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Walking the Line: The Enduring Faith of Johnny Cash

The country music legend’s son, John Carter Cash, discusses his father’s story of faith and how his music is still changing lives. 

Johnny Cash playing onstage about his story of faith
Credit: Redferns
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John Carter Cash is the only child of two country music icons— Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. As a Grammy award-winning singer and songwriter in his own right, as well as a producer and author, Cash is committed to continuing and expanding his parent’s legacy. Christian publisher DaySpring, in partnership with The John R. Cash Revocable Trust, released Walking the Line, a new, 90-day devotional that highlights the inspiring faith of Johnny Cash.

Guideposts.org sat down with John Carter Cash to discuss what “walking the line” meant to his father and why his story of faith still resonates today.

GP: What role did faith play in your father’s life? 

John Carter Cash: For Dad, faith was essential. He was introduced to faith when he was a young man in church. He had a deep faith in God and a great love for the scriptures.

Life was tragic in many ways for him. His brother, Jack, died at age 14 when my father was only 12 years old. He dealt with a lot of physical infirmity later in his life. The loss of my mother [in 2003 at age 73] was something he never really overcame. Yet he would not hold anger towards God. For him, the very nature of faith was there to carry him through to the other side. Even if he lacked belief, even if he had fear. He learned to appreciate faith as something that endures, something that would not go away. He never gave up on the belief in something else, something further, something beautiful in life.

GP: What faith lessons did your father teach you? 

Cash: Dad showed me that once you establish salvation, it can never be taken away. It’s a gift that you are given based on grace. Faith is something that I go back to at different times in my life—whether I’m struggling or feeling positive about life—because I can rest in the safety of knowing that salvation is in place. It helps my faith to grow daily and gives me hope when there are struggles.

He also taught me the importance of being a good person. The kind of person that is there to support people. Faith is taking a step forward for somebody in their life.

GP: What are some of your most cherished memories with your father?

John Carter Cash headshot discussing his father Johnny Cash inspiring story of faith
John Carter Cash (photo by David McClister)

Cash: I remember the one-on-one time that we had, like the time that we spent outdoors. We fished a lot. I also remember the times that we were creative. We wrote two songs together and played onstage with each other. A lot of the time we spent together was on a tour bus, traveling city to city, town to town… 27 years of my life, I was working on the road with my parents. It’s the times of togetherness I remember most. I’m grateful for that, because you can’t miss out on those things.

GP: Can you remember moments in your life when you saw your father’s faith in action? 

Cash: I saw it in his music. I remember him being in the recording studio four days after my mother passed away. He was moving forward in his life and doing what he believed she would want him to do. It wasn’t about winning a Grammy or creating some highly respected work. It was about continuing to be creative because that was its own reward. If you don’t have faith, you don’t have drive. If you don’t have belief in something better to come, then you don’t have hope. And even though Dad may have felt hopeless some days, he still put into action his creativity.

GP: How do you feel music can strengthen our faith? And how did it strengthen your father’s faith? 

Cash: Music can be a reprieve from bearing our own weight. It can be a catharsis. Music can lift us in ways that we didn’t expect. It’s healing. It can be a tool to bring us back to a memory that we need to reexperience.

My father lost his eyesight toward the end of his life, but he still had the songs of his youth. When he couldn’t feel much else, when all he could feel was sadness after my mother passed away, he always went back to music. To Dad, music was hope.

GP: A big part of your father’s faith was speaking out against injustices. Why was this such an important aspect of his faith? 

Cash: Dad grew up in poverty. He worked in the cotton fields. Before he got into music, he was a Morse code interceptor in the Air Force. Dad knew what it was like to be looked down on. He had true empathy. He could put himself in the place of people who were going through hardships and be their brother, instead of a judge or a preacher. For him, it was about kinship.

That’s why he spoke out against injustices done to Native Americans. Dad saw the plight of the Native Americans in South Dakota and Pine Ridge Reservation in the 1960s. He listened to the words of Peter La Farge, a Native poet and songwriter. He took that on as his own banner. There are people no one is paying attention to, who aren’t being protected and defended, who need a champion. It’s not necessarily Johnny Cash, but there’s a lot to glean from the way that Dad helped people in need.

GP: “Walk the Line” is one of your father’s most famous songs. It is the inspiration for the title of the new devotional, Walking the Line. What did “walking the line” mean to your father? 

Cash: Dad wrote the song originally as a promise to his first wife when he was on the road. But later in his life, he redefined the song to himself. He said that “walking the line” was about his relationship with God. It’s about focusing on your path, looking toward your destination, and staying true to what you believe in. And if you fall short, a reminder to get back on the path.

Living the straight and narrow all the time is not something that we can do. My dad would be the first to say that he fell short many times. He had a devil on his back. As a human, sometimes he won, sometimes he struggled and failed. I saw him fall short in life, but I also saw him go back to it. “Walking the line” became a way for my dad to remember to get back on the path.

GP: Why do you think it is still so important to share your father’s story of faith? 

Cash: For me, it’s the 16-year-old kid that sends me an email saying, “I was at the end of my rope. If it wasn’t for your father and his music, I would be dead. His words saved my life.” I still see how important he is to people and that so many people out there have their own unique relationship with his music. People find connection with him because of his willingness to show his weakness. I hope they find a kindship with my father, a friendship— I want to be supportive of that. Dad has a lot more to say.

The devotional Walking the Line: 90 Devotions of Truth & Hope Based on the Faith of Johnny Cash is available through DaySpring.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

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