Britney Spears, “American Idol” and the corporate Cassanova

Why did Britney Spears hit such a personal and professional low? It’s not a typical Good City question, but I heard the echoes of one of our themes in a story on MSNBC headlined, “Who Can Save Her Image?”

Here’s the money quote from Eric Foster White, who co-wrote six songs on Britney’s first album, “Baby One More Time”:

“You have to understand that there’s nobody in the equation who stood to benefit by giving it to her straight.”

Let’s say that sad truth again: Nobody stood to benefit by giving it to her straight.

Why did Britney implode? Why do horrible singers try out on “American Idol”? Why did that now-canned WellPoint executive think he could propose to and dump 12 women in two years?

Because they were surrounded by people — or surrounded themselves with people — who had no qualms with keeping silent about uncomfortable truths.

But don’t gloat. Perhaps you’re not on television, but the same lesson applies. Do you do anything that would cause the people around you to shrink from telling you the truth? Is there a sensitivity you wear or an anger you nurture that tells potential allies to back away from certain criticisms?
Hebrews 10:24-25 instructs us, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.” Life in community should mean life with people who are willing to challenge you, not life with people who just want to egg on your selfishness and sin, perhaps for their own benefit.

This is why it’s perilous to make fun of celebrities like Britney Spears. Given enough fame and fortune, too many of us would be in the same sad situation.

The problem with neighbors

Dear neighbor,

I don’t want to be so close to you. You make my life more difficult.

If I neglect my yard, you can see it. If I yell at my kids, you can hear it.

And worse, if you yell at your kids, I can hear it. So now, like it or not, I have to decide how much I care about you.

If I am typical, I will decide I don’t care at all. I’ll just turn up the Christmas music. If I decide I care a little bit, maybe I’ll call the police and report a domestic disturbance.

It’s too, too much to get to know you, to get to know your wife, and to minister to you. That’s a lot of trouble, and I’m busy. It’d be so much easier if there were more distance between us and fewer chances of noticing you.

But now it’s Christmastime. That means I must contend with our Nativity set and everything it represents.

Here is the Babe, surrounded by shepherds and angels and barn animals. Here is the transcendent Creator of the universe, born of flesh. Here is God, too close.

The scandal of Jesus isn’t that he is God. The scandal of Jesus is that he did not remain distant. He dwelt among us. He became Emmanuel: God with us.

I’ve heard preachers say Jesus stepped into our world, but instead we should say he elbowed and slashed his way into our world. He wasn’t polite: He forced his way into the arms of a young bewildered couple, he demanded twelve men follow him, he rebuked rulers and cast out demons.

He didn’t just sit in heaven and command us to love our neighbor. He was born a baby to become your closest neighbor, my closest neighbor, and to show how to lay down one’s own life for the life of another.

And then He told everyone to follow him. Just as he put aside everything to love his people, we are to put aside all other loves, all loves for neighbor, for parent, for child and for spouse, and to love Him first.

Love Him first, He says, and all other loves tilt and find their proper orbits.

Dear neighbor, you are close, sometimes too close. But if my closest neighbor is Jesus, and if he truly loved me first, it’s the least I can do to turn and love you, too.

Have a merry Christmas.

photo by Patrick Q on Flickr