Tuesday, July 25, 2006

God, Bob Dylan, and a Mysterious Morning

"It's a dark and mysterious morning." These were husband John's first words as he stood buck naked (but for his cup of coffee) looking out on the river from our bedroom loft a few minutes before 6 a.m. Lately, his first words have been raves about the sunrise. Occasionally I sit halfway up in bed and give a groggy rave of agreement, but "dark and mysterious" wasn't enough to get a rise out of me this morning. But when he offered to read a review on Bob Dylan from the August/September issue of "First Things" which arrived yesterday, I quickly came alive. Bob Dylan has been on our minds lately. We are scheduled to teach a CALL course (Calvin Academy for Life-long Learning) this fall with the title: "This Land is Your Land: American Folk Music in Story and Song" and our last session is on Bob Dylan. The review is titled "Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews," edited by Jonathan Cott. The reviewer Stephen H. Webb tells us that most of what we believed about Dylan is all a myth. He wasn't the radical-left protester some people imagined he was. There are some good quotes: "Dylan was not interested in pointing his guitar-strumming fingers at anybody unless he could probe the delusions of utopian optimism. . . . He is interested in the verities of human nature, not the possibilities of social progress. 'It's like, when somebody wants to tell me what the 'moral' thing is to do, I want them to show me. If they have anything to say about morals, I want to know what it is they do.'" Webb goes on to say, "While Dylan never wavered in his disdain for political activism . . . he also never backed down from expressing an interest in God, the Bible, and the Supernatural. In 1965, his interviewers did not know what to make of his comment that 'classical gospel could be the next trend' and that he was interested in folk music because it is 'full of legend, myth, Bible, and ghosts.'" Webb suggests that Dylan has grown in the faith, going from a simplistic fundamentalism of sorts to a more nuanced spirituality. He quotes from Dylan's album, "Time Out of Mine:" "I've been walking through the middle of nowherre, tring to get to heaven before they close the door." In an interview he confessed, "I'm determined to stand whether God will deliver me or not," and he goes on, "If we know anything about God, God is arbitrary. So people better be able to deal with that, too." Webb adds: "This album was his way of dealing with the divine hiddenness that is revealed only to those who have kept watch through the dark night of the soul." Husband John wondered aloud if Dylan is revealed here as a bit of a modern-day Job.

From Dylan, the reading continued with Richard John Neuhaus and "The Public Square," which comes at the back of every issue. Neuhaus often irritates us a lot, but not so much this time: an interesting review of John Lewis Gaddis, "The Cold War: A New History," some reflections on "Bonhoeffer Today," a well-placed seering critique of Judge Robert Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa who tackles Prison Fellowship Ministries, and an even more seering critique of Yale Divinity School's spring issue of "Reflections"--an issue devoted to "Sex and the Church." Writes Neuhaus, "I haven't read all of it, but the message seems to be: Sex good, Church bad."

Tomorrow morning Husband John promises to get back into the issue and read Timothy George on "Southern
Baptists After the Revolution," Lauren Weiner (not Winner) on "The Forgotten Queens of Islam," and a remeniscence on Jaroslav Pelikan, late professor of history at Yale, whose multi-volume history of the Christian Tradition I am now plowing through as I work on my own church history text, under contract with Zondervan.


  1. Hey, congratulations on the new blog! Wish I could sit in on the music course. My husband is a big Dylan fan, although his voice puts me off marathon listening sessions. (I prefer Joan Baez cover versions.) I heard him in concert a few years ago with Paul Simon, the sound of which, my uncle pointed out, is reminiscent of a duet between a violin and a chainsaw. But Dylan's certainly got the patience of Job, with his eternal touring. I hope you'll keep us posted on other artists you discuss on the course!

  2. Welcome to the blogosphere, Ruth. Dylan is not a favorite of mine, but he is definitely a significant part of American culture. I look forward to more reflections.

  3. Way to go Ruth! I love your blog. Just today, I tried to locate Dylan's childhood home in Duluth (no no avail -- had only a picture, but no street address) It sold a couple of years ago on e-bay for $94,000, Then, I arrived home this evening and discovered your wonderful blog with a Dylan post!