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.