I read this great newspaper article in the Nashville Tennessean this morning by Peter Cooper. Peter is miffed at country music song-writers for what might be called self-congratulationism. Now, that’s a mouthful, but translated it means that their songs create a perjorative, stereotypical, and often sentimental self-image for “country folk.” Instead of writing genuine country songs that wrestle with the tough road to redemption among those who struggle from paycheck to paycheck, and from harvest to harvest, they write songs that are patently self-congratulatory about “being country.”
I couldn’t help but think about all of the self-congratulatory sermons I’ve heard over the years, sermons celebrating “our church” or “our story,” the “let’s give our selves a big bear hug” sermons that paint an overly idealized picture of “us” – our inclusivity, our love for one another or the world, our choir, our children’s program, our fellowship, and on and on. Not that positive thinking about our church is necessarily a bad thing. I’m speaking about sermons that have no particular story line apart from the good old “back pat,” and provide no real feel for the tough road to redemption for many in and beyond the congregation.
To tell the truth, what often goes missing is honest particularity, which will include some picture of sin or the human condition in our midst. Just take a listen to Hank, “rapping” about country life in A Picture from Life’s Other Side. I know this song is a bit over the top. But where has the real country in much of our country music today gone? And where are the pictures from life’s other side, right there in our churches, that might find their way into our sermons?