Let’s all head to God’s country

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

It’s an oldie but baddie: What do you get when you play a country song backwards?

Answer: You get your girl back, you get your truck back, you get your dog back . . .

Country music — it’s often the genre that people love to hate. For many years, I was in that camp. I can’t tell you how many times my folks played a Dolly Parton record where she sang: “Ah beg yer pardin, Ah never promised yew a rose gardin.”

I thought my brain would explode and my ears start to bleed.

To me, country music was all twangy nonsense, sometimes punctuated with yodeling. And then, I discovered something that many country singers did: They recorded songs and even albums of gospel music. They sang with heartfelt soul about Jesus.

And these were big names in country music: Hank Williams (“I Saw the Light”), Patsy Cline (“Life’s Railway to Heaven”), George Jones (“Lord, You’ve Been Mighty Good to Me”), The Oak Ridge Boys (“Lord, I Need You Again Today”), and Jim Reeves (“I’d Rather Have Jesus”), to name just a very few.

Even “The Man in Black,” Johnny Cash, recorded a bunch of them, like “Peace in the Valley,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “The Man Comes Around.”

When I first heard his “Daddy Sang Bass,” I thought it was about a family singing group. In a sense, it was, but the family was singing music in praise to God in the midst of struggling mightily to make a living. In fact, there’s this great line in that song: “Singin’ seems to help a troubled soul.”

Happily, it isn’t just old-time country where you find Jesus songs. Many popular new artists are singing wonderful, faith-filled lyrics as well. Here are a few examples.

One of my favorite songs is the simplest — both in terms of words and melody. It’s performed by Alison Krauss, who in my opinion clearly has the voice of an angel. The song is called “Down to the River to Pray,” written by Philip Anthony Lawson.

Its lyrics and tune invite not just participation, but harmonizing. In essence, the song calls sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and sinners to “go down to the river to pray/studying about that good old way/And who shall wear the starry crown/Good Lord, show me the way!”

Rhonda Vincent presents a biblical lesson and challenge in Shorty Sullivan’s and Thomas Coley’s “You Don’t Love God If You Don’t Love Your Neighbor.” Vincent laments that people “live like Christians on the Sabbath day/But come Monday morning, till the coming Sunday/They will fight their neighbor all along the way.”

The biblical lesson comes in the words: “In the holy Bible, in the book of Matthew/Read the 18th chapter in the 21st verse/Jesus plainly tells us that we must have mercy/There’s a special warning in the 35th verse.” (Go look it up . . . I’ll wait.)

The song concludes with: “If you say you love him while you hate your neighbor/Then you don’t have religion, you just told a lie.”

Why all of this talk about country music? Because October is International Country Music Month. If you’re not a fan, maybe Alison Krauss can change your mind.

Go to YouTube and type in “Alison Krauss There Is a Reason.” Written by Ron Block, this moving song addresses why we suffer. Krauss sings: “Hurtin’ brings my heart to You, crying with my need/Depending on Your love to carry me/The love that shed His blood for all the world to see/This must be the reason for it all.”

So, we’re back to where we started: What do you get when you play a country gospel song backwards? Well, you just might get back your soul.

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