What defines you? Celebrity and Identity.

Unless you have been off social media for the last few days you will know that the famous and talented actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died after what seems like a drug overdose. I call him famous and talented because he was both. Famous because he has appeared in some of the best movies of the last twenty years and talented because even in the movies that weren’t so great he made them worth watching.

Famous and talented yes…but so much more too.

Cory Monteith, Heath Ledger and now Philip Seymour Hoffman. Marilyn Monroe, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. All artists in their own right who have left behind a body of work bursting with genius and who we are only left to imagine the art they would have continued to make.

Often when we lay to rest a celebrity especially one who has made an impact for their talent most of the tweets or Facebook posts and blogs will mourn the loss of a talent that was cut off far too soon. We’ll talk about the movies they made or the albums they created; we’ll talk about the seminal performances that made people sit up and question how art is created.

Then we’ll talk about the reason they died. The drug overdose, the heart attack, the suicide. Experts will be brought in to explain why celebrities become addicted, how they weren’t able to handle their fame, how addiction is a disease that is rife in Holywood.

All true perhaps.

But what if Philip Seymour Hoffman wasn’t an actor? What if he had a regular job and wasn’t well known? What if he mopped floors for a living? We wouldn’t know about his death and he would be just another sad statistic. Except his family would have known. His partner and kids would have known. When celebrities die we tend to emphasize the loss they will be to their art, to the acting world or to the music business or wherever.

Is that how we place value on each other? How much talent we have in our particular section of the world we find ourselves in, but nothing more? How many oscars or grammys we’ve won? How highly critics think of us? Is there more to us than what we achieve? Is being a good parent or spouse any less important than accolades and plaudits?

What truly defines us?

Let’s celebrate the talent that Philip Seymour Hoffman undoubtedly had but let’s mourn the loss of human life to an ugly and spiteful disease more. Philip Seymour Hoffman was much more than a truly great actor; he was a human. In some ways we have robbed him that of that by only talking of him in terms of what he achieved as an artist. His life would have been equally as precious if none of us had ever heard of him.

I don’t know what led Philip Seymour Hoffman to overdose but I do know that addiction can often arise from a place where we aren’t content or we search because we struggle with who we are at the deepest levels. Which is not an actor, or a singer or a doctor, teacher, lawyer, athlete, cleaner, writer.

But a person.

We’re all so much more than anything we do or how well we do it. Our lives are important because we are alive. Our lives are precious because there are people who love us for simply being who we are. I know that the kids of friends wouldn’t care what their father or mother did as long as they are there to pick them up when they fall. I could do anything else than I do now and I know my wife would still love me.

You might call this grace. I call it being at peace.

And unless we start holding our celebrities up for being humans first and foremost we’ll all be tweeting about someone else sooner or later.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not at peace with that.


When you find yourself stuck in a pattern of behavior that is clearly damaging to yourself and possibly others it is difficult to get out of.

There are self help books and speakers galore who can help you find peace in just 5 days or freedom in an hour. Some of these may even be very helpful. But talk to someone who has tried and failed to give up smoking or is stuck in a porn addiction that is shattering their self esteem, you will see a person who knows that it takes a lot more than a few days to change behviour.

I heard Saju Mathews from IJM give a talk a few weeks ago about how our identity can produce change. If we see ourselves as children of God then we won’t want to stay where we are, rather we will work at becoming free. We don’t need to continue where we are because that’s not really where we are. We are not slaves any more. Let’s live like it.

Which for a long time I have really loved despite it not really working for me. Why do I continue doing that which is killing me when I know I am free? Is it because I am wrong about Jesus? Or because I use grace as a reason to keep on sinning, as Paul suggests?

Or is it because I don’t really believe I am forgiven?

Take porn.

When you are stuck in an addiction like that and you are constantly battling to be pure but returning again and again into the arms of your computer, it can be very difficult to forgive yourself. No matter how much you know God loves you and has forgiven you.

But am I really forgiven? How does that work? Is it an abstract idea that is true but in reality doesn’t really have any impact on how I live?

When God is not present and when you don’t experience Him, forgiveness can seem like a nice idea but ultimately redundant.

But I believe in it wholeheartedly and I believe it works.

But for forgiveness to change you then I need to see obvious tangible workings of it. Sometimes God just doesn’t provide that.

At least not in the way I think.

Like a lot of things in life we can’t experience God unless we see it, or touch it. We need our senses to make it real for us. Hope or a nice feeling isn’t good enough.

So what is more tangible than other people?

To ensure forgiveness actually changes us we need other people.

Which means that we need to confess to other people.

Bonhoeffer, got it right when he wrote,

Why is it often easier for us to acknowledge our sins before God than before another believer? God is holy and without sin, a just judge of evil, an an enemy of all disobedience. But another Christian is sinful, as we are, knowing from personal experience the night of secret sin. Should we not find it easier to go to one another than to the holy God? But if that is not the case, we must ask ourselves whether we often have not been deluding ourselves about our confession of sin to God–whether we have not instead been confessing our sins to ourselves and also forgiving ourselves. And is not the reason for our innumerable relapses and for the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living from self-forgiveness and not from real forgiveness of our sins? Self-forgiveness can never lead to the break with sin. This can only be accomplished by God’s own judging and pardoning Word (Life Together, 112-13, emphasis added).

Confession is scary because we don’t want people to see us as we really are. It is also scary because perhaps we don’t really want to change.

We should be comfortable telling others our deepest darkest secrets because they are as bad as us. In this case, going to God is the safe option. Should we confess to God? Yes. But if we want to feel the full effect of God’s forgiveness we need to confess to others too.

Then we can experience His forgiveness in a tangible way through the prayers and love of others. Confessing to others is not an instead of God option. It is the way that forgiveness from God works within us.

So we experience God’s grace through our friend who prays for us and walks through every step of recovery with us.

We feel hope from God through the people who have been where we are and have come through the other end.

And we feel joy in God even when we don’t feel joyous, as we sit and listen to our friends telling us how God is working in their lives right now.

It seems like so much of how God works in our lives it requires other, broken, imperfect, porn watching people to be how he speaks to and changes us.

If that’s not grace I don’t know what is.