In the rushing busy chaos of this last week (in which I failed to blog for a couple of days, you might have noticed) I spent valuable minutes remarking to myself on the various fights going on within Christian circles. Are Christians motivated primarily by fear? Is winsomeness a Christian virtue and what even is it? The tweets go back and forth. After you scroll for a while, you might do as I did, which was to go over to what’s trending in Entertainment. As usual, Buzzfeed is there with an Important Listicle. And really, providentially, what they’re worried about lines up rather nicely with this morning’s lections. The title blazes 13 Times Actors Didn’t Sugarcoat What It’s Really Like To Be An Actor In Hollywood And All The Rejection That Comes With It.
The charming thing about Buzzfeed, you may have noticed—and this is true for so many purveyors of interesting “information,” even Vox and the New York Times—is that they know you aren’t going to read all the words. Your thumb is rapidly scrolling. They only have about 7 seconds for your eye to catch the point before you scroll on by, and so, rather than close-set blocks of text like this, they bold everything and increase the font size so that you’ll see what’s really important. So, in this case, there’s a picture of a celebrity, some regular-sized text explaining who they are why they’re famous, and then a huge quote followed by a second picture. And, because it’s a listicle, they are all numbered, in case you want to commit them to memory I guess. As usual, I don’t know who most of the people are. I recognize the guy from The Office, and Susan Sarandon and that’s about it. That’s not the point, though. The point is that what these various famous people say about themselves is really utterly tragic. I’ve pulled out three, including La Sarandon.
Here’s the first one:
If I’m not acting, I’m not sure who I am. And since it’s been so long since I’ve really gotten to do it, I’m struggling a little bit with how to maintain my self-worth, my sense of my own value. I haven’t had an acting job since, and that’s been really hard for me. So even before COVID kind of flipped the world on its head, I was struggling with this.
Here’s the second one:
I have taken the disappointments, the rejections, etc., and maintained that rejection is redirection. I have had continual FAITH in the Universe, but today, something broke. I feel cast aside. I’ve given my life to acting for over 30 years and am done struggling to survive.
‘You’re so punished in this business,’ Susan said. ‘When people say, “Do you think you’ve lost work because of your politics?” I say, “No, you lose work because you get old and fat!” That’s when they write you off in Hollywood. There’s the inevitability of the deterioration of the physical. That forces you to think, really, what is beauty and what survives?’
The author of this confabulation (that’s not the word I’m looking for…oh well) ends with an invitation. “Are you familiar with a time when a celebrity spoke out about not getting work?” she asks, “Tell me about it in the comments below!” And so the long internet day wears on. I couldn’t help but wander back for just a moment to another useful Christopher Lasch line I found this week. “In our society,” he wrote way back in the 70s, which might as well be the Middle Ages for all anyone now might be able to understand that past,
anxious self-scrutiny (not to be confused with critical self-examination) not only serves to regulate information signaled to others and to interpret signals received; it also establishes an ironic distance from the deadly routine of daily life. On the one hand, the deregulation of work makes skill and competence increasingly irrelevant to material success and thus encourages the presentation of the self as a commodity, on the other hand, it discourages commitment to the job and drives people, as the only alternative to boredom and despair, to view work with self-critical detachment.
The whole chapter could have been written this moment, but don’t worry, I won’t follow after you trying to read it aloud, knowing that you probably don’t have time. And besides, as I said, the texts you will hear in church this morning (probably—if you go to the sort of church that reads a lot of the Bible out loud in the course of divine worship) will tell you the same thing.
“Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!” cries Joel, well aware of the fact that you are full of fear, mostly about the future, and a good measure of regret and grief about the past. When you set out on your life’s course there was so much hope, so much promise not just for satisfaction, but maybe even a touch of celebrity or fame. Maybe other people would really know you, would see who you were, and understand that you were worth something. Of course, the people who first heard these words were not worried about their own fame. They were worried about not starving, about food shortage, about the hideous futility of laboring over their fields and coming out one morning to find that not only had it not rained, but that an army of locusts had come and devoured every spec of green. And what could they do then? Go to the store? Scroll around the internet? Make some vile pie out of a store-bought crust, a bag of skittles, and a carton of eggs? (don’t google it, it was so weird)
That’s what happens. You work desperately hard for some elusive happiness, and then you die. How heartbreaking, then, to reach the very pinnacle of worldly success and discover that it was all a handful of dust, that you can still be rejected, that you still have to die.
On what basis can you be told not to fear? How could you possibly be glad, as God commands—”Be glad; O children of Zion, and rejoice in the Lord your God.” This must surely have been the lingering question in the minds of all the Lord’s disciples during that last, grief-laden Supper. Jesus had so many things to tell them that they could not possibly grasp, and yet he told them anyway. “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” The other Judas (not Iscariot), grasping the point rather neatly, wants to know why Jesus won’t show himself to the world. Why just these hidden twelve? Why only you, struggling away quietly in your life, no one ever getting to know about your work and who it’s for? Jesus, of course, the hour being short and his own death looming, doesn’t directly answer his question.
It’s not about fame or celebrity, or honestly, even satisfaction in your work. And yes, you will die. The thing that has been true since the Garden is true still. You do all your work and you try to cope as best you can and you still die in obscurity and grief. With one crucial difference. Now, if you love Jesus, there is some beauty, to quote La Sarandon, that “survives.” The person who loves Jesus “will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” How?
In a most strange way. After Jesus takes on all the rejection and shame that should rightfully be yours, he will never leave you alone again. The Holy Spirit will come and do this work. You can’t be rejected, not anymore, not by the One who really counts.
This, I think, is what Joel means by that haunting and beautiful line—“I will restore to you the years…” Everything that the locusts have eaten, either literally or metaphorically, all the disappointments and griefs and small and large deaths, all the stuff that you’ve lost and the stuff you never got to have in the first place—all of it is restored, given back, brought about by the love of the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit living in you.
And what of the work itself? What about all the stuff you have to do? All that also is not futile, however invisible and hidden it is to Buzzfeed and Twitter. It is the restful obedient loving work of living with a Father and a Savior and a Helper. Of not having to worry about what will happen tomorrow because Jesus has overcome the world. Of not being too sad because the dwelling place of God is not just in the future, a far off in someplace you can never get to, but begins already. So if you are weeping tears of rejection and worry today, you can weep them knowing they are only for a short while.
What should you do in the midst of your discouragement? Sing the psalm, perhaps. Check on your seedlings. Stay for coffee after church. Hope to see you there!