Australian-American actress Nicole Kidman’s acknowledgment earlier this week in a Vanity Fair cover story that she’s often “teased” for her Christian faith garnered worldwide headlines, a curious response which reflects either sympathy or ignorance – or maybe a bit of both from members of the press.
Ms. Kidman, who is Catholic and married to country music star Keith Urban, underwent a relatively recent conversion/renewal of faith, returning to the religious roots of her childhood.
“I was raised praying, so that had a massive impact,” she said. Years earlier, the popular actress had even once considered joining a convent and becoming a nun. I’m not able to know or evaluate everything she believes, but media reports communicate a personal earnestness. Today, Mass attendance as a family is a priority for Kidman and Urban.
Kidman’s comments about her faith set off bells in the media because reporters are apparently shocked that she goes to church. It’s been my experience that much of the press who cover religion or religious people are fairly unfamiliar with both, often lumping us all together in unflattering fashion.
Few of us like to be teased because of our deeply held religious beliefs, but my sympathies lie not so much with Kidman for enduring flak for her faith – but more with those who needle her for having it.
That’s because behind even the mild mockery is often misery – and an endless search for meaning. Sadly, we all too often tear someone down in order to lift ourselves up.
By “teasing” I assume she means good-natured ribbing, the type that close friends regularly engage in. As it is, I suspect many of those who jab and joke are either jealous or at least intrigued by Kidman’s convictions. After all, as the old saying goes, “Many a truth is spoken in jest.”
To be fair, though, I don’t necessarily blame irreligious people for thinking people of faith can be strange. Compared to them, we are an odd breed, often voluntarily living countercultural lives.
The conventional wisdom suggests Hollywood is a hotbed for heathens, a secular sanctuary filled with people either of no faith or at the least, faith that’s shallow and weak. It’s true that church attendance may be higher in the heartland than in Hollywood, but there is still a universal spiritual longing in all of us that knows neither profession nor geographic boundary.
It was the 17th-century scientist, philosopher and theologian Blaise Pascal who once wisely observed, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”
The fact of the matter is that the hearts of those on the West Coast are similar to those on the East – and everywhere in between.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, all of us long for that divine connection, a supernatural security that nobody can take from us. Yet, we regularly struggle with the things of this world, chasing for that which temporarily pleases but never lasts.
Somebody once suggested that if you really want to know how rich you are, add up all the things that money can’t buy and all the things that death can’t take away.
Kidman returned to the foundations of her childhood faith because she was dissatisfied with the outcome of that equation - and she longed for something all the fame and fortune could never fulfill. In her previous marriage to actor Tom Cruise she had even dabbled in Scientology but never embraced it. Strong differences of belief over that season and ideology have been the source of great tension between Cruise and the couple’s children.
It’s good that Nicole Kidman can laugh off the teasing of her friends, but as someone who believes each person’s eternal destiny is at stake around such issues, the teasers’ lack of faith is no laughing matter. In the end, the solution is not simply less teasing and a greater tolerance for people of the Christian faith – but a serious personal pursuit of ultimate meaning and truth.
The late Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist/psychologist and Holocaust survivor, famously observed that, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear almost any ‘how’.”
In the end, it’s the answer to that “why” question, a belief and conviction that we’re here to serve rather than be served that lies at the heart of personal contentment and an ability to shake off ridicule and criticism that may come our way.
When it comes to the way forward for anyone in search of meaning and mission, it was Saint Augustine of Hippo, a theologian of the early Christian Church, who may have put it best when he wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”