rip-michael-jackson-wallpapers_14134_1152x864I watched the Michael Jackson memorial service on TV. I half expected him to burst out of his casket. I imagined the casket cover opening, and a sequinned gloved hand rising up, accompanied by the intro to “Thriller.” But it was not to be. MJ did not rise from the dead. He was no messiah though there were times when he seemed to portray himself as one.

Remember the “Earth Song” video? Here was MJ undoing the effects of sin on the created order. In “They Don’t Really Care About Us” he declares “Beat me, hate me, You can never break me, Will me, thrill me, You can never kill me.” In “This is It,” he is “the light of the world.” But MJ’s light no longer shines. He was only human. But he was the consummate entertainer.

I saw him live when he performed in Kuala Lumpur on his HIStory tour (1996). I was blown away. Here was a master of image and sound. He provided many of the songs in our personal sound tracks. When we went to watch “This is It,” Bernice (beloved wife) pointed out that my right leg was moving so strongly during the “Billie Jean” sequence, it was causing the surrounding chairs to vibrate. “I’ll Be There,” “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Thriller,” “Heal the World,” well, we all have our personal lists of MJ’s number ones. (I can even do an acceptable moon walk.) He was special. Here is Roger Ebert in his review of This Is It:

“This is it,” Michael Jackson told his fans in London, announcing his forthcoming concert tour. “This is the final curtain call.” The curtain fell sooner than expected. What is left is this extraordinary documentary, nothing at all like what I was expecting to see. Here is not a sick and drugged man forcing himself through grueling rehearsals, but a spirit embodied by music. Michael Jackson was something else. (, October 27, 2009.)

In “This is It,” MJ’s voice and moves are still breath taking, but at 50, he is no longer the angelic voiced whirling dervish of the videos where we first heard/saw him. Still, if the show had gone ahead, it would have been spectacular entertainment, though one wonders how MJ would have found the energy to do fifty shows.

No question that Jackson, deeply in debt to Sony (distributor of his CDs and this movie) and other creditors, needed the money the concerts would generate. But his heroic effort suggests that this was no take-the-money-and-run greatest hits scam. He saw “This is It” as a career retrospective that would re-establish the value of his music and prove he still had the strength and the moves of 20, 30, 40 years ago. (Richard Corliss, “He’s Still a Thriller,” TIME Asia, November 9, 2009, 46.)

In all the hoopla surrounding his death, and the buzz from “This is It,” it is easy to forget Jackson’s eccentricities, his “bizarre resculpting of his features; his litigious shenanigans with young boys; his obsession with being an eternal preadolescent, a petrified Peter Pan . . . (Corlisss, 45). Here was a tortured soul, someone who needed saving — like the rest of us.

In his article on “Entertainment,” in The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity, Quentin Schultze reminds us that people “seek entertainment as a means of relieving boredom, as a diversion from the hardships and difficulties of everyday life . . .” (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997, 342). Entertainment is part of God’s general providence. But in the same article, Schultze also warns:

. . . Christians are called to be on guard against the false prophets of every age, even as those prophets are represented in the seemingly benign forms of entertainment (2 Pet 2:1). Popular art is never culturally neutral but is instead an expression of values and beliefs usually forged by audience-minded entrepreneurs. Our task is not to enjoy this entertainment uncritically, but to help ourselves, our children and our community see it for what it really is. Then we may truly celebrate the best and the most entertaining of the lot. (Schultze, 345).

MJ gave us some of our best songs and videos. We are grateful. And with songs like “Heal the World,” he helped articulate our need for healing with a plaintive voice that breaks your heart. But in the end, MJ was only human.

But they told me
A man should be faithful
And walk when not able
And fight till the end
But I’m only human
(“Will You be There”)

He too needed the light of life. Michael Jackson provided us with exceptional entertainment. But salvation is to be found in another Singer and another Song.

Then Jesus spoke out again, “I am the light of the world. The one who follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NET)