- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2007

In the modern-day world of celebrity, religion often seems reduced to a commodity. A fashionable trend that can be bought into and discarded as easily as a red string Kabbalah bracelet or a designer yoga mat bag. A choice that has more to do with accessorizing than the afterlife.

Not that this should come as any surprise. Celebrities today have much on their plates. Between rehab stints, divorce proceedings, corporeal enhancement, criminal trials, the pesky paperwork generated by foreign adoption agencies, jail sentences and reducing carbon footprints — who has time for a spiritual practice?

For those who’ve lost their faith in the famous, however, there is a light: A few young film and music industry notables are showing that it’s possible to walk a religiously righteous path, even when it cuts through territory riddled with temptation.

It’s no cakewalk, but for faith-fame tightrope walkers like Mormon actor Jon Heder, Hasidic reggae artist Matisyahu, Muslim MC Lupe Fiasco and members of the Christian pop-punk band Relient K, to name a few, it’s the only route they know.

To one side of them are the skeptics, who may scorn their traditional beliefs and question their seemingly restrictive lifestyles.

To the other side are fundamentalists, for whom these stars will never be pious enough.

Ahead lies the financial compensation that typically awaits successful, talented artists — as well as gifts on a higher order, which might include the joy of bringing happiness to others and the fulfillment that comes from finding and following one’s God-given purpose.

What many of those engaged in this balancing act have found, however, is that staying the course requires putting blinders on. It’s all about tuning out the naysayers and the temptresses and developing core strength: a solid set of guiding principles and a firm sense of self.

The process and results vary for each individual.

Mr. Heder, for example, has had to find his footing in a hurry. Just three years ago he exploded into the film industry and popular culture as the nerdy title character of “Napoleon Dynamite,” a film written and directed by two of his classmates at the Mormon-affiliated Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. Since then, Hollywood’s kept a-knocking, and it’ll likely continue to do so thanks to his appearance as Will Ferrell’s skating partner in this year’s smash-hit comedy “Blades of Glory.”

“My whole life has changed,” he says while sitting in a luxe Honolulu hotel room giving interviews for his latest project, the animated film “Surf’s Up.”

“My religion’s a big part of my life, and it’s not that I always knew I was going to get into the film business, but I always knew I was going to be faithful to my religion,” he says. “Getting into this, it’s just one step at a time.”

Figuring out how to reconcile his career and his values has been a very personal process for the actor, who’s married and just had a baby. In the Mormon religion “there’s no guidebook about ‘in case you become famous,’ ” he observes. Instead, the faith offers general “guidelines” for life and “whatever career you do, it’s up to you how to interpret it.”

Gray areas that require careful consideration, like the homosexual undertones in “Blades of Glory” and the stoner-esque quality of the laid-back surfing chicken he voices in “Surf’s Up” — both decidedly un-Mormon themes — do arise. The films earned his stamp of approval in the end, though, because Mr. Heder thought they told good, high-quality stories — and he made sure they contained no explicit references to taboo topics.

Other things clearly fall on the far side of a line that Mr. Heder won’t ever cross, regardless of the paycheck: He doesn’t drink, smoke or ingest caffeine, and he’ll 86 any script that casts him as someone who does drugs, curses or has a sex scene.

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