Johnny Cash is a Friend of Mine: A Prayer for the American Church
Sarah and I had both been to Haiti together, and then days later we shared a room at a conference full of people I love and respect, full of people who are doing kingdom work here in the states and abroad. But I confess the transition from experiencing the healthy, unknown, near Bible-times church in Haiti to the beautiful stage full of relevant people was a hard shift to make at first. It felt like a hard transition from the dirty to the clean. On that first day we slipped away for a pub-talk about grace and freedom, and of course, we also decided on a little visit to the Johnny Cash museum.
Johnny Cash was a man who visited many stages, as our culture demands, like many of the speakers at this conference. In the photo below he’s playing for prisoners . He did indeed care for the orphans. He was acquainted with grief. I found him familiar and low down, like a friend from back home, Arkansas boy that he was. Folsom Prison Blues reminds me of being a child. I have always been listening to the blues.
Church, you got big in my eyes in the last two weeks.
Since our plane lifted into the sky, my groans for us have peeled out trying to fit into words. Now this is what I hear on my insides:
A Prayer for the American Church
I pray for an actual co-laboring of leaders and churches, because Yours are a people whose eyes were made for kingdom vision, to see beyond denomination, beyond our own church signs. I pray You give us desire (man, woman, and child) to act out the invisible traits of a Holy Spirit. Your traits are our gifts, our fruits. Help us act out of the invisible, going about doing the low-down work that recognizes and shares suffering while embodying a joy that makes no sense at all.
I pray we find Jesus in the back, Jesus in the alley, Jesus in the shadows. Turn us fertile like a river bed, even when banks are empty. Let us rest. Let us go into the Blues without being afraid. Let us sing like Johnny Cash, King David, Bob Dylan, John the Locust Eater, and Woody Guthrie. Make us a people who don’t pretend. Let us not be anxious, yet help us never really ever fit on center stage. Let us wear miracles on our sleeves, alive even in the wilderness. Let Hope be a miracle that we sing corporately. I pray that the American church would so believe in Your goodness that she would lay down every title in exchange for trust, in exchange for the back row. Let us un-associate with our own names and be poets who see and give. Wake up the sleepy consumer in our hearts, and show us ENOUGH when we have it.
Let us take up better title. Not preacher, teacher, poet, or prophet. Let us take up Servant. Let us take up FREE. Let us get a better grip on some common liberation theology. Spirit give us great big tastes of freedom. Let us lie in bed and ask you: Am I free? Let us hear You say YES. Let the American church reclaim a living and breathing hope, a Living God who sees.
Spirit, on the road between us and our Jesus who sits at the right hand of the Father, let us be a people who despise shame. Left and right make us sniff it out and despise it in ourselves and in every single person we meet.
On Sunday mornings and Saturday nights, give us a vision of how many languages are going up to You. At the very hour we worship, the song we sing is coming to you in Creole, Mandarin, and Swahili. We are only a small lot, no matter how many watts of electricity we use in our services.
I pray that we become a people of globally-connected story, a people of allowed grief and of great celebration.
I pray that if she be a shepherd, she would lead whatever sheep You give. Don’t let her wait. I pray that if she longs to preach that she would preach to all creation, that she would live it straight out to the flowers and the dogs, to all who limp weary in the dust. I pray that she knows when to teach because there are ears yearning. I pray he places his quiet hands in the faith of a healer. If he plays the trumpet, let him pick it up and blow like there is a coming King. Let the clouds always look a little peeled back to him.
If he is a gatekeeper, give him the courage to open the gates wide, so wide that we turn inside out. Let us remember prisoners who don’t deserve it. Let us always associate with the prisoners. Let us remember that Jesus has keys and there are chains everywhere.
The new wine is pouring. Hurry, quick, and stretch us before we think we have nowhere to go. Your church is not a regime with a star-spangled constitution.
Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.