We need to listen to first person stories, not just stories about a group of people. According to Nigerian Novelist Chimamanda Adichie, these stories mitigate the dangers of a single story and stereotyping of a people group, whether they are African or Rural South. As she eloquently puts it, the problem with stereotypes are not that they are wrong, but that they are incomplete.
Anyway, here is that article from Generate. Please take the chance to head over to their website and say kind things (and subscribe).
Drive By Truckers: The CNN of the Working Class
What does a band that expresses the moralist therapeutic deism of disenfranchised Southern white poor people through loud country-influenced Southern Rock have to teach a group of so-called, ‘well-educated followers of God in the way of Jesus’ about life? Everything.
As I have thought of emerging churches and the recession, I have noticed one of the weaknesses of this movement. In some ways I would agree with those claiming that Emergent is a group of elitists (I being one). It is Elitists ministering to other elitists and the poor. However, we are not presently part of the middle ground, with answers for the working poor, the working class, or the blue collar—the people of my heritage from whom I ran when I got educated. Ironically, this is a place the modern church, especially the fundamentalist church, is speaking to.
I think this is incredibly important because those who may have considered themselves elites, or at least educated white collars, are recently beginning to experience parts of life from a working class/blue collar/working poor perspective. As our churches, neighborhoods, and families continue in this direction, how do we respond? When the problems of the inner city, rural America, and "trailer park" become the problems of the suburbs, new-urbanites, and upwardly mobile members of society, does the Emerging church hold any hope beyond our theological discussions, told-you-so attitude, and artistic expressions?
What does the recession have to do with music and the emerging church? While I am intentionally generalizing, I think the emerging church has a blind spot regarding the working-class and blue-collar crowd that we must address for this movement to participate in the future of the church. Our participation must move beyond “strategies for elites helping the poor” into joining and learning from those experiencing poverty. To do this, we must first listen to the stories of the lower middle class. It is my contention that the stories, issues, and problems of those in rural America, trailer parks, and ghettos will become the problems of the middle class, suburbanites, and leveraged upwardly mobile very soon (especially in the South and places where the line of demarcation between the classes is tenuous at best and the recession is causing severe strain). I’m not saying here that “we’re all poor in our own special way” but that poverty, has long been a reality as opposed to a cause, and this reality is blending into the lives of more and more people, so we need to learn from the stories of the poor and not just “combat” poverty.
Drive-By Truckers (DBT) is telling the stories of those middle American trying to survive when life has not worked out as well as it should have, mixed with a bit of religion (good and bad). While folk and country have the ability to tell such stories, I do not think the present-day manifestations are doing a good enough job. Too much folk music is cerebral and whiny, while much of today's country music revels in an unhealthy lifestyle and glorifies it (the same complaint some have with rap) without maintaining the journalistic distance or self-examination of previous incarnations. I believe this is due to marketing forces. Self-reflection is seen as weak, and people may not want to buy it—so we give fake nostalgia instead, the longing for a life we never experienced (see Tim McGraw, son of a professional ball player). This is fine on Saturday night but not helpful as a work of art to illuminate.
DBT is a prime example of a band that illuminates and tells the story of a people. Like Chuck D calling hip-hop the "CNN of the ghetto," DBT mine the depths of the southern experience, in a sometimes crass but always compelling manner. In fact, they understand this, giving themselves a name that conjures up the Inner City and South at once, naming an album The Dirty South, a term for a specific rap subgenre from Atlanta, and using the same subject matter as rap, albeit from a distinctly white southern point of view, in songs like "Wife Beater," "Aftermath USA," and "Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)."
A cursory examination of their lyrics reveals that this is not typical country music (if you have not heard them, imagine a combination of Lynyrd Skynyrd and REM, or The Replacements and Waylon Jennings). This is a CNN of the poor rural south, and I think it is becoming more relevant to the rest of the country and to those ministered to by churches throughout America (I would also say that inner city, mostly African American churches need to listen to rap—but many of their ministers understand this). It is hidden by those in our communities, but it is the heritage of many who are recovering fundamentalists in emerging churches, who are angry at the church (some of whom still attend), who are burdened with serious guilt, and who are trying to survive along the righteous path of good living (as DBT eloquently state in a song).
Get started with DBT’s latest album, Brighter than Creation’s Dark, with highlights including “The Righteous Path,” in which singer Patterson Hood takes on the persona of the everyday suburbanite with too much baggage keeping him down as he tries to live an ordinary life of righteousness with a God he does not understand ("I don't know God, but I fear his wrath") and bills he can’t pay (“more bills than money, I can do the math/I’m trying to keep focused on the righteous path”). On the breathtaking “2 Daughters and a Beautiful Wife,” he gives us a glimpse of heaven rooted in love for his family and a desire to spend eternity with them, more than any “orthodox” understanding of life after death. In doing so, he accomplishes a more honest confession of the actual beliefs of people and what brings them comfort without theological niceties.
Next up, head over to The Dirty South with “Putting People on the Moon,” which expresses the anger and frustration of working hard and having no money as others succeed and life continues on a downward spiral. It is written about the Reagan era but holds a message for today.
By no means their best album, Southern Rock Opera is the best distillation of the “duality of the Southern Thing” ever expressed artistically. DBT does not glorify the experience as much as it desires to walk a mile in the shoes of others and tell their side of the story, even if is hard to hear.
Can those of us who consider ourselves enlightened, nuanced, and progressive see the nuance of the struggling protagonists of the songs of these bands, those trying to live a righteous but entangled life amid the bad decisions and poor role models of their present situations? For all of our rhetoric about “missional” and “emerging” if we cannot walk in the shoes of such folk, we will be of little good to anyone beyond ourselves.