Born This Way - Gaga and the Caterpillar

I have a confession to make. This will shock some of you; for others it will merely confirm your suspicions. Some of you will think I am less spiritual; some of you will find yourselves identifying with me in a new way. Are you ready for it?

I like Lady Gaga.

Picture courtesy of someone else's site.
I know, I know! She’s crazy and she wears strange clothing and walks outside dressed in meat. She’s in your face, and you hear her when you’re just innocently shopping in the mall, or you see her in constant news articles and you’re so tired of her.

But listen! She has an incredible voice—it’s strong and powerful and multi-textured. And her songs are so catchy! Those dance beats and vocal tricks leave you playing the songs in your head hours later. It’s pretty compelling, you have to admit. Even her craziness has its own bizarre fascination.

But here’s what I really like about Lady Gaga. One of her missions is to create a space for people to be different from the mainstream. When I was in my early teens, I had a t-shirt that said, “Be different. Anyone can be like everybody else. (Romans 12:2).” It had this smiley face on it with crazy rainbow hair sticking up and crazy earrings. I wore that shirt till it disintegrated. It was the best shirt ever. When I was in high school I was often friends with people who didn’t fit the mainstream—they weren’t white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, but were nerds, anime kids, freaks, goths, or others who didn’t fit the norm. There was an acceptance there, in that collection of nonconformists, that I didn’t find in church for years. In my church youth group during middle school and most of high school I was a public school kid among private- or home-schooled kids. I staunchly refused outward measures of conformity like makeup or tight or revealing clothing, could never have afforded Timberlands (those were the rage at the time), a Patagonia jacket (Oh, the trials of seventh grade!), or Abercrombie clothing. I had big, bushy hair, big eyebrows, and nose hairs (I remember vividly being publicly teased for that. I still have nose hairs. People can get over it). I didn’t know how to act like American kids, having grown up in Zimbabwe, and I was undergoing major reverse culture-shock, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I was also interested in art, reading, and the accumulation of random facts rather than finding boyfriends and seeking serial relationships. I wore bell bottoms and tie dye and freely got paint on myself in art class. As you can imagine, all of these things together landed me with a lot of painful labels, both at church and at school. But church especially was not the safe place it ought to have been. It was the sort of herd that killed its own weak. Other kids were so caught up in their own little worlds of jockeying for popularity or being close to the reigning lords and ladies that they disassociated themselves from the outliers as brutally as possible. I treated those few who were lower on the social ladder than myself badly at times. Scars linger today (probably for them too). I still have to stop at times and intentionally forgive people. As Jesus says, “They know not what they do.”

When I had finished college I was offered the opportunity to team-teach a Sunday school class at my dad’s church—7th through 12th grade girls. A couple of the girls in the class were just that little bit different from the accepted norm for the American teenager, and I saw that in them and loved it. I felt that one of the reasons I was there teaching was to make it a safe place for those girls to “let their freak flags fly”—to be different in church and have that be okay. I didn’t do this perfectly, but I definitely tried. This is the main reason I like Lady Gaga—her mission is close to that of my own heart.

Gaga and I have a key difference, though, and I ask you to keep reading, to understand that I am not interested in condemning, belittling, or otherwise harming anyone. One of my majors in college was English Lit, so when I listen to songs or read poetry or literature, I can’t help but analyze it. A good friend once told me, “All communication is an attempt at persuasion,” and music is communication that definitely seeks to implant a message. I ask that you would be willing to listen to the statements I make and then think critically about my statements and about what you listen to when you listen to Gaga.

One of Gaga’s main messages comes across in her song “Born This Way” (lyrics here). It’s a major message of our culture. The heart of it is, “The way I am is the way I am, and no one should judge me or seek to change me. You can’t tell me there is anything wrong with me. No outside standard applies to me, because I was born this way.”

I would like to examine this message from the perspective of a follower of Jesus Christ, and I hope you will hang with me through it. I hope to present an idea even more affirming and progressive, something that will impart hope rather than condemnation, growth rather than stagnation, a personal challenge rather than a temporary ego-stroke.

I was not born this way—not physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. Physically, I was born naked, red, and scrawny, screwing up my eyes against the light. My first act of communication was a ragged cry as I was forced to take my first breath of air. I could hardly see, could not recognize faces, had little control over my hands and feet, and was incapable of communication. But love did not leave me there. Love in my parents fed me, clothed me, cleaned me when I soiled myself (Don’t worry, you too once soiled yourself. You were born that way too). Love listened eagerly for my first words, attended my growth watchfully. Love allowed me to fall so I could build the muscles to get up and walk, love allowed me to cry myself to sleep at night so I would learn the strength to become independent, and love gave me spankings to teach me that actions have consequences. Love tended my wounds and bore with me as I grew and began to understand the world around me. Love allowed me to grow and to leave home so that I could act as an adult and set out to love people myself.

I was not born this way emotionally. As a baby and then a young child, it was all about me. I cried to get my way, threw tantrums, lied, attempted to steal (was caught), hit, kicked, and bit others to assert my own supremacy. As a baby I woke my parents through the night screaming, not hungry but just wanting attention, demanding it for me, me, me. Love has been bringing me through that too. My parents taught me to consider others, to think about the effects of my actions on others, to put others first. And when I was six years old, Jesus entered my life and taught me about His love for others. He showed me true selfless love in His sacrifice on the cross for me. He died so that  I could live, illustrating His own words: Greater love has no man than this, than that a man should lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). I won’t lie, it’s still mostly about me. Until I die I will struggle with that. But it’s a process. Love took me past what I was born to be and started me on a new path.

I was not born this way mentally. When I was born, my mind was a vast emptiness ready and eager to be filled with the adventure of discovering life. Over the course of years I learned control over my hands and feet, moving from severe frustration as a baby with hands that didn’t always do what they should to a place of fine control where I can type, play guitar (a bit), paint, write, draw. Once I looked at picture books, then I read children’s books, and now I can read as an adult reads. Love didn’t leave me where I began. My parents taught me letters, taught me to read, so that I was reading before I entered first grade. Teachers with a passion for the next generation passed on knowledge—reading, math, how to write, science, history. My parents passed on a love of learning, and many teachers and later professors imparted their loves and passions to me, even though this lazy head did not always appreciate it come test time.

I was not born this way spiritually. I was born broken, estranged, alienated from God and an enemy to God, without God and without hope in the world. I was born in the image of my father Adam, who once knew the glory of God intimately, had felt the breath of God enter his own lungs as his first conscious sensation, but who had lost the glory and died on the inside in Eden. I was born with eternity in my heart (Ecclesiastes 3:11), but no way to tap into eternity with any assurance of acceptance there. But love didn’t leave me there. Love stepped out of eternity, entered the world as a baby, was born in our likeness with our helplessness and temptations, and lived our life to identify with us. Love gave His all, endured cruel gossip and name-calling, complete ingratitude, and the betrayal and abandonment of His closest friends, died a horrible death on a cross, and identified with us in our brokenness and alienation from God. Love took on all of our guilt and shame and felt all of the consequences for every hurt we had given or received from another. Love became one of us and died as one of us. Love felt all of our pain. But it didn’t end there. Love Himself rose again after three days in the grave, showing us all that our sins were fully paid for, that our shames had an end, and that life exists for us through death, in eternity and beyond, that we can enter eternity as beautiful and accepted children. That Love chose me before the foundation of the earth to know Him. When I was six years old He reached out to me and woke me from death to new life as I trusted Him, and He has entered with me into this process of life and growth, to set me on new paths daily, to renew my mind, to grow me constantly, even through pain and hurt and my own foolishness, to make me like Him.

Taken from here.
Our culture would like for us to accept ourselves on the basis of being “born this way.” I agree with the sentiment of being able to love ourselves, but I suggest that she has a limited understanding of who we are as people. An earthworm is born as an earthworm, very much (though not totally) resembling what it will be as an adult. A butterfly starts out as a caterpillar. At the end of its life it is distinctly different from the way it was born, and much more beautiful. It begins as a humble crawler, but it ends as a creature of the air.  It is born twice—from the egg in humility, but from the chrysalis in glory. As people we have much more in common with butterflies than with earthworms. In fact, Jesus even says, if you want to see the kingdom of heaven, you must be born again, born from above. A very wise man didn’t understand Him when he said this, asking if he had to crawl back into his mother and be born a second time, and Jesus replied that we have a physical birth and a spiritual birth (John 3). We must be born again in our spirits. And the glory of the second birth, though it is unseen, far surpasses the glory of the first birth, though it is itself wondrous. The apostle John speaks of this: “See how great a love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God, and we are! On account of this the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet appeared. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is” (I John 3:1-3).  We as Christians are people who have entered the process of metamorphosis. And Scripture bears this out. When Jesus stood on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, He was transformed in front of them. His glory so shone that they couldn’t handle it and fell on their faces. The word that the Bible uses for this process is the word from which we get metamorphosis—the inside potential coming out in beauty. Jesus isn’t the only one who gets to do this. The apostle Paul tells us in Romans, “Do not be conformed [pressed into the mold of] to this world, but be transformed [metamorphosed] by the renewing of your minds, that you might prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (12:2). We are people in the midst of transformation. We are in the chrysalis, but one day we will be butterflies.

To go back to the beginning of this discussion, I am still a nonconformist, still pretty different from the mainstream. My dad has referred to me as an iconoclast. I still struggle to fit in, still struggle with the labels people have put on me. But, in the main, I love and accept myself. Not because I was born this way, but because I am utterly loved by God, grounded in this process of metamorphosis with Him, and accepted by Him in the Beloved, Jesus. God thought me worthwhile enough to send His Son to die for me, so I am infinitely worthwhile. I am not perfect, but I am lovely. You are too.

I would ask you, if you are struggling with understanding who you are, and if you are struggling with the things people say about you, not to react immediately and respond, “I was born this way!”  If you take a good look at yourself, you’re pretty different now from who you were when you were born. Don’t accept your culture’s label for you, just as you don’t want to accept the labels of others. Instead, I would ask you to reflect on a few questions:
  1. What was I really born like? What did I look like then, and where do I see growth in my life now?
  2. Am I basing my sense of self on what others say about me—others who really don’t know me and have no right to a defining opinion—even others I admire? Am I labeling and judging myself (I Corinthians 4:3b “I do not even judge myself.”)? Am I willing to abandon even the labels I have chosen in order to find out who I really am?
  3. Do I see myself as set in one mode since birth, or am I capable of transformation—metamorphosis?
  4. When people who love me point things out in my life, are they judging and condemning me, or do they see a place where I need to grow—are they, in love, not leaving me where I’ve started?
  5. Have I truly been born again, begun this journey of metamorphosis? If so, am I viewing myself in light of my first birth or my second birth? If not, am I willing to investigate that process?
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. You are a beautiful person, with eternity in your heart, full of the glory of God and able to grow daily into more glory and more beauty. May you walk in full assurance of the Love that never just leaves you where you were born.

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