Monday, September 23, 2013

Killing the Fame Monster

Fame, makes a man take things over
Fame, lets him loose, hard to swallow
Fame, puts you there where things are hollow
Fame
--from David Bowie’s “Fame”

Lady Gaga said that her album The Fame Monster was based on reflections regarding the downside of fame. Yes, another celebrity complaining about all that money and power and adulation (though Gaga seems smart enough to have a pretty good perspective on it). The album followed, appropriately, her album titled The Fame. It’s tough to have one without the other—fame without the fame monster. But could it be that the fame monster is a creature of our own making? Of course it is! The more we feed the fame, the more monstrous it becomes…the more monstrous we become.

This is my confession as one of the many Christians—lay and clergy—who have been tempted by the call of our culture’s current #1 god: fame. We have allowed ourselves to slide with the cultural gravity toward the desire for the approval and acclaim of lots of people, if not for our own accomplishments then by association with someone famous. Christians resist so many gods, only to find ourselves unquestioningly facedown, worshipping in cults of personality.

We drop names of celebrity Christian musicians and writers, celebrity pastors, even celebrity theologians, with whom we have rubbed shoulders. Does anyone else see how screwed up this is? I’m sure I’ve done it. But now, when I hear a brother or sister offer a humble-brag about how much they’re “blessed” by being in the presence of some well-known Christian, I want to say, “And I am blessed by the 82-year-old woman in my church who has spent 60 years teaching the Bible to children and making quilts for pediatric cancer patients. What an honor to be in her presence!”

But we want fame, just like the world has. What’s worse, we want more approval and acclaim than our peers have. So, not only is there this lust that feeds on others and is totally self-centered and evil, but this lust is insatiable as long as there’s someone else getting “more.” And that “more” has to be qualified with quotation marks because it is utterly abstract and indefinable.

What this all adds up to is unhappiness. If fame is our M.O., then we can never be at peace or joyful because there is no limit, no moment when we’ve arrived. Oh, there’s a day of joy here, a weekend of peace there, when we’ve received some sort of acclaim or taken a step up some non-existent ladder. But then we realize someone else has more—or might soon have more (how sick is that!)—and it’s back to square one, back to the bottom rung on a new non-existent ladder.

I’m taking the liberty of directing our attention to this as a battleground on which we Christians—especially leaders—need to be launching a campaign. In short, I’m inviting you to a fight. The key arena is the mind, keeping our motives in check. Why do you really want those readers, listeners, numerous church attenders? The same way we can’t allow our thoughts to go down the path of anger or gluttony or sexual lust, we also can’t allow our thoughts to go down the path of fame lust.

We must do those things and entertain thoughts that cultivate peace and humility in mind and life. We must do what will edify others, even at the cost of our own recognition or popularity or approval. We must learn to enjoy the simple things that fly away and are remembered no more, noticed by no one, treasured only in secret places. Mostly, we must nurture and feed our life hidden with Christ in God, enjoy what God enjoys and seek God’s fame—glorify, testify, magnify the wonder and beauty and power and matchless worth of God alone.

Will we be known? Possibly. Whether we’re pastors, musicians, writers, teachers, artists, butchers, bakers, or candlestick makers, the intention is typically to share what we do with others. We are the light of the world, a shining city on a hill. It does us no good to hide, for we truly were made to “shine like stars in the world” (Phil. 2:16).

But what kind of “stars”? If we’re seeking fame, and especially if we’re using God to gain fame for ourselves—aka “taking the LORD’s name in vain”—then hiding is certainly a viable option, at least until we can bring that idolatrous fame lust in check. At the end of the day we are either feeding or fighting the fame monster. It’s impossible to “not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Mt. 6:1-6) and also use both hands to nail together a platform of vainglory.

In the end, may our legacy not be our accomplishments or creations or even good reputations of character and godliness. May our legacy be the lives we’ve helped along the kingdom path, perhaps with no real memory or knowledge of who was that one who journeyed with us?...only the knowledge that somehow God is with us and we’re farther along.

“Even our own feeble hands ache to seize the crown you wear,” sings James Taylor in his “New Hymn.” The world doesn’t need you or me, though in God’s hands we become useful. The crown is not ours, though our loving Lord crowns us with the beauty of holiness. But we strive for the fame that belongs to God alone at our peril—not because God will zap us, but because we just might get what we’re after.



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