Celebrities attract the attention of many. For my part, I don’t recall ever having watched a single episode of a series with the word “celebrity” in its title or its background concept. (Not even “Shark Tank.”) I do have to admit that I have a few celebrity autographs, including former major league baseball players Pete Rose and Jay Johnstone, and Colonel Harlan Sanders. Yes, that Col. Sanders. I wasn’t chicken to approach him and get his autograph in the airport. He didn’t seem too fried from his bad flight, and I did respect the pecking order, and I didn’t run a-fowl of airport security. No, meeting him wasn’t on my bucket (of chicken) list. Now the jokes are done. Like a good, rotisserie chicken.
Anyway. It’s not as though I’m completely unaware of celebrity status. I’ve been excited by the fame of some. In music worlds in particular, I’ve had some pretty cool meet-ups. Here are a few names (several of whose autographs I also have):
- Mason Jones (who was principal hornist for the Philly Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy, compiler/editor of a stock-in-trade collection of horn solos … and who, I discovered, was the solo hornist for Disney’s Fantasia
- Rebecca St. James (autographed a songbook at a Christian concert I attended with teenage friends)
- Col. Arnald Gabriel (while a grad student, I shuttled him to and from his CO All-State Band rehearsals)
- Col. John Bourgeois (I played under him in the HAWE in Hornell, NY)
- Canadian Brass (autographs at a concert)
- Bonnie Keen, Marty McCall of First Call (autographs at a concert)
- Michael Card¹
- Fernando Ortega²
- Phil Ehart, Rich Williams, David Ragsdale, Billy Greer, Steve Walsh (the 2011 iteration of the rock band Kansas), and Kerry Livgren³
¹ If I had a Christian music idol, it would probably be Michael Card. Prodigiously prolific for 40-or-so years, he is humble and free of hype and glitz. One of his principal gifts is locating and distilling core scripture messages into wonderfully acoustic (read: not over-electronicized) songs. A group of us attended a Card concert once. One friend teased me about being such a fan that she was worried I’d throw my underwear onto the stage. Mine wasn’t that kind of fandom, but I did and do respect Card’s contributions wholeheartedly. I have referred to him before on this blog, notably here.
² Fernando Ortega has been around in my life for almost as long. In his inimitable way, he has compelled, driven, and drawn my heart so many times I’ve lost count. Sometimes, to the point of tears. I met him face to face once, and I introduced a church elder to his music. He and his wife became Fernando’s acquaintances, traveling to him and getting pictures taken with him. I’ll admit to a little jealousy here!
³ And if I had any rock music idol, it would be Kansas. In my unstudied rock hierarchy, Kansas’ musical and lyrical content are tops. Their music consistently manifests qualities that draw me, energize me, and stimulate creativity. I don’t have the autograph of their principal songwriter, Kerry Livgren, because he could no longer play with the band after a stroke. Livgren is now a serious believer, and we recently met him at his church. See here for an account of a special event with Kansas about eight years ago.
Dad and Christian speakers/authors
Today my dad would have been exactly 79½. He was no celebrity himself, but he did garner some well-deserved awards; he was the first scholar-athlete at Harding College and was later Harding University’s School of Education’s Alumnus of the year. As a congregational deacon and shepherd/elder, Dad modeled the way to regard those who enjoy celebrity and fame. He simply treated them like other people. (No need to stand in awe.) On the other hand, he must have had an underlying drive to take advantage of the capabilities of some who had, by their virtues, become somewhat famous. Dad was for years the force that brought well-traveled, well-reputed, “big name” speakers to us. Our church was in the Mid-Atlantic region, a/k/a the “Northeast,” and we would otherwise have been largely ignored because we were neither huge nor in the Bible belt. Primarily because of Dad, we had these guest speakers at our church:
- Cliff Ganus, Jr.
- Lynn Anderson
- Jerry Jones
- Jimmy Allen
- Harold Hazelip
- LaGard Smith
- Rubel Shelly *
- Jim Woodroof
- Max Lucado
I might have autographs for a couple of the above (on the title page of a book), but the main thing was having heard them speak in person. I also shook well-known author Max Lucado’s hand once, because he spoke at a men’s retreat at our beloved Camp Manatawny in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
∗ Shelly’s “shift” is noteworthy—from (1) prize of the far-right, defensive CofC adherents to (2) de facto mouthpiece of the genuinely nondenominational, thoughtfully progressive “wing.” I heard him speak in a couple other settings, too, and one of his books (I Just Want To Be a Christian) had a deep impact on me. See here for a touting of that book.
I also have autographs for these other Christian authors in one or more books:
- Leroy Garrett
- Cecil Hook
- Richard Hughes
- Gary Collier
I myself invited the late Leroy Garrett to my Delaware church to speak on unity and the Restoration Movement—and to impersonate “Raccoon” John Smith in one of his iconic presentations. Leroy stayed in my home, and visited in his. I was in the late Cecil Hook’s home, as well. Cecil was the less credentialed but also sharp-minded author of Free in Christ (also touted here) and other freedom-themed books, several of which I had the distinct honor of collaborating on. I’ve eaten lunch with the insightful Richard and Jan Hughes, along with mutual friends the Crowes. My association with Collier has lasted longer and run deeper than with the others. I have spent meaningful time with him as friends, collaborated with him (including recently embarking on a significant project), and have been in his home.
On the one hand, celebrity status means little to me, because it so often has little to do with quality, lasting values, or eternity. On the other hand, some have become celebrated for good reason, and I am glad that my life has involved crossing paths with such men as Anderson, Collier, Garrett, Hook, Hughes, Card, Ortega, and others who have meant much to me.
Rich Mullins’s swan-song album The Jesus Record includes “Man of No Reputation,” a song recorded on a cheap tape deck by Mullins and then later refined by his band. This song takes a translation of a phrase in Philippians 2 and expands ironically on the awe-inspiring reputation of our Messiah-Servant, Christ Jesus. Jesus’ lack of celebrity status, combined with His singular attention to His mission and role, impel us to honor Him.