What About Fame? (by Lowell Hohstadt)
As a Christian musician and artist, what is the right attitude we should have regarding the subject of fame?
Whether we admit it or not, every artist wants to know that their art matters. We all want to know that we are making (and have made) a difference in the lives of those to whom we have given our gift.
Possibly one of the greatest pressures in the life of an artist is the process of going through the desert of anonymity. As we continue to develop our craft, preparing for its unveiling to the masses, or even when we have been serving over a number of years without much recognition, the nagging question in the back of our consciousness is “Have I really made a difference, and does anyone really care?”
When a shred of recognition comes along, it’s like an opiate, quenching the thirst for this desperate need.
The danger this poses, however, is sinister. Once public attention begins to soothe the nagging need for recognition, if the artist isn’t grounded in something greater, he will allow his life (and art) to be driven along by the continued need for this hunger to be quenched by his audience.
Unfortunately, the truth is that the very audience that gives promotion will invariably be the one that crucifies him, because no human being (even the most gifted) has the ability within himself to continually gratify an audience.
“Sheol (the nether world) and Abaddon (the place of destruction) are never satisfied, nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.” (Prov. 27:20)
People simply cannot be satisfied with an artist’s gifting perpetually. Instead, something happens in people’s hearts once they have lifted up a ‘hero’ in ‘hero-worship’. Initially, they want to get as close as possible to the person. Then, once they get close enough, they begin to see their flaws. Once the flaws are seen, the illusion of the ‘hero’ is destroyed and they realize that they have just elevated a lie. They simultaneously begin to reject their first ‘hero’ while searching for a replacement, and the process starts all over again. Society continues to search for the ‘messiah’ artist, elevating him to ‘deity’, ultimately ‘crucifying’ him, only to search for the next artist. (Those who have lived long enough to see this heinous cycle know exactly what I’m talking about!)
The only problem with this ‘crucifixion’ metaphor is that most artists who have lived through this cycle never see a ‘resurrection’. They simply live an empty shell of a life trying to figure out what went wrong, endlessly pursuing a way to ‘get back’ what they think they once had.
Hopefully, when they ‘wake up’ to the futility of the above scenario, understanding the frailty of the human condition and the pitfalls of ‘fame’, they then begin a journey of true selfless artistic productivity.
Only when an artist begins to bring forth that which God has placed inside of him, regardless of human acceptance, does he step into the true ‘prophetic’ role of an artist.
Look at the prophets of the Old Testament. They were all artists. Many were poets, musicians, actors, bringing forth the Word of God to their community. They were thrown down wells, stuck in mud and left to die. They were both ridiculed, while at the same time secretly respected by kings. They were slapped in the face, publicly humiliated and even murdered. But their art ‘split’ history wide open. Their voice is still heard, echoing through the ages.
Look at the life of Jesus, the Son of God. If anyone had the right motivation and understanding of fame, it would be the creator of all things: God Himself, right? After all, he wanted everyone to hear the message of truth and Good News. Did Jesus have a global ministry? No. Did He go after every available opportunity to promote Himself? No.
Here are some examples:
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt. 15:24)
“Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was at hand. His brothers therefore said to Him, “Depart from here, and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may behold Your works which You are doing. For no one does anything in secret, when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” For not even His brothers were believing in Him. Jesus therefore said to them, “My time is not yet at hand, but your time is always opportune. The world cannot hate you; but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” (Jn. 7:2-8)
“As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew, and were not walking with Him anymore. Jesus said therefore to the twelve, “Do you want to go away also?” (Jn. 6:66-67)
“Do you now believe? Behold, an hour is coming, and has already come, for you to be scattered, each to his own home, and to leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” (Jn. 16:31-32)
He was just as confident with the multitudes following Him (between 5-10,000 people at a time), as He was being by Himself, left alone. The number of people and what they thought about Him didn’t seem to matter to Him. What did matter was fulfilling His God-given destiny. He knew the timing, the circles of influence and the right communication skills to reach those specific circles. To His disciples, He communicated one way, yet to the multitudes, He presented His message another way. (for more on this, see: Current and Future Worship Trends: My Vision, the Community)
“And He was saying to them (His disciples), “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God; but those who are outside get everything in parables, in order that while seeing, they may not see and not perceive; and while hearing, they may not understand lest they return and be forgiven.” (Mk. 4:11-12)
He didn’t travel to the farthest reaches of the known world at that time, but simply stayed around the regions of Judea. He didn’t ‘modify’ His message to try to gain a greater audience, but rather to ‘prick their consciences’ to move them closer to a certain goal.
When He was ultimately crucified by those who were jealous of His ‘fame’, nobody was with Him except His mother and the youngest, most insignificant of His disciples. Everyone else ran away, afraid for their lives. This was the end of the life of The Greatest Artist, the One Who compromised His art none at all.
But the story doesn’t end there.
God Himself took the sacrifice, the pure sacrifice, and raised it up out of death. He exalted it even above death. Every death in Christ, every sacrifice in faith must have a resurrection.
God raised Him from the dead. “Knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him.” (Rom. 6:9)
The artist who uncompromisingly follows in these steps will also have a resurrection. Take the life of Bach, for example. He died in obscurity, having given his art into the hands of God. Within a century later, Felix Mendelssohn put on a concert of his works and Bach was ‘reborn’ to influence music for generations to come. Study the life of Bach: what motivated him? It was his love of God, and his passion to follow his life’s destiny and purpose. He knew his audience (who often didn’t accept or understand what he was about), but he gave his best in faith and God gave his work resurrection beyond fame, to the highest level of cultural influence.
The choice is clear: 1) live to please men’s whims and desires, which ultimately ends up empty, or 2) live to please God, which may be painful for a short time, but ultimately ends in resurrected power.
“The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.” (Prov. 29:25)
What are you after: the quick and easy way, or the way of everlasting greatness?
The choice is yours: short-lived fame or eternal prophetic power.
As a music director, composer and violinist, Lowell Hohstadt has led the music teams of Odessa Christian Faith Center since 1987. He has composed over 400 works for worship and seasonal productions, and has written for a wide variety of venues in styles ranging from Modern Classical to Jazz and Contemporary Pop/Rock. He recently produced and released Free Eternally, an album of original songs for worship. You can connect with him at www.lowellhohstadt.com.