A recent road trip took me through Pennsylvania. As I put Allentown in the rear-view mirror, I decided to go retro and turn on the radio. To my delight, I heard a tune I hadn’t heard in years: “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club.
A smile, a few taps on the steering wheel, and a gentle hum.
A good day became a great day. How could my day not be fantastic after hearing this?
A few moments later and my mind traveled back about thirty years. I grew up in England in the 1980s, and my family and I religiously watched “Top of the Pops,” a Top 40, half-hour, weekly TV show.
“What a poofter!”
“What a weirdo!”
“Bloody hell! What’s he up to?”
Not surprisingly, I heard all of those things when Boy George appeared on television. People I love said some of those things. Those same people were undoubtedly shocked by the seeming brazenness of this man in makeup, singing gently and freely about love and relationships, heartache, and being true to yourself. As a seven year old, I was shocked too.
Culture Club and Boy George didn’t hang around in my consciousness for long. (They broke up, and I went through an extremely predictable Michael Jackson phase.)
But 30 years after words like “poofter” and “weirdo” filled my living room, I still remember them clearly.
Sometimes, even when you’re seven, you know deep down that some of the things adults have to say are complete and utter nonsense.
Boy George is a man who battled with many addiction demons. His relationships were lived in a public way and were not always harmonious.
But he’s a hero to many for his willingness to be true to himself, his identity, and his music, even as others belittled his appearance and music. Yet, he’s also a hero to me for offering the following quote in 2007:
“People have this idea of Boy George now, particularly the media: that I’m tragic, f****d up. I mean, I’m all those things, but I’m also lots of other things. Yes, I’ve had my dark periods, but that isn’t all I am.”
“I mean, I’m all those things, but I’m also lots of other things.”
What a line!
As a pastor, I find great blessing in hearing, “I’m tragic, I’m f****d up…but I’m also lots of other things.”
In fact, my experience as a pastor has only helped me appreciate the complexities of humanity.
People say ridiculous things about celebrities on TV.
Those same people love, laugh, and pray.
You likely know this already.
It is incumbent upon me, a guy who wakes up each day still trying to figure out what on earth my identity as a “Christian” is, to also take Boy George’s wisdom out into the world.
“Christian.” It gets more and more difficult to define that term.
But isn’t it still, even after all this time, merely a descriptor of an imitator of Jesus? Someone who regards mercy as a virtue?
Someone who refuses to see people as only tragic and f****d up? Someone who thinks that the world is worth trying to redeem?
Rev. David A. Shaw is the Senior Minister of Union Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Montclair, New Jersey.