We are a culture obsessed with celebrity. And when we go in, it seems as though we go in whole hog. We get behind that person, we buy into their story, their message, their ideology, and we support them, come hell or high water, defending them to the hilt. Until, of course, we don’t.
We worship our heroes until they prove to be human. And then we damn them to hell, or the internet age’s equivalent…
And that, it seems to me, is precisely what’s up with the succession of Israel’s kings we began to read about in tonight’s passage from 1 Samuel. Sure, there are some kings who prove to be better than others. There are others who prove to be quite nasty. But let’s be clear, even the best of them – even David, God’s anointed, the one they called “one after God’s own heart” – has a deeply significant, and sometimes ugly shadow side.
I’ve fallen into the trap of celebrity worship and idolatry more than once. It’s possible that it even happened this week, and yet as I was collecting my thoughts for this evening, my mind turned to this guy who I first heard about from a friend I met in India.
It was my friend Liz who told me about the long-haired dude who cared deeply about justice. The one who stood up for the poorest of the world’s urban poor. The one who, they said, was turning the patriarchal way of doing Christian mission and faith-fuelled development on its head. He and his organization were taking things in a new direction, doing it with deep authenticity and integrity.
Or so the story went.
A year or two after I returned to Canada from Kolkata, I heard him speak in my hometown. His message was one of mutuality, respect, and togetherness. It eschewed power-hungry hierarchy and new spins on colonialism. And it replaced these oppressive things with notions of deep relationality, and an anti-oppressive stance.
Of course the message resonated. I’m on about that stuff. I had been looking for just someone, and just such an organization. I bought in.
He was a bold, charismatic, and disarming speaker. His stories painted vivid pictures of transformation. In hearing him speak, I found myself believing that THIS was the organization doing the best possible work, and that we all had a long way to go to become more like him.
It’s just too bad he could never live up to the image he had projected. It’s just too bad he could never be the saviour I’d made him out to be.
Because then I went to work for him.
And working with him for some time, it turned out he was just as messed up…just as human as the rest of us. And that’s when I wrote him off completely. I wasn’t looking for human. I was looking for superhuman. In this day and age, it doesn’t take long to fall from hero to huckster.
But last Sunday night, Alisdair got me thinking when he reminded us that we have a choice. That we can choose love or we can choose hate.
Love is more than infatuation. It’s more than idolatry. Love, if it is love at all, embraces the whole person. Love, if it is true, does not place anyone on a pedestal, nor does it stop when the truth emerges that the object of our love is, in fact human. When the truth emerges that they, like we, have a shadow side.
Which is all to say that I feel for Samuel when he’s hanging out in Bethlehem on Jesse’s farm.
This is the guy who had anointed Saul as king. Saul, the bible tells me, was handsome. And not just boy-next-door-handsome. We’re talking Derek Zoolander Male Model hot. Or whatever.
If you can believe it, the bible, the word of God, goes on to say that “there was not a man among the people of Israel more handsome than he; he stood head and shoulders above everyone else.” Gospel truth. Tall. Dark. Handsome. Buff. Strong and Smart. And he ended up being the wrong choice…
But the people would not relent. The people. The crowds. You and me. We said, yes, this is the guy. This is the one. We will follow him. And he did precisely what was promised, taking their sons off to war, tearing the community apart, but at very least offering them the tabloid drama that follows the birth of any royal baby.
What I’m discovering – and I don’t know why it’s taken me so long – is that such infatuation is not love at all. If anything, such idolatrous infatuation is far closer to hate than it is to love. When I idolize you, I do you a deep injustice. I do you the injustice of stripping you of your full and complex humanity. I consign to a two-dimensional plane that which is meant to be lived in three-dimensional reality.
In short, I do violence to the very person God has created you to be when I live – not in relationship to you but – in relationship to a caricature of your true self.
I suppose I do the same when I treat myself the same way.
And so tonight, I’m thankful I’m not alone. Samuel also falls for outwards appearances, convinced that the tallest and most handsome is the one for the job. And that’s when God has to jump in and say to Samuel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, his winsome radio voice, the way in which she manages that company…or whatever it is…”
If there’s anything we need to do, it’s to look on each another through the eyes of God. Look to the heart. See the whole picture. See the way our actions line up with our words. See the beauty in one another, but let’s not ignore the other side too. Because whoever they are, they are beautiful humans. Just like you.
Week in and week out at St. Brigids, we join ourselves around the table. And we do so, celebrating the life, the death, and the resurrection of the one who is worthy of all glory, laud and honour. The one who is worthy of all praise. And the one who calls each of us, the beloved.