Take me to Church, Part 2: A Parable of Popular Music

I still think “Take Me to Church” is a bad song. But I’m of a mind that if you’re going to criticize something, you had best offer a positive alternative. This week, i found an alternative. Where “Take Me to Church” is desperate, needy, and insecure, this song is gentle, self-confident, and mutually affirming.

Hozier lives in a self-absorbed world of loving out of insecurity (incidentally, the same world that Tove Lo lives in), with the hope that love will fill the every void and a conviction that anything less is insufficient. He contorts himself to satisfy his perception of what the lover wants:
“If I’m a pagan of the good times
My lover’s the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice.”

In no way is this a healthy relationship, with the Divine or with one’s lover. This orientation of appeasing, of “worthiness,” of putting a person on a pedestal… it’s a set up for failure. What about a healthy relationship where love is woven with religious experience? Exhibit B. “Sunday Candy” by Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment (Social Experiment is a somewhat fluid and collaborative group, so I’ll refer to individual members who worked on this song).

(Disclaimer: I’m not biased because I live in Chicagoland; it’s a well-known fact that proximity to Chicago sharpens one’s musical sensibility.) This song is everything that “Take Me to Church” isn’t. Where Hozier lives in an isolated bedroom with his lover, where the song and its music video creates an us-against-the-world mentality, where love is an addiction and a cure-all… this, too, is how Hozier perceives religion. Or rather, it’s the other way round: Hozier’s dysfunctional religious upbringing shaped his dysfunctional relationship. In Hozier’s Irish childhood, many of those who do go to Catholic church (who identify as more than secular Catholics) have an us-against-the-world mentality, where blessings have to be earned but if you are “good enough,” God is a cure-all. Hozier rejects the church, but he takes this same attitude as the “high horse” faithful he criticizes.

“Sunday Candy” glorifies romance, but that romance never excludes community–in fact, the romance is enhanced by community. In the middle of meditating on his lover, Chance the Rapper remembers grandma and gives her a shout out, too. He wants his lover–but he wants her to join the world, not to join him in combating it. Whatever sentiment Hozier was trying to capture, Jamila Woods does it better with three lines in the hook:
Take and eat my body like it’s holy
I’ve been waiting for you for the whole week
I’ve been praying for you, you’re my Sunday candy.

The body is holy; the body and the love is a religious experience. It’s something that fills you up. This is what Hozier missed. Where he prays to his lover, Jamila prays for her lover. In “Sunday Candy” the lover is holiness–not God. The lover is a gift–not an achievement. The lover is her own person, joining her passion to her lover’s among a chorus of support.

I wanted “Sunday Candy” to be an antithesis to “Take me to Church,” but there’s something else that comes out in the juxtaposition. Together, they are a parable. The Church raises Christians. But along the way, it raises lovers. If we raise lovers who demand answers of their romances, who look for completion in one person’s charisma, who worship to but cannot worship with… everyone loses. If we raise lovers who can harmonize their voices, who develop their song and then look for a chorus of friends to dance in the background, who can praise their lover and praise the community that taught them how to love… that is a healthy church. It’s a healthy neighborhood and a healthy world.

So go on, enjoy some Sunday Candy.

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