Take care and be diligent in guarding yourselves, that you do not forget those things which your own eyes have seen. ..
|Madonna lactans by Ambrogio Bergognone|
For a few years now we have been told that the emerging spiritual yearning at the beginning of the 21st century is for groups which come together for the purpose of meaning-making, as opposed to being told what to believe. This is the difference between those who are “spiritual” and those who are “religious.” Recently I was asked what meaning-making entailed. Here is what I think it is about:
Let’s say you’re an adult of the sixties and a huge fan of the Beatles. You even get to see them in concert, an event which ranks as one of the highest moments of your life not only for the music, but also for everything the Beatles are and represent. The Beatles break up and the best you can offer your children is the Beatles Experience. A band that copies not only Beatles music, but also their mannerisms, haircuts, accents, and so on, but you know they lack the je ne sais qua of the real group. By the time your grandchildren arrive all that is available is a cover band playing Beatles’ songs, yet having nothing else in common with the original. Now the great grandchildren are on hand and it’s the symphony’s Beatles night, no guitars to be found, little less anything resembling the iconic rock band from Liverpool. This simulation of a simulation for which the original is forgotten is called a “simulacrum.”
It has been suggested that our society’s religious imagination is lost in a never-ending simulacra of god-images in which the authentic God is no longer represented, and therefore, no longer present. “‘This mad pursuit of images’ has led to the point where images no longer represent anything other than other images or previously stated ideas… (W)e no longer have contact with the simulation’s original meaning” (Richard Lindsay, God, Sex, and Popular Culture, in Queering Religion, vol. 2).
Lindsay gives us a more contemporary example: In our culture the singer Madonna is probably the most public simulacrum. Her career has largely been wrought with the mixing of sexual and religious symbolism. Taking the stage name “Madonna” put us on notice that “the Mother” was amongst us. She proved, however, only to be a simulation and not the real thing. Madonna could only be “Like a Virgin,” she could only offer up something “Like a Prayer,” and in the end could give an “Immaculate Collection” (a greatest hits album), but no real birth. In spite of all Madonna’s energy, talent, and passion there is no real presence supporting the symbols. They could not lift the veil between the Sacred and the mundane. They were unable to show us a path into the future. They did not speak to our point of deepest need, walk with us on our journey, or build a bridge to connect us to God. An authentic “Mother” never arrived and the presence these symbols promised never materialized – at least in public.
Lady Gaga enters the scene also playing with sexual and religious taboos; by her own confession an intentional mirroring of Madonna. Yet, as Lady Gaga handles the symbols she also makes meaning out of them, and in making meaning invokes the presence the symbols point to. In the hit song Born This Way, Gaga shares her journey of integrating her bi-sexuality with the image of God as creator. She begins with the familiar Madonna playbook of affront, “It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M.” Gaga then leads us through the reflections of her own mother – her initial “group” for meaning-making. “There’s nothing wrong with who you are” she quotes her mother, “‘cause He made you perfectly.” With this image of the creator God who makes those on the margins perfect, Gaga is able to declare, “I’m beautiful in my way, ‘cause God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.”
Both performers play with the same taboo combination of sex and religion. But where Madonna’s symbols were empty of any real presence and could only be used to scandalize, Gaga used her mother’s reflection on God’s creativity to add meaning to God as the designer of diversity. In this act of meaning-making the symbols reveal God, open up a path forward, bring healing, join us on our journey, and connect us to the heart of the Sacred.
If we who are queer are going to find and not forget God, then we must share reflections on our living so as to comprehend in our living the acutal presence of God as Lady Gaga does – which by the way is what the bible calls “incarnation.”
I fully admit that this is risky and messy. Queer theological reflections will not be systematic, or biblically based, or give heed to tradition. If anything such reflections will offend hetro sensitivities. However, there is a chance that these reflections and their conclusions will be organic and authentic, inviting into our lives the very presence of what has become – due to the simulacrum loop – an elusive God.