Every time I get in the car and scan through the radio stations, I'm bound to hear these words on at least three stations simultaneously:
"Take Me to Church"
When I first heard this extremely popular song for the first time, I thought it must be on a contemporary Christian music station. I noted the passion of the voice and the uniqueness of the style, but didn't pay much attention. Then, a few days later, I heard it again and listened more carefully to the lyrics. Very quickly, I realized that this song was anything but Christian.
This, in fact, is probably one of the main reasons that "Take me to Church" song brought Irish artist "Hozier" from being virtually unknown a year ago to recently being nominated for "Song of the Year" at the 2015 Grammys. The lyrics are purposefully provocative, borrowing Catholic language and applying it to the sexual act. Hozier himself says:
It’s about asserting your own humanity through a very natural act, because there are very few things more human than that act itself. Also, electing something tangible that you can love, something that’s worth “worshiping.”
While the message is edgy enough, it was the song's music video that made it go viral. The video portrays a homosexual couple undergoing homophobic violence in Russia. The lyrics and the video together express Hozier's frustration, not just with the Catholic Church, but with all "organizations that would undermine humanity at its most natural." These ingredients of striking music, creatively shocking lyrics, and a social message come together to make "Take Me to Church" the international sensation it has become.
So what am I, a man who is in love with the faith and a minister in the Church, to do in response to this? My first instinct personally was to turn off the radio. Such a sacrilegious affront and idolization of sex is hard to swallow. The anger is contagious, tempting me to fight back. But what to say? Other Christian commentators and bloggers have already rushed in to defend the Church and traditional sexual values. Some have endeavored to systematically counter, distinguish, and correct his arguments and opinions. Some have decried the song's abuse of religious concepts and lamented the moral dissolution of today's culture. I could do the same, but I fear that such a message would do little more than drive a wedge deeper into an already polarized world.
When I took pause and reflected further, I realized that there is more here than catchy music, Church-bashing, and sensationalism that make this song so popular. I believe that Hozier expresses the experience and sentiments of many people today, especially young adults--people who are my peers. Andrew Hozier-Byrne himself is a 24-year-old from Ireland, a country where the sex abuse scandal has intensified hostility toward Catholicism and religion in general. In one interview, he mentions that his parents came from a strongly Catholic cultural setting, but they set that aside as they started their own family: "I think they made a very conscious decision not to raise their kids the same way. And I don't blame them." He is obviously disillusioned and angry at what he sees as hypocrisy and oppression at the heart of the Church. As he says in another place, "I would love to get in trouble with the Catholic Church. I’m not religious myself, but my issue is with the organization. It’s an organization of men—it’s not about faith." Indeed, without faith, the Church seems to be but a severe arbiter of overly restrictive and hurtful rules and regulations, masked by piety and charitable works.
How many share this view and intense frustration? Sadly, there are many. And as they run away from our churches, yelling curses back at "the institution," they search for meaning in "tangible" earthly pleasures. These may be the gratification of sexual passion, fame, possessions, etc. Or they may be "higher" values such as genuine human love and intimacy, self-confidence and self-worth, or a desire to make a positive contribution to society. I cannot deny that Hozier, like many in my generation, has a strong sense of justice, and a desire to expose and eradicate the ongoing hatred, violence, and oppression that are so painfully present to us each day.
What do I say--what do we say--to those for whom the artist Hozier is a mouthpiece? Do I turn them off, tune them out like I can do on the radio? I pray that I never would settle for that. How then do I reach out to these individuals, many of whom are not interested in my words and who are infuriated by my very presence? For some, it may be the clear, coherent explanation that brings them to the table. But for most, I suspect, it must be the positive witness of the lives of faithful Christians that will begin to bridge the gap. One thing I know for sure: that God loves each of us unconditionally and desires to share that love to the point of overflowing. This divine love brings out the best of us, and gradually unravels the knots and snarls we carry within us. This love brings people together and reconciles them in ways previously unimaginable.
May I always be an inviting beacon of this love, and never an obstacle to it.
Amen. Amen. Amen.