Friday, November 27, 2009

Midnight Rider and Johnny Cash [or putting your money...]

Johnny Cash: Man in BlackRecently on the costuming board I frequent, a guy reached into his closet and put together an original costume for a TV show on comic book conventions. He was at a loss for a name, though. Firstly, it was a great costume - all in black. Second, he was wearing a hood and a mask - sort of like Hourman, which made you think of some short duration power, etc. Really topped it off with a utility belt and some good hard-wearing boots and gloves.

I suggested several names before settling on Midnight Rider. I seemed to remember those words in a song, so I went searching on YouTube. Not only did Allman Brothers do a song about a "Midnight Rider", but Johnny Cash - the ORIGINAL 'Man in Black' did an old spiritual with "midnight rider" in the song itself; the spiritual was entitled "Run On" or "God's Gonna Cut You Down."

So like all my other creative processes, I swirled it all together to say this was a former criminal who was changed - at midnight - and turned from his former ways. [Still a bit open on how and why...] Now he goes out to warn others of God's judgment - and has the power to stop evil, using the very darkness they hide in. [Like Marvel's 'Ghost Rider' who forms objects out of flame, this guy uses darkness.]

I also found myself listening hard and discovering how deep Johnny Cash's faith really was. He was a very hurt man who cared a lot for the downtrodden. He wore black though, and I think the mainstream Christian community did not know if they should really accept him or not. [Well, let's put it this way: not too many God-fearing moms used Johnny to be a role-model for their kids.]

But Johnny was for real. His sins were fairly public, IMO, but so was his repentance and struggle to overcome them. In one video, another artist says "We loved Elvis too much, I think. I think that's what killed him. But Johnny stayed alive and I think that was due to his faith."

You see, faith is more than saying you believe in God; it is saying no to the world and its allurements as well. And we Southern Christian boys may get a lot of good lessons at church - but until we personally say no to worldly wealth and fame and etc., we quickly end up doing a nose-dive. Easy to do when you come from poverty and a simple rural background.

Anyway, Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, did indeed put his money - and his heart - where his mouth - his songs - were.

In this video you will see some VERY famous persons - none of whom are known in any form to be followers of Christ - but appreciated Johnny Cash and what he sang about God's judgment on those who believe there is no justice in the world, no final judgment.

Cash's empathy with the least, last, and lost, won many hearts. Only on the Last Day will we know how many souls he won as well.

Thanks, Johnny.

God bless.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Bridges to Burn

For those who don't know, I live in Wheaton, Illinois - the "Mecca" of Evangelical Christianity. I came here from Memphis planning to leave in six months and ended up getting stuck here for the last NINE years! Before I could say 'Jack Squat' I was invited to teach in Kane County jail by a Roman Catholic deacon. I also got busy teaching a Bible study fellowship called Open Arms Fellowship.

Mississippi River Bridges - old and newWe are having our yearly Open House Sunday November 29th, inviting all the other Christians and non-Christians we can to show the love of Christ to and eat lots of food. As I said, its been NINE years. I went from one place to another almost in stupefied mystery. God erected bridges between me and others so that I could work unfettered as a teacher and bring the gospel to some really hurting people - and even to some VERY dedicated criminals!

Also in Wheaton there is small yet vital physical bridge [overpass] that allows us to avoid being held up by the train. It is so useful to us denizens, that even though it has needed repair for years, no one wanted to block it off to fix it. No one wanted to end its usefulness.

Now the time has come to shut down all traffic over this lone service bridge that has served our community so well. A year from now it will come back, glorious and an better than before, but for now, she must be taken down.

I'm sort of fond of that bridge. Like all Irish, I tend towards the romantic, the nostalgic. It takes the German in me to say "Enough - let's get to work!" and let it be demolished as unsafe and no longer a benefit to the community.

I am beginning to see I have to do that with certain relationships, certain "old neighborhoods" and "friends" I have on the internet. The bridges that once connected us are now unsafe and are even driving us apart. They are dry and unsubstantial; their "pylons" need removing and restoring.

I hate seeing bridges go; I despise seeing the remains of a once-prosperous community or a storefront all empty and hollow. Like Sam said as he watched the elves head to the Gray Havens to sail off to Valinor, leaving Middle-Earth forever: "I don't know why - but it makes me sad."

Well, I do know why it makes me sad. Its life and beauty and glory that has left. It is the "good old days" ending. A decade of discovery coming to an end. In modern American history, is a huge difference between 1936 and 1945, between 1963 and 1972, between 1976 and 1985, between 1999 and 2008 - each containing dramatic changes in our culture and in how we perceive our world.

I am one of the worst finishers in all of history. I am a good starter but a terrible finisher. If ever I pair up with a good finisher, someone who will take the baton across the finish line for me, I will be the most blessed man in the world.

Until then I have to stop now and then and assess what relationships work and which do not. I think we can be very much like Christ in this. He knew when to call it quits when arguing with His opponents and how to keep healing and loving those who came to Him.

I guess I am tired.

"Come with Me and rest awhile."

You got it, Jesus.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Jen, We Missed You

I just got news that Jennifer Knapp has resurfaced after a 5-year hiatus. She's back and making music (See

Many of us who were converted in the mid-90's got a huge gift of musically savvy Christ-following artists who did not care if their stuff was popular or not. Jars of Clay, DC Talk, Michael Card and Jennifer Knapp were the forerunners.

Unfortunately, the Christian music industry is a business, an institution to make profit, and so a lot of men and women who are fairly direct in proclaiming God and OUR sin (thus our need for Him), tended to be marginalized. There's a LOT of good Christian music that ain't getting airtime folks.

Jennifer was one of those who was raw, strong and vocal. However, she was not an aim-fire-kill Christian (*sigh* unlike self), but she was very real and very strong. She had had irreligious life that turned hellish before meeting Christ and so she speaks and sings passionately from the heart of being a redeemed soul, grabbed by Christ.

No more to be said. If you've heard her, you stopped and said "That doesn't sound like any Christian music I know!" Yeah, and that's a shame. 70% of the Psalms are of lament. Jennifer brings in a folk-singer and blues sensibility that truly expresses how we all feel at times in this world. You do not have to be a Christian to appreciate her music - but you cannot escape the fact that her faith in Christ is what is saving her soul.

Here she is - and the start of this video is precious because she obviously missed her cue or forgot her lyrics for a brief second.

Jen, welcome back.