Dolly Parton, Jesus, and The Town Tramp: An Advent Reflection

“When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the LORD.”” -Hosea 1:2

“I make jokes about it, but it’s the truth that I kind of patterned my look after the town tramp. I didn’t know what she was, just this woman who was blond and piled her hair up, wore high heels and tight skirts, and, boy, she was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. Momma used to say, “Aw, she’s just trash,” and I thought, That’s what I want to be when I grow up. Trash.” -Dolly Parton

Sweet, tongue in cheek Dolly with her fake tits and heart of gold has always made me think of Jesus when I hear this quote. Always.

The metaphor isn’t perfect, but hear me out.

If you are unaware, there are some really disturbing analogies throughout scripture comparing humanity to a whore. To me, they really seemed to conflict with a God of love; they compare the nation of Isreal to a woman reduced to her sexual behavior, usually followed by a threat of humiliation or destruction. It’s a hurtful, simplistic analogy that doesn’t take into account the economic forces outside of a woman’s control. In other words, it treats a woman who is being abused and exploited so she can feed her family like she’s a piece of trash.  Is that really the God I serve?

But maybe that was part of the analogy all along. By all appearances, humanity is a piece of trash. We elbow each other in lines outside Walmart the day after thanksgiving to get a better deal. We make fun of poor people who stand outside Walmart and elbow people to get better deals because they are trying to provide for their families as we are sitting on our couches and gobble down a feast of left-overs. We are all shades of vulgar. We support Justice systems that protect the status quo, not the people they are supposed to serve. Hell, If you’re not heartbroken, you’re not paying attention.

By all appearances, we are a piece of trash.

But for some reason I don’t understand, God, like Dolly Parton, sees us and thinks we are beautiful. So beautiful in fact, that God choose to identify with us. God saw worth in people and chose to look like us and live with us.  God isn’t looking down on us from some distant heaven and feeling all pissed at the fucked-up cheaters and whores that he made. God chose to dwell in us and among us; broken, messy, beautiful us.

So as we reflect on Jesus coming in the world during advent, and we look around and feel crushed, remember that Jesus is near. Behold, his backwards, zany kingdom where a where a working-class refugee is king, and his attendants are whores and blue collar workers, is at hand. We are in his lineage, and he is part of us.

And if Jesus isn’t your jam, you’re made in the image of the Divine. And if you aren’t a theist, you are connected to the infinite and your human family in deep, moving ways. In this advent season, be still, and let the infinite stir in you a recognition of the dignity and worth of your human sisters and brothers.

Jesus, may your kingdom come.