LADY GAGA, GEORGE H.W. BUSH, AND 1,000 DRONES OF LIGHT (NOT COUNTING SEQUINS)
“We can find meaning and renewal by serving some higher purpose than ourselves, a shining purpose, the illumination of a thousand points of light….We all have something to give.” George H.W. Bush
“Do not allow people to dim your shine because they are blinded. Tell them to put on some sunglasses, cuz we were born that way.” Lady Gaga
“You are the light of the world.” Jesus Christ
On Super Bowl Sunday, at the staid and spoken (not sung) 8:00 a.m. service at the more-conservative-than-thou St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, a singer slipped in to the back pew. I doubt she signed the guest book either as Stephanie Joanne Angelina Germanotta, or as Lady Gaga. But I am certain that early in the morning on the day of one of the most important performances of her life, when 160 million would be watching worldwide, she made a point of getting grounded in God—the same empowering God she would sing about later that afternoon, the One who made her “beautiful in her way, cuz God makes no mistakes!”
On Super Bowl Sunday, when millions of Americans could not quite muster the motivation to worship lest they expend precious energy that could be directed toward making crab dip, Lady Gaga started her day by going to church, getting plugged in to the Source of Light and Life. She was fed by the holy sacraments. She was sustained by a word of encouragement from a female priest. She was inspired by the day’s gospel reading that proclaimed, in the words of Jesus, “You are the Light of the World!”
Hours later, the world would behold a radiant Lady Gaga—who once said, “I’m just trying to change the world, one sequin at a time”—silhouetted on the roof of NRG Stadium against the glimmering lights of the skyline of my hometown of Houston. She began her performance with the holy anthems of “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land” and spoke with a depth of conviction that we are “One Nation. Under God. Indivisible. With Liberty and Justice for All.” As a thousand drones of light (ok 300) transformed above her from independent shining stars to a brilliant and billowing star-spangled banner, Lady Gaga swooped down from above on a contraption that looked more Jacob’s ladder than Cirque du Soleil.
Combine her comprehensive, celebratory, inclusive, and prayerful performance with her shout-out to her parents, and a concert-ending catch that rivaled that of Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, and the world got to witness one of the greatest Super Bowl performances of all time. The Patriots weren’t so bad either. The Falcons, well, perhaps they had not begun their day in prayer.
Just before the start of Super Bowl 51, two parishioners from St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, not players or performers, made their way onto the field to the roar of fans of all stripes and political persuasions. I do not know which service they attended that Sunday at St. Martin’s, if they made it to church at all, or whether they had any idea that the half-time star had sat near their pew at 8:00 a.m. They did not move quickly, hindered by age and illness. President George H. W. Bush had only recently been released from the hospital and was confined to a wheelchair. Lady Barbara Bush—and what a lady she is, in every sense of the word—put her hands on his shoulders, standing directly behind him, a powerful image of a faithful partner who really does “have your back.” As I watched them move slowly, gracefully, and graciously toward the team captains for the coin toss, this more-liberal-than-thou Episcopal priest got a lump in his throat and a tear in his eye. The tenderness, respect, and kindness that they exuded for each other, and for all, was palpable. George’s spirit was indomitable, and his smile as radiant as all the sequins in the world. Just before he tossed the coin, doing his best to give the Falcons a chance (they won the toss), I remembered a “kinder, gentler” political climate years ago. I remembered what he called “compassionate conservatism” and his inspiring call for all Americans to engage in public and community service—a centerpiece of his presidency. I also remember his hope for 1,000 points of light, that as each one was willing to let his or her light shine in service to others, the world would be changed, illuminated, and transformed.
For a brief moment on Sunday, through the smile of George H.W. Bush, the steadfastness of Barbara, the light of Lady Gaga, and the miraculous comeback of a team called, appropriately, the Patriots, it seemed as if there was hope for America. That we might be able to put our mean-spirited pettiness and partisanship aside and work together for one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It was as if the stars were aligning to tell us that Bush’s Points of Light Foundation, the largest volunteer organization in the world, had its place in our collective life. And Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, promoting equality and empowerment, speaking out on behalf of our fellow citizens who might be bullied or denied their rights, also and equally deserved our support. Giving of ourselves, respecting the dignity of every human being, working for justice and peace—in other words, letting our lights shine—for these truths we exist as a nation. Through our commitment to these principles, to each other, and to all God’s children throughout the world, we just might come back and win this thing after all. And the light will continue to shine.