"Spare Me the Din Of Your Songs": Michael Jackson's Complicated Relationship With Christmas

“Christmas is love; it’s a celebration of love. And I can’t imagine Christmas without Michael, or Michael without Christmas.”-Elizabeth Taylor

Every year, I enjoy revisiting this cute clip of Michael celebrating his first Christmas-as a 35-year-old adult. Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, Christmas-that joyous holiday so many of us take for granted-was one of many that Michael was never allowed to celebrate as a child. When we think about how often Michael told us he never had a childhood, we usually interpret it to mean the hard work he was forced to do in show business. And that was a big part of it, for sure. But think about the child who is eventually old enough to realize that every house on his street is lit at a certain time of year-except for his, which remains in the dark. Or the child who is one day old enough to realize that, at a special time of year, all the other kids in the neighborhood get really cool presents to show off, but he never has any.

Jermaine Jackson’s book You Are Not Alone, Michael: Through a Brother’s Eyes contains a poignant passage describing what the Jackson children often felt in their tiny house on Jackson Street every Christmas:

“We observed all this from inside a home with no tree, no lights, no nothing. Our tiny house, on the corner of Jackson Street and 23rd Avenue, was the only one without decoration. We felt it was the only one in Gary, Indiana, but Mother assured us that, no, there were other homes and other Jehovah’s Witnesses who did not celebrate Christmas…But that knowledge did nothing to clear our confusion: we could see something that made us feel good, yet we were told it wasn’t good for us. Christmas wasn’t God’s will: it was commercialism. In the run-up to December 25 we felt as if we were witnessing an event to which we were not invited, and yet we still felt its forbidden spirit.

At our window, we viewed everything from a cold, gray world, looking into a shop where everything was alive, vibrant and sparkling with color; where children played in the street with their new toys, rode new bikes or pulled new sleds in the snow. We could only imagine what it was to know the joy we saw on their faces…I’ve read many times that Michael did not like Christmas, based on our family’s lack of celebration. This was not true. It had not been true since that moment as a four-year-old when he said, staring at the Whites’ house; ‘When I’m older, I’ll have lights. Lots of lights. It will be Christmas every day.'”-pp. 4-5.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly do not intend this to be a piece bashing Jehovah’s Witnesses, their beliefs or practices. I respect the right of all religions to worship as they see fit, and to practice the creeds and customs of their belief. Most Witnesses will deny vehemently that they are depriving their children of anything, let alone the joy of love or family. Rather than celebrating commercialized holidays like Christmas, Easter, or even birthdays, most Jehovah’s Witness families instead set aside certain, non declared days as a family member’s special day. But, just as with Jewish children and all children of families who practice minority religions that do not celebrate Christmas, there is always the sting of feeling “different.” For children raised in the Jehovah’s Witness faith, especially, their later adult lives inevitably follow one of two paths-either learning to embrace their difference as the price that must be paid for walking “the true path” or to rebel. There usually isn’t much in the way of in-between, but the fact that Michael Jackson-despite finally breaking away from the faith in 1987-remained conflicted throughout his life has much to do with understanding the adult he became.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that, despite all the hundreds of books that have been written purporting to get to the “truth” of who Michael Jackson was, no one can hope to seriously examine that question without taking a serious look at the impact of his upbringing in this religion, even if, as has often been pointed out, Katherine Jackson may not have been the strictest JW parent on the planet. But therein lies the seed of much of young Michael’s confusion-a confusion that I don’t think we can under estimate as a direct cause of much of the eventual perplexing dualities of Michael’s nature.

We Cannot Expect To understand Who Michael Was Until We Understand What He Was Raised To Believe.
We Cannot Expect To understand Who Michael Was Until We Understand What He Was Raised To Believe.

Imagine, for an instant, being a child raised in this religion in which every lived moment on Earth is merely preparation for Armageddon and in which there is no real concept of “Grace” as it is taught in other Christian denominations. (JW do believe in Jesus as the son of God, but they do not believe in the concept of the Trinity or that one can be “saved” through faith in Jesus alone).  Because JW do not believe in the concept of “Grace” but, rather, that one must strive to please Jehovah to be among the “saved” there is often a nagging feeling of guilt and uncertainty. What if my best isn’t “good enough” to please Jehovah? Witnesses who are active in the faith may deny this, of course, insisting that those who are strong in their faith have no such doubts. But the testament of many ex Witnesses (those who have converted to other faiths) tells a very different story. In Michael’s case, we can certainly see him tortured by these conflicted feelings of doubt throughout his youth. As Joe Vogel stated in his book  Earth Song: Inside Michael Jackson’s Magnum Opus, Michael would often “pore over doctrines” and would question church elders about doctrines he found “confusing or unfair.” And though his disassociation in 1987 may have liberated him artistically, it is somewhat more ambiguous as to whether he achieved the complete personal and spiritual liberation he so craved. Certainly the vestiges of having been raised as a JW remained with him for the rest of his life. When something has been a part of your identity and, indeed, your fundamental makeup for almost thirty years, that isn’t something that can be so blithely tossed aside.  Imagine being taught that all forms of celebration and holidays are a sin to Jehovah, and yet you are still being expected to record an album of Christmas carols because, well, that’s what the record company wants and Mother says it will be okay just this once-it’s only for money. Imagine you have a mother who teaches you devoutly that sex before marriage is wrong; that even thoughts of lust are wicked and wrong, and then you have a father who, as soon as Mother is out of sight and out of mind, is inviting women into his hotel room and sending groupies to yours and your brothers’ rooms, encouraging you that “this is what real men do.” Now imagine you witness the hypocrisy when your father returns home to your mother, kissing her up with lies: “Oh, baby, I missed you so much.” These are all things that Michael and his siblings have spoken of, first hand. Theirs’ was a childhood of constant conflict, between the devout teachings of Kingdom Hall and a life within the very wordly demands of show business-and between parents who were two very, very different people, walking two very different paths, yet trying to put on a united front for the world.

It is common knowledge that Michael, following in the eventual footsteps of all of his siblings except for Rebbie, broke away from the JW after many years of conflict and the constant struggle of attempting to reconcile his art with his religion. But what is not as well known is just how much spiritual conflict this decision threw him into. It was not a decision that came lightly, or without cost. And it is also, perhaps, difficult for the layperson to fathom the extent of just how much of a personal sacrifice this decision was for Michael. It came literally at cost of everything he had known. The following is excerpted from JWFacts.com:

In 1987, Michael disassociated himself from the Watchtower Society.

“At this same time, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ elders in Woodland Hills, California, began pressuring Michael again. They felt strongly that the recent publicity on the Witnesses was doing them great damage, and that it reflected poorly on the Witnesses, because Michael was so representative of the faith. Michael was becoming disenchanted with the church’s elders by this time, mostly because he didn’t wan to be told what to do. What’s more he couldn’t reconcile his lifestyle and career with the religion’s strict tenets. In truth, it’s almost impossible to be a Jehovah’s Witness and be an entertainer. Therefore, in the spring of 1987, Michael withdrew from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. A letter from the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, sent as a press release, stated that the organization ‘no longer considers Michael Jackson to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.’ Gary Botting, author of The Orwellian World of Jehovah’s Witnesses and a Witness himself, said that leaving the religion is ‘worse than being disfellowshipped, or kicked out.” He observed, ‘if you wilfully reject God’s holy organization on earth, that’s the unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit.’

Michael’s decision to leave the church puzzled his mother, Katherine, and caused her great despair. Katherine wasn’t sure she knew her own son any longer. However, there was no discussing the spiritual matter with him – literally. As it is strictly prohibited for a Witness to discuss matters of faith with ex-members, even if they are family, Katherine says that she has never asked Michael what happened, and she says that she never intends to ask such questions. ‘I was not required to “shun” my son,’ she claimed, referring to rumours of that nature. ‘But we can’t talk about matters of faith any longer, which is a shame.'” Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness p.363

The publicity surrounding Michael’s disassociation promoted the Watchtower headquarters to send the following letter to the Body of elder’s and Circuit Overseers explaining how to reply to questions.

michael jackson letter to elders 1987

Even after Michael disassociated in 1987 he likely still suffered greatly from guilt, as he retained much of the Watchtower belief system. By disassociating, Michael now became part of the group that the Watchtower classifies as the AntiChrist and as such to be hated by Witnesses.

“Such ones willfully abandoning the Christian congregation thereby become part of the ‘antichrist.'” Watchtower 1985 Jul 15 p.31

“Our attitude toward apostates should be that of David, who declared: “Do I not hate those who are intensely hating you” Watchtower 1992 Jul 15 pp.12-13

Michael, moreso perhaps than any of his other siblings, had been devout in his beliefs and in his desire to please his mother by remaining true to her faith. Also, for someone as deeply spiritual and philanthropic as Michael to be thought of as some sort of “AntiChrist” to be “hated by Witnesses” would have to have been a galling thought indeed. Nor does there appear to be any one, satisfactory conclusion as to how he eventually resolved his spiritual crisis. It is one of those things where everyone who knew him seems to have their own steadfast belief, and if you ask twenty people, you may be apt to get twenty very different responses. If you read enough, you will hear everything from that he converted to Islam to, eventually, a JW again. Yet there is no evidence to bear any of this out. And indeed, it is not such a mystery, as Michael clearly spelled out most of his newfound spiritual beliefs in his 1992 book Dancing The Dream, as well as writing his way through most of his darkness and light in the hundreds of songs he continued to churn out throughout his mature years (yet, amazingly, his own words continue to be often the last resort that journalists turn to when attempting to “psychoanalyze” him). What is known with certainty is that Michael remained deeply spiritual throughout his life, was an avid reader of the Bible with a profound knowledge of it, and while no longer beholden to any particular creed or dogma, maintained a close relationship with God that did not appear to be celebrity lip service, but instead, welled from a deep and personal connection. It was a relationship that had been borne out of coming between those “clashing rocks” and which had withstood his own, personal storm.

Very recently, I was browsing through a copy of “The Watchtower,” the JW magazine that is often distributed and left lying about at various businesses (Michael himself used to peddle the magazine door to door). It was a long afternoon at the laundromat, and the issues were lying about in abundance-and, of course,  were free for the taking. I have had an avid interest in studying JW beliefs primarily because I know that understanding their beliefs is crucial to understanding the spiritual foundation that shaped young Michael’s life and the person he became (and of which, yes, even the conflicts play an essential role). Because the Christmas season was approaching, there was an article explaining why Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas and why they believe that Christmas is offensive to God. The article quoted heavily from the Hebrew prophet Amos and a Biblical verse in particular that Witnesses have taken to heart, believing it proves Jehovah’s ardent disapproval of music and celebration:

“Spare me the din of your songs;

And let me not hear the melodies 

Of your stringed instruments

Only let justice flow down like waters

And righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5: 23, 24). 

I was struck by the irony of those words-“Spare me the din of your songs/And let me not hear the melodies”-knowing that this would have been part of the early indoctrination of Michael Jackson, future King of Pop who, of course, would leave his indelible imprint of musical genius upon the world. But closer inspection of Hebrew scripture reveals that Amos’s words were not so much directed against music as against the idea of pagan ceremonies and all forms of pagan worship (which Witnesses, of course, believe includes the celebration of Christmas with all of its festivities, lights, singing and glittery razzmatazz ). This is further clarified in Amos 5:21:

So, hear the word that springs forth from the Holy Mountain:

‘I hate, I despise your festivals

And I take no pleasure in the aroma 

Of your solemn assemblies’

Indeed, from what I know from many Witnesses, worldy music is not necessarily forbidden, though the extent to which one may embrace it (as well as all other forms of popular entertainment) depend on the branch of the organization one belongs to, how strictly the elders enforce the “do’s” and “don’ts” of the religion, and the personal choice of the individual as to what they personally feel is displeasing to Jehovah. In that regard, Witnesses are actually a lot more tolerant than certain Christian denominations such as the Pentecosts (as I well know from the time when my mother, for God knows what reason, went through a phase where she decided to join a Pentecost church). This tolerance would have explained why Michael and his siblings were allowed to pursue musical careers without fear of apostasy, though it was a conflict that would become much more troublesome during the early years of Michael’s adult solo career, as his act became more grown up and, as an inevitable by-product, more overtly sexualized. Michael himself described the conflicted feelings he experienced as his JW beliefs began to clash both with his art and his own newfound awakening-an awakening that included the realization that not everything preached against by the JW are necessarily “bad”:

Schmuley Boteach: Do you think a hatred of pride is still a relic of your religious upbringing?

Michael Jackson: It hurt me a lot and it helped me a lot.

SB: How did it hurt you?

MJ:r… (long silence) When I did certain things in the past that I didn´t realized were against the religion and I was deprimanded for it, it almost destroyed me. Certain things that I did as an artist in my music I didn´t realized I was crossing a line with them and when they chastised me, it really hurt me. It almost destroyed me. My mother saw it.

SB: Their disapproval, their rejection?

MJ: When I did the Moonwalk for the first time, Motown 25, they told me that I doing burlesque dancing and it was dirty and I went for months and they said, “You can never dance like that again.” I said 90,9 percent of dancing is moving the waist. They said, “We don´t want you to do it.”  So I went around trying to dance for a long time without moving this part of my body. Then when I made Thriller with all the ghouls an ghosts, they said that it was demonic and part of the occult and that Brother Jackson can´t do it. I called my lawyer and was crying and I said: “Destroy the video, have it destroyed.” And because he went against my wishes, people have “Thriller” today. They made me feel so bad about it that I ordered people to destroy it.

SB: So you have seen two sides of religion, the loving side that teaches you not to like pride and humility, but you have also seen what you would described as mean-spiritedness and judgmentalism.

MJ: Because they can discriminate sometimes in wrong ways. I don´t think God meant it in that way. Like Halloween, I missed of Halloween for years and now I do it. It´s sweet to go from door-to-door and people give you candy. We need more of that in the world. It brings the world together.

Read more: http://www.truemichaeljackson.com/faith-religion-spiritualiy/

It is also a commonly held myth, as I have discovered, that the JW do not allow music or singing of any kind. This misconception stems from the fact that they do frown upon gospel music, as they believe that gospel music preaches a false religion. But that doesn’t mean that the JW are a religion devoid of song; in fact, I am just beginning to discover the rich wealth of music contained in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’s Song Book. Many of their songs can be heard on Youtube. I am including here a couple of my favorite examples (obviously, there are many more if one cares to look!).

Although for my personal taste I do not find the music as soul stirring as gospel, many of the songs, like these two, are nevertheless quite beautiful-not only beautiful, but filled with positive, inspiring messages that can certainly be relevant no matter what one’s personal religious belief may be. However,  as opposed to gospel music, which has strong roots in Africa and the black oral tradition, JW music is, by contrast, much more structured and chorale. When it comes to Christian music, it is about as “white” as it gets, which is interesting considering that if Michael did grow up singing any form of music at all in Kingdom Hall, it would have been songs very much like this (as opposed to the amazing gospel skills he would later showcase in songs like “Man in the Mirror” and “Earth Song.”). I do not know for certain if the Kingdom Hall the Jacksons attended in Gary, Indiana used the Song Book, but it seems quite certain that the Kingdom Hall Katherine has attended for many years in Northridge (and of which Michael attended quite faithfully at least up to as late as 1984) includes music, as evidenced by the fact that Paris Jackson was photographed holding a Song Book in hand in 2010 when the children accompanied their grandmother to Kingdom Hall.

2998=3-paris_jacksonAlthough this phase would be short lived (none of Michael’s three children, to my knowledge, have continued to be active JW; they were probably, at best, curious about the religion their father had been raised in, and of course, were seeking comfort in their immediate bereavement) it is interesting to note that Michael evidently had never “talked down” to them about his religious upbringing or actively discouraged them from taking part in it. I believe if he had, they probably would not have so willingly gone along with their grandmother’s wishes.

But even with the allowance of music (so long as it glorifies Jehovah), a quick glance at the website Truth Rundown reveals no less than 141 things that a JW cannot do. Here are just a few of the most interesting, as they pertain to Michael:

8.Contribute to the Presidential Campaign Fund on their tax return
9.Join the armed forces and defend their country
10.Say the Pledge of Allegiance
11.Salute the flag
13.Run for leadership in their organization. (JW’s are ‘appointed’ and invited to be leaders.)
14.Run for leadership in any organization 15.Take a stand for any political issue inside their organization
16.Take a stand on any political or ‘worldly’ issue outside of their organization
17.Campaign for a political candidate
18.Hold political office
19.Discuss politics

30lglc3All of the above would explain why Michael remained vehemently apolitical throughout most of his life (and also why he could be as at ease in accepting an award from Ronald Reagan as attending the Clinton inauguration). It goes even deeper, of course. A JW cannot engage in any form of patriotism as we know it. They cannot serve in the military, even in time of war. Veteran’s Day is among the long list of holidays that cannot be celebrated. In the eyes of the JW, all of these acts equate to the idea of putting wordly issues ahead of Jehovah. In recent weeks, I have joked that if Michael were alive, he might be more than a little torn over the current presidential race-after all, he counted both Donald Trump and Bill and Hillary Clinton among his friends. But although I believe his personal leanings were Democratic, he remained-publicly, at least-often frustratingly hard to pin down insofar as political stance. Michael-Jackson-Instagram-Donald-Trump

Conversely, however,  it can also help us to even better appreciate the courage it took for him to eventually become such an outspoken advocate for many causes, including human rights, minority rights, AIDS, and environmental activism (in itself something he could never have truly permitted himself to do as a JW). Yet his early upbringing, and the JW influence, would still go far in explaining why he could never be as overtly political as many of his celebrity peers.

And how about this one?

24.Wear military uniforms or clothing associated with war

Just imagine most any familiar photo, concert image, or dance choreography of Michael from the 80’s and 90’s and you can instantly see that Michael not only embraced the military style and look into his image and art, but did so with brazen defiance considering his background as a JW. Could all of the military style dancing and costumes have been intended as a direct affront to the elders? It’s interesting that we see him really beginning to embrace his “military phase” post-1987. However, the military jacket had already become an iconic part of his “look” as early as 1984.

Michael's Iconic Military Jackets: Innocent Fashion Statement, or Radical Rebellion?
Michael’s Iconic Military Jackets: Innocent Fashion Statement?
MJ-CTE-03 (1)
Or Radical Rebellion?

JW also do not believe in carrying guns or weapons, and it has been said that Michael’s “Smooth Criminal” video may, in fact, have been one of the final nails in the coffin leading to his disassociation.

Or how about this clincher?

35.Shop at the Salvation Army

Although I am speaking as a generalization, of course, it is known that JW do not support charitable organizations or the idea of giving to charity, believing that most charitable organizations are corrupt or have the potential to corrupt one spiritually. Judging from Michael’s legendary love of shopping for bargains at the Salvation Army-foisted no doubt by the fact that Katherine was a frequent shopper who clothed most of her large family thanks to Salvation Army hand-me-down’s-is a strong indicator that not all JW rules were strictly followed to the letter in the Jackson home. Again, we have to look at this example and say that if Michael (or any of the Jackson kids) grew up with mixed messages and signals about their religion, it’s certainly not something they can be faulted for.

And then there is this one, which Michael referenced in his conversation with Boteach above:

92.Do suggestive and immodest dancing in a public place

I’ve often said I don’t believe  it was any coincidence that the crotch grab became an iconic fixture of Michael’s dance routine right about the same time he stopped being a JW. And, needless to say, it doesn’t get anymore “public” than on the world’s stage!michael-jackson-king-of-pop-dance-moonwalk-14223020498_xlarge

Lastly, we can only imagine how Michael must have grappled with this one, knowing the mass hysteria and adulation he inspired:

135.Idolize any celebrity or love and admire them to excess

Most of the JW bans on holidays are understandable within the context of their beliefs. Many Christian denominations, for example, frown upon holidays like Halloween which are viewed as pagan rituals. But the JW ban on any form of holiday-including those like Christmas and Easter which are embraced by most Christian religions-is certainly more extremist than most. Even though Michael celebrated every Christmas post 1993, there are still some who insist it was more for the sake of his children, and in the interest of fellowship with his close friends, than for himself. Michael wanted his kids to experience all of the joyous occasions he had been denied as a child. Birthdays, Easter, Halloween, and, most of all, Christmas were celebrated openly and joyously in the Jackson household. But his makeup artist Karen Faye has stated that he would still often hide in the closet to wrap gifts, and that he never got over feeling awkward when wished a “Happy Birthday.”

Nevertheless, it seems evident that Michael eventually made his peace with Christmas, recognizing it as a season of love and giving-those very qualities which most epitomized everything he stood for in his life. Although he never again recorded another Christmas carol album following The Jackson 5 Christmas Album  in 1970, he did, perhaps, embody the Christmas spirit in many more lasting and permanent ways. His Christmas messages to the world, a (nearly-if-not-quite-annual) tradition begun in 1992, always emphasized positive messages to regions and people in need of hope. And in the latter videos, we see even more what Christmas was really all about for him.

But, of course, there was at least one other thing. Those lights; those beautiful lights…lots and lots of lights!

mj christmas tree

40 thoughts on “"Spare Me the Din Of Your Songs": Michael Jackson's Complicated Relationship With Christmas”

  1. Very nice article..I was thinking about those Christmas songs he recorded as a young boy, the other day , when I was in a store shopping.
    He comes on and everyone is smiling and singing along to themselves .Yet he didnt get to derive the pleasure , he gave so many, with those beautiful pieces
    He certainly did have a confusing upbringing , when it came to what his religion expected of him..”
    Anyway , I am so glad he got those beautiful lights at his house to enjoy when he got older

  2. I am glad that he did, too. And you know, the more I read and learn about his ultimate decision to leave the faith, the more I realize what an incredibly courageous act that was. He literally went against the grain of everything he had been taught and everything he knew in order to find his true path to enlightenment. More recently, I learned that at the time he made this decision, he wasn’t even sure how his mother would react to it; he didn’t know but what he might have even been shunned. Of course that didn’t happen (and probably wasn’t likely to) but that the thought even crossed his mind gives some indication of just how agonizing this decision must have been.

    1. You’re right about his tremendous courage though it’s not something one hears much about. On the contrary Michael has been portrayed fairly regularly as timid, squeamish, and delicate. But from what I can understand of his extraordinary life, I’ve often reflected that Michael Jackson was possessed of rare, awe-inspiring courage in the face of things that would destroy most of us.

  3. In his book You Are Not Alone, Jermaine wrote that for years, the JWs sent people on tour with Michael to make certain he did not stray from the straight and narrow, at his expense. I wonder how a church elder got that gig!

    Isn’t it odd that Prince (the artist) embraced the JWs as Michael was rejecting them. And in the film Big Eyes, about the painter Margaret Kean, becoming a JW gave her the courage to leave her exploitative relationship with her husband and claim her identity as an artist. Being JWs doesn’t seem to be burdensome to Venus and Serena Williams. (Some comic observed that JW is “Scientology for black people” – there are probably tons of white JWs, but I never see them.) So even though they can be terribly annoying when they ring my doorbell and push The Watch Tower in my face, obviously some people find it a nurturing faith. Go figure.

    1. “Isn’t it odd that Prince (the artist) embraced the JWs as Michael was rejecting them.”

      Yes, it IS a very interesting coincidence and, of course, one I have written about before in my two part series on Michael and Prince. I think part of the difference may be that people like Prince and the other artists you mentioned all came to the JW faith through their own choice, whereas Michael had the religion foisted upon him as a child. I think it does make a huge difference when one has chosen their path freely, as an adult. This was the case with Katherine Jackson, and just as with those others, the faith has evidently worked for her. I have heard many of them say that, for starters, there is comfort in the idea of no place called Hell.

      Interestingly, “Earth Song” is as much steeped in JW creed as it is an antithesis to it. This is something I very much agree with Joe Vogel on. Only someone who came steeped in that kind of religious background, where Armageddon is ever imminent, could have written a song like that. I have also been interested in exploring a kind of comparison and contrast between Michael’s ‘Earth Song” and Prince’s “Sign O’ the Times” (as well as Hendrix’s “1983: A Merman I Should Be”) and the influence of their spirituality/religion on those pieces. It will be fascinating, if albeit a daunting undertaking (lol).

  4. Raven, this is beautifully written with great understanding of Michael’s situation and the conflicts someone has to endure when freeing onself from strict religious bonds. A very interesting and sensitive post.

    1. Thank you, Susanne! I believe you are in Germany, correct? I know you guys must be well into Christmas Eve celebrations by now! May you have a blessed holiday.

  5. Dear Raven,
    Thank you. This post is beautifully written with grace, intelligence and depth. It certainly offers much to think about. The quote you placed at the beginning, by Elizabeth Taylor, provides in a nut-shell the thing Michael and the Christmas season share: LOVE. Withstanding all else, the commercialization, the frenzied shopping, the money spent, the idea that to be the good parent one MUST buy, buy, buy…etc., then the other side of that coin: the fact that Love is at the center of all. Michael believed in the power of Love to move mountains, to effect change. To realize the soul reckoning he went through in his pursuit of his own understanding of matters of faith & spirituality is painful to behold. I’m all the more filled with deep respect for this man.
    Raven, I would like to thank you for providing a site where one can come to read and share, where no one is ever sneered at, threatened, or any of the other negativity. I am truly grateful to read your posts, follow the conversations while others make their points, free to agree/disagree. You are doing a beautiful thing here.
    Thank you. ❤️❤️❤️

  6. I found this to be an insightful and thought-provoking essay on the early religious indoctrination that Michael, a manifestly sensitive and spirit-filled person by nature, experienced for better (perhaps) and worse (definitely.)

    Have you ever considered publishing some of your blogs as a collection of essays about the varied aspects of MJ that you have written about? I think it would be a terrific addition to what’s been written about him.

    1. Yes! Fully agree with Mark! I believe your words would be a wonderful and unique addition to the many other works about Michael. Your writing is sincere, and as Mark said, “…insightful and thought provoking…”.
      I hope you will consider the idea!

    2. Hi to Mark and Karen Marie:

      I will address this to both of your comments. I have considered the idea of revising some of my posts for a book, and it may indeed be a future project. However, I have a lot of irons in the fire at the moment-many projects I have taken on-so for the sake of my sanity and to insure that I’m not spreading myself too thin, I can’t promise when I might get around to actually doing it, lol. I do have some book and major essay projects in the works, and all are MJ related, so I will definitely be contributing to the many voices writing about Michael.

  7. “I think part of the difference may be that people like Prince and the other artists you mentioned all came to the JW faith through their own choice, whereas Michael had the religion foisted upon him as a child” Raven

    I have a different more nuanced view on it all.
    I dont think anyone foisted anything on Michael any different from how religions are usually handed down from parents to children . All over the world babies and little children are baptized , initiated, even circumcised because of their parents religion or culture. Michael was not different except he had a choice .
    Joe and KJ have 9 children of who 3 choose to become witnesses and 6 including the 2 youngest children, did not. Joe wanted nothing to do with JW but he never interfered with his wifes choice. KJ was disappointed when Michael broke with JW or vv, but she respected and supported his choice .The environment where Michael grew up was mostly non JW and nothing like other JW families lifestyle. Their world was not as limited as the average child, they travelled the world from an early age and got to see other religions and cultures.
    As for charities, it is well documented that the Jacksons did charity work starting in Gary performing for childrens homes . KJs JW beliefs never stood in the way, in fact she encouraged them to care for others. Prince as well as the Williams also give alot to charity and so do many other JWs. There are many photos of the Jacksons celebrating someones birthday even their mothers.

    Religion is influenced by culture , African Americans may express the same religion different from other etnicities and may not find devotion and dancing, performing etc mutually exclusive. Princes public persona did not change after becoming a JW E.g circumcision of girls is often wrongly considered as part of islamic religion while it is a cultural/ local phenomenon.
    Before Thriller and his clash with the JW Michaels performing on stage was already very sensual and maybe not approved by certain religious fractions, but it didnt stop him.
    So Michaels ‘normal’ was never strictly JW, but very eclectic and flexible.
    What intrigues me most is that the 2 Jackson children who were the most devoted went to the other extreme, Latoya posing for playboy and Michaels suggestive dancing and crotchgrabbing on stage and as we recently learned he also posed ‘nude’ already in the 80s .

    1. “Foisted upon” may have been a poor choice of words, but of course what I meant was that Michael was raised in the religion, as opposed to the other celebrities mentioned who freely chose to convert as adults. It’s true that children usually don’t have a choice about the religion they are raised in. They are expected to conform to their parents’ beliefs, at least until adulthood. But I think it is harder for children of very strict, dogmatic religions, especially those which require very conformist standards that put the children at odds with the world around them. This is why so many Amish children, for example, often defect and end up being shunned by their families.

      This was also why I didn’t understand why some people were being so hard on KJ for taking Michael’s children to Kingdom Hall. She was their grandmother, after all, and official guardian, and had the right to bring the children to her chosen place of worship. I don’t think they were being forced into it (obviously, she never strictly “forced” it on any of her children) but I’m sure she probably saw it as her duty to at least bring them to Kingdom Hall and to give them that choice. (It would be interesting to learn more about how Michael was instructing his children religiously; something I may look into more in coming months). I’m sure Katherine must have been hurt that most of her children eventually rejected her religion, but it is to her credit that she allowed them that choice while still supporting them in whatever decision they made. Yet I’m sure that if she truly believes in the JW doctrines, it must have caused her a great deal of spiritual anguish, especially when Michael passed.

      I agree that the Jacksons’ lifestyle-especially after fame and fortune-was pretty flexible by JW standards. It had to be, of course. But a lot of Michael’s conflict stemmed from the fact that he had been so devout in his beliefs. To my knowledge, it was only really Michael, Rebbie, and LaToya who became devout followers. JW claims that LaToya was defellowshipped. Michael came close, but finally left of his own free will before it got to that point. I think the elders probably had a soft spot for him. His fame was good promotion for them (even the JW have somewhat reluctantly admitted this fact; that Michael had the power to make them look very, very good or very, very bad in the eyes of the world) and this was why they continued to kind of look the other way for a long time, even though Michael was continuously pushing those boundaries further and further, with every new release and every new tour. And yes, it is interesting to note that Michael and LaToya-two of Katherine’s most devout children in the faith-in turn became the two biggest rebels in terms of public image.

      PS: I plan to address the Gorman photo in my next post (wink) after the holidays.

  8. Raven,
    First of all a very happy Christmas to you and all who read this. It is already Xmas in my corner of the world and in truth I should be sleeping.
    Thank you for this post, showing the undoubted conflicts Michael faced while trying to “marry” his two loves , his faith and his creativity together. It is true that elders chaperoned him on tours for four years to keep him out of mischief.
    You have researched well and been extremely sensitive in your recounting.
    My sister is a long=standing JW and over the last six months I have found myself compelled to research their organisation as well. In much the same way as happened upon
    Michael’s death.
    Of course I am aware that your site is not the place to publish what I found.
    With that in mind,I will just say, that even though it caused him pain and conflict for the rest of his life probably, the choice he made to leave allowed him to soar ever higher without petty man-made dogmas and restraints.

    1. It is still only Christmas Eve here, but I love this time when the world finally starts to shut down a bit. when all the businesses finally close and everyone is at home with family.

      I think a large part of my sensitivity comes from life experience; having known and associated with all people from all religions, enough that I have seen plenty of the good and bad in everyone. Way back when I was newly married to my first husband, there was a Jehovah’s Witness father and daughter team who used to regularly Witness in our neighborhood. I was always very cordial to them and interested in what they had to say, not that they ever succeeded in getting me to Kingdom Hall, lol. But I think they at least appreciated the hospitality after getting so many doors slammed in their face. However, I was always honest in telling them that my interest and curiosity extended to all religions-not just theirs’. Of course I’m sure they simply saw my curiosity as a chink to a possible conversion, and that’s what kept them coming back. Nevertheless, they were very nice; very pleasant people, who never struck me as being judgmental (even though I almost always had MTV playing in the background when I invited them in; in those days, MTV was a constant when I was cleaning house). I later learned that Michael also used to go Witnessing, and often experienced people slamming doors in his face (they had no idea who he was!). In fact, he was reported to have gone Witnessing door to door in the small Alabama town of Trussville while rehearsing for the Victory tour-which wouldn’t have been but a couple of hours down the road from us- and this would have been about the same time as I was receiving the visits from the father and daughter. So I am always kind of glad I had that early experience, and was at least open minded enough to listen to what they had to say. Like I said, it didn’t make me a convert, but I admired the courage it took to stand so strong in their convictions. Now, when I read about Michael sitting in some stranger’s living room (and secretly admiring the normalcy of their family life) I can imagine that he was very much like the young girl who always accompanied her father on these visits. I was just thinking about her as I was typing this, wondering if she stayed with the faith or, like Michael, eventually found a different path. She seemed so devout then, but so was Michael.

  9. Thank you for this insightful essay.
    I always wondered how hard it must have been for Michael, that he was criticized by the JW elders for something he truly felt as god given gift: all his talent for singing and dancing. It must have been very confusing to have been bestowed with those gifts from god and then to be blamed for using them freely.
    I’m very happy for him that he finally freed himself from restrictions made by a certain faith, even if this wasn’t easy for him, to be sure. But in the end I think that he wasn’t made for beeing restricted in a certain faith and he must have felt that too. It’s like going back to the roots, loving god and god’s creation with all his heart, and expressing himself with all his god given talents, and beeing deeply spiritual without restrictions or do’s and don’ts of a religios association.
    And we can be glad about his decision, not least because we would’nt have his wonderful book Dancing the Dream otherwise.

    “It ‘s strange that God doesn’t mind expressing Himself/Herself in all the religions of the world, while people still cling to the notion that their way is the only right way. Whatever you try to say about God, someone will take offense, even if you say everyone’s love of God is right for them. For me the form God takes is not the most important thing. What’s most important is the essence. My songs and dances are outlines for Him to come in and fill. I hold out the form. She puts in the sweetness.” – Michael Jackson/Dancing the Dream

    1. I agree, although all things happen for a reason and as I said, his early religious upbringing did play a large part in shaping who he became; it contributed to the unique makeup that was the man Michael Jackson.

  10. Thanks, Raven, for this wonderful post on Michael’s relationship with the JW and with Christmas. There’s a funny clip with Chris Tucker where he claims Michael called him “Christmas” instead of Chris because he saw in him the love and happiness of Christmas. Katherine converted to JW and was not, as far as I know, raised in that religion. It’s interesting that LaToya was “defellowshipped,” and she talks about this in her first book and how it affected Michael, who wept. He was not allowed to talk to his own sister after she was defellowshipped for missing meetings and not going to the Kingdom Hall. She led the way for him in terms of leaving the JW behind. I am reminded of Michael’s comment in the Glenda tapes, where he says he is torn between LaToya and Katherine–there’s a lot to that statement. Sending a beautiful Christmas wish for peace on Earth and love to all MJ fans, and a special blessing to you, Raven, for all you do to promote a deeper understanding of our dear Michael.

  11. Thanks for your insights, Raven, as always.
    Mark Anthony Neal was recently interviewed by Michele Martin on NPR about black musicians who recorded Christmas music.

    “Christmas with a Twist of Soul”
    “Duke University Professor Mark Anthony Neal discusses his favorite African-American Christmas songs. Though similar to conventional Christmas songs in spirit, his picks come with a twist of soul music.”


    It makes me feel sad to contemplate the many ironies and contradictions that Michael observed and participated in as a child, where those in authority would say one thing and do another (as you point out, Raven). At the same time, I wonder if this early exposure to blatant contradictions (having to separate how you live from how you conduct business, for example) might also account for his astonishing creative facility—especially the ways he dealt with themes of transformation, of being two things simultaneously, etc.

    Not “everyone” is at home with their family, however. (For instance, I have no family any longer.) And the sense of privation Jermaine describes was part of my life growing up. I was raised as a secular Jew, and my family didn’t much observe any religious (or quasi-religious) holidays. I quickly saw, though, that Christmas in the U.S. was more an “American” than a Christian holiday (to which extent it really *was* all about buying consumer goods), and I wanted in: probably much the same way Michael and his siblings yearned for the seductive pleasures of the holiday season.

    1. That was really interesting, Nina. Thanks for sharing. I noticed that Neal mentions The Jackson 5 Christmas album a lot as a kind of historic milestone for black Christmas music. Because of the group’s immense crossover commercial success, they were able to make an impact on the Christmas market with this album in a way that I think few black artists had been able to do before. The fact that the album still holds up and regularly receives airplay every Christmas forty-five years later is an indication of what a milestone album it is, and how timeless its appeal remains.

      “At the same time, I wonder if this early exposure to blatant contradictions (having to separate how you live from how you conduct business, for example) might also account for his astonishing creative facility—especially the ways he dealt with themes of transformation, of being two things simultaneously, etc”

      I think so, absolutely. And this goes back to what I was saying, which is that we cannot expect to understand the adult Michael became-either as man or as artist-without fully understanding the background he came from and the beliefs that shaped him. Even if his JW upbringing was more flexible than most, as we were discussing, he still experienced those contradictions-i.e, being denied the ability to celebrate Christmas but expected to record Christmas music for other kids to enjoy (through countless generations, it might be added); being booked into strip clubs and encouraged by Joseph to crawl under tables and peek up women’s skirts, then going home to a devout mother and having to keep these things secret. Absolutely all of this and more would have had an impact on his psyche.

      For me, the idea of “being at home with family” is more of a metaphor that can simply stand for spending Christmas in whatever way brings comfort and happiness. One thing that my sisters and I all experienced growing up was the misfortune of sharing December birthdays. Mine is on the 31st; my middle sister on the 16th, and my youngest sister on the 21st. (I do have two younger half siblings, but I’m talking about the three of us who grew up together in the same household). Some people think that December birthdays are a blessing because it means double gifts. Not so in our house, though. We always had to choose whether we wanted a Christmas present or a birthday present. Or, more often, we would get the inevitable single gift that we were told. “is your Christmas and birthday present together” Even worse for my two sisters, who were closer in age, “…and you’ll have to share it.” Needless to say, it wasn’t until adulthood that we finally learned to appreciate that at least our parents were somewhat trying, lol.

      Anyway, I hope that you are having a wonderful holiday season, and many blessings for the coming new year!

      1. I’m reading this on the 31st, realizing it is your birthday Raven. Happy Birthday! May your coming year be an awesome one.

        I’m so grateful for your nuanced, sensitive investigations into who Michael was and how he came to be the performer and man we all love. Thank you!

  12. Raven, what a beautiful, insightful, and moving article. Thank you so much. I know these articles take much time and effort, and the results show! Michael is forever grateful, as are his fans.
    Much love to you and yours.

  13. Hi, Raven–the whole hype about Christmas can get hard to handle–I had 2 memorable Christmases and neither were traditional. In one I was in a canoe on a river looking at duck nests–very a-traditional but fun. The other was this past Christmas. I was alone because I felt too ill to go to a gathering. I made myself some delicious lentil soup and just enjoyed the quiet and peace and the warm soup. We think Christmas HAS to be a certain way, but it doesn’t. Christmas is about the birth of Christ really–the child born in the stables–and about the passing of the old and the entrance of the new. Christmas was not traditional from the get-go, if we look at the ad hoc birth of Christ–so why do we try and make it so? Children learn all the hype about Christmas but maybe we need to teach them otherwise. MJ saw that it was more than a tree and so on. The worst thing IMO was the Christmas he had to go through in 93–the strip search was done right before Christmas. If Christmas is about opening the heart and sharing love, then that cruelty must have been even harder to bear then, of all times.

    1. I agree, those can be the most special ways to celebrate. For the last several years I haven’t even bothered with decorations, or going “all out” as they say. My life is so stressful throughout most of the year that I don’t really feel like adding more stress during what is supposed to be my down time. These days, Christmas in our household is a lot more like Thanksgiving-or what Thanksgiving was supposed to be, before it became merely a stepping stone to Black Friday and the Christmas shopping season. I use it now for a time of quiet reflection and for remembering to tell the people important to me that I love them. With that being said, I AM enjoying the heck out of my new Andriod tablet, lol.

      It is interesting you mention the strip search. Just a few days ago I ran upon those nude sketches of The Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick. These were full nude side sketches for which he was forced to pose for, in order that doctors could examine his condition. They made an especial note that his genitalia appeared “normal” which they said could explain his “amorous behavior” around women. It was true; although hideously deformed, in that area of his anatomy he was perfectly normal. But there was something so sub human and degrading about the whole thing. The first thing I thought of was Michael and the strip search because, just like in Michael’s case, Merrick was forced to stand naked in front of a room full of people to pose for those sketches, while an artist drew and doctors made notes, all attempting to determine his degree of “freakdom.” By all accounts, Merrick was a very shy, intelligent, sensitive, even artistic man. One can only imagine how horrific that experience must have been. I have said many times that I understand perfectly why Michael identified with Merrick. This was a classic example.

  14. Thank you Raven for this incredible write-up on Michael’s personal life struggles. How difficult it must have been for him to chose between, following his heart or following the codes of his religion. I had read in the past, that the Elders were present while Michael rehearsed his skits and how distracting that would have been for him. Fortunately Michael heard the calling of his heart and to me with that, realized his gifts were meant to be shared with all and in helping others. And I am so grateful. I too, have left the dogmas of my former religion, only to broaden my horizons in accepting that one doesn’t necessarily need to follow a particular religion to have a union with one’s creator. The Love is there for anyone and everyone to enjoy. Michael was one of the most God loving persons I’ve ever gotten to know.
    Bless him and bless his family; Prince, Paris and Blanket.
    Wishing you a Belated Happy Holidays/Merry Christmas and
    All the Very Best in the New Year <3 <3 <3
    Justice For Michael <3
    Peace and love Christiane (mj lover)

  15. Just woke up to the news that David Bowie has passed away. Another one of our icons and another piece of our youth gone.
    I am shocked .
    Coincidentally I was going to see his exposition with my best friend who is a huge Bowie fan. And who for her bday we are preparing a Bowie themed surprise party.
    Right now listening to the radio and only Bowies music is playing . Heartbroken.

    1. Yes. His illness was kept very private so people weren’t expecting it. But the Blackstar album was obviously recorded with the knowledge of his impending death. The “Lazarus” video is pure genius.

      1. Hindsight , his ‘exit ‘ indeed seems meticulously planned.
        Him being in the spotlight again, the travelling exposition, a retrospective of his whole career , celebrating his last birthday with the release of his album.
        Most of the lyrics also hint at a coming end. Eerie AND Brilliant as he was. Tickets for the exposition were sold out in advance. Must have been good for him to see he was still in demand , but also painfull, to know it was soon to end.

  16. I don’t completely disagree with Michael not being allowed to celebrate Christmas, though. The Bible has not given us any feast to celebrate, other than the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper(Holy Communion). The Bible does not make any provision for Christian believers to celebrate any of the conventional celebrations such as Christmas or Easter. This further goes to show how much Michael obeyed the Bible and also how indoctrinated he was in the beliefs of his mother’s cult(which is what the JWs are- I’m glad MJ left them in ’87).

    Christmas, itself being a festival of heathen origin, is not celebrated by the true Christian believers, simply because we do not see any command or need to do so. Why should the believers observe a false feast? Michael Jackson was, in a way, wise to not have celebrated Christmas. But, I understand that the Christmas feast is an integral part of American/Western culture, where people enjoy themselves and have fun. And, if ever Michael managed to come completely in terms with Christmas, it would be because of how much giving(a value Michael possessed in abundance) was an important part of the feast.

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