Holiness and hedonism. Lonesomeness and community. Tradition and progress. Highly regarded commentator on Christianity and popular culture Rodney Clapp argues that these great tensions form the bedrock of American history and our current culture. Utilizing the life and music of Johnny Cash to illustrate these and other American contradictions, he probes these phenomena with sharp theological questions—seeking the language and knowledge that will enable us to reach across red states/blue states divides and encourage a more graceful and constructive negotiation of current contradictions.
“In this brief book, I will focus on the [America’s great] contradictions . . . [its] simultaneous embrace of holiness and hedonism, its pining love of tradition as it carries on a headlong romantic affair with progress, its extreme individualism coursing beside a gigantic, gaping yearning for community, and its insistence on innocence at the same time it revels in violence. I will gnaw at the marrows of these American bones—bones of contention as well as bones of strength and stature—through attention to a particular, and originally southern, culture: that of country music. . . .To bring an even sharper focus to America’s great democracy and its great contradictions, I will . . . concentrate on a single country music artist, Johnny Cash. In fact, a reflection on American character could hardly have a more justifiable subject for its focus. Very few figures in recent history are seen as more representative of American identity than Cash. His music was included in a space capsule the USA shot into outer space. He played Abraham Lincoln in a television miniseries and was a major player in the celebration of the country’s bicentennial. His has often been suggested as the face that should be added to the select pantheon on Mt. Rushmore. But in addition to his profound Americanness, the late and still celebrated country singer and songwriter, in his life and work, provides several lamps to shine into the neglected, shadowy twists and crevices of the caverns of America’s current religious, cultural, and political predicaments.”
—from the introduction