Where “Take Me to Church” Got it Right—and Why I Can’t Stop Listening

[february 2015]

Introduction

Before I start, watch the video. (Disclaimer: Some of the lyrics will make you uncomfortable--this is the point.)

Next: I have to say that these comments are not all churches by any means or stretch of the imagination. There are compassionate, committed, loving people—I know them—everywhere in the Church.  And I must also say that Hozier has made a specific point in an interview to say that this song isn’t meant to be an all-out bash on religion or the Church as a whole, but rather the institutions that "undermine some of the more natural parts of being a person". He goes on in the interview to say that the focus isn't "the Church" specifically.

With that, I will also say that there are things many churches should consider in this song. The following lines are the ones I thought conducive to that discussion. Not because every word spoken from a critic or different opinion is always valid, but rather because if we cannot listen and consider someone else’s words of us—and whether there is some truth to them—then we’re missing something.

Lastly: In listening to critics or those who disagree or think differently than us, no one needs to feel that they are seceding anything. Listening to critiques does not mean that the Church walks on eggshells. But it does mean that we, the Church, must realize that eggshells sometimes resemble the insides of our hearts, and hurts, and struggles—and that people must not be managed like machines (with the twisting a setting to fix a malfunction).

So let us consider the selections here. Because if we’re not ready to listen, we’re not ready to learn.


"Take Me to Church" Explication

 

1. 'We were born sick,' you heard them say it.

This seems to be a rather continuous thought from those marginalized in the Church (specifically speaking to LGBTQ Christians, and the greater community, today).

It is also a common diagnosis for homosexuality. Everyone has sin; no sin is greater than another; this is your cross—your thorn in the flesh. It’s just another sin and just another struggle—I’ve got alcoholism, you’ve got desires. Suck it up.

The problem is that this is not alcohol or drug use. This is not an issue we can address with blanket statements. “This is hurting your health,” or “You could die if you keep going on like this.” Because that’s what we say to alcoholics and drug abusers—this is ruining your life; this is a choice you made.

For many in the LGBTQ community, they don’t feel that they’ve “chosen” anything.

But in labeling and blanketing an entire people group with a disgust and a sickness and deep-seated disapproval is unfair. Not because, hey, maybe you’re right, but instead because, hey, this is a human being. Eggshells, remember?

2. She tells me, 'Worship in the bedroom.'

   The only heaven I'll be sent to

   Is when I'm alone with you.

With the lack of safety felt by LGBTQ people in the Church, there seems to be no middle ground; no conversations, no dinners, no exchanging of ideas. And yet, this was the way of salvation extended by Jesus.

Let’s go out to dinner with the tax collectors and prostitutes. Don’t worry what the Religious Leaders say.

And that is why this line cuts to the heart of things. Because the polarization of “good” and “bad” and “not quite there yet, sorry” is leaving people who may to sit and listen to the Word of God on the outskirts. It doesn’t mean you tailor your sermons to universality, but it does mean you use a little more sensitivity in dealing with a heart and soul and Child of God who has probably been hurt by ten different experiences within “religion”.

Remember the eggshells. Stomp and shout as loud as you want, but hold me tenderly.

The call to Christianity isn’t any less extreme or challenging because of this, it just means we stop becoming the “Saviors” in the lives of others. The work of Christ prevails, period. Show verses, say what you feel the Spirit is telling you, and do so in humility.

Because we speak truth in love—and yes love is challenging and hard to swallow, but it is also patient, [and] kind…It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13)

I know the passage is cliché but it's also true. Because the love of Christ is challenging—and life-changing when Christ is the one who ushers it in—but the love of Christ also “does not dishonor others,” and “always protects, trusts, perseveres”.

3. That's a fine looking high horse

   What you got in the stable?

   We've a lot of starving faithful

This is, you guessed it, the “plank in your eye” bit. We’re all sinners, either way you lean on the issue. We’re all sinners. That should add humility to anything we see or speak. Not that we don’t spark fires and let the Spirit do its thing, but rather that we take even our own words, sermons, and advice, with a grain of salt. Or a pound. Because I fall short, and you fall short, and we all hurt.

4. I'll tell you my sins and you can sharpen your knife

   Offer me that deathless death

   Good God, let me give you my life.

While the “sharpen[ing] of your knife” may be more “hush, hush,” these days, there is a level of distrust amongst congregations. We are scared to be honest about ourselves, because our selves, the very deepest parts of us, are also the softest and most breakable. So if I tell you about my deepest hurts and fears, and in turn you condemn me—no matter how “lovingly”—I probably won’t listen. Because you haven’t even given my deepest parts a second to breathe in your presence. You’ve already squashed me.

5. In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene

   Only then I am Human

   Only then I am Clean.

   Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.

And here’s the crux. The most beautiful part, for me at least.

In the madness of everything that happens in life, the mistakes and choices we make or fail to make, the fact that I—or you, me, we, us together—am at the very least honest about it is beautiful.

The Lord doesn’t call for cut up pieces of a generally tainted whole person. He wants all of us at his feet, vulnerably waiting to see how he rebuilds the pain into, yes, a beautiful thing. This doesn’t feed much into the “Total Depravity” argument, but that was never my jive.

Because yes, I am disgusting, totally and undeniably fallen, dirty, stained, mistake-ridden and doomed. But Jesus didn’t leave me there. The Gospel is the message of Christ presented to someone before the “total depravity” bit is recognized. And even then, it is the rebuilding that Christ does in us which gives joy, wholeness, beauty, and worth in all their totality to each who calls Him “Lord”.

So I am not depraved (any longer). I am not stained (any longer). I am chosen, beautiful, and free (forevermore). 

Conclusion

The reason this song intrigues (just as “Same Love” by Macklemore struck a chord with many) is because it is the song of so many—the song of me and you—knocking at the door and, sometimes, finding no one to answer. The ache of loneliness is great, but the call of Christ is greater.

And it is in this irony and tension, found both in the Church and ourselves—broken and stumbling but somehow still fumbling like children into the sun—that I say, wholly surrendered (no matter what another church official says or does): Good God, let me give you my life.


Further Reading:

These two articles from Christianity Today are interesting reads to continue this conversation in a wider context.

A Thread Called Grace, Jonathan Merritt

My Train Wreck Conversion, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield