Rethinking Youth Ministry
The Appealing Faith of Justin Bieber: A Q&A with Belieber! author Cathleen Falsani
Any Christian who attends to popular culture knows that Justin Bieber is a phenomenon unique to the current teen generation: a social media-created super star. The teen's rise to fame began with a couple of videos his mother uploaded to YouTube, and his fans primarily relate to him through Facebook and Twitter. But what many adults may not know is that Justin is also a devoted Christian and has used his fame to give back to a number of charitable causes. In her new book, Belieber! Fame, Faith, and the Heart of Justin Bieber, award-winning religion journalist and author Cathleen Falsani explores Bieber's faith, family life, and the impact the singer is having on a generation of teens. I invited Falsani to share her thoughts on the origins of the book and what attracted a 40-something mom to want to write about the newest pop idol.
What prompted you to write this book and whom do you see as its primary audience?
Well, one afternoon early last March, I was having lunch with one of my closest friends in Laguna Beach, California, 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 and stretch me 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.
In the book, I say to grown-ups that they should 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.
Rev. Brian Kirk is an ordained pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and currently serves an inner-city church in St. Louis, Missouri. He also teaches as adjunct faculty at Eden Theological Seminary, and co-writes the blog rethinkingyouthministry.com.