Churches offering sanctuary to the hurting and lonely should take note of Taylor Swift’s resonance
Written by Adam Kline
It’s a strange and impressive achievement, Taylor Swift’s sustained stardom. Her notoriety and fandom have crossed generations. Millennials remember the earlier albums that brought them into the fold and stick with them to this day, while the devotion of Gen-Z fans has a lot to do with the narrative around her, in addition to the music.
The story of a 33-year-old singer-songwriter who stands up for herself, fights for the rights to her own music, and reflects lyrically upon her own life, regrets, and romances. All the while maintaining a strong, composed, humble, and grateful public persona.
In the last year alone, she has released Midnights, a chart-topping new album. She re-released, Speak Now (Taylor’s Version), as part of an ongoing battle to own the rights to her own music. And 1989 (Taylor’s Version) was released at the end of October and is already expected to do record-breaking sales.
She has also been travelling the world with The Eras Tour, which has raked in billions of dollars and left millions of fans either crying for joy, or with a severe case of FOMO due to limited locations and ticket sales (especially here in Canada). Then just last week, The Eras Tour (Movie), was released in theatres and broke box-office records. Not to mention the way her current romance with Travis Kelce, star tight-end for the Kansas City Chiefs, has led to millions more watching professional football and purchasing NFL merchandise.
And if all this sounds too good to be true, maybe it is. Many critics and cynics would want you to believe Taylor Swift is overrated, that her talent is middle-of-the-road, and that there’s nothing exciting about an artist who plays it “safe” by giving audiences exactly what they expect, instead of becoming more vulnerable as a lyricist, or exploring more creative horizons.
Yet whatever her critics say, Taylor represents a common point of convergence for our culture right now. She is bringing millions of people together, from all walks of life, and what she’s offering isn’t controversial or shocking. It’s a safe space, a familiar space for generations to come together. She’s offering the experience of a common song and communal joy. I might even say, Taylor Swift is offering our society a place of respite.
And isn’t that what we need right now? A respite?
In a world at war, and a society defined by its divisions, we don’t need another cultural distraction, and we don’t want to be made ignorant. But we do require moments of respite.
We need communal experiences and spaces that bring people together, that are void of cynicism and free of angst.
And churches would be wise to recognize this. In recent years, especially coming out of the pandemic, the church’s reputation and cultural associations have been muddled and muddied. Many of our neighbours are not sure the church is a safe space. They might believe they know what we stand for and they’re not convinced they would be welcomed. They might assume something like exchanging friendship bracelets (whether literal or metaphorical) isn’t the sort of symbolic fun we’d be open to.
This is a shame, because churches should be the first place people turn to when in need of a respite or refuge or are trying to escape the barriers and burdens of this world. There’s a reason history is filled with stories of oppressed and displaced people claiming “sanctuary” under the auspices of the Church. And the reason for this historical continuity is Jesus Christ himself—he who is our peace. For even Jesus himself said (as paraphrased in The Message):
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30).
And so, when a pop star has become our cultural touch-point for bringing generations together and offering a safe space, the Church should take notice. We should be inspired, or at least reminded, that what Jesus Christ offers is our ultimate respite and reason for sharing in a common song.
Instead of seeing “Taylor’s Version” as some sort of competition, we should discerningly ask: How might we continue in the tradition of offering sanctuary to our neighbours and those in need? In a society as divided as our own, how might we humbly and graciously engage in these cultural points of convergence and bear witness to He who offers our truest rest?