As someone who offers up the high-wire act of public performance every Sunday, I have more sympathy than most for Christina Aguilera’s widely publicized flubbing of the national anthem at the Super Bowl.
What appears so easy from the comfort of one’s stadium seat or pew can become nearly impossible when adrenaline or anxiety sabotages the brain’s ability to do its job.
The question as to why a wildly successful pop singer can’t belt out the national anthem without forgetting the words is easy enough to answer: She was trying to sing a song with a daunting vocal range before the glare of spotlights and cameras, more than 100,000 fans, and viewers from half the civilized world.
Further, she felt the need (shared by most performers at the Super Bowl, it seems) to strut her vocal talents instead of simply offering up the stirring beauty of the song.
But the more interesting question, at least to me, is why do we take such secret delight in the very public failures of others? What twisted part of our own psyche accounts for the relish at seeing an icon of performance, professional or spiritual excellence take a fall?
Perhaps it’s because we create our “stars” to embody the qualities we know to be so lacking in ourselves. Because our own inner landscape is littered with the debris of fear, failure, self-doubt and even self-loathing, we look elsewhere for the hope of an imagined personal or spiritual perfection.
Thus, we create our “American Idols” (or family idols or Christian idols) to keep alive the hope someday our own imperfections can be vanquished and we, too, can be gods or goddesses.
But when an icon of our own making, like Christina Aguilera, fails and disappoints, the whole charade comes crashing down. And we are furious at being reminded that if perfection eludes her, it may well elude us as well.
There is a better way. It is the way of grace. It is the riveting realization God has already accepted, loved and blessed us as we are. Because of God’s reckless, scandalous grace in Jesus Christ, there is nowhere to go because you are already “home.” And there is no one else you need to be because your heavenly, motherly Father is already punch drunk in love with the person you are.
The original, primal temptation is to “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). The Good News of Jesus is the call to be yourself, the person you are and can be in him (Galatians 2:19-20). It is only as we forgo the myth of perfection for the scandal of grace that we are set free to be our best, not so God will love us, but because God already does.
Aguilera sought redemption and many felt she found it on stage at the Grammys Sunday night. Along with four other sisters of soul, she offered up a stirring rendition of “Ain’t No Way” in honor of Aretha Franklin. But the web is already lighting up with a video clip of Aguilera slipping and nearly taking a tumble at the end of her gig.
I just hope Christina Aguilera is a person of faith who knows the Everlasting Arms are there to catch us when we fall. Speaking personally, I’d be scared to death to step behind a pulpit if I didn’t believe that.
Bob Setzer Jr. is pastor of First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Ga.