In 2011, I watched a 60 minutes interview, Lady Gaga & The Art of Fame. It gave me a lot to think about.
A few weeks ago, Lady Gaga posted a photo explaining her tour cancellation. Last year there was another photo from Church. Both posts have caused a lot of controversy, which I don’t intend to dissect today. I do not know Lady Gaga’s heart, and am not really a fan of her music. Although I do agree with Mark Shea’s recent response Jesus founded a Church, not a club. However, in this interview from several years ago, she did give me a lot to think about.
That is, Lady Gaga talks about “Mastering the Art of Fame.”
I am not famous. I am not trailed by paparazzi. When I walk outside of the monastery, I am gladly unknown and irrelevant to every pedestrian and passerby. When I was at a high school, surrounded by adolescents, from Monday through Friday, I had a certain amount of authority and influence. On Sundays, or at other Catholic Young Adult Events, I might even carry a degree of authority or influence. Sometimes I experience this alarming fascination with Fr Mark the young priest…
Between 2009-2011, Facebook’s peak empowered people to have access to every nook and cranny of their contact’s personal life. I often felt pressure to do things, merely to have Facebook posts. Instead of attempting to capture moments, sometimes we create moments. This moment in Facebook’s conquest over my personal life accompanied a pastoral year at a Parish School. (It was expected that you add everyone on FB). Students didn’t need to see photos my friends tagged me, neither my personal friends need me to take pictures of parishioners and students. Things were tricky to say the least.
As a young priest, I experience an alarming amount of undeserved fascination. I have been monitored by students curious for my reactions to a billboard, or wanting to witness the manner I bit into an apple. In Church settings, I get stopped by women, who request access to something very personal: My vocation story. Although it is very nice for people to see that I am a human being, whether from FB, or RL, people imagine that my mundane trivia is somehow less mundane or less trivial.
Anderson Cooper reports: “They’re not just attention getting, they’re attention directing, To keep the public focused on her work, as opposed to her personal life.”
After Lady Gaga spoke on the craving of the public to see the public meltdown of the superstar, she was very conscientious and deliberate, at least according to this interview.
Even though I don’t have to bat off paparazzi, I don’t feel that I should have to answer for my day off, or answer for my vacation. Although some young people find me fascinating, it didn’t make sense for me to be constantly plugged in and accessible. (Remember when we used to say brb. We don’t anymore, we no longer leave, we live here). To some extent it is important to remind those in your pastoral care that you are a human being that does imperfect normal human things. Likewise, it is my responsibility to carve out time away from those under my pastoral care for my own well-being.
The simplest and easiest example I can name is this. I take a vow of poverty. Some older friars, or perhaps lay people have imagined that I can use the student weight room for free. I shouldn’t for liability reasons. However, I shouldn’t even want to. The community can cover a health club plan so that I have a space for my self care that doesn’t involve students or parishioners. I shouldn’t have to be limited to be with students in the weight room when I am with them the rest of the day. On a funny note, I once saw two of my students outside of my gym, interviewing pedestrians with a camera and mic. I went to the other side of the gym, simply because they would have loved to record footage of me exercising.
Although many young people might have an awkward sense of appropriate boundaries that would keep them from intruding on my private life, there are enough who won’t. I have changed my number, as it has been distributed without my permission. (Here’s Father Mark’s number in case you have a spiritual crisis in the middle of the night? He’s a priest he would never turn someone down right?) This kind of thinking can put me in risky situations. There is an office to screen calls.
People may love to see photos on social media of priests and nuns doing very silly human playful things. The thirst for a privileged behind-the-scenes view of a priest’s life, perhaps, is not too different from the public’s desire for photos of celebrities at the coffee shop. Our desire for an exclusive encounter with the divine is often replaced with a desire for a chance encounter with a celebrity at their favorite paparazzi spotted coffee shop.
So when Lady Gaga makes the difficult decision to cancel a tour, it is not too different from many priests that have seen, ready to take a vacation. Lady Gaga is being consistent and guarding her private life, and I have to hand it to her for sticking to her principals on this one. There is something very holy about sneaking away into the deserted place to speak to the Heavenly Father in secret. It became a noteworthy characteristic of Jesus, perhaps Lady Gaga this time, and I hope to God, me too when I need it.