Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Disability - Learning from the King of Pop

I spent yesterday hanging around with a bunch of teenagers kayaking on the Youghiogheny River. It was a lot of fun! After our kayak trip, we invaded a local pizza place for some really delicious pizza. While we waited for our pizza, the TV blared news about the "earth-shattering events" of the day at the funeral of the King of Pop Michael Jackson.

Now I'm cool but I'm not hip to Michael Jackson. I don't own a single one of his Cd's nor do I aspire to. I've seen passing glimpses over the years of Michael in some of his "over the top" performances. I've heard more than I wanted about his bizarre lifestyle. I remember the picture of his dangling his infant son Prince Michael II over a balcony in Berlin and other even more unspeakable bizarre acts and accusations that swirled around Michael Jackson during his life.

Yesterday I watched Michael's daughter Paris struggle to talk about her father through her tears while her Jackson aunts and uncles stood in a circle around her. What I heard and saw moved me to tears in my heart - not because of Michael's death - but rather because of his life and what it says about the world we live in.

Michael Jackson is the epitome of tragic living! Some say he had it all: he had the world by the tail. Millions worshipped at the altar that was Michael Jackson. I never knelt at that altar but I do mourn from my heart because of who Michael was and the picture of our culture he presents. In that one frail abused body - remanufactured over the years with life-altering surgeries and other treatments - is a living parable of what our American culture worships.

If he did have it all, then why was he so desperately unhappy? What led him to always push the edge of bizarre behavior to one more atrocious act after another? What really went on in his mind and heart? What really happened on his Neverland Ranch in those "secret rooms"? Why was he the boy who never wanted to grow up like his idol Peter Pan?

Michael Jackson had fame. He had celebrity and notoriety. He had money and glitz beyond description. He had adoring crowds screaming at his every gyration.

His life was a long story of abuse beginning in his own childhood. Apparently his own father "dangled his son Michael" from a dangerous height just because he could as he pushed Michael to be a super star - the King of Pop. Accusations of drug and sexual addictions, pedophilia and all kinds of bizarre behavior followed Michael Jackson around wherever he went and even when he tried to hide - under his umbrella or on his Neverland Ranch.

One op-ed piece in the New York Times by Bob Herbert (July 3, 2009) describes Herbert's mid-1980's meeting with Michael Jackson "as one of the creepier experiences of my life." Later in the same article Herbert writes that Michael "weirded me out."

Herbert continues: "... what I wish I had thought more about in those long-ago days of Michael-mania was the era of extreme immaturity and grotesque irresponsibility that was already well under way in America. The craziness played out on a shockingly broad front and Jackson's life, among many others, would prove to be a shining and ultimately tragic example. ... All kinds of restraints were coming off. It was almost as if the adults had gone into hiding. ... In many ways we descended as a society into a fantasyland, trying to leave the limits and consequences and obligations of the real world behind. ... Jackson was the perfect star for the era, the embodiment of fantasy gone wild. He tried to carve himself up into another person, but, of course, there was the same Michael Jackson underneath -- talented but psychologically disabled to the point where he was a danger to himself and others.
Reality is unforgiving. There is no escape. Behind the Jackson facade was the horror of child abuse. Court records and reams of well-documented media accounts contain a stream of serious allegations of child sex abuse and other inappropriate behavior with very young boys. Jackson, a multimillionaire megastar, was excused as an eccentric. Small children were delivered into his company, to spend the night in his bed, often by their parents.
One case of alleged pedophilia against Jackson, the details of which would make your hair stand on end, was settled for a reported $25 million. He beat another case in court.
The Michael-mania that has erupted since Jackson's death - not just an appreciation of his music, but a giddy celebration of his life - is yet another spasm of the culture opting for fantasy over reality. We don't want to look under the rock that was Jackson's real life. As with so many other things, we don't want to know." (Bob Herbert, New York Times, July 3, 2009)

There is a huge teaching moment in the tragic story of Michael Jackson's life and death. It is call for serious Christians - especially parents - to stop and ponder some life lessons we can learn from Michael. Perhaps the greatest success of Michael Jackson's tragic life would be if men and women, teens and children whose hearts belong to Jesus could see this tragedy as a call to reevaluate what we value, what success really looks like from God's perspective and what we need to change in our own hearts.

The glitz, the "success" and fortune all came to a crashing meteoric burn when the King of Pop lost his life for whatever reason (to be determined at some future date related to various tests by forensic pathologists). The bottom line is that Michael the man is dead. He will never prance across another stage. He will never perform another bizzare act or be accused of some audacious activity.

In both life and death Michael screams for thoughtful people everywhere to take a serious look at what "success" should look like in our world. For Christians, the search for what God thinks "success" looks like might begin with the ancient prophet Micah: "Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8)

If we summon the moral courage to turn over the rock of who and what Michael really was, we will find some horrors but we may also discover what is real and true by way of comparison. That would be a very good thing from a very tragic life!

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