Idol Chatter

“I’m sick to death of Jesus. I feel that Jesus and Paris Hilton are both overexposed.” Loud and obnoxious statements like that should offend my Midwestern evangelical sensibilities just enough to make me want to rant about Kathy Griffin, the pseudo-celebrity and stand-up comedienne who these days expresses her snarky “militant atheist” views on her reality series “My Life on the D List.” But I can’t quite bring myself to do that. Even if I am not a big fan of every word that comes out of her mouth, I thoroughly enjoy her show, which recently returned for a second season on Tuesday nights. I’ve decided to give her a new title to add to her “D list” standing–my favorite celebrity atheist. (And we here at Idol Chatter think everyone should have a favorite atheist.)

Griffin has carved her comedy club career by riffing on the foibles of A-list celebrities, but her reality series is more about poking fun at the flaws in her own nature. While all reality shows may be edited to death in post-production for maximum dramatic impact, I still can’t help but admire the way Griffin–who executive-produces her show–allows some of her most vulnerable and unattractive moments to play out on the camera. When Jay Leno makes a cheap joke about her looks when she appears on “The Tonight Show,” she lets the cameras follow her offstage ,where we see her burst into tears. When she makes a crude joke at movie star Renee Zelleweger’s expense only to have Zelleweger shower Griffin with dozens of roses in response, Griffin turns the entire episode into a mea culpa to Zelleweger for taking the moral low road in her act–again.

But it is her generosity and loyality that I find most endearing. Her unflagging work for charity was around long before her show came to TV–instead of wedding gifts she aseked her guests to donate to charity instead, for example. No stunt for charity is too crazy, as viewers find out when Griffin ebays a weekend at her house to a complete stranger just to raise some money for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. And even though she is vehemently opposed to the war in Iraq, Griffin goes on a stand-up tour into some of the most dangerous parts of Iraq to entertain the troops–places where other celebrities have never performed. She is also unabashedly emotional when she talks about how much she loves her (now former) husband, Matt, and her desire for them to stay reconciled after they filed for divorce last year. (So far, so good.)

To be perfectly honest, part of me wants to be a just a little more like Kathy Griffin. I could stand to learn to be a little more transparent about my emotions, a little more outspoken in the face of injustice, and a little more honest when I screw up. In return for what I have gained from watching Griffin, maybe next season she’d let me help her do a little work on re-thinking that whole existence of God thing.

Superman is back, and not a moment too soon. The world is falling apart, and now even Lex Luthor is being let out of jail. Does the world need a savior? That’s a question pondered by the characters of the exciting new “Superman Returns.” But can there be any doubt that it does?

The first new Superman movie in 19 years, “Superman Returns” is a worthy successor to the iconic 1978 original “Superman: The Movie” (forget its three increasingly bad sequels). Director Bryan Singer hits all the right notes here in honoring the look and feel of that movie–literally, when it comes to the score, which borrows heavily from its predecessor–while successfully making an original, relevant film that avoids any taint of mere literal-minded homage.

This is not a Superman of the ironic and cynical, in the way that many superhero movies have been lately; the Man of Steel in 2006 is still a man who struts around, unabashed, in a red cape and blue body suit with a big ‘S’ on it. And yet, he’s also not the same stoic, don’t-show-your-weakness 1950s father figure of the past.

Singer spares us any extended explorations of Superman’s dark past or troubled psyche, and there are no moments when he hangs up his cape to go find himself in Tibet. But those moments of despair, longing, and doubt are there, all the more powerful for the fact that they’re hinted at and alluded to rather than tackled head on. How can they not be there? In “Superman Returns,” our hero comes back to Earth after five years away, during which he confirmed that, with his home planet of Krypton destroyed, he is indeed the only survivor; once back, he finds that the love of his life, Lois Lane, has moved on and is engaged to someone else. Sitting in a bar as Clark Kent, brooding over a beer, he hears of a tragedy in progress–innocent civilians imperiled, and one of them is none other than Lois herself. After the briefest moment of hesitation, he snaps into action, of course. Does he do it for love or altruism? In this case, it doesn’t matter.

I’ll leave it to others to explore the Christ parallels in this film–suffice it to say they’re there in force–but I was struck by a very different side of it. Yes, the Man of Steel is the powerful other-worldly superhero, come to defend truth and justice. But this Superman film makes clear that it’s not a one-man show. Superman has his vulnerabilities–physical and spiritual–while conversely and more importantly, the world is saved by a lot of people reaching deep inside themselves to find their own inner superman, the spark of moral and physical greatness that they didn’t know was within them. It is only then that salvation truly comes. Call it the Gnostic Superman.

None of this is entirely new to “Superman Returns”–little can be fully new in a story told and retold for almost 80 years–but it is an exciting, fresh, and refreshing take, one that is true to the spirit of Superman while also presenting us all with a unique challenge for today: Don’t look to the heavens for anything more than a bird or a plane; look inside yourself for Superman.

So how was Nicole Kidman able to wed Keith Urban in a Catholic church?

Kidman, baptized and raised Catholic, is one of the most famous divorcees in filmdom these days, her 1990 marriage to fellow actor and former Catholic Tom Cruise having collapsed in 2001. In the Catholic Church, marriage is for life, no matter what a civil divorce court might rule, unless the couple can obtain an annulment from a Catholic marriage tribunal, a process that typically takes several years. Kidman and country singer Urban announced their engagement only two months before their wedding ceremony, which was performed by a Catholic priest last weekend at the Cardinal Cerretti Chapel in Kidman’s native Sydney, Australia.

Here is the lucky break that enabled the couple to proceed speedily to the altar despite Kidman’s divorce: Her marriage to Cruise took place in a Church of Scientology ceremony (both were practicing Scientologists back then, and Cruise still is).

The Catholic Church requires its members to be married by a Catholic priest in a Catholic sacramental ceremony, so the Cruise-Kidman marriage was what the church calls “invalid as to form.” Proving a defect of form is relatively easy. The rules of diocesan marriage tribunals vary, but typically, the Catholic party or parties simply have to file copies of their baptismal certificates along with their marriage certificate (which would show who performed the ceremony) and a copy of their divorce decree. The process takes at most a couple of months–after which the marriage is declared null and void.

Thus, in the eyes of the church, Kidman, who returned to her childhood Catholic faith after her divorce from Cruise, has been married only once: to Keith Urban.

One of the many reasons summer is my favorite time of year is the fact that while enjoying the view of Lake Michigan, I can also catch up on my reading. Yes, with re-runs on TV and little at the box office to grab my interest lately, it’s time to turn the pages of some books that have been sitting on my nightstand for months. I chose all of my beach-lounging choices because they discuss the intersection of real life, faith, and/or pop culture from a smart and fresh perspective.

(If any Idol Chatter readers want to add some suggestions to my summer reading list, feel free to leave them in the comments box below!)

1. “Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through The Eyes Of Actors“: If you want to know what celebs like Liam Neeson, Kristin Chenoweth, and others really think about God , this book is an inspiring read. Author and journalist Rett Blaney does an amazing job of discussing the spiritual significance of mixing faith and art in some intriguing discussions with some A-list stars.

2. “The God Factor“: This book is another series of interviews that examines the spiritual lives of public people from politicians, sports stars and actors. A variety of faiths and cultural backgrounds are represented in this book as the journalist Cathleen Falsani. Interviews an eclectic group from Muslim basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon, novelist Anne Rice, and musicians Annie Lennox and Melissa Etheridge. (You can read an excerpt of it here.)

3. “Faith & The City“: If you’re a twentysomething who’s still making those tricky transitions into full-blown adulthood–like moving into your first apartment or searching for the career path that will make you happy–you will be able to identify with this “chick lit”-style book. While not quite as amusing as Bridget Jones or Carrie Bradshaw, Jennifer Ruisch’s memoir about her life in Chicago after college is a fun, fast read that covers everything from sex to faith to the spiritual desire for lots and lots of donuts. (You’ll have to read the book to understand that last part).