Hip-hop success Macklemore has burst onto the scene with his smash-hit “Thrift Shop”. It has been a media sensation, shooting up the charts and selling tons of records. I thought the song was quirky and real, so I checked out the rest of Macklemore’s album with artist and producer Ryan Lewis. Many of the songs of this album, “The Heist”, are loaded with church references and Christianese. It’s obvious that Macklemore has had a love-hate relationship with “the church” and is at the least conversant with the language of “church people”. Also a recovering alcoholic, many of his songs are intertwined with the deep longings of someone broken and searching for help, only to slip back into numbing the pain again and again.
One of such songs, and possibly the most forthright, is entitled “Neon Cathedral”. In this track, Macklemore uses strong church references to parallel his drinking habit with religion, alcohol with God and the bar with the church. Honestly, some of the things that he says are heartbreaking. For instance, the chorus (performed by Allen Stone) says the following:
“Underneath this fragile frame
Lives a battle between pride and shame
But I’ve misplaced that sense of pride
This crown of thorns is perched atop my spine
But listen closely as I testify
Dependency has been a thief at night”
Macklemore’s battle with alcohol dependency is no secret, but put here in such heartfelt terms is powerful. What has stuck with me even more is the references to the church that are used throughout the song. I find the second verse to be utterly haunting and saddening. It says:
“I read the Bible but I forgot the verses
The liquor store is open later than the church is
Pure by their imperfections, everything is burning
To hell with the confessions, oh the Lord immerses
Blessed in holy water, the sin of Holy Father
Have you ever smelled flesh that sweats out Monarch Vodka?
11 AM in the morning and you can’t get it off yet
Comment to the preacher but it’s like the pastor isn’t talking
Until the store opens and I can re-up on that doctrine
The people close to me say I’m in need of a doctor
Think that I got a problem but these are not apostles
This is the drink of the Lord, that’s according to my gospel
Open to interpretation, if you’re judging it I don’t want it
I got sins that scold, like my throat when I hit the bottle
And I’m sinking and that’s why I keep on drinking
I need a refill, bar more than once every weekend
Sweet Jesus, I’m getting amnesia
Shaking til I’d get a taste, my faith is having seizures
Every time I walk away and try to leave it
Every time I walk away and try to leave it”
Those first two lines have really gotten me to thinking: what is the point of the church? More specifically, what is the point of the church building and staff? Nearly every church I know of is open normal business hours (8-4, 9-5, etc) and is fully staffed throughout the day. However, personal experience and common sense would say that most real problems and dark times happen about 12 hours before or 12 hours after these hours. The dark of night, the times of loneliness and quiet, that is when people REALLY need the church.
In my perfect church world, “pastoral care” is relegated to only the utmost of important situations. 99% of what is considered need for pastoral visits today would be done by small group members or other church family. After all, one pastor can not intimately know hundreds or thousands of people. I realize, though, that for many churches this is not even an option or would they want it to be. So, whether it is or isn’t, how do we address this issue? Can we have the church open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Maybe only a prayer chapel or emergency line? After all, I’d hate to think that there was ever a time that someone knocked on my church’s doors and got no answer, only to find what he needed in the bar down the road.
Is anyone doing something like this? What answers are there? Thoughts, prayers and comments appreciated.