How Does it Feel?

A couple of months ago I was presented with the golden opportunity to go and see Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson for free. The former is a favorite artist of mine and the latter one whose music I thoroughly enjoy. Many know Bob Dylan’s story as a counter-cultural icon in the 1960s who was born again in the late-70s, made do as somewhat of an Evangelical superstar (like Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, Kirk Cameron, and others) and who I’ve been told converted to Roman Catholicism in the last couple of decades or so.

The irony of the show was rather palpable. The Rothbury Folk Festival is a potpourri of music listeners. There were baby boomer yuppies with their luxury vehicles and gray or graying hair, young college students passing the summertime away on their parents’ dime, genuine hippies of various ages who hadn’t showered since they’d been sober, and of course a couple of bankers from Western Michigan who got RIGHT through the security checkpoint when they laughed at eachother for having duplicate first aid kits. Dylan came on stage with his band wearing his signature hat, (whether you like his music or not, you gotta admit the dude has classy hats!) and his band uniforms more reminiscent of the symphony than of Woodstock.

As I looked around during the pleasingly loud remix (I thought the man must be a genious for creating such pleasing remixes of his hits, but my friend Derrick pointed out that you’d have to if you were singing the same 10 songs for 40 + yrs) of Like a Rolling Stone it hit me. The song may have been written for a lover who’d spurned him,

“Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They’re drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made
Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
But you’d better lift your diamond ring, you’d better pawn it babe”

but as I gazed through the cloud of smoke at those who were rockin’ right along side of me I realized that the song reflects an ironic twist in the “lifestyle choices” of my cohorts, personified by the song writer himself. He may have simply been chiding his astranged bedfellow and reminding her of impending lonliness when he asked

“How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?”

but he and his revolutionary cohorts have now lived through the ramifications of their project.

Back in the ’60s the cultural revolution that took place sought to cast aside old forms and mores and create a new society in which one could do whatever one wanted to do when he or she wanted to do it. Jazz and improvisational music were musical heralds of the shift that was to take place, and folk has roots in those forms. What came forth was reflected in churches too, where old forms like Psalters, confessions of faith, the Lord’s Supper, and Baptism were set aside for more immediate and individualistic means of “spiritual fulfillment”. Grace and the means thereof, would have to take a back seat to felt needs, just as sobriety of mind, neatness of appearance, and generally scentless hygiene was tossed out the window outside (and sometimes inside) the visible church.

Throughout the ’70s and ’80s the baby boomers sought a more laid-back, “user friendly” spiritual experience that was more in line with the forms of the culture of the kingdom of men rather than those handed down through the Scriptures and maintained by the kingdom of God. Sacrafice of reverence was seen as necessary for outreach and evangelism, and anything that had the faintest whif of the old, stodgy ways of musty-smelling books were placed out of center focus at events like funerals, where such dead things belong. Worship in movie theaters and such took hold because that was where those outside the visible church were comfortable, and you certainly can’t expect someone to come back if they’re uncomforable.

Fast forward to today. Bob Dylan’s band is wearing matching suits that one could reasonably characterize as uniforms… what more obvious sign of “backsliding” from the “do it your way gospel” could one imagine? Could it be that he found what it is like to be to be a rolling stone and has now found a comfortable home in and among those forms he and his generation once disavowed? The Emergent Church now toils in the liturgical forms of Anglicanism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Could it be that it those influenced by the Evangelicalism of the baby boomers have found the rolling stone lifestyle to be as unpleasing as Bob Dylan did?

“You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain’t no good
You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain’t it hard when you discover that
He really wasn’t where it’s at
After he took from you everything he could steal.”

Of course uniformed band members and a painter’s pallet of liturgical colors do not an appreciation for traditional forms make. Fact is, the new Evangelicalism that is ‘Emerging’ copes with the felt needs of its adherents every bit as well as Church Growth did for its predecessor. The lonliness of rolling along on your own and without a home can be placated by contextless forms thought to have mystical ties to the past, but the experience held therein continues to serve nothing but felt needs. Precise doctrinal context such as that found in creeds and confessions of faith, and a congregation in which these are taught and understood by the leadership are what give the gift of authentic community to the lost sinner or wandering pilgram. Consistent lines drawn between the big questions of life, what God has to say about them and His means established specifically to answer them from His word give life to dead sinners (I believe in the forgiveness of sins, the ressurection of the body, and the life everlasting).

Does Dylan recognize the ironic circle his life seems to have taken from an icon of orderless chaos and individualistic narcissism? I tend to believe that he is cognizant of the answer to the questions,

“How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?”

  the despair once having been his own. Much of his later music embraces far too much of what he’d all too quickly tossed aside in youth for him not to. Thunder on the Mountain demonstrates it well:

“Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground
Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down
Some sweet day I’ll stand beside my king
I wouldn’t betray your love or any other thing

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I’ll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman’s church, said my religious vows
I’ve sucked the milk out of a thousand cows”

But where is the Church’s consciousness when it comest to what has been lost? It has become apparent to me throughout my journeys these last few years that it is in the homes of confession-loving federal heads. I’m deeply encouraged by a trend in my congregation (Christ Church, PCA of GR, MI) toward an appreciation of the great truths of the Reformed faith. My hope is that I may one day be able to engage people, speak authentically of the deep and abiding covenental community that God is building in His Church not simply through my mouth but through the lives of my children.

“Beyond the horizon, ‘neath crimson skies
In the soft light of morning I’ll follow you with my eyes
Through countries and kingdoms and temples of stone
Beyond the horizon right down to the bone

It’s the right time of the season
Somebody there always cared
There’s always a reason
Why someone’s life has been spared”

How do I get from there to here? Well, Brokejaw’s Last Great Generation catechized the baby boomers in nationalistic duty-keeping more than covenant keeping. To help the Church we love to return to her first love we must pass along more than a passion for the confessions. We must communicate to our children the grandness of the history of redemption, of Church history and of the pitfalls of generational blindspots. The baby boomers have demonstrated theirs and we know Gens X & Y have their own, as will our children and theirs. And so I press on toward the Heavenly City, leading the “little congregation” the Lord has blessed me with by all the means of God’s appointment. Nothing more, nothing less, and pray that by God’s witness of His faithfulness the authenticity of Zion will shine before those who have drifted so far for so long.

Good to be back… pass the toilet paper!

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8 Responses to How Does it Feel?

  1. John Yeazel says:

    “Not Dark Yet”

    Shadows are fallin’ and I’ve been here all day
    It’s too hot to sleep and time is runnin’ away
    Feel like my soul has turned into steel
    I’ve still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
    There’s not even room enough to be anywhere
    It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.

    Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
    Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain
    She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
    She put down in writin’ what was in her mind
    I just don’t see why I should even care
    It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.

    Well, I’ve been to London and I been to gay Paris
    I’ve followed the river and I got to the sea
    I’ve been down on the bottom of the world full of lies
    I ain’t lookin’ for nothin’ in anyone’s eyes
    Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear
    It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.

    I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
    I know it looks like I’m movin’ but I’m standin’ still
    Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
    I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
    Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer
    It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there

    Dylan wrote those lyrics about 2 or 3 CD’s ago- sounds to me like he was flirting with despair. Hope the troubadour is in a better place right now. I feel his pain. Not really but he always is interesting to keep on eye on.

    He certainly is an emigmatic figure- he enjoyed messing with the media’s collective head and was quite good at it. If you have not watched his movie biography with the 4 or 5 different actors that played him it is worth watching.

  2. John Yeazel says:

    Don’t believe anything you hear or read about him unless it comes straight from the horses mouth. And even then he tends to have some kind of reason for doing so which is clouded in mystery. The Roman Catholic thing may be a rumor he or someone else started not grounded in fact.

  3. RubeRad says:

    cast aside old forms and morays

    I think you mean “mores”. Everybody watch out if you start casting around these suckas!

  4. efwake says:

    Moors, mores, and morays. Someone should write a song about that…

    The point I was trying to make didn’t center so much upon Dylan, but upon the strange irony of his life exemplified in the song “Like a Rolling Stone”. Here he is telling his former girlfriend about the self-destructive nature of separation even as he was taking part in a movement that sought to turn individuals into islands.

    On a similar tack the church separated itself from historical forms and chasing after individual exerience.

    From the sound of his music Dylan found himself to have lived out the experience he warned of in Like a Rolling Stone. The Church (or certain groups within the Church) seems to have recovered at least partially from the experience of growing through modernism to post-modernism, and now another tack is presented that really is just a repeat of the same old Church Growth stuff with new window dressings.

    Anyway, it rambled a bit and maybe focused too much on Dylan and not enough on the cultural indicators he, his music, and those who were into him pointed to… those which the Church became trapped in as well.

    I do love Dylan, but wasn’t really trying to make a post about him any more than I was about eels…

  5. RubeRad says:

    Yes, that explains it better, especially for people like me; I think I know even less about Dylan than I do about U2!

  6. John Yeazel says:

    The point I was trying to make-not so clearly I suppose- was that he has “channel surfed” religion probably to lead those astray who try to analyze and make a big deal out of every move he makes. He especially likes to mess with those writers from Rolling Stone magazine. His movie biography makes that point clearly.

    His evangelical experience in the late 70’s or early 80’s was a venture into the theology of Keith Green who was a follower of Charles Finney. Understandably, it did not last very long. He then reverted back into reading the Jewish mystics and now supposedly Roman Catholocism. From what I know about him he is more of a poet than anything else and his theological ramblings seem very confused to me. The lyrics of that song I posted indicate that there was not much faith left in him at that point in his life. Who knows where he is at today.

    My other point was that he is a cultural icon and does seem to be someone whom one can watch when trying to determine cultural ebbs and flows. He also makes cultural commentary in his lyrics although they always seem to be shrouded and clouded in mystery. It keeps money in his pocket I suppose. That may be my cynical interpretation of him though. Most rockers in the know these days see him as a cranky old man with narcissistic delusions of granduer about the good old days and how the music culture has gone down the drain with no interesting voices and musical trends worth the time of day.

  7. efwake says:

    Actually “not dark yet” is another that I rather enjoy.

    “…the music culture has gone down the drain with no interesting voices and musical trends worth the time of day.”

    Well even a blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while, eh?

    You’re absolutely right. I don’t know where the dude is. The fact that he doesn’t seem to be an Evangelical anymore certainly ingratiates him in my eyes so I’m biased.

    I do know this first hand… the man knows how to rock…

  8. John Yeazel says:

    Actually I like “not dark yet” too. It reveals a state of mind from someone who has thought deeply about things and experienced the pain of living in a falling world. Someone ready to accept what Christ did for us sinners. And yes, I also agree, he does know how to rock!!

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