Saints and singers
'Mr. & Mrs. Carl Dean.” The black-and-white picture of the…
I drive a minivan, not a truck. I drink Diet Coke, not beer. I wear a baseball cap, not a cowboy hat.
I don’t cheat on my wife, dance in the neon light or party all night with my rowdy friends. On my best days, I don’t intentionally do somebody wrong.
But I do love country music, much to the chagrin of the queen of my doublewide trailer. (By the way, honey, would you please stop switching the preset radio stations to classic rock?)
My friend David Duncan, minister for the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, and I entertained our children recently with an ear-piercing, out-of-tune rendition of George Jones’ “He Stopped Loving Her Today.”
Granted, this musical genre is chock-full of bumpkins who fall to pieces, deal with achy-breaky hearts and face temptation when the devil goes down to Georgia looking for a soul to steal.
However, I seem to recall reading in the Bible about a prophet who’s swallowed by a fish and a prodigal son who longs to dine on pig slop. And Jesus certainly had friends in low places.
In its 2002 hit “My Town,” Montgomery Gentry sings about a “For Sale” sign on a rusty tractor, the mill closing down, a whistle blowing every day at noon and the interstate coming through.
“Come Sunday morning service at the Church of Christ, well, there ain’t an empty seat to be found.”
“Come Sunday morning service at the Church of Christ, well, there ain’t an empty seat to be found,” the chorus continues. “And this is my town.”
And who can forget (although I did, until reader Bob West pointed it out after the original version of this column was published) “the preacher from the Church of Christ” in Collin Raye’s 1994 hit “Little Rock.”
Some of my favorite country lyrics impress me as modern-day parables.
As Brad Paisley put it, “Telling folks Jesus is the answer can rub ’em wrong … but this is country music, and we do.”
The late Don Vinzant, longtime preacher for the Edmond Church of Christ in Oklahoma, was a Bible scholar, an avid book collector and a well-read man of exceptional intelligence.
Yet some of his most memorable sermons — at least to me — quoted country music lyrics, including these words from Lee Ann Womack’s “I’ll Think of a Reason Later”:
It may be my family’s redneck nature
Rubbin’ off, bringin’ out unlady-like behavior
It sure ain’t Christian to judge a stranger
But I don’t like her
She may be a stranger who spends all winter bringin’ the homeless blankets and dinner
A regular Nobel Peace Prize winner
But I really hate her I’ll think of a reason later
That was years ago, and I don’t recall the specific nature of the sermon. But I still think of Vinzant every time that song plays on the radio.
When Vinzant died last year at age 74, I couldn’t help but follow his example and borrow these words from Brooks & Dunn’s “Believe”:
I raise my hands, bow my head
I’m finding more and more truth in the words written in red
They tell me that there’s more to life than just what I can see
Vinzant certainly believed in “the words written in red.”
Another of my favorites is Randy Travis’ “Three Wooden Crosses.”
That song concerns a farmer and a teacher, a hooker and a preacher riding on a midnight bus bound for Mexico. When an 18-wheeler can’t stop on a dime, three of the four die:
There are three wooden crosses on the right side of the highway
Why there’s not four of them, heaven only knows
I guess it’s not what you take when you leave this world behind you
It’s what you leave behind you when you go
That’s the story that our preacher told last Sunday
As he held that blood-stained Bible up for all of us to see
He said bless the farmer and the teacher
And the preacher who gave this Bible to my mama who read it to me
A few other songs that I like:
• “When I Get Where I’m Going” by Paisley and Dolly Parton, about shedding the sins and struggles of this life.
• “Blessed” by Martina McBride, about thanking God for all that we’ve been given.
• “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks, about appreciating some of God’s greatest gifts.
• “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw, about living deeper, speaking sweeter and giving forgiveness you’ve been denying.
• “I Saw God Today” by George Strait, about opening our eyes to the miracles all around us.
• “The Man I Want To Be” by Chris Young, about falling down on one’s knees and begging God for another chance.
• “Jesus, Take the Wheel” by Carrie Underwood, about letting Jesus take control.
If I had more space, I’d reflect on Josh Turner’s “Long Black Train” feeding off the souls that are lost and crying. But I’ve reached the end of the line.
So I’ll close by reminding my sweetheart that she’s the reason God made Oklahoma.
Bobby Ross Jr. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected]
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