By the time that you read this (unless for some mysterious reason you have dredged up this article on Google, in which case I might be back, or depending how far in the future you are, retired) I will be away from St Albans on a mini-Sabbatical break in Texas. During most of July I will be preaching at a small Baptist church – yes they do have small churches – in Fort Worth, Texas. I am grateful to the people of Dagnall Street for giving me permission and funding to take this trip and to the people of Handley, TX for being willing to welcome an unknown quantity from across the Atlantic.

This will not be the first time I have preached in the USA, but it will be the first time that I have been in the same church for more than one week. Since I first visited America in 2001, I have been back on a number of occasions, mostly to what might be called Middle America, or, in political language, the Red States. These parts of the US are not my natural milieu, having been an urbanite all my life and perhaps this is why I feel a great affection for the people and places off the beaten track in the South.

I am taking a service on Independence Day, as it falls on a Sunday this year, and felt this was something of a challenge. I can’t do justice to the patriotism that would be natural to most American preachers on that day, but I thought I might be able to share something of my enthusiasm for Americana.

Try to imagine Julie Andrews singing this and you will get a flavour of what might be my opening lines in the sermon:

Breakfast McMuffins and Thick Strawberry Milkshakes;
Comfort fit Levis and CSI crime shows;
Huge V8 pickups and flags in front yards,
These are a few of my favourite things.

Hot summer showers and AC in houses
Arbys, O’Charley’s and TGI Fridays
Rich Southern Voices, kids calling me ‘Sir’.
These are a few of my favourite things.

It doesn’t rhyme, but it just about scans and so I might get away with it.

Another of my great loves in America is Country Music. Most British people take a sharp intake of breath at the thought of it and have thoughts of line dancing and memories of Billy Ray Cyrus and his “Achey, Breaky Heart”. One of the wonderful things about Country Music is the rich variety of genres that come under that heading. Another is the wit of the song writers. How can you not be in awe of titles such as: “I Can’t Love Your Body if Your Heart’s Not In It”, “I’m So Miserable Without You, It’s Like Having You Here” and “You’re The Reason Our Baby’s So Ugly”. And then there is the genius of these lines:

I’ve got tears in my ears from lyin’ on my back
In my bed while I cry over you
It’s been so many years, my sacroiliac
Feels as though it’s been soaked through and through.

The thing that I most admire about Country Music and the Christian people who enjoy it is the way in which life, faith and music are all intertwined, in contrast to our compartmentalising our world. In this, Christian people in the American South remind me of Ancient Israel. When they sin, they sin magnificently, but God is a very real and constant part of their life. I’d like our world to be like that – except the sin part.

Simon Carver/July 2010