Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Idol" Thoughts

Back in 2005, I wrote a newsletter article after watching the season premiere of "American Idol." Well, I watched this season's edition last night and thought I'd post the article online. What I wrote then still applies today. Here goes...

"Idol" Thoughts
(From Messiah's Messenger, Feb. 2005)

I said I wasn’t going to do it. I said I was NOT going to watch “American Idol” this season. Last season, my wife and I got hooked from the get go. We watched every episode. We cringed at the awful performances. We rooted for our favorites. We even (I’m embarrassed to admit it) voted by phone…sometimes several times (illegal in elections, legal on “American Idol”).

The night of this season’s premiere rolled around, and I was home alone. Sitting down to read a book, my hand involuntarily and inexplicably reached for the remote, turned on the television, and flipped over to “American Idol.” Two whole hours of excruciatingly bad singing awaited me. I don’t think I’ll get as hooked this year. It’s entertaining, that’s for sure. But I’m not going to let it run my life…I’ll let other things do that!

Believe it or not, while I was watching, I started to see some theological implications of “American Idol.” Here are some of my “Idol Thoughts.”

So many of the auditions are absolutely horrible. There may be some who know they are bad but just show up to get on TV. However, there are others who genuinely seem to think they are extraordinary performers. When the three judges tell them how awful they really are, they refuse to believe them. Outside the audition room, they yell at the camera and cuss out the celebrity panel. Others break down in tears, despairing over hearing the truth that they lack singing talent.

This is a snapshot of human nature. The “American Idol” is the SELF. Most people think that they are genuinely good people. When the “judge” of God’s Law tells them how bad they really are, they refuse to believe it. They go on their merry way, appalled that they ought to confess that they are truly a “poor, miserable sinner.” Others go away in despair, wondering if they will ever be able to measure up to God’s holy standard.

The three different approaches of the judges are also instructive. Simon Cowell, the snotty Englishman, often laughs and mocks the bad performers. Randy Jackson, although he chuckles once in a while along with Simon, is a bit more diplomatic in the way he breaks the news to people. Nevertheless, he still tells it like it is. Former singer and dancer Paul Abdul is the kindest of the three. She usually tries to be nice and sweet to even the worst performers, while still being honest with them that maybe their talents lie in other areas.

Like Simon, we might be tempted to ridicule “those sinful people” out there, forgetting that we, too are sinful and in need of forgiveness. Mockery and ridicule might get people to see the folly of their ways, but too often it hardens people to a further hearing of God’s Word. Maybe when proclaiming God’s Law, our approach should be more like Randy’s approach: telling it like it is…proclaiming God’s Law in all its severity and honesty so that people might come to realize that they need a Savior: “No one is righteous, no, not one,” St. Paul reminds us (Rom. 3:10). And to those sinners who are already beaten down by their disobedient failures, our approach can be like Paula’s… which is sort of like what her apostolic namesake once instructed, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

The honest treatment of the bad performers is to point them in another direction. Encourage them to find another genuine talent they may have. Maybe it’s drawing or painting. Maybe it’s acting. Maybe it’s working on car engines. Maybe it’s working with computers. But don’t leave them hanging. Point them in another direction.

Likewise, we don’t leave people who have “performed badly” in this life hanging with the Law…especially those whose egos have been deflated over their sinful inability to measure up. Instead, we point them in another direction. We point them to the One whose performance was perfect, flawless, the best there ever was and ever will be. We point them to Christ, who was perfectly sinless in our place, and who, through faith in his atoning death at the cross, justifies us. The “perfect performance” of Christ is credited to our account, and God sees us as righteous and holy. “By the one man’s [Christ’s] obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 6:19).

Bet you never thought there was so much theology on “American Idol,” huh? Well, that just goes to show you what us pastors do when we’re alone at home…look for sermon illustrations and newsletter topics so we can justify the time spent watching television. Hey, I’m just “speaking the truth.”

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