Home > Addiction, Movie Clips, Sabbath Evenings > Sabbath Evenings – You are Not Nothin’

Sabbath Evenings – You are Not Nothin’

[Caveat to the reader:  the following story is a slice from the life of singer-songwriter Johnny Cash.  Though there are many themes and angles to his stunning story, it would take many pages to cover them all.  I have chosen to focus on one.]

You’re nothin’! — hard words to hear from anyone – anytime. But when these words are spoken to a child by a parent, the impact carves a permanent wound on the soul.  These indicting words spoken to Johnny Cash by his father would significantly affect him well into his adult years.  At 12, he suffered his deepest and most enduring pain when his older brother Jack, 14 was accidentally killed in a sawmill accident. Dad, grief-stricken, directly and indirectly blamed Johnny—he had been out fishing at the time. Dad started drinking and became abusive. He  favored Jack. Jack wanted to be a preacher.  Johnny loved listening to and singing music. Dad didn’t see the point of music. One day , angry and drunk, Johnny’s Dad announces  “The devil did this, and he took the wrong son. You’re nothin’.”

I’m completely drawn into the story of Johnny Cash – one of the most influential American singer-songwriters in music history. The album cover of Johnny’s 1994 recording American Recordings is dramatically telling – setting up the themes of Cash’s story in picture form:  Johnny, dressed in a long black coat preacherly-like, stands imposing and resolute in front of ominous storm clouds. Two dogs, one black and one white with spots, serendipitously wander in to the scene and strike a pose.  Cash called them Sin and Redemption — profoundly symbolizing two prominent themes in his story.  He is simultaneously the preacher and the sinner.

Walk the Line,” a biopic [that’s short for a biography in move form] illustrates Johnny Cash’s early adult years and his hard road to fame in the music business.  I love this movie.  In fact, I have watched it over and over.  The movie is human.  It’s raw and real, not glossing over what it means to live on this side of eternity.  Life is messy.  The human heart leaks out brokenness expressed in a hodgepodge of actions and reactions. “Walk the Line” exposes the story of how Johnny Cash is haunted by his father’s words:  “You’re nothin’.” I think I watch it so often because it is a vivid reminder of the ravages of a fragmented planet of people who hear these words daily.  Johnny’s story, in part, is a reaction to these words.

Johnny goes all out to be accepted as a credible singer/songwriter.  He fights hard to believe he is something.  His success sets him on a path crowded with screaming fans and an unrelenting touring schedule.  He begins to use drugs and alcohol to keep him going.  Though Johnny is married at this time, he meets the singer-songwriter June Carter.  The attraction is instant for both of them.  Johnny’s story reveals a man spiraling rapidly into drug addiction, alcohol, adultery, and divorce.

Johnny Cash’s sin weakened him — he was losing the fight with the fierce rage he felt over his father’s searing rejection as a boy.  He tried harder but Johnny lost the fight – exhausted and his drug-ridden body crashed – passing out on stage during a concert. Depression, despair, and agony were winning. That Thanksgiving Johnny’s parents and June Carter’s family came to Johnny’s new home in a beautiful wooded area near a lake.  After dinner, spotting Johnny taking more pills, his father approaches him in front of the family and  rejects his achievements and drug addiction.  His words are contemptuous and dismissing as if to echo the words again:  “You’re nothin’.”

After Johnny’s parents leave, June and her parents stay with him.  June is relentless in helping Johnny through his darkest night of beating his drug addiction.  Watching Johnny go through detoxification was hard to watch — shaking, sweating, the craving for more, confusion and days of sleep. The Carter family’s love was unyielding and tireless – they loved Johnny Cash well by staying close to him, threatening a visiting drug dealer, and throwing away his pills.

And then Johnny Cash wakes up.  This is my favorite scene in the movie.  Johnny opens his eyes and his world looks radically different.  It’s quiet.  The colors are vibrant.  June is sitting by his side.  He eats fresh berries picked by June and her mother.  All of this brings Johnny to tears.  The script reads:

Johnny Cash: You’re an angel.
June Carter: No, I’m not.
Johnny Cash: You’ve been there with me.
June Carter: I had a friend who needed help. You’re my friend.
Johnny Cash: But I’ve done so many bad things.
June Carter: You’ve done a few, that’s true.
Johnny Cash: My Daddy’s right. It should have been me on that saw. Jack was so good. He would have done so many good things. What have I done? Just hurt everybody I know. I know I’ve hurt you. I’m nothin’.
June Carter: You’re not nothin’. You are not nothin’. You’re a good man, and God has given you a second chance to make things right, John. This is your chance, honey.

[I apologize in advance that if you want to see the movie clip, you will need to click the link below and leave this post.  I was not able to insert the actual clip.]

Walk the Line:  Your Second Chance

It is a poignant clip.   From this point, everything in Johnny’s life changes.  God displays his glory through many instances of redemption in his life.  Maybe that’s why I never grow tired of watching this movie.  I cry every time. God takes the trash of our shattered, toxic hearts and redeems them.  In Ezekiel 36.26 God says “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender and responsive heart.”  The redemptive love goes far beyond June Carter and points to Christ – the Redeemer – the only one who is able to make all things new (Rev. 21.5) Our sinful heart gets to a desperate place of finally crying out,  When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long . . . finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt . . . I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.  And you forgave me!  All my guilt is gone.” Ps. 32. 3-5   And the apostle Paul confirms “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.” Romans 8.1-2

And you are not nothin’!

[This movie gets so much right about sin, struggle and redemption.  I hope if you have not had a chance to see it, you will.]

  1. DH
    April 12, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Thanks for a wonderfully encouraging article! I love it, yes I do. I love you, yes, its true!

  2. April 15, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Great article Lis! — I loved that movie and grew up listening to Johnny Cash. He rocks and so did June. You hit my favorite scene just about in the whole movie. June loved him from the git go, and what people don’t pay as close attention to is June had her own issues. I believe Johnny was her third husband, right? I’d like to know more about what made her tick as well. Fascinating woman to be sure.

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