Cathleen Falsani is a longtime religion journalist, author, and co-host of the podcast, Artist Care and Feeding. You can follow her on Twitter @godgrrl and read more of her work via Look for the Light.

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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.

Top 10 Things I Learned From the Wild Goose

by Cathleen Falsani 06-28-2012
Wild Goose Festival. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

Two young boys playing with glow necklaces during a late-night concert at the Wild Goose. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

1) Tune in. Log off. Let go.

Darting fireflies supplied most of the light that pierced the rural darkness when I arrived at the Wild Goose Festival site on a farm in Shakori Hills, N.C., late last Wednesday night. I left my ballast — a huge duffel bag containing a pup tent and enough bug spray to cover a small village, a suitcase full of mostly tie-dyed clothing, a large computer case and a camera bag — in the 15-person van that had spirited me from the Raleigh-Durham airport to the farm about an hour away.

While I’m not exactly known for packing light when I travel, my unusually cumbersome luggage for the festival contained the various gadgets and gizmos that would allow me to work from my campsite on the farm — live blogging about the festival, complete with video, audio and photos, and the help of four Sojourners interns who were set to arrive Thursday afternoon.

I had barely stepped foot on the campground when I checked my smart phone to see if cell service and the festival’s WiFi were working. They were. Good, I thought. All set to work. It would be a hectic few days covering the festival’s numerous speakers and musical performances, but we’d get it done.

Ah, hubris. Humans make plans. God chuckles and says, “Oh, really?”

The Almighty, it would seem, had better ideas for how I should spend my time at Wild Goose, which takes its name from the Celtic metaphor for the Holy Spirit.

Gifts with Conscience for Dads and Grads

by Cathleen Falsani 06-14-2012
Photo by Tom Wang / Shutterstock.

Photo by Tom Wang / Shutterstock.

Looking for a last-minute gift for Fathers Day or a graduate?

How about doing something for someone else in honor of your loved one?

Give a gift that helps the poorest of the poor feed their families, earn a living, protect themselves from disease or educate their children.

Inside the blog, find several suggestions of unique gifts that keep on giving.

Anne Lamott's Commencement Speech at U.C. Berkely: 'You Are Not Your Bank Account ... You Are Spirit.'

by Cathleen Falsani 06-08-2012
Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images.

Anne Lamott at the 2010 California Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Photo by Araya Diaz/Getty Images.

Author Anne Lamott, one of our favorite Jesus-loving subversives, recently delivered the undergraduate and interdisciplinary studies commencement address at the University of California at Berkeley.

Lamott's funny, irreverent, and yes, profound, words of wisdom for the Berkeley graduates included the following, about what she thinks the "truth of their spiritual identity" might be:

Actually, I don’t have a clue.

I do know you are not what you look like, or how much you weigh, or how you did in school, and whether you get to start a job next Monday or not. Spirit isn’t what you do, it’s … well, again, I don’t actually know. They probably taught this junior year at Goucher. But I know that you feel it best when you’re not doing much — when you’re in nature, when you’ve very quiet, or, paradoxically, listening to music....

The REAL Women of Journalism and Writing: Pulitzer Prize Winners, 2011-2012

by Cathleen Falsani 06-07-2012

In the last two years, 17 women — journalists, photojournalists, novelists, poets and playwrights — were honored with a Pulitzer Prize for their work.

We know from Sandi Villarreal's post, "10 Reasons Why I Don't Know What Century I'm In,"  what some folks' skewed mental image of what a woman journalist or writer is, so we thought we'd show you what a few of the REAL women of journalism and letters actually look like.

Learn more about these accomplished real-life women of letters inside the blog.

 

Blessing of the Artists: What Is Your Gift?

by Cathleen Falsani 06-06-2012

Father O'Gorman blesses the hands of artist Fitz Maurice. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

My eyes locked with those of the priest just as his right hand, gripping the aspergillum, went back (in a wind-up that would impress many baseball enthusiasts) and then forward, sending a shower of water across my face and torso.

While I wiped water from the bridge of my nose, we both laughed and I could see the jolly Irish priest’s arm go back once again as he prepared to douse the people seated in the pew behind mine.

So began the annual Blessing of the Artists in Laguna Beach, the sleepy seaside village where I live in southern California. Blessing the artists is a community tradition that goes back almost 15 years, begun at the behest of the artists themselves. The ritual is held the first week in June, in advance of the opening of the Sawdust Festival and the Festival of the Arts, art exhibitions held here each summer and populated largely by artists and artisans from the town itself.

Chasing the Wild Goose

by Cathleen Falsani 06-01-2012
Every now and again the Spirit arrives with flapping wings and honking, too.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, / calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting / over and over announcing your place / in the family of things.
—From “Wild Geese”
by Mary Oliver

Late June. School’s out. The days are long, their pace slowed—languid and languorous, in the best sense of those descriptors. Could there be a better time to embark on a wild goose chase? I think not.

As luck would have it, just after the summer solstice this June, fans of such adventures—devotees of that sacred, untamable squawking bird—will gather on a farm in North Carolina for a weekend’s worth of music, art, the exchange of ideas, and the pursuit of the Spirit at the (aptly named) Wild Goose Festival.

The fest, a cousin of the U.K.’s venerable Greenbelt festival now in its second year on this side of the pond, takes its name from the Irish An Gé Fiáin (“the wild goose,” pronounced “On Geh Fee-an”), which some folks believe is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit traceable to ancient Celtic Christianity.

The idea (and it is a provocative one) is that rather than a dove, the Holy Spirit is more like one of those big, gray geese—wild, unruly, coming and going as it pleases, announcing its arrival with honking, bluster, and ample attitude.

Deliver Us From Smugness

by Cathleen Falsani 05-31-2012
Condescending peacock. Image by E J Davies/Getty.

Condescending peacock. Image by E J Davies/Getty.

Ah, the life of the church. So many arguments, so little time.

The list of subjects about which the saints disagree is seemingly endless, encompassing both the profound and the woefully mundane.

The ordination of women. The proper role of religion in politics. Climate change. Homosexuality and same-sex unions. Pre-, Post-, or A-millennialism. Biblical translation.  Gender pronouns for God. How best to aid the poorest of the poor. How best to support the sanctity of marriage. Hell. Heaven. Baptism. Which brand of fair-trade coffee to serve in the fellowship hall. The use of “trespass/es” or “debts/debtors” in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Whether to use wafers, pita, home-baked organic wheat, gluten-free or bagels at the communion table. What color to paint the narthex.

It should come as no surprise to most Christians that the world outside the church looking in sees it rife with conflict, bickering, arguments and castigation — of the “unbeliever” and fellow believers alike.

Frankly, it also should come as no surprise to the rest of the world that the church — by virtue of being a community of humans — naturally would have such disagreements and discord.

Graceland, Apartheid and the 'Deep Truth that Artists Speak'

by Cathleen Falsani 05-25-2012

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” ~President John F. Kennedy

Twenty-five years after the release of Paul Simon's Graceland album, the singer-songwriter returned to South Africa to visit the musicians who worked with him on what many believe is his musical masterpiece. A new documentary film, Under African Skies, which premieres tonite (Friday, May 25) on A&E, chronicles Simon's journey and the role that music — and artists — may have played in bringing about the end of apartheid.

This masterful film, which debuted earlier this year to wide acclaim at the Sundance film festival, makes a convincing argument for the important role that artists play in changing the world for the better.

http://youtu.be/JPFESqwh0ks

 

 

Bono to the G8: Transparency, 'We Won't Have Food Security Without It'

by Cathleen Falsani 05-21-2012

Bono addresses the G8 symposiumon food security Friday in Washington, D.C. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

In a room filled with African heads of state, captains of industry, leaders of international development and countless executives from NGOs at the G8 Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security in Washington, D.C. late last week, stood one Irish rock star — Bono, the lead singer of U2 and co-founder of the ONE Campaign.

At first blush (to the uninitiated, perhaps), Bono's presence might seem incongruous, but most of the folks in the room at the Ronald Reagan building a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue know the Irishman more for his tireless humanitarian efforts than his closet full of Grammy awards. For more than 25 years, Bono, 52, has been involved deeply and effectively in international affairs as a champion for the poorest of the poor.

"Can we manage the oil as well as the farmland? Manage it properly, responsibly, transparently?" Bono asked the audience. "Because when we don’t, you know what happens. Hundreds of billions of dollars got lost to oil and gas corruption in Nigeria. That’s what the watchdog groups are telling us. Just mind blowing. Huge numbers.

"Crops need sunlight. So does resource extraction. Both need sunlight’s disinfecting glare. Isn’t transparency the vaccine to prevent the worst disease of them all? Corruption. Everybody here knows that corruption kills more children than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. So that’s what I want to leave you with. That very simple word. That very simple concept. Easy to say. Much harder to realize, especially in law. The word 'transparency.'

"We won’t have food security without it," he said. "But we will have oil riches without it but those riches will be held and hidden by very few hands."

I Am My Mother's Daughter (Thanks Be to God)

by Cathleen Falsani 05-11-2012
Cathleen and Helen Falsani in 1973. Photo courtesy of the author.

Cathleen and Helen Falsani in 1973. Photo courtesy of the author.

“My mother... she is beautiful, softened at the edges and tempered with a spine of steel. I want to grow old and be like her.” ~ Jodi Picoult

When asked to describe my mother, Helen, my usual answer is: Queen Esther in espadrilles and a matching purse.

Esther comes to mind when I think of Mom because she was fiercely loyal, smart, determined, brave and deeply faithful. The sartorial descriptors capture my mother’s somewhat less spiritual side – always put together with a classic sense of style (although these days she leans more toward head-to-toe matching ensembles from Chicos and alligator flats, now that her penchant for wearing pointy-toed heels in the ‘60s and ‘70s have caught up with her poor feet.)

Mom has impeccable style and staggering grace, particularly in the midst of trials and tribulations. She is flinty (think Katharine Hepburn) and has an abiding, deep-in-her-DNA faith [think St. Therese of Liseux.]

Helen is a force with which to be reckoned and woe to you who would make the mistake of messing with anyone she loves.

Justin Bieber Thanks His Mother for Faith, Strength (and Helps Single Moms While He's At It)

by Cathleen Falsani 05-11-2012
Justin Bieber and his mom, Pattie Mallette, in NYC last year. (Getty Images)

Justin Bieber and his mom, Pattie Mallette, in NYC last year. Photo by Getty Images.

You might not be a fan of Justin Bieber, but I'm willing to bet there's at least one young person in your life who is.

And while it may be hard for us adults to believe, young Bieber, the Canadian pop superstar, has brought the Gospel -- of social justice and otherwise -- to millions of fans (who call themselves "Beliebers") around the globe.

Today -- just in time for Mother's Day -- Bieber, 18, released the new single "Turn to You" from his forthcoming album BELIEVE. It's a love song -- a tribute to his mother, Pattie Mallette, who gave birth to her only child when she was just 17 years old. Both Bieber and Mallette are devoted Christians (evangelicals, in fact) and neither is shy about speaking about their faith publicly.

“God is the one that is orchestrating all of this and giving [Justin] such incredible favor,” Mallette said in an interview with the Hollywood Prayer Network last year. “And he knows that it’s for a purpose and a plan. And he’s not sure what all that entails yet and how he fits into that, but he knows that it’s by God’s hand.”

Listen to the new song inside the blog ...

Rob Bell: 'Surrender the Outcomes'

by Cathleen Falsani 05-09-2012

Rob Bell listens to a question from the audience at a conference Tuesday. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

How do you step out and take a risk — as a pastor, as an artist, as a parent, as a person — when the job description of a pioneer or a vanguard comes with the assurance of persecution?

“Surrender the outcomes,” Rob Bell told the audience at his intimate gathering, Two Days with Rob Bell, in Southern California on Tuesday.

“Surrender the outcomes of your presence, your influence, your work, your leadership,” Bell said. “They may drink the coffee. They may not. That’s just how it is. When you come to terms with this, then you’re actually free.

In other words, it’s not about you.

If, as a pastor, parent, or person, if you do what you do because you’re called to do it — without expectations, without needing a particular response, without hitching your wagon of joy to someone else’s reaction (or lack thereof) — you free not only yourself, you liberate others as well.

Bare Feet and Dolphins: Rob Bell's Return

by Cathleen Falsani 05-09-2012
Rob Bell in Southern California Tuesday. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

Rob Bell in Southern California Tuesday. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

“Oh, a dolphin.”

The speaker, dressed in khaki jeans, a blue t-shirt and flip-flops, interrupts his train of thought about spiral dynamics and the church when some movement in the ocean a few hundred yards away on the other side of the beach house’s open briefly catches his attention.

The audience of 50 — mostly 30- and 40-something-year-old pastors, the vast majority of them men, but with at least a few young clergywomen too (a refreshing change from most evangelical gatherings of this kind) — laughs heartily and more than a few attendees crane their necks to try to catch a glimpse of a dorsal fin in the distance.

The sounds of the Pacific crashing on the shore mix with a reggae tune playing on the outdoor stereo of the bar next door as the speaker, a 41-year-old former pastor and bestselling author, resumes his riff on categories of consciousness and the spiritual practice of meeting people exactly where they are.

Rob Bell isn’t in Kansas … I mean Michigan … any more.

QUIRK: Who Knew The Bishop Could Sing? (NT Wright Does Dylan)

by Cathleen Falsani 05-08-2012

On Tuesday, the Rabbit Room in Nashville, Tenn., invited Dr. N.T. Wright to speak to a fairly small gathering. He brought his message in both word and music. Here is, for more than a few in the room last night , the highlight of the evening. Behold, Tom Wright sings Bob Dylan.

Maurice Sendak Has Died

by Cathleen Falsani 05-08-2012
Sendak/Wild Things image via By .Va i ♥ ven. Arp/Wylio.

Sendak/Wild Things image via By .Va i ♥ ven. Arp/Wylio.

“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go - we’ll eat you up - we love you so!”
And Max said, “No!”
The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws, but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.”
~ Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak, the author and illustrator of unmatched and unfettered whimsy, whose fertile imagination gave children (of all ages) Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, Pierre and most recently Bumble-Ardy, died today in Connecticut. He was 83.

http://youtu.be/xXAjkLUv7dY

I Fell in Love with a Nun

by Cathleen Falsani 05-03-2012
Sister Annunziata in Rome in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Cathleen Falsani.

Sister Annunziata in Rome in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of Cathleen Falsani.

This is a love story.

An unlikely love story, perhaps, but a true love story just the same.

Not 10 minutes after meeting her for the first time in the shadow of a 33-foot-tall metallic statue of the Virgin Mary at a convent in the Rust Belt suburbs of Chicago’s south side, Sister Annunziata told me she loved me.

Reaching out an elegant, wizened hand from her wheelchair to touch my cheek, she first asked me whether I was Irish and then said, “You have the face of an angel.”
I was a goner.

Annunziata, who was 83 at the time, had me completely from that moment forward — utterly devoted to her for the rest of her life. I was Annunziata’s and she was mine — and that was that. She became the Maude to my Harold, showing me how to love without limits.

++ Join us in showing our appreciation for Catholic women religious (aka nuns or "sisters") on Thank-a-Nun Day, May 9. Click HERE to send a thank-you note online. ++

 

Top Ten Favorite Celluloid Sisters

by Cathleen Falsani 05-03-2012

++ Join us in showing our appreciation for Catholic women religious (aka nuns or "sisters") on Thank-a-Nun Day, May 9. Click HERE to send a thank-you note online. ++

Silly and serious, strict and kind, profoundly faithful and sometimes hilarious — Catholic nuns are evergreen characters on the big (and the small) screens. Here's a list of some of our favorite portrayals of Catholic women religious from film and television.

1. Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon) in Dead Man Walking

http://youtu.be/ih8z1jMnPbc

2. Mother Abbess (Peggy Wood) in The Sound of Music

http://youtu.be/EoCPuhhE6dw

VIDEO: Obama's Surprise Visit to Afghanistan Tuesday

by Cathleen Falsani 05-01-2012
By MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages

Obama speaks to the U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan today. By MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages

Watch videos of President Obama's surprise visit to Afghanistan today and read the transcript of his address to the American people tonite inside the blog.

"As we move forward, some people will ask why we need a firm timeline. The answer is clear: our goal is not to build a country in America's image, or to eradicate every vestige of the Taliban. These objectives would require many more years, many more dollars, and many more American lives. Our goal is to destroy al Qaeda, and we are on a path to do exactly that. Afghans want to fully assert their sovereignty and build a lasting peace. That requires a clear timeline to wind down the war. Others will ask why we don't leave immediately. That answer is also clear: we must give Afghanistan the opportunity to stabilize. Otherwise, our gains could be lost, and al Qaeda could establish itself once more. And as Commander-in-Chief, I refuse to let that happen.

"I recognize that many Americans are tired of war. As President, nothing is more wrenching than signing a letter to a family of the fallen, or looking in the eyes of a child who will grow up without a mother or father. I will not keep Americans in harm's way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security. But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan, and end this war responsibly."

~ President Obama speaking to the nation from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan