If ever there were a genre of music which was so passionately beloved by millions and equally as loathed by the same number it would be country music. I for one am a member of the former. Having come of age driving down rural roads with the windows in my 1992 Dodge Caravan down (yeah, you read that right), blaring Little Texas and Alan Jackson, I have a lifelong love for the honky tonk twang and cowboy hat wearing throngs that make up the American country music scene. There’s just something nostalgic and wonderful about country music that warms the heart.
However, my beautiful wife Tara is not a fan.
By not a fan I mean she hates the stuff. Cannot stand to listen to it. To her credit, Tara has tried to develop a taste for country music since our dating years but it has just never taken. So generally I reserve my country music times to when I am by myself and can jam out like there’s no tomorrow.
Today was one of those days. While listening to Deeper than the Holler by Randy Travis I had an epiphany: there are profound theological and spiritual applications woven (unintentionally, I presume) within the fabric of country music that even the most educated among us often forget.
Now before all of the M.Div’s tear their robes and cover themselves in ashes allow me to give a few disclaimers:
- Consider the Source. As with any piece of information, looking at where the data originates tells a great deal. With the points which will follow, I recognize (and you should too) that we’re talking about songs. There are many, many songs in country music which have no spiritual or theological application. I wish, however, to extract principles found within the genre, not any particular song. So no, I don’t think Whisky Lullaby has spiritual application from which anyone should take heed.
- I’m not talking about Taylor Swift country music. I have nothing against Taylor Swift. I’m sure she’s a lovely young lady. But I will be ignoring the genre of “new country” or “pop country” she tends to represent. I will be describing the stuff that rarely (if ever) makes the Pop Top 40 lists: Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, Yankee Grey, etc, etc.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are some principles I found within this great American musical genre which we, as followers of Jesus, would do well to apply.
- Country music personifies simplicity. I’ve been to many cities in the south (much of my family is from the south), so I recognize that cities like Atlanta, Dallas, Little Rock, and Birmingham are far from exemplifying southern simplicity. But I’m referring to the culture of the dusty roads of the rural south where value is placed on simplicity. Life is lived and lived fully. Emphasis is placed on the experience of life over and above even the productivity of life. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all about productivity, and personally I’m a city/suburb boy through and through. But when we begin to place value on the number of things we can check off in a day, we lose sight of what is truly important in life: people.
- Country music places strong emphasis on fidelity. In a culture which has smoked the philosophical joint of free-love-do-what-you-want-when-you-want-for-whatever-reason-you-want, it’s refreshing to listen to something to which I aspire…to live a life devoted to loving one woman as much as I humanly can for my entire life. Call me a fuddy-duddy all you want but I guarantee you won’t be seeing Reba McEntire going all Miley Cyrus anytime soon.
- Country music focuses on the little things. One of my favorite things about the genre is its consistent focus on “the simple things in life” (which, ironically, is a direct quote from a country song). Western culture, often focuses on the big picture of the future to the expense of the present. We’re too busy checking out the new car that rolled on by to notice the beautiful vista which beholds us every time we step outside. And how often have I personally been guilty of focusing on big picture tasks only to not fully take in the beautiful development of my little toddler running around counting to 20 in french and pretending to be a princess (or a dog, depending on the day you catch her).
One can argue that much of country is the, “my dog died, and my car broke down, and my wife left me” type of stuff. One could also argue that there is a permeation in the stories of country music of passive Christian living. I would say both statements have merit.
But I would challenge you with this. Take some time while you’re alone, turn on your local country music station, and let that cheshire grin come over your face. Close your eyes (preferably not while driving), let the sun beat down on you, and kick back with some sweet tea enjoying life as it meant to be lived.