Be ‘your brother’s keeper’ and unplug the television
Rev. Torey Lightcap
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
By now you’ve probably heard that the actor Heath Ledger passed away this week. It gets a guy to thinking.
One of the chief exports of the United States is its culture. Each year we ship billions of DVDs and CDs and books to the scattered ends of the earth and reap handsome financial gain in return. Lately we’ve been moving bits, not atoms, as the Internet has transformed the way entertainment is produced, distributed, and consumed; but the message is still the same ” we make content.
Content is power and is never offered without a worldview. Exporting culture means that we’re in control of a muscular and scintillating message. Buy this thing. Think this way. Act that way.
Our popular culture ” this very same ideology we’re dispersing around the globe billions of times per second ” is currently marked by a rank fascination with celebrities. Surely I don’t need to rehearse the details of that fixation with you. It’s basically unavoidable: who’s dating who, who’s having a nervous breakdown, who’s overweight or underweight. These details scream at us from the grocery register and make banner headlines in legitimate news outlets.
When one of the members of that stratosphere of celebrities falls to earth from his or her place of worship, the resulting thud widely resounds. The photographers and amateur videographers wait it out, combing through people’s garbage and applying pressure, until someone falters, and then the feeding frenzy starts. When the feast has ended and we sit sharpening our teeth, we wonder who will be the next train wreck.
It’s a gross paradox that we worship the very same people whom we would love to see take a fall. Even the deaths of the ones whose work we may admire, such as Mr. Ledger’s, produce a confusion of sadness and bald curiosity. Yes, we mourn the passing of a talented actor; but in the same breath we strain forward to know more, to get all the juicy details. Yes, having knowledge does help us understand situations and people, but in this age it’s easy to forget that there may come a point at which we no longer need to participate in the frenzy. The most charitable and compassionate thing we can do to honor a life may be simply to back away and not look anymore.
This point of view is a hard one to proffer. After all, the culture in which we live is constantly giving to us the takings of cameras and microphones. Yet many of us subscribe to a faith system that recognizes that a certain famous rhetorical question ” “Am I my brother’s keeper?” ” must be answered overwhelmingly in the affirmative.
But how, you ask, can you keep a brother at so great a distance? How can you give genuine care to someone who’s never heard of you? How can you possibly tip scales so inequitably distributed away from compassion?
You can pray for the deceased. You honor them by exercising compassion for those who are within your keeping. You can curb the hot talk that feeds on death and gossip.
And in the end, you can hit the power button or the mute button, or just unplug the whole thing. It’s rather a trite suggestion, but it works.
The Rev. Torey Lightcap is priest-in-charge of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glenwood Springs (www.saint-barnabas.info). Torey and his wife have two children and live in New Castle.
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