I offer this post right before what may be the most popular day of the year – Black Friday. It is my lame effort to curtail the insanity. You’re welcome!
Have you ever read about Janis Joplin’s life? I watched a documentary about her called Janis: Little Girl Blue. I found it to be such a sad account of a desperate and broken life. Her song Mercedes Benz was recorded on October 1, 1970, three days before she died, alone in her motel room, of a heroin overdose. The song was actually a slam against consumerism. As Performing Songwriter Magazine stated, “She was outspoken about the illusory happiness promised (but rarely delivered) by the pursuit of worldly goods, a hippie-era rejection of the consumerist ideals.” But then, in contrast, she was often seen wearing a mink coat given to her by Southern Comfort because she offered free advertising for them. It seems to have been her drink of choice. Needless to say, she was complicated.
Joplin grew up in a town in the heart of what her sister called redneck country. It had an active chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. And weren’t they thrilled when she spoke out against racial segregation, which also made her a target for ridicule by the other kids in her school. According to her sister, they were relentless in their attacks on her.
Her fragile ego wasn’t spared when she went away to college, either. In 1963, Joplin was cruelly voted “The Ugliest Man on Campus” at the University of Texas. “She was left with little more than the yawning chasm of a tortured loneliness,” her publicist and biographer, Myra Friedman, wrote after Joplin’s death. Her book was titled, “Buried Alive”. On the Dick Cavett Show, she once said, “They laughed me out of class, out of town, out of the state.”
Even after she managed to get away from Texas she could never seem to escape the loneliness and rejection she experienced there. She just wanted to be happy, to be loved, but those longings always eluded her. The sex, the drugs, the fatalistic sense of being lost and alone tormented her to her death.
In 1968 she wrote to her family, “From all indications I’m going to become rich & famous. Incredible! All sorts of magazines are asking to do articles & pictures featuring me. I’m going to do every one. Wow, I’m so lucky – I just fumbled around being a mixed-up kid (& young adult) & then I fell into this. And finally, it looks like something is going to work for me. Incredible. Well, pin the review up so everyone can see – I’m so proud.”
On September 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died of a heroin overdose. When she heard of his death, she told friends, “he beat me to it.” Two weeks later, on October 4th, she was found dead. In her will, she left her friends and family $2,500 to throw a wake party which was held on Oct. 26. One partier remembered, “Everyone got drunk and messed around, and nobody mentioned Janis at all.”
Ronald Rolheiser summed up her struggles this way, “She simply lost the things that glue a person together and broke apart under too much pressure. Janis Joplin could not will the one thing.” That “one thing” of course is our innate connection to God, not things of this world we aimlessly strive for to take His place.
If the current rates of depression and suicide are any indication, people of all ages continue to struggle to fill a void left by our rejection of God and the great American obsession with self.
According to the CDC, in 2017, suicide was a Leading Cause of Death in the United States:
- Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, claiming the lives of over 47,000 people.
- Suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54.
And what about those who have not become a suicide statistic? According to the American Psychological Association:
- 7% of the U.S. population over age 12 took antidepressant medication in the past month.
- There has been a 64% increase in the percentage of people using antidepressants between 1999 and 2014. In 1999, 7.7 percent of the population took the medication.
Tim Kasser, Professor and Chair of Psychology at Knox College, has studied people’s values and goals for over twenty years. He says:
The materialistic or “extrinsic” goals are the goals for money, image and status that are so encouraged by consumer capitalism. We contrast these with the “intrinsic” goals for…affiliation (e.g., having close relationships with family and friends) and community feeling (e.g., helping the broader world be a better place).
The take away of those studies?
….People who strongly value helping the world and improving the lives of others are happier and better adjusted than individuals who care about other, more materialistic values. Individuals oriented towards community feeling and helpfulness report greater self-actualization and vitality, less depression and anxiety, fewer behavior disorders, and less narcissistic tendencies.
And the bottom line? Our hunger for love is insatiable outside of God, but there’s a catch. Marianne Williamson says, “A love that hovers above the earth, however well-intentioned, is not enough…. It is a heart and love embodied that carry with them miraculous authority to turn darkness into light.”
In my last post, I touched on our desire to keep God at a distance. How often we pray for God to do something for those who suffer, but fail to hear His reply in the depths of our hearts, “I did do something, I created you.” Matthew West expressed this beautifully in his song titled, “Do Something”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8
We fail to remember that God sent Jesus here to live among us, to show us what that looks like? And then…ready?…and then he called us to carry on that embodied love by giving entirely of ourselves. By using the gifts, he has given us for his glory. Just like God counted on Jesus, he now depends on us. Jesus says to each of us who continue to follow him, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these”. John 14:12-14
I could give you pages and pages of examples of people who live that truth, and many are kids who have a significant impact as they strive to make a difference in their communities.
Look at what Jon Bon Jovi and his wife are doing. This brought me to tears: https://jbjsoulkitchen.org “The way to feel good is to do good.” Jon Von Jovi. There you go. He just said in one sentence what it took me three pages!
I hope this sheds a whole new LIGHT on Black Friday for all of us. Maybe we should call it “ILLUMINATED Friday”. Yeah…I like it!
I pray that we may all stop in the midst of the usual holiday chaos and contemplate the true wonder and magic of Christmas and then share that magic with some part of this broken world.
May God richly bless you and yours this Christmas season,