Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bold Humility

Imagine your great-great-grandfather came to visit you here in the 21st Century.  You would have so much to show him: Freeways, microwaves, television, cell phones.  I wonder what he would think of indoor plumbing and air conditioning?  At some point, he would notice that there is a special class of people in today’s world.  We shower them with money.  We pay close attention to every detail of their lives: What clothes they wear, what sorts of houses they live in, who they socialize with, fall in love with, break up with.  If people in this special class tell us we should buy a certain product, we do it.  Some of these people are in this special class because they are especially talented in some way: Athletics, singing, or acting, mostly.  Some are in the special class because they are especially attractive in a physical sense.  And some are in the special class for no discernible reason whatsoever; they just are.  And what do we call these special people?  Celebrities.  Have you ever wondered where that term came from?  It is actually a derivative of the word “celebrate.”  We think of celebrating a holiday like Christmas or Easter.  But one meaning of the word “celebrate” is “to hold up or play up for public notice.”  In other words, we make a big deal out of them.  We don’t often use the word “celebrate” in that way, although occasionally you will hear something like, “She is a celebrated author.” 

            So celebrities are people we celebrate; people we pay special attention to, talk about, listen to, seek to emulate.  Your great-great-grandfather would notice that American culture in the 21st Century is obsessed with celebrities.  There’s even a documented psychological disorder called Celebrity Worship Syndrome.  In one article I read, a psychologist speculated that 1/3 of the population might be afflicted with this disorder.  On the lower levels, it’s pretty harmless: You are more likely to buy a magazine or watch a TV news show if you think a celebrity you’re interested in will be talked about in it.  At the moderate level, you put posters of your favorite celebrity all over your bedroom, and fantasize about meeting him or her.  Your friends tease you about having a "crush" on this famous person.  At the extreme level, you track the celebrity’s movements.  You truly believe there’s a connection between you and him or her.  You may even think your favorite celebrity is communicating with you through some sort of code; perhaps hidden messages in his movies or songs.  In 1981, long before anyone coined the diagnosis Celebrity Worship Syndrome, John Hinkley Jr tried to kill President Reagan because he thought his favorite movie star, Jodie Foster, would be impressed by his actions. 
            I think we can all see the evil in that.  And while none of us may have a dangerous fixation on a particular famous person, I would argue that every one of us has a problem with a very different form of celebrity worship.  In my opinion, our celebrity worship is much more destructive than any pop-culture obsession could be.  We don't celebrate Tom Cruise or LeBron James or Taylor Swift, we celebrate--make a big deal about--ourselves.  We’re in a series about boldness.  Last week, we talked about what boldness is.  This week, I want us to look at John the Baptist, one of the boldest people who has ever lived.  But in the story we'll read Sunday, you'll see that he was also humble.  Boldness and humility may seem to be mutually exclusive, but the person who is bold for the Kingdom will be inherently humble.  And humility is the answer to our peculiar form of celebrity worship.  Sunday, we'll talk about how our celebrity worship manifests itself in our lives, and how we can defeat it. 

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