Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

Truth About Trouble

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea.
Acts 17:10 (NIV)

Trouble in the water, trouble in the air
Go all the way to the other side of the world, you’ll find trouble there
Revolution even ain’t no solution for trouble

Trouble
Trouble, trouble, trouble
Nothin’ but trouble

-Bob Dylan, Trouble, 1989 (Shot of Love)

These are the lyrics from the song that flitted into my brain as I read today’s chapter. That’s the way my right-brain works. It connects events I’m experiencing or what I’m reading with an appropriate theme song from memory. I know. Weird.

The book of Acts is the story of how the Jesus movement explosively expanded in the decades following Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Whenever a company, organization, or movement expands rapidly there are certain inflection points at which a major shift occurs in perception and reaction towards that expansion. We saw one a few chapters back when the Jesus Movement broke through the borders of its Jewish roots.

In today’s chapter, we’re following Paul, Silas, and Timothy on a journey through Greece. As always, the goal of their journey is to proclaim the Message of Jesus to those who’ve probably never heard it. They have a standard game-plan which is to start in the local Jewish synagogue where Paul uses his steel-trap knowledge of the Law and Prophets to explain to the Jews that the Messiah is not who they think He is. He’s not some human conqueror who would show up with an army to wipe out Rome and set up an earthly Kingdom. Rather, Paul argued, the prophets describe a suffering servant who would be sacrificed for humanity, then raised from the dead to declare victory over death, not Rome.

While Paul’s preaching had gotten him in trouble before, in today’s chapter we see that trouble begins following him. Locals aren’t content to simply drive Paul and his posse from the city, now his detractors are following him, and bringing trouble with them. Trouble in Thessalonica drives Paul to Berea, but Jews from Thessalonica arrive to stir up trouble for Paul in Berea, which drives Paul to Athens.

What strikes me in the circumstances is how trouble, rather than thwarting God’s plan, actually advances it. How long would Paul have stayed in the Thessalonica if everything had been peaceful? How long would it have taken him to move on to Berea? And, would Paul have even made the long journey Athens had it not been for trouble?

Along this Life journey I’ve encountered periods of trouble when daily existence is accompanied by emotional stress, sleeplessness, anxiety, unwarranted fear, and the like. It’s easy for me to obsess about the troubles I’m experiencing. It’s also easy for me to feel that only doom and gloom will be the outcome. Today’s chapter is a good reminder for me to stop obsessing about the trouble, and start looking for where God might be using the trouble to propel and advance His purposes for me.

The very next track after Trouble on Bob Dylan’s Shot of Love LP is Every Grain of Sand which contains this lyric:

In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand

Sometimes trouble propels me toward the place the Master’s hand is guiding me if I’m willing to open my eyes to see it.

Have a great day, my friend.

Overturning the Scales on the Spiritual Economy

There is, however, some good in you.
2 Chronicles 19:3 (NIV)

In the past few months my past has resurfaced. It happens once in a while. My many failures are a matter of public record. I have spoken openly about them. For certain individuals my record makes me questionable, and every so often the questions come around again.

I find spiritual economics to be a fascinating thing; The way in which we determine, quantify, and respond to the “good” and “bad” (or “righteousness” and “sin”) within ourselves and others. The way we use key indicators within our spiritual economy to determine our view of everyone and everything around us.

The Chronicler and his ancient world had a very ordered system. He dictates for us whether Kings were winners and losers in the spiritual economy. The good and bad are spelled out in black and white terms. In the previous chapter Jehoshaphat made an alliance with Ahab, so in today’s chapter the Seer Jehu calls him out for his “bad,” but then declares “There is, however, some good in you.” The rest of the chapter goes on to describe Jehoshaphat’s exemplary efforts to promote and improve domestic justice in his kingdom. We the readers feel the scales on the spiritual economy tipping back and forth.

It’s no wonder that to this day we perpetuate variations on this system of weighing and judging people on our personal, spiritual economic scales. It’s a very human thing to do. Yet, one of the radical things that Jesus brought to the table was a radically new spiritual economy. He turned the system upside down. In Jesus’ spiritual economy there was no one who measured up on their own. No personal righteousness was enough to tip the scales to the “good.” Every person was in need of grace and mercy. As James 2:10 says “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” So the “righteous” religious people who were “good” in the standard spiritual economic system incurred Jesus’ wrath, while He made a habit of hanging out and showing kindness, love, grace, forgiveness, and mercy to the “bad,” the sinful, the marginal, and the questionable.

This morning I’m once again looking back across my journey. I don’t think I would have fared particularly well in the Chronicler’s spiritual economic scale. I don’t fare particularly well in the spiritual economic scales of some of my fellow believers.

Two things come to mind as I mull these things over in my heart.

One is a passage I memorized long ago. I like how The Message puts it:

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.
Ephesians 2:7-10

The other is these lyrics from Bob Dylan:

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea.
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there.
Other times it’s only me.
I’m hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow fallen.
Like every grain of sand.

Three Heroes: Bob Dylan

This is the third and final post in a challenge I had been given by a good friend in my local gathering of Jesus followers. The assignment was to list three personal “heroes.” For the sake of this exercise, the heroes had to be persons (dead or alive) I did not know personally and Jesus could not be listed among the three. In previous posts I named Winston Churchill and Miles Davis. As chance would have it, I have pictures of all three (among others) taped to my well-worn paperback Bible (see featured image).

I’ve been waiting on this last installment about Bob Dylan. I’m not sure why. I thought it a bit of synchronicity that last week Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. I thought it apt that he should receive it for the body of his lyrical writing. It is his lyrics that have inspired me in life, in faith, and in my own creative journey. It is also classic Dylan that he has refused to acknowledge the honor. Both of these facts are part of the reason he’s one of my heroes. So the timing of this post now seems right.

I became a follower of Jesus in the spring of 1981. Within months of that life-changing decision I was in a record store and happened upon Bob Dylan’s album Slow Train Comin’. I still remember the moment. It was a record store on University Avenue in Des Moines near Drake University. I am the youngest of four siblings and my older brothers (seven years my senior) were audiophiles with an extensive collection of LPs. Following in their footsteps, I had cut my musical teeth early on rock classics and had a fairly diverse musical palette for my age. I knew Bob Dylan from Like a Rolling Stone and Rainy Day Women. When I happened upon Slow Train Comin’ I was both surprised and intrigued by the reports I’d heard regarding Dylan’s own newly discovered faith. His lyrics and music resonated with my own spiritual journey.

I devoured the tracks on Slow Train Comin’ and then moved on to the heavy gospel of his next album, Saved followed by the very different musical and lyrical takes on Shot of Love and Infidels. There was something altogether different in Dylan’s music and lyrics compared to the other “Christian” music I was exposed to in those years. No offense intended to Christian artists of that day, but the music always repeated what was commercially popular at the moment and the lyrics were simple and cookie-cutter. Dylan on the other hand, was altogether different.

I found Dylan’s lyrics to have a depth and honesty that stood in stark contrast to other music I was listening to. His music wasn’t canned. It didn’t sound like everything else. It was brutal in its forthright transparency and I identified with the raw feelings of confession, faith, doubt, struggle, and determination that were being communicated. I was challenged by references I didn’t understand and metaphors that pushed the envelope of my knowledge.

My love and appreciation for Dylan’s lyrics led me to delve deeper into his past. I went back to the beginning and followed the path of his musical journey. I fell in love with his earlier music and gained an even deeper appreciation for the artistry of his lyrics.

As time went on it was fascinating for me to watch Dylan shun the Christian and religious labels to which the press, the Christian record industry, and others tried to pigeon-hole him. It was reported the he left the faith. He was branded a heretic by the religious press to whom he refused subservience. The mainstream press and music industry welcomed him back as a backslider who got the religious stuff out of his system.

I didn’t pay much attention to what the press said. I just kept listening to his music, to the lyrics that poured out of him, in which I found the honest musings of a fellow wayfarer trying to figure things out. In his lyrics I continued to find faith, doubt, honesty, struggle, love, and pain that mirrored my own experience. All of it was communicated in words and metaphors that never ceased to challenge and inspire me.

So, why do I consider Bob Dylan a personal hero?

First, he seems always to avoid being labeled or confined by others’ expectations. The institutional church and evangelical Christians are subtly and successfully manipulative in pressuring followers into a prescribed box of what they deem acceptable. I watched as Dylan simply refused the label, and refused to be placed inside someone else’s box. Not just in his so-called “religious” years but throughout his entire life. He’s not done the same thing to the literati elite on the Nobel committee. God has given me a very individualist spirit and Dylan’s example gave me an example to follow, a freedom to be the person and the artist God created me to be, even if it doesn’t meet others expectations of what I should do or be. I’m okay being me even if it does not fit neatly in the box prescribed by my family, friends or some other constituency.

Second, Dylan’s lyrical artistry wanders all over the map. You name it and he references it. He’s an explorer in the expansive sense. He references the religious, historic, artistic, scientific, personal, and literary. He draws on life in its abundant diversity in all of his artistic expression. As someone with a sometimes embarrassing repository of trivial knowledge (Wendy to me: How can you possibly know that?! Answer: I don’t know how I know it. I just do.) I love that Dylan makes art out of the arcane. He pulls together seemingly disparate references and expresses something meaningful, powerful and creative out of them. I get that. I creatively want to be like that.

Finally, and much like Miles Davis (and Picasso and Van Gogh and Woody Allen), Bob Dylan has ceaselessly pushed into new things lyrically and artistically. He’s a creative wellspring. He doesn’t rest. He doesn’t stop exploring and expressing. It just keeps pouring out of him. I love that he is a visual artist as well as a musical artist. He’s never been afraid to explore a different medium. Some of his albums feel entirely experimental. He explores the old and the new. He plays. Dylan inspires me to never be afraid to try new things, push into new areas, embrace and experiment with what was, what is, and fearlessly forge ahead.

Project Postscript….

My family has been having a lot of conversations over the past few years about the nine Enneagram personality types and how each of our “types” affect our lives and relationships. I happen to be a Type 4: The Individualist, and when I look through the institute’s list of examples of Type 4s, would you know it, but two of my three “heroes” from this project are there.

enneagram-type-4-examples

Difficult Paths; Explicable and Not

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this law.
Deuteronomy 29:29 (NRSV)

My life journey has led me on some difficult paths…

Some paths were difficult, but I willfully chose them knowing full well where they would likely lead. As Bob Dylan put it, “like a bad motorcycle with the devil in the seat, going 90 miles an hour down a dead-end street.” Those difficulties and the natural, negative consequences which affected myself and others are on me.

Some paths were difficult because of the willful choices of others and their natural, negative consequences which directly affected me in hurtful ways. Those difficulties are on the individuals who made those choices.

Still other paths were made difficult because we live in a fallen world in which sickness, disease, and inexplicable tragedy may suddenly affect any one of us at any time. Those difficulties are on Adam, Eve, and all of us who tread this earth east of Eden.

Some paths are made difficult because we live within a Great Story of good and evil. Evil exists in the world carrying out its chaotic and self-centered motives to destructive ends. Whether through direct attack or ripple effect, those difficulties are on the evil one and all who follow.

Then there are difficult paths I tread and I cannot explain them. They don’t fit neatly in any of the previous sources I’ve identified. These are the most perplexing. These are the things which I place within the description found in today’s chapter. These are the secret things that belong to God. I don’t see God’s purposes or perceive His reasons, and I struggle perpetually to find a place of contentment or peace in the mystery of it.

This is why it is called a faith journey.

 

chapter a day banner 2015

Job, Jah Malla, and Utter Depravity

How then can a mortal be righteous before God?
How can one born of woman be pure?
Job 25:4 (NIV)

The debate between Job and his three companions takes an interesting twist this morning in a succinct statement by Bildad. If I can paraphrase the debate thus far it would be:

  • Job: “God’s done me wrong, dude. I don’t deserve this.”
  • Three Amigos: “Come on, man. You must to have done something wrong. You’re being punished.”
  • Job: “I can’t be. I’m an alright guy. There are no skeletons in the closet.”
  • Three Amigos: “Yes there are and you know it. ‘Fess up. God blesses the good and punishes the bad. You’re life has fallen apart, ergo you are being punished, ergo you did something to piss God off.”
  • Job: “No, I didn’t (And, stop using Latin. It’s pretentious and annoying). If it’s true that I did something to deserve this, then God needs to tell me what it is and He’s being silent. That’s just another layer of injustice in this whole thing.”
  • Three Amigos: “You did something wrong, man. Just admit it and watch your suffering turn to blessing.”
  • Job: “No, I didn’t. Let God come down here and tell me Himself. But, He’s nowhere to be found.”
  • Three Amigos: “You did something, dude.”
  • Job: “No, I didn’t.”
  • Three Amigos: “Yes, you did.”
  • Job: “No.”
  • Three Amigos: “Yep. Pretty sure.”
  • Job: “No. Shut up.”
  • Three Amigos: [nodding their heads at Job]

Bildad now points the debate in a theological direction. Job’s insists that he’s lived a righteous life and hasn’t done anything to deserve the train wreck of tragedy he’s experienced. Bil responds to this reasoning by pointing out the foundational theological concept of utter depravity. The idea is that ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, humanity has this tragic flaw generally known as “sin.” We all choose to do things we know we shouldn’t. We all choose not to do things we know we should. Bob Dylan put it to music and sang: Ain’t no man righteous, no not one [YouTube of Jah Malla covering the song above, in a distinctly righteous reggae beat].

In other words, Bil has gotten frustrated with Job’s insistence that’s he’s done nothing to deserve his suffering and counters with universal truth: “Look, man, we’re ALL sinners.”

I haven’t peeked ahead to the next chapter(s), but I don’t think it takes a master logician to anticipate Job’s response: “Dude, if we’re ALL sinners, then why aren’t we ALL suffering? I don’t see YOUR pasty white butt covered with festering boils!”

And, this really leads back to the crux of what I’m hearing in this very long (and sometimes repetitive…and, occasionally, a bit boring) debate between Job and his so-call friends. Job’s question isn’t just “Why,” but “Why ME?” And, that’s a question that I imagine we’ve all asked ourselves in times and circumstances relatively less dire than Job’s.

Heart of Mine

Guard your heart above all else,
    for it determines the course of your life.
Proverbs 4:23 (NLT)

Along my life’s journey I have many times been led astray by my heart which, evidence suggests, has a mind and will of its own. Prone to wander, my heart will easily lead me astray if I am not careful:

  • Enticing relationships that spiral life into chaos
  • Unnecessary acquisitions that end up acquiring me
  • “Sure things” that sure leave me on the short end of the deal
  • Frivolous pursuits which create fruitless waste of time and life
  • Treasure hunts that lead me far astray and leave me empty handed

Jesus said, “Wherever your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” I have discovered that when my heart leads me astray it is because my spirit is at that moment treasuring foolish things. When my spirit is focused on following Jesus, it is easier to keep my heart in step.

I was reminded of the lyrics of this Dylan tune this morning:

Heart of mine so malicious and so full of guile
Give you an inch and you’ll take a mile
Don’t let yourself fall
Don’t let yourself stumble
If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime
Heart of mine
Heart of Mine lyrics by Bob Dylan (1982) from the album “Shot of Love“)

Chapter-a-Day John 11

tear
tear (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then Jesus wept. John 11:35 (NLT)

I’m struck by the range of emotions Jesus experienced in today’s chapter. Confidence, frustration, compassion, anger, trouble, sorrow, and earnestness to list those top of mind. Jesus was clearly not afraid of His emotions. He felt things deeply.

I’m reminded today of Ezekiel’s prophecy:

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

The women in my life will tell you that I’m a softy. It’s true. Tears come more easily to me  the older I get. God continues to work on me, and I can feel Ezekiel’s prophetic words literally fulfilled in my own heart. As I sit or stand in worship and the tears begin to run down my cheeks I regularly call to mind, along with Ezekiel’s words, a line from an old Bob Dylan tune: “It is only He who can reduce me to tears.”

I believe that experiencing Life in abundance requires experiencing deep emotion. Jesus’ ability to feel deeply and sincerely express His emotions was not a sign of His weakness, but a testament to His strength.