Following the death of Michael Jackson, this secondary assembly considers his life and focuses on his song Man In The Mirror. It asks how we can ’make a change’ from selfishness to loving concern

Resources

A leader and a reader. The song may be played at the end. The words of the lyrics should be read slowly, clearly and with sympathy.

Engagement

Leader: Here are some words from a well-known song. Does any one recognise it?

Reader 1: I’m starting with the man in the mirror,
I’m asking him to change his ways

Leader: That song was sung by a singer who has been in the news recently. Do you know who that is?

(The answer is Michael Jackson and the song is Man in the Mirror)

Michael Jackson died recently at the age of 51. His memorial service in Los Angeles was attended by thousands of people. All over the world there are millions of fans who love his music and want to keep his memory alive.

But other people have criticised his lifestyle. Some have argued that he never grew up and set a poor example to young people. He was accused – and acquitted – of some serious crimes.

Reflection

Leader: Michael Jackson is now dead and today we won’t judge him. Instead let’s consider one of his songs and ask what it means for us. Do we need to take a look at the one in the mirror − ourselves? Do we need to ’make a change’, and, if so, how?

Let’s first recap on Michael Jackson’s life.

Reader 1: Michael’s father used to work in a steel mill and wanted to be a blues musician. When this dream didn’t come true, he formed a singing group comprising of his children. They were called The Jackson 5.

Reader 2: In 1969, The Jackson 5 had their first number one single in the USA. It was called I Want You Back and sold two million copies in the US alone. In the same year, four of the top ten singles in the UK charts were by the Jacksons.

Leader: If you’d been to school in those days, you might have met young people wearing Jackson 5 badges. Let’s see if any of the staff remember those days? Maybe some of them were fans? [Discuss if relevant]

Reader 1: Young Michael had a beautiful singing voice. In 1971 he recorded his first solo single – the ballad Got To Be There – which reached number seven in the UK in February 1972.

Reader 2: In 1979 he released his first solo album Off The Wall which topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Reader 1: In 1981 he had his first number one single in Britain, and the year after he released Thriller.

Leader: And what was so special about Thriller?

(Answer: It is the best selling album of all time.)

Reader 2: Thriller stayed at the top of the American charts for 37 weeks ‘MJ’ – as Michael Jackson was known – was at the top of his fame. He was hailed as ‘The King of Pop’. He did his famous moonwalk on TV for the first time in 1983 and bought an expensive ranch he called Neverland in California in 1987.

Reader 1: But some said that Michael never grew up. There were rumours about odd behaviour, and his appearance changed noticably. It was said that he had ruined his good looks – using plastic surgery to try to make his face look whiter.

Reader 2: Michael announced that he was suffering from a skin disease – impetigo – which made his skin whiter. He also denied all criminal charges brought against him and nothing was proved in court.

Reader 1: On June 26th, as Michael was preparing for a big comeback tour at the age of 51, he died suddenly from a heart attack.

Leader: So a man whose face was so strangely altered also gave us Man In the Mirror, a song written by Siedah Garrett and Glen Ballard. We don’t know what Michael thought when he looked at himself in the mirror, so let’s ask what the song might say to us.

Reader 1: The main message of the song is that the ills of the world, like homelessness and suffering, can be cured if every individual makes his or her own contribution. This is a powerful and important message, advising people to be conscientious in their humanitarian efforts.

Reader 2: There are other messages within the song also. For instance, sometimes, when we look at ourselves in the mirror we may dislike what we see, but in the song we are told to love ourselves – because if we are too busy hating ourselves we will find it much harder to help others.

Reader 1: However, the song also warns us against too much ‘selfish love’. The ancient Greeks told a story about Narcissus, who looked at his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it. He spent so much time staring at his own image that he eventually fell into the water and drowned. (This is where the word narcissistic comes from, which describes people who are only concerned with themselves.) So even though it encourages us to love ourselves, it is also warning us not to be vain – that we should externalise our love to those around us as well.

Leader: The song advises us that if we want to make the world a better place we need to ’make a change’ – but it doesn’t tell us how to do it. So here are a few suggestions:

  • First let’s remember that we aren’t the only ones to have problems, and if we make drastic changes that aren’t properly thought through we could be causing problems for other people. So when you make changes, make sure you think them through.
  • ’Making a change’ could mean saying sorry and asking to be forgiven.
  • Try to take an interest in what other people do. Don’t’ say ’boring’ or ’rubbish’ whenever someone suggests doing something a bit different.

Response

Now let’s listen to some words from the song again and take them as Michael’s farewell to us. If you would like to use them as a prayer, then just offer them to God as we hear them read.

Reader 1: I’m starting with the man in the mirror,I’m asking him to change his waysNo message could have been any clearerIf you wanna make the world a better place

Take a look at yourself and then make a change

(The song may be played as the reading ends)

This e-bulletin issue was first published in July 2009

About the author: John Coutts has worked as secondary school principal in Nigeria, taught RE in Scotland, and has been involved in teaching and teacher training at the University of Greenwich. He has written and presented many scripts for the BBC and other broadcasters, and currently works as a freelance writer, poet and performer.

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