by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
I just purchased “The Essential Johnny Cash” music CD. I’ve always been a Cash fan. I am drawn to his melancholy brooding, his angry and all that Black. I like his bold pointed lyrics, including the songs he chooses but didn’t write. I am thinking Nine Inch Nail’s “Hurt.”
Cash is a prophet. All musicians are supposed to be prophets (instead of rich superstars). Poetry and lyric are the tools of prophets, so says Walter Brueggemann in his old work, The Prophetic Imagination. The prophets like Jeremiah bring down the hegemonic king with weeping, with symbols like baskets of fruit and plumb lines, shattered clay pots… while sitting in dung and ash. Moses defies Pharaoh and wins over the powers with “Thus says the Lord…” and then Moses brings on the gnats. Pharaoh’s magicians can’t fake the gnats. Pharaoh is brought down by gnats. Go figure. And figure Brueggemann and Cash do.
Cash’s beat, that drivin’ walkin’ doin’ time kind of beat drills deep into the settled comforts of affluent America. Brueggemann says the Powers will pretend to not notice – they need do nothing and the prophet will not have any affect. But still they hammer on, the pronounce, they walk on, they smash symbols in front of us suburbanite Pharaohs… “Thus says the Lord! Some day you who care not about the poor and oppressed will be judged! Someday you who are comfortable will trade places with the garbage scroungers, with Lazarus! You will burn with unquenchable thirst – ‘just a drop!’ Woe to us for turning away.’
We should listen to Cash and weep. For the most subversive One did: Jesus wept. The Judge became the Parent. The Great One became the Servant – and then turned the world over upside down. With every quarter beat and alternative thumb Johnny Cash keeps drilling that into me. He makes me afraid. I am forewarned. Now that is power.