Fair warning - this will be a long post. I have a lot on my mind and I am going to dump it here, all in one spot, in the hope that there will be some thread running through the jumble, some fiber that gives cohesion to the lump. So, if you've no stomach for a long ramble, you may wish to move on.
Thursday was a day that many will remember for a while because two famous people died. Here in the USA, when famous people die, we all get into the act as if we were somehow personally affected by the life and times and demise of the deceased celebrity. This is balderdash of course, but that doesn't stop us from searching for a roller coaster that our emotions can ride, while we lament the passing of someone we have no actual emotional connection to.
Why do we do this? If there is no connection to the deceased, why do we pine and stare? Have we so conditioned ourselves to not feel much of anything (or not allowed ourselves time to feel something) that we will turn on the tube for a little vicarious grieving because it might be nice to just feel a little something right now? I don't know.
But the passing of Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson were merely a link in a chain of events for me, only the tip of the iceberg and, as the metaphor implies, there's a whole lot more going on under the surface so, let's get to it, shall we? And I'll warn you again, this will be long. I really haven't even started yet. You may be excused, if you wish. Put your dishes in the sink.
I suppose the chain of events began over last weekend when South Carolina's governor, a guy named Sanford, went AWOL. As the days unfolded, we learned he was in Argentina with his mistress, but we only found this out after a couple of days of lies.
I began to think about the mess Sanford was (is) in and how it is a mess of his own making. He cheated and lied and abused the trust placed in him by a spouse, by sons, and by citizen voters. And I wondered how sick it would feel to be to be in his shoes, presenting a facade of faithfulness by lying.
The next link in the chain was the shooting death of a football coach in Iowa. Here, unlike our celebrities, is a man that hardly anyone outside of a few counties in Iowa knew of. We heard of his death only because of the brutal, criminal way in which it occurred. The one consolation was that we learned that Coach Thomas had trusted Christ for salvation. We thank God for that.
Hard on the heels of this event was a personal upheaval in my home. I had overlooked a credit card bill. And this is not the first time. And I was going to have to own up to my fault by talking to my bride about it because the bill was in her name. I went through hours of anxiety over this, wishing there was a way to not have to confess my wrong. My integrity was on the line.
What came next was a blog post at Desiring God. Pastor John Piper, a man of integrity, wrote about an experience when he was not so gracious in answering a question and then he proceeded to explain what his answer should have been. And, Oh! What a statement!
He was responding to a question about why he doesn't watch a lot of movies and doesn't own a TV. Here is part of what he said: "I think relevance in preaching hangs very little on watching movies, and I think that much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead. Sources of spiritual power—which are what we desperately need—are not in the cinema."
And some more: "But leave sex aside (as if that were possible for fifteen minutes on TV). It’s the unremitting triviality that makes television so deadly. What we desperately need is help to enlarge our capacities to be moved by the immeasurable glories of Christ. Television takes us almost constantly in the opposite direction, lowering, shrinking, and deadening our capacities for worshiping Christ."
I think this is what is at the heart of my experience this week. Some very real and serious things happened this week, but it was the trivia that was emphasised.
Thursday afternoon, we had a book study at work and the topic of integrity came up. Sound familiar? It did to me.
Then on the drive home from work I got the first word on Michael Jackson and at home the confirmation (from the TV!) that he died. Later I read these words from Justin Taylor's blog, quoting Andrew Sullivan: "There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child. By abuse, I do not mean sexual abuse; I mean he was used brutally and callously for money, and clearly imprisoned by a tyrannical father. He had no real childhood and spent much of his later life struggling to get one. He was spiritually and psychologically raped at a very early age - and never recovered. Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life. But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell."
And: "I grieve for him; but I also grieve for the culture that created and destroyed him. That culture is ours' and it is a lethal and brutal one: with fame and celebrity as its core values, with money as its sole motive, it chewed this child up and spat him out."
As I suggested earlier, I think Piper came close to nailing what has been going on in my heart this past week and the news events served to draw it to the surface so I could see it. The recurring theme? Real stuff versus trivia, I think.
Governor Sanford threw away the real and vital for an affair; Coach Thomas, brutally slain, knew Christ and impacted the lives of the boys he coached; I had to 'man up' and own my irresponsible act; Piper called me to not deaden my soul, but to nourish it; an entire nation went on hold because two people they didn't really know died; and Sullivan's comments on Jackson, who lived an unreal life because the real was denied him.
All of this piled together left me desiring real things and not temporary trivial things. I do not want my capacity for joy in Jesus to be deadened because if it is, then I am reduced to finding joy elsewhere, like on TV.
I hope this is not a lesson that fades soon.