Charlotte Elliot v. Lady Gaga
Elise Gallagherasks can today’s chart-topping pop songs provide us with modern day hymns to teach the nature of God’s love to the masses?
I’m beautiful in my way
’cause God makes no mistakes
LadyGaga has, for the last few years, dominated the popular music scene with not only some of the catchiest pop songs to date but also with her passion for testing the boundaries of what is acceptable in modern culture. She has dedicated her whole life to challenging the norms and striving to shock with her every movement.
Lady Gaga has herself become a brand; a brand of which she is wholly in charge. She writes her own music, produces albums and the accompanying music videos and has created her own clothing style. But I cannot help feeling that her song lyrics are given a helping hand from some spiritual source.
Now I’m not saying that Lady Gaga is a prophet or is being guided by ‘capital H-I-M’ as she refers to God in her song ‘Born This Way’, but there is definitely an element of spirituality about her songs. Explicitly, you have the lyrics above, also from ‘Born This Way’, which can quite nicely tie up with the Christian teaching that we were made in His image. Lady Gaga has no qualms about telling us that we are beautiful as individuals because God made us.
In 1835, Charlotte Elliot wrote the words of the now popular hymn ‘Just as I Am’. Elliot had struggled from a young age with her Christian calling. In her grappling to understand what efforts she must make to come to Christ, she asked the minister César Malan for advice. His response: ‘Just come to Him as you are’.
‘As you are’ was potentially a difficult ask for Charlotte as she became a lifelong invalid from the age of 30. In accepting that God wanted her just as she was and moreover, that he had created her that way, she had to accept herself and all her imperfections in illness.
Knowing this background for me adds such depth to words like ‘Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind ... O Lamb of God, I come.’ But it’s not just those with physical restrictions who feel the need to seek acceptance of who they are.
We are loved
Whether we are perfectly healthy both mentally and physically, we are also perfectly human and as such we experience inner turmoil which makes us consider why we are loved. Yet ‘fightings and fears within, without’ we are called to come to God acknowledging that we are loved for who we are.
This Christian teaching is something which the secular world could do with hearing. Magazine after television programme after website is dedicated to promoting the ideal body shape, hair colour and fashion style. Images are used to promote the perfection of celebrity as well as mocking those who don’t quite come up to scratch.
One week a male actor can be a ‘bearded beauty’, the next he can be unkempt and slovenly. One day a female singer can be curvy, the next day she has ‘let herself go’.
In an age where perhaps the Church’s teaching is not the first place a teenager looks for acceptance, and at a time when hymns are said to be old-fashioned and are not thought to speak to the young , perhaps Lady Gaga’s lyrics can be seen as an up-to-date version of Charlotte Elliot’s prose.
Where ‘poor, wretched, blind’ is replaced with ‘gay, straight or bi’, Gaga, while controversially tackling issues of gender, sexuality and ethnicity, encourages her listeners not only to love themselves but to understand that God was behind their creation. No matter what the Church’s stance on issues such as sexuality, we have a duty to spread the message of God’s love to everyone we meet.
Spread the message
Lady Gaga may not meet every teenager who lacks self-confidence, just as Charlotte Elliot won’t have met every person who struggled with their faith, but with her album ‘Born This Way’ selling over 1.1 million copies in the United States in the first week of its release alone, her message of self-love manages to target an audience that perhaps ‘didn’t get to church that week’.
Of course, we shouldn’t leave the spreading of the Gospel message down to Lady Gaga alone, or any other celebrity for that matter. (Goodness only knows what the world’s population made of her single ‘Judas’ when she pronounces ‘Judas is the demon I cling to’!) As a committed Christian, I am just as uplifted to sing ‘Just as I Am’ in church on a Sunday as I am when ‘Born This Way’ is played on the radio.
While I am lucky to hear of God’s love from both sources, others my age and younger look only to celebrity for acceptance and guidance. Lady Gaga may not exactly be the kind of role model that the Church is willing to adopt but some of her lyrics can only be helpful in making young people feel comfortable in their own skin.
Whether they take the message away as one of Christianity or just human morality, I’m sure Charlotte Elliot would praise Lady Gaga for using her lyrical talents to encourage self-worth. I certainly do.ND
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