Idol Chatter

The question used to be, can a Jesus band ever not sing about Jesus? These days, the question, asked by The Denver Post’s Ricardo Baca, has become: Can a band sing about Jesus without being called a Jesus band?

Baca sympathizes with Michael Nau, lead singer for Maryland soft rockers Page France, who says he’s tired of the presumption that he’s preaching. The group’s new album does have songs titled “Jesus” and “Bush” (as in “burning”) but they are hardly an altar call. “Jesus will come through the ground, so dirty / With worms in his hair and a hand so sturdy,” Nau sings on “Jesus.” If Sabbath growled those lyrics, no one would think twice.

As Hanna Rosin points out in a round-up of recent books about Christian kids on Slate, evangelicals no longer demand a clean-cut Christian decorum from its youth culture. Neither, increasingly does the broader audience. Sufjan Stevens, Pedro the Lion’s Dave Bazan, and other rockers-who-are Christian may get pigeonholed, but it matters less and less to anyone.

But we’re still in transition. In the same piece, Baca quotes Andrew Beaujon, author of “Body Piercing Saved My Life,” about modern Christian rockers, who says, “It’s a really big choice for a lot of Christian musicians: Are we a Christian band or are we Christians in a band.” But artists like Nau are giving the lie to statements like that. The only real question anymore is: Are they good?

When I was younger, I had heard tell of the Golem, but only truly became acquainted with the legend thanks to the “Kaddish” episode of “The X-Files,” in which the legendary clay monster of Jewish folklore is brought forth to revenge a hate crime in modern day Brooklyn. Now, the Golem’s back on FOX and this time he’s more nebbish than nightmare. The second of the three stories that make up this year’s “Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror XVII” was a bit of a monster mash, marrying the Golem story with the “Bride of Frankenstein.”

Trying to return his Krusty the Clown Alarm Clock that squirts acid, Bart stumbles upon the Golem in Krusty’s prop room. The ersatz entertainer goes on to tell Bart of the tale of Rabbi Loew, the “legendary defender of the Jewish people,” who created the Golem to defend his Jewish community. “Like Alan Dershowitz,” says Krusty, “but with a conscience.” Of course Bart can’t resist temptation, feeds the Golem a scroll with orders–the monster’s method of motivation–and forces him to do his bidding: Think Bart’s usual bag of tricks on principal Skinner.

However, Lisa feeds her own scroll to the monolithic monster, giving him the freedom of speech. And, oy, does he ever speak! Voiced by comedian Richard Lewis, Golem goes on to introduce the Simpson family to Jewish humor and its stereotypical neuroses (“I mangled and maimed 37 people, and I told a telemarketer I was busy when I wasn’t!”). They might as well have named him Woody Golem. In order to shut the monster up, Marge creates a “Girlem” out of blue Play-Doh. Girlem is, naturally, voiced by Fran Drescher, whose nasal delivery has never been more perfectly grating. And while Homer decides that they need to go back to the drawing board, as Girlem spouts bad Borscht Belt comedian jokes, Golem is smitten, and the pair head to the chuppah.

As “Treehouses of Horror” stories go, this entry was middling. While the voices of Lewis and Drescher were perfect, the story just didn’t go anywhere. But it’s nice to know that the FOX network has introduced yet another generation to an enduring Jewish folk tale.

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: