|Photo courtesy Softpedia|
She rolled my hair and put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir
"There's nothin' wrong with lovin' who you are"
She said, "'Cause He made you perfect, babe"
"So hold your head up, girl and you you'll go far,
Listen to me when I say"
I'm beautiful in my way
'Cause God makes no mistakes
I'm on the right track baby
I was born this way
Don't hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you're set
I'm on the right track baby
I was born this way
Baby I was born this way...
To misfits like Paul and I, this song strums a deep chord. We understand what she is trying to do, and we feel the love behind it. She doesn't want anyone to know the pain of the outcast. Neither do we. Neither do I.
I've been a homely and misfit little girl. I am a mother. And so the pain of both resonates with me. Through those rents in my heart I can touch, even if only slightly, the pain of all the outcasts of this world, and of those who truly love them. I feel immediate comfort and relief in being acknowledged and valued by the Lady. I welcome her words with a hungry heart...so far as I can believe them.
I believe, as my Bible tells me, that every human life is created in the image of God. Experience, too, leads me to agree that every human life comes with its own singular beauty, its imprints of the divine. In my own case, those imprints can be seen in my creativity, intelligence, love of truth, capacity for compassion, and, possibly most notably in my conscience, which informs me, whether I want it to or not, of when I'm doing wrong - when I am cruel, unkind, or unloving, when I've cheapened the image of God in another, or in myself. (See Romans 2:14-16.)
It is true that God makes no mistakes. I believe that with all my heart. I was created in the likeness of God, but I am not God. I do make mistakes, and some of the terrible things I've done were no mistakes at all. And I know I'm not alone in this. Life, in the many cruelties I've witnessed, been subjected to, and committed myself, has convinced me of the truth of these words, "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).
By all accounts, I was angry from my earliest days. My mother blames the hospital, which would not feed me when I was hungry, but only on their schedule, even if I had thrown up every meal, which is reportedly what I did. Whether that is the cause or not I cannot say for sure. All I know is that my earliest childhood memories are shrouded in rage. Every ounce of love I felt was cancelled out by an ounce of anger or hatred. One of my earliest memories is of finding a kitten and trying to pick it up, to hold and pet it. It hissed and squirmed and scratched. Enraged, I tried to strangle it. I'd nearly killed it before I suddenly realized what I was doing. Horrified, I stopped. From that day forward I knew something. I was a little monster. I could kill. I was terrified. I buried my secret deep and did my best to build walls around it. I could never let it out, never embrace it, never dare feed or nurture it.
I was born this way....or you might argue that I wasn't: it wasn't nature; it was nurture. But, I ask, what is the difference if the end result is the same? I cannot undo it or change it, and I certainly cannot celebrate it.
In the official music video for Born this Way, a stunning work of art that is too dark in its themes and too disturbing and graphic in its violent birth imagery for me to feature here. Lady Gaga begins by telling a tale, a myth really, a sort of theodicy. She tells of the Mother Monster giving birth in a "government-owned alien territory in space". It's an infinite birth, to a "race within the race of humanity". This race "bears no prejudice, no judgment, but boundless freedom." But on the same day as this wonderful birth came another, terrible birth: the birth of evil. The force of these two births split the mother in two and "rotating in agony between two ultimate forces the Pendulum of Choice began its dance. It seems easy, you imagine, to gravitate instantly and unwaveringly towards good. But she wondered, 'How can I protect something so perfect without evil?" In this creation account, evil is necessary as a defender of good.
Perhaps, were Gaga's myth true, she would have to argue that the misfit that is Me is not a part of this special race of humanity. Because in my life, the evil monster has never had the slightest interest in protecting the likeness of God in me. In fact, it has done all in its power to destroy or deface it. The monster in me is a narcissist and lives to make excuses for itself. It does not respect my conscience; it tells me to ignore it. It tells me to make excuses for my behaviors, that I don't need to change. It encourages me to shift the blame for my actions to others. It tells me all my desires are good, and leads me to view my fellow humans as means to my own pleasures and gain, or to resent them as obstacles to my happiness, or to just ignore them as irrelevant to my needs. This is the character of my monster. This is the character I was born with. The only time it protects or celebrates what is good and noble, is when it is to its advantage, so it can puff up with pride and self-righteous superiority.
In reality, it is only the good in me, the law of God written on my heart, which gave me my earliest glimpses of myself as I really am. It is the good in me which all of my life has led me in my feeble efforts to silence my monster. But the truth is, my monster does not wish to be silenced, so in the many years of my life it has altered its form. It's mellowed with age. It's grown wiser. It's found ways of self-expression which are more societally acceptable. My monster hears the words of Born this Way and whispers, "Yes, let me out! Celebrate me! I'm nicer now. I'm wiser. I won't hurt you or anybody else anymore. I've reformed." Self-deception is what enabled me to look myself in the mirror each morning for forty dark years. My monster is a liar.
I agree with Lady Gaga that God makes no mistakes, and that He made me. But I will never blame Him for the evil in me, or try to re-label my evil as good. Changing the words will not change my heart. And a new heart is what I really need. I cannot accept any message of hope that does not first acknowledge that there is something really wrong with me. You cannot tell the little girl strangling a kitten that there is nothing wrong with her. She KNOWS something is wrong, and she is terrified. Accepting the condition will not change it. Self-acceptance and morality-shifting may at times provide temporary relief, but they will ultimately fail to provide lasting peace or happiness.
Embracing the monster does not make it any less a monster. Neither does trying to make it behave. I know this from a lifetime of trying. My mother tried to subdue it. Society tried to subdue it. Religious legalism tried to subdue it. I tried to subdue it. All these efforts met with some success. I've never been as bad as I could have been. But the monster lived on, getting away with whatever it thought would not rain too much trouble down on its head. I didn't need the monster tamed, I needed it dead.
One of the things I've learned from contemplating Born this Way, is that Lady Gaga's aspirations are little different than those of the religious fundamentalism she appears to be reacting against. Both seek theonomy: "the state of an individual or society that regards its own nature and norms as being in accord with the divine nature." Both believe peace belongs to the person or society that achieves it. Both think morality is the key to being in accord with the divine nature. Lady Gaga believes that morality is defined by the individual, who is already perfect by virtue of creation. And so the key to peace and happiness is found in accepting oneself and one's morality, and everyone else's as well, because that is the divine nature. The religious fundamentalist believes that the key to individual and societal peace is obedience to a single standard of morality (which standard, ironically, will differ depending upon the particular religion and interpretation of it). Unfortunately, both are wrong. The monster is too deadly to embrace, and cannot be tamed. Morality is not the key to personal or societal peace. This is why Lady Gaga's kind and well intentioned words provide only limited comfort. (It's hard to resist someone who defends you so fiercely and accepts you so unconditionally as Gaga does, and therein lies the root of the devotion of her fans.) My condition is dire and has been from Day One. I'm not the person God made me to be. I've always known it. The law of God written on my heart testifies to it. I've done so much wrong in my life. Yes, there were often extenuating circumstances, and I was not the only guilty party. Ultimately, though, I have no one to blame but myself for my own decisions, my own actions, and my own attitudes. There is no hope for me in any message that does not acknowledge that plain truth, or in any message that tells me everything will be better if I will only resolve to do right from now on. And this is at the heart of why I am a Christian.
In Christ, justice and mercy kiss each other because Christ is both "just and the justifier of the one who has faith" in Him. (See Rom. 3:26) The perfect God, whose standards of perfect love I've violated my whole life, loves me. (He loves you, too.) Christ, who knows my sins better than I do, and knows that I can not and will not change of my own accord, died the death that was meant for me and took the monster, and my guilt to the grave with Him. He rose from death by the power of God, and now by the same power gives new life to me and to everyone who puts their confidence in Him. He came to save sinners and I am so glad - because I am a sinner!
The video below is Lady Gaga's live performance of Born this Way at the Grammys. I would give it an R rating. Viewer discretion is advised.