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Lessons from the Ringmaster

When I was about nine years old, the Shrine Circus was in Winnipeg where I was living. My father took us for an afternoon performance. It was, of course, thrilling. There was the typical offering of women standing on horses as they galloped around the arena, fire-eaters, lion tamers, and highwire acts.

The ringmaster I remember as being a very exciting fellow. Dressed in his tails and top hat, it was unlike anything I had ever seen. He had a booming voice, with just the right intonation to get one's attention and keep it. I left my seat that afternoon suitably impressed.

As we left the building, my father took us through a rear exit which was very close to the door where the circus members had exited the main ring. As we filed out, through an open curtain, I saw the ringmaster talking to another gentleman. I was horrified.

First, he had removed his top hat to reveal his complete baldness. Clearly, the black hair I thought was on his head was actually part of his hat. He had also removed a lot of the make-up he'd been wearing and it was smeared on his face. But that wasn't the worst part. As we shuffled through with the rest of the crowd, I heard him in a very clear, distinct voice say curse words. You know what I mean; the kind your mother doesn't let you say. It was an offense to my nine year old sensibilities.

My fascination with the ringmaster fell, because in my childishness, I held the fact against him that he was first, human, and second, an actor. He wasn't really that exciting ringmaster. It was put on for the show. Since that moment, I think I have gone a little to the other extreme and been suspicious of celebrities. I'm sure I had my obligatory fascinations with the Famous Pretty Boy of the day when I was a teenager, but I think the ringmaster ruined it for me.

The lesson from the ringmaster is a good one even when it comes to the famous Christian people we enjoy reading about, and because they are so accessible with social media, occasionally interact with. We need to remember that they are just regular people, too. We should not expect that since they have done something well enough to gain attention that they are more virtuous than the next person. When I was first converted, in my ignorance, I watched Jimmy Swaggart. He got attention did he not? And look at what he did. No, fame and virtue are not synonymous.

We are not obliged to give famous Christians blind loyalty. We can read their books and enjoy their preaching, and maybe we'll get weak-kneed if one of them tweets at us. But we don't owe them anything other than the exhortation Christ gave us to love our neighbours as ourselves. We owe them kindness and consideration, and treatment fitting a brother or sister in the Lord. But we don't have to follow them, constantly applaud them, or in contrast, constantly castigate them when they do the unthinkable and act like humans. And yes, we should expect them to act with integrity in their dealings, and no, we should not make excuses for them when they do not.

My husband and I had a pastor many years ago who was the most godly man we have ever met. He confided to my husband that he found pride such a terrible temptation when people told him week by week how great his sermons were, or how he blessed them. He was on constant guard that he not evidence pride in his life. This is one thing we can help a "celebrity" pastor with: we don't have to lay on the accolades for every word they say. Believe it or not, every word they utter is not a nugget. Even famous Christians can be a little dull.

I've been amazed over the past couple of weeks, in this season of Advent, how reflections on the coming of Christ have been eclipsed by stories about famous Christians. These men and women are just regular people, just like the ringmaster was. Let us do them and ourselves a favour and not treat them as if they are perfect, or above reproach. And let's remember that this is the Christmas season, and only Christ is worthy to be praised.

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Reader Comments (7)

I believe it's in our human nature to want to worship something or someone, even if we give no thought to the worthiness of the object of our worship. I believe it's easy to worship celebrity pastors because we don't know them - warts and all - as we do the people in our 3D lives. We're able to hold own to our own deluded vision of him, because we want so badly to worship him. When we realize he's like the ringmaster, we condemn him because he dared to disappoint us and ruin our illusion. I've found that the celebrity pastors I most admire (and try desperately not to worship) are those men who are consistently pointing others to Christ and away from themselves.

December 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMelsisa

I agree, Melissa, about your point regarding the need to worship something or someone. It's such a temptation. I also wonder how it detracts from our ministry to the local church.

December 10, 2013 | Registered CommenterKim

Well said. I have two posts on draft about this, but I can't get the words right.

The irony is that we also have people who appear to be building their brand on being against celebrities. That's the point where I start to get dizzy. :)

December 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStaci

Would celebrity culture exist or be as strong as it is without social media? We wouldn't know about the big names and would be content with our little churches and our own pastors because we wouldn't know about anyone else. Sure, we could read books, but that doesn't fuel the admiring masses in the same way.

I think there are instances where people do need to be called to account. At the same time, if we stopped acting like teeny bopper groupies who have a hissy fit when anyone criticizes our idols, the celebrity platform would disappear for the good of all.

(delete this if you think it's too inflammatory.)

December 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPersis

That is what I was thinking, Persis: that social media has contributed to it. Yes, I agree that some people need to be called into account, and no, I am not deleting your comment :)

Staci, that is a good point about building a brand by being against them. The truth is that there have always been men and women who have made names for themselves, like Lloyd-Jones, for example. But as Persis said, social media has made it even more pronounced.

December 10, 2013 | Registered CommenterKim

It's funny because I'm reading Pink's biography by Ian Murray and in the 1920's Bible conferences were popular like they've become again today. They were just as fraught with controversy and mud slinging as today. Pink being a complete oddity in that he was writing the studies in the Scriptures on the sovereignty of God in an Arminian evangelical culture was blasted by Harry Ironside (who later became president of Moody) - saying Pinks books should all be burned!

Goes to show ya there's nothin new under the sun. The Internet just amps it up a few notches.

Love the ringmaster story!

December 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

Diane, you're absolutely right. The internet does amp it up.

December 10, 2013 | Registered CommenterKim

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