“I think everyone should get rich and famous and do everything that they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.’ -Jim Carrey
“As we bow to the golden statue called Oscar… joining in rituals of exaltation, and reading our sacred gossip columns…[we see from the stories] The desire for some kind of redemption pulses through human life.” -S. Brent Plate
For the past few weeks, I’ve been writing some thoughts about the fascinating story of what happened when Justin Bieber was recently baptized. It’s been a blog series that has garnered a variety of responses.
But let me close out this short series with telling you why I care about this so much.
One reason I think this is important to talk about is because I think Justin Bieber, like all of us, is sincerely hungry for something more substantial than what our secular society holds out as “the good life.”
He’s come to the end of the road of fame, and like those before him, has realized that the idolatry of fame is much more empty than those on the outside of it can possibly imagine. And so Justin Bieber turned to Jesus. The problem is that these days, the people of God are so caught up in the same game that Bieber is trying to walk away from, that I’m worried he’s being offered a tepid version of what the Gospel of Jesus Christ actually is.
But I also care about this for another reason.
A few years ago, through a series of unfortunate events, I wound up being an Extra in a scandalous t.v. show.
Maybe one day, I’ll republish the blogs chronicling that story on here, but the short version of the story is that I was doing a sermon series on minor characters in the Bible called “Extras” and I went to Hollywood to be an extra on a show to help illustrate the series.
You know, like you do.
Turned out the show I wound up being casted in was “Good Christian Belles.” (I had turned down opportunities in Californication and even Scandal because I wanted to keep my job, but that one sounded wholesome enough to work)
As it so happened, the show was actually a satire based on hypocritical Christians in Dallas (I live just a few hours away) and I once I got to the studio I discovered that I was going to be an extra in a scene that was set in a Hooters-like restaurant.
As I was in the room with other Extras, considering whether or not I was going to be able to keep my job after this, I learned something very disturbing. While we were being assigned different parts, a casting director called some women to come to another room with her, and one of my new female extra friends whispered to me, “This is the part that I hate.”
It was then that I learned how cutthroat the entertainment industry can be, especially for women.
Apparently, what happens sometimes is that a director decides they want some more “eye candy” for a scene, and they’ll routinely call the female extras to lineup. And this young woman told me sometimes, they would ask a room of several young women to undress so the director could pick one based on their bodies.
And if you wanted the job, a more prominent scene, maybe even a recurring part, you would do it.
After all, we’ve always bled for our gods.
Now I hesitate to tell that story, because of the anti-Hollywood bias that Christians gravitate toward. We need more Jesus-followers living and serving in that industry. In fact, that same young woman who told me she hates being in a line up to have her body judged, is a Christian. She was a Jesus follower who had been in rooms like that before, and she told me that there are lines she refused to cross because of her faith.
Pete Ward is a seminary professor in London, and a few years ago he wrote a book about our culture of celebrity worship. He starts off by asking the question:
“Have you ever wondered why we mourn so much when a celebrity dies?”
Think about it, when Michael Jackson died the entire news world ground to a halt.
We were in the middle of two wars, an economic melt down, and now we are listening to what meal MJ had the last time he was at Burger King. When Prince died, we (briefly and mercifully) stopped talking about the impending election and even ISIS.
Ward points out the reason this is such a big deal isn’t because of the their talent, but the collective “us” we’ve allowed each celebrity to represent.
Ward points out that this movement of centering our lives around celebrities is, in other words, a religion.
Which might sound harmless, but did you know that celebrity worship is consistently associated with poor mental health, like worry, anxiety, and depression?
Among women specifically, many of our body image related mental health issues are, on some level, tied to the way we view celebrities and ourselves. And that should disturb all of us, because almost all of us participate in celebrity worship. And most of the time it’s so subtle, we don’t even know we are doing it.
So we think that it’s stupid all the fuss that people make over Brittany Spears or Paris Hilton, but for some reason we know a lot of details of their life.
Christina Kelly, an editor for Sassy magazine, says the reason that we worship celebrities is because, “We know that to be human is to feel inconsequential.”
Think about how profound that statement is. Here’s someone who works in the industry, and she says we “worship” not because of who they are, but because of our awareness of who we aren’t.
There is this deep awareness that we have that something is off-kilter with our heart. Part of the reason that we are drawn to and participate in this crazed celebrity culture, is because something deep within us tells us that we are broken.
Did you ever wonder why we put our hope in fame to fix it?
To Know and be Known
A few years ago, in Relevant Magazine, Donald Miller interviewed Tony Hale (Buster Bluth from the incredibly funny show Arrested Development) and he asked him, “Why do you think people are obsessed with fame? What do you think this says about us as a culture?”
And here’s what Tony/Buster said:
I think that it’s grounded in the fact that everybody desperately wants to be known, and they think that fame is kind of the ultimate of being known—“If that many people know me…then it’s going to satisfy that. The thing is, when you get to that place, you’re only going to find true satisfaction if you’re known in an eternal, spiritual sense by Somebody greater than yourself. I think a lot of people have gotten to that place where they have been known by a lot of people, and it still doesn’t satisfy….If you don’t find something greater than yourself who knows you—knows truly who you are—and you feel known by them, then you’re going to spend the rest of your life trying to be known by a ton of other people. You’re only going to find true satisfaction if you’re known in an eternal, spiritual sense by Somebody greater than yourself.”
I think this is incredibly profound.
We want to be known by Someone greater than ourselves. That’s what our hearts our hungry for, and our pursuit of fame is only a reflection of a dim reality.
My problem with Justin Bieber’s baptism is that it revealed that the Christian world in America is worshipping the wrong things. Justin Bieber is trying to get baptized into the Kingdom of God, we’re hoping it gets us into the kingdom of Bieber.
We’re wanting greater access to the very thing Bieber is trying to flee.
This is what Tony Hale is getting at, it’s what Jim Carrey is trying to explain in the quote above…the thing we think we want is really not able to fulfill us.
It’s an idol that can never deliver on it’s promise.
But. Do you know what the final stage of Christian Theology is?
In other words Fame.
It is the applause of God.
Save your worship for that.
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