Some kids got my phone number off of the Internet. I guess our church decided to join the 21st century by placing their directory online, and for a few long weeks, it was available to anyone who could do a Google search. The first idea I had was to try and talk to them each time they called, to dispel any amount of fanboy-ish-ness that might still remain. I reasoned that a half-hour of hearing me talk about my job at the genetics lab could take that out of anybody. The two guys who called first were a couple of college students wanting me to let them use a Brave Saint Saturn song on some mix CD they were giving out on their summer missions trip. I told them to go ahead and do it, even though the rights to the song actually belonged to the record label. I doubt the record company cares.
The second time was a few weeks later. Some kid that I could remember from a Roper show in Orange County had his own series of phone calls. This is where my reasoning failed. “Yeah, I look in a microscope all day, counting to 46 and looking for missing or added pieces. Nope, it’s pretty boring. No, I don’t think I’ll ever finish the Brave Saint album. Yeah, I’m sorry Five Iron broke up.” Nothing seemed to phase him. He wanted to help me get signed to a label again. He thought of a new way to get Five Iron on the radio. He had found a place for Roper to play in Phoenix. After a while, I realized that just by talking to him, I was exacerbating whatever amount of wonder this boy had retained for the scant bygone days of quasi-rock-stardom that I may have once had. After trying to explain to him that I had other priorities now, the calls still come, over a year-and-a-half later, about once every two weeks.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I am famous, or that I ever have been, or even that I would have anything to complain about if I were. It’s not as if I am like David Letterman, who had that crazy lady who kept breaking into his house over and over again. But on the other hand, I never really had any desire to experience any of the trappings of fame that came along with being in a slew of moderately successful bands, much less the negative side. There was one particular moment, in the autumn of 1994, where an early local band that I was in got to open up for Mortal and The Prayer Chain (if you don’t know who these bands are, you are doing yourself a horrendous disservice). It was, in hindsight, a less than mediocre show in an echo-filled high school gymnasium. I remember climbing into the car afterwards with a few of the other guys, comparing which one of us had signed the most autographs. I won because I had signed something like 13, while the next closest was our guitarist, Scott, with five or so. Everyone in the car looked at me like I was leprous or something, not comprehending how someone could be asked for 13 autographs. I felt proud, but at the same time embarrassed. I was, by far, the weakest musician in the band. I’m not sure at what point I made the decision to not sign autographs anymore, but I know that from that moment forward, the concept of fame seemed to sicken me more and more. To acknowledge admiration from others seemed to be dishonest, as if I was somehow stealing something from God.
It is human nature to want to be accepted. That doesn’t change for the people we put on pedestals, who, just like the rest of us, will become the person we treat them like to feel accepted. We do it without thinking because it helps us define our identities. Maybe there is something to be said about the way we were designed—that we were made to worship something or someone, and that it makes us feel good and necessary. The problem is that we substitute something that makes us feel good for something that could be greater. C.S. Lewis said this in his book The Weight of Glory:
“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
If ever there was a time in history that these words have rung true about the pursuit of fame and stardom, it is now. Every aspect of our culture is seeping with the desire to be famous or to know someone who is. You can’t turn on the television, read a newspaper or a magazine or listen to the radio without seeing reality-based programming or coverage of it. Almost anyone can be famous or infamous, depending on the whims of a television producer and the media that covers his or her actions. I have to ask, is this all there is? It is as if we as a society have settled into that same slum that Mr. Lewis warned us about, and are just devouring mud pies. I wish that we, as the Church, could see beyond this; that you and I could draw from that small spark that told us that Jesus Christ was real, and that He loved us, whenever we were lacking in people to admire. That instead of compromising what was meant for God, we would give it back to Him, and not worry so much about who was famous and why. Maybe we could stop short-changing ourselves by giving away what would otherwise serve to draw us closer to God—to where we belong, remembering that those we admire also struggle with the same issues. And while we’re at it, you could quit leaving those messages on my voicemail.