Paradoxes of the Evangelical Epicenters

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To paraphrase Allen Ginsberg a whole lot, I saw the best minds of my children's generation enrolled in character education classes, basketball leagues, and theater programs, dragging themselves through the streets of Nixa in search of academic achievement and career success.

My thoughts turned to the bard of the Beatniks when I saw an ad for the Ginsberg biopic Howl, now playing at the Moxie Cinema in nearby Springfield.  Seconds later I spied a syllabus for my son’s junior high health class. The most interesting topic?  A unit on abstinence and sexually transmitted diseases.

There in a nutshell you have the paradoxes of the Evangelical Epicenters.  On the one hand, you can watch a film about a counterculture icon at a theater that serves wine and single origin chocolates.  On the other hand, you can enroll your children in a school district that teaches abstinence education and the proper way to dispose of a damaged flag.

Let me explain that last part.  Yesterday my seven year-old told us that a ripped or torn U.S. flag should be incinerated only after the stripes have been carefully cut off.  He learned this from a video shown at George Espy Elementary School.  We looked it up on a Boy Scouts of America web site.  He was right. 

This was not part of the curriculum his parents encountered in Minnesota and Kansas during the seventies and eighties, though we did learn a host of patriotic songs.  Surely I would have learned more had I not dropped out of Cub Scouts after my Pinewood Derby debacle.

A further glimpse at the paradoxes of Ozarks life can be seen in the new film Winter’s Bone, winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and a serious contender for the Oscars.  Filmed right here in Christian County, it depicts the hardscrabble existence of a family overcome by meth. 

Reviews of the film routinely stress the backwardness of hill and holler Ozarkers living in trailers and cabins.  To be sure, there is an element of truth in these depictions.  According to Our Patchwork Nation, about twenty percent of the Evangelical Epicenter population lives in mobile homes.  It’s not for nothing that local favorites Big Smith sing this anthem to fist pumping Ozarkers in clubs and bars:

Don't call me trash 'till you've slept in my trailer
'Till you've dug up my roots
'Till you've lived in my blues
A man that's on wheels ain't my notion of failure
So come to my trailer
My boudoir to peruse

Yet the Epicenters are far more than trailers and meth, a fact made clear by the credits for Winter’s Bone.  Listed as the film’s caterer is the proprietor of Da Barefoot Chef, a short-lived foodie paradise down the road from megachurch James River Assembly.

The film also features Nixa graduates Cody Brown and Casey MacLaren, protégés of high school drama teacher Bill Townsend.  Their success is a reminder that Nixa’s schools are among the best in the state.  

Here in the Evangelical Epicenters, we live with a host of cultural tensions.  While Nixa’s young people are not exactly hillbillies, they can grow up to play them on t.v.