Cathleen Falsani

Cathleen Falsani is a veteran religion journalist and a longtime contributor to Sojourners. She is co-editor of the new book The End of Hunger: Renewed Hope for Feeding the World.

Posts By This Author

Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Tawahedo, and 'Being Made One'

by Cathleen Falsani 10-17-2012

Illuminated book of scripture at Entos Eyesu told said to date to the 7th century. On the right is St. George.

LAKE TANA, Ethiopia — Spirituality imbues every corner of Ethiopian culture, from its music and dance, to its artwork and even its unrivaled rich-as-the-earth coffee. Home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world (having adopted Christianity as its official state religion in the 4th century), the sites and sounds of Christendom were ubiquitous wherever we traveled in country this month.
 

Art and iconography — both ancient and modern — from Ethiopian Orthodoxy (also known as Tawahedo or "being made one" in the Ge'ez language that remains the official language of the Orthodox liturgy here) were ever-present — in shops, restaurants, and hotel lobbies as well as in the myriad churches and monasteries, and the sounds of ancient Christian prayers and the chants of monks filled the air from the capital city of Addis Ababa to the kebeles (or neighborhoods) on the outskirts of Bahir Dar, another major city about 60 km from the Sudanese border.

GGNFT (Ethiopia Edition): Teddy Afro

by Cathleen Falsani 10-12-2012

Teddy Afro in 2009

God Girl's New Favorite Thing for Oct. 12, 2012:
Ethiopian Pop StarTeddy Afro

ADDIS ABABA — Pretty much everywhere we've gone in Ethiopia this week, we've heard Teddy Afro's voice.

The 36-year-old Ethiopian singer whose given name is Tewodros Kassahun or ቴዎድሮስ ካሳሁን in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, is sometimes referred to as the "Michael Jackson of Ethiopia." But, to my ear at least, he's more the equivalent of, say, Ethiopia's Usher (if he were more political, that is.)

Afro's debut album, 2001's Abugida, spawned several hit singles, including "Halie Selassie" (his tribute to the late Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I), and "Haile, Haile," which honored Ethiopian Olympic runner Haile Gebrselassie.

Ethiopia: The Face of God

by Cathleen Falsani 10-11-2012

A girl from the Mary Joy organization in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

BAHIR DAR, Ethiopia — When I posted this photograph of a beautiful little Ethiopian girl holding a daisy a few days ago, my friend and fellow God's Politics blogger Christian Piatt responded on Twitter with a four-word comment:

"The Face of God."

Christian's remark stopped me in my tracks ... because it's absolutely true.

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

by Cathleen Falsani 10-09-2012

One of the mothers from the Mary Joy organization in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

~ Proverbs 31:8-9

ADDIS ABABA — These words of King Solomon have been running through my mind since our ONE Moms delegation — 13 mothers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France — arrived in the Ethiopian capital on Sunday.

I hear these verses as a clarion call to action. As someone who strives humbly to follow the Way of Jesus and be involved in The Work that God is doing in the world, I want to respond and do what these verses command.

And as a believer who also happens to be a mother (a fairly novice one, still learning the ropes, if you will), I must do.

Sunday afternoon, after us ONE Moms dropped our luggage at the hotel, piled into our chartered bus, and drove to the outskirts of the city to the Mary Joy Aid Through Development Association, we met our Ethiopian sisters who are speaking out for those who cannot; who are advocating on behalf of the destitute, judging with righteous wisdom, and defending the rights of the poor and the needy.

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

by Cathleen Falsani 10-06-2012

In 2007, I boarded a plane bound for Africa for the first time.

That trip took me to Kenya, Tanzania, the island of Zanzibar, and Malawi.

And that trip changed me — heart, mind, soul — forever transforming my family and my world.

Today, five years almost to the day since I flew to Nairobi to begin my first African adventure, I'm sitting in the international terminal of Dulles airport in Washington, D.C., waiting to board a 787 Dreamliner bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

An adventure lies ahead. And yet, so much more than that.

I've been to Africa twice now (this is my third visit to continent), and each time the people I've met and experiences I've had on the journey — all of it dripping with a grace so palpable I could almost smell it like so much sandalwood smoke wafting from an incenser — have shaped me and recalibrated my spirit.

I don't know specifically what Ethiopia has in store for me, but I am sure of one thing: The Spirit will be there.

The Pastor's Message

by Cathleen Falsani 10-03-2012
Author Eugene Peterson has a lot to say about being and doing. And about facing life in our forties and beyond.

RECENTLY HAVING REACHED the inauspicious age of 42, no longer a kid but not yet feeling entirely grown up, I find myself in a decidedly reflective mood. I’ve been taking stock—spiritual, emotional, relational, vocational—as I stare with some trepidation at the unchartered future.

Obviously, my experiences of late, while not quite universal, are hardly unique. There are many terms used to describe this time of life, some less generous than others. (“Mid-life crisis” comes to mind.) “Betwixt and between” is how the Scottish anthropologist Victor Turner described folks like me, hunkered down in a “liminal phase”—on the threshold between one chapter of our life story and the next—in a kind of existential limbo. As we wrestle with ambiguity, some of us seek the counsel of wise elders, with the hope that they might steer us in the right direction.

Such was the case at a gathering I attended in New York City earlier this year, where a small(ish) group of young(ish) Christian “influencers”—pastors, writers, artists, and a host of American evangelicalism’s mover-shakers—were invited to two private, daylong sessions with the venerable author and theologian Eugene Peterson.

Best known for The Message—his “para-translation” of the Bible into modern English—Peterson is a scholar and prolific writer, authoring more than 30 books including A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Subversive Spirituality, and (my favorite) Run With the Horses.

Jim Wallis Faces Off With The Woman Behind Anti-Muslim NYC Subway Signs

by Cathleen Falsani 10-01-2012

Maybe you've heard the buzz...

On Sunday, Sojourners' CEO Jim Wallis appeared on WABC-TV's Up Close news program in New York City to debate Pamela Geller of the Freedom Defense Initiative and Stop Islamization of America, who put up ads in NYC subway stations that read, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."

Like many other folks of good faith, we at Sojourners were horrified by the blatantly hate-filled ads. We decided to do something to counter hate and fear with love and affirmation for our Muslim brothers and sisters. Last week, we began raising funds to purchase our own ad campaign in NYC subways with a simple message: "Love your Muslim neighbors."

Their debate got lively.

See for yourself inside the blog ...

GGNFT: The Rend Collective, 'Build Your Kingdom Here'

by Cathleen Falsani 09-27-2012

God Girl's New Favorite Thing for Sept. 27, 2012: Northern Ireland's Rend Collective Experiment

I love music. I love Jesus. And I love all things Irish.

So when a friend introduced me to Rend Collective Experiment last year, chances were pretty good that I'd vibe with this band from the North of Ireland (Bangor, to be specific.)

But ... and this was a BIG but ... my musical proclivities, while decidedly ecclectic, generally steer clear of contemporary Christian worship music (especially if it's billed as such.) When it comes to having a musical worship experience, give me Chris Martin and his bandmates, or those other four greying boyos from a little farther south in the Republic of Ireland.

Without putting too fine a point on it, Rend Collective are very much a contemporary Christian worship band. But they aren't what you're thinking.

Neither painfully earnest nor woefully twee. They're fun and funky — earthy, too, in a grab-your-banjo-and-trilby-hat kind of a way.

QUIRK: How to Speak Northern Irish (Apparently)

by Cathleen Falsani 09-27-2012

"High nigh br-eye-n, K-eye"? Come again? Rend Collective and Bart Millard (of the band MercyMe) give us a lesson in how to speak Northern Irish.

http://youtu.be/-S9R6CspOvs

Eleven Songs in Memory of Sept. 11, 2001

by Cathleen Falsani 09-11-2012

Eleven songs in memory of 9/11 from Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, Suzanne Vega, Moby and Sinead O'Connor, Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris, Leonard Cohen, Tori Amos, John Hiatt, U2, and Hunter Parrish (from 2012's Broadway revival of "Godspell").

New Music Friday: Aug. 31, 2012

by Cathleen Falsani 08-31-2012

New music from Ry Cooder, Bob Dylan, The Avett Brothers, Dave Matthews Band, Kathy Mattea, and David Byrne & St. Vincent.

New Music Friday: Aug. 17, 2012

by Cathleen Falsani 08-17-2012

New music from Rufus Wainwright, World Party, Beth Orton, Glen Hansard, Alanis Morissette, and the wonderful new Anglo-Ugandan singer songwriter Michael Kiwanuka.

New Music Fridays: August 10, 2012

by Cathleen Falsani 08-10-2012

New music from :

  • Mary Chapin Carpenter (with James Taylor),
     
  • Sixpence None the Richer,
     
  • Matisyahu,
     
  • Old Crow Medicine Show,
     
  • The Avett Brothers,
     
  • and Band of Horses.

New Mumford & Sons: 'I Will Wait'

by Cathleen Falsani 08-08-2012
Babel — the forthcoming album from Mumford & Sons.

Babel — the forthcoming album from Mumford & Sons.

Rarely — frankly never before, if my memory is correct — have I literally burst into tears upon hearing a song for the first time. But that is exactly what happened when I listened to Mumford & Sons' new single, "I Will Wait," this morning.

This summer has been a difficult season for my family of origin. My parents are getting older and facing physical challenges that are testing all of our resolve and the core of our spirits. I've been away from my own family in California for a month — the longest I've ever been apart from my son. And it has been ... the word "hard" doesn't quite capture the feeling. Soul wrenching is closer.

In the midst of a roiling sea of emotions, I'm clinging to faith like a life raft, while at the same time wondering desperately what God's up to in all of this tsouris, as my rabbi friend might say.

Perhaps that's why "I Will Wait" put a lump in my throat and filled my weary eyes with hot tears. The author Frederick Buechner says that we should pay careful attention to the things that bring about such reactions, because they are signs that the holy is drawing nigh.

Muslim Women Olympians: 'This Is Legacy'

by Cathleen Falsani 08-02-2012

Dozens of Muslim women are competing at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London — several of them as the very first female athletes chosen (and allowed) to represent their countries in the Olympic games.

These women are vanguards, shattering stereotypes, subverting cultural-religious mores, and creating a legacy that will benefit female Olympians of all creeds for years to come.

As has been widely reported and celebrated (in many quarters), Saudi Arabia sent two women athletes to represent the Arabic nation for the first time at the Olympic games — 16-year-old judoka (judo competitor) Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani and 800-meter runner Sarah Attar, 19.

Attar, who is a California-born American but holds dual-citizenship in the Arabian kingdom because her father is Saudi, trains in San Diego, not far from Pepperdine University where she is a junior art major and also runs on the university's track team.

Shahrkhani, whose father is a judo coach and an international referee in the sport, won a dispute with Olympics officials earlier this week to be allowed to compete while wearing her hijab or traditional head covering worn by many observant Muslim women.

Saudi Arabia is not the only majority Muslim country sending its first women competitors to the Olympics. Brunei and Qatar also followed suit, sending five female athletes in total. Runner Maziah Mahusin is the lone woman on Brunei's three-person Olympic team. Qatar's four women Olympians are swimmer Nada Mohammed WS Arakji, sprinter Noor Hussain Al-Malki, table tennis player Aia Mohamed, and air rifle competitor Bahia Al-Hamad.

Both Mahusin and Al-Hamad were chosen as flag bearers for their nations at the opening ceremonies in London last week. Twelve majority Muslim countries — Tajikistan, Qatar, Morocco, Indonesia, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Djibouti, Comoros, Brunei, Bahrain, and Albania — chose women as flag bearers at the opening ceremonies that were viewed by an estimated 1 billion people worldwide.

My Sabbath

by Cathleen Falsani 08-01-2012
The spiritual connection between the slow rhythm of August and the Sabbath
The author during her first August in the Hamptons, 1971.

The author during her first August in the Hamptons, 1971.

All our life should be a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the thought and appreciation of what this day may bring to us should be ever present in our minds. For the Sabbath is the counterpoint of living; the melody sustained throughout all agitations and vicissitudes which menace our conscience; our awareness of God’s presence in the world.
—Abraham Joshua Heschel
The Sabbath

IF THE SEVENTH day is the Sabbath of my week, August is the Sabbath of my year. For most of my life, August has meant vacation. As a child, my parents would pack my brother and me into the station wagon, head to the ferry dock on the Connecticut side of Long Island Sound, and float across the water to the Hamptons, where my mother’s best friend, Patti, lived.

August meant long days in the sun at the beach and long dinners around Patti’s table with fresh zucchini, snap peas, tomatoes, and corn from the farm stand down the road. Some days—some of the most magical of my childhood—before dinner, Patti would hand me a little metal bucket and lead me across her gravel road to a bramble-laden field where we’d pick blueberries.

Nearly 40 years on, the muscle-memories I have of plucking those indigo gems from their prickly rests have not faded a bit. While I usually collect my blueberries these days from Trader Joe’s, I still pick through the berries as Patti taught me to, looking for the few errant green stems left behind by the processing plant.

The Age of Innocence: Wes Anderson's 'Moonrise Kingdom'

by Cathleen Falsani 07-22-2012
 Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) in "Moonrise Kingdom."

Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) try to find their way in "Moonrise Kingdom," the new film from director Wes Anderson

I liked this film so much I've already seen it twice. Moonrise Kingdom is so good, in fact, I almost couldn't bring myself to write about it for fear of not doing it justice.

And yet, since I first took my 11-year-old nephew, Ethan, to see it last month, I've been talking about Moonrise Kingdom nonstop, encouraging everyone I know to go see it. It has captured my imagination completely, an absolute tour de force — wholly original and an "instant classic," as I heard one film critic utter tell a companion on his way out of the theater.

Perhaps Ethan, a mythology buff who's never met a fantasy film he didn't like, put it most eloquently when he said (surprising no one more than himself), "That was the best film I've ever seen."

Moonrise Kingdom is director Wes Anderson's seventh feature-length film to date. In an iconoclastic cinematic oeuvre unrivaled among filmmakers of his generation, Anderson's latest stands above the rest of his stellar films — Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Darjeeling Limited — as an eloquent, funny, enduringly poignant homage to childhood and, moreover, to innocence.

In a word, the film is perfect. I wouldn't change a thing.

16 Christian Leaders and Their Cartoon Counterparts

by Cathleen Falsani 07-16-2012

 

So, you've seen Politicians Who Look Like Disney Characters.

Maybe you've perused Celebrities Who Look Like Historical People and already wasted some time checking out Cats That Look Like Hitler, Men Who Look Like Kenny Rogers or Pugs That Look Like Things.

Today it's our great pleasure to bring you 16 Christian Leaders and Their Cartoon Counterparts, including our buddy Brian McLaren (over there with Turtleman from Finding Nemo), Rick Warren, Rachel Held Evans, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Rob Bell, God's Politics contributor Shane Claiborne, Pope Benedict XVI, our very own Sojourners Chief Executive Awesomeness Jim Wallis ... and many more.

You're welcome.

Theophony: A Theremin, a Yurt and a Band of Holy Fools

by Cathleen Falsani 07-06-2012
Theremin, Yurt, Holy Fool, Burning Man. Collage by Cathleen Falsani.

Theremin, Yurt, Holy Fool, Burning Man. Collage by Cathleen Falsani.

Last year, Phil Wyman, pastor of The Gathering church in Salem, Mass., trekked across the country with five adventurous friends to Burning Man — a week-long event described by its attendees as "an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance" in the Black Rock desert of Nevada.

At the 2011 Burning Man, Wyman and his merry band of "crazy friends" built an art installation called "The Pillars of the Saints" — three meditation towers constructed of wood in the desert, asked people to sit on top of them, listen for a voice (presumably of the Holy), and write what they heard on the walls of the pillars.

This year, Wyman (who you might recognize from photos at the Wild Goose Festival last month where he played the "Holy Fool" in a Sunday morning worship service),  has invited more than 15 friends to join him in the Nevada desert at the end of August for Burning Man 2012 where the group plans to build another art installation — this one even more ambitious and whimsical than the last.

Wyman & Co., have christened it "Theophony: The Mighty Interactive Faux Theremin." It involves an enormous, specially-built  theremin placed at the center of a 32-foot canvas-and-wood yurt, with walls comprised of a series of 22 four-by-eight-foot murals with themes reflecting the "success and failures of spiritual pursuit."

"The particpant will feel a sense of dissonance while trying to 'play' the theremin," in tune with the chants and ambient music piped through the yurt, Wyman explains. The idea of Theophony is "to illustrate that spiritual pursuit is a discipline, but that even the imperfect attempt is both holy and fun."

The Paddle Out: Will the Circle Be Unbroken

by Cathleen Falsani 07-05-2012
The paddle out for Mark Metherell, July 4, 2012. Photo by Carey Shyres.

The paddle out for Mark Metherell, July 4, 2012. Photo by Carey Shyres.

The first wave wrenched the board loose from my fingertips, sending it crashing into my knee and knocking me off my feet.

“You OK, Cath?” I heard someone call from behind me.

“Not really!” I hollered, as someone reached around me to steady the huge stand-up paddle board while I struggled to regain my footing in the icy-cold waters of the Pacific.

My friends, experienced surfers Joel and Rob, appeared at my side, holding onto the board and gently coaching me to wait for the next set of waves to pass before attempting to paddle out toward Second Reef, several hundred yards beyond the shore break.

“You got it?” Rob said, “OK. You’re good to go!”

Gripping the long-handled paddle in one hand, I foisted myself forward (if with less grace than I had hoped) onto the board, while Joel pushed it forward into the momentarily glassy sea between sets.