Monday, December 17, 2012

Fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame...

Tom Cruise as Stacy Jaxx –
Fame made him pure-T
I’ve been thinking about my last post – about how big my head got just because I had an article in the paper that people complimented – and it occurred to me… If putting myself out there in such a mild way was so … um… harmful for me, clearly I wouldn’t be able to handle a bigger piece of that pie… I mean, how do pastors do it?

My own brother has worn “the cloth,” so I am well aware that pastors are just people, but they’re out there… writing weekly sermons, and maybe articles and books… people see them every week or so, focus on their words, and maybe even take notes, and follow up with an email or other attempt to discuss. There is plenty of evidence (scandals) that there are hazards to being a religious leader.

David Menconi
wrote this novel
 about a crazy
rock star.
Going one step further, how can anybody be FAMOUS without turning into the guy that Tom Cruise plays in Rock of Ages, Stacy Jaxx… ie. Pure-T cray-zeeeeee. Yeah, rock stars can be the worst case scenario when it comes to fame-handling. Because of their youth, fame gives them a sense of entitlement that is like no other. Although, I always thought David and Solomon (and other kings) may have encountered this same demon.

He also wrote this
fascinating book.
Although… in the case of rock stars it may sometimes be one of those proverbial chicken-egg scenarios… Did the person become an artist because they were super-sensitive, volatile, charismatic, creative, artistic, etc., or did the crazy follow the fame that came with expressing oneself in a rock and roll environment? Our local rock writer, David Menconi has a novel in which the main character (a rock writer) is involved in the career of an up and coming local musician who seems kinda crazy – violent, unpredictable, self-sabotaging. In this case, the crazy comes first. I guess here would be a good time to note that the character of the musician may be loosely based on a real person.

U2 - swaggery, right?
On the other hand, I’m thinking that it’s pretty common knowledge that fame can be damaging to a person’s soul. When U2 started out, they were involved with a pretty serious evangelical protestant group, and at a certain point, they nearly threw in the towel… because they knew the danger they might be facing, soul-wise. Fortunately for us – if not for them as well, their manager persuaded them that it would not be exactly “Christian” to fail to fulfill the contracts and obligations they had already committed to.

Our boys from Ireland did, of course, go on to become humongous rock stars, with fame and fortune out the wazoo… They (and by “they” I mean Bono, the “face” of the band) seem sort of swaggery, now, but maybe that’s just masculine energy. I mean, I saw them perform in 1983 and they were just as swaggery as they are now. They have also been known to present themselves as over-the-top parodies of rock stars… but I have to wonder if they’re actually mocking what they’ve become instead of what they might have become.

Sure he's swaggery, but
Bono started ONE, a
"hard-headed movement of
people around the world
fighting the absurdity of
extreme poverty."
However, they – Bono, especially – also attempt to use their powers for good… politicking around the world, raising money for good causes like world hunger and the global fight against AIDS. So who can know how many people their fame has fed? How much medicine it has procured for people who were dying? I would say that this is a pretty good use of the resources that God has given them. Other than that, who can know what their fame has done to their souls – I mean, we can’t see what their souls look like, can we? That’s really between them and God, right?

Moses – super famous,
but the humblest man
who ever lived.
I know that being simultaneously humble and “out there” are possible – remember Moses? The ├╝ber famous leader of the Hebrew people – led them out of Egypt, gave them the Law, kept them going until God was ready for them to spill into the Promised Land… Heck, he was even allowed to converse with God face to face. Not really something that happens to everyone, right? You know what the Bible says about Moses? That he was the “humblest man whoever lived.” Now that I’m typing this, I wonder if his deep humility was the product of seeing God face to face.

Is that me he's lovin' on?
Or Morticia Addams?
So, maybe… even though the guys in U2 may not have handled their fame 100% correctly, I’m thinking maybe their relationship with God may have played a part in whatever they managed to do right.

Clearly fame is NOT a problem that I will ever have to deal with, as I am not likely to gain any amount of notoriety. (Although, when I was a proto-goth, back in the day… at first having people look at me, point and take my picture was kind of a kick. But after a while, I just felt like hiding. When I was out in public, this would be running through my head, “don’t look at me don’t look at me don’t look at me…” Of course I’m so silly that it was a while before I figured out that if I didn’t want people to look at me, I shouldn’t go out looking like a cross between Boy George and Morticia Addams. I thought at the time, "This must be what being famous is like." But I guess that was just about inconvenience.) Nonetheless, as I have revealed, if real fame happened to me, I wouldn’t handle it very well.

Journalist / writer / satirist
Malcolm Muggeridge
had the right of it.
Anyway, so because of these events and this realization, I was pondering the question of fame and the things I might write about it, and our pastor used this quote in his sermon: “I may, I suppose, regard myself as a relatively successful man.  People occasionally stare at me in the streets: that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the highest lopes of the internal revenue.  That’s success. Furnished with money and even a little fame, even the elderly if they care to may partake of trendy diversions.  That’s pleasure.  It might happen once in a while that  something I said or wrote was sufficiently headed for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time.  That’s fulfillment. Yet I say to you and beg you to believe me. Multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing – less than nothing – a positive impediment measured against one draft of that Living Water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are.”

So did Apostle / Saint /
prolific letter-writer Paul
Goocher, right? It’s pretty much what I wanted to say – a modern “been there done that” version of this quote from Paul: “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…”

David Bowie tried to
tell us about fame
And we also have that incident where the disciples argued over who was going to be the greatest in heaven: “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him.  Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”

Remember when these guys
wanted live forever?
And then there was the time that the disciples came back from doing a bunch of teaching and healing and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” But Jesus said, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Now, this is more about power, but aren’t fame and power and money and such all intertwined with each other?

Famous, and also redeemed.
And again, I'll quote Bob Dylan, one of the most famous people in the world: “No kind of life is fulfilling if your soul hasn’t been redeemed.”

So that’s my take-away. Fame is a complex issue, but if I'm going to boil it down: Fame can be inconvenient, and quite bad for you. Knowing God is infinitely more valuable. However, should you achieve fame – or have it thrust upon you, sticking close to God can possibly lessen the probability of corruption. And if, you, like Irene Cara, desire fame in order to “live forever,” if you are tight with God, you’re already there.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I'm a loser, baby...

They claimed to be losers.
 When last I wrote, I was a tad freaked about something that was about to happen, so I wanted to share with you how it all played out… If you don’t want to go back and read the last post, here’s a brief summary: Wednesday last, I had a column run in the Chapel Hill News, a sweet little community newspaper… in which I did not pull any punches about my love for Christmas and Jesus. And I was worried… maybe because I didn’t want people to think I’m a loser…?

Beck also claimed he
was a loser.
Well, turns out I am a huuuuuuuge loser, as was revealed in several ways. First of all, when I told her I was worried, my friend Grace asked the group called on our church’s prayer chain to hold me up in prayer, and they certainly did. They prayed that the words would speak into people’s hearts for Christ… and here I was just hoping that no one would say anything mean to me about it. Heck, I didn’t even want them to THINK anything mean about me! So right off, I could see right away how petty and self absorbed I am. It was downright embarrassing… but not a surprise to me. I mean, I know who I am…

Then, when the thing actually came out, I got quite a few email “Huzzah!”s from people in the church, people on Facebook and one complete stranger. It was awesome. However… it completely went to my head! Which is hilarious – I mean, it’s not like I cured cancer or won a Nobel Prize. Honestly, I'm not even sure the article was that good. Nonetheless, by Sunday, it actually crossed my mind that maybe people at church would compliment me. And one actually did… but it certainly wasn’t a deluge of “Well done, you!”s… 'Cos guess what – church isn't about me!

So... what had begun as a desire to share Christ with the world, accompanied by a relatively healthy measure of pride in my work... turned into something kinda nasty in my crazy human brain. Isn’t that the way of it? One day I’m typing, “Wooooo! Jesus!” and the next I’m sunk all deep in a mire of my own crap – fear of man and an unhealthy amount and kind of pride in my own ability.

Yeah. I’m a loser. That said, a friend (Nat Stine) once posted this on his status update: Jesus is for losers. And, yes, I would have to say, He absolutely is. That’s why I love Him – He absolutely is for me. And if He is for me, who can be against me? No one. Not even my own loserishness... which has been proved over and over... And all God’s people say, “AMEN.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Not Ashamed... But Still Kind of Nervous

I interrupt the blog I WAS writing to insert this little piece of panic… Some of you know that my incoherent ramblings also make a monthly appearance in The Chapel Hill News… And I have one coming out tomorrow, which is, basically a slightly edited of this blog I wrote last Christmas.

We might have fallen though
one of the holes in the Bible Belt.
In case you don’t have time to click back and read it, it’s about how I don’t give a crap about commercial and secular interests “stealing” Christmas… Because I view it as God spilling out into the whole world instead…

Now, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have no qualms about sharing the good news of God's love with people… However, after turning in this particular column, and as the day of its publication approaches I have found myself growing more and more freaked out about having put it out there on display for the whole town to see.

In my version of God's feast, 
there's all manner of Southern food... 
and cake, of course.
I mean, I live in the South – the Bible belt, as it were, but this town I live in might have slipped through one of the holes in the belt. There are many, many faithful Christian people here, but there is also a university here, and so, a profound appreciation for diversity and political correctness. So, I guess my worry is that I have done something that could be interpreted as similar to running out in the street and yelling, “I love being white!”

Here's hoping Peter
Holsapple and Chris Stamey
aren't mad at me...
But I hope that I am not an imperialist oppressor, trying to suck people into what I feel is the only valid way of life. Although I kind of am... I’m not an imperialist oppressor… First of all, I have no power with which to oppress. Also I do feel that the cultures of others are to be appreciated and not stamped out. I also believe that people can certainly choose what god to worship and how to live their lives, within certain civil boundaries, of course.

However, I am trying to turn people on to the best way of life that I have yet found. The way I see it is… like God has prepared a huge, delicious banquet and I’m so excited about it that I’m handing out invitations to it to the starving people around me. They can always say no, right? I guess it’s up to them to determine whether or not they are starving and how best to satiate their hunger.

I do whole-heartedly
recommend their record.
Anyway, I’m just writing this because I’m super nervous about it. Another thing I am nervous about is that I mention some local musicians BY NAME who actually live in the area. Which, in retrospect, might have been dumb. But I did give one of their records a plug, so maybe they’ll forgive me…?!  Of course, I may be aiming kind of high to think that Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple would read anything I wrote…!

So… that’s all I’m putting on the table right now. I wrote some blatantly Christian stuff in a secular newspaper. And although I’m “not ashamed of the gospel,” as Paul said, I am kind of nervous about it. Maybe no one will say anything… but if they do, I guess I could remind them that the name of the column is “My View.”

Friday, November 23, 2012


Some of our features
are similar, but I
don't really look like
Christina Ricci.
I noticed on Facebook that a lot of people have had status updates that look sort of like this: “Thankful for my sisters today, and their continuous support to my mom.” Or “Day 5: I am thankful for my wife, who always has my back.” I guess I didn’t get the message, but it’s a thing people are doing – like when it was “Doppelganger Week,” and you were supposed to replace your profile pic with a pic of someone that looks like you. I used Christina Ricci... but even though we have similar, turned-up noses, pouty lips and buggy eyes, I don’t REALLY look like her. In my opinion, no one is quite as strange-looking as me. And I am not just saying that to elicit compliments or because I have low self esteem. I don’t mind how I look… I am just acknowledging that I don’t look quite like anyone else.

Sandra Bernhard... 
I wonder if that lettuce 
is scratching her gums?
Anyway… so this new thing is, if I guess correctly, people telling every day something they are thankful for. A worthy endeavor, to be sure… one I know I should be mindful of, even when it’s NOT Thanksgiving week. But if I am honest, I have to admit that I am more of a complainer than a thanker. I have recently been reading the book of Numbers, and let me tell you, it is full of people like me… grumblers, murmurers… I am reminded of hearing comedienne Sandra Bernhard on a talk show talking about people in Hollywood who were so spoiled and prissy they would say things like, “This bread is scratching my gums!” See, it’s funny because … well, you know why it’s funny. It’s like my mom, who complains at a restaurant, “These portions are too large!” (So what? Just don't eat it all!)

Just ONE of the 549 things
I "Like" on Facebook.
It’s easy to laugh at these prima donnas and not see how they are, actually, me. All day. Every day. If not out loud, then as a boring internal monologue. I am honestly very glad I am not Grace, the friend I spout off to on a regular basis. She’s a saint, I tell you. I’m surprised she hasn’t headed for the hills yet.

On the other hand, on Facebook, if you look at my timeline, you will see that I have officially “liked” 549 things. I am sure some would accuse me of being a “Like” button slut, but I don’t see it that way. I like to think that when I give the old FB thumbs up signal to something, I’m expressing gratitude for it. If you look at it this way, I am thankful for, among other things, comedian Eugene Mirman, Piggly Wiggly grocery stores, Pete Townshend, my friend Jason’s “Will It Baby” column on Jalopnik, and any businesses my friends have asked me to support with a “Like.” Because I am grateful for my friends… and their own support of my Sweet William Design page.

Let's hear it for the boys!
But have I given credit where credit is due? Not often enough, I am sure. But here goes: the credit belongs to God, and God alone. All that I am and have that is any good is strictly from and through Him. (“For from him and through him and to him are all things.” Romans 11) Sure, I work hard, but… only because He gives me the wherewithal to do it. And I am grateful.

Here’s some other stuff I’m grateful for:

1. My boys, Tom and Bill. A good man is, indeed, hard to find, and I am grateful that God saw fit to find me one. Then He grew another one in my belly, despite the abuse my body had previously endured. I love them both.

Chapel Hill Bible Church...
hanging true since 1972!
2. My extended family. My brothers and sisters and their families. No one gets me quite like they do. My in-law family, too, is a gift. The Sneeds and Moores both are a perfect blend of love, honor and silliness that is hard to beat. My mom, my aunts and uncles and cousins, too… love’em. Miss’em.

Our house... in the middle of our street.
3. My Friends. Did I mention that I have some great friends? My friend Grace is always, always there for me… our frequent (and FREE, I might add) babysitter, companion, partner in crime and in prayer… sister in Christ. Other friends I can’t see as often as I would wish to… some I see only on Facebook, or via infrequent emails… But I do love them and miss them like crazy. You know who you are, you beauties.

If you visit our house,
Bob will greet you.
4. My Church. I have been going to the same church since the late 80s – except for my Asheville year. It has grown and changed, and so have I. In fact, when I started going there, I weighed 80 pounds… and now I weigh … well… I weigh a bit more. Just enough, in fact. Anyway, I love every incarnation of this group of lovely folks who are intensely involved in helping one another get more intensely involved with the God of love and grace. Plus the music is awesome! Go Nat Stine!

4. Our house. Sure it’s a mess… but it’s OUR mess. I love the endless supply of entertainment, the squishy, comfy furniture, the folk art and framed concert posters, the cardboard stand-up of Bob Dylan that greets guests at the front door, but mostly the love and family and constant guffawing laughter that makes it our home.

5. My work. I love that I can work at home doing a job I love doing and am reasonably good at. Working at home is the shizzney. Best job EVER. Even in the best job sitches, I always wanted to go home. So, now that I am home AND working – it’s ideal, I tell you. Plus, my desk faces a huge window overlooking our verdant backyard… where I sometimes see deer! And my clients... they're fantastic. Love you guys!

6. I am thankful that I actually have a skill with which to earn a living, despite the fact that I spent more time that I should have watching MTV and drinking beer in college. Sure I worked hard to learn to wield a Mac, but every opportunity that has unfurled before me has been a gift from God.

Reading IS Fundamental!
7. Every good idea I have ever had. My job as a graphic designer – mostly for advertising and marketing – demands a constant stream of creativity that does not come naturally to me. That's why I know it's a gift.

8. My blog. I love it. I love sharing my crazy ideas and my Jesus with you, and I do hope you enjoy it… but I mainly just like writing it. This is also where the ideas that God gives me come in handy. I like saying things like “If a rock star plays a note and no one holds up a lighter, what does it all mean?”

One of the many delicious 
plates of food I've 
consumed recently.
9. I am thankful that I actually get some things done in spite of myself. I forget everything. My brain is full of half baked ideas, weird meanderings, fear and loathing, suspicions and paranoias, yet my family is fed and clothed and my work gets done each and every day without fail. I’ve got those things down to a (pseudo) science, anyway. The other stuff may or may not happen – for instance, Bill may or may not turn important signed papers in on time. I may or may not remember to call the plumber. I may or may not get certain housework done… But mostly, vital sh*t gets done, and it is not thanks to any strength or effort of my own.
Apparently Benjamin
Franklin did NOT say, 
"Beer is proof that 
God loves us and 
wants us to be 
happy." But it's still 
a good quote.

10. Art. This is a broad category that includes music (live and otherwise,) movies, plays, visual art, and most of all… books. I’m pretty sure this quote by Louisa May Alcott was a prophecy about me: “She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.” Books and art add so much dimension to my life, it would be quite hard to image my world without them. I love finding an author or series of books that keeps me awake at night… Like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, or Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series.

11. Food. I love food. It’s so delicious. Beer is good too. I eat and drink as I please, and I don’t feel guilty. I’m happy in my skin. After my near-death experience with anorexia and my years of obsession with what I put in my mouth, and how much I moved my body, this is a beautiful freedom I never, ever thought I’d have. Yeah, I have cellulite and saddlebags. But I’d rather be free with cellulite and saddlebags than a thin slave.

“No kind of life is
fulfilling if your soul
hasn’t been redeemed.”
Bob Dylan DID
say THAT!
12. Similarly, as Bob Dylan said in his recent Rolling Stone interview, “No kind of life is fulfilling if your soul hasn’t been redeemed.” This is the crux of the matter... the real gift – the grace of God. When Jesus met the woman at the well, she wanted water, she wanted the love of a good man, she wanted people not to point and laugh at her… but you know what Jesus wanted to give her? Eternal life. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4)

That’s what I’m crazy thankful for. The eternal life in me,that is a gift from the Most High God. As the Apostle Paul so eloquently said, “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions … It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2) Amen, and … Thank you, God!