Sunday, March 05, 2006

Walk The Line

I just saw the Johnny Cash movie, Walk The Line. While the movie didn't spend a lot of time on Johnny's "involment" with Christianity (though the movie did mangage to portray Christians less than positively), one section of the dialog really struck me.

After going through a struggle with addiction and self-destruction, Johnny attempts to make a return to the spotlight. He realizes that a lot of his fan mail is from prisoners- and with that he decides to do a live concert in Folsom Prison for the inmates. He tells his managers and promoters his intent. They respond:

Promoter: "You're fans are church folks Johnny- Christians. They don't want to hear you singing to a bunch of murderers and rapists trying to cheer them up."

Johnny cash: "They're not Christians then."

Cash seemed to have an empathy and compassion for those who were the most despised by society. Perhaps it was the very way he was destroying his own life and the lives of those around him by his behavior that caused him to feel compassion on "murderers and rapists."

As humans though, we demand justice. Those murderers and rapists are getting what they deserve by being locked up. Say hypothetically Johnny would be singing to a prisoner who had did me or my family serious harm- would I want that prisoner cheered up with a free concert? I demand justice- I know I would.

But the whole thing goes deeper than this for me- don't we normally always demand justice- for even the most minor of offenses? Don't we usually get mad at the person in front of us on the "10 items or less" line who has 11 or 25 items? Don't we hate the guy on his cell phone that cut us off in traffic? When the paper boy throws our paper in the rain puddle, don't we despise his insensitivity? Don't we wish for justice even in these simple situations?

The Bible though tells us to love our enemies.

I don't know the historical accuracy of the dialog above between Cash and his promoters. Yet- i'm struck with the implicit truthfulness of Johnny's response. Ok- so Johnny goes and plays a rocking concert and doesn't give an alter call- and I doubt he had this in mind. But the theme expressed is correct-we are to love those who are enslaved to sin- proclaiming the good news of the gospel to them- which is by far, much better than a rockin' concert. We are to show them kindness- we are to turn the other cheek. Compassion and mercy- these are characteristics of a Christian. Prison ministries are so crucial- Those Christians that dedicate their lives to this cause deserve our prayers and support.

On a practical level, this is personally very challenging- I do not surround myself with Christians and Christian "community". I'm surrounded by the world. I do not work for a Christian company, I do not listen to Christian music, and I don't have any awe inspiring bumper stickers. I'm surrounded by people enslaved to sin, every day. People who cut me off in traffic, people who may even wish me harm- people who may even ridicule the very things I adore. People who I often wish justice upon. It is sometimes very hard to sit back and shut up.

Those moments of Gospel power of that strike me are when a person reaches out to those who who have personally harmed them. This theme was brought home in the movie, To End All Wars- in which prisoners in a concentration camp reach out to their captors (this is a must see movie for Christians). It was based on a true story. How in the world do Christian captives being tortured turn the other cheek on their captors? The key phrase is "in the world". The world demands justice- but the faith of Christian demands mercy and compassion. And some people tell me Christianity isn't mystical like the Eastern religions. This characteristic of saving faith is indeed most supernatural- and goes beyond reason.

Luke 6: 27-36
"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

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