I wrote down this song for my own self, and sing it now to my own soul
But if you’ll sing songs of your dreamings, then you will reap treasures untold
— From the Song “Heaven,” by Woody Guthrie, 1947
Here’s something we’ve all but confirmed on our road trip: The bigger the void, or gap, between towns, the more rural one gets, the tinier the towns, the more likely one is to pick up religious music — sometimes only religious music — on the radio.
Such has been the case in the most recent leg of my road trip — through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas again: God, it’s said, is everywhere, and that’s definitely the case when it comes to the radio in rural America.
This isn’t a groundbreaking observation. Religion and right wing views have long been more firmly embedded in rural areas — more likely to be voiced, worn on one’s sleeve, or posted on signage.
After a few days in Dallas, where God still has a lot of work to do — it seems at least half the billboards are for strip clubs — I rolled into more rural surroundings, and saw this collection of home-made signs outside Palmer, Texas, on I-45.
The Chapel at what’s called “The Church of Texas” is located on a wide swath of land abutting the interstate’s service road, much of which has been devoted to signage, the rest to a small church, gazebos, outdoor seating areas and a pond with (and this somehow doesn’t seem right) a “No Fishing” sign. According to its website, the church has “gone underground,” but it’s not real clear exactly what that means.
I chatted briefly with a man who lives on the grounds in a trailer — not the pastor, but a member of the non-denominational church — who was a bit standoffish until he got going about all the corruption of organized religion.
His dog, a dachshund, peed on my tire (a baptism?) and after chatting a bit, I pulled out, turning on the radio again — for it and Ace and radio God and my bobblehead Jesus (more on him later) are my only company these days.
Sure enough, searching for a signal, I found more God music. I’ve nothing against God music, and love good gospel, but I found myself getting slightly bugged by all the God rock — music that you don’t really know is God music until the chorus comes up and mentions “salvation” or “the Saviour.”
You’ll be tapping your fingers along with the beat, and then suddenly realize you’ve been something close to duped. I find it somewhat deceptive. If you insist on giving me a message, be upfront about it.
God comedy seems to be catching on as well, though I haven’t heard too much of it that is actually funny, or for that matter Godly. It’s generally family-based comedy, funny stories about what the kids did.
Rural Oklahoma was particularly heavy on God music. Not having many musical alternatives on the radio, and noticing I was driving on the Woody Guthrie Memorial Highway — he was born down the road in Okemah — I grabbed a Woody Guthrie CD and slipped it in. Woody is an integral part of my road music collection.
I sang along to songs about dust and migrants and labor unrest and the search for a better life. Woody’s music, it seems — not that it ever wasn’t relevant — is relevant again in 2010, when once again economic conditions and natural and unnatural disasters are shattering dreams and testing the amazing resilience of Americans. Though I probably worship Woody more than any religion, I’d have to admit that faith in God is where a lot of that resilience probably comes from.
Given that, I can handle the God music, the God comedy and God as a roadside attraction — taking his or her place among concrete dinosaurs, Indian trading posts, half-buried cars, reptile museums and the like. Each fills a need, even if that need isn’t always immediately clear.
This concludes today’s sermon.