On Saints and Celebrities
Today is All Saints’ Day.
I used to never think of it that way. It was just the day that Starbucks brings out their red cups.
Besides, I, like most Evangelicals, am a little uncomfortable with the idea of saints. After all, nobody’s perfect, right?
But here’s the thing: we can’t help but look for people to inspire us, to show us what it looks like to follow Jesus and embrace His Kingdom here and now.
So much has been written about our obsession with Christian celebrities. I’ve contributed to that conversation (with an article in Relevant). But one of the things that has not been said enough is that the way to correct an unhealthy obsession is to look for the healthy desire at its root. The way to heal a distored desire is not to kill it but let it be rightly ordered. Jonathan Edwards, drawing on St. Augustine, said as much in his work on ‘religious affections.’
So, what does it look like to have our desire for a role model– for faithful men and women to remember and honor and inspire us– rightly ordered?
This, I think, is where the notion of saints comes in. You see, there are a few differences between saints and celebrities.
Saints can’t be canonized until they’re dead so we can look back over their life as a whole. Christian celebrities can be made through savvy self-branding and high-cost PR firms.
Saints are often admired for what they did not have in this world– their lack of riches, of fame, of acceptance by the world. In fact, the first ‘saints’ were martyrs. The Church began to recognize and honor them around the turn of the second century. Celebrities, though, are often admired for what they have in this world– their large churches, their fame (christened as ‘influence’), their best-selling books or CDs, and perhaps even their houses and cars.
Saints are ones whose deep ‘interior life’ with Jesus was often kept secret until others discovered it after their death. Celebrities are those who want to leverage intimacy with Jesus for popularity with others.
The list could go on. But I think you get the point: no, saints weren’t perfect; but they are better images– icons– for our rightly ordered desire to see how a human is to live out the Jesus kind of life.
The Faith did not begin with us. There are others who have come along this Way. We can learn from them. We can follow them. We can thank God for them.
So, here’s to remembering the saints. Here’s to praying that we would be broken of our obsession with celeberities, of our addiction to ‘influence’, and turn to the quiet hidden life of faithful obediece to Christ. May we seek credibility— the mark of a life that is worth trusting– and not popularity.
Let renown come if it does. But let our lives point to Christ– crucified and risen.
Just as it was with the lives of the saints.