“Can’t No Preacher-Man Save My Soul:” Sin, Shame and Barton Hollow

The video is of the band The Civil Wars with their song “Barton Hollow.”  You have to love the chorus:

“Ain’t going back to Barton Hollow
Devil gonna follow me e’er I go
Won’t do me no good washing in the river
Can’t no preacher-man save my soul.”

Of course you notice the recurring motif of dirty hands and washing in the river in the video.  The allusion, obviously, is of baptism, the outward symbol of inner cleanliness.

But it “won’t do me no good,” the song repeats.  Many people avoid Jesus and the Church because of this very reason: “There’s no forgiving what I’ve done.”  And so many live with a persistent sense of shame.

In Luke 11:29-32, Jesus tells the crowds that this is an “evil generation” that “looks for a sign.”  The reference He then makes to the “sign of Jonah” is all about judgment over sin.  This is such a fire-and-brimstone kinda passage – it’s all about the need to acknowledge just how dirty we are, and our need to get clean.

Which means that, in a way, the lyrics to Barton Hollow are right: no “preacher-man” can save the soul.  But it also testifies to those who walk “miles and miles in…bare feet,” and never find true rest.

Many can’t seem to find a way to get rid of the stain that covers them – nothing can wash it clean.  Which is why so many turn to various ways of covering it up.

And one of the best ways of covering it up, best ways of hiding it, is through religious activity.  To “sugar over” the stain with outward displays of religious piety.  And it’s precisely that behavior that Jesus targets, a subject we’ll be exploring in some of this week’s posts.

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