Thanks for tuning in for a second day. Over at Outside Is Better I am looking at how the revival view of Christian singing influenced a highly individual view of Christianity, as well as the unique view of the afterlife, death and the end of times that came through this era on the American church. Many of the issues that folks find in the realm of worship today are directly influenced by this time period.
Today we are looking at one of the last Johnny Cash records, and how it shows Cash's positive spin on death and the end.
My Mothers Hymn BookThe last “official” release that wasn’t tinkered with, “My Mother's Hymn Book ” is a simple stripped down gospel record. The liner notes tell us that Cash sat down and flipped through his Mother’s hymnal and recorded the songs that jumped out to him. Interesting enough, many of the tracks that made the cut have a definite eschatological spin.
In a Cash biopic (that I can’t remember the title), his wife June Carter told Rubin that he had to keep John working...or he might die. I can’t stamp down the exact chronology, but this record was released well after the death of June Carter in 2003 (My Mothers Hymn book was released in 2004). The frailty that was evident in the previous record American IV is perhaps reflected on the most by the song selection in this record.Songs such as “Where we’ll never grow old” and “Where the soul of Man never dies” speak of the eternalness of those that are found in God, and counted by him. While heaven is a key piece, the death of death is more so. This as such as an escape as drastic forms of dispensationalism, buts pointing at a life that is thoroughly “other”.
Another key piece in this record is a view of a dualistic split between body and soul. This isn’t the theme that can be directly pin pointed, but a few listens through the record turn up instances where an eternal soul and a body below are key lyrical ideas. The idea of the spirit being in the sole occupation of man in heaven is a fairly new idea. It certainly isn't creedal, and the hymnody of revivalism is certainly gnostic in this idea. But I think these songs speak out to a man who has lost his love, is seeing his own body break down, and is desiring to be free of mortal constraints. Heaven is seen as an alternate universe, and we don't get the apocalyptic leanings of American IV: The Man Comes Around .
This isn’t the time to pick apart the theology of a country singer, but to see how he is reflecting on the death that he knows is coming soon. Ravaged by Parkinson’s disease, and living with the death of June Carter, mortality isn’t just a song lyric but a thought that dominates the waking day.
As a singer, artist and folk theologian, much more could be written about Johnny Cash and his view regarding death and the end of times. At the least we see a man who traversed heaven and hell on this earth and by his end and developed a revivalist piety that fascinated many people. The dark never consumed Cash, but he was able to hold onto it metaphorically to paint a very unique picture to many people.
Glory be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be