In past lives, both my wife Laurie and I played in the fringes of the celebrity circuit. She as an actress, and I via my professional role of helping celebrities such as Michael J. Fox, Richard Gere, Olympia Dukakis, Mark Hamill, and others participate in the political process as they, with the best intentions, strove to use their celebrity status to influence the political decisions of others.
Some might find it surprising that on occasion I still continue to check in on the latest celebrity gossip: Catching up on Paris Hilton’s latest drug bust; Lindsay Lohan’s trip back to rehab; the current misfortunes of Howard Stern’s pathetic group of radio minions referred to as the “Wack Pack.” I sometimes delude myself in allowing this guilty pleasure, by pretending that it helps me serve as an objective spectator of postmodern culture as I write about, speak on, and lead organizations that engage others in how to live a Christ-filled life in a rapidly increasing post-Christian society. However, in all honesty, I must admit to also seeking a feeling of schadenfreude, the German description of the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others.
Reporting on the antics of those whose lives aren’t centered in Christ is not a new pastime. Peter talks about the “living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” of the Gentiles (1 Peter 4:3). Like our first century Christian brothers and sisters, it seems that we postmodern Christians must also engage in a daily battle against the overwhelming societal message that power, wealth, beauty, and sexual pleasure are the keys to happiness. Just as in the early times, we too are often derisively ridiculed by our societal peers as naïve and hopelessly out of touch.
However, although not often reported in the media, we as Christians have an exhilarating – albeit admittedly sometimes terrifying – advantage over those who don’t confess to be Christian, celebrity or not, that makes all the difference in this world and the next. When we stand humbly at the foot of the cross of Christ we are given a choice: We can choose between staying behind or leave the chaos of our selfish world.
If we choose the latter we are well aware that this will not be easy work. We are called to give up our past to follow the cross of Jesus. In the words of Jesus, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). However, as we prayerfully lose our desire to imitate our celebrity “role models” what we come to experience instead is a life of forgiveness and wholeness, blessings of work, worship, and service to others. Unlike the ego-driven celebrity escapades that often result in pain, hurt, and destruction, we as Christians discover a life in proper alignment, of the transformed and renewed mind of Christ, of the order that true peace brings as we humbly serve those whom are placed in our path.
We should never for a moment confuse celebrities with heroes. As King David reminds us in Psalm 16:3, it is the Godly saints that are the only true heroes. Heroes like my wife Laurie, who is provided both the pain and blessing of being currently engulfed in the “sandwich generation,” caring for both our child and feeble elderly parents. Heroes such as our teachers, social workers, military men and women, volunteers, foster parents, pastors, direct care staff, police, and firefighters.
To paraphrase the words of fellow Christian and singer/song writer, Lyle Lovett, you and I are soldiers in the army of the Lord. In the process, we become free to ignore the antics of those who grace our celebrity gossip rags. Rather, we become grace-filled children of God as we set our own egos aside to worship our Lord and Savior and provide help, healing, and hope to those in need. We transcend the ego-induced suffering that this world so often cruelly inflicts. We become heroes as defined by King David. This is the way to live a life of significance in the age of Paris Hilton and Howard Stern.
Dr. Kurt Senske is chief executive officer of Lutheran Social Services of the South and author of The Calling: Live a Life of Significance (forthcoming, November, 2010).