Wednesday, July 8

Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson died this week.

His passing matters in different ways to different people, and in some way to most people. Responses to his tragic leaving are varied, too. Some of us feel shock, others vindication. Some sorrow, some pause, some nothing at all. Some feel angry.

Bill has just passed the eighty-years-old mark in his own life. He continues to live alone, unaided, maintaining his own home and yard. He drives himself to coffee and back. He's in relatively good health, and he's bitter that any one man should have such fanfare surrounding their death.

We're all gonna' die, you know. When it's your time to go, it's your time to go.

His tone is strident, bordering on rage.

I don't know what the big deal is about this guy. Lots and lots of people die and you never hear a thing about them and their g**d**n funerals.

He is an aging gentleman facing his own mortality and wondering why a man who sang a few songs should garner such praise and acclaim while the rest of us just slip away into the next life without more than a whispered acknowledgement.

He has a point. Michael Jackson is famous for his musical and performing genius. He's infamous for allegations of hurting children. His off-stage madness has earned him ~ and pop culture rags ~ notoriety and millions of dollars. Our unbridled curiosity has given the madness steady forward momentum. But on the other side of this life he is as we are: one person fully connecting with the One God. One magnificent, sinful, glorious, base, God-reflecting, wounded life standing toe-to-toe with Holy Love.

He receives the attention of millions at his passing because he impacted millions in his lifetime. You and I will impact many, many others, too ~ some in healing, supportive, and loving ways, others in harmful, unforgivable ways. When we go, the services held in our honor will be tiny compared to Michael's send-off. On this side of life, it will appear that his life was worth more than our own.

Bill feels that way. Maybe you do, too.

On the other side, who knows? I don't know what Bill will encounter there. I know that he dealt cruelly with his wife and daughters. I know that he is demanding in his old age as he was in his youth. I look at my own life, scales of judgment alternately swinging, loosely empty, or groaning beneath their staggering burdens.

Bill's life, mine, yours will not be considered as one more valuable than another. We are equally and passionately adored by our Creator. Did we acknowledge Jesus? Did we love well? Did we care for the poor, the fatherless, the broken? These are some of the qualities that will be measured ~ these, and the motives behind them.

Bill's frustration is understandable. Why should "some famous guy" get more attention than the man who has lived a hidden life well? In our culture, that trend isn't going to end. But Bill will get his all-eyes-on-him moment. It may not come with a golden coffin bedecked in red roses and surrounded by millions of mourners. It will certainly come with the One who made us giving Bill His full attention.

If I had words and opportunity, that would be something to tell Bill. There aren't many audiences that really matter. In fact, there are probably only two: Our God and the ones that He's asked us to love. Everything else is just clamour and fluff. So, while the living's still good, live for those two things. Find examples of secret-living integrity. Mirror that. Let the pomp and flash and noise of the famous entertain you; remember that behind that drama is a person much like you. A man or a woman who will be judged in the public eye, but ultimately measured ~ and cherished ~ in the eyes of God.

Thursday, July 2


Wearing stained khaki shorts and a wide-striped t-shirt, a stranger sits eating cafeteria sushi from a Styrofoam tray. A black and white keffiyeh is slung casually around his neck.

X-ray technicians scoot purposefully between examination rooms, quietly intoning the names of first one patient, then the next.

A beyond-old gentleman, parchment skin stretched too thin across dying bones, moans gently from his stretcher, "Help me? Somebody help me?" The immediately on-hand nurses reassure him, again and again, that he'll soon be rescued from his stuck-in-the-hallway plight.

Settling into a suspiciously soiled waiting room chair, I search for a magazine to busy my hands; something I can pretend to read while I take in the abbreviated bits of people-stories murmuring around me. My glance meets that of a fifty-something blue collar worker. Work boots agap at the tongues, shirt sleeves rolled past his elbows, he initiates conversation.

Small talk and pleasantries are quickly set aside as I set my gaze on the two slender metal pins protruding from his swollen right hand. In answer to my query, he tells of a tumble from his camper step followed by a pain filled and sleepless night. With a satisfied grin he relays the story of pokes and prods and pinning that he's since endured. I squirm to learn that he's been without painkillers all day. He is good-humored, I think, for a man who has been shuffling from one hospital waiting room to another for the past seven hours.

Our conversation turns to his time in the city and his much missed home in Saskatchewan. We talk about his wife, his dog, his three grown children. "And I'm going to be a Grandpa for the first time. Sometime this month, actually."

He refers to his coming grandchild by name, "Parker's coming soon, but he'll be born with only half a heart. It's going to be tough on the little guy." Parker will be Lacey and Ron's first child and the family's first grand baby. My new acquaintance calmly, gently, calls the wee on-the-way boy by name again as he talks about the research he's done into the baby's condition, the surgeries that will be involved in building the boy a heart that will do what it needs to, and the documented lifespan of a child born with such a condition.

"Twenty-one, twenty-two years. That's it. I don't know. You just wonder if it'd be better if maybe something happened right when he was born, you know?"

I don't know. I don't pretend to know. So I don't suggest that I do. I ask another question or two and then my name is called. "I don't know if I'll see you again," I say, moving toward the nurse that's waiting by the exam room door, "but I'm going to pray for Parker...and for Lacey...and for you. I'll just pray."

He doesn't say anything to that. What can you say to that? His parting smile is genuine and patient and full of goodness.

So here I am, thinking about Parker and Lacey and Grandpa-to-be and wondering if maybe you'd pray, too? Parker's story, his family's story, will never be known to us. But we can ask our Everywhere, Everydetail God to connect to that story.