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|07-10-2006, 09:23 AM||#1|
love, blood, life
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: new york city
Local Time: 02:40 PM
Review: 'The God Factor' by Cathleen Falsani*
By Jake Olsen
"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.
There was hardly a dry eye in the house, and the pall blew away.
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