the coming weeks we will find ourselves saturated with a celebration of
celebrity. Beginning with the Oscars before moving quickly onto the Commonwealth
Games, our newspapers and television screens will not only be celebrating
the triumphs of actors and athletes, they will inflict us with a barrage
of subtext, bearing the message: the thing that counts most in life is
to be feted and celebrated and that the most important acts are recorded
in such a way. By implication, those whose anonymity through life is maintained
have not amounted to much.
In the midst of such adoration and adulation, we are tempted to believe that we are somehow insignificant in the overall scheme of the world - absorbing a sense of irrelevance - yet true greatness is not related to fame. It is more often found – and always has its seeds – in much more simple and unobtrusive acts.
The celebrity which we call great is more often than not scripted, rehearsed, edited, made-up, dressed-up and air-brushed to such a degree that it is often hard to know the real person. We know little of a balanced life-style, their compassion for the poor, or their commitment to justice. The athletes we fete spend almost every waking hour in preparation for the seconds of performance we see replayed on our screens. In fact, it is easy to forget that the heights they achieve before us are actually born of many hidden acts.
The desire for fame and fortune is perhaps as old as humanity itself, at the root of Cain’s dispute with Abel, and impacting Jesus and his disciples. When Jesus was aware that the disciples had been discussing greatness, he gave them a measure: “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all" – true greatness in God’s eyes is not measured in what we achieve for ourselves but in the capacity that we have to lift others. It requires both patience and perseverance to achieve greatness in this way, and a deep humility born of the realisation that the only recognition which matters does not occur in the media.
In a time when there were no newspapers, and the only books in existence were held by elites whose collections became the foundation of our understandings of history, the names of God’s people were spoken of as being recorded in a ‘book of life’ (Ps. 69:28 cf Rev 21:27) – etched in the memory of the eternal. In contrast to a media in which ‘yesterday’s headlines become today’s fish and chip wrapping,’ we do well to commit ourselves to those acts and attitudes which reflect the heart of God.
“I do all things for the sake of the gospel,” says Paul (1 Cor 9:23), whose only desire for fame was to receive the prize which God has prepared for all who follow His call.
March 5, 2006