I was in Powell, Wyoming on June 25, 2009. I was one of the Study Leaders for the Spiritual Growth Study Food & Faith sponsored by the United Methodist Women at the Pacific Regional School of Christian Mission. And the word came like a thief in the night with no preamble “He’s dead! Michael Jackson is dead!” CPR, skilled paramedics, UCLA’s ER brass and prayer failed to resuscitate him. Globally, his fans wept. For Michael Jackson had connected with them. This bond went far beyond the adage “Gone too soon.”
The next day, I announced Michael’s death to the class. Some of them had not yet heard. Gasps turned to amazement as we read the first two sentences of the worship service printed in the textbook. It said, “Talking to the one in the mirror: Michael Jackson recorded a song called ‘Man in the Mirror’ saying that he was talking to that man and telling him he had to change his ways.” How ironic. A study guide written two years ago used a Jackson song to help us understand the Image of God. And the song helped us discuss Michael’s ups and downs. I shared a historical parallel citing John Newton, the author of Amazing Grace. Then, we viewed Man in the Mirror on the Internet. Tears flowed. Because of Michael’s untimely death, we were challenged to hold up a mirror to our own lives and change. Near the end of class, the spirit moved. The youngest student interrupted our discussion and sang a few bars of Jackson ’s “I’ll Be There” spontaneously. “You and I must make a pact; we must bring salva-tion back, where there is love, I’ll be there.” Those words and her gifted voice sounded like the plaintive cry of John the Baptist in the wilderness. “It cut me to the quick.” Jackson’s music and lyrics insisted on self-assessment, change and doing something positive for all God’s people.
Michael Jackson touched the world because he dared to look in the mirror at his flaws. What he saw threatened to destroy him. A childhood lost, abject loneliness, the breakup of the Jackson Five, two failed marriages, lawsuits, trials and tabloid stories shaped his image and reputation. So did vitilego, a skin disease. It turned his black skin, white. Second and third degree burns sustained during a 1994 Pepsi commercial left him with charred skin and bald spots on his scalp. Skin grafts helped. However, nothing solved the physical and emotional pain in its wake. Yet every time Michael Jackson climbed on the stage to sing and dance for his global audience, his stumbling blocks became stepping stones. He was transformed. He “beat it.” Nay, he “beat them,” i.e., his troubles.
Singing and dancing weren’t his only gifts. Michael became a consummate humanitarian. In essence, Michael Jackson sang and danced with such passion because it allowed him to serve and love the world. Reportedly, three to five hundred million dollars of his earnings were donated to heal the world. Jackson used his earnings to fight leukemia, child abuse, diabetes, burns, AIDS, poverty, and illiteracy. He provided funds for children’s vaccines, cancer research, endowed entertainment scholarships, black colleges and the NAACP. Jackson made similar decisions in his will. Twenty percent of his estate was set aside for worthy causes.
The last twelve years of Michael Jackson’s life was most productive. He spent it parenting. As the sole parent, Michael Jackson raised and nurtured with love Prince Michael age twelve, Paris Katherine, age eleven and Prince Michael II, age seven. The Rev. Al Sharpton’s powerful eulogy re-iterated that message. Sharpton told Michael Jackson’s children that their daddy taught the world to love, to dream, to care for one another, to never give up and value family. Paris Katherine confirmed Sharpton’s witness about her Dad with an unscripted testimony of her own. “Ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine…I just wanted to say I love him so much.” So said the tape I watched of the Jackson Memorial Service. It was wonderful. At times, it left me in tears.
Nevertheless, the stirring accounts of Jackson’s life on stage brought back memories of the Spiritual Growth Study in Powell, Wyoming. Both the Study and Man in the Mirror had something in common:
1) the need to change things;
2) and the desire to make the world a better place.
Furthermore, they stressed the following: needed change in our world must begin with you and me. That’s the purpose of looking at the “Man/Woman in the Mirror.”
Finally, I must confess the Jackson Memorial Service left me with a telling observation. For all his shortcomings, Michael Jackson made a lot of disciples in the last 40 years. They just kept growing in number all over the world. Why? Michael Jackson truly loved and served all God’s children. Second, Michael Jackson reached out and made the world a better place. That said, even Michael Joseph Jackson did not fully understand how or why folk around the world loved him back.