June 27, 2009
“I’m starting with the man in the mirror…
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change.”
Michael Jackson, Man in the Mirror, 1988
Campaign slogans, political speeches, pop music, and even government web pages – Everywhere we turn we hear the echoes of monastic chants calling for change. Radio, television, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and even the antiquity of newsprint have all been inundated: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek." Change we can believe in. Change we need. Vote for Change. Change.gov. A Time for Change. Change in our Time…. “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and … Change!”
But is change always something to be celebrated or are there times where proclamations of change should be received with caution and concern? The answer lies in another question: Change from what to what? What value, idea, system, agenda, or behavior do you want to change and is that change moving you from bad to good or good to bad? Does such change represent that which is decent and beautiful or that which is depraved and ugly? You see, change is a concept that cannot stand alone. Change needs to be propped up by definition. Change means very little until we know what we intend to embrace and what we intend to discard. Change is akin to an empty glass that must be filled before it has any moral value or ethical weight. The container is not what matters but rather what you put in it. A glass can be filled with water or vinegar or with poison. “Change”, likewise, can be filled full of that which is nourishing, that which is bitter or that which is deadly. The lessons of history (from Stalin to Pol Pot or Jefferson to King or even the Jackson Five to Michael Jackson) show us time and again that until we know what it is that we are changing, why we are changing it and where such change will take us, that we drink of the cup of “change” either to our advancement or our own demise.
So yes – Let’s “take a look at ourselves.” Let’s “start with the man in the mirror.” What do you see? At first glance you may be pleased to see the eyes of Michael Jackson staring back at you. These are good eyes. They are kind eyes. You see that yearning that is inalienable in each of us for a “better world” and “better place.” These are eyes that cry out for justice, freedom, love, and mercy. You want to feed the hungry, help the poor, care for the environment, and move beyond racial stereotypes and abolish hatred and prejudice. You want to make a change. You want to eliminate all that is bad in our world and restore all that is good. You hunger and thirst for righteousness and you disdain all that is unjust and unfair. You despise hypocrisy and you defend integrity. What you see in the man in the mirror is a savior and saint. We are the solution. “We are the world! We are the people! We are the one’s to make a brighter day so let’s start giving!” We are the “change we have been waiting for.” We are good and we are right!
But stop before you walk away from this mirror with such confidence and self-assurance. Perhaps we need to look a bit closer before we turn away in self-congratulation. As we gaze a bit deeper into the eyes of Michael we see eyes staring back that are not as clear as we thought. In fact these pupils are shadowy and opaque for they are disguised and hidden behind dark glasses. These are sad eyes. They are confused and self-conscious. This second glance in the mirror becomes increasingly unsettling, doesn’t it? We are now making eye contact with a man who is tragically trapped and confused. Embarrassed eyes tell us of one who is ashamed of his duplicity and humiliated by calling for “change” in racial relations while yet being willing to “change” his racial identity by “changing” the color of his skin. We see a man who sings of a utopia - where all human beings are naturally beautiful, but yet this is a man so uncomfortable with his own appearance that he is willing to “change” the created and natural to the contrived and plastic through the use of surgery. This is also a man whose lyrics champion the childlike innocence and goodness of humanity, but yet his own goodness has been flouted before the world in a flood of accusations that he “changed” and truncated the innocence of children as the consequence of his own adult passions. Finally, as we look into this mirror one last time we see a man staring back at us who is pleading with the people of the world to grow up, to mature, to stop acting like spoiled children governed by their selfish, sensual and materialistic fantasies and to “change” into adults. But this is the same man who has willingly served our generation as the poster-child for postmodernity’s youth culture and its consequent degradation of chronological maturity – A Peter Pan who at 50 years of age stubbornly denies the inevitable and refuses to acknowledge the “change” of growing older; of adulthood, and instead lives in the fantasy world of his own Neverland
Do you see it? Do you recognize the image in this mirror? Those eyes staring back at you are your own. It is your own culture. It is your own community. It is your own corporation. Its your church, your government, your school, your university. It is you. As Narcissus gazed with youthful arrogance at his own reflection, and drowned in self-congratulatory infatuation, so we seem to be captivated by the grotesque monstrosity of our own making that we see in the mirror. We look through the dark glasses, clouded by our own constructs, our own opinions, our own agendas, our own animal instincts and we call for change. We deceive ourselves in the seclusion of our own little Neverlands and we seem to be oblivious to the fact that much of what we are changing makes us look all the more fake, disfigured and pathetic. We seem oblivious to the obvious that everyone else sees: Change if it is defined by the created rather than the Creator is a very ugly and self-destructive thing. We look absurd and we don’t even know it.
The glass of change will be filled (no void is every left empty). It will either be filled with wine that is enduring and pure or it will be filled with the toxic tonic of self. The elixir of narcissism leads to an early death for all who drink of it. If “we are the change we have been waiting for and if we are the change that we seek” then we should all rightly fear that we may indeed be drinking of this cup with poison dripping from the smirk of our self-confident lips.