Irish pop star Sinéad O’Connor recently released a hit single called “Take Me to Church,” which is a surprise for so many reasons—some to do with O’Connor herself and others to do with contemporary culture.
O’Connor sullied her public image during a Saturday Night Live appearance back in 1992. While she wrapped up singing an a cappella chant of Bob Marley’s “War,” she held a photograph of then Catholic Pope, John Paul II, and tore it while singing “evil.” After ending the song, she yelled, “Fight the real enemy!” The audience was silent. It’s clear by this incident and some other things she’s done that O’Connor has a few bones to pick with the church.
“Take Me to Church” is also surprising because it comes during a time and in a cultural milieu that privileges spirituality over religion or dogma. Many, like O’Connor, have been so completely alienated and abused by certain wings of Christianity that it’s no wonder they wouldn’t darken our doors.
Others in places like the South are just thoroughly burned over—there is so much cultural Christianity that it’s hard to determine what the church is really. And those who aren’t of other religions are “Nones”—they have never had a religion because their parents aren’t churchgoers, mostly due to indifference.
Yet some folks seem to be realizing their previous ideas about where to find answers have proven to be empty sets. Maybe the church has something to offer after all. Like the “men of Israel” whom Peter addresses, they are open to what the church offers but didn’t realize it. And I dare say that the church O’Connor describes in her song sounds a lot like what is described at the end of Acts 2—the original Christian church:
Oh, Take me to church,
I’ve done so many bad things it hurts
yeah, Take me to church
but not the ones that hurt
‘Cause that ain’t the truth
And that’s not what it’s worth
I totally agree, Sinéad: Take me to church, too, but not to the ones that hurt! They aren’t worth it. You know, I’ve also done a lot of bad things. So much so it hurts. Finding the answers inside myself with vague spirituality just isn’t cutting it. I need a community (fellowship) that has a message of God’s love (the apostles’ teaching), that helps me look outside of myself (breaking of the bread), and that expresses concern for my affliction (the prayers). The more I experience this type of church, the more my heart grows glad and generous, overflowing with praises—almost like the songs O’Connor wants to sing from now on:
I’m gonna sing songs of loving and forgiving
Songs of eating and of drinking,
songs of living, songs of calling in the night
’cause songs are like a bolt of light
And love’s the only love you should invite
Songs of long and spiteful fails
songs that don’t let you sit still
Songs that mend your broken bones
and that don’t leave you alone
So get me down from this here tree,
take the rope from off of me
sit me on the floor,
I’m the only one I should adore!
OK, so there is one disappointment—that last line! Disappointing, yes, but not surprising. Granted O’Connor is still seeking some self-actualization. It’s just in the air these days.
But she also recognizes a need for someone to get her to a good church—a place for loving and forgiving, a place for eating and drinking, a place that shines the Light, a place of love, a place for failures, a place for the agitated, a place for mending what is broken, a place for the lonely, a place full of people who adore the strung up because they too recognize they are adored by Jesus Christ.