Theology lecture on Celebrity, Culture, Theology and Discipleship

On Saturday May 16th I went to hear the last live lecture in our Theology Talks at St. Mark’s Church. Usually we have 4 live talks over the year but last month we had the bonus lecture of Richard Bauchham, so Mark Roques who lives in Horsfield Leeds was happy to postpone his talk till this month. The session was opened by Tim Hurren as he read verses from Psalm 45 before we sang, ‘Lord for the years’ and he led the prayers.

The title of Mark’s lecture was ‘Celebrity, Culture, Theology and Discipleship.’ Mark introduced himself as an author and storyteller. He is part of an organisation called WYSOCS which stands for West Yorkshire Schools of Christian study which was set up 29 years ago. Its aim is to help people glorify God in every area of life – from politics to parenting. Its passion is to see all of life redeemed. He related Celebrity, Culture, Theology and Discipleship to mission. Mark uses the art of storytelling to talk about the
Christian Faith. He was going to look at 7 ideas to illustrate his ideas:
• Human trafficking
• Thomas Hobbes – Philosopher
• What are world views?
• Western Religion
• Celebrity Culture stories and how he uses them in street evangelism and in lectures to 6th formers
• Heart warming stories
• Talking to Tracy – a cleaner who works in the gym he goes to.

In one of the classes he took as a supply teacher a 15 year old boy was chatting at the back of the class about his hero Mark Tyson. He admired him as he ‘can really get them.’ How could we connect with a lad like that and build a bridge into his life?

He looked first at the terrible trade of human trafficking and talked of Ludwig, nicknamed ‘Tarzan’, who had wanted to make money initially as a cocaine smuggler and buy a Russian submarine at cost of 5 million dollars, but gave that up in favour of human trafficking, where there was more profit! 1.2 million Children have been trafficked, 95% suffer physical or sexual abuse. The Bible talks about slavery and showed the dark side of life. We have to deal with the world we all live in.

Thomas Hobbs 1588-1679 was a clever man from Wiltshire. He said that whatever is not material is not real! He saw life as a motion of limbs. He saw the value of a man is above all things as being price. Our bodies can be seen as a bag of chemicals so a body or person is only valued as being a bag of chemicals worth £5-£7.99. Such views are very influential today. Those beliefs affect 6th formers. Trafficked girls can be bought and sold. We need to understand these values current in the world to be able to share faith with people.

There are key issues in world views not ideas but big stories which mug us and captivate our imagination. There are deep hidden spiritual commitments underneath the world views people are attracted by. Imelda Marcus stole 5 billion dollars from the Philippines and bought 1,500 pairs of shoes; yet she said, ‘God is love; I have loved so I will go to heaven.’ Imelda claimed to be a Christian and yet ‘stood for the ideology, ‘I shop therefore I am, ‘Tesco ergo sum’. She advocated science, technology culminating in consumerism. Western Religion is very powerful; physical nature is all there is, so we have to enjoy material possessions as it is all we have. The mottos are work, buy and consume. We need to begin to get to know people where their understanding is of the world.

OK magazine is a popular tract which promotes Western Religion. Tracy the cleaner at the gym loves the stories Mark tells her; she finds them fascinating. We have to enter the world of celebrity to be able to talk to people. People have an obsession with money. Gene Simmons spends his life working and will never stop hunting money, as he feels he will never have enough: he is worth 200 million dollars! Ashley Cole was driving in his Bentley when his agent rang him and told him he would only earn £55,000 a week; he felt so disappointed that he nearly crashed his car!!

Another mantra of western religion is ‘Follow your heart’. Madonna encouraged people to go after their dreams. Steve Jobs of Apple followed his heart and intuition. Marlon King touched a woman inappropriately and when she objected, he said don’t you realise who I am, meaning he was rich and famous, and he hit her. He did not consider he had done anything wrong. Being wealthy and a ‘celebrity’ they believe means you have the right to do whatever you want to do!!
Michael Carroll won £9.7 million on the lottery and called himself the King of Chavs. He bought a mansion and 40 cars and he and his friends delighted in revving up the cars at 2 am deliberately to disturb his neighbours; he was known as ‘Lotto Lout.’ He loved bling, drugs and sex. He wanted his children to follow their dreams, even if the dream was to be a bank robber.

An angry pupil said no one had the right to tell him what to do! Secular culture encourages people to do what they want. Tyson Fury a Christian did not see himself as a role model; he said that everyone had the right to their own life; he even had ‘Follow your heart’ tattooed on his chest. Life has become trivialised; an American advert had a handsome actor proclaiming that he used to be a loser before he used the advertised product and now he is a winner!! Paris Hilton sets herself up as a role model because she is rich; she has made millions by making friendship into a commodity; the people who want to be her best friend compete for the honour! Everything can be bought or sold. Our self worth is rooted in goods and services.
Shell Short spent £30,000 dollars to become like her idol, Katie Price and got into huge debt. She felt it had been worth it all. We become like the god we worship. Shell became like her god, Katie Price.
Steve Bayley saved up for the best fountain pen and when he had got it he felt in heaven, until he found that a friend of his had the same pen; he nearly threw it in the river and broke it. His self value was in the things he owned.
Stephen Appiah became wealthy after being a footballer. He bought his sisters a beauty parlour for them to run in Africa. However his sisters employed people to run it and spent their life watching TV, eating pizza and dancing.
Robbie Fowler, an astute footballer recognised that as a person he was a commodity, who could be bought and sold. Robbie did not see anything wrong with that!
In 1994 26 year old Anna Nichole married the elderly billionaire, Howard Marshall. He lived for 2 years after the marriage. Anna claimed to be a Christian and yet she married him hoping for a 100 million inheritance from the estate, making marriage a commodity.
Katie Price believes that money gets you things and brings you security. She sold her wedding day to Hello Magazine for £1.75 million and now she is worth £45 million pounds. Katie’s religion is similar to Hobbes’ philosophy.

Western religion is to consume or become a workaholic. How does the celebrity world affect ordinary people? It makes them strive for riches and or fame or at the very least to be like them. Mark said that these stories fascinated young people as they recognised them as their potential role models.
On one occasion Mark was a supply teacher in a PE class and noticed a boy crying. He did not think he could play football with the class as his friends would laugh at his £20 trainers; his friends wore £120 trainers! He was bullied because he was wearing cheap trainers.
In 2008 a 13 year old killed herself as she thought she was fat and ugly! There is so much pressure on young people to look good.
In 2010 a 5 year old girl passed GCSE maths with a C; and her ambition was to be a princess counting out her money! Desire for money or the latest fashionable clothing can rob people of joy and hope.

Nowadays there is an obsession with trivia, money and selling oneself. In street mission he talks about following the money god or Jesus. He did not want to worship the money god but Christ. People found it fascinating to talk about Katie Price’s attitude to money and the young people were keen to know more and be prayed for.

He told heart warming stories to Tracy such as a man called Randy Lewis who had an autistic son and realised how little disabled people who worked were paid. He persuaded the CEO of Walgreens to give disabled people who had been paid as little as a dollar before to be given 14 dollars an hour. His son had been working for less than a dollar an hour before he was employed at the higher rate. When he got his first proper wage packet he took his mum out for a slap up meal! 300 of their employees had faced rejection because their CVs showed they were disabled, before they were given a job there. All the employees were paid the same whether they were disabled or able bodied and the staff productivity increased and there was less staff turnover.

A boy of 8 called David whose parents had died remembered how he had been taught to trust in Jesus. He managed to get away from Idi Amin. He then walked to Campala and became a street urchin until he noticed a Jesus sign at a garage and approached those in the garage for work. He received training to become a mechanic. At 18 when he got his first wage packet he adopted 5 orphans, next 6 orphans joined him and now he has adopted 700 orphans. He prays for money and is able to support them. Tracy’s response to each of these stories was ‘Wow!’

Mark told Tracy a number of similar true stories about a Spanish speaking man Jamie Jaramilla who rescued thousands of children from hiding in the sewers in Andes. Pastor Pete set up ‘Green Pastures’ in 1999 to provide housing for people; in 2015 it is worth 20 million pounds and has so far housed 650 families. There is even one of his homes in Harrogate for the homeless.

Mark Roque is keen on enabling people to talk confidently about the Christian faith. It is important to understand modern culture and not just to ignore it. Culture can be sinful but it can be redeemed if we work within it to reach those whose world view is based on culture. From the starting point of modern culture Mark can engage 6th formers in meaningful discussion. We need to understand how powerful the consumerist faith is in culture. Paul understood the pagan faiths of his time, when there were Epicurean and Stoic philosophers and therefore he was able to communicate with those pagans. There are prominent Christians who embrace consumerism in many ways. When Christianity is lived faithfully and obediently it is good news for the poor and vulnerable; they show us a different world which is not consumerist. Young people are critical of Christianity, but uncritical of secular views.

Atheism is a world view but it is not in itself a religion. Consumerism is not seen as a faith but it is. ISIS takes a stand against the culture of Western Consumerism. Paul in Romans can see how religious human beings are. Aristotle followed a god of reason, advocating rational choice as the only value. Secularism is a sophisticated form of paganism where economics are worshipped. We need to unmask the false gods as the prophets did Baal in the Old Testament. When we look at people in public life it helps us bridge the gap of understanding with young people. Telling stories Mark feels is a non threatening way of doing evangelism. Jesus told stories about what they could see around them and they listened eagerly as people do to stories today.

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