My first experience with the music of Michael Jackson was during college. When a lot of hard rock was screaming away, I would walk through the Student Union at IU and hear The Jackson Five singing "I'll Be There" or "ABC." The music certainly wasn't Cream or The Band or Chicago or Dylan, but it was good...made the world feel lighter. Brighter.
Now, as the stories of the pressure on young Michael to record one hit record after another come out, I realize the price he paid to be successful
- and please all those adults around him who kept pushing. And pushing. And pushing him.
His appearance began to change years ago. Later in life Michael did not resemble at all the handsome young black man who first came on the scene back in the late 60's and early 70's. I've heard speculation -there is plenty of that going around right now, isn't there?- that he had over fifty surgical procedures done to change his look
The more successful he became, the more bizarre his life choices seemed to get. Poor choices, bad investments, drug abuse...you name it. It was like watching a plane come apart, slowly, high in the air. We were left to wonder where the wreckage would land.
The more successful he became, the more unhappy he seemed to be.
The more people there were in his security detail, his retinue, the more lonely he appeared.
Everyone is saying he was the greatest. Certainly, the album "Thriller" is top selling LP/CD of all time. The greatest? I'm not so sure about that. It seems like we often use the word "greatest" to describe the latest celebrity or actor or musician to die.
I wonder what Michael wanted to look like -and why? I wonder why he seemed determined to erase every trace of the face he had as a young adult. Was it an attempt, as some say, to remove any connection -in terms of appearance- with the father who pushed him...and appears to have used him for his own financial gain? Was it an attempt to become "white?" Was it an attempt to copy someone he knew...admired...had seen in a crowd...or on the pages of some magazine? Who was he trying to be... what was he trying to hide?
Everyone talks about how many times Michael Jackson had doctors work on his face to change his look. The truth is we are all tempted to hide our faces, aren't we? More often than we want to admit we spend a good part of our lives trying to take on the face of the person we want to be. We do our very best to create a mask and live behind that mask.
Always in control.
Never a doubt in the world.
Strong always...never weak...never dependent on another human being.
There are all these masks we slip on. The difference between us and Michael, though, is our desperate attempt to become someone else... hide the real us...isn't so obvious.
The sad thing about all of this is that when God made Michael Jackson, God made him beautiful. The psalmist in Psalm 139 remembers (:13) how God was doing something good when God made him: "You created every part of me; you put me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because you are to be feared; all you do is trange and wonderful. I know it with all my heart. When my bones were being formed, carefully put together in my mother's womb, when I was growing there in secret, you knew that I was there - you saw me before I was born."
Sometimes we try running from the man in the mirror.
Grace invites us to stop running. See us as God sees us. And be whole.