Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock all weekend, you will know that on Thursday a musical legend passed away. And no matter what you think of him as a person, I doubt you can deny that musically, Michael Jackson has had some great tunes over the years, and had a major influence on many other artists. But watching the coverage, it all seems a little excessive. The internet came to a near standstill on Thursday night for a start, and the weekend’s papers have been full of his life story, the controversies and theories over how exactly he died (personally I blame it on the boogie). And here’s the thing: Yes he was a great singer and dancer, but he was one person who died. Every three seconds a child dies from hunger, but that gets no mention, despite the fact that it is happening every three seconds of every day.
I saw an interview with one heartbroken female fan on the news when they were talking about Michael’s debts, and pondering how they could be paid off and she said that all his fans would rally round, buy loads of his CDs, donate money, and do whatever it took to cover the debts. Which I thought was a tad crazy, seen as most of them would have never met him, and given that he got those debts through a life of extravagance, and surely that money could be put to better use doing something for the millions suffering from hunger in the third world.
But this isn’t a rant against squandering money, or an attempt to dissuade you from buying his music. What gets my metaphorical goat is society’s hero worship of celebrities, which has been so evident in the ‘grief’ people who have never met him have shown for Michael over the past few days. For example, I was in HMV on Friday morning, and noticed his ‘Number Ones’ greatest hits collection prominently positioned by the door (and I’ll bet it wasn’t there on Thursday afternoon) for only £4, and given that he does have some great songs, and I didn’t own any of them, I thought I may as well buy it. The cashier asked me if I’d shed any tears the night before. Which I thought a little daft, as surely anyone who had cried over his death would already have all his hits and not have needed to buy his hits collection the day after he died. And it got me wondering about how much of a hero he must have been to people that they were actually reduced to tears by his death. (And while Michael Jackson is the particular example I’m using here, that’s just because he’s the one in the headlines right now. There are hundreds of other celebrities held in similar regard by people around the world.)
And it all got me thinking about who we as the Body of Christ should have as heroes, and who we should be celebrating. Shane Claiborne says in his book Jesus for President “In the church, we celebrate martyrs and saints, not warriors and conquistadors” (pg 318). As Christians, we should be celebrating and commemorating heroes of the faith, not worshipping the idol of celebrity. Hebrews 11 gives a pretty good list of folk from the Bible we should celebrate and remember. The Jesus Freaks books by DC Talk are also a great source of accounts of people throughout Church history who are worth remembering, learning from and trying to emulate. Because our heroes should not be like those of the world, for though we are in the world, we ‘are not of it’. We are not called to celebrate people just because they sang a few songs. We are called to remember people who by faith “overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight. Women received their loved ones back again from death.
But others were tortured, refusing to turn from God in order to be set free. They placed their hope in a better life after the resurrection. Some were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground.” (Hebrews 11:33-38)
The king of pop is dead, but the King of the World is alive and in control. If He is truly Lord of your life, let it show by not being making idols out of celebrities, but worshipping God alone, and celebrating the lives of those who have done likewise.