I was recently reading a article where someone reminded me of a poignant scene from one of my favorite movies. You will remember that several years ago, Hollywood produced a movie about the life of Johnny Cash called Walk the Line. The film includes a powerful scene every preacher should see. In this scene, Johnny Cash and his band secure an audition at a small recording studio. They sing an unimaginative gospel song. Less than one minute into the song, the unimpressed owner of the studio interrupts them. He says, “Do you guys have something else?” Unhappy with his negative response, Johnny asks for an explanation. The studio owner says, “We’ve already heard that song a hundred times.” Johnny complains, “But you didn’t let us bring it home.” The owner says, “All right, let’s bring it home. If you were hit by a truck, and you were lying out in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing one song that people would remember before you are dirt, one song that would let God know what you felt about your time here on earth, one song that would sum you up—you’re telling me that’s the song you’d sing? That same tune we hear on the radio all day about your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re going to shout it? Or would you sing something different? Something real? Something you felt? Because I’m telling you right now, that’s the kind of song people want to hear. That’s the kind of song that truly saves people.” Johnny then decides to sing a song he wrote years earlier about a man in prison. In his deep penetrating voice the “Man in Black” begins to sing, “I hear that train a coming. It’s rolling round the bend. And I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when. I’m stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps dragging on …” As Johnny sings, the recording studio owner’s eyes light up. This song is real.
How often is this true for us at church? We do things the same way we’ve always done them. Church hasn’t changed all that much in the last 50 years or so. Our theologies are oversimplified because we live in the world of the sound-byte and it’s much better to sum up our faith in 12 words or less. We become narrow and entrenched in the way we do things. If we didn’t know better, someone might accuse us of leading unimaginative faith lives.
In a world of facades and pretentiousness, I wonder if what we long for more than anything else is a good dose of reality. Now this isn’t the scripted reality of TV reality. No, it’s the honest to goodness ugly, lots of excess baggage, burdensome reality we all know and avoid at all costs. There’s something oddly beautiful about this load of dirty laundry we call life. Sometimes it’s in living into our brokenness that we come close to God’s wholeness. It’s not the unimaginative, everything is A-Okay faith that people want to hear about. No, it’s the reality of that which is truly felt, lived and yet still sort of a mess that truly saves people.