For the past few months, Charlie Sheen has given our distraction-hungry culture a particularly delectable snack. "Hey look over here!" he grins. His grandiose, self-delusional bragging, his unapologetic hedonism, and his remarkable ability—whether it's a result of mental illness, years of heavy drug use, that "Adonis DNA," or a combination of the three—to call the broken parts of his life whole is stunning.


The disturbed actor has been offering us the intimate details of his life on a plate, and we've been grabbing them by the handful, wolfing them down, and licking our fingers in expectation for the next course. But, after a few weeks of noshing on Charlie's braggadocio and the perverse details of his life, the novelty of it is—forgive me—losing its sheen. We're sick of hearing about him, but no worries: there's an app for that.

Our culture wipes its mouth with the back of its hand and glances absentmindedly around the room. What's next, we wonder. We want a new distraction.

Well, we could divert our gaze toward the April wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. The Internet buzz gets louder and we turn our heads toward important questions such as: Is the bride-to-be getting too skinny? Could she be pregnant? How does she compare with her fiancfamp;copy;'s iconic mother. Hmm … like Princess Diana, Middleton 29, is admired as a fashion icon, commits herself to charitable causes, and, of course, is adored by William. But is she a mere "commoner?" (Was Diana? What does that mean, anyway?)

When Charles and Diana were married at St. Paul's Cathedral in 1981, an estimated 600,000 people lined the streets in hopes of catching a glimpse of Diana on her way past. I know. I was one of them. As her carriage rolled by, flanked by white-wigged footmen, I saw her for one fleeting, thrilling moment. It was, indeed, like seeing a fairy tale come to life.

Fast forward to a summer day in 1997, when Americans woke up to learn that Princess Diana had died. By then, we knew that her marriage to Prince Charles had been anything but a fairy tale. (Well, maybe more like one by The Brothers Grimm, not by Walt Disney.) She died after being injured in a car crash, the result of her driver going twice the speed limit to avoid paparazzi.

A few weeks later, I dreamt about Diana. She and I were standing inside a circus tent that was bursting with noise, prancing elephants, oscillating spotlights, and hoards of people. She was frightened and shaking. When I asked her what was wrong, she just smiled that famous smile. A moment later, a man's voice barked her name and, in response, she climbed up into the open mouth of a large cannon.

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"What are you doing? Why are you getting in there?" I asked.

"I don't have a choice," she said, and before she could say more, someone lit the fuse or sprang the spring or whatever one does with a human cannonball, and she was shot over the heads of the crowd. The customers pointed and clapped. "It's Diana!" they screamed.

A few minutes later she walked back to where I stood, weary and disheveled. She stood beside the cannon and waited for her name to be called again.

Remembering that dream, I wonder in what ways celebrities are beholden to those who profit from selling them to a hungry culture. We obediently give our money and attention to it, glad to forget for a moment about the ordinariness and disappointments of our lives. We grab a magazine at the grocery store and gleefully soak up stories of luxurious lifestyles as just as merrily read about the messy and painful details of drug problems, arrests, and divorces. We enjoy the show and we don't give much thought to what being shot out of the cannon costs a person. Focusing on celebrities passes the time, distracts us, and allows us to ignore the broken places inside of ourselves.

This Lent we might commit to a kind of fast. Maybe, for the next six weeks or so, as we approach Easter, we can get up out of our seats, exit the circus tent, leave the spectacle behind us. It is Lent, after all, and the right time to look at the broken and crumbling places inside hearts and minds. For aren't we, just as truly as Charlie Sheen and his "goddesses," in need of redemption?

We can approach God in the quiet, unlit season and look for real healing and connection with a God who offers sustenance much more satisfying than watching a person's life unravel or even than fixating on the next "fairy tale" come to life.

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order the unruly wills and affections of sinners: Grant your people grace to love what you command and desire what you promise; that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer)