Twitter is a wonderful tool. I keep up with dozens of journals, news sources, and artists who interest me through it. Of course, if you lack a trash filter, you can easily get distracted onto thousands of useless spiritual cul-de-sacs. They are hard to resist. For some reason, two stories caught my momentary attention. One said, “Taylor Swift may never marry.” The other said, “Teen Mom photographed in bikini. Makes sex tape with porn star.” My reponse to the first is, “Uh, Taylor Swift is free to not marry. Think I’ll survive.” The second? “Someone needs to help that child before she makes another stupid mess out of her life.”
What’s the deal with us? People ruining themselves is momentarily interesting, of course, but it’s the spiritual equivalent of eating only French fries for the rest of your life. You’ll pay for it eventually.
My day was not nearly so glam. I conducted a funeral for one of my dearest friends in the world. He was the chair of the committee that brought me to my present church twenty years ago. He was always the one who was working behind the scenes to lead through others without a spotlight on himself. Today, after the service, the stories poured out of things he accomplished, family members he helped with finances or trouble, lives changed because Charlie said, “I think you ought to do it.”
I had a copy of his autobiography written years ago, just so his family might know about his life. I read back through it before I did the eulogy. It was a story like many from his generation—love of family, friends, faith, and helping others. He rose to a Vice Presidency in the Bell system before he finished, but you would never know it. Everyone felt like his best friend, although if you fought him, he was tough. He had a way, said one friend, of being determined and once he set his mind on what was right, there was no way you would stop him. But he was never mean about it. Read the rest of this entry
Whitney Houston made your heart soar with that magnificent voice. You kept hoping for her—so lovely, so achingly vulnerable, so fragile. “Come on back, girl,” you hoped. In the end, she didn’t. There will be moralizing—drugs, bad choices, all the rest. But such times are wrong for moral lessons. There is a time to criticize, and a time to refrain from criticizing. A time to learn a lesson, and a time to let the dead alone and mourn.
The story of Whitney Houston makes me think how hard it is to care for one’s own soul when there are so many other agendas vying for us.
Diane Sawyer recounted on the news last evening about that famous interview in 2002, when there was so much speculation about how thin she was and wondering about her condition.
Sawyer: If you had to name the devil for you, the biggest devil among them?
Houston: That would be me. It’s my deciding, it’s my heart, it’s what I want. And what I don’t want. Nobody makes me
do anything I don’t want to do. It’s my decision. So the biggest devil is me. I’m either my best friend or my worst enemy. And that’s how I have to deal with it.
I respect her right to assess her own life. But to take it a little deeper, I would add that it is important to understand what it means to genuinely accept the responsibility to care for oneself. If that sounds easy to do, it is not. We are stewards of our lives. A friend of mine told me of a seminary teacher colleague who used to say, “The first spiritual law is this: God loves you, and everyone has a plan for your life.”
Whitney said on the interview played on the news that the most terrible sound in the world is the sound of 10,000 disappointed fans. That in my opinion is the demonic temptation of being an entertainer or for anyone who works with people on a large scale. Preachers know: one or two venomous critics can cancel 100 who are blessed by us—if we give them that power.
But why would we? And then there is that restlessness in oneself. I asked an ambitious classmate of mine, who was never satisfied that the current church he was in was not a “good fit” for him, “How many people will it take to tell you how wonderful you are before you can be happy?” That’s the question you have to answer before you can do this work. That was three churches ago for him. Hope he finally found the grass above the septic tank.
A pastor friend put it this way wants: “I’m not bothered by what the critics said nearly so much I am bothered that I let it bother me.” THAT is the place where the devil does his best work.
Rest in peace, Whitney. Sing with the angels, and fear the critics no more. In heaven, every judgment heals and purges, and there are no more tears or pain, for the former things have passed away.