If there is a pantheon in 21st century America it must be our celebrities. We give them nothing short of outright devotion, watching their every move, paying top dollar to enter their sanctuaries of stardom, longing to get close enough to touch the hem of their robe. An autograph takes on the status of “relic” and should they grab our hand, we may not wash it for days on end. Even the slightest brush with celebrity moves us to “witness” about it for the rest of our lives.
So why do we become mesmerized by magazines in supermarket lines, glued to tabloid tv and track their every move from our online perches? We identify with them, both because they are like us and not like us. On the one hand they are ordinary. On the other they are famous. On the one hand human and on the other, seemingly divine. And because they are so much like us in our ordinariness, deep down we believe we can be like them in their divine-ness. We, in fact, imitate them, plastering their icons in some of our most cherished places. And maybe that’s why we care so much about their every day lives; because somehow it gives us a vicarious share in their glory.
So why is it that when they fall we tend to run? Everyone’s talking about how much they adored Whitney Houston in the wake of her death. But who really loved her in the bottomless pit of her life? I mean, where was Bill O’Reilly after all? Can we be honest? Whitney Houston was not on our screens. She lost her luster long ago. She entered the category of crack-addict freak, which is what we call a fallen god. We left her behind. We admire our memory of her great vocal feats but for the most part, she was already dead to us. In the end, she was more like us than we wanted her to be and less god-like than we could tolerate. She lost face.
Human beings simply can’t bear the weight of being gods. And anyone or anything that accrues worship, whether they wanted it or not, ascends to a throne of god-like status. Sustaining life in this rarified air of ironic isolation almost inevitably leads to a life of managed addiction with rehab on demand. To the extent we exalt people to god-like status (or attempt to exalt ourselves to such places) we participate in the destruction of their humanity (from your local pastor to Lindsay Lohan).
Human beings were never meant to be gods, nor were gods ever meant to be human. Or were they? This is the mind-blowing story of Jesus Christ, the God who became human, the Divine who made himself nothing, the Creator who humbled himself to become a creature. The star who left the stage of the sky. The one with all the glory gave his glory away. He is the only truly human one we can truly become like. Only in beholding him do we become what who we were created to be. He shows us that true glory dwells in the lowest place, that true life comes in dying to the quest for fame and that real humanity is given to those who renounce their need to be gods.
He is the one who always loved you, Whitney, and he was the one who held you alone in that hotel room as you passed on from this land to your life. If only we had always loved you, Whitney, maybe we would have been there too.