Idol Chatter

Blender magazine has named James Taylor the #1 “wuss” ever. According to the magazine, J.T. is accused of initiating “an era of confessional, listen-to-my-troubles singer/songwriters” and turning “self-examination into a hallmark of the baby-boom generation.”

J.T.? A “wuss”? You’ve got to be kidding me!

James Taylor is about the least wussiest guitar master and stud singer ever. At a time when real wusses followed the crowd and protested, J.T. was original, authentic, and refreshing (“Sweet Baby James,” “Fire and Rain”) even when covering someone else’s tunes (“Up on a Roof,” “You’ve Got a Friend”). While the pop culture honored everyone and everything it could blame for issues and guilt, J.T. wrote and sang with personal responsibility (“I Will Not Life For You,” “Millworker”). When cheesy singers sang cheesier fake love songs, James wrote steamrollin’ lyrics like “I’d like to roll all over you.” When lead singers had to lose their sound in studio effects and headbanging bands, J.T. opened concerts solo with his ax and a plain spotlight; while others donned costumes, J.T. sang in a t-shirt, jeans, and the occasional collared shirt.

In other words, he brought the music–the words and the passion–and not much else. And years later, while the cheesier guys have faded, J.T. is still a musical force and his lyrics have transcended a generation.

I would hope a spiritual person is clear on the difference between a “wuss” and, well, whatever the opposite of a “wuss” is. My #1 vote for the #1 Wuss is the Blender editor who gave J.T. the title. His career, I suspect, will land somewhere between chopped and puree, while J.T. continues to entertain audiences full of non-wusses who gladly pay for the privilege.

While the autobiography of D-list actor turned outspoken skateboarding evangelist Stephen Baldwin is not in Christian bookstores quite yet, one quote from the book–entitled “The Unusual Suspect: My Calling to the New Hardcore Movement of Faith”–is already stirring up controversy and making some of us evangelical types actually wince. In the book, Baldwin criticizes none other than U2 rocker Bono for his efforts to help the impoverished and infirmed in Africa (what this could have to do with Baldwin’s autobiography–you know, about his perssonal life and all–is still unclear to me). Baldwin writes that Bono “would do far more good if you just preached the gospel of Jesus rather than trying to get rid of Third World debt relief.”

For starters, Bono is not trying to get rid of Third World debt relief. Quite the opposite: He is trying to convince governments to provide more Third World debt relief. And while I realize Baldwin is still relatively new to the Christian faith, I would hope someone at the Palau organization, the ministry Baldwin partners with, would have explained to Baldwin that Jesus is just as excited about providing food to the hungry and medicine to the sick as he is about a really cool finger flip on a mini-pipe.

It’s always a struggle to know when to interpret day-to-day events as indications of larger lessons we must learn. It’s also a toss-up to know what to blow-off as something that just “happened” without an enlightened message to walk away with.

These questions all came to a head yesterday when I faced-off with a fortune cookie.

I was set to meet one of my girlfriends for dinner, but when she couldn’t find the restaurant, she sat down at an Asian-inspired pub and ordered a beer, exhausted but happy after her first day on the job as a reporter for Women’s Wear Daily’sMemo Pad.”

I’d arrived by the time she finished her beer, and the waiter brought us the check–and our predetermined fates–couched inside two innocent-looking fortune cookies. Still beaming from the new conditions of her life, my friend opened her cookie with vigor, read the fortune, and started laughing. “The bottom is crowded, there’s plenty of room at the top,” it read. Her interpretation? “I can’t believe I am getting this fortune on the day I started a new job!”

Though I wasn’t planning on opening the second cookie, curiosity got the better of me and, deciding to see what my fabulous fortune might be, I ripped into the plastic, cracked the cookie open and found–emptiness. And not that kind of enlightened emptiness the Buddha talked about. This cookie was just plain empty. Bare. Vacant.

“Oh my God, I am going to cry!” I said to my friend, referring to some guy drama that had been occupying much of my thoughts lately. “Is the fortune cookie telling me my life is empty?!” She quickly chimed in, “I really wouldn’t worry about it. I am sure it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just a fortune cookie.”

Sure, easy for her to say–her cookie (and its eagerly embraced message) promised a quick rise through the professional ranks. Mine promised… nothing. No quick rise or dramatic fall. Nothing. I refused to eat the cookie in an effort not to imbibe its message.

So was this just something that “happened” that I shouldn’t infuse with meaning? After all, I didn’t spend a cent at the restaurant: Did they owe me any glimpse of my future? Or was my fortune-cookie fluke some unwelcome foreshadowing?

France’s soccer captain Zinedine Zidane finally apologized for head-butting Italian defender Marco Materazzi in overtime during the championship match of the 2006 World Cup. (Zidane was kicked out, and Italy went on to win.) And Zidane revealed the gist of what the insult was which provoked the him to ram his head into Materazzi’s chest.

Zidane, appearing on French TV, said Materazzi insulted his mother and sister in the worst possible way: “I would rather have taken a punch in the jaw than have heard that,” Zidane said, adding that “I apologize to all the children” who were watching Sunday’s match.

But Zidane also said he didn’t regret the ugly incident because doing so would’ve meant that “Materazzi was right to say all that.” Materazzi later again denied insulting Zidane’s mother.

So, if you believe Zidane, then it was a “your motha, and your sista” incident. And those can be harsh. I know my brothers on two occasions were ready to beat someone up for insulting me. (They’ll deny it now, but they were ready to do the deed!) But still, was it worth getting kicked out of the World Cup final match at such a crucial moment?

For Zidane, the answer is obvious: It was not worth it to turn the other cheek. But I wish he had more faith, and more love for his teammates, to have held off until the match was over.