Driving home from Prov 8, I let the students play music off my iPhone. The DJing student selected the playlist I had constructed last year entitled “Southern mix”– because it was music that reminded me of being in a kid in Virginia in the summer.
We listened in silence for a few songs, broken only by my shock that several (SEVERAL) of them hadn’t heard the musical genius that is Marshall Tucker Band’s Can’t You See.* (If you haven’t heard it either, go listen. I’ll wait.)
Finally, one of the students said, “There’s a surprising lack of country on this playlist. Aren’t you from the South?”
I was puzzled. There was actually no country on that playlist. There was lots of blues, there was lots of stuff recorded at Muscle Shoals, there was Atlanta hip-hop, there was the Alabama Shakes, and the Black Keys, and Tuesday’s Gone by Skynyrd (piano solo!), and some gospel and Nina Simone, but no country at all. And wasn’t that the South, too?
I don’t associate country music with what I know of the South. Apparently, many other people do, though. Who gets to decide what ‘the South’ is?** Who gets to tell this story?
Those proscribed identities, all those narratives that we assume we know–they’re problematic–both for those inside the group and those outside. It’s a problem when we let the idea of ‘the South’ be represented by only Brad Paisley (saints preserve us) or, worse, Rick Perry or Ken Cucinelli (…let’s just all move to Canada. They have health care.)
In the church? Also not helpful to let our identity, our story get co-opted.
It’s not helpful when the guys carrying the banner of “Christian” are preaching the fiery destruction of hell for 3/4ths the population, or explaining the evils of birth control, or gay marriage. When the loudest Christian voices are preaching anything but love, our voice has been co-opted. And we have a problem, because the story of the Gospel of love isn’t being told.
For a little while now, our collective solution to this has seemed to be to back away quietly, and hope the illogic of the louder voices would soon become clear. (This might be because we are Episcopalians, largely, and someone told us that it was quite impolite to contradict, or argue in public.)
Yeah, that didn’t happen. It turns out, no one hears the truth that you don’t speak out loud. People don’t actually learn through osmosis, and as much as we might think it obviously flawed and ridiculous, if no one presents any alternative, then everyone will go with the single, loudest definition for Christian.
So it’s up to us, who have a problem with the current, dominant definition to say something. To start telling our own story, to play our own song, and present a counter narrative. If we think the loudest religious voices are wrong, what do we think is closer to right?
What does being a Christian mean to you?
*Lyrics like Gonna find me/a hole in the wall/ Gonna crawl inside and die just cannot be argued with if you want to get real about Feelings.
Also, there is a flute. Because this was the 1970s, and this was how you rolled, if you were a legit blues band, evidently.
**If you want to read what a smarter person than me thinks about this, read what Ta-Nehesi Coates wrote about Brad Paisley, and the South here.
It’s what got me started thinking about this, and also what makes me want to get a Faulkner or Ida B Wells t-shirt. Definitely ordering my Harriet Tubman coffee mug, though.