Reflecting On What Ben Witherington Might Say to Lady Gaga – Part 2

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As some of you may know, I have an appreciation for theology and pop-culture, and I admittedly, I get a little nerdy when the two intersect (or when I make them intersect). This is the second post in this series based on a lecture on I attended of Ben Witherington at Gordon Conwell Seminary this past fall. As he lectured on the topic of “humanity being created in the image of God”, I thought of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”.

As you may also know, I have embraced much of the postmodernity that I have found in myself. So    while Dr. Witherington made no such comparisons and while I am also admittedly not really certain of anything Gaga actually means, these are my interpretations of these respective messages and I am projecting back to these characters for the sake of these posts. Why? Among the reasons, I think contextualizing is a worthy exercise.

I think Dr. Witherington would say to Gaga, “You are right and wrong. We may be born this way, and in some sense, we need to change to become the best version of ourselves.”

Now I realize that’s outright heresy for some and potentially uncomfortable to others. The question we often ask is “Why is there a need for change? or “Why does anyone have to change?” “This is who I am, if you don’t like it, that really is your problem.”

At least, that’s what I was wondering for quite a while until I came under the realization that I am changing and frankly, so is everyone else around me. Further, I was also realizing how flawed I was, how flawed others were and frankly, how screwed up the world is.

As I tried to reconcile the madness of the world and the corruption of the human heart (with my own being “Exhibit A”), the “why the need for change” part of the question became generally irrelevant to me because I found others much more pressing. The next set of questions were more “What am I/we/they becoming?” and “How does one change in a way that is desirable for themselves, for the good of others, and for the good of the world?” or “How does one become who they want to become?” and “How does the world get better?”

I am certainly not saying that anyone needs to change to appease someone else. Further, as a Christian pastor, I would insist that God will not force anyone “to change” apart from their free will (I’m a big believer in the idea of free will, whether it be limited or otherwise). That said, the point in my first paragraph still exists, we are always changing whether we like it or not. And everything around us ifs always changing. It’s how we change and respond to change that seems to be relevant … in life but not exactly to the point of this post (so maybe more on that another time).

To all who struggle with some aspect of their identity (which for the sake of argument, is all of us). For those who don’t think they are smart enough, good-looking enough, tall enough, thin enough, cool enough, rich enough or “enough” of whatever the desired aspect is. To those who suffer from some type of disorder, for those being bullied, abused, harassed for something they do or for who they are, “Born This Way” is a great song. I too connect with it but it’s not enough.

As I mentioned in my first post, it leaves us hanging. Because from how I interpret it, it says, “You are predetermined, you should not, nor cannot do anything about it.” Then we remember that Gaga appeals to God and announces that He makes no mistakes. I am confident that I wouldn’t be the first to wonder the truth of that statement. I’ve landed on the belief that while God may not have made the mistake, creation is extremely flawed.

For all the times, we stared blankly out of windows and starred up at bedroom ceilings and wondered why our lives and our world is as it is, the idea that “we’re just born this way” or “welcome to life” or some other simple sentiment not only offers no comfort, but rather creates further distress. “I’m just supposed to accept this because I was born this way” or “born into this?”

What I like about our Christian theology is that though we are “born this way”, we and all of creation were intended to be whole, perfect, without truly any mistake. But what I like even better about our Christian theology is that God did not stop here (and stay “up there”) but through Jesus is offering redemption to all people and is at work at redeeming all things (in the Ephesians 1 sense).

A God who couldn’t stay away from the mess of the world but became one of us so that we could know Him is a brilliant and beautiful thought. The theology of the Incarnation is like God saying, “You were born this way but you were intended to live a better way. Similar to how Jesus described to Nicodemus, “You must be born again in a new way.

For me, I am unsatisfied by the “Born This Way” song because I see it lacking the hope to find meaning, purpose and identity. And in comparison, these are part of the themes of life that Jesus offers. So to return to my theme here, I think Witherington would say to Gaga, “We were all created to be people of complete love and justice, enjoying lives void of pain, evil and death, and enjoying being in communion with God. Jesus came so that we can be reborn in this way.”

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