No matter how much we know about human behaviour, there is still a lot to learn. No one can comprehensively explain why we do big group griefs over the deaths of celebrities who take up very little of our thoughts during the average day. David Bowie was this week’s star attraction followed ( to a lesser extent) by Alan Rickman.
The outpouring of grief has a pretty well defined spectrum now. Some will build shrines, tended day and night, to somehow preserve some of Bowie’s light and rage against the encroaching darkness. Others will recall how Bowie as a catalytic ingredient in the make up of their culture and their own story in that culture (my friend Margot did this in https://www.parentmap.com/article/love-dares-you-to-care-david-bowie-made-me-a-better-parent).
The majority of us make up a spectrum within the spectrum with reactions ranging from “Man, I thought he was already dead” to people like me who recognise the contribution Bowie made, recognising and mourning the loss of it and then moving on with our lives. We also might be moved to an emotional “I forgot Rick Wakeman played piano on Hunky Dory; cool!”
Across my social media screen, there have been two strands of comments about Bowie’s death which merit a comment or two.
First, there is the apparent surprise at the shock news that we are all going to die. I hope I haven’t ruined your day by not putting a spoiler alert on that. 69 Year old men do die (though not as regularly as they used to) regardless of their status, talent and bank balance. I work in a profession where death is a common agenda item. I’ve buried 15 year old suicide victims and men who have lived over a century. I’ve sat beside the dying as they’ve gasped for breath and after they’ve breathed their last, sat with their stunned relatives. Death brings life into fresh focus, positively and negatively. You can’t stop it or deny its power but you can put it in perspective by living as if there was more to life than death.
We want our heroes and loved ones to never age, to never die; but we know that is just wishful thinking. Death and life go hand in hand and those who recognise that also recognise the need to commemorate those who have spent their time well. That admiration is why we have saints. These are people who have gone before us who demonstrated what life with colour and purpose looks like because they remind us that we can be that way too. Bowie was no saint but I can understand why people might remember him in the way they do.
The second strand is “why can’t we do all that outpouring for Jesus?”
Maybe I’m just hallucinating but the Jesus thing is all around us if we bother to look. There’s the Church of England, Bishops in the house of Lords, chaplains in hospitals, thought for the day on Radio 4. On Sundays over a billion people go to church to worship and venerate him around the world. Sometimes there is Jesus all around us, but we don’t see it anymore.
Once somebody asked me why there was a black history month but not one for whites. My response was, “If you were black and living in this country wouldn’t you think it was white history month all the time?”
David Bowie will have his worship and then, like all of us, take his place in the recollections of those who care to recollect. For those who think Jesus’ limelight is being stolen, trust that the same God who created Bowie’s talent probably doesn’t begrudge the attention for a little while.
The challenge for the Jesus followers is to tell our Jesus story the way that Bowie fans tell their story. Our story should be about how by following him we found courage, affirmation, freedom, peace and joy. After all, Jesus’ death ended in life.