Lady Gaga as Liturgical Artist

Little Clergy Monsters
Little Clergy Monsters

I went to the Lady Gaga concert here in D.C. this past Monday with some of my clergy pals. Our Gaga name: Little Clergy Monsters. Gaga put on a great concert with lots of dynamics added since I saw her a couple of years ago. These dynamics hit upon some key liturgical principles.

Here's my reflection:

1) Lady Gaga's Body: Two years ago when I saw Gaga she looked like a stick--incredibly skinny. This time around she had lumps, bumps, and curves. She still wore revealing costumes, strutted her stuff, and moved with power in a changed, mature body.  Gaga's body is a key part of the show with the costume changes, and she gave us her whole self with the sense if you don't like her body, you can *uck off. No pretending or hiding of self.

2) Using the Entire Space: Beaming lights from end-to-end, confetti in the shape of shells, hearts and stars being pumped into the air, sound permeating the Verizon arena, Gaga working a huge stage with lots of movement and color.....she utilized the entire space of the Verizon center.  It was sensory-palooza for 2 hours and Gaga took advantage of the huge space and took up every nook and hook.

3) Performing in a Multi-Purpose Space: The Washington Wizards, Capitals, Georgetown Hoyas and a hoard of other groups use the Verizon Center. Up in the rafters the Baltimore/Washington Wizards banners gave witness to their (lame) playoff history. These were  up during the concert and while I tried to catch floating stars from the confetti machine, the banners caught my eye and they quickly moved into the background. The Wizards have zero connection to Gaga (except the concert being moved due to a play-off game) yet those banners weren't a distraction---more than one reality existing in a space at once.

4) Storytelling: Gaga sang "Born this Way" as a solo while playing the piano.

Gaga Type Unicorn
Gaga Type Unicorn

In the middle of the song, she paused to share her experience of being bullied growing up. Kids were crude. People discounted her talent. Gaga talked about persistence and resiliency in the face of mean shit. A few minutes later, Gaga was on a chaise lounge while people tossed rainbow unicorns stuffed with handwritten letters up on stage.

She called for "story time," picked up a unicorn, and pulled out a letter. It was from Hunter, and he wrote about being suicidal as a gay youth, listening to "Born this Way" every night on the steps of the Washington Monument, and gaining strength from her music. Hunter closed with "I love you, Gaga."

She picked up another unicorn, read the letter with a similar story: young, gay man who had been addicted due to self-loathing. "I love you, Gaga."

20,000 people at the Verizon Center were at complete attention. The intimacy she created in an arena stage  with a never before gathered group of people was incredible. Two years ago she didn't seem to care who she was singing to. This time around, she created community with her deep connection to queer culture and advocacy.

Gaga in Polka Dot Lycra
Gaga in Polka Dot Lycra

5) Vulnerability: Gaga wore her typical, lycra-based costumes. After the rainbow unicorn experience, she said, "You've shared so much with me. I'm going to share as much of myself with you as possible." Out came 3 guys who made up her costume transition team. They stripped Gaga down to her underwear and re-costumed her in a Rainbow Brite type ensemble.

Gaga was pretty  much bare-butt naked in front of us. For those 2 hours,  Gaga gave us her everything.

Physical Space + Interior Emotional Space

Two weeks ago my adorable nephew who was diagnosed with Leukemia ALL. Awful. Devastating. Hopeful.

I headed to Ohio a few days after his diagnosis to snuggle with the little guy in his room on the oncology floor at Children's Hospital in Columbus.  I was met with profound worry and fear from my brother and sister-in-law, a sunny and 75 degree disposition from my  nephew and a hospital that clearly has made the connections between healing and architecture. I'm deeply concerned about my little nephew, and, at the same time, kind of obsessed with this public, healing space.

Here is what World Landscape Architecture, who crafted the grounds of the hospital, says about the interior and exterior of Children's:

Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio is envisioned as a ‘Landscape of Healing’.  The project expands the principles of therapeutic gardens to the entire health care campus and neighboring community. The MKSK/OLIN team worked closely with the hospital architects, FKP, to integrate holistically with the landscape.

As a key principle of the design, relationships between exterior and interior spaces establish a sense of continuity and a visual connection from the inside to the lush natural materials and plants outdoors. With the theme of “a Hospital in a Park, a Park in the Hospital”, nature is carried throughout the interior with natural wood textures and imagery of animals, birds and butterflies connect people to the outdoors. The interior corridor opens a bright visual connection to the outdoors, constantly linking the user to the exterior garden.

The MKSK/OLIN team designed over six acres of greenspace, healing gardens and surrounding campus for Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, one of the largest pediatric hospitals and research institutes in the United States. Design emphasis for the new 6 acre children’s park is placed upon the beneficial aspects of creating an environmentally vibrant setting for the hospital in a park that is in effect a ‘healing’ garden as well as a community amenity. This new landscape space also extends historic 9.3 acre Livingston Park providing a continuous perimeter for the entire hospital campus. Within the new children’s park a series of healing gardens provides an amenity that is enjoyed by young patients, their families, the medical staff and neighbors. A sensory-rich maze of plantings includes lemon and chocolate mints, wild thyme, fluffy lamb’s ear, and colorful cone flowers. The gardens also include a central shady sitting area with playful seating elements, children’s climbing mounds, outdoor children’s chalk boards, an intimate area for storytelling, a moonlight garden that extends the use of the site into the evening, and an outdoor dining terrace.

The district’s primary corridors, Livingston and Parsons Avenues, were transformed into grand, canopied, civic boulevards of London Planetree, Sawtooth Oaks, and Triumph Elms. The avenues have also been re-graded to better integrate utility corridors and introduce bio-filtration rain gardens, which help absorb and filter street and sidewalk stormwater runoff. At the Parsons and Livingston intersection a luminous ‘Grove of Light,’ consisting of a series of illuminated vertical masts, defines the entry into the hospital campus.

The walls. Ceilings. Public Streets. Grass. Seating Areas. Waterfall Sounds. Bird Chirping Sounds.....it's an incredible intersection of healing, extending the experience of healing into the streets. Literally. It pushed me to ask, "when does healing begin?" When the IV with fluids started to flow into my nephew's chest port? Or when my brother and sister-in-law drove with great fear to the hospital, being met with vivid, intentional lights along the streets outside the building?

And the chapel at Children's Hospital in Columbus? Ugly. So friggin', effin' ugly. Stupid. Dumb. Ugly. Using more diplomatic words, "not my style." Dark wood. Book shelves. Adult size chairs. Low ceiling. Chairs with curtain like fabric. Chapel fail. Any anger about Crosby getting leukemia was instantly directed towards this chapel and it's complete disconnect with the rest of the hospital.

This new building at Children's was created because the old building suffered from isolation and obstructed access. Sounds like an outdated Church building + boring sanctuary.

Space matters in liturgy. When I walked into the hospital, I felt so hopeful about my nephew---he can heal here. I walked into the chapel and ran out--totally suffocating.  Healing and transformation can be experienced through a space like Children's (and I'm not talking about the chapel)  where people get this vital connection of interior and exterior--spatial and human.