My first thoughts upon reading this morning about Whitney Houston’s death at the age of just 48 were most unworthy of a Christian. I recalled a conversation with another young Christian at church when she was first famous. My friend Karen said, “Isn’t it great that Whitney Houston is a born-again Christian?” I gave her a withering reply. “Oh yes? ‘Saving All My Love For You‘ – that nice Christian song about adultery?”
I went on to think about her cover of George Benson‘s ‘The Greatest Love Of All‘. All the stuff about building up children’s self-esteem might be very well meant, but ultimately it’s pop psychobabble about self-love, closer to narcissism or idolatry.
To me, Whitney Houston took the soul out of soul music and prepared the ground for the horrors of Mariah Carey.
Like I said, not a very Christian reaction, however true, or however much I might feel I had legitimate arguments for these points of view. This was hardly taking seriously the sensitive social convention not to speak ill of the dead, even if I did so only in my own mind.
But then I found a link to a Christianity Today piece in 2009 (via Tony Watkins on Friendfeed) that spun off her then latest release, an album called ‘I Look To You’. It detailed her upbringing in gospel music. I knew that. It acknowledged her turbulent marriage to Bobby Brown and her crack cocaine addiction. I knew that, too. It set out her connections with the gospel singers BeBe and CeCe Winans. It talked about lyrics and interview comments that were by turn both opaque and transparent in terms of faith. Now it was showing me things about her of which I was ignorant.
And I wondered … you never can tell what is behind the smoke and mirrors of PR machines, but maybe she was someone who struggled when she made the stepped into the wider world from the church. Plenty of people do. They are people we are meant to help and support.
Not that I knew her. (Obviously.) As a friend of mine called Matt Bird posted on Facebook this evening,
I will always remember Whitney Houston responding to a crowd of fans declaring their love for her. “How can you love me? You don’t even know me!”
Almost all of the commentary is guesswork, and maybe not all of it is appropriate. But I hope she found that grace was always there for her struggles and torments.
I think that’s a more worthy Christian response.