I sat slightly embarrassed on the bus a couple of days, misty eyed as I read the last few chapters of Steve Turners fantastic look at the life of Johnny Cash. Unlike many biographies he didn’t gloss over anything, its a brutally honest appraisal yet that is exactly how Cash himself was. Its made me dip back into the back collection of ‘the man in black’ and discover the haunting power of many of his songs.
Beginning to understand more of who Cash was, the transparency of his faith and failings has breathed new life into many of his songs. The man who dressed in black, and had seen so much of death was at the same time someone obsessed with life. His faith and Turner’s last chapter on that inspired me no end. Cash for me is an example of a treasure in a clay pot – all is there to see and amid the failings God is clearly at work. Perhaps Cash lived out that battle in public that most live out in private, pretending n the outside that everything is fine when actually the pain, the struggles are overwhelming.
Perhaps Cash’s greatest attribute was the recognition that he knew what it was like to be in the places were many are, so when it came to faith there was never a self-righteous, sanctimonious or ‘preachy’ way with him. Larry Gatlin described Cash and June’s life as an open book, people who weren’t perfect but had found hope that they shared. The God that shined through Cash related and spoke to people as he wasn’t dressed in cliches, and genuinely cared for people. Bono summed it up well
“People were selling God like a commodity, and I couldn’t relate to them. Then I met Johnny Cash and i felt like him. You read the scriptures and you realise that he’s actually like these guys in the scriptures. He’s not like these weirdos.”
Maybe a good dose of Cash-esque honesty may be of more use to the church than slick programmes and great pretenders…