“No matter who you are, no matter what you did, no matter where you’ve come from, you can always change, become a better version of yourself.” ~ Madonna
Posted by Damon Wallace on March 18, 2012
Denise was a good Christian. I know she was a good Christian, because when I worked with her at a call center in the early 1990’s, she reminded me that she was a good Christian frequently. She loved all things Jesus, even brought a bible to work, which she’d fuss over and highlight in between calls.
I was no stranger to good Christians. My mom’s family was Catholic, my Dad’s family was Baptist, and I was educated by nuns up until high school. All of them were good, honest, hardworking people, but their time with God tended to be more intimate, not so brazenly in my face. Something about Denise’s Christianity was more aggressive. It felt more offensive, or at least I felt more guarded and guilty around her.
Back in the early 1990’s, I was but a wee queer, still somewhat closeted and not yet at peace with my homosexuality. The output resulted in me being a mild mannered, agreeable, clean-cut banker by day / boy crazy, booze guzzling, sinner by night. So while Denise rubbed many of my coworkers the wrong way, I entertained her biblical ramblings, even when her venomous sermons were directed at gays.
In a sense, I saw Denise as my penance, a reminder of how unchristian I had become.
Once upon a time, Jesus and I had also been tight. As a boy, while others fantasized about being astronauts and cowboys, I dreamed of becoming a priest. While I wasn’t as fanatical as Denise and didn’t highlight a bible or jeer those who did Jesus wrong, I was still moved by his sacrifices and inspired by his teachings. Like Jesus, I was also in it for the love and wanted to encourage others to be more compassionate and kind.
My childhood aspirations were short lived, however, and by the early 1980’s, when puberty kicked in, my relationship with Jesus grew strained. While I still wanted to invite others to be more charitable and loving, upon realizing that I was gay, it became apparent to me that the priesthood wasn’t my calling. I also began to question whether my bond with the Son of God would endure the test of time.
Before coming out to anyone, I came out to Jesus. When we were alone, I would ask him to absolve me of my sins, to give me the strength to overcome my urges. My efforts proved to be futile, however. With time, my desires only grew stronger and confiding in Jesus became increasingly awkward. Around him, I felt defeated and perverse, undeserving of his friendship and attention. Despite my hopes to the contrary, I feared, in the end, I would only let Jesus down.
As a result of the friction, although it pained me to do so, I made a conscience decision: I stopped praying and parted ways with my childhood companion. I didn’t see my separation with Jesus as succumbing to sin, so much as I saw it as a recognition that Jesus and I had outgrown one another. There were some lessons in life, I concluded, Jesus wouldn’t be able to teach me. If I was to have a role model that would accompany me into adulthood, I needed someone that would be less prudish and, dare I say it, more forgiving.
I didn’t have to wait long.
Perhaps it was divine intervention, but in the absence of Jesus, I soon found solace in another, a woman who seemingly couldn’t be more divergent than the Son of God… Where Jesus and I had parted ways, Madonna found me: wounded and alone, needing to be healed.
While comparing Madonna to Jesus may seem blasphemous, her influence on me throughout my adolescence and adulthood would prove to be equally profound. While Madonna may be unsung by the church, she would nonetheless play a critical role in liberating me from the demons that haunted me as a boy.
In Madonna, I found a new religion. Where Christianity had been sterile and claustrophobic, Madonna was inclusive and lighthearted, a testament that life should be lived without judgement and inhibitions. Like some mystical priestess ordained in rosaries and lace, she invited me to envision a world less monochromatic and stale, where people were more diverse and festive, and even a gay kid like me was welcomed to the party.
Admittedly, the gospel according to Madonna is grittier and more taboo. For me, it proved to be a tale about coming of age. Throughout my missteps, heartbreak, and tears, however, Madonna’s voice and optimism would ground me, make the angst of coming out all the more bearable. While friendship with Jesus came with prudence and stipulations, in Madonna I found my rebel heart, a role model that supported my sexual independence and explorations into adulthood.
In effect, Madonna would do what Jesus had been unable to accomplish: she inspired me to live my life, not a lie.
As a rebellious teenager, I assumed that I was drawn to Madonna for her defiance of the church. And while I found her capacity to provoke and agitate validating, looking back on 1984 and all the years that followed, with age I’d come to realize that my attraction to Madonna was more wholesome and noble than I initially thought.
While on the surface Madonna and Jesus may appear to be polarizing figures, the more I pondered my relationship with both, the more I realized: I was drawn to Madonna for the same reason I gravitated to my estranged childhood friend. While the paths I traveled with each were divergent, the destination was the same.
Like Jesus and me, Madonna was also in it for the love. And like all inspiring gospels, Madonna’s came with a moral, and it was as simple as it was profound: celebrate life, love unconditionally, and when the moment presents itself, never shy away from a dance floor.
To highlight the parallels of both my mentors, ironically, I had Denise – the good Christian – to thank.
“Poor is the man whose pleasures depend on the permission of another.”
By the time I met Denise, Jesus and I had been estranged for a decade, so engaging her was like hearing about an old childhood friend but discovering how much he’d changed. Through Denise I learned that Jesus had become more spiteful, angry, and judgmental, far less friendly than the generous man I knew as a boy. He’d gotten bitter with age, had a scowl embedded into his face…
To my dismay, Jesus had done the unthinkable: he’d become a hater.
But then one afternoon, while Denise was speaking in tongues and my coworkers were gouging their eardrums with letter openers, I had an epiphany. I noticed the cops talking to the Director of Operations, and if there was anything that would help me reevaluate my religion, it was watching my boss escort the police towards me when I had a bag a weed in my backpack. Before I could fall to my knees and beg for forgiveness, however, I realized something: the police weren’t there for me. They were there for Denise, who I’d soon discover had been embezzling money from customers.
I learned an important lesson that afternoon. I was naive to take Denise at her word. Had I been paying attention to her actions instead, I would’ve realized Denise wasn’t so Christian after all. She participated in potlucks begrudgingly, yet she ate more than her share. She never pitched in when extra hours were needed or a coworker’s shift had to be covered. And perhaps most telling of all, she always rushed customers off the phone, so afterwards she could judge and mock them, determine who was going to heaven or hell by their debits and credits.
Although I never claimed to be otherwise, I was guilty of being unchristian the afternoon Denise was arrested. I took satisfaction in seeing her led away in handcuffs. I was comforted by her hurt expression, when I announced to my coworkers, “There goes a good Christian woman.”
I realized that day that Jesus never left me. Like many gay people, I was guilty of allowing others to influence my identity and self worth. While I hadn’t encountered the likes of Denise when I was a kid, the church had nonetheless led me to believe that being gay was a sin. In doubting myself, regrettably, I had enabled others to define my relationship with God.
While I am no longer religious, and I don’t actually think Madonna is the Messiah, is it so unfathomable to consider that instead of a son, God might send us his spirited baby girl? And are we foolish and naive to assume such a woman would be pure and the void of sin? To me, that doesn’t sound like much of a trial or tribulation.
It’s easy to see Madonna as the devil incarnated, there to lure a generation into a life of sin. Yet it’s for that reason I am a disciple, why I find Madonna fandom as validating as I do liberating. Because to truly appreciate Madonna, after all, I resisted the urge to judge and mock her. I had the proclivity to ignore the righteous indignation of the mob, the wherewithal to grasp: Madonna isn’t selling heresy and sin, she’s challenging all of us to be less judgmental, intolerant, and dogmatic, more forgiving, open-minded, and merciful. Madonna raises my spirit, because she knows what it means to be judged by those who are shackled to the ground.
Whether you pray to Jesus or idolize Madonna, the lessons we learn are what define us. Be weary of those who would confine your soul to a cage, who would lead you to believe that you are unworthy of love or entry to heaven unless you obey their doctrine and share their worldview. That’s not Jesus or Madonna talking; it’s something far more sinister, predatory, and damning – Hate.
I thank Denise for the lesson she taught me. Had it not been for her, I may have remained naive to the intentions of those boasting to be good Christians. Because of her, I am richer for knowing: the real sin is distorting love and turning it into something dirty and perverse, only worthy of those who have the arrogance and audacity to presume to speak for God.
I’ve known and loved many good Christians in my lifetime, yet they never flaunted their Christianity. They never used Jesus as a weapon, because doing so, they recognized, would be unchristian. Instead, they lived life by Christian values. They were gracious, kind, and forgiving, and offered help when they could. But they left judgement to the almighty.
To all the good Christians spewing condemnation and hate, I reserve these parting words for you. If you are truly a good Christian, then I challenge you to be be more Christlike: forgive the sinners, care for the poor, and embrace your lepers. But get your bible out of my face.
Don’t hide behind a book and tell me you’re a good Christian. Prove it. Be more like Jesus and Madonna, and strive to make the world a better place.
Choose love over hate, starting with yourself.
Posted by Damon Wallace on July 5, 2014
When I was a boy, I believed that Democracy and the United States were mutually dependent on each other, that without one the other would cease to flourish and eventually wilt.
30 years later, it pains me to say: I was right. While I still live in America, for reasons forthcoming, I am no longer a citizen of a country united. And because of it, American Democracy is failing.
Drastic times call for drastic measures, and given the current state of American politics and the dysfunction of Washington DC, I feel strongly – It’s time to get drastic. So to break through the gridlock and incessant bickering of Republicans and Democrats, I’d like to take a moment to reinvent the party lines…
I call for the formation of the LUV Party, and I nominate Madonna to be President of the United States.
If you don’t see Madonna as a politician, then you haven’t been following the 30-year campaign of the singing Senator from Michigan, which is understandable given the demands. Supporting Madonna can be taxing. For starters, you have to ignore the hecklers and reject the notion that Madonna is an opportunistic sellout seeking attention. Because instead, as a supporter, you elect to take Madonna at her word. You believe her to be an outspoken girl from Detroit, determined to save the world one inclusive celebration at a time.
When considering wholesome American values – I get it – Madonna doesn’t leap to the forefront. Yet it’s for that very reason, I’m asking the singing Senator to intervene in Washington DC. Because after 30 years of calling out hypocrisy and defying social norms, regardless of whether we the people want recognize it or appreciate it, Madonna has not only come to embody the grit of independence; when examining her drive and ambition through a lens 30 years deep, it becomes increasingly evident…
Madonna is a star, arguably the most famous woman in the world, because Madonna is the manifestation of the great American experiment – Lady Liberty in the nude on a bearskin rug: raw, horny, and unapologetic.
Being outspoken alone doesn’t qualify Madonna to be President of the United States; there are already enough politicians to meet those qualifications. While Madonna champions of freedom of speech and I applaud her tenacity, I rally for Madonna because of what she says. Her words resonate with me personally, because I share her hopes for humanity. I too want America on the dance floor, inspired and dreaming again.
Supporting Madonna for President will likely be a leap too vast and daunting for most. Should you be up to the challenge, however, close your eyes and listen to Lady Liberty with an open heart. When you do, you may begin to realize – Madonna has been campaigning for the soul of America for the past 30 years. Each album a platform, each song a stump speech; Madonna has been inviting us all to be a little less judgmental and intolerant, a bit more optimistic, inclusive, and kind.
In the end, to be a member of the LUV Party, you need not be politically savvy. The platform is simple and qualifications are few. Membership starts with a perspective, a willingness to accept that America should be an inclusive nation, a celebration of cultures, colors, and views. As a member, you reject extremism, forsake judgement, and embrace those who are different from you. Because at its heart, the LUV Party has but one political adversary – Hate.
The signs are everywhere. The LUV Party’s political adversary has infiltrated America from within. The United States is no longer a government of the people, by the people, or for the people, so much as we are a people beholden to a wounded democracy that feeds on our fears and insecurities.
Politicians today openly incite intolerance and troll their opposition. Instead of serving the will of the people, it is far more lucrative for them to pit Americans against each other. As a result, while we vilify one another, adopt a “party first / country be damned” mentality, the working class has been systematically auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Further fueling the heated rhetoric is, of course, the news entertainment industry, which ultimately profits off viewer angst and distrust. The bottom lines of these six media empires are powered on American fears and biases. Challenging politicians to a “group hug” isn’t necessarily good for ratings, after all. So viewership is best when news is BREAKING, when Americans are provoked and feeling under attack.
Alarmist coercion aside, our adversary’s biggest contributor is, of course, apathy. Like many Americans, I am guilty of turning a blind eye to government dysfunction. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the ineptitude of Washington DC, so other than writing essays like this, what can I do to bolster American democracy?
For starters, I can research elections and turn off the TV, which is to say: I can value facts and ignore opinions. While I can’t stop ignorance in its tracks, I can vote against fear mongers at the ballot box and support candidates and news outlets that reinforce the LUV Party’s platform.
I can change the narrative. The United States, after all, is not a nation of prisoners shackled by boogeymen. We are a nation of individuals striving to be citizens of a more perfect union. As such, it would serve me well to remind others: the key to freedom, the very essence of American democracy, rests in the hands of our political opposition, our willingness to comprise for the sake of national interests.
The United States government is in need of a love profusion, and I suspect a majority of Americans are like me, in that I’m tired of the disrespectful tenor and hyperbole of our politics. The 113th Congress is set to be least effective in US history, and for a country touting Democracy abroad, I find the tone and incompetence of our elected officials as unforgivable as I do embarrassing.
Whether you’ve voted Republican, Independent, or Democratic in the past, most of us recognize the corruption in politics. But seldom is the corruption so blatant and insulting.
We do still have a choice, however. We can continue to be apathetic and reward government malpractice, or we can dream again and celebrate Democracy. If elected officials refuse to fight for the will of the people, then it’s time to explore our options, however implausible…
While the thought of Madonna as President of the United States will likely humor most, I nonetheless applaud her efforts to start a revolution of love. What America needs now more than ever is a holiday, a moment to regain a sense of purpose and worth, and who better to lead the charge than Lady Liberty herself?
Should American Democracy collapse, it will be because we ignored the likes of Madonna and sided with fear. Ours will prove to be one of the bleakest chapters in American history: the generation that sacrificed the pursuit of happiness in order to be citizens of a less perfect union.
In the end, if the singing Senator has taught me anything, it’s that the fall of our adversary comes with a reckoning…
Should you deny freedom to another, freedom was never yours to deny. A healthy Democracy requires the courage to dream out loud, the heart to inspire others to be free. Keeping it, however, requires discipline and forgiveness, the wherewithal to emancipate those shackled by intolerance.
Come join the party. When voting at the ballot box, remember to choose LUV over Hate.
Vote Madonna. If nothing else, maybe we can terrify government into action.
The videos featured throughout this essay are taken from Madonna’s video manifesto, #SecretProject (to view the short film in its entirety click here).
The manifesto was released in September 2013 in response to a series of events that took place during Madonna’s 2012 MDNA World Tour, which included:
In support of her manifesto, Madonna launched the Art for Freedom initiative, which encourages people to contribute works expressing their personal interpretation of freedom and the revolution of love. Every month, Madonna chooses a winning entry and awards $10,000 to a nonprofit organization that supports individuals and organizations working to advance social justice.
To join the revolution or view submissions, visit www.ArtForFreedom.com.
Posted by Damon Wallace on May 26, 2014
Despite her awards and credentials, I usually don’t think of Madonna as a musician. As a fan and admirer, I’m more inclined to compare her to a work of art, a controversial “Mona Lisa” brought to life in a bustier.
Like a provocative work of art, Madonna sometimes gives me pause, triggers me to ask questions I wouldn’t normally consider. Such was the case when Madonna opened her 2004 “Reinvention Tour”, when she appeared on screen as the Whore of Babylon and recited verses from “Revelations”.
This essay is not an opinion piece about an artist. It’s not a defense of Madonna’s merits or her talent. This is my take on a portrait. It’s a commentary about fame, an answer to a question Madonna invited me to entertain from behind a velvet rope.
At the Forum in the City of Angels, screaming for Madonna from the seventh row, the irony wasn’t lost on me. If Madonna was the Whore of Babylon, then I was an abomination drunk on idolatry. More concerning still, such a development meant “the end” was near.
Should this be the case, I wondered – Who amongst us is the beast?
The Whore of Babylon’s identity is kept a mystery in Bible’s “Book of Revelations”, who or what she is remains unclear. Some have speculated that “she” is not a woman but the Vatican or the city of Jerusalem, while others believe the Whore is emblematic of greed, lust, and power.
Whatever the case, this much is largely agreed upon – the Whore of Babylon plays a pivotal role in the climactic final act of the New Testament. Through her, “the beast” is unleashed.
I suspect Madonna would be flattered by my comment. She clearly enjoys flirting with the role, has invited us all into her bed over the years. Outside of appearance and allure, however, my assessment is more all-encompassing…
With Madonna, I argue, arrived a new kind of celebrity, the modern idol, the reality star. While there are many contributing factors, what made Madonna uniquely famous wasn’t her vocals, her acting, or sex appeal. However talented and attractive, in the end, Madonna’s celebrity was exceptional because Madonna – like the Mona Lisa – was the subject at hand.
30 years later, whether you abhor or idolize her, it’s safe to say – Madonna conquered Babylon. For better or worse, popular culture wouldn’t be the same had we lived in a world without Madonna.
Whether rebelling against the church or championing sexual empowerment, few businesses in modern times have been more industrious and revolutionary than Boy Toy Inc.. To deny Madonna’s influence would be to discount her unparallelled feats, would mean ignoring the Madonna prototype, the wannabees still churning off the conveyer belt 30-years deep.
Like it or not, Babylonians, where false idols are concerned – We are all still living in the “Age of Madonna”.
I am a monogamous idolater. Madonna can be pretty demanding and high-maintenance, so the thought of squeezing in a little Gaga on the side, for one, is too exhausting to even consider.
Because of my exclusivity, I admit to getting a little defensive when it comes to Madonna. Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly attuned to the reaction she provokes. As vocal as her fans can be, detractors aren’t shy about despising Madonna out loud. To summarize the negative comments over the years, I’d conclude: Madonna is an untalented, manipulative, greedy opportunist with no moral compass or values, a predatory capitalist feeding on art…
Such responses have always struck me as ironic and misplaced for a woman singing about peace, love, and inclusion, so last August I began writing about the politics of Madonna.
To feature the essays, I chose the website address and pseudonym, Guy Penn, because I felt the name symbolically captured the other men “wed” to Madonna, her legion of gay fans.
As a gay man / recovering Catholic lured by Madonna’s blasphemous ways, the exploratory project was intended to be my long-form look back, my soul-searching answer to the question…
Why do I really like Madonna?
Upon completing my first essay a year ago, I already understood why. With more time and introspection, however, amidst the 2012 Presidential Election, I began to realize what my secret project was ultimately about…
Although I am an idolater, I wrestle with my admiration for Madonna. Not because I question her talent, grow tired of her music, or find her provocative actions annoying at times; what concerns me most about Madonna is the certain sacrifice any of us make when worshiping at the altar of celebrity.
Over the past year, whenever I completed an essay about Madonna, I felt the need to distance myself. Not because I felt silly or ashamed, but because I feared being swallowed by the illusion of Madonna’s celebrity, which is to say: I had to remind myself that I was writing about Madonna to learn more about me.
On the subject of idolatry, Madonna is quoted as saying, “If you want to pay tribute to me, do something important with your life.” The quote, of course, is echoed by her gospel, Madonna’s urgent call to action to love, dance, and live without inhibitions.
Age and experience (along with Madonna’s insistence) have taught me: it’s okay to dream, but dream out loud. Over the past year, specifically, I’ve realized that being a responsible idolator means Madonna and I must coexist. Although I respect her brand of heresy, the reason I write these essays is not because I adore Madonna. Instead, I’ve come to realize, I write in defense of the reaction she provokes.
Like Madonna, I too am seeking a revolution. In the context of this article, specifically, I’ve surmised the aftermath of Madonna’s celebrity. After scanning the crowd all these years, I’m writing today because, at last, my fellow Babylonians…
My eyes are locked upon the beast with seven heads and ten horns.
Should I wake up tomorrow and discover it’s judgement day and that Madonna is, indeed, the Whore of Babylon, I wouldn’t hide my idolatry from the almighty. Like pretending to be straight, that would just make me a coward and a liar to boot.
I would, however, step forward and raise my hand in defense of the mother of harlots and abominations. Because only before the wrath of God, under such dire, sobering, apocalyptic conditions, would I have the conviction to note…
Should she be the Whore of Babylon, then Madonna did so while calling upon Babylonians to love one another, unconditionally, without prejudice in our minds and contempt in our hearts.
I am arguing, though, Madonna lives for our sins.
If Madonna is the Whore of Babylon then her story is more reminiscent of our motherless Eve in Genesis, Act I. Stitched into a scarlet wedding gown, ordained in diamonds and pearls, Madonna has come to personify the modern “Bride of Sin” at curtain call. Drunk in a garden of serpents, writhing amongst harlots, thugs, and sodomites, Madonna is the manifestation of Babylon’s demons and fears, a woman feeding on all that is forbidden.
So, why should I idolize such a blasphemous woman?
Because like Eve and Mary Magdalene after her, I contend: Madonna is misunderstood. She isn’t a sinner to be judged, so much as she is the lesson to be learned.
Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t believe Madonna is provocative because she seeks fame and wealth. As an astute pupil of Madonna’s, I argue, fame and fortune are byproducts of Madonna’s ultimate ambition…
Madonna hopes to rule the world, because Madonna wants to save the world. She weathers the ridicule and mockery, hoping to draw our attention to the beast on which she rides, that snarky, venomous little monster lurking within the heart of every Babylonian – Hate.
I rest palms at the Whore of Babylon’s feet, because few prophets, in my lifetime, have endured such ire and criticism in the name of love.
The Gospel According to Madonna resonates with me because Madonna, like Jesus two thousand years before her, braves the sneers and taunting, the righteous indignation of the mob, on behalf of sinners like me.
I gravitate to this portrait, because I am a sinner in the garden of serpents. Madonna is but the gospel in my heart.
On the eve #secretproject, I’d like to leave Babylon with a cautionary note…
If the battle before us is fought arming men against women, blacks against whites, straights against gays, Christians against Muslims, Lady Gaga fans against Madonna fans, Democrats against Republicans, etc… We will all eventually lose.
Before our looming day of judgement, we owe the almighty this moment of candor. The battle before us – always has been, and forever will be – a battle fought between love and hate.
Should we all cease to exist in a post-apocalyptic world, it will be because we ignored the Gospel According to Madonna, we were deaf to her plea to be more Christlike, which is to say: more celebratory, forgiving, inclusive, and kind; less judgmental, spiteful, and cruel.
By definition “apocalypse” means: “a prophetic revelation, concerning a cataclysm in which the forces of good permanently triumph over the forces of evil…”
No more hesitating. It’s time. Pick a side.
Once you do, the revolution begins.
Progressive politics and the politics of Madonna are the subject of “Guy Penn & the Gospel According to Madonna” by Damon Wallace.
Posted by Damon Wallace on August 12, 2013