Shawn Mendes, Mercy, and Emotional Labor

I keep a shortlist of words that are used only in church: grace, atonement, sanctification, mercy. My conviction is that they won’t make any sense, theologically, to the average Christian until these words find a place in the day-to-day of our secular lives.

Shawn Mendes’ “Mercy” caught my hopeful attention, his soulful repetition of the word becoming almost prayerful. Which would be great, if Mendes was actually having a conversation with God about the girl in question, a la Beyonce on “Sorry“: “I pray to the Lord you reveal what his truth is.” Beyonce (along with Warsan Shire’s poetry) uses the divine, like a close friend, as a dialogue partner to orient her to her next move in her relationship.

Mendes uses distorted-divine language to deify his love and assign her total power over his body, relinquishing his claim to autonomy and responsibility for his own moral compass. We’ve never seen that one before, have we, Hozier?

In about three listens, I moved from hopeful about “Mercy” to skin-crawlingly creeped out. Of course this song comes from the same imagination who sings, “I know I can treat you better than he can/and any girl like you deserves a gentleman.” I think what I deserve is a little less patronizing tone and a little more trust in my own decision-making capacity. The theological importance of mercy comes from its relationship to power. Mercy can only be bestowed by the powerful. Mercy means receiving a moment of breathing room from someone who has the power to crush you entirely. Mercy means benevolence. Continue reading

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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 pedestalā€¦ 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).

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Take Me to Church? Nah Man, I’ll take you to School

Nobody loves a good God-in-pop-culture reference likes pastors do. The inverse is also true: nobody hates a throw-away, faux-philosophical divine reference as much as pastors. By which I mean: Grammy nomination or no, I’m not fond of Hozier’s hit song “Take Me to Church.”

The song is painfully slow, and every time I hear it on the radio it drags and drags and dragsā€¦. I change the dial eight times, and it’s still playing. Maybe this is artistic genius, making it as slow and dull as a poorly sung hymn (it’s Sunday morning, not a Tuesday afternoon funeral). I’ll give the song points for that one, but it’s downhill from there. Continue reading