Idol Chatter

If you watch the news, read the paper or log onto Beliefnet for news, you’ve heard about Colorado’s Rev. Ted Haggard and his indiscretions. My heart goes out to him, his family, his congregation, and his friends, some of whom I know.

From a media points of view, Rev. Haggard’s news is, well, news. But I don’t think it rises to the level that some in the media–including some of our own–have taken it. One example is David Kuo, who writes a religio-political blog (or is it politigeous blog?) for Beliefnet and has a current book on the New York Times best seller list.

“At the end of the day, this comes down to bringing Jesus into politics,” Kuo writes. “Right now, it’s not Ted Haggard on trial. It’s Jesus. This is about the God he represents. When you make yourself a public figure and you fall, you bring the perception of your God with you.”

While that may be the case personally for David, I categorically disagree with him in terms of the public dialogue about spirituality in our culture–especially how it plays out on TV.

The Bible is full of God’s leaders who’ve failed personally and morally. Hebrews 11 names several Biblical leaders of faith–including Moses, Abraham, Noah, and others whose names you probably recognize but whose sins you may not know of. Their names are thought of in culture as something like God’s “Hall of Fame,” but they all qualify for God’s “Hall of Shame!” Most Christians know that God is the only One who is perfect. The rest of us walk with him–and enter heaven–by faith which starts with His grace.

For David Kuo or anyone to say that somehow Jesus is “on trial” because a religio-public leader has fallen misses the point, I think. Ted Haggard’s story represents a tragic illustration of the spiritual truth that has existed since Adam and Eve: We are all human, we all come up short, we all miss the mark, and we all can be grateful for the grace of God which is greater than our imperfections and shortcomings.

From a media or cultural point of view–and please forgive me if this sounds insensitive–Rev. Haggard’s story is just this week’s piece of the news cycle, which knocked Mr. Kerry and his bad joke out of it and which will be replaced by Tuesday’s elections. Far more important is the fact that Rev. Haggard deserves our prayers as he journeys through recovery and restoration, because the spiritual journey before each of us–and it’s ramifications–will last for eternity. Current events will quickly (and literally) become yesterday’s news.

American Hindus can rejoice that their most important festival, Diwali, has finally gotten a nod from pop culture. Last night on NBC’s “The Office,” chatty Kelly invited her colleagues to a party for Diwali, which she described as a festival that’s “awesome” and “really old.” Bossman Michael’s ostentatious but always off-target political correctness was in full flower: he referred to Kelly as “one of our more ethnic coworkers,” called Diwali “Hindu Halloween,” and presented a slideshow of famous Indians that included Apu from “The Simpsons.” Unsurprisingly, it was the deranged but well-read Dwight who knew the holiday’s actual origins. Michael also passed around hilariously pixelated copies of the Kama Sutra, thrilling Kevin: “This is the best meeting we’ve ever had!”

Michael may be goofy, but it’s tight-lipped Angela who’s truly intolerant. She asks Kelly how many gods Hindus have, and Kelly shrugs, “Oh, hundreds, I think.” At the party, Angela sniffs at the buffet and asks what she can eat, since she’s vegetarian. Told that “it’s all vegetarian,” she wrinkles her nose and says, “I’ll just have some bread.” Angela also guards the shoes in the entryway (Hindus remove their shoes before entering many places) so they won’t be stolen.

After confusing samosas with s’mores (“these s’mores are disgusting”), Michael tactlessly quizzes Kelly’s parents about arranged marriage and sati (the ancient and now forbidden practice of a widow throwing herself on a funeral pyre). A sly dig at Indian culture is the mother’s remark that Michael’s blond girlfriend is “very fair”; Michael agrees she’s “very fair and kind.” Meanwhile, Dwight arrives in proper Indian attire.

The show wraps up with Michael’s hilarious twist on Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song,” which he sings accompanied by Dwight on guitar: “Put on your saris, it’s time to celebrate Diwali…. The goddess of destruction Kali stopped by to celebrate Diwali…. If you’re Indian and you like to party, have a happy, happy, happy, happy Diwali.” Watch it here:

Whether he’s appearing with Oprah to promote his latest fundraising strategy for aid to Africa or meeting with global leaders to convince them to commit more funds to African debt relief, it’s hard to find any negative press surrounding Bono’s indefatigable quest for social justice. Which is one of several excellent points made in an editorial over at Slate magazine, which scrutinizes Bono’s recent decision to relocate U2’s music publishing business from Ireland to the Netherlands in order to receive a bigger tax break.

It seems that there has been backlash against Bono back home in Ireland over the ethics behind the rock star’s attempt to shelter his own wealth while he’s asking the Irish government to give more money to Africa. (Here in th United States there has ben little mention of the controversy.)

So why is it anyone’s business what Bono pays or doesn’t pay in taxes? While some of the details are a little bit complicated, the issue is whether or not it is hypocritical for the most visible crusader in the world on behalf of the impoverished to ask his own country to increase funding for Third World relief when he is deliberately reducing tax payments to that country–payments that could help fund the very aid he’s requesting.

But in an even better question, Slate writer Timothy Noah asks the reader to consider whether or not we as a culture expect so little in the way of accountability from celebrities “that even a wealthy hypocrite who shelters his cash abroad can no longer qualify as news” here in the States.

Each year since 1999, beginning November 1st and ending November 30th, writers all over the United States race to type-type-type away at their laptops, desktops, and (for the old-fashioned) typewriters, to get that novel that’s been rattling around in their heads onto the page in a period of–wait for it–30 days! The goal is this: write 50,000 words (that’s only about 1667 words a day) or approximately 175 manuscript pages (5.8 per day) in a single month–and to do so in the company of tens of thousands of other aspiring novelists (last year there was about 59,000 participants). Nicknamed “NaNoWriMo” or “National Novel Writing Month,” the project self-describes as a kind of spit-it-out, no-holds-barred way of making that novel you’ve always wanted to write a reality:

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved. Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly. Make no mistake: You will be writing a lot of crap. And that’s a good thing. By forcing yourself to write so intensely, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes. To forgo the endless tweaking and editing and just create. To build without tearing down.

But the coolest part of NaNoWriMo is not simply the knock-down-drag-out-of-your-body novel writing method, but the rather astounding community created by the experience–and the ritual of it all. People often regard writing as solitary. Not so during NaNoWriMo–one of its essential ingredients is the fact that you are not alone. Year One, 1999, started off with only 21 writers, and this year they expect participation to top the 75,000 mark. November 1st sees at least one statewide gathering in every state for everyone to come together and see who’s in this with them, share encouragement, ideas, or just have a coffee together. There is at least one, if not more, weekly “Write-In” events where participants gather to simply be in the company of each other while they write, or share the agonies and the ecstasies of it all. There are online forums organized by genre (Romance, Fantasy, Christian Fiction, and even Christian Fantasy Fiction), writing topic (“fact-checkers” and “plot doctors” groups), and the ever-popular “NaNoWriMo Ate My Soul” group for people struggling with writer’s block.

Jamie Gorton is a three-time participant (who already has two novels in his drawer), whose word count had already topped 3,500 by early morning on day two. “I’m trying hard not to liken this to Burning Man,” Gorton told Idol Chatter on a writing break in Vermont. “Because I like writing fantasy fiction, it’s sometimes hard to find a writing community. It’s almost a taboo genre to write in. But when November comes around and you go on the website’s forums and see that the fantasy genre forum is the most active out of all the genres. After a few years you start to recognize other people–you know what aspects of the genre they write in. Most importantly, you know that they are going through the same chaos as you are. It’s all very predictable. The energy of the first week, the creative bust of the second week, and the sheer fatigue of the third and fourth weeks. My fellow participants understand it much better than my non-participating friends would understand it.”

So doing NaNoWriMo is everything but lonely–November could become the most important month on the liturgical calendar for all those “spiritual but not religious” folks out there who also happen to like to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and worship at the altar of the Writing Goddess. And it all ends with a bang, too, with a TGIO gathering on November 30th: Thank Goodness It’s Over!