Where were you when you heard the news?
For one generation that question brings back memories of the JFK assasination.
For another the tragic death of Martin Luther King Junior.
For others John Lennon.
But for those who grew up in my era, we could add another to the list –
Where were you when you heard Michael Jackson had died?
Being the same age as Michael Jackson, I can vividly recall when he burst on the scene – easily eclipsing the rest of the brother act known as the Jackson Five.
Nice harmonies, Jermaine.
Nifty conga solo, Tito.
But please get out of the way and let that charismatic kid with the incredible voice and dance moves to match take center stage, please.
The Jackson Five faded after a few years.
But in the early 80’s, Michael came back on the scene with a vengeance.
The Quincy Jones produced album “Thriller” established Jackson as an artist found in the same rarefied atmosphere as Frank Sinatra, Elvis and the Beatles.
When Michael began to refer to himself as the “King of Pop”, no one scoffed.
But outside the spotlight, another story was unfolding – the story of a man under overwhelming pressure not just to perform on stage, but in every area of life.
Including the spiritual.
When “Thriller” hit the air waves I was working as a youth pastor in Agoura Hills, California – about 20 miles north of the Jackson family home in Encino.
One day, one of my interns came into the office and said, “Guess who tried to give me an ‘Awake’ magazine today? Michael Jackson!”
Talk about an unexpected brush with greatness.
“Michael Jackson was going door to door as a Jehovah’s Witness in your neighborhood? Did you get a chance to tell him about Jesus?”, I asked.
“Nope”, my intern replied. “He told me his name was Joe and started to tell me about being a J.W. , but then some kids from down the block recognized him and started yelling, ‘Michael!!’ He turned around and ran off.”
Now what could have possibly motivated a man who, by all accounts, was painfully shy off stage to go door to door selling the Watchtower to total strangers?
Michael Jackson’s mother was a committed Jehovah’s Witness.
No doubt Jackson would never have chosen to do something as uncomfortable as a door to door mission if he wasn’t trying his best to please his mother.
Or perhaps he was trying to make up for a bad conscience with a heroic religious act.
We will never know for sure what lead Michael to spend a day on the “mean streets” of Agoura Hills.
But the pressure must have been immense.
There is no doubt this man was given a pretty tough row to hoe in life.
How do you keep your head on straight when you are raised under a system of rigid religiosity, and yet are known for demonstrating increasingly explicit dance moves in front of the entire country?
How do you maintain humility not just in the face of sold out crowds who seemed to worship you, but also in light of those who made you the object of their religion – a sect of J.W’s who actually believed you were the biblical arch angel Michael?
How do you keep an increasingly eccentric personality in check when you have complete freedom to do whatever you like financially?
In short, Michael Jackson didn’t maintain his balance.
And the price to be paid was steep.
There is an old saying that goes, “When you are twenty you have the face that God gave you. By the time you are forty you have the face you have made for yourself.”
No one embodied this more than Michael Jackson.
You know the rest of it.
The child molestation charges.
The career collapse.
The rumors of financial ruin.
Michael Jackson never seemed to be able to escape his personal pain.
But it does seem that he regularly attempted to medicate it by turning back to systems of religious rigidity.
In fact, one of the last headline grabbing stories prior to his death involved his move to the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain and a conversion to Islam.
Michael Jackson ‘converts to Islam and changes name
The American singer Michael Jackson has converted to Islam, the Sun newspaper reported over the weekend.
The 50-year-old pop star, who changed his name to Mikaeel, pledged allegiance to the Koran at a friend’s house in Los Angeles. An Imam was summoned from a nearby mosque to hold the shahada, the declaration of belief in Allah and Mohammed’s prophecy.
An associate said that Jackson chose his new name, which is the name of one of Allah’s angels, after rejecting another Muslim name, Mustafa, which means “the chosen one.”
Last week, he sold his multimillion California estate, Neverland Ranch, to cover his debts. He is also facing a lawsuit by a Bahrain prince, Sheikh Abdulla Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalifa, who alleges he gave Jackson $2.2 million after he was acquitted of child molestation in 2007.
What to make of the death of the “King of Pop”?
I’m certain there will be all kinds of retrospectives concerning the highlights of his career and the depth of his personal problems.
But my mind goes back to that day on the streets of Agoura Hills.
I wonder what would Michael Jackson’s life have been like if he hadn’t run away from that door step?
What if he had heard about the real Jesus – not the one preached by a cult that would crush him with a laundry list of impossible demands – but the One Who loved him unconditionally?
The same Jesus Who could supply the power to either bear up under the weight of fame, or even give him the courage to simply walk away?
The same Jesus Who could have given him a new heart?
The same Jesus Who said,
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Michael began his journey in life with the heavy load of legalism.
Tragically, it looks like his strange, sad spiritual journey ended the same way.
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