Hope and Bob Dylan

About a week before Bob Dylan was honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature,  a mighty powerful thought came to me. I had been talking to a friend about the way we often distort our thinking. Suppose a loved one appears to betray us and we begin to think people in general aren’t worth trusting, or we wave to an acquaintance and she doesn’t wave back and we believe she has for some reason decided not to like us. And so on. Many of us think like this now and then or every day. Long ago, I read a fine book about such “cognitive distortions”, and I still recommend it: Feeling Good, by David Burns.

The powerful thought came when I woke up feeling lousy and didn’t particularly want to roll out of bed because a voice like a dementor from Harry Potter told me that the day promised nothing worth rising for. Then out of nowhere a voice like an angel told me, Hey, something good is going to happen today.

I jumped up (well, maybe not jumped), eager to learn what the good thing would be.

Every day since then, as soon as I awake, I tell myself that something good is going to happen. And when I look back at the end of each day, I realize something good has happened. Today, for instance, Zoe pitched masterfully and her team almost beat a great team from a national championship organization.

That day when the angel first urged me to look for the good that would happen, Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for Literature. Now the only way the Nobel committee could have pleased me more is if they had chosen me, and not only was that not likely to happen, it would’ve have seemed quite right.

I don’t attend a lot of concerts, but I have gone to watch Bob Dylan about a dozen times, in venues small and large. The best ever was in Tucson, Arizona when he performed all Christian songs backed up with a group of six or seven gospel singers. I returned for the second performance the next day.

For at least two reasons, I’m delighted that Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize. One, he has done wonders for America by adapting several American art forms, our folk tradition, our topical (protest) song tradition, and the blues, and made them his own, which is what artists do best, build on what’s come before. Also, he has given us an honest Christian voice.

During his “Christian” period, surely, (I think of it as his churchgoing period, before he probably got disillusioned by churches as many of us do), but also before and after.

The best way to make sense out of one of his earliest hits, “Blowin’ in the Wind” is to view the wind as the Holy Spirit: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:8; “And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.” Acts: 22

Here’s a deft analysis of “All Along the Watchtower”: “… a riff on the prophecy from Chapter 21 of the Book of Isaiah, where two watchmen on a watchtower see two riders approaching. ‘There must be some way out of here,’ said the joker to the thief. ‘There’s too much confusion/ I can’t get no relief.” The first stanza is about existential angst, about the futility and violence of the modern world. “Businessmen they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth./ None of them along the line know what any of it is worth.” In this consumerist world, we drink, we steal, we work, but nothing seems of real value.

“’No reason to get excited,’ the thief he kindly spoke.’ Who is the thief but Jesus Christ who describes himself as returning to Earth “like a thief in the night’? Indeed, ‘the hour is getting late,’ the thief informs us, another Biblical catchphrase about the return of Christ. [He continues]‘There are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke./ But you and I, we’ve been through that, and this is not our fate.’ The seeming futility of life is something that we need to rise above… “Which takes us to the third and fourth stanzas: “…Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.” This is a prophecy from Isaiah 21. The two messengers are announcing the fall of Babylon…. also a theme in the Book of Revelation, referring to Christ’s Second Coming.”

One of my favorites of his later songs is “Highlands” in which he sings in accord with W.B. Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium”, a poem I consider strikingly Christian in its preference for pursuing the eternal over clinging to the earthly. If you haven’t read it, please do. You might want to augment it with a movie (from a novel) that played off the poem’s opening line: “That is no country for old men.”

As this is about twice as long as most of my messages, I’ll end it here with the hope that you haven’t already, you will now click some of the links. The linked version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” is most excellent.

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8 comments on “Hope and Bob Dylan
  1. Greg Gorsuch says:

    Well put. I was already hearing the hoof beats and wind swirling in this crazy world and time we live in, but this makes me feel a little less lonely inside the whirlwind. I have also deeply appreciated Dylan’s intentional silence and ‘arrogant’ response on accepting an award that is obviously of dubious character in light of its recent past award winners (especially Nobel Peace Prize winners).

    • kenkuhlken says:

      Greg,

      Sorry it took a while to get back to you on this. Being a minor league tech guy (way down, like D league), I didn’t know you had commented until I happened upon it today.

      I guess I’m getting more and more appreciative of anybody’s silence.

      The new novel I’m working on is called (for now anyway) Like Bartleby.

  2. Carol says:

    Thank you for all of this post! I did indeed enjoy Bob Dylan; have to admit that in my earlier life I completely missed this man’s music. I heard it, I’m sure, but I never paid attention. Now I’m writing, too, working out my theology as I go. You are obviously more experienced at this than I am, so I’d love it if you’d read my latest two posts and comment on watchingforgod.com

    • kenkuhlken says:

      Hi Carol.

      Could you email me a link to your posts?

      Thanks, Ken

      • Well, I didn’t see your comment, but as of now anyway I’m not attending to the blog anymore. However, I am most interested in maybe signing up for a class/mentor in poetry. It seems that I am done with the blog (no one read it) but I’m writing my memoir via poems. I’m in a class here in Nashville but not taught by a Christian (I actually like that: she’s Jewish!). But I know I’d benefit from an experienced Christian teacher (and it’s too late for grad school again!).

  3. Bart Newsom says:

    Ken,

    That was really good. Thanks.

    Bart

    Sent from my iPhone

    >