There are two kinds of people whose weddings, newborns, and other life milestones you’re familiar with down to the tiniest detail: relatives and celebrities. The North American media earnestly—and relentlessly—keeps us informed of Britney Spears’ marriage as well as Brad and Angelina’s baby. Many North Americans follow with fascination.
This is not exactly new; back in the 1930s, the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby became the biggest media circus of its era. But now television and the Internet have elevated celebrities to a new pantheon in North American culture.
Perhaps it was inevitable that celebrities would start to assume the role of moral authorities in our culture, as trust in clergy and politicians wanes. Cathleen Falsani’s new collection of spiritual profiles of celebrities—The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux)—has everyone from Bono to Barack Obama pontificating on matters transcendent.
This eclectic assembly turns out to be mostly a chorus of monotonous sentimentality, along with some laughably dubious sermons: Playboy founder Hugh Heffner tells Falsani, “I’m a pretty moral guy,” and self-described “life coach” Iyanla Vinzant blathers, “When I say Christ, I mean the highest, the most authentic self present in everybody.”
But the Christian version of this budding genre is little better. Jon Hanna’s Faces of Faith: Powerful Truths for Victorious Living (Bridge-Logos) features such theologians as model Kathy Ireland and “Access Hollywood” host Nancy O’Dell, who do little more than slap a “Christian” label on self-help bromides and pass it off as spiritual guidance.
Whether labeled Christian or not, these books tend to treat celebrity spirituality the same way as celebrity diets: eat like a celebrity, pray like a celebrity, succeed like a celebrity. North America’s coronation of celebrities as our cultural priests is nearly complete.
Television and the Internet have elevated celebrities to a new pantheon in North American culture.
Digging to America
by Anne Tylerreviewed by Sandy Swartzentruber
The all-American Donaldsons and the Iranian immigrant Yazdans have little in common. But after they meet at an airport while welcoming their adopted Korean daughters, Jin-Ho and Susan, an unusual and often uneasy friendship forms between the two extended families. Navigating that friendship proves to be tricky, as they find themselves both drawn to and repelled by each others’ cultures, customs, and personalities. Initially, Jin-Ho and Susan are the glue that holds them all together, but gradually the families’ hearts begin intertwining. Tyler, a keen dissector of individual human nature, explores the struggle to coexist with and love people whose ways sometimes offend us. (Knopf)
reviewed by Ray Wiersma
Specifically geared to college students, TrueU.org refers to itself as “a community for students who want to know and confidently discuss the Christian worldview.” Through an extensive list of articles, writers explore the biblical worldview as it relates to issues students face every day on college campuses. As part of a student outreach ministry from Focus on the Family, TrueU tackles everything from discussing your faith with your dorm roommate to communicating effectively with the opposite sex. By entering the TrueU Coffee Shop, students can share their own reflections while participating in online discussions about issues presented on the site.
by Neil Youngreviewed by Mike Buma
When Neil Young was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm last March, he rushed to the recording studio rather than to a potentially life-saving operation. Prairie Wind is the result of those sessions, and, not surprisingly, reflects Young’s heightened awareness of mortality during this time. Prairie Wind is a return to country-inspired folk, playing like a musical memoir in which Young reflects on the things that have been most important to him: family, friends, the prairies, music, and God. By celebrating simplicity, honesty, and compassion, and by urging respect for nature, Prairie Wind challenges a society gone wrong to shape up, live right, and make the most of every single moment in this transitory world. (Reprise)
Sweet Freedom: Breaking the Bondage of Maurice Carter
by Doug Tjapkesreviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema
Banner readers may remember Carolyn Yost’s October 2000 article, “Church Members Work to Free Prisoner,” written about Maurice Carter. Wrongfully convicted of shooting a white police officer, the African American man languished in prison for nearly 30 years. Broadcast journalist and church organ salesman Doug Tjapkes, along with a growing band of supporters, advocated for his release. They finally succeeded three months before he died. Sweet Freedom narrates the gripping story of obstacles overcome and an unlikely friendship born and nurtured through adversity’s crucible. Especially inspiring is the depiction of Carter’s character—a man who “became more Christlike as time moved on.” (FaithWalk)
reviewed by Ron VandenBurg
Google the word “Redzee” and meet the newest search engine. Touting itself as the most child-friendly search site on the Internet, Redzee.com filters out pornographic results while delivering accurate, relevant searches. Using Redzee gives parents more peace of mind while their children are browsing the Net, since Redzee won’t respond to any sexually explicit search inquiry or deliver any sexually explicit content. For example, students researching “breast cancer” would not come across any compromising images or content by mistake. After a child does a search, Redzeepedia defines an inquiry and gives a number of keywords that expands or narrows a search.