“She simply divided herself on behalf of everyone there”

Sarah Condon at Mockingbird writes an appreciative article about Dolly Parton, her advocacy for the marginalized, and how her music has witnessed to the struggle of women to overcome inequality and mistreatment, while, ironically, she has been criticized for being “non-political.”

In it — and here’s a set of words I never thought I’d write — she tells about how Parton made self-deprecating joke about her breasts that instructs us in how to preach in a more Christ-like manner.

Read Jesus Tells a Boob Joke: Dolly Parton’s America

The essence of Condon’s observation is that, in a divisive moment, Parton sacrificed herself and put herself in the middle of a conflict that drew fire from both sides. When two other celebrities made partisan remarks that were red meat to their own tribe and made the other side see red, “…there stood Dolly, in the middle of it all, making a boob joke at her own expense, in the context of a movie about feminism. I mean, my word. She was unwilling to be the one who divided people, so she simply divided herself on behalf of everyone there.”

Preachers have gone so long telling people what to do and stirring up us to take a stand against them, that we have forgotten the way of Jesus. Jesus constantly puts himself in the position where people take a stand against him because he identifies with us all and then gently, often indirectly, uncovers our humanity and brokenness.

Sarah Condon says it well…

We insist that our religious leaders be prescriptive. We do it in the name of knowing what is right and what is wrong. But really, we do it because we want our preachers to tell us that we are right and that the people out there are wrong. The best preachers I know absolutely refuse to hand out these modern day indulgences.

… they sing the Gospel and trust God to do the naming.

The best preachers I know are descriptive. They tell stories of the other knowing that everyone in the room has felt like the other at some point in time. …they remember that everyone has felt pain and struggle. And …they use compassion as the gateway to the heart.

P.S. Listen to Dolly’s song at the top. It’ll do you good.

22 thoughts on ““She simply divided herself on behalf of everyone there”

  1. Dolly has always exuded grace. “I Will Always Love You” was written as a breakup of a long standing business relationship to embark on her solo career. That’s a graceful exit.


  2. Just saw a heart article on CNN. “They were married for 68 years and they died just one day apart”. Interesting tidbit, 68 years at the same small ELCA church.


  3. The main point is that preachers too often foment an “us” and “them” mentality because we are moralists and love to think that we are right and others are wrong.

    And got blindsided by a Better Preacher coming out of the NYC Real Estate and Reality Show circuit.


  4. “…there stood Dolly, in the middle of it all, making a boob joke at her own expense, in the context of a movie about feminism. I mean, my word. She was unwilling to be the one who divided people, so she simply divided herself on behalf of everyone there.”

    the choice to be self-deprecating gives much evidence of a natural humility, which brings grace to those who are humble

    and peace-makers are blessed

    so Ms. Dolly emerges from her self-deprecation as someone who tries to ‘calm the storm’

    sadly, throughout history, too many women have had to be self-deprecating just to survive and, knowing this, Dolly uses self-deprecation willingly as a ‘sacrifice’, changing ‘humble’ into something of grace to help heal the breach . . . . with all of her outrageous stage persona, she is a very classy lady who is not without grace and she hasn’t forgotten where she came from or the plight of the people she left behind . . . . she has been a blessing to them indeed


  5. “This thread got moved to a different topic, really, than the post.”

    I don’t know what happened. This bunch is usually so disciplined.


  6. Fanny Crosby also wrote romantic ballads, operettas, and Democratic campaign songs.
    I did not know that until today.

    Your church, no doubt, did not sing those songs.


  7. We’re all wrong. Just in different ways, some of which are more irritating than others.
    And we’re not always wrong about everything.

    Of the three women highlighted I have to admit Jane Fonda is my favorite. She was great in Cat Ballou, Julia, and On Golden Pond. Her opposition to the war in Vietnam agreed with me, albeit for different reasons. I’m glad to see that at nearly 80, she’s spry enough to get herself arrested for yet another left-wing cause.

    Lily Tomlin could have gone through a guardrail and into a canyon back in 1969. None of her characters or comedic skits ever appealed to me in the slightest. She’s like a female Dan Akeroyd.

    I’ve never been a country music fan, but I have to admit I need to become acquainted with Dolly Parton’s output. I heard she moved past soccer-mom pop country and put out some awesome traditional Appalachian bluegrass albums recently.


  8. If only Johnny Cash were still with us.

    Honestly, if we had to wait until the world was free of cruelty and arrogant violence before we could appreciate a little self-depreciating humor, we would be waiting a very long time. Even in the most desperate times, I would say especially in the most desperate times, artists like Dolly Parton who strive to remind us all of our common humanity and our common struggles, are deeply appreciated.

    flatrocker’s use of the word ‘partisan’ is kind of ominous to me. I think less about partisan politics and more about a weary man trying to keep a cigarette alive while he hunkers in the dripping woods waiting to blow up a train.


  9. This thread got moved to a different topic, really, than the post. The post is about preaching the gospel as Jesus did, not necessarily speaking to the issues of the day. That was the context of the illustration.

    The main point is that preachers too often foment an “us” and “them” mentality because we are moralists and love to think that we are right and others are wrong. Jesus certainly spoke strongly against the religious leaders of his day, but I think this is why he did that — because they too were dividing people by insisting upon their concept of righteous living.

    Gospel preaching like Jesus’ describes both prodigal sons and elder brothers, and every one of us knows we’ve been unveiled.


  10. Stephen, have you actually read the lyrics to all 8,000 of Fanny’s songs to make sure “boobs” aren’t mentioned?

    Obviously, “fannies” are in play.


  11. Fanny J Crosby wrote 8,000 songs and nothing about her boobs. No melodies either. (Sorry folks but in the church I grew up in I was scarred for life.)


  12. Yes CM, but to a partisan it’s never ever enough. This seems to be the point Robert is inadvertently making.
    Desperate times demand desperate actions and boob jokes just aren’t desperate enough.


  13. As a child of East Tennessee, I have always adored Dolly and always will. Although she jokes about being fake on the outside (boobs and plastic surgery), she is 100% real on the inside. She really does love people. She loves children, she loves her husband, and she loves people just the way they are.

    Reminds me of Mr. Rogers, I went to the see the movie this weekend. Cried the whole time.


  14. One of the points of the article, however, Robert, is that Dolly HAS spoken meaningfully to the plight of the marginalized through her music and her advocacy for many causes and charities (see this article for example: https://theboot.com/dolly-parton-charity-work/). I think she has used her celebrity status and wealth about as well as anyone I can imagine to help others.

    Now whether or how much she has spoken out on the specific things that trouble you, I’m not aware, but I don’t think Dolly has hidden her light under a bushel.


  15. Clarification: I’m referring to the Nazis and Holocaust not because I’m equating that moment in German history with our current moment. But such moments have happened in American history — for instance, the centuries-long “moment” of slavery — and may happen again. Also, with regard to the Nazis and Holocaust, it is clear that the moment of crisis, or the moments of crises, that led to the actual atrocities came years before the atrocities themselves; I personally believe, along with many others, that we are on the threshold of just such moments of social and political crises right now. As a result, not being, or appearing, divisive is not at this time high on my list of priorities. I might be willing to divide myself in half if that would help, but when putting water in a desert to prevent undocumented migrants from dying of thirst is punished by federal prosecution, as it has been by this administration, it is clear that dividing oneself in half is not enough.


  16. I appreciate Dolly’s joke, and her desire not to divide others, choosing to “divide herself” instead. Certainly, let’s pray for the president. I don’t tell boob jokes, but I have prayed for the president (the current one), and I will again. I don’t particularly like doing it, I hardly know how to, so I try to let the silent language of the Spirit do it for me.

    But there comes a time when not wanting to divide is not enough. When the Nazis were putting Jews, and others, in death camps, when they were conducting mass executions as a matter of state policy, it was not a time for Germans to worry about not being divisive in their opposition to that policy, for telling boob jokes to decrease tension, or for leaving it at praying for the fuhrer. Now you may say we are not at a moment like that now. But you should admit that it is possible for America to be at a moment like that, if not now, then perhaps in the not-too distant future. My question is: if you believe we have reached, or may reach, a moment like that at some point, do you also believe that telling boob jokes and praying for the fuhrer will be enough, do you believe that not being divisive is of paramount importance?


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