On Gaga and My Own Failure to Be an Activist

It was on Twitter that I saw that before Lady Gaga jumped onto the stage at Super Bowl LI, she sat in a pew at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. In that arena, she heard the Rev. Sarah Condron preach that “our identity begins and ends in Jesus, no matter the circumstances, no matter the context.” You can hear the full sermon here.

Were these words ringing in her ears as she began her performance in that other arena on the other side of town?

Back in 2010, I was in Deering Park in Portland, Maine where I heard Lady Gaga proclaim to a cheering crowd that “equality is the prime rib of America.” It was in that same year that she attended the MTV Video Music Awards in a meat dress. The dress, she explained then, was symbolic of what would be left if we don’t stand up for what we believe in and fight for our rights.

I was in that crowd cheering for Lady Gaga and awaiting an end to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but during the Super Bowl, I wondered where that same advocate was.

I listened closely to her words and joined in singing popular hits from her 2008 and 2011 albums. I remember how powerful these songs were when they were first played on the radio. They were a light for all kinds of “Little Monsters” who didn’t feel that they were worth their salt and I was waiting for these old hits to become anthems of hope and inclusion for little monsters that the original lyrics didn’t include. Rather than singing a protest song written by Woodie Guthrie 73 years ago, why didn’t she give us new protest songs?

“Born This Way” could have become a ballad to speak to Muslims and immigrants and people of color with a new language of hope, love and inclusion.

She could have given “A Million Reasons” why her very identity as a Christian, the same one she heard about in church that morning, requires she not walk away from democracy but to resist. But, she didn’t. She sang the same old lyrics we heard on the radio when the songs first debuted.

I wanted to hear more from the woman who reminded the people in that crowd seven years ago that as citizens “we have the right to grieve, to protest. We have a right to this rally.” She didn’t give us a new rallying cry. Instead, she said to those of us watching, “We’re here to make you feel good. Wanna feel good with us?”

Quite frankly, no. I don’t want to feel good anymore than I want our churches to be full of nice people. Christianity is about more than being nice though I’ve heard it said plenty of times that that’s all there is.

It’s that same refrain that I’ve heard from those that are sick and tired of hearing about change. They want to go back to the way things used to be. They don’t want there to be such a fuss. They don’t want to be pushed but want to be able to sit pleasantly in the pew as if there is nothing wrong with the world.

It’s those same people that think Jesus never got angry but was more the meek and mild type that didn’t ever ask too much of anyone or anything.

Maybe I’m frustrated because I just read that only 8 percent of adults are interested what understanding pastors like me have gleaned from studying the scriptures when it comes to the big issues that are being abolished one after the other by presidential decree, but it is also why I was so looking forward to hearing a pop star suggest new policies and maybe even a regime change just as I saw her do seven years ago.

I want to believe that sitting that pew that morning changed her. It gave Lady Gaga courage and strength even if it wasn’t all that political.

If the sermons that we might hear in church on Sunday aren’t going to turn the tables, then let someone who is not afraid to sing her faith — someone like Lady Gaga — take to the stage in the church of football and advocate for the expansive love of God that includes all of the little monsters of today.

But, she didn’t so I’m left wondering if the words any of us might preach on Sunday morning might lead to the change we need. Even more than this, I’m wondering about my own activism. After all, I was there at that protest seven years ago too. I may not have been on stage at that particular rally but I had lots to say in the pulpit about LGBT rights. So now, I’m wondering about my solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the many ways that I don’t speak out for those that I believe in my heart God loves most. Why am I waiting for another to speak? Why am I mad when a pop star doesn’t use her bully pulpit well when I could focus that rage upon my own acts of love and justice?

It’s easier to condemn others. Jesus had something to say about this. It’s a tradition that lived beyond him as Christians remind each other not to judge. God will do that for us. But, at such a time as this, should we not also judge ourselves? Should we not question our own actions? Shouldn’t we practice what we preach?

This is my fifth post for #52essays2017 shared here. (I am behind on my writing.) You can find more of my words over on my blog cookingwithelsa.org.