Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I Wear Black

Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison
Johnny Cash, born February 26, 1932, would have been 81 years old today. The BBC recently highlighted a lesser-known aspect of Cash's colorful career: his heart for prisoners and prison reform. Johnny Cash was known as the "Man in Black" but I wonder how many know why. The lyrics of his song, Man in Black, read in part:

I wear black for the poor and the beaten down
livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town
I wear it for the prisoner who is long paid for his crime
but is there because he's a victim of the times

I wear black for those who've never read
or listened to the words that Jesus said
about the road to happiness through love and charity
why, you'd think he's talking straight to you and me

Danny Robins records, "'I think Cash had a feeling that somehow he had been endowed with this fame in order to do something with it, and one of the ways he could do something with it was talking about prison reform,' says [Cash biographer Michael] Streissguth, who also believes Cash's deeply-held religious beliefs were a factor in his championing of the cause. 'He connected with the idea that a man could be redeemed.'"

Man can be redeemed in Christ and something about that powerful truth has become more profound to me as I've served as a prison chaplain. Fittingly, one of Cash's "lasting legacies" was donating "$5,000 of his own money to build a prison chapel - and publicly challenging Governor Winthrop Rockefeller to match his donation."

More people are incarcerated in America than in any other country in the world. The rate of incarceration has sharply increased since the drug laws of the 1980's and '90s, among other causes, and shows no signs of abating. Now is as great a time as ever to visit with Christ in prison [Matthew 25:43]. Those who are in prison continue to be among our most ignored and forgotten.

Do we believe people, even inmates, can be redeemed? Johnny Cash did. May the occasion of his birthday cause us to remember and reflect upon the reasons he wore black.

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