Johnny Cash was more than "spiritual"

Johnny Cash articleI'm holed up in an airport hotel in London and frantically trying to catch up on email. That's why I am a bit late to this story. Regular readers of GetReligion will know that we rarely touch reviews and entertainment criticism. We're a news site. However, in this case, there is a language issue that just bugged me, big time. Or call it a lack of language issue.

So our text is from a Washington Post piece by J. Freedom du Lac entitled "Johnny Cash's Failing Voice Sang a Strong Farewell."

There's a lot of sadness and death in the new Cash album -- American V: A Hundred Highways. That's to be expected. And the writer also makes it clear that facing one's mortality can make a great artist think about eternity and big questions.

Recorded over the last months of Cash's life -- from 2002 until his death on Sept. 12, 2003, at the age of 71 -- the newest "American" album is essentially the sound of a man preparing to die.

Rather than a depressingly morbid recording, though, it's an elegiac song cycle on which Cash comes across like a man who is very much at peace with the inevitability that's hovering over him. He'd just like to share some of his wisdom and say farewell before he goes. God willing, of course, for Cash was nothing if not deeply spiritual in the last half of his life.

"Oh, Lord, help me to walk another mile, just one more mile," he prays on an album-opening cover of Larry Gatlin's "Help Me," over a finger-picked acoustic guitar.

OK, yes the Man in Black was "spiritual." You could even say that he was a Christian, even a born-again Christian. You could say that, but it seems that many mainstream writers have trouble saying it. Perhaps it is hard to use that word when describing one of the greatest American folk artists of the 20th century. Maybe.

Where is the "C" word in this article?

There is Christian doctrine and imagery in this material. Right? That's an accurate statement?

There's all kinds of places one can go to read about the sin, salvation and Johnny Cash, especially to the writings of Steve Beard and Steve Turner.

Still, here is what the man said himself, sharing a pulpit with another spiritual guy, the Rev. Billy Graham:

"I have been a professional entertainer," said Cash, at a 1989 Graham crusade in his home state of Arkansas. "My personal life and problems have been widely publicized. There have been things said about me that made people ask, 'Is Johnny Cash really a Christian?'

"Well, I take great comfort in the words of the apostle Paul who said, 'What I will to do, that I do not practice. But what I hate, that I do.' And he said, 'It is no longer I who do it, but the sin that dwells within me. But who,' he asks, 'will deliver me from this body of death?' And he answers for himself and for me, 'Through Jesus Christ the Lord.'"

And all the people said?

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