Part 2 of my reflections from TGC17. This one came from a talk given by Kevin DeYoung on the life of John Calvin. When discussing Calvin’s desire to live a peaceful, obscure life, DeYoung commented, “What might God do if you decided to study obscurity first and leave the platform to God later?”
MTV has a ton of failed shows. One of my favorites is a little known shown created by comedian Bo Burnham titled Zach Stone is Gonna Be Famous. In the pilot episode we are introduced to Zach, an 18 year-old recent high school grad who uses his life savings to hire a reality TV camera crew to follow him around and document his amazing exploits in an effort to become famous. The only problem is that he has no marketable talent. None. This, coupled with his gigantic ego leads him to perform, in the pilot episode, a “dubstep-remix-eulogy” at his grandfather’s fourth ex-wife’s funeral. I’m still baffled why this show was cancelled.
What’s interesting about the show (and possibly the explanation why it was cancelled) is that it is surprisingly realistic. So much so that it almost feels as if it could really happen. Take a quick look on Youtube and you’ll see video bloggers that aren’t too far off from the show. No joke, it’s pretty creepy/sad/hilarious/sad again.
The show perhaps hits too close to home because, if we’re honest, fame is something most, if not all, of us desire. Zach simply is being more open about it than most of us.
For those as self-absorbed as myself, fame is the epitome of life. To be known and admired/respected/love/feared by many is a far-off, yet, in our minds, attainable dream that will demonstrate the massive significance of our life. Obscurity, by contrast, is the black plague of terrors, a painful death from which we can never escape no matter where we run.
Stranger than Fiction
The age that we live in brings out this fame-crazed state of the human heart all too well. Reality TV is an invention of the time that allows no-name individuals to gain monumental fame purely on the merits of a large lifestyle (seriously, did anyone really know who the Kardashians were be the reality TV show? Okay maybe they knew Kim, but this blog is G-rated so we can’t go into why).
Social media gets a bad rap much of the time for being an outlet for narcissism, and far be it from me to add to the multitude of voices. However, the platform has created a new format for individuals to gain fame. Social media stardom is the new trend for men and women who gain fame from creating videos purely for these sites. For most of these networks one can literally gain a following with friends and followers, the size of both demonstrating the extent of one’s fame (or the amount of time spent following others in hopes of them returning the favor).
Be Careful What You Wish For
The problem with fame though is that it often leaves it’s recipients wanting more. In 2005, at the age of 27, Tom Brady had won 3 Superbowls as the quarterback of the New England Patriots (he’s up to 5 now if you aren’t as painfully aware as I am). In an interview with 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft he illustrates some of the downsides to fame:
KROFT: Can you walk around Boston without getting mobbed?
BRADY: I have to usually wear a hat, sunglasses. That helps. And I don’t stick around in one place too long. You just kind of always maneuvering around. You know, in Boston, they love their sports celebrities. And it’s great. And we do have great support. It’s just there’s some things in your life you sacrifice, and that’s a lot of your personal space.
KROFT: Can you go out to restaurants?
BRADY: If I have the energy to deal with, you know, put a happy face on. Sometimes I don’t feel like that.
Even with as much fame as Tom Brady had, it left him feeling unsatisfied. Going out in public was now a burden that he must carry along with his success on the field. His life of fame left him more unhappy than his life as an obscure 6th round, 199th draft pick (for those of your unfamiliar with football, that’s not good).
Recently, I was chatting with a friend of mine who leads another campus ministry at my college. He made a brilliant observation that struck me. He noticed that the friends and students of his that have the greatest social media presence (and following) are also those who are least present in the physical world. Their attentiveness to their digital life (and fame) has separated them from their actual life and the joys to be found in it.
Fame and Glory
Fame is a cruel mistress, it leaves it’s lovers wanting and coming back for more and more. We are also keenly aware to it’s power over us, the desire for it flowing naturally from our hearts. The desire for fame is inescapable.
Thankfully, just as this desire can lead us to devastation and narcissism, it can also lead us to great joy if directed properly.
The problem with how we how seek fame is that we seek to be known and loved by others. We focus all our efforts on earning their love and admiration through amazing feats.
We were never meant to fill our the fame-void in our lives with other people’s affections, we were meant to fill it with God’s.
C. S. Lewis in his famous essay The Weight of Glory, details a revelation he had. He writes,
When I began to look into this matter I was stocked to find such different Christians as Milton, Johnson and Thomas Aquinas taking heavenly glory quite frankly in the sense of fame or good report. But not fame conferred by our fellow creatures—fame with God, approval or (I might say) “appreciation” by God. And then, when I had thought it over, I saw that this view was scriptural; nothing can eliminate from the parable the divine accolade, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” With that, a good deal of what I had been thinking all my life fell down like a house of cards. I suddenly remembered that no one can enter heaven except as a child; and nothing is so obvious in a child—not in a conceited child, but in a good child—as its great and undisguised pleasure in being praised. Not only in a child, either, but even in a dog or a horse. Apparently what I had mistaken for humility had, all these years. prevented me from understanding what is in fact the humblest, the most childlike, the most creaturely of pleasures—nay, the specific pleasure of the inferior: the pleasure a beast before men, a child before its father, a pupil before his teacher, a creature before its Creator.
What Lewis is getting at is this: we all have a desire to be praised by another. It’s in our nature. Children do this naturally. Adults try to hide it, but it comes out in various ways. This desire is the passion for fame, and can only rightly be met from someone as big and divine as The Divine, God.
We all want the approval/acceptance/affirmation/appreciation of God. That’s why fame from others doesn’t satisfy, because no one in the whole world, nor the entire world combined, can measure up to his significance.
The God of the Bible offers his appreciation freely. He does not do this based on our merit (you really think your 5 Superbowl rings impress him, Brady?). In fact, God does this fully aware of how often we allow our hearts to seek fame from other sources outside of him. Yet at infinite cost to himself, he gives us fame with God freely, at no cost to us.
A Holy Life of Obscurity
I always found it weird that we didn’t know much of Jesus’ life between the Christmas story and when he began his ministry around age 30. I think it might be because Jesus didn’t need to have that part of his life known to all, it wasn’t pertinent for his followers to know.
Those 30 years between his birth and the start of his ministry shaped him tremendously, and yet we may never know what happened during that time beyond an educated guess.
Jesus was fine with obscurity because he had perfect fame with God. Now, because of him, we can have it to.
Someone should tell Zach Stone that.
Check out the video from the TGC17 here
Check out part 1 of this series here