Whitney Elizabeth Houston 1963-2012
"Whitney Houston is dead!" are the shocking words that spilled from the lips of the young Nigerian lady filling that beautiful wedding reception hall with shock and sadness. I was standing in the historic Founders Hall on the campus of Girard college. I looked up to follow the voice that had just broadcast this terrible news to see her waving her Blackberry in the air for credibility's sake like a sherrif's badge as if to say, "No kidding! I'm really serious!" Never mind that we were in this dignified place. Never mind that she was dressed in elegance -- a formal green gown -- and seated on a classic antique rouge French couch. Never mind that we were at a sophisticated gathering. We all gave her a pass for her clumsy outburst because our Whitney was suddenly … gone.
I've been wondering, is Whitney Houston the Black Princess Diana? My community -- the African-American community -- has been consumed with her death since that unforgettable moment last Saturday night. I remember where I was when I heard this news as I remember riding in the back seat of Dr. Charles and Vivian Joseph's car on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago when we heard the news that Diana, Princess of Wales, had died.
What do we make of this legend's unexpected demise? What can we gather from the untimely death of a 48-year-old superstar? I have seen and heard Christian responses that are from the most judgmental and extreme right reaches of conservatism to the almost universalist left-leaning idea that Whitney is already wearing a long white robe and singing in the heavenly choir. I'm not sure about either of those!
There are a couple of things I have come to over these past few days. One of my pastoral colleagues talks about the difference between being a witness and being a judge. God calls us to be witnesses, but He reserves judgment for Himself. I believe that difference is apropos here. God alone is the Righteous judge. Whitney Houston's case is in the hands of the One who judges justly.
My mind went back to 1 Samuel 24. In verse 14 of that chapter David said to the prophet Gad: "…let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man." God sees the entire life. He sees the thoughts of the heart and its intentions. He sees the circumstances that shape us and the forces that influence us. While He does judge, He does not judge like man. Hallelujah!
So, with humility and hope, I refrain from overstepping my bounds as a witness. I'll let the Righteous Judge do his job. Whitney was as much his daughter as Samson of the biblical book of Judges was his son. Samson's name is curiously in Hebrews 11, faith's "Hall of Fame."
Oh yes! There is a difference between a judge and a witness. A judge, biblically speaking, determined the destiny of the one on trial. A witness does not determine the destiny. However, however, HOWEVER, he or she testifies of that which he has seen and heard.
One of the lessons that I hope isn't lost is that fame comes with a price. As a witness, I've seen that! Achieving certain levels of acclaim and stardom often come at a very high cost. That's a lesson for young people who want to become stars. And it's a caution to parents who push their children to become stars. I see reality shows where parents are sacrificing their little girls' childhoods so they can win a beauty pageant! Our society is consumed with fame. We are a star-struck society, veritable fame junkies. Our day is a time when an ordinary karaoke singer can become an overnight sensation, even an American "Idol." And we do it for what?
The writer of Ecclesiastes says, "Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, "I have no pleasure in them." As we prepare to say goodbye to Whitney tomorrow, let not this lesson be lost on us. Her eternal destiny is up to God. He is the Righteous Judge. But as a witness who has heard her music and seen what the media has shown of her incredibly talented life, I want to say to young people and their parents: give your best years to the Creator, serve Him in the vigor of your youth. Would we have known Whitney if she had not followed the career path that started by Clive Davis' discovery of her? I do not know. But I have to wonder what doors the Giver of her tremendous gift would have opened to her if she had exclusively sung His praises.
Those are my musings. May she rest in peace. May we who still have breath in our lungs learn from her life.