Sunday, November 17, 2013

Cats, Emily Dickinson, & Christian Celebrity Culture

Photo Credit: David Schell
This is the November synchroblog for The Despised Ones, a collective of bloggers.  Leave your link about Christian Celebrity at the linkup at the end of this post.  

I love cats, and I love mysteries, so when a great-aunt Emma gave me my first The Cat Who... mystery, I was hooked.  The series is written by Lilian Jackson Braun and mainly takes place in fictional Pickaxe, likely somewhere in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  In The Cat Who Said Cheese, the protagonist Jim Qwilleran refers to Emily Dickinson's poem "I'm Nobody, who are you?"  

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us -- don't tell!
They'd banish -- you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one's name the livelong day
To an admiring bog! 

In his newspaper column, he writes that "we crave heroes to admire and emulate, and what do we get?  A parade of errant politicians, mad exhibitionists, wicked heiresses, temperamental artists, silly risk-takers, overpaid athletes, untalented entertainers, non-authors of non-books..." (page 5).

Emily Dickinson was a nobody until after she was dead. So were Vincent Van Gogh, Jane Austen, Dracula, martyrs, and even Jesus (thanks to my Twitter followers for all the suggestions!).  Yet today, we have a lot of Somebodies.  We even have them in Christian culture.  Yes, I know, you're shocked.  Christians are supposed to be meek and mild and humble and not call any attention to themselves, right?  

We all want to be noticed, to be seen.  In When We Were on Fire, Addie Zierman wrote about how in over a year of attending a house church, she still felt as if she wasn't seen.  Nobody could really see what she was going through and feeling.  I remember one time a few years ago I emailed a Somebody to thank him for writing his latest book.  He emailed me back--which I was not expecting at all--and I was giddy.  On Twitter, I've been excited when a Somebody starts following me, as if their following me gives me worth.  And when they actually respond to a tweet or an email, it's even better.  And I think we each want some of that celebrity, too.  That's why we work on "platform building", so that people will take notice of us so that we can get the message out there that we believe we are called to give.  And we get jealous when someone else has what we want.  Other people get the attention for being a great writer or great speaker and are in high demand.  Well, at least, I do feel jealous at times.  And so, I sometimes stop myself from blogging or commenting on blogs in order to check my motivations.  

I think that there is a difference in how we are seen or how we want to be seen.  And sometimes, we might start off with good intentions and say "I only want to bring glory to God" or "I just want people to see Jesus in me, not myself".  I think those intentions might be hard to stick with.  The more attention we get, the more we are tempted to make it all about ourselves, despite what we say.  And then the more we get connected with other Somebodies, the more we forget about our past as a Nobody, and the more we forget to look and see the Nobodies out there, because they are invisible to us.  We do not see them.  We do see them because they haven't become a Somebody.  And yet God is different.  He sees the Nobodies.  In Genesis 16, we have Hagar, who who ran away into the wilderness after Sarai treated her harshly when Hagar acted haughty because she was pregnant and Sarai was not.  She is miserable and sitting by a spring of water, alone, when she encounters God, and God tells her to return.  Throughout her misery, God sees her and she names him The God Who Sees.  The God who sees.  El Roi saw through her pain and heartache.  He saw her when she was scared and lonely and had nowhere to run, nobody to turn to.  

She was a Nobody, but Somebody saw her.  

And we have the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well.  She's an outcast, a Nobody, coming to the well in the heat of the day, and Jesus sees her and gives her living water (John 4).  Or the man at Beth-Zatha who was ill for thirty-eight years, and Jesus saw him and made him well (John 5).  Or the man blind from birth, who Jesus sees and then heals so that he can see, too (John 9).  Or when Mary pours expensive perfume on him and Jesus sees beyond the cost of it to look ahead to his burial (John 12).  Or, after his resurrection, he sees the pain and sorrow of Mary Magdalene, and tells her he is there, and then she announces the good news that she has seen the Lord (John 20).

When it comes to Christian celebrity, it can be both a blessing and a curse.  How do we balance all of this?  How do we stay faithful to our callings when attention comes our way?  How can we be like Jesus and see people who the world deems Nobodies?  How can we use Christian celebrity to see others as Jesus did?  

Also, feel free to add more examples of Nobodies in the comments!

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Kate Wallace-The Junia Project said...

This is a great post! How meaningful to be seen. I also love the story of Jesus seeing and healing the bleeding woman. His compassion for her is powerful!

Kelly J Youngblood said...

Great example! I knew there could be a lot of examples to use, but I was kind of in a rush to finish this post (the deadline crept up on me and I had to scramble to get it done).

Jim Fisher said...

Another Nobody: the Syrophoenician woman in Mark's Gospel. A Gentile woman who changed Jesus' mind and redirected his ministry for a time away from the Jews to the Gentiles.

Jesus said in response to this woman's request to have a demon cast out from her daughter, "It is not right to take the children's bread [referring to the children of Israel] and throw it to the dogs [a common racial slur of the time for Gentiles]."

She replied, “Well, Master even the dogs [Gentiles] under the table eat the crumbs that the children [of Israel] drop.”

“Well said!” replied Jesus. “Off you go; the demon has left your daughter.”

And then Jesus went on to feed the four thousand embarking on a ministry outside the land of Israel.