Monday, April 25, 2016

The Incarnation and the cult of celebrity

Our culture demands a lot from its celebrities: they must be exceptional, outspoken, and yet relatable—in other words, better than us but one of us. 

Presidential hopeful John Kasich was recently vilified for eating pizza with a fork, declared unrelatable by the powers that be. For this faux pas he lost all chance of becoming president.

As for America’s first couple, the Obamas are presented as very down-to-earth, despite a net worth of $12 million. The First Lady can’t get enough of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk,” while the President doesn’t like to wash dishes: just like us! He pulled himself up by his all-American boot straps: raised by a single mom, he worked his way into the Oval Office as the first African American President, and he’s still “normal.”

But not John Kasich, who caused a frenzy over a perceived slight in the consumption of a slice of pizza. Who does he think he is? He obviously doesn’t “get” New York—or pizza. This loss of common ground results in his projected loss in the primary. We prefer to see our celebrities wearing flip flops at Target.

These “relatable” celebrities are only superficially like us. And then there is Jesus of Nazareth. Unlike the “eternal youth” of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, Jesus actually is immortal. Our ability to relate to him goes beyond commercialism to the very heart of the human condition—Jesus suffered just like us. He was tempted just like us. And unlike our “relatable” celebrities and politicians, who only validate our most base desires, he seeks our true good (e.g., his teaching on divorce). 
Giovanni Agostino da Lodi

His incarnation is a stumbling block for Jews and blasphemy to Muslims. Millions cannot grasp this one truth: God became man. For all of mankind it is incomprehensible on one level or another. We did nothing to warrant it—God’s power doesn’t hinge on our buying his latest album or rocking the vote. He just did it: out of love. 

God founded the most relatable establishment on earth: the Catholic Church. Hollywood and the Capitol might try to convince us otherwise, but the Church alone upholds right relationships—with people—not things, slogans, or laws. She teaches that the marital relationship endures until death (Mark 10:9), and the fruit of that union is always a gift from the Lord (Psalm 127:3). We are made to be in relationship, not to live for ourselves.

We want so badly for celebrities to be “just like us,” yet we resist the humanity of Christ, because it comes at too great a cost. Forsaking the earthly crown is too foolish, indeed, too stupid, in our celebrity culture. Like Peter, were uncomfortable with a God who kneels down to wash our feet. But that is precisely what God does for us, when the ever-present God makes himself present in the Eucharist, for our good and the good of all his holy church.

And he wore sandals, too. Just like us.