The last few weeks the media has been abuzz with talk of “celebrities gone wild.” We hear of the antics of people like Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen and the way their lives are spiraling out of control. Not surprisingly at all the media and people in the media are turning the disaster that is the lives of these two people (and more) into something to be idolized, entertained by, or used as an example. This is not a new behavior in our culture, nor is it something that I am terribly surprised by.
What does surprise me is that we still feel the need to give these people as much time and attention that we do. It is one thing for the media to spotlight one of its own having a meltdown, it is quite another thing for those of us out here who are supposed to be adults partaking in the universal fascination with the destruction of human lives. Like the proverbial “train wreck you just can’t take your eyes off of” we stand transfixed at these people and their lives. We idolize them. We find it increasingly okay that these behaviors affect younger and younger demographics. We scoff at the fourteen year old Disney star who has just landed in rehab for the second time, but continue to allow our children to follow this person without really explaining to our children why their behavior is not to be copied.
Celebrity often leads to personal turmoil. If for nothing else it is because celebrity taps into that fallen need within us to be noticed, to be popular, to be the center of attention. I certainly struggle with these issues in my life (no one is perfect), but I think that the personal decline of many of our celebrities exposes the sometimes fatal flaw of being the center of attention all the time. We get to thinking that the world revolves around us, and that we can do nothing wrong (or at least that the rules don’t apply to us).
Humility is a rare commodity these days. We see it in some celebrities who intentionally stay out of the limelight, choosing to allow their work to be work and their personal lives to be personal. This has worked well for some, not as well for others. I am reminded of a story from the Gospels that speaks to the idea of humility and the danger of popularity.
Jesus was sometimes a rock-star of his day. When he went teaching in the countryside, sometimes he would attract crowds by the hundreds if not thousands. On one such occasion, he miraculously fed five thousand people with a small portion of bread and fish. When they saw the miracle and heard his words they were ready to crown him king, storm Jerusalem and kill and die to put him on King David’s old throne. In that moment Jesus had an army of followers ready to make him the greatest celebrity of his time. He was going to become one of the greatest conquering kings in Israel – he would drive out the forces of Rome.
And what does Jesus do at this moment? He walks away. Jesus retreats up a mountain to spend the rest of the day praying and being in solitude. Jesus wasn’t going to allow his public persona be what defined him. He wasn’t going to allow five thousand plus people to blindly throw themselves down against Roman soldiers because they wanted their “celebrity king.” Instead, Jesus quietly went to the next town to continue preaching about the simpler things – the higher road – about feeding the hungry, tending the sick, and ministering to the “least of the world.” Jesus knew what too much focus on one person could do, and he walked away from that light.
As we reflect on the “cult of celebrity” we have engendered in our own culture, perhaps we need to consider a little more humility. Maybe we need to tell the Charlie Sheens and the Lindsay Lohans of the world that their antics are not entertainment, they’re criminal injustices against themselves and against those they hurt. We shouldn’t be giving television interviews to sick people who don’t care about anyone but themselves. We should be giving the attention to those who are fighting to make this a better world.
We should be focused on the teachers, the doctors, the fireman, police, paramedics and soldiers. We should give airtime to the philanthropist, radio time to the humanitarian, and newspaper interviews to mothers. We should celebrate those in our culture who do the massive work of this world and get little to no daily coverage. Of course, in the end, they would likely not show up for the interview – like Jesus they would have just moved on to the next thing, the next call, the next scraped knee, the next school lesson, and we would be like the five thousand of old – left with only the awe of true heroes.
Let’s turn our hearts today…toward true humility.