The Death of a Celebrity
Our culture seems to idolize youth and doesn’t spend much energy on contemplating our mortality and yet talk of these deaths has been everywhere. It was impossible to escape the endless stream of words on the Internet, on TV, and in print devoted to these deaths. Not since the nearly almost simultaneous funerals of Mother Teresa and Princess Diana, have we focused quite so much on a grouping of celebrity deaths.
I certainly understand the media frenzy around the death of Michael Jackson. The King of Pop had always been good to tabloids and magazines. Following the twists in turns in the musician/dancer/businessman’s life has always sold lots of copies of publications ready to dish the dirt. None doubted that he was talented and all knew that he was eccentric, possibly criminally so as he once stood trial for pedophilia.
The media was bound to make the most out of the news of Jackson’s untimely death. Media outlets all live off increased viewership whether online, on the air or in print. And how could they ignore the deaths of the well-known late night sidekick Ed McMahon and ad man Billy Mays or the end of 70s icon Fawcett who had so publically fought against cancer?
The focus on these four persons, reminded me of a Titanic mistake from the early part of the last century. When the unsinkable ocean liner went under taking 1,490 persons to any icy grave, banner headlines in newspapers led with the death of millionaire John Jacob Astor.
The theologian William Barclay noted that one prominent newspaper’s coverage of the sinking of the Titanic was devoted almost entirely to Astor’s death. Only at the end of the front-page story were the other deaths mentioned.
Barclay said, “Such is the attitude of the world and many public media, but not God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord is concerned about every single person and no person is lost in the crowd, however unimportant that person may be in the eyes of the world.”
The news media will never get it right and give coverage to good, honest, hardworking people in proportion to the celebrities. News doesn’t work that way. Of course some exceptions will occur, such as the coverage of Mother Teresa’s passing. But this is because she too was famous. The death of a person you never heard of only becomes news when they die in some notable way, such as at the hand of a serial killer. Yet the Bible teaches that not one person is lost from the sight of the maker of heaven and earth.
Jesus put it this way, “Not even a sparrow, worth only half a penny, can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to him than a whole flock of sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
There is a Jewish collection of sayings from two hundred years before Jesus not found in the Old Testament that speaks to this as well. The Wisdom of Ben Sirah gives insight into Jewish thought at the time and it has a lovely passage which speaks to the recent celebrity deaths.
“Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations. The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning. There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valor.”
Ben Sirah went on to write of those famous for their intelligence, and for ones famed for speaking prophecies, or wise teaching, or musical ability or the gift for writing, and others who were “the pride of their times.”
Then Ben Sirah moved beyond those famed in their day, “But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them. But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten.”
Notice that when he moves to those of whom there is no memory, he says that they were godly and their righteous deeds have not been forgotten. This is a reminder that though no people remember the good done, God does not forget. God remembers those whom history forgets and those who never achieved fame of any kind.
This is a helpful corrective to the obsession with celebrity deaths. The fame and public attention earned in this life do not weigh even a feather’s weight on the scale of God’s justice. Michael Jackson or Ed McMahon or any other celebrity stand before God as will you and I and any other person. Whatever we and they do or do not do, God will handle in divine justice. This is not our problem to solve.
I know that there are many good people who died during the same week as these celebrities. Deaths are often not noted beyond friends and family. There are others who die alone, found later by a landlord, the police or someone else. Yet even these deaths are no less seen by God than the death of a celebrity.
The occasion of these deaths of famous people is a reminder of how right Barclay got it when he wrote, “The Lord is concerned about every single person and no person is lost in the crowd, however unimportant that person may be in the eyes of the world.”
(The text above is my religion column for today's issue of the Tribune & Georgian.)
Labels: Religion and Culture