As I was getting dressed this morning the news was playing in the background that included a story about last night’s Country Music Association Awards. One of the things that absolutely confounds me is our celebrity culture’s infatuation with itself. I know it is in part it is driven by the publishers, agents and producers to keep their products in the marketplace. These award shows are the way to give further shelf-life to books, records and movies already in the marketplace.
But it is more than that. I’ve brushed shoulders enough with many celebrities to note their constant fascination with themselves and their expanding circle of famous friends. Watching video clips of them fawning all over each other made me shake my head in sorrow this morning. They are so delighted with their own success they have no idea how out of touch with real life and real people they actually are.
That may be painting with a broad brush, and I do hope there are some genuine souls among the celebrities of our day, but my experience tells me otherwise. And I’m not saying that celebrities are bad people, but rather that our celebrity culture damages people in ways we don’t get to see. What amazes me is how much fascination our world has with these celebrities. Look at any magazine rack, or entertainment show. It is all about exalting other humans with admiration, most of which you wouldn’t be friends with if you had the chance.
Two thoughts came to mind this morning while watching this. Why are so many people driven to live in that space? I can’t tell you how many interactions I have in year’s time with people who are driven to be the next big author, musician, actor, or movie-maker? Some want it for ‘Godly’ reasons, or so they say, but I don’t think they have any idea what celebrity will do to them. I know precious few who fly at that level that stay grounded in reality and appreciation for the people who they knew before it happened.
I read an interview this weekend with American actor Robert De Niro. He talked about how rich and famous people only surround themselves with others who only tell them what they want to hear and who give them permission to indulge their own selfishness because they have earned it. Sad, isn’t it? Believe me, there is no amount of money that makes it worth living in that space. Celebrity culture is a lie at its very core.
That was even more clear to me during my time in Australia. Most of my time there was spent with brothers and sisters on the journey of learning to live loved who saw me just as another brother on a journey. But I also did some media interviews and had some interactions with people who put me on the author pedestal for my own books, or for my work on The Shack. They are groupies, enamored with fame more than they are the Father I write about. Those conversations are less enjoyable to me and far less fruitful. One driver I had for an interview even apologized to me for even mentioning someone else’s book in my presence. When I expressed dismay that he would think to apologize for that, he told me that he knew how much famous people wanted to be the center of attention.
So my second thought in hearing this news clip this morning was this: The best thing about celebrity is that it makes you irrelevant to the people who matter. People enamored with celebrity have little else going on in their lives. People who are really grounded in the life of God aren’t impressed with celebrity. They don’t put people on pedestals, and aren’t too interested in those who are. They look for people to walk alongside them knowing we are all flesh and blood with the same human experiences, hopes and fears as anyone else. As I have often said the people I know who live most alive and free in Jesus are unknown except to the friends and family that live in their corner of the world.
Whenever we are tricked into the lie that there are people above us, or beneath us, we have lost the truth and the reality that Jesus invited us into. That’s why James warned the followers of Jesus:
My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong? (James 1:1-7)