Over Thanksgiving my wife and I strayed from the NYC metropolitan area, which meant one thing as far as she was concerned: country radio. Song after song oozed sentimentality for a red state existence, an American car, family, and of course, Christianity, or at least “good Christian values,” and I have to admit it felt inspiring. But what does Nashville idealize? According to Montgomery Gentry in “Something To Be Proud Of,”

That’s something to be proud of
That’s a life you can hang your hat on
You don’t need to make a million
Just be thankful to be workin’
If you’re doing what you’re able
And putting food there on the table
And providing for the family that you love
That’s something to be proud of
And if all you ever really do is the best you can
Well, you did it man

This was immediately followed by Lee Ann Womack’s new cover of Trent Willmon’s “There is a God”:

Stop and think about what you don’t understand
Things like life and love, and how the world began
Hear the doctor say he can’t explain it, but the cancer is gone

There is a God
There is a God
There is a God
How much proof do you need?

In theory I don’t disagree with either song. I’m thankful to be working and blessed in many ways. I often marvel at the ways God reveals himself to me through creation. I even know a friend whose cancer miraculously disappeared in the face of a very grim prognosis.

But as I was driving down I-95 all dosed up on sentimentality (or maybe just Tryptophan), something started to bug me about those lyrics. Yes, I do know an against-all-odds cancer survivor who was the beneficiary of some serious prayer, but what about our family friend who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and, despite our whole church rallying around him, was dead in three months? What goes wrong when God doesn’t come through?

The Drive By Truckers have released a number of excellent Southern rock albums–more Skynyrd than country, and subsequently full of dark imagery of a broken southern existence; the polar opposite of what I quoted above. This song might be equally cliche in its opposite way, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of the real suffering that exists in America, not to mention the rest of the world. (Note: coarse language below.)

“Puttin’ People on the Moon” – The Drive By Truckers

Mary Alice had a baby and he looked just like I did
We got married on a Monday and I been working ever since
Every week down at the Ford Plant but now they say they’re shutting down
Goddamned Reagan in the White House and no one there gives a damn
Double Digit unemployment, TVA be shutting soon
While over there in Huntsville, They puttin’ people on the moon


Mary Alice got cancer just like everybody here
Seems everyone I know is gettin’ cancer every year
And we can’t afford no insurance, I been 10 years unemployed
So she didn’t get no chemo so our lives was destroyed
And nothin’ ever changes, the cemetery gets more full
And now over there in Huntsville, even NASA’s shut down too

Another Joker in the White House said a change was comin’ round
But I’m still workin’ at The Wal Mart and Mary Alice, in the ground
And all them politicians, they all lyin’ sacks of sh#t
They say better days upon us but I’m sucking left hind tit
And the preacher on the TV says it ain’t too late for me
But I bet he drives a Cadillac and I’m broke with some hungry mouths to feed

I wish I’z still an outlaw, was a better way of life
I could clothe and feed my family still have time to love my pretty wife
And if you say I’m being punished, ain’t he got better things to do?
Turnin’ mountains into oceans, Puttin’ people on the moon

The Truckers’ view of God is what happens when the country worldview encounters real suffering. It doesn’t hold up when the American dream turns sour–jobs lost, money scarce, sick people not getting better. This is why the real Gospel has power where the prosperity gospel does not–it is true in ALL situations.

Thank God (literally) we have a better gospel to turn to.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God…

If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he now also, along with him, graciously give us all things?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 8:18-21, 31a-32, 35, 37-39