Katherine Jackson, matriarch of the Jackson family raised her children as strict Jehovah’s Witnesses. In recent years, at least one brother had converted to Islam, another reportedly to Judaism and Michael was known to have worn the scarlet thread of Kabbalah from time to time.
So, it was no surprise that yesterday morning, a report emerged that there had been so much bickering among the Jackson family about which religion Michael actually claimed and would have wanted at his memorial that they decided to forego God all-together and have as close to a non-sectarian service as possible.
It didn’t work. God showed up. But I’m still not exactly sure which God / god it was.
Was it the God of the black gospel choir in front of the huge stained glass window image singing “soon and very soon, we are going to see the King” as Michael’s rose-covered casket was wheeled in? (Note: the real God is deadly serious about not sharing His glory with another. See Is. 42:8)
Was it the God of the Lionel Ritchie song “Jesus is Love”? (Note: Actually not a bad song with lyrics that are Scripturally true, if somewhat sappy in parts: “We’ve got to walk on through temptation, ‘cause His love and wisdom will be our helping hand. And I know the truth and His word will be our salvation. Lift up our heart to be thankful and glad, ‘cause Jesus is love, He won’t let you down…Who can bring you love? Who can bring you joy? Who can turn your life around? Who can heal your body?…Jesus loves you. Jesus wants you. You can call Him. He will answer.”)
Was it the God who, multiple speakers assured us, had already ushered Michael into a place of celestial bliss on the basis of a) his kind heart, b) his talent that made people smile, c) his humanitarian contributions with his money and his presence or d) his dealings with misunderstanding and/or false accusations?
Was it the God who wanted to be sure to tell the whole, human, frail, wondrous, genius, mysterious, paradoxical, only privately known truth about Michael? (Note: as I’ve said before, Michael deserved to be treated with dignity just because he was “knit together in his mother’s womb…fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Ps. 139:13-14). Fellow child star Brooke Shields did the best job of painting the poignant humanity of her friend.)
Was it the god some made of Michael Jackson himself? At some moments, speakers stepped beyond “he’s a legendary performer, an iconic genius whose music will live on and whose cultural impact cannot be denied” to describe Michael in divine terms and characteristics such as “healer of the world, living forever and ever and ever, he will never leave us / always be with us in our hearts”, etc.
Was it the God of “ We are the World” and “Heal the World”—where the graphics featured the symbols of world religions in places of vowels (cross, crescent, Star of David, the lotus of Buddhism, yin-yang of Tai Chi and more) and pictures of religious personalities (Jesus, Buddha, etc.) interspersed throughout– while everybody held hands, swayed and sang along? (Note: this was the largest attempt at the promotion of the warm fuzzy, can’t-we- all-just-get-along, “Imagine”, one-world-religion since the 9/11 Memorial at Yankee Stadium hosted by Oprah Winfrey. (Hey, it just occurs to me, how did we manage to have this without the O?) Anyway, I understand that it is a plea for tolerance and even respect between religions; however, that cannot come at the relativization and sacrifice of truth which insists that there are some irreducible realities that forever make these religious systems incompatible. One big one: Christianity claims that Jesus Christ is God, God’s Son and the exclusive way to eternal salvation: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life…no one comes to the Father but by Me” (John 3;16, 14:6)
Was it the God who is always “near to the brokenhearted”, bringing quiet comfort, solace and peace to Michael’s daughter Paris, his parents, brothers and sisters, and closest associates– whether they recognize Him or not? I suspect there was a lot of mercy and grace flowing at Staples Center today.
I have no real conclusions here, just observations. These things and the whole spectacle certainly say as much about the spiritual lives of people across our nation as it does about Michael Jackson himself.
But you can never shut God out. When it has to do with life and death—He’s always right in the middle of it all. If you’re there, just make sure it’s the true God with Whom you deal.
Update: from the London-based Guardian coverage of the event:
Throughout, the symbolism of Jackson as a Christ-like figure – misunderstood, persecuted and snatched away from his fellow humans before his time – was subtle but unmistakable. The opening gospel number, sang as the gleaming gold coffin adorned with roses was laid at the foot of the stage, featured the refrain “one more time we are going to see you,” a clear reference to both Jackson and the son of God.
Later, as John Mayer launched into a blues instrumental version of the Jackson hit Human Nature, a concert image of Jackson with arms raised in a pose straight from a crucifixion painting, and light pouring out from behind him was projected on the overhead screen.