Thursday, September 15, 2011
Recently we returned from a fabulous trip to Tennessee. We spent several days at a remote farm up in the hills near the Virginia border, and then fulfilled one of my greatest dreams – Nashville! I can’t remember when my desire to visit that storied city started – perhaps it was my love for the little appreciated movie “Nashville,” about finding light in the midst of darkness during a political campaign; no, it was the wonderful TV of the 60s with Johnny Cash, John Hartford, Glenn Campbell, the Smothers Brothers; no, it was because I just know I will be a wonderful banjo player once I start taking lessons; no, even further back, it was the harmonizing blend of bluegrass, gospel, and mountain music that sent chills down my teenage back.
Blend – the concept that defines Tennessee. It is a blend of the south and the mountains; its iconic drink is a blend of Jack Daniels and honey; its music blends different traditions into a distinct sound; and more than any place I have ever visited, it blends the secular world and faith. At a time when the phrase “separation of church and state” is in vogue, this beautiful place is a comfortable mix.
I first articulated this point in my head when I visited the Ryman Auditorium, the decades-long home of the Grand Ole Opry. People would arrive before the 7 pm start, picnics in hand. Soon the tantalizing smell of fried chicken and juicy fruit gum would fill the place, and paper fans would appear as the temperature rose. Performers spoke of being distracted by the waving to the point of nausea. Since the program in person and on the radio went for 5 hours, children would fall asleep on the pews of this former church, heads nestled in their mothers’ ample laps.
But it was the content of the program that caught my eye, caused me to think, and regret that in one more way, we have distanced ourselves from earlier times. Twanging guitars, fiddle bows flying, heart-stopping harmony, lonesome solos, the essence of country music – some in worship of a mighty God and his sacrificing Son, some lamenting the loss of a girlfriend, boyfriend, job or truck. Some about a philandering spouse, others about a great God and fallen man. Some admiring a trim waist, others in awesome wonder at God’s creation. God and man. Everyday life and approaching death. Betrayal and grace. And everywhere, love and Love. No separation - the perfect blend!