I am a big Johnny Cash fan. Something about him always draws me in – probably the fact that I can sing his songs with ease in the original key. I recently read a book called, “The Man Comes Around, The Spiritual Journey of Johnny Cash.” It is a fine read discussing Cash’s faith throughout his life and is especially interesting when his life is full of turmoil.
In this book the author notes how Cash was terrified of playing live during the American Recording phase of his career. Those recordings were stripped to the bones, no big Nashville machine backing him, and the live performances would just be one voice & one guitar. The results were electric. They were successful albums, rejuvenating Cash’s career, and received wide spread critical praise.
It can be difficult to listen to those later albums at times. They are somber, dark, and mournful. The songs are not propped up with lavish orchestrations and beautiful accompaniment; they are presented with sparse instrumentation that nearly forces you to focus on Cash’s vocal (though how could one not listen with intent to his voice?).
After performing the American Recording songs live in front of fans who may have not been alive when he first appeared on the scene, Cash said he “felt alive again.” Even likening LA’s the Viper Room Cash to a honky-tonk. Cash found the simple presentation to be just as effective as using the best studio musicians Nashville had to offer.
This past Sunday, worship was empty. It was graduate recognition in the Sanctuary Service that happens simultaneously, Memorial Day weekend, Race Day in CLT, and a local dance studio was having recitals and everyone it seems has to go see someone dance. Between all of these things, not many folks made it out to worship in The Journey at St. John’s in Fort Mill. A few minutes before church I looked around and made the call to abandon the stage. We would leave the lights, mics, and hoopla for another week. This Sunday we would just take our music and lead from the floor. It felt a little uneasy. Our comforts were not available to us, the light wasn’t great and we had nothing to hide behind. Much like Johnny Cash getting onstage in the Viper Room, we had just our voice and one guitar. It was scary. Plus I’m never entirely comfortable with playing the guitar (I am far too aware of my inadequacies). But it felt right. We even had visitors in the midst of this crazy Sunday! Through it all the Spirit was felt. Without the lights, and microphones, and everything else; worship still happened.
Many of us are in a worship service each week which has a great deal of production. Whether that be lights, live rock band, and projected images and lyrics; or intricate Baroque fugues as a prelude followed by processions, introits, anthems, responses, and such. All of these things we associate with church exist to enhance the experience of worship and proclaim loud praises to our Lord.
But when it all comes down to it. We only need one voice, and one guitar.