Celebrity vs. Things That Actually Matter

God always speaks most clearly when I least expect it. Usually when I’m wallowing.

Take tonight, for example. I was browsing Jeremy Cowart’s unbelievable photography, clicking through gallery after gallery of people famous, beautiful, and/or rich enough to hire him. (Oh, that I had the money to pay him to make me look like a celebrity. Ha!) A small seed of jealousy set in and I began to think, “Why can’t I be important enough for someone to become my manager and make me famous and hire Jeremy to take my picture for a magazine or an album cover or something very cool that would show the world how truly unique and important I am? Woe is me; woe is me indeed.”

Yes, I confess: I am addicted to myself, and sometimes it’s rears its head like that one really scary scene in Lord of the Rings when the elf queen lady Galadrial gets that wonky voice and looks like a skeleton and starts talking about ruling the world…you know, when Frodo is practically sleep-walking? Anyway, that’s how I look when I get like this.

Anyway, so back to the point: Tonight, I was doing that…looking at amazing photos of disturbingly beautiful and famous people and wishing I was like them and wondering why I’m not, when I skipped to the next gallery – the “Voices of Haiti” gallery.

After the devastating earthquake of 2010, Jeremy took a team down to Port-Au-Prince, where they documented the aftermath. He says in the gallery’s intro, “After the 7.0 earthquake rocked Haiti on January 12th of this year, I was deeply moved as most of you were. For days I watched as the television flashed images of gloom and doom… dead bodies, crumbled buildings… It just felt like a heartless display of numbers and statistics. ‘How were the people feeling?’ I wondered. I was tired of hearing endless reports from strangers that just arrived to this devastated nation. So I decided to go to Port-Au-Prince myself and ask them directly. My question was simply ‘What do you have to say about all this?’ This photo essay reveals the many answers to that question.”

As I scrolled through the photos of homeless, broken, lost, and abandoned men, women, and children who’d lost house, home, life, livelihood, and family members, I was struck again by the simple truth that while we know almost none of their names (except, perhaps, Jeremy & crew), these people and their five-worded-statements had the power to profoundly change their photographer and doubtless countless others…like me.

Theirs is the reality I want to be part of. Theirs are the lives in which I want to invest. Theirs is the hope I want to see flourish. Theirs are the futures I want to see become. They are nobodies. They are everybody.

And they are, I’m quite certain, first on Jesus’ mind and heart.

These people don’t know me, nor I them. They aren’t famous. They aren’t modelesque in beauty. They are – according to their own country and most of ours – incidental and forgettable at best. There are millions of people just like them in Haiti, in Uganda, in India, in Cambodia…all over the world, people in dire need of help whose best hope is a guy like Jeremy taking their pictures and showing it to us, that we might be moved enough to see them as Real and equal, and do something.

Even if all we do at this moment is recognize their inherent, incomparable value, and our brotherhood with them.

So yeah. I guess my choices, if I want to be photographed by Jeremy Cowart, are to either a) become sickeningly beautiful and famous, or b) move to a rundown, third-world city too few care about, and live among unnamed masses too few have heard about.

Jeremy did his job tonight. He made me fall in love with the face in the photo. He made me want to live among them. He made me want to be part of something bigger and infinitely more important than celebrity and wealth and influence. He got me out of myself.

And he made me desperately miss Gulu, and ever more anxious to return to the only place I’ve felt I truly belonged.