Saturday night the 19th, Pink Kitty and I saw Walk the Line, the biographical film of the rise of Johnny Cash from sharecropping farmer's son to country/rock-and-roll star. Really, the film is more than that, so much more. And like Pink Kitty wrote, the film ought to have been titled Ring of Fire.
We began our trek to the movie theater appropriately---listening to Cash's hits. I gotta admit...I had hardly ever listened to Johnny Cash's music. I only remember him from my younger days when there'd be some album of his advertized on TV..."Call now; operators are standing by." I remember seeing a music video or something of his---he was wearing black (surprise, surprise) and singing and walking around an empty boxcar sittin' on the railroad tracks. For the longest time, trains and Johnny Cash and that black outfit just seemed to go together in my mind. And Willie Nelson and Boxcar Willie (aren't they two different people? I dunno) were connected with Cash too.
So...when June (played excellently by Nashville's own Reese Witherspoon) asks Johnny how he developed his sound that imitates the trains' rhythms, the image clicked with me. The steady movin' on to somewhere else...that's what drives the prisoner crazy, as told by Cash's song "Folsom Prison Blues." That freedom...
The film depicts Johnny's raging, abusive alcoholic father's treatment of him. And I see that treatment as having created a prison for Johnny. It was a prison of blame, of bitterness, of hopelessness, and of low self-worth. The perspectives and perceptions of Ray Cash were transferred to his son. Johnny was forever trying to prove his father wrong but missing the mark every single time.
Sound familiar? Sound like our attempts to please our Heavenly Father? They fall short every time. But He knows how to give second chances AND to give the grace we so desperately need (and don't deserve, because on our own, we have not enough merit) in order for what we do to be pleasing to Him.
Perhaps we think too much about grace been doled out in each instance...momentary grace...rather than living in a state of grace, in a spacious place called "I Am Loved by the LORD Almighty." We see life in a way that could be likened to a prison...and in some moments, we are let out for a respite---grace periods. Is God that miserly? No!
He is not playing a game with us, changing the rules constantly about what will please Him. He is not a capricious god like those gods feared by various groups through the ages. He tells us what pleases Him. And most of all, our just being, pleases Him, as a child's merely existing pleases her mother.
Johnny Cash's father, as shown in the movie, never was pleased by his son's talk or actions. And Johnny's mere existence was not enough to please his father. Utter rejection emanated from the man. You see it as he sits across the length of the table at Thanksgiving in Johnny's home, and you hear it in his voice when he harangues Johnny, "You have nothing!"
I think the most poignant moments in the movie come when June Carter, her mother, and her father stay with Johnny after the Thanksgiving meal, to walk with him through an at-home detox from drugs and alcohol---they do what those who are supposed to love Johnny the most, refuse or neglect to do. June cares for and comforts Johnny as he tosses and turns and sweats. Maybelle and Mr. Carter run off the drug dealer who tries to make a house call. Mr. Carter even employs a shot gun in the effort! (Merely to threaten the drug dealer...not actually shoot him.) Then June is her most angelic when she exhorts and encourages Johnny upon his waking from rest after wrestling with the effects of withdrawal. She says, "Johnny, this is your second chance," and smiles, her expression mingling with the sunlight streaming in from the bedroom windows. She who could not stand to be around Johnny in his drug-induced stupors and angry careening out of control, has drawn near to him and has embodied the offer God is extending to Cash.......his redemption has drawn nigh. And the prison door is open, and Johnny can see that...and get up out of the cell and live in freedom.
If prison is the image that repeats in Cash's life, fire is the one that repeats in June's. "Ring of Fire" is the song June wrote to illustrate how the passion between her and Johnny affected her. True, the passion burned hot...and it left some destruction in its wake; but also "the ring of fire" became a true, redemptive love between them, a purifier. It burned the front Johnny had put on for years. It burned June's protective shell on herself and allowed her to shine even brighter.
Reminds me of another ring borne of fire: the One Ring of LotR fame. The evil thing was forged by fire, fire illuminates the Ring's identity, and it is fire that purges the evil.
Fire is destructive, yes; but what is worthy to be left after the fire, will remain. It will be redeemed.