Monday, 30 May 2011

Faith, hope & Lady Gaga

On Saturday I picked up a copy of last week’s Telegraph review supplement with a picture of a ghostly young female face with pouting red lips, framed with straight peroxide hair. The caption, ‘Excess all areas’. The sub heading: ‘Lady Gaga is the world’s biggest, brashest pop star - but… does her music measure up?’ I read the article by Neil McCormick, text framing a medley of shots of the star in a panoply of her outlandish costumes. It’s one of those pieces of writing that stays with you for days after, because it touches on issues that matter to you personally - and, not to get ahead of ourselves, you feel could even in some small way impact on your future.
The 25 year old New York ‘global pop sensation‘, formerly ‘Stefani Germanotta’, garnered her huge following largely through her extraordinary flair for self-promotion via eye-popping visual panache (those costumes), a mastery for marketing and social media - 36 plus million face book fans, pushing 11 million on twitter… underpinned by raw musical talent. I first recall coming across her through using one of her less known early songs ‘Money’ in a Christmas feature about the Bradford-based debt charity CAP (Christians against poverty), made with Whistling Frog Productions end of 2009. Her twitter page image has the appearance of an unearthly statuesque creature from a sci-fi myth. As a role model for supreme ‘girl power’ and exhilarating excess, she is adored by the young and not so young the world over. She went to a Catholic girls’ school - you’ve got to hand it to this church, for all the mess it’s got itself into, it does have a knack, as with Madonna before her, for inspiring or inciting some kick ass boundary-pushing pop creativity. Some of her stunts no doubt generate their share of finger-wagging in some quarters, including some ’Christian’ ones I’m sure; I’d counter that on some level at least she’s actually a fizzing little microcosm of the endlessly varied pulsating creativity which animates the universe. A pop ambassador for God? I’m not saying you have to wave your hands and say EVERYTHING she does is awesome - a meat dress in a world of hunger might make you baulk - but overall it seems churlish and indeed beside the point to censor her excesses.

For me, the whole Gaga phenomenon this article explored, stirred up a host of questions and challenges - about faith, morality, and personal dreams and ambitions.

Self-promotion - or perhaps more fairly, promotion of your act, on this kind of scale highlights questions at the heart of the whole celebrity enterprise - about pride, ego, the place of humility. Is it just massively self-serving? I don’t think it has to be. It can’t be easy to restrain the whispers of vanity on such a vertiginous ascent. But if you keep higher values and goals in mind, such as recognition that your gifts notwithstanding hard work are just that, gifts - and that limelight presents an opportunity to speak for good - surely it’s possible to be a ‘star’ and keep your soul.

On a personal note… I won’t be alone in seeing qualities in someone like Gaga that I aspire to, or at least value. It’s often things you feel you lack isn’t it? The energy, colour, pizzazz, flowering of talent through uncommonly hard graft… there’s a danger it can cast a depressing shadow over those unfulfilled dreams and ambitions, those thwarted achievements of one‘s own past. Those things you allowed to hold you back. But you - I - don’t have to stay there. You can instead rise up and say, today is the day, now is the time, I’ve been shaken from slumber, his compassions are new every morning and there are opportunities ahead. It can breathe NEW life into your dreams. Timothy was told to ‘ stir up the gift’ in him, the church at Sardis to ‘strengthen what remains and is about to die.’

Pop culture, along with sport and a host of other modern preocupations, can seem so BIG, faith and the church so small. I’m embarked on a quest, working in radio and media, to ‘re-embody’ faith and spiritual issues, in a potentially big creative fusion with mainstream popular culture. That’s one way of expressing my dream. It feels like still relatively uncharted territory, which makes it exciting. I’m still searching, the dream is still incubating.

Finally, a verse I chanced to read today put the whole topic of greatness and achievement back into healthy perspective. The path to true greatness, Jesus said, was to serve. In that, Lady Gaga is on a level with the rest of us. She’ll be ‘great’ ultimately through using her talent to serve. And in whatever sphere of life and work we move in, we’re each called to do the same.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Love wins?

Jason Byrne, whirlwind Irish comedian on his radio 2 late night show last Saturday asked the audience if they were all atheists and there was a general ‘yes’ murmur - good sample of the liberal secular British populace there then! One said ‘I’m an agnostic’ and there was a collective intake of breath. Breaking rank!
Been reading Rob Bell’s latest book ‘Love Wins’. He’s arguing against the ‘believe the wrong things and you’ll end up in a fiery pit’ way of thinking, for a more expansive, generous view of God’s love, that persists whatever it takes, including beyond death, to draw humanity back to Godself (RB doesn‘t like the gender pronouns). The image of a parent who lets the child suffer enough of the consequences of his/her own rebellion to persuade a return to the source of happiness. He cites a Revelation reference that the gates of heaven are not shut but open, allowing people to come and go. This parallels our best human experience here and now - a readiness to forgive as soon as there‘s a sign of contrition in the guilty one. But I’d be interested to explore how such a view fits with the range of other biblical stories, images and teachings about what lies beyond death.