Stephanie Germanotta, according to an article by Rodney Clapp in the July 26 issue of Christian Century, remembers herself as an awkward teenager, bullied by her peers for being ugly with a big nose and giant eyebrows.

She was teased for her laugh, her love of the theatrical, the way she wore makeup and her constant singing. She was called many names, among them “slut.”

“I didn’t want to go to school sometimes,” she recalls.

Stephanie Germanotta’s stage name is Lady Gaga. I saw her at a D.C. rally for gay marriage and suffered generation shock at the sight and sound of her, but her message is age-old, the stuff of compassionate prophets and Jesus: “You have the right to be who you are. I’m here to tell you that I love you.”

She is a cultural phenomenon — talented, bizarre, iconoclastic. Startled at the sight of her in the media, you, as I, may have wondered, “What’s the appeal?” Clapp’s article helped me understand.

“It wasn’t until I put my music out into the world that I was able to look into myself and honor my own misfit and honor the reality of how I was treated when I was a kid, not by my family but by my peers in school, and how it affected me,” she says.

Lady Gaga’s message to her devoted fans is that it is all right to be themselves, to be the “little monsters” they are. Clapp continues, “Others may regard them as too fat or too skinny, or harass them because they are gay or otherwise different. But as Mother Monster, she reminds them that they have real worth.”

You may be asking, “Doesn’t the call to liberate the ‘little monster’ within need ethical guidelines, role modeling beyond scant costumes, brassieres that shoot sparks, costumes made of meat and intricate choreography set to original scores and lyrics?”

As past generations have tried to understand what moves the younger generation, we in our turn may wonder, “What is this generation coming to? The need today isn’t for more monsters, but more saints.”

Every age needs more saints. From my myopic perspective, we need saints now more than ever. But rather than argue that point, I ask, “How does one become saintly?”

In Christian tradition, the Apostle Paul certainly didn’t start out a saint, with his blood lust to kill Christians in the name of Jewish purity. Augustine had to come to terms with his body’s appetites before he could understand and choose to let his life be led by his spiritual longing.

Had Paul or Augustine never found the crisis and courage to face their little monsters, they could never have asked themselves what all their behavior was about. Without asking that question, they would have failed to realize that what the little monster wanted was love and respect and some modicum of leverage on their world.

Seeing this in themselves, they were able to begin seeing and understanding the same thing in others. Empathy is a step toward saintliness.

Lady Gaga speaks the truth in drag. Her invitation to those who can hear her is grace-filled. It is a call from fear to faith.

“Believe!”‘ she shouts. “The truth of existence is that love exists specifically for you, you paradoxical child of the universe, like and unlike everyone else.”

It is the same for us as it is for all the other little monsters. Until we risk the abandonment that the fear of our difference threatens us with, we won’t understand that life is not about fitting in.

Each in our way is called by love to stand before the world, as all liberated peoples have before us, singing in our unique voice, “I sing it long and I sing it loud. I’m me, that’s who I am, and I’m proud!”

That is authenticity, and that is liberation. We are liberated from the lie that love is a reward achieved by meeting someone else’s standards of success, beauty or acceptability.

Lady Gaga is unique and at the same time a member of the chorus of history’s authentic truth tellers. The chorus invites us to follow the path that leads through fear to faith, faith in love. This love sings to us to be just, liberated and liberating, respectful and rejoicing.

Following the path shapes lives of kindness, compassion, humility, courage — and it produces people willing to live for and learn from others as well as insisting on being themselves. From where I am in life and from what I’ve seen of humanity, that is as good a definition of saintliness as there is. 

Bill Gregory is an author and retired minister. He can be reached at:

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