Is It Good to Be a Star?

Recently, I shared my amazement at how my granddaughter, fifteen years old, had established herself as a minor celebrity on the social-media video site Tik Tok. What you might have wondered if you read that post was why I didn’t give more of a shout-out to the kid. I didn’t tell you her user name or provide instructions on how you could watch her videos. Don’t I risk having my grandpa privileges revoked?

The answer is, “No.” No, I don’t worry about my credentials as a loving grandparent, and, especially, no, I don’t particularly want to encourage anyone to watch her videos. For the most part, the ones I have seen are not tremendously lurid or anything, but they do involve her dancing to songs from which we’re better off not repeating the lyrics. Some of her own language in those posts is stuff I find uncomfortable. I’m very proud of my granddaughter but not for this work.

That brings me to a question. Is fame really a good thing? My current study of Ecclesiastes suggests that fame, like pretty much everything else, is a fleeting, futile thing. But my Tik Tok girl is making money from her moment of fame. Shouldn’t she milk it for all its worth, selling all the hoodies and inspiring all the fan art that she can?

Seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands

1 Thessalonians 4:11

The answer is, “No.” No, fame is not something to be pursued for its own sake, and no, all fame–even the sort that makes us money–isn’t a positive thing. Let me give a simple example. In 1950, like today, there were two senators from Wisconsin. One of them served for an impressive 24 years, but my guess is that you’ve never heard of him: Alexander Wiley. Wiley’s counterpart, serving only 10 years, was Joseph McCarthy. That’s the “I have here in my hand a list of 205 communists” McCarthy.

Whether you think of McCarthy as the ultimate villain or a guy who was doing a patriotic duty, he almost certainly handled his affairs poorly, doing more to advance himself than to make the nation safe from commies. His fame clearly outstrips Senator Wiley, but was that fame that should bring him pride?

The answer is “No.” No, fame can, perhaps more often than not, be a negative thing, and No, fame sought for its own sake is essentially idolatry. That’s why Paul cautioned the Thessalonians to hold back.

But we encourage you, brothers and sisters, to do this even more, to seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, so that you may behave properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone.

–1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12

Just to be clear, I am very proud of my oldest granddaughter. She clearly has a charisma and talent that can help her achieve things that I would never dream of achieving. That said, I want to see her pursuing things that do not degrade her and, ideally, that bring honor to God.

Does my grandfather-ness outrank my role as a child of God? The answer is “No.”

The Girl’s a Star

The weirdest thing happened recently. My wife, Penny, took our granddaughter to a swanky retail establishment, Dollar General. They were looking to buy something of incredible import, but that has nothing to do with what happened.

As they waited in line, they heard this mother and her two daughters talking excitedly behind them. The weird part was that they seemed to be talking about our granddaughter.

“Excuse me,” the mom finally said. “Are you on Tik Tok?”

If you, like me, live outside the mainstream of the social media ecosystem, you might not know Tik Tok, an app that allows people to upload and share short music videos of three to fifteen seconds or looping videos that go up to a minute. What can you do in 15 seconds? Not much. Most the videos are millennials doing goofy things. It’s basically Vine with a slightly longer time limit.

If you’re old enough to remember the old TV ads for compilation albums from K-Tel, then you could imagine Tik Tok. Here’s a snippet of Elton John followed by a couple of seconds of Tony Orlando and then a few notes of Rod Stewart. It seems that my favorite 15-year-old has found her place between Vickie Lawrence and Bill Withers.

When the mom asked, our girl turned and replied, dramatically, “Maybe.” What followed was absurd. The mom and daughters took photos with her. They expressed their admiration. Afterward, we learned that our little celeb has a huge following–something like half a million people–on the platform. She’s a Tik Tok star, and she now gets recognized from time to time when she’s out living her life. She has received a number of different pieces of fan art and is currently filling 200 orders for merchandise. In short, she’s turning this into a paying gig.

But here’s where I trip up. What sort of hollow life does someone have that makes them enjoy watching tiny little blips of video of a girl acting silly, perhaps lip-syncing to some song or busting into a dance move? In fact, these people don’t just enjoy watching these absurd little clips, but they get excited to meet the “artist” who filmed herself eating a bagel or forcing out a belch. They draw portraits of her. They buy hoodies with her name or image or something plastered on them. It’s just too weird.

Who would it excite you to stand in line with at Dollar General? I might find it fascinating to have a conversation with John Piper or N.T. Wright. A few months ago, I had my picture taken with Peter Furler, the former singer of Newsboys, but I did that for the benefit of my daughter. But who would excite me just for the sake of being able to say that I had a personal encounter with them? I’m hard-pressed to name anyone.

We like the idea of having a personal connection with the famous and significant, but in the end, the only connection worth having at Dollar General or elsewhere is a connection with Jesus, because anything else is just an exceptionally short video in the grand epic of eternity.

What’s Your Song?

This morning, Alexa was kind enough to play some music for me. One of the songs in my get-ready-for-worship playlist is “The Stand” from Joel Houston of Hillsong. You’ll remember it:

I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all.
I’ll stand, my soul, Lord, to you surrendered.
All I have is yours.

The recording on my playlist is in a concert/worship setting, and toward the end, the singer/leader dropped out but encouraged the audience/worshippers to sing that chorus one more time. You could hear hundreds–maybe thousands–of voices singing as one, praying as one, worshipping as one. Cool stuff.

It occurred to me that it would be amazing to have a song that you’ve written or popularized that you could begin and then allow those listening to carry it for you. But then I realized that many artists can do that sort of thing. The Rolling Stones could do that with “Wild Horses.” It would be an intoxicating feeling, but perhaps hollow.

We know that for that experience to be more than just a good feeling, the song needs to be worthwhile. It needs to take people into the presence of God. That’s what I think I heard on that recording. And it’s something that I’m pretty sure I’ll never experience as the songwriters/singer/worship leader. (Sigh.)

In mulling over that bittersweet thought, I realized that every one of us is gifted by God to write such a song. More precisely, we’re called to do something that will powerfully bless others and help them draw closer to Jesus and to God the Father. My song isn’t a literal song with lyrics and melody. Yours probably isn’t either.

I’ve written some songs, and I’d love to be able to stand on a stage and lead people in singing them. That sounds great, but that’s not my calling, not my song. I could preach a good sermon, but that doesn’t seem to be my song either–at least not as a vocation.

What if I–or what if you–sat around lamenting that my songs don’t resonate with people in the way that, say, Michael W. Smith’s songs do? What if I couldn’t listen to sermons without wondering why I don’t get the chance to preach? If I allowed myself to get stuck in that way, I’d never create whatever alternate form of song that God has gifted me to fashion.

Paul addresses this thinking in 1 Corinthians 12:12-16

For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ…Indeed, the body is not one part but many.  If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” it is not for that reason any less a part of the body. 

What is your “song”? There’s something that you were created to do for the people (or the future people) of God that will be every bit as life-changing and amazing as having thousands of people singing your song by memory. It probably won’t be as dramatic, and it probably won’t engage thousands of people at the same moment, but it can be just as powerful.

But if I sit around listening to “The Stand” and pitying myself that my songwriting won’t rise to that level, then I’ll never write the “song” that only I can write.

The Most Famous Writer in the World–Mark 1:39

So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

On this day after Christmas, I’d like to make a confession. I’m a writerly egomaniac. Sure, I churn out these little devotions with no real hope of a readership that extends beyond the single digits, but in my heart of hearts, I yearn to have the audience of J.K. Rowling and Michael Crichton combined. I want to be a household name, the sort of writer that, when he receives the Nobel Prize, evokes comments like, “But didn’t he already get that years ago?”

Perhaps I’m exaggerating here, but anyone who puts (electronic) pen to (digital) paper wants to have a decent audience to read those words. No musician wants to go unheard. No actor will be satisfied going unwatched, and no writer will want to  be unread. The more readers, the better.

Shouldn’t that have been the case with Jesus? Shouldn’t he have hired a press agent and covered a lot more of the countryside? Shouldn’t he have avoided repeated visits to the same town and opted for the big cities rather than the hick towns of Galilee? I think the Judas character in Jesus Christ Superstar explored some of these ideas very well:

If you’d come today you could have reached a whole nation;
Israel in four b.c. had no mass communication.

Obviously Jesus didn’t have things very well thought out. He stayed in the backwater of Galilee and found himself repeatedly at Capernaum. If, as we read in yesterday’s verse, his whole purpose in coming was to preach to people, then he didn’t seem to work out that mission with a great deal of planning. Maybe if Jesus had only read The Purpose Driven Life.

But then Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. He knew where to preach and where not to. He visited exactly the right number of towns, exactly the right number of times. By saying this, I’m not simply uttering the platitudes of the faithful. I’m observing results. Sure, Jesus got less overall exposure than Kim Kardashian, his staying power–with a billion adherents two thousand years later–has proven very strong.

This is why, on the day after Christmas, when I examine my lack of Pulitzer prizes and my brief list of published books, I recognize that my fame might be exactly what it needs to be. Fame is not the measure of a disciple and a steward. Obedience is.