Thursday, July 9, 2009

It's wrong to be a fan of Jesus

Thanks to media overload, I'm still thinking about Michael Jackson.

And I'm noticing how the next step after idolizing a pop star, is turning him or her into whatever we want them to be. This human, Michael Jackson, is being credited with being the greatest entertainer who ever lived, the first person to transcend black/white racial identification, the first black entertainer to attract widespread white interest (really? My husband says that must have been a surprise to Stevie Wonder, James Brown, The Temptations, etc.), someone who taught us all to love the world and actually united the world, etc.

In response to all that, now comes the barrage of psychologists, philosophers and even ministers who are telling us what Michael Jackson "means." I guess what they really mean is, what the illusion/image of MJ means.

Somewhere under all that is the "real" Michael Jackson that none of us ever knew. Because we never knew him, all we can do is talk about the projection of who we think he is, and in some cases, want him to be.

It's that "want him to be" that makes a fan.

And there's the danger I never thought about before when it comes to something I know more about: Christians and Jesus.

Is it possible to be a "fan" of Jesus - to create out of our own desires and some limited information, a Jesus of our own making? To cheer for him, find other fans in that same Jesus, and get in fights with fans of some other "Jesus"? Do we wear his insignia, gather in fan conferences and sing his fight songs? Or like MJ fans, do we project on our "Jesus" all we want the world to be, all we want heaven to be, and what we find "spiritual"?

Ouch. I think there is more to this than I ever considered.

Jesus had lots of fans in the days when he walked the earth. But read John 6 - he intentionally dispersed them. Jesus doesn't want or need fans; he called us to be followers. And that asks of us something entirely different (although on some superficial levels, fandom and followership share some characteristics).

To be a follower is to let the living Jesus into your life. We become entirely aware of His presence, of His love, of His forgiveness -- but Jesus as Lord will make changes, and the long term effect should be that we are more like him. His character - his humility, his confidence, his love and welcome for all, his desire for God to get the glory - these things are immediately apparent when they grow in us, because they're so different from what we are naturally. "Followership" will make us different. Sometimes it will cause us trouble in the world. But it is also extremely welcome in a world where everyone is used to everyone else jockeying for position, power and acceptance.

Fandom, on the other hand, creates divisions, power grabs, fights for influence and striving for attention. Fans are interested in us v. them; fans want to wear the T shirt and find other fans to belong with. Fans turn the object of their interest into a larger representation of themselves, and attribute to their idol their own fears and wishes.

Perhaps we, being human, can't quite help mixing some fan-like behavior into our fumbling attempts at following Jesus. Maybe that is the sign of our need to grow further. But as a pastor it stands out to me this morning that this is a trap to be avoided. Fandom feels really good, but it is not following, and it is not the worship that the living Jesus wants from us.

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