September 6, 2009
“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold. The rich and poor meet together: the LORD is the maker of them all.”
Imagine walking out your front door in bathrobe and slippers to grab the morning paper. FLASH! Someone snaps your picture.
Stopped at a streetlight in your car. FLASH!
Walking into Starbucks . FLASH!
Shopping for shoes. FLASH!
Mindlessly channel surfing. FLASH!
Of course, with today’s digital technology and high-speed shutters, no FLASH is needed to capture just about anything. Still, this is the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Your entire life documented constantly by photographers known as paparazzi. That is an Italian word, a plural form. The singular is Paparazzo. It originates from the Italian word for the annoying buzzing that a mosquito makes in your ear.
Most celebrities say that it is a very appropriate word for the horde of journalists who follow and photograph their every move. In 1997, Princess Di was killed in a high-speed car crash while her driver was trying to evade four paparazzi following them through a Paris tunnel. Last spring, Madonna claimed she took a tumble off her horse when paparazzi spooked it.
Now you can have that celebrity paparazzi experience for your very own — for about $500 an hour. For that price, you can experience some of the trappings of fame. You can hire your own paparazzo to stalk you and capture unplanned moments of your life. How would you like a clandestine photographer ducking in and out of the shadows, capturing your every move with a telephoto lens?
To be watched so closely must be unnerving. You have to hope nothing is hanging from your nose. But if you are like Narcissus and in love with yourself, and if you have money to spare, you might think this is a cool idea.
You can hire a full entourage to follow you, including photographers and faux reporters, along with a publicist and bodyguards to keep them at bay. It is an expensive way to look important, but it might get you VIP treatment in some places. After all if you look like a celebrity, you must be a celebrity, right? That is what most people think. In our culture, image is everything, and photos make it so. According to professor Josh Gamson, an expert in culture and mass media, “We live in a culture where if it’s not documented, it doesn’t exist.”
Wired magazine editor Sonia Zjawinski hired her own paparazzo. She decided to be a Celebrity for a Day just to see what it felt like. As the paparazzo caught her every move, she became obsessively self-aware: “Do I look authentic? Am I being spontaneous enough? Will my friends warn me if I have a latte-foam mustache? Do I make funny faces when I talk? Do Lindsay and Britney spend every waking moment worrying about this stuff?”
That is what she thought. That is the kind of thoughts we start having if we have a paparazzo for even a day. No wonder celebrities go off the deep end after putting up with that kind of attention day after day and week after week.
This sort of reminds me of a movie that was made about 10 years ago, The Truman Show. In the movie, Truman has lived his entire life in front of cameras, though he does not know it. Truman's life is filmed through thousands of hidden cameras 24 hours a day and broadcast live around the world on a TV channel. But in the movie, as I said, Truman does not know he is being filmed. If you are a celebrity, you know it, and it gets old really quickly.
It can be fun for a single event. Some couples today are buying into what is called a “photojournalistic wedding.” A photographer stalks the entire wedding process, from buying the dress, to the vows, to the final departure on the honeymoon. This paparazzo takes unplanned photos of everything—which is sometimes interesting and funny, and sometimes not.
Some reality TV shows use what they call “unstaged media moments” to embarrass people. They will do anything for ratings. The TV show Cheaters features confrontations between lovers after detectives with hidden cameras have documented an unfaithful partner. Another TV show is called Caught on Tape. This a show full of home video and surveillance camera idiocies, from botched robberies to drunken attempts at acrobatics.
We are installing more and more cameras everywhere, everyday. You are recorded now you just do not notice it, and you are going to be recorded more. So do you want to look good for the cameras?
If so, Proverbs offers advice for you. Proverbs is a collection of good advice, and the assumption, throughout the book, is that there is a camera upon our life. An eye is watches every human move—the eye of God. Furthermore, God has designed us to live one way and God warns us against living outside of that design.
In other words, Proverbs implores us to be people whose personal photo album can go on public display. We should live in such a way that everyone can know all about us and still think well of us.
Mae West, the flamboyant and scandalous actress of the 1930s, reportedly said, “It’s a story I wrote myself, about a girl who lost her reputation and didn’t miss it.” The writer of Proverbs says the opposite. A good reputation is something we will miss if we lose it.
We read in v1: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” Perhaps the same writer also wrote Ecclesiastes where we read: “A good name is better than precious ointment” (7:1). People should easily be able to speak well of us.
We have all been to funerals and heard friends and loved ones eulogized. I have been to some funerals that were really hard to bear. Everyone was so distraught, and torn with grief. However, I have been to other funerals where I felt really exalted. These were funerals which were a joyous celebration of a person’s life.
What kind of funeral do you want? Have you ever thought about that? What kind of atmosphere do you want at your funeral? Do you want a somber, mournful service or do you want laughter and joy. Personally, at my funeral, I would rather you remember a funny story I told or a comical moment than spend as lot of time grieving—which is not going to change the fact of death anyway.
Proverbs asks what are people going to remember about you? What they remember is your name—good or bad.
Sports headlines provide a picture of what happens when a name becomes tainted. You don’t have to be a baseball fan (only a few hundred are left anyway) to know the MLB steroids scandal. Bonds. Clemens. A-Rod. Those pro players spent years basking in the glory of their success on the diamond, but steroid use smeared not only their accomplishments; it fouled the entire sport. Juiced athletes made baseball feel as fake as pro wrestling.
The most poignant example is Barry Bonds. A power hitter with a gorgeous swing, Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s long-standing career record of 755 home runs, but when steroid evidence came out on Bonds, his name was smeared and his record was questionable. Mark Ecko bought Bonds’ record-breaking home run ball, scrawled a giant asterisk on it with a Sharpie and donated it to the Baseball Hall of Fame. That asterisk reminds us of the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin, who wrote: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” The concern of Proverbs is that we remain people without asterisks.
But you might ask, why all this hype about our standing with others? Who cares? Why does someone else’s opinion of us matter? After all, Christian ministers say practically every Sunday that we are not saved by our reputations. We do not get into heaven because people think we are good people.
However, not every verse in the Bible is about going to heaven, not every verse is about my salvation from sin, death, and the devil. Some verses are just good advice about how to live right now. Our verses from Proverbs fall into that category.
V1 tells us to prefer a good name to a pile of money. It does not take wisdom or intelligence or effort to have a lot of money. If you want proof of that, look at the present royal family of Great Britain. I am sorry, I guess that was ugly, but on the other hand, attaining a good name does require wisdom and honesty and effort.
Furthermore, having a good name glorifies God and gives us more opportunity for doing good. Being liked by other people does not guarantee a heavenly reward, but there is nothing wrong with being liked by others. Some people out there may be saying, “I do not care what people think, just give me the money.” Some may even be selfish of salvation and say, “I don’t care what people think, just give me heaven.” Proverbs teaches us a more gentle, caring outlook. Actually the outlook we find in Proverbs is pretty much the same that we find in Philippians where the apostle Paul says, “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (4:8).
Our reputation is part of our mission in this world. We are God’s ambassadors because God is making his appeal through us. Ephesians 3 demands that elders be above reproach. Why? Because as Christians, people judge Christ in us. You are the only sermon some people will ever hear about Jesus. To some extent, they will make a judgment about Jesus from the way you act and live. You might say, that is not fair, and you are right, but it is true anyway.
In v2, we are told that both rich and poor are made by God. Again, we find a practical outlook here. In every human society, we find both rich and poor. That is the way it is. Sometimes we have revolutions that throw out one batch of rich people and put in another batch of rich people, but political revolutions do not change things as much as we might think.
During the Communist Revolution of 1917, an attempt was made to change the very nature of human society. The Communists sought to create what they called the New Soviet Man or the New Soviet Person. He or she would be a person totally devoted to socialist ideals--unselfish, unswayed by petty notions of personal gain, not loyal to country or family, but loyal only to communism.
Of course, you know what happened to that idea. It really never got beyond propaganda. After the communist revolution, a new privileged class arose in the Soviet Union, the Communist Party Elite. They were the new rich and the poor were still the old poor, and the Communists did such a bad job of running the USSR that the whole ramshackle thing fell apart.
And so we come back to Proverbs, there are rich and poor. That is the state of human society. Without necessarily approving of that state, the writer of Proverbs points out that the Lord made us all. The richest people in the world must acknowledge God as creator, the poorest people must do the same. Or put that another way: the poorest person in this world has the honor of being of the work of God’s hand, just as much as the richest person.
And Proverbs is teaching us another lesson. Ordinarily we might think that much difference exists between rich and poor. Rich people do not have to worry about health insurance, for example. They can buy whatever they want. You might say poor people do not have to worry about health insurance either, because they don’t have any. If we look at things from a human perspective, we tend to think that the rich folks have it made and for the poor folks that is just tough, but realize that God might not care about such human divisions. Job 34:19: God “shows no partiality to nobles, nor regards the rich more than the poor, for they are all the work of his hands.”
We were all created by God and we all stand in need of God’s grace and mercy. I said that divisions of human societies into haves and have-nots seems to be a universal human thing. That is not to say that God approves of it. These divisions probably say a lot more about human cruelty than we would like to think. There is an old saying, “Every man for himself and devil take the hindmost”--which is just another way of saying I want mine and I don’t care what happens to you. The devil will certainly take everyone who believes that kind of thing.
The universal divisions of human society demonstrate our failure to carry out God’s commands. So rich and poor meet together at the bar of God's justice, and we are all judged guilty. The very shape of our society says that we are condemned.
But that is not all. The rich and poor meet at the throne of God's grace; the poor are as welcome there as the rich. There is the same Christ for them both.
Think again about our good name. Ultimately, our good name is our name in Christ, our identity as a Christian. Ultimately, human divisions are trivia. Who remembers the rich and famous of another culture, of another time? No one, or practically no one. Who cares? No one. The only thing that really counts is my reputation with God. What does God think about me? God thinks I am a sinner who deserves to go to hell, but through Jesus Christ, God treats me like his child. That is a reputation that counts, the reputation of a beloved child of God. What is your reputation? Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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