what/who do we worship?

In our continuous pursuit of all that is good and right and true, sometimes it’s challenging to know exactly why something isn’t so good and right and true. Maybe it doesn’t feel that way. Maybe it’s the duck metaphor… like “if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck,” quacks, etc., “then it probably is a duck.” It’s the application of abductive reasoning. We can’t always put words to it, but we know when something isn’t all ok, virtuous, good, right, true, you name it.

Allow us to utilize a not-so-popular example. Take the case of Taylor Swift, the pop music icon who celebrated her 34th birthday in celebrity style last week. No doubt she is immensely gifted and connects with a ton of people. Her connection, creativity and absolutely remarkable storytelling ability is laudable, to say the very least. Personally, I’m a longtime admiring fan.

Some would say it’s been Swift’s year. As The NY Times penned over the weekend, “Taylor Swift grabbed many headlines in 2023. Her widely popular Eras Tour, which proved too much for Ticketmaster to handle, has been both a business and a cultural juggernaut. And Time magazine named her as its person of the year.”

Indeed it was her year. Kudos to her… Love it. Enjoy it. Use your 15 fame minutes or moments or obviously so much more wisely and well… That certainly could be said of Swift. Writes Time: 

“… Something unusual is happening with Swift, without a contemporary precedent. She deploys the most efficient medium of the day—the pop song—to tell her story. Yet over time, she has harnessed the power of the media, both traditional and new, to create something wholly unique—a narrative world, in which her music is just one piece in an interactive, shape-shifting story. Swift is that story’s architect and hero, protagonist and narrator.”

Add her budding NFL’er romance to the headlines — and it makes paying attention to Swift even more intriguing.

Yet somewhere in the paying attention is where the good and right and true starts to fall a bit apart for me. It’s not about Swift; truly. it’s about us. It’s about how we take notice — and the depth of our attention. 

Yes, we respect her… we love her… we even have a brand new fondness for burly boyfriend Travis Kelce!

The question, though, is: when does it go too far?

When does it become worship?

When does it become idolatry?

Again, please — let’s give one another a ton of grace. Many of us are fans; there need be no judgment in our assessment. It’s simply that idolatry is known to be unhealthy, and worship, well, that’s wisely reserved for the divine, and last I knew, Swift wasn’t the reason for the season.

This isn’t about the talent of Taylor Swift. This is about our response to celebrity.

Sometimes we worship that which was never intended as such. At Christmas and Hanukkah especially, many of us think about that worship a lot.

I was struck, no less, by the words of one other NFL’er recently. He isn’t nearly as known as Kelce nor even as much as most professional football players. In fact, he’s actually pretty much a perennial back up, only currently playing because the biggest star in Cincinnati had a season-ending injury. 

Jake Browning, the undrafted Bengals quarterback, has been forced into a starting role. Not only is he starting, he is unpredictably doing very well thus far, surpassing all expectations.

Hence, the celebrity status that accompanies NFL success is new to Browning. He was asked about his newfound 15 minutes or moments or more. Said Browning: “[The] biggest adjustment has been I am so tired of talking about myself. I don’t have that many opinions about a lot of things.”

Much as we try to talk to a celebrity about being a celebrity, here is a person who doesn’t want to focus on self. In sports or pop culture, in politics and more, how beautiful is that? 

That, my friends, is unquestionably good and right and true.