Recently I had the opportunity to attend a Hall of Fame banquet. It was a very nice occasion. I knew some of the folks, but not well, who were being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I was happy for them. In this case the fame for which they were being lauded was athletics. Of course, for each and every one, there was an impressive array of statistics that underscored why they had been selected and were being honored. The occasion was an evening of superlatives. This person was the “best at…” So often, she was “better than…” And so the litany of praise went.
I am sure that is the standard fare for induction into any kind of Hall of Fame. I am sure there are more of these Halls of Fame than I can imagine. It prompted me to think a little bit about fame. To have fame is to be recognized by others. It is to gain some kind of reputation that suggests you surpass the others in some arena. If it is basketball, it means you excel in ways that the other 99% of players do not. Fame is the reputation of “standing out---outstanding.”
Of course, there is a link between fame and famous. People who are famous have built up enough recognition that the status of fame is accorded to them. Having said that, though, I realize how tricky this can become. Fame often is associated with celebrity. And our society certainly loves its celebrities. No doubt, all the modern media accelerated this celebrity-making. Television was a huge celebrity-maker. And now there is the social media world---YouTube, Twitter and the like.
Maybe fame is fascinating because so few are acclaimed. In our world people can become famous for impressive things or stupid things. People become famous when enough people know you, recognize you, can cite your reputation, etc. That’s why I am not famous! But we know fame can be fleeting. “Famous today, forgotten tomorrow.” Perhaps that flash-in-the-pan fame is not significant. Compare some of the famous people today with an Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr. Those two will be famous tomorrow and in fifty years. YouTube won’t exist in fifty years!
I am also fascinated by the reverse side of fame, namely, shame. Perhaps we could say that shame is fame for the wrong reason! I have often heard people laughingly refer to the Hall of Shame. Again, there are some folks who are widely known for the shame they have wrought. It is easy to think of Bernie Madoff, who ripped off countless people for some $50 billion! Public shame must be awful.
As I ponder this, my mind turns to the folks in the world of religion who have been attributed fame or who have earned the recognition of shame. It is easy to think about Jesus, Mohammed, and the Buddha. I am sure not one of them set out to become famous. I am not sure any of them were dazzling or handsome. Their clothes would not have set them apart.
Since most readers are more familiar with Jesus, let’s use him as our example. As I read the New Testament, there is no indication he wanted to be famous. As a matter of fact, his public life met with a fair amount of resistance. He managed to attract a motley crew of followers, but by and large, most folks likely ignored him. He did attract the attention of some who began to worry about his message. Some of his fellow Jews and, certainly, some of the Romans began to monitor his “craziness.”
Some of the Jews probably were concerned for any emerging fame. And the Romans would have seen him more from the shame perspective. From the Roman imperial perspective, his teaching was shameful. In the end and paradoxically, the Romans killed him to end it all and phoenix-like he became famous! And all this happened without television and YouTube!
I claim to be a follower of Jesus. I am helped by teachings from the Buddha and have been helped by Muslim perspectives. Fortunately for me, however, there is no fame and no shame. I am in the middle---between fame and shame. I am like 99.9% of the population. No fame, no shame. I am not outstanding in any regard. Does that mean I don’t count?
Of course, I count. And you count. And everybody counts. That’s the illusion of fame and shame. The illusion suggests than if you are not famous---or infamous---you don’t count; you are a nobody! But every major religious tradition would call this a lie.
We all count. Every one of us is a child of the Holy One---beloved and precious. We are known, recognized, valued and valuable in the eyes of that Lover of All. To be loved is the spiritual sauce of the universe. You are loved! Fame and shame do not guarantee love. In fact, they often make it more difficult. No fame, no shame---but love, indeed!