"I'm starting with the man in the mirror,
I'm asking him to change his ways,
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change…
You gotta get it right, while you got the time."
When the news of Michael Jackson's death began racing across the globe, television reporters worked feverishly to fill the voracious appetite of viewers eagerly seeking every sordid detail. The amount of air time dedicated to him easily dwarfed the coverage usually reserved for a late head of state.
As the media frenzy climbed to new heights, it symbolized the excesses of a roller coaster career filled with unprecedented success and shocking depths. The Jackson story also perfectly captured the era of narcissism that spawned and sustains such manic adoration.
The King of Pop is dead, but cries of "Long Live the King" continue from fans mourning their American idol. Amidst the predictable circus atmosphere, some talking heads felt the need to assess the singer's cultural impact and pontificate on how history will remember Jackson. Several confidently predicted that "his legacy will live forever."
To be sure, Jackson was one of the most talented individuals in recent memory. His "Thriller" album spent two years on the Billboard charts, selling more than 100 million copies and earning eight Grammy Awards.
But forever is a long measurement. Even though the Baby Boomers and Generation X crowd remain convinced their creative genius will stand the test of time, history indicates otherwise. Today's trendsetters, even if acknowledged by experts as influential, will be forgotten in the everyday lives of those who will follow.
Consider the top names of just one century ago. In 1909, vaudeville attracted performers and audiences to thousands of stages around the country. Popular books included "The Inner Shrine," "Katrine" and "The Silver Horde." The hit song on Broadway was "The Belle of the Barber's Ball." Adoring fans rushed to theatres to see Florence Lawrence, who was known nationwide as "The Biograph Girl."
Despite her appearances in dozens of wildly successful movies, the screen idol was forgotten by the 1920s and was dead by 1938 at only 52. Her grave sat unmarked for half a century and Lawrence is virtually unknown today.
Lawrence's fate is not unusual. It is doubtful anyone is singing "The Belle of the Barber's Ball" or reading any of the popular fiction titles from 1909 bestseller list. The vaudeville circuit, once a pillar of the entertainment industry, disappeared by the Great Depression.
No matter how hard the current generations gaze admiringly at the popular culture monuments they create, nearly all will be swept into the dustbins of history. Only a precious few books, songs and movies propel forward for further review and even they will be mostly curiosities for skeptical cultures of the future.
Even now Jackson's disfigured face, ravaged by surgeries and a bizarre lifestyle, leaves a lasting image for us to reflect upon. We are the world that worships at the altar of the celebrity. There is nothing wrong with enjoying good music and innovative artists, but it is wrong to treat them as demigods. Instead of settling for a pale imitation, we should seek eternal truths from the King of Kings and share the sacrificial love of Christ with a hurting world.
And what do we see when staring into the looking glass? There should be no delight in Jackson's downfall or any sense that our self-serving priorities are vastly superior. Many of us pour our energies and treasure into meaningless pursuits that are as fleeting and worthless as fame.
There is an alternative. Having a servant's heart can make a real difference and touch many generations to come. The key is shifting the focus away from ourselves and attending to the needs of others.
In James 4:14, it says "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." Our stay on Earth is brief and Michael Jackson's advice rings true - "If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change…You gotta get it right, while you got the time."
Reconsider what legacies you want to leave and start getting it right while you've "got the time." By doing so, perhaps a smile may emerge when you next glance in the mirror.