Friday, September 16, 2005

The Man Comes Around: "A religion based on Johnny Cash"

World Magazine talks about the man in black, and how his presentation of "death, hell, judgment, and the coming of Jesus" appeals to those tired of yippy skippy Christianity.

Man in white: Johnny Cash's stark and honest profession of faith gained a hearing and garnered respect ... quote ...

JUST MONTHS BEFORE JOHNNY CASH DIED, Elizabeth Miller, writing in the highbrow literary magazine McSweeney's, said that "The Man Comes Around"—the title song on his last album—"just might be the best song I have ever heard in my entire life."

The song is a montage of biblical images and quotations about death, hell, judgment, and the coming of Jesus, the Man who comes around. Ms. Miller said that she has no idea what it all means, but that she cannot stop playing it over and over:

"After hearing this song, the song that I listen to every night before I go to bed and first thing every morning when I wake up, the song that made me pick up my guitar and play it so hard that I woke up the next morning with no feeling in the fingertips of my left hand, I know that if there was a religion based on the guitar, the words, and voice of the man who is Johnny Cash, I would write a thousand songs about it."

... and ...

Conventional wisdom says that Christians need to tone down their message to make it more palatable to the culture. Church growth experts exhort preachers to be "positive," projecting a happy, upbeat personality and a "victorious" lifestyle.

Today's young people—and most unbelievers—tend to see right through those facades, dismissing them as shallow and fake. Johnny Cash, though, was real, projecting an honesty about his sins, his suffering, and his failures that made his profession of faith seem real and honest too. Mr. Cash's faith rescued him from a life of drugs, alcohol, and other transgressions, and he knew to depend solely on the grace of God, rather than any worthiness in himself. His portrayal of his faith, void of hypocrisy and self-righteousness, garnered respect and could gain a hearing.

... more ...
... in Mr. Cash's biblical worldview, sin is real, and human beings are in their nature criminals, guilty of senseless crimes and awaiting execution. Love too is real, a gift of God who calls us into relationships and families. His songs to and about his wife June Carter—who died only four months before he did—are genuine and affecting. And the songs about God make sense of all of the rest.