By Julie Roys
He’s the black man with white skin, the adult who prefers childhood, the man who looks like a woman. He’s Michael Jackson. And finally his tortured journey on this planet is over. And while the world obsesses over how Michael died; the fate of Neverland; and the destination of his Beatles collection, I’m struck by the sheer tragedy – not of Michael’s death, but of his life.
Last week, I watched a 2003 documentary on Michael by British journalist Martin Bashir. What emerged was a portrait of a man imprisoned by self-hatred. Though Michael began life as a cute and precocious boy, he slowly devolved as his inner rejection manifested itself in his outward appearance. His kinky hair became straight, his broad nose pointy, and his full lips thin. In short, Michael became less African-American and increasingly feminine. He also became more childish, reveling in climbing trees and playing video games – seemingly shunning the adult he’d become.
Many of us may be tempted to think of so-called “Wacko Jacko” as suffering from a malady reserved for the severely dysfunctional, but his struggle is remarkably common. Sure, in Michael it was magnified. But, self-hatred is rampant in the human race – even among Christians.
That Michael rejected himself is no surprise. Though we saw his remarkable talent, he saw his flaws. In the interview with Bashir, Michael recounts a childhood memory of a woman’s reaction to him in an airport. She reportedly took one look at Michael’s pimply face, recoiled, and exclaimed, “What happened to you?”
Similarly, Michael said his father would often comment on his large nose and derisively say, “Well, you didn’t get it from my side of the family.” Michael said he wanted to die at that point, adding that he “would have been happier wearing a mask.” Eventually, that’s what he did.
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Despite the otherworldliness of Michael’s life, I can relate to his pain. I was fortunate to have parents who affirmed me and didn’t obsess over my appearance. But, I can still remember thoughtless comments others made during my adolescence. I’ll never forget when my sister, who was voted the high school homecoming queen, came to my baseball game. A boy took one look at her, then looked at me and said, “Why don’t you look anything like her?”
You see, all of us have reasons to reject ourselves. We know our flaws – the physical characteristics we try to hide, even more damning – the sin that darkens our hearts. And though Christians should celebrate that Christ’s blood covers those flaws and that we’re beautiful, new creations in Christ, we rarely do. In fact, Leanne Payne, author of “Restoring the Christian Soul,” says self-hatred remains one of the three great barriers to wholeness in Christ.
Yet, I believe we can learn from Michael’s tragic example. Instead of living with our wounded hearts at the center of our being, we can center ourselves in Christ. And, instead of basing our worth on the opinions of others, we can base our worth on the words of our heavenly Father. Then, when we look at the man in the mirror, we’ll see Jesus – not our own depravity.