Christians often get their proverbial knickers in a twist when trying to figure out how to engage with the wider world. There is a lot of energy spent on thinking of ways to be (or seem) ‘relevant’ or ‘genuine’ or ‘attractive'; ideas which sometimes work, and sometimes don’t. Or work for a while and then stop working.
What if the issue isn’t about ‘them’ (the outsiders) not wanting to engage with us, but actually about us and the messages we are sending out to ‘them’? Messages which say “WARNING!” rather than “WELCOME!”
What if the issue isn’t that those outsiders are spiritually uninterested or unengaged, but rather that they are, but that we are not able to see it, or respond appropriately to it?
I am really struck this week by two secular songs, both called ‘Take Me to Church’. Both of these songs, one by Sinead O’Connor, and the other by Hozier, express a desire to go to church (actually, to be ‘taken’ to church). This desire isn’t the simple one anticipated by asinine evangelistic ploys, though. It is not one that will be satisfied by the easy answers offered by the standard model. In these songs, the statement ‘take me to church’ comes with qualifications that we should listen to. They set out a fear and a longing for church, they ask for – demand – a different model to the one they have both experienced before and come to expect. Will the Church listen?
Sinead O’Connor’s song is gusty and upbeat. She begins with a disavowal of ‘love songs’ (“What’ve I been singing love songs for?/I don’t wanna sing them any more”), she wants something else instead: “songs of loving and forgiving/songs of eating and of drinking/songs of living, songs of calling in the night […] songs that mend your broken bones/ and that don’t leave you alone” (Verse 2). If I were starting a church tomorrow, I might just choose those words as my mission statement. This song really gets what the Church is supposed to be. It also really gets how often the Church is not as it should be.