post originally written on November 3; published on December 7.
If you are ever within ten feet of me you will notice that I randomly sing without even realizing I'm doing it. What most often comes out of me is a country song, old school hip-hop or a hymn the church doesn't sing anymore. However, it's usually something by Merle or Johnny. I'm often asked, "Why country music?" and after last night I have a better answer.
Last night was "The 50th Annual CMA Awards" and you needed to only watch the first eight minutes to get the point I'm trying to make. The show opened by featuring artists such as Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Roy Clark, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Pride, Alabama, Charlie Daniels, Reba, Dwight Yoakum and the Bakersfield Sound, Clint Black, Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson and then came Randy Travis. And I cried.
Perhaps a little background will help. Randy Travis is often credited with saving country music in the 80's with his song "On The Other Hand," which restored classic country hooks and melodies along with great story telling to the genre. He went on to a wildly successful career and then faded from the scene. In recent years, he has humiliated himself by being found naked and drunk in the middle of the road, was involved in a fight in a church parking lot and then a month later was cited with a DUI. As if that wasn't enough, shortly after all of this he suffered a debilitating stroke which left him partially paralyzed on his right side and his rich baritone voice only a limping shell of what it once was.
The opening number ended with the all star ensemble singing Randy's song "I'm Gonna Love You Forever" during which Randy wobbled onto the stage. As the song neared the end, Randy raised a microphone to sing the last word of the song, a trembling "Amen." Brad Paisley was beside himself, as was Alan Jackson who simply walked over from behind and put his hand on Randy's shoulder. Greatness is not standing in the spotlight but being content to hold it. As all of this unfolded I found my better answer to the question, "Why country music?"
Because it tells a story, it tells a story of redemption and the people involved in it work to redeem those who've fallen upon hard times. I was spurred on to be that way as a person and to implore us to be that way as the Church. Let's speak fluent redemption over those who have strayed and aren't sure they can get back. Let's put a hand on their shoulder and remind them that we are the people who are going to love them forever. When their bodies, appetites and sinful choices begin to betray them we will be there to say, "It's not too late and you are never too far; come home."
This, beloved, is the mission of the Church. So let's all look around this week and find someone who needs a hand on their shoulder and a reminder of the sweet taste of redemption.