"Pastor, can I you come over right away?" came the voice over the phone. " I have a terrible confession to make!" I took the trip across town, the whole way I was thinking "What in the world is she going to confess? She’s a sweet older saint! What did she do, accidentally swat a mosquito, and now she needs to confess being a murderer?" When I arrived, she sat me down and spilled it out; right to the point: "I am an occasional atheist! Is that okay? "
I did not laugh, for I was priest-pastor in a holy moment, but took and shook her hand, signifying that I, too, belonged to that club. And she was freed; even though she was fearful of making that necessary and jolting confession. Bono , he of "Like faith needs a doubt/Like a freeway out/I need Your love," is not. This is merely confession of our occasional atheism, shocking honesty, and common humanity.
Speaking of humanity, and radical honesty, and "occasional atheism"….that’s obviously a Johnny Cash thing.
Two stories about Johnny (vocalist and namesake of U2’s "The Wanderer") follow, the first below by the reverently irreverent journalist Chuck Klosterman, who spent a remarkable day and drive with Bono recently in Bono's fast car (join that ride sometime by clicking here)
Here is the easiest way to explain the genius of Johnny Cash: Singing from the perspective of a convicted murderer in the song ‘Folsom Prison Blues,’ Cash is struck by pangs of regret when he sits in his cell and hears a distant train whistle. This is because people on that train are ‘probably drinkin’ coffee.’ And this is also why Cash seems completely credible as a felon: He doesn’t want freedom or friendship with Jesus or a new lawyer. He wants coffee. Within the mind of a killer, complex feelings are eerily simple. This is why killers can shoot men in Reno just to watch them die and the rest of us usually can’t.
("Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs", page 186)
The next Cash story is already a contemporary classic:
Cash once got a visit from U2 members Bono and Adam Clayton who were driving across the U.S. taking in the local colors. The three of them sat around a table before their meal, and Cash floored the two Irishmen with an incredible prayer of thanksgiving to God. Then, without skipping a beat, he raised his head and quipped, ‘Sure miss the drugs, though.’ (Dave Urbanski, "The Man Comes Around", p, xxi)
All of us have at times wanted coffee, not Jesus. We have all missed our drugs, whatever they were. We have all considered taking a taxi out of Gethsemane ; lead-footing out of our marriage; but we know that we know that "these fast cars will do me no good." But we don’t know that until we say it. So we say it; and we stay. Even when part of us doesn’t.
"Johnny Cash doesn’t sing to the damned, he sings with the damned, and sometimes you feel he might prefer their company"
-Bono,on the liner notes of Cash’s three album collection Love God Murder (2000).