The America We Forgot: On Owning a Truck

What’s the best way to start a cultural foodfight today?

Apparently, ask journalists whether they know someone who owns a truck. That’s what John Ekdahl did on Twitter. He received an avalanche of responses, many of them hostile and coarse. Apparently, many reporters felt targeted by the question, which was likely driving at whether the members of the journalistic class—clustered in progressive-leaning cities—know folks in non-urban America, where pickup trucks are quite popular. Some Twitter respondents took the opportunity to excoriate trucks and the hillbillies who love them, linking truck ownership with an outmoded masculinity and a climate-ignoring mindset.

I followed this exchange with interest. The first vehicle I ever drove was a red no-frills F-150. Many memories of my childhood are gone, but the experience of sitting in that scuffed driver’s seat, handling the stick shift, and navigating backwoods dirt roads in Maine will never leave me. It was a tactile baptism for a boy. You had to press in the clutch, ease on the gas, handle the manual transmission, and steer so as not to off-road unintentionally. It engaged every facet of my adolescent masculine self.

At present I do not own a pickup truck. I think about it from time to time, and may seek one out someday. But I don’t own one, and in terms of my broader interests, I share some affinities with the aforementioned urbanite journalists. I like craft coffee; I read New Yorker articles; I enjoy urban life. Even as my tastes have in some ways changed over the years, though, I have no desire to “leave behind” my rural upbringing. It shaped me. It is a vital part of American life.

I wonder if we have forgotten much of America. This is true, I think, of a good number of those who constitute the nation’s intelligentsia. I say this without rancor. They have moved to a city, gotten a cool job, found enlightened food, and now feel that they work for a cause that is better than the worldview they were taught. But just because one moves away from home does not mean that home no longer exists, or that home’s teachings were wrong.

Cultural snobbery rooted in personal superiority is a cancer of our time. America famously practices what Richard Hofstadter called “politics in the paranoid style,” but in truth, we don’t confine our paranoia to politics. We politicize everything today: the national anthem, sustainable food, cars and trucks, love of country, music, sports. All the good stuff and everything else besides. Even as America grows supposedly less religious, it becomes all the more chiliast. The secular apocalypse haunts us far more than the spiritual one ever did.

Because of this secular spirituality, we demonize those who do not share our practices. They become the incubators of original sin. So we turn our backs on them. We write them off. They do not deserve our fair-mindedness. Other people who mostly agree with us, who share a variation on our theme, do merit tolerance, but the counter-culturalists do not.

I can’t see a historic society that handled diversity perfectly. Even some of the societies administered by Christians struggled to accommodate dissent. That’s regrettable. But I do see in at least some Western countries—like America—a tradition of at least carving out space for disagreement. America has a blemished record when it comes to civil rights, but America made real advances in the area of justice and equity relative to many—most—other countries throughout history.

We seem to be transitioning out of such a cast. This is lamentable. Christians should oppose our polarizing drift. We do so not simply by thinking well, advocating for our neighbor, and voting. We do so by acting as if people who disagree with us are real human beings. We do so by treating all people with dignity. We do so by making good on our doctrine of humanity, grounded as it is in the imago dei.

And we do so by not being cultural snobs. Enjoy your foodie establishments; listen to your curated playlists crammed with singer-songwriters. Enjoy God’s good gifts. But do not forget the other side. Do not despise your roots. Do not turn your back on those who live in towns, or suburbs, or merely “regional” cities. (In fact, do what you can to steampunk “regional,” and to make it a badge of honor rather than a slur.)

Remember some basic things. Lots of people eat at McDonald’s. They do so intentionally, willfully even, sometimes while knowing it is not cold-pressed health food. People drive trucks. They like hunting. They eat at chain restaurants. They participate in local parades. They care for the sick in their community. They root for area sports teams. They love their country.

This side of America is by no means perfect or saintly. But neither does it represent the demon forces that would undo the world. It is a collection of people made by God who need God. Pastors who minister to such people should do so under the banner of privilege. What an immense joy it is to care for real flesh-and-blood image-bearers. What a holy calling to shepherd ordinary people to heaven.

Too many young evangelicals live life craving more. They want something super-charged and super-cool. But there is much wisdom in loving people wherever you find them, urban or rural. There is much glory to God in casting off one’s natural snobbery, whether you are tempted to disdain cultural elites or backwoods hunters. You are free to be who you are and like what you like, provided it is honoring the Lord. But you and I are not free—in Christ—to hate our fellow man, and to ascribe to any group the original sin that is in truth in our heart just as it in theirs. The fruit of the Spirit is love, and loving others who are not like you means that you will stand out in a polarized, fractious, profoundly anxious age.

And yes, if you have opportunity to drive a truck down a dirt road, shifting gears by your own hand, the wind in your hair, a vehicle raw in power and blissfully bereft of modern amenities in your thrall, it must be said that that’s no bad thing, either.