elie Wiesel is Yoda; Bono, not so much. They had equally transformative effects on my life and I am blessed deeply to know both of them, even as little as I do.

Forgive me for asking, but why did you select Elie Wiesel as the book end?

Because if there’s anybody in that book … anybody in my life … who has every reason not to believe, he does. It’s him. I wanted to start with grace—that’s Bono—and end with hope—that’s Elie. For the book and my life … on a good day.

Speaking of Grace, I really liked the short piece you did with [jazz vocalist] Kurt Elling. I noticed that 9/11 seemed to have a big impact.

And that was something completely organic, that was something that came up in almost every conversation I had. That was a big thing for us as a people, as Americans, certainly, as a human race. That was a really jarring moment. It was like an asteroid hitting the planet, in a spiritual way. Everything was up for grabs after that. It was really traumatizing for everyone, not just the people who were there, and it continues to be. It changed the way we look at the world. We were attacked by people who said they were doing it in the name of God and that’s fucking frightening. I don’t care if you believe in a god or not. Maybe if you don’t it’s even more frightening because it makes the fanatics look even more fanatical. And so that made people think about spiritual things in a different ways. It led a lot of people to get their butts back in the pew, for a couple months anyway. But the more lingering effects, as I see it, having covered the God beat for 10 years, are these kinds of conversations that we’re having now that we didn’t have five years ago. I don’t think I could have done this book. I don’t think I could have gotten two-thirds of the people in the book to have these conversations five years ago, but that changed everything.

Do you think it was, at least on a spiritual perspective, a positive thing?

No. I don’t think God would employ horror and violence as a means to a good end, but it happened. There is a verse in scripture that says all things work together for good for them that love God. I don’t think God caused it or wanted it to happen. That’s not the God I know or understand, but the fact that we’re having this conversation in a different way, I think is a good thing. Did 9/11 need to happen for us to have it? I certainly hope not. But it did, so here we are. It’s not the only reason we’re having this conversation, but it’s a significant reason.

One thing I noticed, it seems so much that the really strict definitions by religion weren’t as common in your interviews.

They’re not as common in society, period, as I have experienced it over the last 10 years at least. The people in the book are certainly extraordinary people. This was not meant to be a reflection of what America is like today because these are not average people. That said, they are reflecting back to me what I see happening all around me as a journalist who covers this. There are people in there who will give themselves a label and they’re comfortable with that, as there are millions of people out there who will label themselves. Even the strictly religious people in the strictest sense of that word still have to make that their own in some way. Whether it’s [Chicago Cubs manager] Dusty Baker, who’s a Baptist—a label he applies to himself. But when he has cancer, he’ll go to a kahuna healer in Hawaii. That’s one more colorful example, but I know plenty of Catholics who call themselves Catholics, who are mass-goers and pray the rosary and call the Pope the Holy Father but they don’t believe everything that’s in that doctrine, but they are still "in the tent.’ I just think that’s more and more common. Strictly speaking, there are more people now than in 1970 who are willing to say they have no religious affiliation. I think it’s a jump between 5 and 10 percent. It’s still a very small portion of the population of the United States, but there are many more now than there were 30 years ago, but that’s not necessarily what I’m talking about.

I was curious as to whether you thought 9/11 had any impact on the fact that it seems people are less willing to call themselves fundamentally this or that.

Fundamentalist is like a naughty word.

It’s like the new "communist."

Someone once said fundamentalists are scarier to me than the Russians. Yeah, nobody wants to call themselves a fundamentalist, right? I don’t know if I had anyone in the book who would call themselves a fundamentalist. Fundamentalists have much more in common with each other than they do with the other people in their faith traditions. A Muslim fundamentalist and a Jewish fundamentalist and a Christian fundamentalist have way more in common with each other than they do with moderate Christians and secular Jews and Americanized Muslims.

There is something to the lesson we learned when the majority of the population learned the word Muslim on like September 12 and then we had to quickly learn that there’s a difference between the people who did what they did in the name of their God and they said in the name of Islam and the vast … vast, overwhelming, like 99.9 percent of the Muslims in the world. That taught us a lesson about labels. Just because you call something something doesn’t make it so, that labels aren’t terribly helpful. They’re usually fairly ill-fitting, I find. And they’re conversation enders. Melissa Etheridge said to me at one point, "Thank you so much for asking about this. People so rarely ask me about this and I like to talk about it, and when they do it’s like, ‘Are you religious?’ and I say, ‘No, I’m spiritual.’ And that’s the end of the conversation." What are you? I’m a Christian. Okay, What the hell does that mean? That’s nice. I know what I think it means, but what does it mean to you? Labels aren’t real helpful.

Now that you mention it, I remember you kept the "religion" word out of it and you focused more on spirituality. What, to you, is the difference?

Okay, I’ve got a great metaphor: The difference between religion and spirituality is akin to the difference between bourbon and whisky. Because all bourbon is whisky, but not all whisky is bourbon. And all religion is spirituality, but not all spirituality is religion. Get it?

I do. Your introduction ends with a coda that basically implies that you don’t think faith has changed much. What’s the commonality between say now and 10 years ago when you started?

I think faith is a thing. It’s like joy. It’s a thing unto itself that isn’t qualified by whatever else you put around it. Muslim faith. Christian faith, Zoroastrian faith. Vegan faith. Faith is just a thing. It doesn’t change. It’s a gift, as I understand it. It’s a spiritual gift. We live it and express it. And abandon it and embrace it in different ways. Faith itself doesn’t change. It is what it is. Religion changes. Spirituality changes. Dogma changes. Doctrine changes. But faith is always faith. Always has been, always will be.

How is it expressed differently now?

The quality of the conversation about faith has changed. Faith is just faith, like joy is just joy. Love … just love.

What is the one thing you would like your readers to take with you?

I think if people come away with a sense of urgency to listen better to the people around them, that would make me very happy, and if people would open their eyes and see that God is right there. If they get that from reading this, that would make me thrilled. Those are two things.

Is there something you could tell our readers that they don’t already know about Bono?

I was thinking about this. There are three things: He smells really good. Dolce & Gabbana for men, if I’m not mistaken. He is quite fond of corn-beef hash. And that ring he wears [on his pinky] was given to him by Larry, not Ali, and it’s a fish. I thought it was a griffin and told him as much and he was adamant, "No. It’s a fish. See?" . . . Bono’s forever losing things. This was a few years ago, so we could be on yet another incarnation of the ring, but at that point he’d lost it twice already. If I remember what B said correctly, the first time Larry gave it to him in yellow gold and he lost it and Larry had it remade in white gold and Bono lost that one, too, and now he’s on to platinum, I think. If memory serves, it looks kind of like a koi wrapped around itself.

Do you know the significance of the fish?

It’s a fish . . . I don’t know what the significance of it is.

Do you know much about the faith of the other members of U2?

No, I don’t know them. I’ve been around them but I’ve never had this conversation with them. Love to, but until I do, I’m not going to guess. When people guess they’re usually wrong. Lovely men all.

This is fanboyism talking. Were you at the Chicago show when they filmed it for the DVD?

Yes. They taped two or three nights and it was the last night of taping that was one of those magic shows . . . Adam is the one who’s talked about this, that when the Spirit’s in the room you can feel it. Well, the Spirit was in the room that night. It was amazing. It was an incredible show, which has a lot to do with the band and also has a lot to do with what’s happening in the house. It was one of those shows where it was like church … well, like how church is supposed to be. That was a good show.

Did you have any future plans or any other projects in the works?

Yes, but if I told you I’d have to shoot you. There’s more to come. Inshallah, as my Muslim friends would say … God willing.

One Person Making a Difference: Lies Rosema*

July 24, 2006


By Jennifer B. Kaufman

2006.07
Meet Lies Rosema. She loves gymnastics, designing websites, and of course, U2. She recently graduated from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she obtained a degree in business communications, with a minor in Third World development studies. Calvin College is a school fully enriched in the Christian tradition of justice, compassion and discipline and inspires its students to make this world a better place.
[Read more]

Interview: If You Can’t See Them, Be Them: U2 in Second Life*

July 17, 2006


By Roland Schulte
2006.07

There exists a three-dimensional online world called Second Life, or SL for short. When I say world, I mean world, because it contains people, real estate, charities, stores, schools, churches, currency and everything else you can think of.

The whole idea of Second Life deserves an entirely separate explanation. To kick off this piece, however, we’ll focus on just one part: creating an online persona in Second Life.
You see, in Second Life, you get to be whoever you want to be. Sort of like when you were little, and imaginative.

So, if you were to join Second Life, who would you pick to be your online persona? Well, Bono, of course—the biggest rock star in the world. Then, naturally, you’d find the virtual Edge, Adam, Larry and complete the band. Then you’d find some stage designers, lighting technicians and security guards, perform some virtual concerts, and you’d create something called U2 in SL.

Interference.com caught up with DarkDharma Daguerre, an avatar (caricature) creator within SL who also happens to be one of the creators of U2 in SL. DarkDharma told Interference.com more about the virtual concerts, the real-life interview with MTV and interesting spots in Second Life.

Many fans dream of being Bono, or Edge, or any rock star. Have you pulled
it off?

We think we’ve virtually pulled it off in grand style. We do it because we are passionate about U2 and their music, but most importantly, to further the issues we believe in and that the real band represents to a virtual world of 315,000 real people from all over the world. When we put on a concert, it’s really a big production with lots of elements involved. Production scripts are handed out; backdrops are synced to the set list. Band
rehearsals are scheduled. Every attention is paid to detail—the band’s costumes, sets—virtual Bono even has a virtual green Irish Falcon Gretsch guitar. In fact, the role player who runs the virtual Mr. B tells us that it’s a huge adrenaline rush being on stage and performing, much like he would imagine being on a real concert stage. Several of the U2inSL role players tell us they get stage jitters before performances, and it takes them hours to come down to earth afterwards—much like their real world counterparts. Before the virtual performances begin, the crowd is buzzing for the show to start. Like the electric crowds found at a real U2 concert, it really helps that the Second Life concert goers get into the role play and have a lot of fun.

Before we go much further, can you bring back ZooTV?

We bet you didn’t think the answer would be yes. We are thinking about bringing back different concert eras. We’ve also been asked about bringing back Red Rocks. Anything is definitely possible. Sets, equipment, avatars, etc., just need to be created to coincide with whatever tour era we would be replicating. Eventually, this may be done. Wouldn’t that be a blast?

Aside from your band, what is the most interesting thing you’ve encountered in SL? Most interesting place?

The most interesting thing in Second Life is that literally everything exists there that can be found in the real world, as well as anything else that can be imagined and not found in the real world. The possibilities are infinite, so it would be tough to pinpoint one other interesting thing. But here are a few interesting thoughts: In SL, people can marry, complete with the whole-nine-yards white-gown wedding, get pregnant and have families. They can also choose to be a furry animal, a dragon or whatever their imagination can dream up.

Are you concerned with legal backlash from U2? How did you get the audio
streams? What’s Second Life creator Linden Labs’ position on all of this?

Really, what we do is not much different than dressing up in a Halloween costume and pretending to be a favorite character. However, so people won’t be mislead and think we’re the real deal, at every concert and event, we prominently post a big sign with a disclaimer that reads, "U2inSL is a role-playing group that exists in support of the One Campaign, Make Poverty History, African Well Fund, Music Rising and others. No money is being made. We are not affiliated with the real U2. U2 is a registered trademark owned by U2. Bono is a registered trademark owned by Bono/Paul Hewson. All rights reserved. No infringement is intended."

We have been attempting to contact Principle Management since the beginning of our Second Life project in mid-2005 but apparently they are a tough organization from that to elicit a response in certain matters. We have phoned, faxed, e-mailed. We have spoken directly with people in their offices who have asked us to forward material—that we’ve done. We’re still waiting to get any sort of response from their organization. We think U2 would love what we do. We do it for no money; we don’t claim to be them, merely to be role playing them, and to support the urgent issues that the real world band supports. In fact, as part of Bono’s wishes for acceptance of the 2004 TED award, he stated, "I wish to tell people one billion times about One …" The TED organization went on to state that what is needed are, "Offers of creative help to adapt the message to different media.” We believe we are providing a form of "creative help" by adapting and spreading the word about One to a very different sort of digital media: a thriving 3-D metaverse with over 315,000 inhabitants.

Our concert streams are obtained online as torrent files. They are streams of actual concerts recorded at the events by fans such as ourselves. We do not sell or make any money from these files.

Linden Labs’ position on all of this so far has been positive as what we do provides a ton of quality content while, at the same time, raising awareness for the urgent issues that we and the real world band support. About six months ago, Linden Labs suggested to us that we should clarify and revise our disclaimer. We have done that so there will be no mistake about who or what we represent and to strongly point out that no infringement is intended. Our current disclaimer is included in every event listing and on every poster or public piece of information we put out so there can be no mistake about whom we are and our intentions.

How do you "perform" the concerts? Is the performer’s movement pre-programmed, or done "live"?

All avatars in Second Life use animations to move, from lifting an arm a certain way to holding a mic, etc., all moves involve animations. That being said, the U2inSL role players do perform "live" and have freewill to move about as they choose. Think of it the same as moving around in the real world except in order to lift an arm, which we do automatically in the real world, we need to click an animation to do so in Second Life. All the U2inSL role players have specialty animations for their characters that they run
randomly at any time to provide realistic moves to go along with the song or whatever is happening on the stream at the moment.

However, it’s not as easy as it may sound being on stage and running animations during a concert, as there are multi faceted things to focus on all happening at once. For instance, at any given moment during a concert, virtual Bono is quadruple-tasking, running several interacting animations (moving arms, bending down, opening mouth, walking about), while keeping an eye to the specific song and what’s involved, as well as utilizing whatever props (guitar, tambourine, etc.) and, at the same time, keeping track of making wardrobe changes (he makes about four to five wardrobe changes during a concert all done while he is performing and moving about).

What has been the reaction to U2inSL outside of SL?

When people understand what it is and what is involved, they have been amazed. When they don’t, they are like, "What’s that about?" Often we find when speaking about our endeavor to folks in our first lives, an example dialogue we may hear goes like this: "You mean you actually move around in there?" Us: "Yes, there are roads, trees, houses, mountains—a whole world." “You mean you can actually do things there?" Us: "Yes, you can do everything there."—and so it goes. Some of us have told our families about it, some have not. Some family members do watch alongside in real world our role players while they are performing virtually.

Since our February 2006 concerts, we have become more widely known on the web, as lots of blogs have picked up the beat on us. And, of course, the fact that we were recently featured on MTV has really raised the awareness bar quite a few notches.

They never sell Bono glasses at the real shows. Can you get them at your
shows?

Although with this project we strongly emphasize that we never sell anything—we do have a virtual swag booth where concert goers can pick up freebies such as One Campaign wristbands, flyers, U2inSL T-shirts, buttons, posters, etc. We haven’t yet made Bono glasses available but that’s a great idea, we’ll work on it.

Has your presence gained fans for U2, and/or support for the One
organization? Have you talked to the One organization?

Most definitely our presence in Second Life has gained fans not only for U2 and their music but also for the One Campaign, Make Poverty History, Music Rising, African Well Fund—all the causes that are featured at our virtual gigs and events. Because of our endeavor, we know of many inworld people who have actually gone on to attend their first real-world U2 concerts and become permanent new fans.

As we mentioned above, besides concerts, we hold One Campaign rallies that are extremely well attended. Last year at the start of this endeavor in SL, we specifically wrote to many of the heads of the One Campaign as well as all the organizations and fan sites of that we were aware to announce what we were doing in Second Life. Although we do go to great pains to clearly explain to the non-VR-aware person or organization what we do, generally, we’ve found it appears difficult to understand unless there is a certain awareness and knowledge of 3-D worlds.

Do you plan to authentically recreate U2 shows or mix in new ideas?

So far, for concerts, we’ve strived for authenticity as we are role-playing the real world guys. Part of the fun is seeing how well we can replicate things. The new ideas come in the form of whatever different elements are introduced in whatever concert stream we may be using at the time. For example, when U2inSL played in virtual Dublin, we used the June 25, 2005, Croke Park, Dublin stream. During that concert, a guy named Matt from Canada came on stage to play “Party Girl” with the band and we replicated that whole experience virtually.

New ideas have more come into play with the virtual One Campaign rally events. During these rallies, U2inSL performs several tunes, coupled with One Campaign podcast messages as well as photos of Bono’s recent African trip that the virtual Bono "narrates." This is all put together in our own way as a new idea on how to get the message across. At the event there are banners, awareness signs and many links to read more about and sign up to the One Campaign. It certainly makes for a unique experience and one that really motivates people to be aware of and lend their support to the urgent
situation.

U2inSL has its own lighting experts, PR people and security. How did
you find these folks?

Some of the players came with us from another virtual world called There. We came into Second Life some earlier, some later, in 2004. Others involved are good friends we have made in Second Life with various skills they lend to the production. Our techno lighting wiz, stage builder, stage manager, Demian Caldera, has been with us since our There days. He is in charge of the production setup and handles the backdrop scheme and spotlights during the concerts. Nyna Slate, our security head, and also great PR person, has honed her skills over the past year to now find herself to be a sought-after expert at inworld event security. On occasion now, she consults with other groups regarding such matters.

The idea of virtually recreating U2 started in There where we actually held the first virtual events as "U2 in There.” However, There was extremely limited as to creativity allowed and what we could accomplish, so when we emigrated to Second Life in 2004, the seed of the idea came with us and, eventually, re-blossomed. However, it wasn’t until about six months later, fall 2004, when we actually started to get the virtual U2 idea rolling once again. Things very slowly progressed from that time until June 2005 when we held our first U2inSL meet-and-greet. It takes a certain passionate dedication to pull off a project such as this.

What’s next for U2inSL?

We love U2 and we plan to keep on doing what we’re doing—role-playing concerts and One Campaign rallies in support of the real world band’s issues that we wholeheartedly embrace. One thing we strive for in our virtual performances is constant improvement in animations, performance, stage set, avatar appearance—everything about the production is always looking to be improved upon.

What we hope for is that the real band will get to know us and love what we do in support of the very important real world issues we put forth to the virtual world. And we’d love for the real Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry to someday get to know about their virtual personas and maybe decide to take them for a spin inworld. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate?

You can get more information about U2 in Second Life through MTV.com here and here. Check out Second Life here.

Many thanks to DarkDharma Daguerre for taking time for this article.

Review: ‘The God Factor’ by Cathleen Falsani*

July 10, 2006


By Jake Olsen
2006.07

"When religion reporter Cathleen Falsani climbed aboard Bono’s tour bus, it was to interview the U2 rocker about AIDS in Africa. Instead, the journalist and the rock star plunged into a lively discussion about faith today." So reads the jacket of Cathleen Falsani’s The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People." It’s an apt description of a book that takes the reader through a journey of spiritual discovery of the culturally prominent. The book travels from faith to faith in America’s spiritual landscape, stopping long enough to touch and be touched by those who formed it. Take the bus ride with Falsani and you’ll hear the spiritual musings of politicians, artists, filmmakers, authors and rockers.

Rock ‘n’ roll is where the book starts, as Falsani details her introduction to U2 via a friend’s LP in 1982. "Hearing U2′s ‘October’ for the first time set me on a course that continues today: To discover God in the places some people say God isn’t supposed to be. To look for the truly sacred in the supposedly profane," she writes. Falsani makes no bones about where she’s coming from spiritually. Beginning life in Roman Catholicism and later moving to evangelical Protestantism, Falsani writes, "I was—and am—a believer. But after my musical baptism I became consumed by the idea that spirituality could be expressed just as articulately, perhaps even more so, outside a house of worship as in it, and that faith could be lived in radically different ways."

"Falsani’s book begins with an interview of the man who revels in both the irreverent and the sacred—Bono. His interview, as with every other, begins with a sound bite and a brief profile of the personality under the microscope. "AKA: Paul David Hewson. Birth date: May 10, 1960 …" She details each interviewee’s spiritual upbringing ("Christian, Church of Ireland [Anglican]") and provides a brief description of what they believe now ("’A believer’ of the Christian persuasion") and where they attend services ("Nowhere regularly"). Each profile ends with that person’s words to live by. Bono, true to form, mixes profanity with sublimity to profound effect: "The idea that the same love and logic would choose to describe itself as a baby born in shit and straw and poverty is genius. And it brings me to my knees, literally."

Naturally, this thumbnail sketch of each personality’s spiritual beliefs begs a more detailed look, and Falsani delivers. She deftly creates the atmosphere of a conversation between friends—a chat that turns spiritual after a glass of wine. Bono’s article, written over the course of four meetings between 2002 and 2005, begins over fears he wouldn’t be forthcoming about his faith. "I wasn’t sure if he would open up. He hadn’t exactly been wearing his Christianity on his sleeve since the mid-1980s, when he was burned by less-than-kind media coverage accusing "Saint Bono" of being holier than thou. And when the media weren’t attacking him for his faith, fellow Christians were criticizing him for not being, in their view, appropriately pious, and questioning the authenticity of his spiritual devotion," she writes. This first meeting, ostensibly about Bono’s work with DATA, quickly turns from the church’s role in combating the AIDS pandemic to Bono’s own views on faith. "I don’t set myself up to be any kind of Christian. I can’t live up to that. It’s something I aspire to, but don’t feel comfortable with that badge. It’s a badge I want to wear. But I’m not a very good advertisement for God."

Many people would beg to differ with Bono on that point, but he’s certainly not an advertisement for the church. Falsani highlights the tenuous relationship Bono has held with the institutional church, which he has audibly criticized for its lack of action regarding AIDS and poverty. "I really am surprised and even a little disappointed that I can’t continue to beat up the church because they really have responded," he said. As noted in his profile, Bono doesn’t attend anywhere regularly, but rather chooses to worship "wherever the spirit leads," be it in a Baptist revival or in the back of a Catholic cathedral.

This is hardly surprising from a man who shuns any kind of religious label, not to mention the fact he was raised in a home mixed in Catholicism and Protestantism. Mom would take the Hewson boys to a Church of Ireland service while his father attended mass down the hill. Falsani continues to walk with Bono down memory lane as he recounts everything from having a crush on the parson’s daughters right up to meeting Rev. Billy Graham and Pope John Paul II.

Falsani and Bono alike recognize the almost compulsive obsession with which people (myself included) pore over U2′s lyrics in an attempt to gauge the band’s spiritual health or brand it with one religious label or another. Bono answers the question with a word that sums up Christianity for every sect—grace. "That’s it! Christ’s attempt to bring you out of your religiosity to an impossible standard you cannot reach without grace. Grace is the reason I discovered my gift. It’s the reason I have children. It’s the reason I found my voice in different areas. Grace is the reason I’m here," he said.

With these words, Falsani wraps her piece about Bono and grabs the reader for a full 31 more interviews. Author Anne Rice talks openly of her prodigal return to Catholicism; publisher Hugh Hefner expounds on humanism; filmmaker Harold Ramis compares "Groundhog Day" to the Buddhist tenet of reincarnation; Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel describes his journey of doubt and back to belief after surviving the Holocaust. While it may be that no other personality receives as many pages as Bono, it is clear that each is treated with equal respect, whether they are athlete, politician or radio shock jock, Muslim, atheist or Buddhist. As with Bono, Falsani gently coaxes sincere, deeply held beliefs from each subject, even if that belief is an admission of uncertainty or indecision.

If "The God Factor" is an accurate cross-section of American spirituality, many of us are beginning to admit uncertainty, indecision and doubt in the supernatural—especially after the attacks of 9/11. That day asked many painful questions that still defy answers. Falsani and her subjects may not have the answer, but she does suggest a balm for the pain. On the Saturday after the attacks, Falsani recounts when grace walked into a Chicago nightclub to banish the gloom:

"I came to sing to you tonight because someone wants us to suffer," [jazz musician Kurt] Elling told the hushed crowd. "Someone wants us to fail—as a nation, a culture, as a people. We fold? They win. We stay home in fear or depression? They win. Culture must continue. Joy must come out. Life is stronger than death …"

"We are not encircled by darkness. We’re surrounded by a circle of light whose center is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere. We have beheld this glory; it is full of grace."

Yep. There you have it.

Grace.

There was hardly a dry eye in the house, and the pall blew away.