Only God can or ought to judge Michael Jackson's personal life. We do not have enough information to judge his behavior, but we do know that we have lost a true musical genius.
When we consider the meaning of our living, we know we have a moral responsibility to help other human beings live. We consider actions moral that contribute to life and its flourishing. The elements of communion-bread and wine-represent the body and blood of Jesus. In communion we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus. We also remember his life. We remember his teaching to love. Love is the identifying characteristic of those who claim to follow Jesus.
Michael Jackson sang of love.
As a boy, a young voice sang of young love. The Jackson Five sang of love that was as simple as ABC and 1-2-3. In the song "Ben," he sings a ballad that expresses the love we humans have for our pets. He sang of lost love and false love. He warned against sexual irresponsibility: "Don't go around breaking young girls' hearts."
Yet, his love extended beyond erotic love and the love of friendship. He sang of a love that wants to change the world. Singing in "Can You Feel It," he says the whole world is coming together:
All the colors of the world should be
Lovin' each other whole-heartedly
Yes, it's alright
Take my message to your brother and tell him twice
Spread the word and try to teach the man
Who is hating his brother,
When hate won't do, hoo
'cuz we're all the same,
Yes the blood inside of me is inside of you.
Even in the song "Bad" he sings:
We can change the world tomorrow
This could be a better place.
In "Thriller" killer death and the macabre lose their terror when lovers embrace.
"I'll Be There" is a love song of presence. The ethics of presence says that there are times when just showing our face in the place is enough. It is a moral move. It is a demonstration of love.
You and I must make a pact
We must bring salvation back
Where there is love, I'll be there.
And he danced his love. He spun, twirled, gyrated, and moonwalked his love. His music makes us want to dance. The dance is a celebration of life, a praise to the glory of God who is Love radical, perfect, complete. The dance allows joy to flow from us and through us.
When we think of the elements of communion within a moral universe, we may understand the bread and wine to not only symbolize the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but also sustenance and joy. We need the sustenance that the bread symbolizes to keep life living. We need the joy that the wine symbolizes to make life worth living.
Michael Jackson's music and exuberant performances brought that joy to the world, and we are grateful. Thank you, Michael. Sing and dance with joy throughout eternity.
Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at JustPeaceTheory.com. She received her Ph.D. in religion and society from Temple University and taught Christian ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.