So Lady Gaga.
Yes, you just knew that eventually she would make an appearance on this blog. A Jesuit blogger posted this in 2016 as a reflection on mercy and pop music. And here she is singing "Perfect Illusion."
Scored a couple bonus points with my students by pointing out the Buddhist allusions here. "At least now I know...you were a perfect illusion."
Then in early 2017 Lady Gaga played the Super Bowl halftime show, prompting this post from The Washington Post. From that post:
Her prayer is the same as countless progressive Christians who recoil at the hypocritical judgment of fundamentalism yet still seek to follow Jesus. She prays to an affirming God with expansive love, not a narrow-minded magician in the sky who damns nonbelievers to eternal conscious torment.
OK, that's not the usual fare on this blog, but hey, we can work with that, too. Gaga doesn't exactly shy away from her Catholic background. In fact, as that Jesuit post indicates, she actually embraces it, however imperfectly. She's not, despite the fears of some critics, a shameless secularist. C.C. Pecknold, an Augustine-leaning theologian at Catholic University, took to the Post, too, with a rejoinder about Gaga's appeal and her unhidden Catholic faith. Pecknold:
The kind of syncretism Lady Gaga is attempting, between her Catholic faith and the culture's newly-forming religious sentiments around social progressivism, is spectacular, fabulous, fascinating, but finally unpersuasive. Like all syncretism, the internal contradictions mount up beneath the surface, and can only be covered by spectacle which invokes God's name without thinking very clearly about the truth of the matter.
The recognition that every one of us has a mom and a dad, as well as the recognition that the common good of nation depends on recognizing the highest, most supreme good that is God, are coherent metaphysical claims which all Americans would do well to heed. They also happen to be claims which just don't fit well with what many of Lady Gaga's fans find most revolutionary about her.
Pecknold makes several important points, as he does with almost any topic he addresses. He's a gifted theologian to watch. Here, though, Gaga's syncretism, which he rightly criticizes, has an elasticity that admits for an occasionally purely Catholic insight. There are models of Catholic evangelization that would risk much of that syncretism to get at those few-and-far-between revelatory moments. I'm not one of them, but I also see what Gaga's aiming at.
That is, in part, the point. Lady Gaga has all these Catholic connecting points, but her arrangement thereof falls a bit to the left of Nostra Aetate. That in itself is fine
Here a fine blog post by my good friend, Ann Koshute, speaks to our predicament of recognizing the validity (at least episodically) of celebrity spiritual wanderings while maintaining the profession of our faith in divine mercy. Not really "Divine Mercy" in the St. Faustina Kowalski sense--but we could get there.
Of course, it took me weeks to jot all that down...then the Spring/Summer of 2017 happened and I didn't write anything on this post for over six months. Now, mid-September 2017, Lady Gaga has cancelled her tour due to chronic pain issues. And of course, she tweeted this news to her followers (approximately seventy million of them) with a picture of her holding her Rosary:
This prompted one of my favorite nun bloggers, Sr. Theresa Aletheia, to tweet:
Pray for @ladygaga. She had to postpone her tour & posted the pic below with explanation & a beautiful Rosary. My next Rosary is for her.
~~~~~~~ At this point we are way beyond the Madonna/Catholic symbolism snark of the 1980s. Oh no, Lady Gaga is way too subtle, and genuine, and genuinely mixed up, for that. At first, like any other academic, I scoffed.
Now I'm not so sure. She obviously endorses some perspectives/political views that the Church does not condone and occasionally flatly denies. See Pecknold's indictment cited above. That much must be admitted. Still, Lady Gaga also takes her own Catholic faith, as well as that of her family's, with all its devotional culture, equally seriously.
(Madonna, on the other hand, merely used Catholic symbolism as post-belief decoration, an ironic fashion quirk. She didn't actually believe any of it anymore, and her wearing a Rosary as a necklace was merely a smirking notice thereof. "See, I know it's not supposed to be worn this way...WHICH IS WHY I'M DOING IT.")
No, Lady Gaga might have millions of LGBTQ fans for singing "Born This Way", but obviously another part of her doesn't want to jettison all the old ways just yet. All those followers won't get you through a dark night of the soul which she, like so many of us, has faced.
Sister Theresa Aletheia is a good bellwether here; she's not one to follow any fad, cultural or otherwise, too quickly. She is a nun, after all. I think it's interesting that Father James Martin, SJ, who some might think would be a natural fan, is not the one connecting with Lady Gaga on Twitter. It's a nun, and one from an innovative yet traditionally-attired order. (The Daughters of St. Paul are a fascinating order; check them out here.)
So, keeping in mind Pecknold's criticisms to help us avoid getting too tangled in the world, we can learn something from different branches of Catholic evangelization who perceive God's presence in places we ourselves would not expect.