About 75 miles west of Cedar Falls lies the town of Fort Dodge- home to the truly one of a kind 540 AM KWMT, which plays classic country songs from the 1940’s through the 1980’s. It’s one of the few classic country stations I’ve ever heard and certainly the only one that covers such a large swath of time.
While taking my son to Boy Scouts on Monday evening, KWMT played Johnny Cash’s immaculate reading of Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” If you’ve never heard this, it’s one of the saddest songs from the country genre. It tells the tale of a man waking up on a Sunday morning hungover and completely by himself. He puts on dirty clothing and tells the listener what he sees as he stumbled out into the city streets.
With the exception of a boy kicking a can, everyone he sees is either participating in some sort of community or, like the person cooking fried chicken in verse one, is getting ready to.
“In the park I saw a daddy
With a laughing little girl that he was swinging
And I stopped beside a Sunday school
And listened to the songs they were singing
Then I headed down the street
And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringing
And it echoed through the canyons
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday”
I nearly burst into tears in front of my son. The song took me back to the Summer of 2014, when I was living on the second floor of an old house on 9th Street. in Waterloo. Somehow a family of mice got into my part of the house. I had no internet or cable. I bought an old rocking chair from a thrift store which promptly spread bed bugs. Most of the windows wouldn’t open. I had no air conditioning unit. My brief summer semester class just ended (I taught U.S. History at the local community college in those days). My father had died the previous January. My marriage imploded that September. A family member’s alcoholism destroyed what was left of my relationship with my father’s side of my family in July. I was a broken man. So broken and sad that I didn’t bother searching for a job in those days, and determined to live off my DJing and waiting for the next semester’s classes. Looking back it, that was an incredibly bad decision, but I was out of my mind at the time.
I did go to Catholic Mass in those times. But I was also sleeping around with a woman I had no interest in whom I actually met through the Catholic Church. Part of the reason I quit being Catholic was because, in my shame, I didn’t want to run into her anymore when my conscience got the best of me in late 2014. That half-hearted attempt at a Christian life and the ignorant thought that I could make a go at being a popular DJ were the only things that kept me from doing physical harm to myself.
Most days I would drive to a bar with the computer from the community college I had “borrowed” so I could surf the web. For a price of a Pabst Blue Ribbon, I could gain access to their wi-fi. I met a few people but no one I would call close. When I would come home to the humid apartment in the summertime I would just sit there and think about everything that happened/was happening. No one except the girl I had no business with and my son would come over on occasion. Other than that it was me by myself. Tortured with my thoughts and my regrets over my failed marriage, my poor decisions, my selfishness, and my past.
I’ve never felt that alone before.
“On a Sunday morning sidewalk, I’m wishin’ Lord, that I was stoned
‘Cause there’s something in a Sunday, that makes a body feel alone
And there’s nothin’ short of dyin’, that’s half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleepin’ city side walks, and Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.”
A couple of years removed from those down-and-out days on 9th Street and viewed through the perspective of my relationship with Jesus, and the mission of Hope City Church, I think I can see the Gospel in such a sad, bleak picture as Kristofferson’s song.
How many people in the Cedar Valley right now feel just as alone as I did? How many are in far worse condition than I was? How would I have felt if someone from the local church knocked on my door and sincerely asked me how I was? And not just hand a bag to me but pray with me and check back in on me every once in a while? How would I have felt if they told me that they wanted me in their community?
What if I could join Hope City Church in their missions into the city and let someone down on hard times with no one in the world that I and my church care about them and want to have a relationship with those who are hurting and
What makes “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” particularly sad was that the isolation and despair of the character in the song happened on a Sunday morning, the best time of the week for those of us who are in Christ. We gather together as a family to worship Jesus and we (myself included) are supposed to take His love and his comforting presence into our community and bear witness that God is a “father to the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5) who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3).
Those verses cause me to wince a little bit when I hear Cash sing of listening to a Sunday School class sing. That more than likely meant he was outside of a church. And no one invited him in. Maybe the character in the song would not have gone in. It’s the fact that no one invited him that sticks out in my mind.
I am not that much of a people person, honestly. I’m socially awkward and anxious. When Pastor Q announces meet-and-greet time at Sunday morning service, my skin crawls and sometimes I leave the room. This feeling that I should go with my church into my community to meet people and form relationships with them as some sort of ambassador for Jesus is very strange to me and WAY out of my comfort zone. But a gentleman I love at Hope City told me, out of our comfort zones can be a perfect place to be.
Every time I think I should evade this strange longing in my heart to go out, I think back to my 9th Street days- the site of my personal “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.” And I resign myself to the fact that my Lord is telling me to go out with my church among the lonely and forgotten. And not just hand them a bag of things and leave but actually keep contact and connection with them.
This scares me to death. But the hurt in my heart at the thought that someone is out there having their own “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” is beginning to outweigh the fear of social situations.
God is telling me to go somewhere.