I was grieved to learn today that pop diva Whitney Houston died this weekend, at the young age of 48. Sadly, like many brilliant performers, she struggled with addictions and unhealthy relationships.
Her hit song “The Greatest Love of All” was a favorite anthem of mine in the 1980s. The theology of this song may offend some Christians, as too redolent of the “cult of self-esteem”, but personally I believe that you can’t hate yourself and love God at the same time. He made you, didn’t He? Was He wrong? Accepting yourself as lovable is a necessary part of believing that God loves you, not merely as an idea but as a lived psychological reality. Also, a certain amount of self-love protects you against making an idol of religious teachers, who can be a great help in proper perspective, but shouldn’t substitute for your own knowledge of God inside. Sometimes the Spirit will “lead you to a lonely place” where you must “find your strength in love”.
Sending God’s love to you, Whitney, wherever your soul’s journey takes you…
Your mention of the importance of self-esteem in relation to the death of Whitney Houston struck a bell with me. I’m long enough of tooth to have spent 19 consecutive years in Roman Catholic schools prior to Vatican Council II without ever the temptation to become a priest. Those years were magnificent in terms of the opportunity to learn math, science, communications and, of course, theology. But that same time period in Catholic education came up short, in my opinion, in providing many students with a proper sense of their own self worth. Affective education was minimal at best. Christian humility was understandably stressed but perhaps at times too much so. Today, however, humility, Christian or otherwise, is seldom in evidence in contemporary society. The pendulum has swung from humility to a pride in self that is often debilitating for oneself and others. Whatever self-esteem I may have lost out on by virtue of my upbringing I now no longer see as a deficiency. And, strange as I am, I don’t think false pride is one of my major vices. It is just saddening for me to hear of the passing of Ms. Huston as a vocalist. There are moments in her songs that I don’t think can be duplicated by anyone else. I would think the same thing, possibly more so, of Barbra Streisand, another entertainer nonpareil whose self-esteem seems to extend far beyond her expertise as a singer of popular music.
Yes, that balance between humility and self-worth is hard to strike! The unhealthy kind of pride, so common in our culture, seems to me a false and other-dependent kind of self-esteem, which is based on popularity and a lack of personal limits. It is “about” the self but it doesn’t really spring from the self. The proud person himself senses its hollowness on some level, so he chases after more and more of it like an addiction.
Whereas what I took away from Whitney’s song was that you should cultivate enough inner strength to go against the crowd when necessary, and enough self-respect to realize that you can survive without others’ approval. The arts are a mirror and we all see different things.
Some fans criticized the Grammys for not doing enough to honor the late Whitney Houston, who was found dead in her Beverly Hills hotel bathtub the day before the awards show.
Now the Academy Awards are on the horizon, and even though Houston was known more as a singer than an actress, sure enough, the debate has turned to how the film world’s biggest night will honor Houston, if at all.