Another clump of celebrity deaths. . . and they all played some type of role in my childhood and young adult years. I hadn’t thought about any of them at all until their names hit the news this week.
First, there was Ed McMahon. I thought Johnny Carson was a funny guy. He was especially funny when he picked on his sidekick Ed. It was even funnier when Ed would lay a zinger on Johnny. Whenever I could, I’d stay up late watching these guys in search of a good laugh. They’d deliver. More recently I’d travel down memory lane through the Carson DVD’s my kids got me as a gift a few years ago.
Then, there was Farah Fawcett. I don’t remember ever watching Charlie’s Angels, but I have to admit that as a young twenty-something guy I certainly knew who she was. I remember that best-selling poster hanging on a few dorm room walls back at Geneva College. My college yearbook bears testimony to Fawcett’s influence on pop culture. Just take a look at the hairstyles on lots of the coeds.
Finally, there’s Michael Jackson. I loved the early version of the guy. I can still remember with great clarity the first time I heard his music. I was in 8th grade at Huntingdon Junior High School outside of Philly. It was a rainy day and after school I had walked around the corner to my buddy Bruce Lutz’s house where we were to be working on a joint Social Studies presentation. Before, during, and after working on that project we kept lifting the needle on the family’s record player and starting over on a little 45 featuring The Jackson Five. The song was “I Want You Back.” The music was fast, catchy, fun, and infectious. I was amazed that the voice I was hearing came from a kid a couple of years younger than me. It was even better to see Jackson and his brothers perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. Those infectious, high-energy hits kept coming, and today, that music transports me back to Bruce’s living room and that time in my life. After those early years, Michael Jackson lost me. But don’t use me as the benchmark for his following. We all know how big it grew.
As expected, the deaths of the two former stars have been eclipsed in the media by the death of the latter. It’s all over the television and the Internet. Shrines and memorials are popping up all over the world. This guy was big. He’ll most likely be the Elvis of the generation that follows all those Elvis followers. But as I watch the response to his death, I can’t help but wonder about what this very talented and equally odd entertainer meant to so many people. What left such massive holes in their lives that they looked to Michael Jackson to fill? Celebrity is a very, very strange phenomenon.
But other thoughts have been provoked by these deaths for me. I am reminded that while our lives on this earth take a variety of paths, they all end the same way. It doesn’t matter how much or how little one has in terms of money, fame, and attention. The heart eventually stops. Solomon pondered these realities in Ecclesiastes. If we watch the lives of the people who we look to as the bars we hope to reach, the last breath always comes. . . . and it’s always the same. That would certainly become more real to us if we were somehow able to witness the last sixty seconds of each of these lives. Life on this earth ends and it’s never pretty.
I’m reminded of how we need to view our lives not in terms of the number of days starting with our birthday and ending with our last breath, but from eternity to eternity. All of us are part of a bigger story. It is God’s story. Chapter One is titled “Creation.” It begins with the eternal God who made all things out of nothing. Those “all things” were made perfect and for His glory. Chapter Two is called “Fall.” It begins in Genesis 3:6 as all things come undone due to human rebellion and the desire to do things our way. Sadly, Chapter Two is also about the results of the fall, including spiritual death, the sufferings of life, and physical death. But thank God that His story includes Chapter Three – “Redemption.” Immediately God in His mercy and grace puts into place His plan to undo what’s been done by our rebellion. For those who have embraced the God who has embraced them and entered into Chapter Three, there is the hope of Chapter Four. “Glorification” awaits all those who are in Christ as once and for all those “all things” that came undone are restored to what they once were. . . . and whether we know it or not, all creation longs and groans for that day. If you’re unfamiliar with this story, it’s laid out in wondrous and engaging ways in the book we all call The Bible. I know that it’s an amazing story to live in. . . and the older I get, the more deeply I can’t wait to get to the end. . . which is really a new beginning that will have not end. In addition, I grieve for those who never get beyond Chapter Two before their heart stops beating.
Late last night I was sitting and watching the news about Michael Jackson’s death. My 16-year-old came into the house and immediately asked, “Hey Dad. Did you hear about Michael Jackson?” “Yep,” I answered. Then he asked, “Where do you think he is?” I couldn’t answer the question with any certainty. God is, after all, a whole lot bigger than me. What I could remind him of are the words of the Apostle Paul regarding those who have embraced the God who has embraced them and entered into the Chapter Three life of following Jesus. In Philippians 1:21, Paul says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” This reality gave Paul confidence to say that for those who are in Christ, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (II Cor. 5:6-8).
Today, we are reminded of these realities. Thanks be to God.