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Outrage! Authenticity! Charlie Sheen. Jesus. How Much Transparency is Enough?

Charlie Sheen was recently fired from his hit TV show. I don’t ever remember a TV star being fired. (and then maybe rehired?) But all the raging monologues and platinum harem goddesses and WINNING finally exhausted the producers and a lot of other innocent bystanders. (Before we cast stones let us pause and ponder what it might be like to live and work in the whirling Hollywood vortex of pretense, strut and spin. Where TV programmers with botoxed smiles and siliconed cleavage agonize over how to get grittier reality and authenticity up there on the screen. It well might be enough to drive one to drink a bottle of Tiger Blood or two.

Charlie Sheen was recently fired from his hit TV show. I don’t ever remember a TV star being fired. (and then maybe rehired?) But all the raging monologues and platinum harem goddesses and WINNING finally exhausted the producers and a lot of other innocent bystanders. (Before we cast stones let us pause and ponder what it might be like to live and work in the whirling Hollywood vortex of pretense, strut and spin. Where TV programmers with botoxed smiles and siliconed cleavage agonize over how to get grittier reality and authenticity up there on the screen. It well might be enough to drive one to drink a bottle of Tiger Blood or two.

I feel sad and fearful for Sheen’s unabashed hedonism, like the car whipping past you on the highway, weaving in and out of traffic. You wonder how long before you drive past the three-car pileup. But it is the people cheering him on, declaring that this raw honesty is exactly what America wants, that really make me weep and pound the table.

Highly acclaimed American novelist Bret Easton Ellis is one of them. He writes in Newsweek, “Nothing yet compares to the transparency that Charlie Sheen has unleashed in the past [few] weeks–contempt about celebrity, his profession, and the old Empire [hierarchical] world order…What Sheen has exemplified and clarified is not caring what the public thinks about you or your personal life is what matters most—and what makes the public love you even more…He’s raw and lucid and intense : the most fascinating person wandering through the culture…

Ellis continues, “We’ve never seen a celebrity more nakedly revealing…A lot of it is sheer bad boy bravado—but a lot of it is pure transparency, and on that level, Sheen is, um, winning. Do we really want manners? Civility? Courtesy? [%$*&] no. We want reality.”

A great hunger for authenticity and transparency is rising in our culture oversaturated with performance, posing and superficial relationships. We see it in the church as fiercely redemptive younger men and women sick of talking about behaviors want to go deeper and sift the dreams, desires and motivations of our souls. “Let’s deal with our stuff.” (What does it say about us if our prayer requests are always, even in our small groups, about who is sick and who needs a job, and who needs prayer for their kids, but rarely about our struggles with pride, anxiety or greed—the kind of heart stuff that Jesus talks endlessly about?)

Long before Sheen, Jesus unleashed a scathing attack on the “suits” of his day, not the TV producers but the religious leaders. He told stories that revealed their (and every one’s) deepest desires and motivations and challenged them to let the Kingdom rule of God change them from the inside out. Jesus relentlessly exposes our idols and excuses. His brand of transparency and authenticity captured the culture of his day even more than Sheen’s has ours. Thousands of people followed him around finding him the most fascinating person wandering through culture. And he still is.

But Jesus, unlike Sheen is not a cynic. While Sheen claims to omnisciently see through the froth of nice, courteous behavior all around to the riptides of selfish motivations below, Jesus, in his fully God omniscience, really knows what is in the heart of a man or a woman, yet holds out the hope of redemption.

Like Sheen Jesus was outraged at the hypocrisy he found—the dead men’s bones beneath the white washed tombstones. (In fact, if Matthew 23 is any indication, in a throw down, Jesus could out-outrage Sheen. It’s one thing to call your enemies obscene names and dismiss them as irrelevant but quite another to call them “children of hell” and “sons of their father the devil” especially at a time when people understood what an eternal horror it really is.)

To a certain extent Jesus, like Sheen, did not give a rip about whether people thought of him as nice and courteous. But he did care deeply and sacrificed his own blood to help people see that he was the Son of his Father and that believing in Him we might have life in his name.

In this Jesus shows a heart quite different from Sheen. He doesn’t value transparency at the cost of love. He doesn’t dismiss anyone as irrelevant, but all as eternally valuable, one step away from repentance and hope.

Why does Sheen want to be so transparent on camera?? If he really doesn’t give a rip what others think, why not throw his tantrums in the privacy of his harem? Is he raging on camera in order to influence what others think? Even if he doesn’t want their approval (really?) does he want to influence them to embrace his ultimate values of authenticity and personal freedom?

It’s not that Sheen or any cynic reject all values, it’s that they embrace some values and not others. Every cynic has to have a platform from which to throw his rocks.

But why, Charlie Sheen, would you value transparency and personal freedom more than love and community? What if there were a tribe of you roaming the Japanese countryside, directing the relief work or assigned to save the Daiichi nuclear reactor?

The same Newsweek that featured the Sheen article ran the headline, “Apocolypse Now: Tsunamis. Earthquakes. Nuclear Meltdowns. Revolutions. Economies on the Brink. What the #@%! Is Next? In times like these we see more than ever the need to be very earnest about love and taking care of people. This is Jesus’ ultimate value: Love God. Love Others. Earnestly.

Sheen shows us what it looks like for “Transparency and Winning” to be the only game in town. We may find it fascinating. A train wreck is fascinating. But nobody wants to live with a train wreck. It’s way too painful. Especially for the old and the weak. Jesus shows us a better way: where transparency is the handmaiden of the ultimate value of love. And where love is “Winning” in the end.

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Lael writes and speaks about faith and culture and how God renews our vision and desire for Him and his Kingdom. She earned a master's degree (MAT) in the history of ideas from the University of Texas at Dallas, and has taught Western culture and apologetics at secular and Christian schools and colleges. Her long-term experience with rheumatoid arthritis and being a pastor’s wife has deepened her desire to minister to the whole person—mind, heart, soul and spirit. Lael has co-hosted a talk radio program, The Things That Matter Most, on secular stations in Houston and Dallas about what we believe and why we believe it with guests as diverse as Dr. Deepak Chopra, atheist Sam Harris and VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer. (Programs are archived on the website.) Lael has authored four books, including a March 2011 soft paper edition of A Faith and Culture Devotional (now titled Faith and Culture: A Guide to a Culture Shaped by Faith), Godsight, and Worldproofing Your Kids. Lael’s writing has also been featured in Focus on the Family and World magazines, and she has appeared on many national radio and television programs. Lael and her husband, Jack, now make their home in South Carolina.