Alt-Country Theology: A Tutorial

Check out two very divergent takes on grief and loss by two wonderful alt-country singers: “The Duel,” by Allison Moorer and  “God is in the Roses” by Roseanne Cash (from her brilliant album “Black Cadillac,” one of my favorites.)

Both are profoundly personal reflections on God after the death of a loved one. I’m deeply moved by both, even if they express bereavement with radically different emotions and points of view.

I’d love to hear reactions.

“The Duel”
by Allison Moorer

In this cemetery mist
Stands a newborn atheist
Even if you do exist
You’re far from almighty
Flesh and blood’s a sissy fist
Death’s a gold glove pugilist
And everyday it’s hit or miss
That’s what I believe

I stared at my polished shoes
In front of your wooden pews
Prayed and prayed don’t let me lose
What my heart adores
Are miracles old-fashioned news
No healing hands were ever used
Faithfulness was my excuse
Tell me what was yours

I don’t know how many rounds
Are left in me ‘til I stay down
And there’s no telling where I’m bound
But one thing I’m sure of
The king of kings has lost his crown
It’s buried here in marble town
In the god forsaken ground
With my only love

“God is in the Roses”
by Rosanne Cash

God is in the roses
The petals and the thorns
Storms out on the oceans
The souls who will be born
And every drop of rain that falls
Falls for those who mourn
God is in the roses and the thorns

The sun is on the cemetery
Leaves are on the stones
There never was a place on earth
That felt so much like home
We’re falling like the velvet petals
We’re bleeding and we’re torn
But God is in the roses and the thorns

I love you like a brother
A father and a son
It may not last forever and ever
But it never will be done
My whole world fits inside the moment
I saw you be reborn
God is in the roses
And that day was filled with roses
God is in the roses and the thorns

1 thought on “Alt-Country Theology: A Tutorial

  1. Dear Rabbi Rosen,

    A few weeks back Rabbi Latz (Shir Tikva – Minneapolis) framed his sermon around a list of (largely) historical figures he would most appreciate sharing a meal with. As he noted, with great warmth of tenderness, the sense of meaning and wholeness various individuals brought to his life, my thoughts wondered off to those who did the same for me. For me, one remarkable name beckoned more than any other: Rachel Corrie.
    I relate to Alison’s lose of hope (and indeed her sense of entitlement) that goodness and justice do have a privileged place in this world because that was my reaction (one that lasted intensely for months) to the death of Rachel. I long ago (pre 2003) gave up the notion that God directly intervenes in the affairs of this world . However, in the case of Rachel, I suddenly and utterly made an exception to that tenant of faith and blamed God entirely! My anguish led my to a place very much like where Alison finds herself. Everything was suddenly up in the air. Truly, I lashed out, “everyday it’s hit or miss”! The post-Marxist in me lamented that in a world of “randomness” it’s power- ideology, not justice, that is privileged: The playing field is NOT even, the powerful will prevail over the weak! These nihilistic conclusions, as much as Rachel’s death itself, were the catastrophe. In a sense, I murdered Rachel (as a scion of idealism) a second time in as much as Rachel was all things contrary to the “God-less” window which I thrown up in front of myself.
    Ultimately, I have no capacity to sustain a worldview without God. God is easily the most organic and unrehearsed relationship in my life and that relationship has needed to be reconstructed in the face of existential challenges before. That relationship needed a fuller appreciation that God is indeed present “…in the roses and the thorns”. While, for me, God is not viewed as either a puppet master or even as a protecting knight in shining armor, God is present in all things, be they nouns or verbs. It’s not paradoxical then that that which tore God from me (my relationship with the death of Rachel) is now saturated with God and, as such, has drawn me toward revelation much in line with Rabbi Heschel’s meditation: “A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.”
    At this very moment, I not entirely comfortable imagining sharing a meal with this dear woman. The thought trivializes something somehow. Besides, I’ve never really figured out what to do with the dead aside from the lessons that their LIFE have brought me. Rachel was, and will always remain, my greatest teacher regarding the immutable relationship that binds empathy with justice (please read the email excerpt below to more fully appreciate this… it‘s comprehensiveness and endless mutuality). It is in the instant of that realization that the equanimity of “My whole world fits inside the moment” resonates.

    -B. Hirschman

    “Nevertheless, no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it – and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli army would face if they shot an unarmed US citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and the fact, of course, that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown. I have a home. I am allowed to go see the ocean. When I leave for school or work I can be relatively certain that there will not be a heavily armed soldier waiting halfway between Mud Bay and downtown Olympia at a checkpoint with the power to decide whether I can go about my business, and whether I can get home again when I’m done. As an afterthought to all this rambling, I am in Rafah: a city of about 140,000 people, approximately 60% of whom are refugees – many of whom are twice or three times refugees. Today, as I walked on top of the rubble where homes once stood, Egyptian soldiers called to me from the other side of the border, “Go! Go!” because a tank was coming. And then waving and “What’s your name?”. Something disturbing about this friendly curiosity. It reminded me of how much, to some degree, we are all kids curious about other kids. Egyptian kids shouting at strange women wandering into the path of tanks. Palestinian kids shot from the tanks when they peak out from behind walls to see what’s going on. International kids standing in front of tanks with banners. Israeli kids in the tanks anonymously – occasionally shouting and also occasionally waving – many forced to be here, many just agressive – shooting into the houses as we wander away.”

    R. Corrie a couple weeks before her death

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