Remember the perfect country and western song? It was about Mama, trains, trucks and getting drunk -- though Mama unfortunately got run over by that damned old train.
Well, singer-songwriter Thomas Rhett Akins has taken it a little further in his quest for the perfect country and western song. Akins has found Jesus in a beer joint.
His song has been around country radio for months but I only heard it last week. When I did, I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
I heard it right though. The title of his song is "If I Could Have a Beer with Jesus."
In it he sings about ordering up a couple of tall ones for he and Jesus and telling the waitress to put them on his tab.
Though Akins is the son of a former Valdosta High School quarterback, his country music theology hardly fits what most of us have learned in Sunday School down south.
"If I could have a beer with Jesus
Heaven knows I'd sip it nice and slow.
I'd try to pick a place that ain't too crowded
Or gladly go wherever he wants to go."
Clearly, the narrator would prefer a place with neon lights and a jukebox that plays Hank Sr. and Patsy Cline for the lyrics talk about putting his whole paycheck in that jukebox.
More than anything, he knows what he wants to discuss, planning questions about how Jesus changes a sinner's heart and whether heaven is just beyond the stars.
"What's on the other side?
Is Mom and Daddy alright?
And if it ain't no trouble tell them I said hi."
Country music has always claimed a kinship with church music. In the Hank Snow, Ernest Tubb generation, hillbilly stage shows included a set of old hymns. They added a twang and a steel guitar solo, but they didn't tamper with the reverence or the message.
Even today, it isn't unusual for country artists to put out gospel CDs.
Randy Travis was pretending to be a gospel singer until last summer when some Texas lawmen pulled him over and charged him for driving drunk. Oh, yeah. He was also buck naked.
So much for "Just As I Am."
Singing about beer and bars isn't unusual in country music, of course. Joe Diffie recorded one of my favorites. It included a dying man's plea to fill his boots up with sand and put a stiff drink in his hand before propping him beside the jukebox.
When you think about these kinds of hangouts, I can't see Jesus sitting on the next stool, no matter what Thomas Rhett Akins writes. The Jesus I know wouldn't have a Budweiser in his hand.
And if Jesus were to show up, I wouldn't stay around for the Last Call.
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at email@example.com