Gov. Chris Christie is absolutely right in his decision to lower the flags in New Jersey for Whitney Houston, leading up to her funeral in Newark on Saturday.
On WCBS radio Wednesday, Christie said her home state was honoring her as a “cultural icon," not as a “role model.”
What Gov. Christie suggested – and what preachers and mourners will surely say on Saturday – is that people have the responsibility to love the person while lamenting any possible failings.
“And I’m disturbed by people who believe that because her ultimate demise, and we don’t know what is the cause of her death yet, but because of her history of substance abuse, that somehow she’s forfeited the good things that she did in her life. I just reject that on a human level,” Christie said to Levon Putney.
“When I’ve seen these messages and e-mails that have come to me, you know, disparaging her for her struggles with substance abuse, and what I say to everybody is, there but for the grace of God go I.”
The church and community that will say goodbye to Houston understands that everybody falls short, in some way. The governor struck the right tone as well as substance, giving hints of the mature and compassionate adult inside.
Whitney Houston was a native daughter of New Jersey. She did not die while robbing a bank, or pushing fraudulent mortgages, for that matter. She is surely loved and admired for her talent and also as the human who touched many others. The governor of her home state gets it.
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)