Jan 9, 2017

Death and the Cult of Celebrity

The year 2016 is being reflected upon as a bad year for people who had attained celebrity status. Several major icons from the world of film, sports, music and television have died. The carnage was perceived to be so bad there were suggestions on social media that Time magazine’s Person of the Year shouldn’t be Donald Trump but the Grim Reaper himself.

The folks at the BCC keep a good record of obituaries, and they found that there had indeed been a spike in celebrity deaths. In the first three months of last year, there were five times as many deaths as in the first quarter of 2012. As the year 2016 progressed the number of celebrity deaths quickly flatten out; with the number of obituaries only being 30 percent more than the previous year.

A possible reason why there has been so much news on this subject is because we live in a culture that is fixated on celebrities. Someone who helped develop a vaccine that saved millions of lives can die without notice, but if a minor rock star dies from a drug overdose, people will mourn like he was one of their family members.

The death of famous people should only cause us to reflect on our own mortality and our need for the Saviour. The premature death a famous person should warn everyone that there is a narrow path to everlasting life.

“Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14).

Most of the celebrities who died last year should be shown as an example of what not to do. I can think of two major singers who had perverse lives and their deaths were directly related to their sinful lifestyles. The media coverage made them out to be angels because they sold a few million records.

The worst example of the cult of celebrity and its relationship with death is the story of Zsa Zsa Gabor passing. After she was cremated, her ashes were scattered from a Louis Vuitton bag because she was considered the queen of style. Gabor’s husband, Frederic von Anhalt, gave a 40-minute eulogy that focused on Gabor’s thirst for the limelight.

“I want to remember the way she walked the red carpet,” von Anhalt said. “She loved it so much. Her life was only red carpet, nothing else.” The priest at Gabor’s memorial service gave the same glowing praise. “She epitomized and personified Hollywood glamour,” Father Edward Benioff said. “She could write. She could act. She had many, many talents.”

It may be true that Zsa Zsa Gabor was a queen of style and the embodiment of Hollywood glamour, but these are not qualities that are productive for the kingdom of God. If you have people boasting at your funeral how much you conformed to the world, you clearly made tragic choices in your life.

Debbie Reynolds died the day after the passing of her daughter, Carrie Fisher. The media said that this was “destiny” and “such a beautiful sentiment” that they died together.

These observations are just wishful thinking. Sure, they both had wonderful lives and meant very much to each other, but a positive outcome depends entirely on their standing with the Son of God.

We live in a world where even the worst of celebrities get positive press. When Fidel Castro died, he was hailed by many at the UN as an iconic leader of the 20th century. He was said to be an activist in pursuing independence, justice and development. In reality, Castro was an evil dictator who murdered in order to hold on to power.

I think it is a bad sign for anyone to make an annual list of dead celebrities. Author Tim LaHaye died last year, and I didn’t see him on any list. He had one of the bestselling books of the last two decades, and he helped establish numerous productive Christian organizations. When I read that Alexis Arquette, a D-List transgender actress was on most lists, I thought, clearly LaHaye should out rank this weirdo.

The only list that dying should hope to be on is the one in the book of life. The money, fame, and power all become void in the end. The only thing that matters is Jesus Christ’s saving grace.

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).



Verify But Trust

Russian/American relations are front and center in the news at the moment of this new year’s dawning. Conflicting approaches to these relations are also very much in the headlines.

The outgoing Obama administration, it is offered for public consumption, wants Russia punished for hacking into the presidential election process. The incoming Trump administration, mainstream news purveyors put forth, wants to cozy up to Russia and its President Vladimir Putin, because Mr. Trump is–they claim–Mr. Putin’s pal. The perception they want to create is that Trump doesn’t trust U.S. intelligence sources who, according to the mainstreamers, all agree that Russia hacked into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails, etc.–thus in order to help Donald Trump get elected.

Fact is, however, all the U.S. intelligence services aren’t in complete agreement. They neither are of consensus opinion that Russia did the cyber-hacking, nor that Putin’s intention was to help Trump’s election effort. But, as we all know, the facts have little to do with mainstream reporting within today’s reality. The president-elect has embraced many of President Ronald Reagan’s thoughts, particularly with regard to Russia–in Mr. Reagan’s case, the Soviet Union. “Trust but verify” was perhaps the most famous statement/position stated by Reagan that best frames his position in dealing with the Soviets.

Reagan signed the Intermediate range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on December 8, 1987. He used the phrase “trust but verify” to explain the in-depth procedures that would be in place to make certain the treaty stayed on the up and up.

The statement was from the Russian proverb Doveryai, no proveryai, taught him by a Russian translator in preparation for the meetings with Gorbachev. This requirement for dealing with the Russians will be highly necessary when Trump takes the oath on January 20. It is a precautionary thought that hasn’t been followed by Barack Obama for the last eight years and the present state of disarray with regard to the cyber-hacking hubbub proves the statement’s worth. Besides Israel, there is no more relevant nation than Russia in view for Bible prophecy yet to unfold. Let’s pray that some within the new president’s close circle of advisers can add prophetic understanding in Mr. Trump’s dealing with the Russians.

With that trust-but-verify relationship between America and Russia as a foundational premise for the further thoughts I hope to present, I would like to get into the reasons the title of this commentary has Mr. Reagan’s statement reversed–“verify but trust.”

I wish to try to apply this reversal to the personal relationship each of us–you and I–has with our Lord.

If you might indulge me for a brief time, I will, in order to hopefully make the point I wish to convey, reveal a small bit of relational goings-on in my own life at present. Realization of what all is involved in those goings-on completely escaped me until I began thinking on and praying about this commentary. The Holy Spirit was clear and to the point in whispering to my own, more often than not dull-of-hearing spiritual ears.

When the epiphany struck, it was so obvious that its simplicity sort of stunned me. My uncomfortable relationship of the moment with the uncertainties of life wasn’t mere chance. It involved the things I have believed–have taught and written about most all of my Christian life.

My wife, Margaret, had just had a car accident. It was one in which only she was involved, but it was a bad one, so far as the damage done to the car was concerned. Thankfully, Margaret had only her heel badly fractured as a result of the big sedan rolling over and ending right side up.

The state police officer who worked the wreck said it could have easily been a deadly accident. The car was totaled. So, needless to say, we are grateful to the Lord for His protection–and to the car manufacturer for the sixteen air bags that deployed during the violent rollover.

However, I’ve nevertheless been lamenting ever since that accident that happened on the Monday leading up to Christmas. Poor me. I’ve been so inconvenienced by it all. Christmas this year was, in my commercially minded self-centeredness, a disaster. Plus, I’ve been called into service as caregiver for Miss Margaret–and me a poor, old, blind guy.

The epiphany, that hit just this morning, is that this was no accident in the purest sense. This was a faith- and character-tester–to my own life, at least. It was a test to see how I would react to an occurrence allowed, not caused, by the Lord. His only involvement in the accident itself was that of protecting Margaret’s life. What part Satan and his minions had in it, I have no way of assessing. I failed the test miserably, dwelling only on how deleteriously it affected my daily routine–which I do not under any circumstance want to be disrupted.

Well, that routine is continuing to be disrupted. I still don’t like it, but the Lord has most assuredly spoken to me and let me know that it is sinful indulgence to expect the world to revolve around one’s self.

I would hope that from this point forward, for however much time I’m allowed in this life, I would–after this lesson–at the very outset of life’s such disruptions, understand the spiritual implications. I hope that I will immediately verify in my spiritual understanding that nothing happens in the believer’s life in which our Lord is not intimately interested. We do not believe in and serve an existential God. Then, I would hope that I would always apply this primary “trust” Scripture to my life: “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Verify but trust. That’s my prayerful New Year’s wish for you as well when you face life’s sometimes unpleasant surprises.