She knew the odds were only one in 183 to win a ticket to Michael Jackson’s funeral. Living in Los Angeles for the summer, our daughter Talitha said, “Why not?” She wasn’t chosen. However, Talitha was one of an estimated one billion people around the world to watch the funeral on TV.
I vowed that I was not going to add my opinions to the mind-numbing media overkill following Jackson’s death. Unlike CNN, whose ratings soared after Jackson’s death, I don’t need a ratings boost. Unlike the obsessive need of so many devoted Michael Jackson fans to talk about their hero, I’ve never bothered with much Jackson over the years, even though we are contemporaries. Unlike those who gush over his status as an entertainment, music, cultural and fashion icon, I don’t watch TV and never even saw the “Thriller” music video until last week. And unlike the talking heads who are dissecting every detail of Jackson’s death, including who administered the medication, what’s in the will, and who should have custody of Jackson’s children, I am more interested in our district pastors who are recovering from surgery, our United Methodist churches which are passionately reaching out in ministry in the midst of financial challenges, and finding ways to feed the hungry children of our world.
I was prompted to write about Michael Jackson after Jim Searls of Holland First UMC emailed me an organ tribute to Jackson by Robert Ridgell at Trinity Wall Street Church in New York City. As I listened to Ridgell play a medley of Jackson’s greatest hits for the postlude on July 5, I could only smile and say, “Very clever, but it might not work in West Michigan.” If Ridgell could offer music, surely I could offer a few words.
Amazed at the endless media coverage of Jackson’s death at the expense of Iran, Afghanistan, Iraqand health care reform, I kept asking my children, “What’s the big deal with Michael Jackson and his sequined glove?” Their reply: “Mom, you just don’t get it. We grew up with Michael Jackson. We watched MTV while you were at work! He was an entertainment genius and set the standard for all those who followed him.” As people of faith, we would do well to ponder why our world has been so fascinated with Michael Jackson over many years, why his death has been such an “event,” and what it is about Jackson’s life that touches and challenges so many.
Michael was the youngest of the Jackson 5, a family singing group that became one of the biggest pop music phenomena of the 1970’s. Jackson’s first autobiography, Moonwalk, included accounts of physical and emotional abuse from his father as a young child. Incessant rehearsals, demands for perfection and whippings were common. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 1993, Jackson said that he often cried from loneliness and would sometimes throw up when he saw his father. At the same time, Michael’s father planted the seeds of his future success.
Michael Jackson never had a childhood, and I suspect he struggled the rest of his life to regain the innocence he lost. As my daughter said last week, “No five year old boy should be singing songs about taking girls on dates.” It’s no wonder that Jackson named his family compound in California Neverland Ranch, after the fantasy island on the story of Peter Pan, a boy who never grows up.
When Michael Jackson became a star in his own right, he set the standard for music and entertainment for the next 3 decades. Jackson was known for his meticulous attention to detail, rigorous preparation, insistence on complete control of everything, and compulsion for perfect performance. Most of all Jackson communicated passion and compassion as effectively as anyone on this earth. Time magazine (March 19, 1984) described Jackson’s influence as, “Star of records, radio, rock video. A one-man rescue team for the music business. A songwriter who sets the beat for a decade. A dancer with the fanciest feet on the street. A singer who cuts across all boundaries of taste and style and color, too”. Michael’s 1982 album, Thriller, is the world’s best-selling album of all time.
In his later years, Jackson became eccentric and reclusive. His appearance was almost androgynous, and he was plagued with financial problems and allegations of sexual abuse. He also zealously guarded the privacy of his children and supported dozens of charities around the world. He treated underprivileged children to free shows. He and Lionel Richie wrote, “We are the World” in 1985, a charity single whose proceeds went to help Africa. And after his hair caught fire filming a Pepsi commercial in 1984, Jackson donated money to what is now The Michael Jackson Burn Center in Culver City, California.
Granted, the sadness and tragedy of Michael Jackson’s childhood and his responses to it shaped his genius both positively — and for the worse. One could argue that apart from the pressures of his early life, Jackson might not have had such an impact upon the world. Nevertheless, you and I need to ask: How can you and I make the world a better place so that all of God’s children, including future Michael Jacksons, can enjoy the freedom and innocence of childhood, discover and use the gifts God has give them, and make a positive difference in the world?
- We can protect our children so that they do not grow up too fast.
- We can love people as God created them, rather than make them “earn” our love.
- We can see all people as Maya Angelou described Michael Jackson in her poem, read at his funeral, “He came to us from the Creator, trailing creativity in abundance.”
- We can speak out against a culture which idolizes entertainment and sports stars so that they are not able to live normal lives.
- We can honor and respect the extraordinary gifts of others at the same time as we point beyond ourselves to the unconditional love of God as the source of all gifts.
- We can model the life and teachings of Jesus, who proclaimed that the gospel of suffering love and life-giving service to others is the key to fullness of life.
- We can start with the person in the mirror – ourselves – and then make a change.
I would encourage you to watch Jackson’s music video, “Man in the Mirror,” which exemplifies the essence of Michael Jackson’s heart and spirit. (http://www.mtv.com/videos/michael-jackson/206759/man-in-the-mirror.jhtml)
Are you ready to make a change?
Man in the Mirror
I’m Gonna Make A Change,
For Once In My Life
It’s Gonna Feel Real Good,
Gonna Make A Difference
Gonna Make It Right . . .
As I Turn Up The Collar On My
Favorite Winter Coat
This Wind Is Blowin’ My Mind
I See The Kids In The Street,
With Not Enough To Eat
Who Am I, To Be Blind?
Pretending Not To See Their Needs
A Summer’s Disregard,
A Broken Bottle Top
And One Man’s Soul
They Follow Each Other On
The Wind Ya’ Know
‘Cause They Got Nowhere To Go
That’s Why I Want You To Know
I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change