What We Can Offer If We Uncircle the Wagons

Two new memoirs, Troubled and Between Two Trailers, make a powerful—if unintentional—case for the Christian ethos of family and community.

Growing up, our car radio was always tuned to 90.7, American Family Radio. We lived about 15 minutes from the nearest town, so we spent a lot of time driving. If we were lucky, Mr. Whittaker’s warm, grandfatherly voice invited us to join him for Adventures in Odyssey. But more often, we’d listen to alarmed (and alarming) talks from Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, or Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, each warning my parents of all the ways the world was coming for us.

Their message was convincing, and not only for my parents. I’d plug my ears when Ms. Barbie, my warm-hearted school bus driver who wore denim cutoffs and had brightly lacquered nails, sometimes tuned her portable radio to 96.9 KISS FM, “Amarillo’s #1 Hit Music Station,” and started singing along to secular music on the 45-minute ride to school. I felt palpable relief when I instead climbed aboard to the sound of Garth Brooks crooning about his friends in low places. After all, everyone in Texas knows God has a soft spot for country.

One of the strangest things about being raised in that embattled mindset was how my side seemed embarrassed of what we had to offer the wider world. We said we knew the truth about God and humanity, but I got the distinct impression that we were far from confident that the truth could hold its own out there.

My elders and the voices they heeded on the radio seemed to take a defensive posture, self-conscious about our intractable fuddy-duddy-ness and anxious that these commitments would cost us. It felt like they weren’t sure we could ever compete on a level field. We had God on our side, but they had MTV. Our only option was to circle …

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