Gone Country

Many of you will cringe at this statement: I am a country music fan.

Not the Conway Twitty/Johnny Cash kind of music, but the "country pop" (as Pandora Internet radio calls it). I don't own cowboy boots or a silver-studded belt, I've never had a desire to visit Nashville, and I can't sing worth a lick. I do like today's country singers, though - with their "pair of jeans that fit just right," t-shirts that are a little too tight, and cowboy hats that dip low enough to create a bit of mystery. But this isn't about who they are but what they do.

They sing with passion, commitment, honesty and pure pleasure. And they tell great stories. They're about real life - love lost, love found, birth, death, mom, America, and apple pie. The girl sitting on the front porch with a cold lemonade waiting for her man to pull up in his brand new pick-up truck. (Okay, maybe it's not my life, but it sure sounds like Lori Patin's.)  They apologize for mistakes they've made, and they plead for forgiveness. Some songs are fun, like the Alan Jackson/Jimmy Buffett duet "It's Five O'clock Somewhere" (you can probably guess at its lyrics!). Others are down-right funny, like Brad Paisley's "I'm Gonna Miss Her," about a woman who gives her man an ultimatum: give up fishing or give up me. Tongue in cheek, he sadly sings, "I'm gonna miss her . . . when I get home tonight . . . Oh, lookie here, I've got a bite!"

There are songs that offer advice, encouragement and country wisdom. Rodney Atkins suggests, "If you're going through hell, just keep on going." Eric Church warns, "She's heaven on the eyes, but boy she's hell on the heart." And my favorite from Billy Currington, "God is great, beer is good, and people are crazy." I could go on and on ’cuz (as they say in the business) there are some great country songs on the radio today.

What is amazing is how often religion is mentioned in these songs - sometimes just in passing, other times it's the moral of the story. God is thanked for the day a new love walked into his life, then blamed when she walks out on him. His work is seen as a miracle when the newborn wraps her hand around daddy's finger, and as punishment when the twister levels the town. Many are prayers put to music - with a country twang. Chris Young: " God, I'm asking you to come change me into the man I wanna be." Kenny Chesney (who bears a remarkable resemblance to our Junior Warden): "I changed when I found the Lord; Glory, Hallelujah, Good God Almighty, I never wanted nothing more!"  Keith Urban: "Oh Lord I'd be lost, but for the grace of God." Carrie Underwood, in her story of a girl whose life and car are spinning out of control: "Jesus take the wheel, take it from my hands, 'cuz I can't do this on my own." Phil Vassar: "Life takes its toll on the heart and soul, but I'm doing the best I can. Lord hear the prayer of a common man." Brooks and Dunn: "I know in the big picture I'm just a speck of sand and God's got better things to do than look out for one man."

Maybe we haven't used those exact words (after all, songwriters are making millions writing those words), but we've certainly had the same sentiment during happy times, sad times and in times of need. Every morning and every evening I get 30 minutes of religion on my drive to and from work - a simple reminder that there's somebody bigger out there watching over us, and He just might be wearing a cowboy hat. There's a little bit of spirituality in every country song, and I've got to tell you, country music has made me a believer.

I recently heard the latest Alan Jackson song, and Derek really should think about using it during the outdoor summer liturgies. I can just hear the congregation belting out the lyrics for all of Kenilworth to hear, "If Jesus walked the world today, He'd probably be a hillbilly. . ."

God IS great, beer is good, and maybe I'm a little crazy. Amen and hallelujah!