Cathleen Falsani

Cathleen Falsani

Cathleen Falsani is an award-winning religion journalist and columnist who specializes in the intersection of faith and culture. Cathleen served on the staff of Sojourners as its Web Editor and Director of New Media from 2011 to 2012, after having been the religion writer for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper for a decade. She is now a Featured Writer for the Sojourners website. Cathleen is author of several critically acclaimed, non-fiction books, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers, and BELIEBER!: Fame, Faith and the Heart of Justin Bieber and the forthcoming Disquiet Time: Rants, Raves, and Reflections on the Good Book By the Skeptical, the Faithful, and a Few Scoundrels. Cathleen lives in southern California with her husband and son.

Articles By This Author

Lila Pays It Forward: Helping LGBT Refugees Find a New Home, Life

by Cathleen Falsani 11-17-2014
Lila Katz, refugee. Image courtesy the author.

Lila Katz, refugee. Image courtesy the author.

Currently, 78 nations worldwide criminalize same-sex relations; of those, seven may impose the death penalty for consensual same-sex conduct, according to ORAM. In Uganda, for instance, where there has been capital punishment for homosexual activity in the past, homosexuality currently is considered a criminal act punishable by a 14-year prison sentence.

At a recent JFCS-East Bay staff meeting, Weiss, director of refugee and immigrant services, recounted the story of a recent LGBT refugee arrival that brought many staff members to tears.

"One person who I had the honor to pick up at the airport and witness his experience and his mind was blown," Weiss began. "He went from having nothing — nobody to help him, in fear for his life, 23 years old (my daughter’s age) — having to flee barefoot, climb over a fence, escape prison, run for his life, police find him at his cousin’s house, re-arrest him … the story is just incredible. Multiple times fleeing on foot with no money, no water. Being in a refugee camp. Being beat up by a group of Somali men in the refugee camp that was supposed to be his refuge.

"Being physically and of course emotionally traumatized. And then getting on a plane — not knowing where he was going until he’s about to travel and then finding out he’s going to San Francisco," she continued. "On the way to the airport, we had this wonderful Iraqi LGBT volunteer who came five years ago as a refugee himself and he says to me, five minutes before the [new] guy arrives, ‘I’m five years old; I was born when I came down that escalator five years ago and this guy is about to be born.

"And down the escalator comes this jet black African guy who is obviously very gay — in the way you can tell by his escalator ride," she said, drawing knowing laughter from the staff, some of whom are LGBT themselves. "He couldn’t hide it. That’s why his life was in danger. On the way back from the airport, our volunteer says that after we drop him off, he’s going to The Castro, and [the new guy] says, ‘Can I come with you?!’

"It’s really just remarkable to witness his journey from hell to heaven," Weiss said.

U2's Songs of Transcendence

by Cathleen Falsani 10-14-2014

How does Songs of Innocence stand up to U2's second album, October? Photo via Cathleen Falsani

Sunday evening I did something I haven't done in close to 30 years: I went to an actual record store and bought a brand-new U2 album on vinyl, took it home, pulled out the turntable, put on my headphones, sat on the floor, and stayed up way too late reading the liner notes and listening to the songs over and over again.

Lord, how I've missed this particular ritual.

When I was a teenager, late Sunday nights were when I indulged my secret pleasure by listening in bed (clandestinely so as not to incur the wrath of my parents for being awake well past my bedtime) to the "King Biscuit Flower Hour" on WPLR, the classic rock station in New Haven that was one of two (the other being a horrendous pop-40 station) that came in clearly on the FM stereo in my upstairs bedroom.

I listened, religiously, every Sunday night for years, hoping to hear a song by one of the British New Wave bands of which I was fond, or, if I was particularly lucky, by my favorite band on the planet: U2.

Sometimes weeks would go by without hearing a U2 song on those late Sunday nights, my ear pressed to the transistor radio secreted next to the pillow on my twin bed. But then, like a bolt of lightning  I'd hear Bono's voice or Edge's guitar begin to keen. It was a wee bit magical, although in retrospect today I might call it sacred.

All the waiting and listening was worth it. Always.

'Noah:' Deeply, Passionately Biblical

by Cathleen Falsani 03-27-2014
© MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation

by Niko Tavernise: Russell Crowe in NOAH, from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises © MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation

I’ll begin by cutting to the chase: Forget most of what you’ve read about Darren Aronofsky’s new film, Noah. It opens Friday. Go see it and decide for yourself.

Having said that, in my opinion Aronofksy’s Noah is a beautiful, powerful, difficult film worthy of the “epic” label. A vivid, visually spectacular reimagining of an ancient story held as sacred by all three Abrahamic religious traditions, it also is the most spiritually nuanced, exquisitely articulated exploration of the ideas of justice and mercy I’ve ever seen on a movie screen.

And despite what you may have heard elsewhere, Noah is deeply, passionately biblical.

The Fallacy of Good v. Evil: A Q&A with 'Noah' Writer Ari Handel

by Cathleen Falsani 03-27-2014
Paramount Pictures & Regency Entertainment / Getty Images

by Niko Tavernise, Russell Crowe in NOAH, from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises; Ari Handel, by Jim Spellman/Getty

Last Sunday in Los Angeles, Cathleen Falsani sat down with Ari Handel, a screenwriter and frequent collaborator with Noah director Darren Aronofsky, with whom he co-wrote the film and the graphic novel, Noah, upon which it was based, to discuss some of the extra-biblical elements of the $150 million movie.

Longtime friends Handel and Aronofsky were suitemates at Harvard University. Before becoming a screenwriter and film producer, Handel was a neuroscientist. He holds a PhD in neurobiology from New York University. He was a producer on Aronofsky’s films Black Swan, The Wrestler, and The Fountain (which he co-wrote with Aronofsky), and had a small role as a Kabbalah scholar in the director’s debut film, 1998’s Pi.

Editor’s Note: The following Q&A contains some spoilers about the film. It has been edited for length.

Anderson Creates Sacred Cinematic Space in 'Grand Budapest Hotel'

by Cathleen Falsani 03-11-2014

Director Wes Anderson (left) chats with Jude Law (Young Author) on the set of "Grand Budapest Hotel."

To my mind, all of Wes Anderson’s films are masterpieces in the truest sense of that word. But his most recent creation, Grand Budapest Hotel, is, perhaps, his chef d’oeuvre.

Anderson’s eighth feature-length film, which opened in limited release last week, Grand Budapest Hotel is a whimsical, hilarious, and surprisingly touching tale laden with nostalgia for a world and way of life most of us (including the 44-year-old director himself) never have experienced.

Set in the fictional Eastern European mountain region known as the “Republic of Zubrowka,” the plot centers around the character and adventures of Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the eponymous Grand Budapest Hotel, one of Europe’s palatial “grand hotels. Gustave is something of a dandy, a throwback to a bygone era even in his heyday of the 1930s on the cusp of World War II.

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Pete Holmes Searching for Comedic Communion

by Cathleen Falsani 01-15-2014

Comedian and television host Pete Holmes. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Orange County Register/ RNS

For a period in his younger life, the host of The Pete Holmes Show on TBS, which debuted late last year and follows Conan on late-night TV, was on a trajectory to become a youth pastor.

“That’s why I went to Gordon,” Holmes said, referring to his alma mater — Gordon College in Massachusetts, an evangelical Christian school — during a conversation on my back porch in Laguna Beach earlier this month.

“I wanted to be a pastor. I was going to be a youth pastor. I mean, I play guitar, I like to make people laugh. … The skill set of pastor and comedian are incredibly similar. You want to affect people. You’re good at reading rooms. You’re persuasive and you’re likable.”

Mary J. Blige, My Guardian Angel

by Cathleen Falsani 11-19-2013

Mary J. Blige performs during a scene from the movie “Black Nativity.” Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

In her book “The Funny Thing Is …,” Ellen DeGeneres describes being invited to God’s house for wine and cheese. When the Almighty walks into the room, Degeneres describes God this way:

“I would say she was about 47, 48 years old, a beautiful, beautiful black woman. And we just immediately hugged.”

When I think about the guardian angels who I’ve been told surround me like spiritual body guards, I picture the Angel In Charge as looking and sounding a lot like the Grammy-winning singer Mary J. Blige.

How appropriate, then, that Blige portrays a character in the upcoming holiday film, Black Nativity, (based in part on the Langston Hughes play) who appears to be an angelic being with a huge platinum-blonde Afro, dressed head-to-toe in silver-colored leather.

An Edgy Pastor Whose Edginess Isn’t Just Shtick

by Cathleen Falsani 11-08-2013
RNS photo by Sally Morrow

The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber is a pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

PASADENA, Calif. — The first thing most people mention when they talk about Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber is her tattoos. She has many — most of them religious in nature, including a large icon of Mary Magdalene covering her right forearm.

Then they talk about how tall she is (6 foot 1), that she looks more like the lead singer of an all-girl punk rock band than a pastor and that she (unapologetically) swears a lot — even from the pulpit while preaching.

All of the above is true and part of what makes Bolz-Weber unique among high-profile pastors and so-called “Christian authors.” (I hate that term. The word “Christian” is best used as a noun, not an adjective.)

Sitting Down at Ann Romney's 'Family Table'

by Cathleen Falsani 11-05-2013

Ann Romney holds a copy of her latest book. Photo via RNS/by Josh Morgan, Orange County Register

Ann Romney is a gracious woman.

Such is my first and lasting impression of Mitt Romney’s wife of 44 years and matriarch of a Romney clan that includes the couple’s five sons and more than 20 grandchildren.

When I arrived at a Mormon bookstore on a recent Thursday evening, the line of fans waiting to get Romney’s autograph on her new book, The Romney Family Table: Sharing Home-Cooked Recipes and Favorite Traditions, extended around the block.

No Turning Away, or Back, After Seeing '12 Years a Slave'

by Cathleen Falsani 10-28-2013

'12 Years a Slave' still, Fox Searchlight

Before I saw the new film 12 Years A Slave, I knew nothing about Solomon Northrop or his astounding story of courage, forbearance, and faith.

I’d never heard of Northrop, an African-American freeman, who was born and reared in upstate New York in the early 1800s, well before the abolition of slavery in the rest of the nation. I’d not known of the historical practice of kidnapping freeborn black Americans in the North and selling them into slavery in the South.

I’d never heard about how Northrop, an accomplished violinist, was bamboozled into traveling from his farm in Hebron, N.Y., where he lived a prosperous life with his wife and three children, to Washington, D.C., for work, but was drugged, kidnapped, and sold in Louisiana. I’d never heard how he remained for a dozen years before heroically regaining his freedom in 1853 — one of a very few kidnapped freemen and freewomen ever to regain their freedom.

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