Transcendence and People Magazine

I hope you’ll bare with me for a few more thoughts about Michael Jackson.  The things I’m thinking about today, they are only about M.J. on the surface, though.  Beneath the veneer, I think there’s something deeper going on.

I was trying to wrap my brain on just why people are so impacted by this whole affair.  One way we can note this is to simply turn on the news.    A wise friend observed that there is something of our own identities in all this.  People are so effected because there is something of their lives, thier history, and their memories wrapped up in all this.  With the death of Jackson, a little piece of them dies too.

It’s clearly not the music.  If it was everybody would have had the C.D.’s and downloads before he passed away.  But he’s a top seller all over the place again.  It’s as if people are trying to hold on to pieces of him through buying a piece of the music.  But (hope I’m not beating a dead horse here) really, they only want a piece of him because it’s a little piece of themselves.

It occurs to me that the whole thing is like some Greek or Roman legend.  Michael Jackson and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and Madonna– they are this milenia’s Thor and Odin and Anansi and Ali Babba.   They live in Hollywood rather than on Mount Olympus, but it’s really all the same: This psuedo-human cast of larger than life characters, engaged in the sex and violence and living in this promised land… only the very rarest of the mere mortals can ascend to their heights, though occasionally they lower themselves to walk among us for a while.  Some of these figures stay forever unchanging, (Consider the people famous people whose fountain of youth is plastic surgery)  some present themselves in a dizzying swirl of new incarnations (We even use that word for both celebreties and mthic figures: incarnations) Even the fact that we call these people “stars” is kind of a fascinating thing.  The stars that hang in the night sky, and the consellations formed by them played important roles in these ancient myths.

The thing I know about all this is that we are built to look for God or Gods.  If we don’t find the true God that is and will always be, we will find him somewhere else.  Thousand of years ago we would have gathered around the story-teller.  We would have placed his stories about Asgard in the God-shaped whole in our hearts, hoping they’d fit.  Today, we throw five bucks to the cashier and consume our People magazines.

I don’t think these will ever satisfy.

And under our own power, we are imparmanent.  Chasing after old songs to hold on to our sense of who we are, it’s a fools errand.   Connecting our own sense of mortality to the death of pop stars is a fragile way to live.  Virtually everything is fragile and impermanent.  Looking to escape death through any created thing is futile.  There’s only one thing that’s uncreated, there’s only one thing that is permanent.  The only way to escape death is through him.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “Transcendence and People Magazine”

  1. You know, i wasn’t sold on this post at first. It annoyed me a little for the first two paragraphs. After finishing i must say that this is one of your best blogs.

    Applying the same standard i do to good sermons, i found myself creating a paralell blog in my head as i was reading. That blog wasn’t different but ammending to yours:

    the mythological figures of eras gone by were incarnations of the spirit within the people themselves. The gods they created were reflective of their own passions and personalities. There were gods of war and peace, and of love and wit, and speed and agility and strength and athleticism, of the sea and the sky and the earth and the elements; all of the things for which we humans have fascination and passion.

    As you’ve amply pointed out the gods of today are the vicarious wonders of our dreams of possibility imputed onto those who are simply more fortunate but equally mortal and no less imaginative. Athletes, actors, singers, dancers, humorists, politicians, the rich, socialites, etc.; all are the stuff of our wishes and – to our great shame and disappointment – hope.

    Thanks for sharing, Jeff. You are a gift from God.


  2. Thanks so very much, Garrett. I’m so very thankful for both your consistent encouragement and your slightly less frequent Socratic muck-raking. Both benefit the body greatly.


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