Two stories out of Atlanta today—one involving a preacher, the other a politician.
The preacher is Bishop Eddie Long, the extremely charismatic (and Charismatic) evangelist and senior pastor of the megachurch-several-times-over New Birth Missionary Baptist Church:
With his well-cut suits, passion for Bentleys, and dynamic, accessible style of preaching, he quickly climbed the list of the nation’s most powerful religious leaders.
He built his ministry, which stretches to Kenya and other countries, on a strong message of conservative Christianity that included promises of prosperity and attacks on homosexuality.
But life inside Bishop Long’s home had been crumbling. And on Sunday, members of his dwindling congregation heard news they had been bracing for.
Their charismatic bishop, who in May settled with five young men who accused him of sexual coercion and who has fought a series of other legal battles, said he was temporarily stepping away from the pulpit to try to save his marriage.
The other is Herman Cain, who “went home to consult with his wife” after a seemingly unstoppable flood of allegations of sexual harassment, and who over the weekend announced that he was ending his presidential campaign.
Bizarrely, at the end of his “rambling” speech in Atlanta, Mr. Cain quoted a line from Pokemon: The Movie. Apparently he has been quoting it throughout the campaign:
The former restaurant executive been quoting the “Power of One” since the beginning of his campaign: when he kicked things off in Atlanta in May, saying the words came from the closing song of the 2000 Olympics. He used them again in July at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.
But that it came from a song only came to light in August, when during a debate Cain said, “A poet once said, ‘Life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible, but it’s never easy when there’s so much on the line.’” Curious Googlers soon found that it wasn’t a poet but a disco siren who had authored the words, and that they came from the anime movie.
When pushed on where he’d heard Summer’s song, Cain didn’t take it well. He insisted he hadn’t been watching Pokémon videos (perhaps the most credible of his denials in recent weeks), but wasn’t clear on where exactly he might have heard the lyrics.
“But Mr. Cain, I never said anything about Pokemon…”
The synchronicity of these two stories emerging on the same day has me once again pondering the folly of seeking a place in the spotlight. Recently, Republicans have been lining up on all the major news shows to chant in unison (as liberals did in the previous election) that the frontrunner’s vanity isn’t really a problem, because “all politicians are vain—you have to be, to think you can run the country.” Also, they’re the only people who seem to think we like seeing them broadcast on television, day in and day out.
Everyone wants to be famous. If you’re a Christian, you want to run a megachurch. If you’re a crook, you want to run the White House.
But maybe this excess of ambition blinds them to the mundanity of life in the national arena. So far as I can tell, if you’re famous, this is what you do with your life: you travel around a lot and stand in front of crowds and talk to them. If you’re a pastor, like Bishop Long or Joel Osteen, you talk about better ways to make money, and the power of prayer, and every day being Friday. If you’re a politician, you talk about cutting the deficit in half by 2020 (“I have a 2020 vision!” etc.), and why you’re a better person than the other seven people on stage with you. Maybe this sounds exciting to some people. To me it is not very exciting.
I suppose if you had a message worth delivering, and you felt people needed it, then fame might be useful. Ah, but therein lies the problem.
Most famous people don’t actually have a message worth repeating. Herman Cain certainly didn’t: his platform essentially consisted of shouting “9-9-9!” over and over again, and (literally) blowing smoke into the camera whenever anyone tried to question him about specifics. In a way, it is oddly fitting that the theme of his campaign turned out to be have been ripped from the Pokemon movie. From beginning to end—as with even the most motivating of motivational speakers—it was shallow, vapid, and banal.
At the beginning of the Fellowship of the Ring movie (by contrast), Bilbo tells Gandalf, “I feel stretched, sort of thin, like butter scraped over too much bread.” That is how most famous people appear to me. They’re stretched, insubstantial. They lack interiority; they lack stature. The face on the poster is bigger than the spirit warrants. They’re eclipsed by their own image. They’re a bunch of sad, shallow, lonely old men. They’ve spent their whole lives chasing Honor, Recognition, and Importance, and it’s eaten them away on the inside. “There is no life in the Void,” as the Dark Lord so wisely asserted, but that is where most of them are living. They thought Greatness meant being seen, being known, being wise and important. But what about love? What about peace of heart, peace of mind? What about courage? What about a gentle and prayerful spirit? All these have they neglected. They’re not happy; they’re not bright. They’re little men. They’re tiny, tiny men. They’re less than the lowest worm, and they don’t even know it. No wonder so many are involved in affairs. No wonder so many are bound up in pornography and prostitution. If you’re dead on the inside, where else will you go?
Shame, too, because their soul’s the only thing they’ll carry with them when they leave this stage of fools.
I’m glad Bishop Long finally realized his family life was falling apart. I’m glad he’s resigned his authority to shore up his crumbling relationships. I hope he and his wife are reconciled, and that their marriage holds together. We need one another. We need love. We need to be more than just weeds tossed about by the wind. We need to fill our lamps with oil, and we need to become people of substance. Maybe then we’ll eventually have a message worth sharing.