11 Nov John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16
The taller the hair, the closer to Jesus. I’m not sure if I learned that during the Aqua Net era of the 80’s or while I lived in Texas. But, the 80’s are long gone and everything’s still big in Texas, so that should tell us all something.
It was the fall of 1990 when I met a fellow teacher, future roommate, and lifelong friend, Julie. As a Hoosier, known as a Yankee in those parts, I was just learning the lay of the land in the Lone Star state. I wasn’t even saying y’all, fixin’, or drinking sweet tea yet! And I certainly wasn’t prepared for my first car ride with Julie—the one where I learned two important life lessons from the state of Texas: (a) Nothing happens as fast as Texans drive fast and (b) Like it or not, country music is a stellar storyteller.
You see, in Texas there is the fast lane and then there’s the really fast lane—that’s it. You lead, follow, or get out of the way. And while that may work in on Texas highways, it rarely works anywhere else—especially in communities trying to make significant change or sustainable impact. Dr. Wright, President of IWU, recently referred to this truth in regard to his favorite animal: the turtle. He said to get things done turtles have to stick their necks out and take things slow and steady…that’s how you win the race.
Ironically, slow and steady was exactly what I thought about the twang of country music at the time. It would be an understatement to say that I was surprised when I arrived in Texas and noticed that country music was literally pre-set on the radio channels in the car. PRESET! COUNTRY! This was something I laughed about at first. We had always listened to country music at home…both 8-track tapes and WWKI, but I never dreamed that people would preset their radio stations to all-country- all-the-time. I remember laughing about this on that first ride in the car with Julie. She was a beautiful, young 20-something Texan who loved country music. And eventually so did I…still do.
Besides that memorable car ride I also recall one of many dinners at Julie’s parent’s house. Her mom had made a brisket (you can’t get more Texan than brisket) and the normal family banter had ensued. Her dad was getting riled up about something when I said, “Bob, you have to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” He wholehearted agreed and then learned that was the name of an Aaron Tippin song. Country music—telling life’s stories.
This time last week, instead of getting our lattes in a froth about the color of the Starbucks coffee cup, 100 salt-of-the-earth community leaders joined together to take a stand for our local children living in poverty. This group—all hard-working, some degreed, most ordinary Grant Countians who grew up learning about life from John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16—all care deeply about the future of our kids and our community. Yes, we were reminded that 1 out of every 3 children in our community is impoverished. But, the highlight was 75 leaders making a commitment to develop and implement a shared vision using the collective impact framework.
I vividly recall the day I learned that my county, our county, learned that we ranked #1 in child poverty in the state of Indiana. In fact, I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. But, now I will never forget that day last week when our community met and decided to stop confessing the current status and begin professing what we’d like to do about it. It was a good day.
And, so the work begins. We have the ingredients we need to do this and do it well—three local colleges filled with vigor and volunteers, philanthropists reveling in relentless generosity, business leaders concerned about constructing our workforce, churches interested in focusing on the family, and a plethora of programs that both serve and protect. What we need is a system we can collectively use to pull it all together toward a shared vision. Steps toward such a system are already in the works. And that, my friends, is bigger than Aqua Net in Texas.