Hey, everybody, are you celebrating? It’s the 20th anniversary of We Are The World! I confess I’m not celebrating, although I am mystified and somewhat entertained at the idea of marking this “anniversary”. Because for something to be remembered doesn’t it have to be, well, memorable?
As far as I know We Are The World is memorable mostly as a kind of harmless pop-trivia 80’s joke, like mullets or Alf. For most Americans it simply brings to mind a Quincy Jones-assembled gaggle of self-important 80’s-era celebrities-on-gleeclub-risers singing to raise money for some charity for famine, right? (And the fact that Quincy told the vain elites to “check your egos at the door.”) So, to use an 80’s-era phrase, what’s the big whoop? Why exactly are we marking this anniversary?
Well, the big whoop for me is that I get to hear the one lyric that should go down in history as Exhibit A in how Hollywood celebrities are magnificently and almost charmingly out-of-touch with the most basic religious facts. And what is that lyric, you ask? Do you remember when Willie Nelson gets his moment in the sun and comes in with his signature warble? He says: “As God has shown us . . . by turning stone to bread . . .”
I’ll never forget hearing that for the first time. I think I may have looked around the room to see if anyone else was listening. For me it was like hearing someone referring to President Richard M. Dixon. I couldn’t believe it. Had Willie Nelson just said that God had at one time “turned stone to bread”? Had I really heard that? Who’d written this lyric — and why had Willie sung it? I could only guess that the lyricist was Lionel Ritchie or the King of Pop himself. In any case, they had flubbed up rather majorly here. It was obvious that they mistakenly thought Jesus had at some point in his ministry performed this miracle . . . But as any non-Grammy-winning Fifth-grader knows from Sunday School, Jesus didn’t turn stone to bread — he refused to turn stone to bread. That’s an important difference.
But hadn’t someone suggested turning stone to bread? Whose idea was that? (Cue 80’s-era Churchlady voice): Satan’s? That’s right, Churchlady: it was Satan’s idea. Most average Americans remember the famous scene from Scripture where Jesus is tempted in the wilderness. He is hungry, having fasted for forty days, and Satan suggests that he use his miraculous powers to turn “these stones into bread.” And Jesus refuses, saying: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Whoops!
Anyway, Lionel and Michael and Quincy and Willie and everyone else on the risers seems to have missed this. Did Cyndi Lauper notice and not say anything? Or Dan Ackroyd? Or Ed Bradley? I doubt it. Certainly no one in the news media picked up on this whopping gaffe at the time, and as far as I know it’s never been mentioned since. Why? Well, mainly because the tiny group of Americans who are part of the much-vaunted media elites simply don’t know this sort of thing. And here’s the kicker — they don’t know anyone who knows it. It’s as if they are quarantined behind impenetrable pallisades of secularism — utterly protected from any molecules of Biblical knowledge or ideas. As if they are all Bubble People.
That’s Exhibit A. Exhibit B is the fact that Mel Gibson’s The Passion rocketed to $600M worldwide but was universally panned by journalists and movie critics, and was recently passed up for a Best Picture Oscar nomination, while something as unspeakably, magnificently dull as Finding Neverland actually got one. And Exhibit C happened to me about six months ago. I was hanging out with a celebrity idol of mine, someone whose mind is renowned for being wide-ranging and diamond brilliant, because it is. He knows everything about everything and is a distilled joy to hang out with and talk to.
But the night we were together a Catholic priest whom I know — also renowned for his intellect — was in the restaurant. So I was happy to drag my friend over and introduce them. The priest was surprised to see me with my friend, and my friend, obviously unaccustomed to the company of priests, decided to take advantage of the good fortune: “Hey, I’ve got a question,” he announced, as though it had been bothering him for some time.
What was it going to be, I wondered. Did he want to get the priest’s take on the Schism-causing filioque controversy of the 11th century? Perhaps he wanted to know whether the priest believed Moses had actually written the Pentateuch. I was wrong.
“Where does the Golden Rule come from?” he asked.
The priest, knowing he was being questioned by a genius, dug deep, and promptly and impressively quoted the actual Hebrew phrases from which Jesus had gotten what most of us know as “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” It was masterful.
But there was one problem. My friend was actually asking what the Golden Rule was and who had said it. He had no idea. When I told him that Jesus had said it — and insisted that he must know this — it was obvious he didn’t. He had no idea. Because in the priveleged and rarified circle in which he’s existed for the last half-century, these things simply aren’t mentioned. I was fascinated by this ignorance though, as if I were in the presence of someone from another century who’d never seen a radio before. “Whence this music? Is it bewitched?” It was touching, really.
And that night in the cab home I thought of Willie and Quincy and Michael and Lionel and my friend. All living in their bubble, not knowing there is a world outside them, actually thinking they are the world, when they are just inside a bubble inside it. Behold the Bubble People! Shall we tell them and burst it? Or is the wind shifting, and are they already beginning to gain altitude and float away, away, away?