Mar 4, 2012
This week Andrew Breitbart died. Wait, he didn’t just die; it is reported that the 43-year-old “dropped dead while walking outside his house” in Los Angeles. Hyperactive to the last minute, his friends – and opponents – cannot imagine a news cycle these days without his influence.
He was a political activist. Wait, he was more than that: a provocateur, a professional blogger (having helped jump-start the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post before his array of “Big” Breitbart news aggregation sites), the guy behind the expose´ of ACORN and Congressman Anthony Weiner. Unlike most commentators who have reviewed his Roman-candle career, we would like to examine not what he was, but how he got there.
Breitbart was reared by adoptive parents in tony celebrity neighborhoods around Hollywood. He attended Tulane University because of, not despite, its reputation as the nation’s Number One party school. He was a social and political liberal, poster boy of excess. But he followed the news. When Clarence Thomas was nominated to the Supreme Court, Andrew watched the hearings and thought a decent man was the victim of what Thomas himself characterized as a “high-tech lynching” because he was Christian and conservative.
Andrew’s worldview turned on a dime. A natural contrarian, perhaps, he viewed political correctness as a putative form of censorship; he espied a cultural war on Christians (even if some Christians did not) and traditional American values; and he enlisted, often as an army of one, in the fight to redeem the culture. He got involved in politics, the media, entertainment, and business. As a human whirlwind, in a few years he inspired liberals to become conservatives, secularists to become crusaders, the indolent to become activists, defeatists to become optimists.
But our look at his life is not about his politics, but his passion. Sometimes wild-eyed and wild-haired, he was a “gonzo” journalist. He said things, and showed up places, and pushed ideas that “normal” people don’t. Thank God for “abnormal,” passion-filled, warriors who believe what they do… and do what they believe. They populate lists of martyrs, and they substitute for the timid amongst us.
They say that converts make the most rabid believers, whether in religion or the realms of addictions. Breitbart converted – a congenital self-assured type, he was open to truth, and converted without ever looking back.
Wait, it wasn’t just him. His father-in-law experienced a similar conversion. Same paradigm, different story, same family. Orson Bean is the famous polymath – actor, comedian, author, raconteur – who has been a show-biz fixture since the 1950s. Movies: Anatomy of a Murder; Being John Malkovich. Stage: Never Too Late; Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? TV: hundreds of appearances on The Tonight Show and To Tell The Truth, also The Twilight Zone; Desperate Housewives. Recordings: Charlie Brown in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Books: M@il for Mikey.
Breitbart’s father-in-law Orson Bean has recounted his own conversion, from a blacklisted actor to a familiar face; from obsessions with sex, alcohol, and drugs to being “clean”; from a trendy scoffer to a born-again Christian. His is a great story, one he recounted in the extremely engaging book, M@il for Mikey.
Wait. If a Christian-conversion story can ever be “normal,” Orson’s is not one of those. We hear many converts say that they developed an “emptiness within,” or created a “void” in their souls by their choices. Orson has a very different, and very unique variation – blue-ribbon theology from this vaunted wit: In a column he wrote called “An Emptiness Only the Holy Spirit Can Fill” (for one of the Breitbart sites!) he posited:
“[When people have used up the temporary highs of sex and drugs and booze and fame and wealth,] they’re still left with a hole in the middle of them that the Creator stuck there, knowing that eventually they’d feel the urge to fill it and do what they had to do to seek Him out.”
In other words, God PUTS this void, this longing, this emptiness in us all… so that we will seek Him. It’s like the Andre Crouch line about Without problems, we couldn’t know how to solve them. It’s like the evangelists’ plea not to be jealous of angels, because they can never know what it is like to be redeemed, to see the light, to convert, to gain a passion, to know what Amazing Grace is.
One of Orson Bean’s revelations came through reading C S Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Another astounding exegetical book of the 20th century is John Stott’s Basic Christianity, a similar book of intellectual blessing. As quoted in a recent issue of Trak Magazine, Stott once said:
“Every Christian should be both conservative and radical; conservative in preserving the faith, and radical in applying it.”
My friend Dan Kimball loves holding up the Ramones as a band, less concerned with success than the sheer joy of making music. Passion! So the free-spirit Orson Bean in sharing Christ: conservative, radical, passionate. So was his son-in-law Andrew Breitbart, on fire in everything he did, from national issues to texting friends about movies.
So was Jesus. Conservative and radical. And passionate enough to stick it to evil and sin and death, to virtually climb up onto the dirty cross and die for us.
Wait: Jesus’ death substituted for us, but God forbid that we let His love and commitment substitute for our own passions and actions. Get out there! Have you been converted? Do it!
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Orson Bean is even careful to specify Jesus, not Father God (Who sent His Son for this reason) as the answer to the “hole in the middle of us all.”