How does a Minnesotan become obsessed with Southern gospel? Unlike many conversion narratives, I can’t pinpoint the hour I first believed. I do know that my encounter with gospel music has transformed my understanding of American popular culture. … My favorite comes from the pen of Big Smith’s Jody Bilyeu. Frustrated by Southern gospel’s death-haunted lyrics, he focuses on the life and teachings of Jesus. Here is Bilyeu’s version of the “upside-down kingdom”: The rich man’s poor– That poor boy’s wealthy. The strong man’s weak– The sick girl’s healthy. The stranger belongs The right man’s wrong When Jesus turns the world around Hearing Bilyeu put the gospel in Southern gospel makes me fly away.

John Schmalzbauer (a Minnesotan Lutheran) says southern gospel is a key to understanding American pop culture