Walking the line with God?

carterfold3Friends of mine who have seen the new Walk the Line biopic on Johnny Cash say it is a strong movie, but totally misses the strong role Christian faith played in the life of this extended family. Yes, I know all about the wild side of his life. Here is how I summed some of that up in a column two years ago:

For years, Cash prowled the stage on amphetamines and wept as he sang “The Old Rugged Cross” — often in the same show. Things got better after he married June Carter in 1968, a meeting of souls made in heaven, but worked out in the flesh under the parental gaze of Ezra and Maybelle Carter. These country-music pioneers not only prayed at Cash’s bedside while he kicked drugs, but hung on through years of front-porch Bible study as he walked the line toward redemption.

Cash was in a spiritual war and he knew it.

That’s the key. The struggles went on, with the victories and the failures influencing the art and talent of the same man. It seems that the filmmakers did not realize, or elected to overlook, the point at which Cash’s religious conversion began.

Anyway, here is one of my shameless plugs. My good friend Prof. Jim Dahlman teaches at Milligan College, where I taught for six years, which is in the mountains of Tennessee right down the road from the musical stomping grounds known as the Carter Family Fold. If you love music and you haven’t been there, well, you need to go. This is where Johnny Cash gave his last performance.

Dahlman also is a columnist in the local daily newspaper, and he decided to talk to this generation of the Carter family before they see the movie. I hope he follows this snapshot up with another column after they see the flick. These folks are the real deal. Here’s a sample from family member Rita Forrester:

Fellow musician Kris Kristofferson called Johnny “a walking contradiction,” and by all accounts that wasn’t in spite of his faith but often because of it. … That openness and authenticity — a common description — not only brought new fans, it also gained a respectful hearing for their faith.

“They witnessed to people who never would have known anything about Jesus,” Rita says. They didn’t preach or “make judgments about other people. Their Christianity was just obvious. It was about the way they chose to conduct their lives.”

Rita is eager to see those lives portrayed on the screen next week, and she expects to cry when she does. “I’m sure it will be a bittersweet experience,” she says. “I’m hoping it will bring a real sense of what good people they were. I hope their faith comes through strongly.”

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.


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