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The Priestly Man In Black

After the last couple weeks, mulling over the image of our priesthood (1 Peter 2:9) and having conversations about what it means to be a priest, I’ve come to the conclusion that the word “priest” itself is sensitive and charged.  People conjure images of everything from witchdoctors and monks to the Pope and Philip Seymour Hoffman.  The word may carry positive connotations or extremely negative ones.  Given that this word and the office it represents is so polarizing, how can we expect to minister and serve as priests when often times priests are exactly who people don’t want to be in contact with (contact and connection are after all what we are after here!)?

These men in black serve as our point of reference to what it means to be a priest.  But I want to offer another image, the Man In Black, as an illustration of our identity as a holy people, and a royal priesthood belonging to our God.  This last Friday marked what would have been Johnny Cash’s 78th birthday.  To celebrate I donned my black t-shirt and sifted through the liner notes of the box set I got for Christmas a few years back.  In doing so I was struck by an episode that captured Rick Rubin, Cash’s legendary bearded, Buddhist producer, describing Cash’s spirituality.

When Johnny and June were staying at my house, before dinner he got out a big old Bible and had everybody hold hands and did a prayer.  It was fantastic.  You felt blessed.  Because he comes from such a deep place of faith, that you know it’s real.  You don’t have to believe; all you have to believe in is him, and if you believe in him, you go for the ride.

Right when you think that Rubin would dismiss Johnny’s bible-belt piety with an eye-roll, he instead is drawn in, connected to Something.  He felt blessed and he went “along for the ride” because it was obvious that Cash was so deeply connected to God.

I pray that we don’t get distracted by our own or other’s preconceptions about priests.  I pray instead that our priesthood is surprising.  Surprising in its depth and authenticity; undeniable in its reality and genuineness.

I pray that when we encounter those who do not know God, our presence beckons them to go for a ride.


  1. I like the juxtaposition of the men in black, yourself included.  Connecting Johny to our image of priests is thought provoking.  I treasure those folks I can recall to whom I did not ever directly witness, but lived my life around them for a period of time, only to see them reach out to God "on their own," leaving me, with them, in awe of God's work.  As I think about it, staying present to God was a part of it. 

  2. Here's from an interview that ran last week between Rick Rubin and Terry Gross (on NPR's 'Fresh Air':

    "He's probably the most committed spiritual person I've ever met. He really lived his life according to his connection with God, really. And he had such an honest and pure way about it that – I remember we had a dinner party at my house one night with Johnny and June and some musicians and some film directors, and before dinner, Johnny had everyone hold hands and he said a prayer and he read from a Bible. And I know some of the people at the table had never experienced that before and some of the people at the table were even atheists. But his belief in what he believed was so strong that what you believed didnt matter so much because you were in the presence of someone who really believed and that felt good and that made you believe really in him more than anything else. It was really beautiful."