Clinger: An offer of support inspired by Lady Gaga
Yes, I went to the Lady Gaga concert in Kansas City recently.
I’m not a super fan, I surely wouldn’t be considered one of her “Little Monsters,” but I do appreciate her music and artistry and creativity.
All in all it was a pretty remarkable 2.5 hours of entertainment. The show’s staging was extravagant (a four-story castle covered the better part of the stage), the music was phenomenal (live band with drums, bass, guitar, DJ) and the dancing was incredible.
There was language — f-bombs, for instance. There were some overly sexually explicit moments that made me feel a bit prudish. Some of it clearly was for effect and sometimes the language felt a little bit over the top, but I have never really spent much time in New York City and definitely never with the super creative type that the 26-year-old Gaga is. I did find myself wondering whether 2.5 hours spent with any 26-year-old creative genius from her New York City neighborhood would bring a comparable number of swear words.
Early in the show Gaga triumphantly proclaimed something along the lines of, “Kansas City — tonight is a night about individuality and diversity and acceptance and love and music.” The crowd went wild.
At one point Gaga called a lucky fan in the audience as part of a charity promotion put on by one of the tour’s sponsors. The young man who answered was wearing heavy eyeliner and was noticeably choked up by the idea of talking to Gaga.
“Every day I get a called a fag, and I just say, ‘Forget it,’” he said dismissively. “You set me free.”
The young man continued in what ended up being several minutes of conversation with a woman clearly an inspiration though just a few years older than he.
I must confess, it was during this phone call that I wept.
I wept because the whole conversation hit all too close to home. When I was a student at Tonganoxie High School in the mid-90s, I played football, but never really identified as a football player. I was the speech and debate and theater and band and choir kid who happened to play football. My football teammates, especially some of the guys a year ahead of me in school, didn’t know what to do with me. On multiple occasions I was slammed into a locker in the hallway while the word “fag” was thrown at me as if a punch in the stomach. During most all of those years I was dating a girl who was popular and athletic. I never questioned my sexuality, but I can only imagine the pain those shoves and slurs would have caused if I were struggling with those questions. They hurt badly enough as it was.
And so Monday night I wept because at least in some small way I could resonate with the young man on the phone with Gaga.
Shortly after the exchange with this young man, Lady Gaga took a minute to talk with the people present about the importance of safe sex and care for themselves. She explained that just because people can live with HIV and AIDS today, they shouldn’t have to. She spoke clearly and passionately in a way that brought one reviewer I read to compare her to Joel Osteen, but the arena was silent — 11,000 or so people listening intently to what she had to say. And I believe they were listening so intently because they could tell she cared. Here was a 26-year-old woman from New York providing love and support and nurture for thousands of teens and young adults in Kansas City who I fear have felt very little of that from churches in their lives (This fear based on recent research done by the Barna Group on church outsider Mosaics and Busters – 91 percent of whom said that “antihomosexual” accurately describes present-day Christianity.).
The United Methodist Church of which I am a part affirms, “all persons are of sacred worth.”
To me this means that no one, regardless of struggles they face or questions of identity with which they wrestle, should be thrown into lockers, hit, threatened or verbally intimidated.
I understand that some might be critical of me going to the show as a pastor in the first place. I understand that others might critique my remarks here as being somehow morally relativistic. I surely don’t expect everyone who reads them to agree with me and in fact encourage you to disagree with me, ask questions, and think for yourself — I encourage this of my congregation all the time.
I share these reflections and remarks because I imagine there are still students at Tonganoxie High School today being slammed into lockers and called inappropriate and ridiculous names and I imagine some of them are hurting and frightened and possibly uncertain about what to do or where to go. I share what I do here with the hope that if you are or know a young person struggling with sexual identity, you might know that there is a pastor who is willing to provide a supportive and listening ear.
— Rev. Jeff Clinger is pastor at Tonganoxie United Methodist Church.