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The double-wide gospel according to Karen

June 22, 2011

Roger Miller sings about trailers, be they for sale or rent. Kid Rock reminds us that unlike Ice Cube, he ain’t outta Compton but straight outta trailer. And Jimmy Buffet, the son of a son of a sailor, is just glad he doesn’t live in a trailer.
There certainly is a negative connotation given to trailers, and the folk who live in them. Some of my favorite childhood memories, however, are of visiting cousins in rural Mississippi: the sounds of Skynyrd emerging from Jeff’s open window in his trailer bedroom; Jennifer, Jenene and my sister and me jumping on the trampoline out back.
Years later, as a married man with kids living in a mid-town Memphis duplex, I preached many weekends at a rural church in Clay County, Mississippi. We’d drive down on Saturday afternoons and enjoy the space and freedom offered by the church’s parsonage: a double-wide parked next to the church. Wide open rooms inside (a big difference from a crowded duplex), and wide open spaces outside.
There’s a very nostalgic side of me that, despite the stereotypes and the condescending social attitudes, has always longed to clear some land in the Mississippi woods and set up house in a trailer.
Karen Spears Zacharias isn’t from rural Mississippi, but she is from the Georgia countryside, grew up along the Chattahoochee River, was bitten by the deadly (well, not in her case) water moccasin, and, according to her website bio, “had her first kiss in a trailer, smoked her first and last cigarette in a trailer, asked Jesus into her heart on bended knee in a trailer, fell madly in love in a trailer and gave birth to her firstborn child in a trailer.”
Oh, and her latest book is called “Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide (‘Cause I Need More Room for my Plasma TV).”
Karen, once a newspaper journalist, turns her reporting skills loose against evangelists who collect offerings to feed their own lavish lifestyles, and also against those who preach a God of health, wealth, and big happy smiles. But what could have been an easy (and necessary) denunciation of TV evangelists and purveyors of the so-called “prosperity gospel” is instead a collection of real stories of real people living real lives in the real world where God also lives. The bulk of the book focuses on lives of faith from people living in the streets to folks living in suburbs to families living in ­— you guessed it — trailers.
Karen’s stories will make you howl with laughter, cry in empathy, and occasionally seethe in righteous indignation. Through it all, the truth of God’s loving presence and grace is revealed not in feel-good, get-nice-stuff promises, but in the pain, loss, love and hope of all God’s children.
Whereas so much of our “Christian” culture reflects our materialist American culture, Karen’s book will certainly appear out-of-place on many Christian bookstore shelves; but that’s exactly where it needs to be. Karen proudly aligns herself and her faith not in stained-glass cathedrals and successful executive suites, but on the streets and the trailer parks.
Karen’s book and her theology have earned their place on my bookshelf right alongside my Will Campbell collection; Will Campbell – another prophetic voice who walked away from the ministerial big leagues and high salaries to live among the rural poor and oft-demeaned “white trash” from which he came.
While some may be praying for God to give them a mansion and a Mercedes-Benz, Karen just says she may retire one day with her husband and live in God’s blessed presence in an Alabama double-wide. Something tells me that when I visit, I might hear the sounds of Skynyrd rocking through their screen door.

Bert Montgomery is an author and pastor in Starkville, and he teaches religion and sociology courses at MSU. Contact him at misfitmusings@gmail.com.  

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