This is a guest post by Kevin Mercadante at OutOfYourRut.com – Kevin is also a new Twitter user (@KevinMercadante) so show your support by giving him a follow.
Ed McMahon on Tuesday; Farrah Fawcett Thursday morning; Michael Jackson Thursday afternoon; Billy Mays on Sunday. Three died, as we say “before their time”. It isn’t unusual to awaken to the news that a celebrity has passed away, and while we might listen and give pause, by the next day we’re back to business as usual. But four in a space of less than one week-two in a single day-THAT has to make you think.
McMahon, Fawcett, Jackson, Mays; they weren’t ordinary people, not like you and me. They were stars, household names. You knew who they were even if you didn’t like them. You had no choice; their faces and their stories, for good or ill, crowded the pages and images of the popular media. We saw their lives in every minute detail-their struggles, triumphs, tragedies, relationships and even legal entanglements-play out as if life was their stage, and we their audience. They weren’t just living life, they were leading it; by certain definitions, they were the best examples of what we might become, could become, if only…
Alas, Behind the Facade, Even the Stars Are Human
I don’t remember life before Ed McMahon, and while I wasn’t a committed fan of his, he seemed to always be there, like an icon of Old Hollywood. He was steady and reliable with a disarming wit that made him a somehow comfortable and credible figure, if such can be said of any TV personality. But lest anyone think fame and fortune are insulation against disaster, in 1995 McMahon lost a son to cancer, and after decades of success in the public limelight, stories abounded of McMahon’s financial troubles, including a protracted foreclosure saga on his Beverly Hills mansion.
Unless you’re over 40, you may not completely comprehend the pure celebrity that was Farrah Fawcett. On a single night in the fall of 1976 she hit the scene and literally seized the culture from what ever forces had held it before. For guys, it was undeniably a sexual thing (OK, there I said it). For girls, she was glamour personified and all things Farrah were to be imitated, especially her hair style. She was a figure who defined the style of a decade, and she accomplished it all largely in only a single season of full time work on the mega hit series Charlie’s Angels. For a season of life, Farrah wasn’t human; she was somehow superhuman, as if she’d risen above the human condition and ascended to something higher.
But like Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett’s life wasn’t trouble free either, especially at the end. Before her death she struggled in a three year battle with cancer, and only weeks before her death, her son-her only child-was serving a drug related sentence and was unable to be with her at her death.
Michael Jackson was a once-in-a-generation mega talent who could entertain us to the rafters but, for reasons beyond himself, seemed to bring out the worst in us on a number of fronts. When Jackson was on top of his game, he didn’t have fans so much as he had disciples-people who hung on every song, every word, every public performance, every nuance of his being. There’s something unhealthy about that level of devotion to a performer, or to any human being, and Jackson wasn’t the first star to have such a devoted group of followers, but his was one of the biggest ever.
On the flip side, when Jackson’s much covered, much celebrated legal entanglements dominated the media, it was disturbing to hear the number of people who 1) didn’t know him or his alleged victims personally, 2) weren’t present or otherwise involved in his trial and 3) had no access to the facts or evidence in the case, yet were steadfastly certain of his guilt. There was something about Jackson and the charges against him that made “good people” feel better about themselves by virtue of their belief and profession of his guilt.
So much for “Let he among you who is without sin, let him cast the first stone” (John 8:7); that pivotal verse gets thrown under the bus-with the accused-when ever there’s a trial. Even though we don’t know the facts or the people involved, we still know-right? God have mercy on us all!
Billy Mays wasn’t the only TV pitchman to achieve star status, but he took it to a higher level by becoming the venue’s only superstar. A man of humble beginnings, he spent many years pitching products at state fairs and on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ, before becoming one of the most recognizable faces in America only a few years ago.
While there isn’t any “dirt” on his personal life, which by all accounts was one led quietly, on the air he was a bit, well…obnoxious! But that was part of his edge, or even of his “charm”, if you prefer. It was the X factor in his personality that drew us to him, and maybe more importantly, made us recognize immediately anytime he came on TV.
The Things of This World
So why am I writing about this on a personal finance blog — a Christian one at that? And what at all does it have to do with the topics contained in this site? Maybe nothing, maybe everything.
This is one of those moments in time when all there is about the world looks a bit shaky, a little less certain. It begs the question, if the “stars” have fallen what does that mean for us mere mortals? Perhaps this is a moment when God is calling on us, reminding us not to dig in too deep, not to put faith in the things of this world.
Our culture is obsessed with money. Our culture is also obsessed with celebrity. The combination of the two can produce something that looks remarkably like the mental and emotional images of what we might call “the perfect life”.
Maybe perfect is too strong a word, but if we can be rich and famous, we may reason that, we can find a way to deal with the rest. This is the image we’re force-fed all the time by the media. Why else is the media so smitten with how celebrities dress, what they do, where they go, their relationships, who they hang with and even what their opinions are on subjects they clearly know little about? And why does anyone even care? Because we’re rooted in this world, because we might dare to think that nirvana is attainable as evidenced by some who seem to have reached it.
If we’re completely honest, even Christians can and do succumb to such thinking, and how could we not; we’re virtually surrounded by it. But rest assured, there is no perfect life this side of heaven, nor was it ever meant to be. We need to keep our desires and aspirations in check, our feet on the ground and our eyes fixed heavenward.
Perfection is not worth the pursuit, even and especially when it comes to money and personal finance. We’re working through the muck of life and money, trying to do the best we can with the resources we have. But all we can do is the best we can do-if we can even achieve that-and our primary focus needs to be on getting out of this world with our very souls, and not necessarily with the fattest 401k or a mortgage free home.
While we pursue better personal finances-and we’re called upon to be responsible stewards and providers for those dependent upon us-it’s worth remembering that not only will such achievements be temporary, but they also provide no salvation for us or the people around us. An improved life perhaps, but perfection and salvation won’t be found in it, no matter how successful we may be.
At this moment, if we take nothing else from the deaths of these stars, we need to remember that if their money and their fame couldn’t save their lives, than nothing we in the invisible masses can do or attain will spare us either.
Live life as best you can, lower your expenses, payoff your debts, save for the future, but always remember that all that we can see is temporary and that true and permanent salvation cannot be had in this world, even if we become rich and famous.
Presidential Quotes on Trusting God
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity…And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
- George Washington in his Farewell Address of September 17, 1796.
“The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God…… Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty…… With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”
- John F. Kennedy at his Inaugural Address on January 20, 1961
“Without God, there is no virtue, because there’s no prompting of the conscience. Without God, we’re mired in the material, that flat world that tells us only what the senses perceive. Without God, there is a coarsening of the society. And without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure. If we ever forget that we’re one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under. If I could just make a personal statement of my own — in these 3 1/2 years I have understood and known better than ever before the words of Lincoln, when he said that he would be the greatest fool on this footstool called Earth if he ever thought that for one moment he could perform the duties of that office without help from One who is stronger than all.”
- Ronald Reagan on September 20, 1983
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