There is something about being known, being remembered, that seems to lend a premium to life’s worth.
I was at Cambridge between 2002 and 2005, and during this time I met, chatted with and even vaguely knew several people who are now very famous. It’s unlikely any of them would remember me, so can I claim to know them? I would like to think so, but I’m not sure I want to test the theory. They are named characters from my university past, against whom I am an unnamed and uncredited fellow student. Unless, that is, I seek to make a name for myself.
The book of Hebrews describes the amazing exploits of scriptural prophets who “were put to death by stoning…sawed in two…killed by the sword…went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated…they wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground” and they were all “commended for their faith.”
But is it possible now to make a name for yourself doing these kind of prophetly, and it seems rather terminal, things?
As the great prophet Sir Terry Pratchett puts it in his book Maskerade: “[Take] hermits. There’s no point freezing your nadgers off on top of some mountain while communing with the Infinite unless you can rely on a lot of impressionable young women to come along occasionally and say ‘Gosh’.”
There are Christians who are famous and there are famous people who happen to be Christian. The latter are either Americans, or brave soldiers to allow their faith to be shared with their fans. The former are celebrities within a relatively small, but very committed, pool of people. They are our Rob Bells, our Jim Wallises: people who shape Christian thought through their words, their writings and the odd DVD. From time to time someone will emerge as a modern martyr for displaying acts of faith so powerful they can’t help but be noticed, but unless they capitalise and grow their fifteen minutes, it’s not a lasting fame.
Both types of famous Christian are held to high account by followers and critics in equal measure. And I’m not sure I would want my faith factored into the scrutiny that comes with a life in the spotlight.
James writes fervently in his epistle that faith without deeds is no true faith at all. If you adhere to this theology then being both faithful and famous puts you in judgement not just before the Lord but before your peers; what are the front pages of the tabloids if not a modern-day stocks for faces to be pelted with the rotten fruit of our censure? And Christians are particularly good at castigation: <insert your own experience here>.
If however, you believe that your faith is something that is not just measured by the mountains that you move but by the relationship you have with your saviour, you may well be strong enough to survive a life of fame without sacrificing your soul. The challenge is in convincing the world of this and more importantly your critics.