Michael Jackson was clearly a pop culture icon. I make it a practice to neither bash nor praise such icons. They are what they are. Their legacy seems ephemeral, at least to me. Their importance is huge, at least to those who follow their art, music or writing. The whole idea that high culture, which is the product of certain mores and beliefs, trumps low culture, or pop culture, seems artificial so much of the time. What is apparent is that some culture will endure and some will not. The reasons may not be altogether clear sometimes. Who can account for taste in the end?
Since I was forced to think a bit about Michael Jackson (as little as possible I confess) this past week I thought back over my sixty years and the rise and decline of pop stars of all sorts. I thought about Elvis and Graceland and my first remembrance of a pop star in the 1950s. I thought about the rise of pop and rock music in general. I still believe some of the music and lyrics of some of these great artists will endure. I think, in this regard, of the Beatles. Their music had a particular brilliance and some of their lyrics are memorable. I doubt, however, that people will sing their music in a hundred years. I then thought about Michael Jackson's music and lyrics and realized how great the Beatles really were. Don't misunderstand me. Jackson was a star and he was very talented. But I do not see his legacy enduring for more than a few years. Such art moves on at a such fast pace. He will be remembered by some historians of the genre but by very few besides these historians once a few decades have passed.
What I could not avoid, but tried, was the funeral at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. I did not watch it but I got a few brief parts of the event on the evening news. What never ceases to amaze me is how we speak about heaven in the popular culture. We still have a deep sense of the afterlife and thus talk a lot about heaven. No one seems to believe in anything other than heaven when you come right down to it.
Jackson's funeral underscored this point profoundly. People who have some undefined faith, or even no faith at all, spoke about Michael and his place in heaven and with God. Everyone, I mean everyone, assumed that he just had to be in heaven! We have no conception of any other reality in the culture. Where once people were preoccupied with hell now they have forgotten it altogether.
Don't misunderstand. I do not assume any knowledge about the state of Michael Jackson's soul. God is his judge. But what I noticed in almost everything said about him, at least in the clips I did see, was this universal theme that he just had to be in heaven smiling, watching and enjoying the whole scene. People spoke about God "needing Michael" thus he took him to heaven prematurely. Others spoke about all the good he had done and why this meant he was in heaven. Some of these speakers were ministers, at least of some sort. So much assurance and little or no basis for any of it at all.
Over the years I have been asked to preach many funerals for people who I did not know. I would never talk about them being with Christ if I had no real assurance that they likely were accepted by him at their death. I refused to preach about their unbelief since I did not see into their heart. What I did was preach one verse time and time again: Hebrews 9:27. The writer says "people are destined to die once and after that to face the judgment." I know of nothing more clear in all the scripture. We who live will die. When we die we will face divine judgment. God is merciful, but he is also just thus all of us should prepare for this final day.
Some years ago the popular movie "Ghost" underscored this very powerfully. The lead character dies. His life demonstrated no faith at all. In fact, he was living in immorality and sin. But when he dies he goes straight to heaven as you discover in the movie. The great assumption here is clear. To got to heaven you need do one thing: die! Those who challenge this great assumption will not be popular in modern culture but challenge it we must. We do not need to challenge it with the old "hell fire and brimstone" approach of our cultural past but we should challenge it with the truth in all of its fullness. This will take both tact and courage. I doubt we are up to it in most cases since we lack one or the other. Come to think of it I think we may lack both.