Thursday, September 10, 2015

What does Bob Dylan mean when he says Jesus was “Struck down by the strength of the will”?

Well, there ain’t no goin’ back
When da foot of pride come down
Ain’t no goin’ back

Foot Of Pride
Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music

You can listen to this great song here:

So there is this really amazing song called Foot of Pride which was written way back in 1983 and only released and buried in the massive release known as The Bootleg Series, Vol 1-3: Rare & Unreleased 1961-1991 about 12 years later in 1991.  It is a very difficult song to interpret and requires a fully devoted and honest Dylanologist to help understand all that is going on.   This is high level graduate work for all those Bob Dylan interpreters and enthusiasts out there.   I don’t recommend this song for the weak or the young or for those being introducing to Bob Dylan for the first time.  This is not milk, this is strong drink.  And as the song says, “and drinks can be fixed.”  The words come fast and furious and they bite down hard and it is really difficult to drink them all in, and then there is the really important question of  "What do all these words actually mean anyway?"   This could be one of the toughest songs in the entire Dylan catalog to work through.   But this challenge is what makes listening to Dylan so entertaining!   You might listen to a song like this many times over the course of many years before something finally clicks and starts to make sense….. “Oh I see what he is getting at now” in a particularly difficult phrase or verse.  So here, 24 years after the first official release, which came 8 years, thus 32 years after the song was originally written, I am ready to boldly declare that I believe that I have put together some of the pieces of where this song is intended to be going. Quite a claim I know, but let me try to back it up.
The difficulty in the song was recognized with the first official release even in the liner notes by the late British journalist John Bauldie, who is a recognized expert on the work of Bob Dylan.  Here are his liner notes reproduced with some parts emphasized: 

Foot of Pride," from the liner notes of THE BOOTLEG SERIES - VOLUMES 1-3 by John Bauldie, 1991

As this collection has gone some way towards proving, there are many wonderful unreleased Bob Dylan songs, but at no time since the early 1960s was he so prolific as he was in 1982-1983 when he was preparing material for Infidels. As impressive a record as Infidels undoubtedly is, a handful of exceptional songs didn't make it on to the LP. Two of the outtakes were, it seems, at one time originally intended for inclusion. "Foot of Pride" is one of them, a lyrically enigmatic song in which Dylan shows once again just what a great singer he is, coping with the song's metrical complexities with impressive ease. Only one commentator has ever been bold (or foolhardy) enough to tackle an appreciation of "Foot of Pride." Writing in The Telegraph, Terry Gans fully admitted the difficulties that face the listener who hopes to come to terms with what's going on in the song. Nevertheless, he observed that "Foot of Pride" comes across as another of Dylan's "The wicked are gonna get it; propaganda all is phony; and those who allow themselves to be manipulated by those who would manipulate deserve what they get" songs.

Well please put me down as a second commentator willing to boldly go where few have dared go before…..but surely we can certainly do a little better than this short summary of Terry Gans in the Telegraph can’t we?
I first got really interested in this song after hearing Lou Reed perform it at the 30th Anniversary Bob Fest held in Madison Square Garden back on October 16, 1992.  Because he could not sing it quite as fast as Dylan could, I was able to hear more of the fascinating lyrics a little more clearly for the first time.  Reed also performed it with it such passion and verve.  Check out his really unusual choice for a Dylan cover and his masterful performance here:

To me the late Lou Reed really gets the urgency of this song.  This was because, as he reported afterwards, that he had "been listening to it almost every day for two months."  He puts the emphasis on all the right phrases as he performs the song, and he understands the critical place played by the refrain, "Well there ain't no coming back when da Foot of Pride come down.... Ain't a no coming back!"  and most importantly, when he shouts, "Struck Down the ...strength of the Will!"  

So the first question we should ask about this incredibly cool, complex and beautifully performed song is:  Where does the inspiration for the name of the song come from?   Well that question has a very straight forward answer:   In the Bible of course!  And it comes from the following passage:

Psalm 36:11  New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the Bible version is significant here.
11 Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.

The second stanza in the Psalm lets us know that this song, and the Infidels album generally, is not a repudiation of Dylan’s embrace of Christianity.  A song like Man of Peace, properly understood, should put this false rumor to bed immediately.
We learn from the exact words that Dylan has used here precisely from what version of the Bible that Bob was reading at this time of composition which was 1983.   Further confirmation comes from another song written a few years earlier during the time of his conversion.

When You Gonna Wake Up
Copyright © 1979 by Special Rider Music

When you gonna wake up, when you gonna wake up
When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?
Now compare Rev 3:2 (NASB)
Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 

Now interestingly when we compare the King James Version (KJV) or any other versions, we do not get the exact rendering that Dylan has used in the song.
“Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die”

So we can be fairly certain in saying that Bob was reading from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) which was very popular with Evangelicals during the late 1970’s and early 1980s, which was of course was when Dylan told us plainly, that he was “Saved by the Blood of the Lamb.”
Now let us go back to our sermon text Psalm 36:11from which Bob will be preaching today.

The symmetrical arrangement of parallel lines in this Psalm is typical of the Hebrew Bible where we often find lines that are about the same length often called “cola” or “stichs” and this is called Parallelism.   These lines in their meaning, grammar, syntax, and form, are designed to stress, balance and reinforce one another and this phenomenon constitutes the parallelism.  The cadence of the Psalms even in translation comes from these overlapping ideas which are semantic, syntactic, morphological and prosodic statements.  
In synthetic parallelism the second or third lines of the unit are not like other forms of parallelism such as synonymous or antithetic to the first line, but in synthetic parallelism, as we have here, they advance the thought that is being conveyed  in a variety of other ways.   As they do in Bob’s text for this sermon:

11 Let not the foot of pride come upon me,
And let not the hand of the wicked drive me away.
So the second line would suit well the fella named Red and his side kick Delilah, who is a very early biblical femme fatale, in the song:

There’s a retired businessman named Red
Cast down from heaven and he’s out of his head
He feeds off of everyone that he can touch
He said he only deals in cash or sells tickets to a plane crash
He’s not somebody that you play around with much
Miss Delilah is his, a Philistine is what she is
She’ll do wondrous works with your fate, feed you coconut bread,
spice buns in your bed
If you don’t mind sleepin’ with your head face down in a grave
What an amazing torrent of words and pictures that come spewing of Bob’s mouth here.    Red is clearly a picture of the devil and "Miss Delilah is his," and what a lovely couple they are!   They epitomize the hand of the wicked in the Psalm which is the text for our sermon.    These promoters, these Albert Grossman, Col Tom Parker types who would sell tickets to a plane crash -- if they could -- these are some of the ones that you gotta look out for.   After all, just like Satan and his messengers in the Biblical account, they were cast down from heaven:

Rev 12: 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
I think we have all met people like this.  We heard about one recently in Donald Trump’s, hatchet man attorney, Michael Cohen who threatened the Daily Beast reporter:

"You write a story that has Mr. Trump’s name in it, with the word ‘rape,’ and I’m going to mess your life up … for as long as you’re on this frickin’ planet … you’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it."

Mr. Cohen is trying to be one of those guys that “you don’t mess around with much.”  I think we have all met people like this.

These guys are the same group that Dylan lashes out at in his song 1979 song Slow Train:

"Big-time negotiators, false healers and woman haters
Masters of the bluff and masters of the proposition." 

Now spending time with “Miss Delilah” – and notice that she isn’t married – is not any safer, and in fact, messing with her can be even more as dangerous.  Be especially mindful of her “spiced buns in bed” which is an extraordinary double entendre going on here!  This sexual siren will pull you down (Main Route) and mess with you as much as Red, to whom she belongs.  

We learn from National Geographic that burying the dead face down in ancient times didn't mean RIP, according to new research that says the practice was both deliberate and widespread. Experts have assumed such burials were either unusual or accidental. But the first global study on the facedown burials suggests that it was a custom used across societies to disrespect or humiliate the dead.

But being disrespected and humiliated in death is not the only thing that the lovely Miss Delilah can do to you!   She can also “do wondrous works with your [eternal] fate.”   At first you think there has been some misprint in the lyrics, is “fate” the right word to be used here?  But if you see that Dylan is focusing on heaven and hell and one's eternal destiny in this song, then I guess this is the right word after all.  “When da Foot of Pride comes down, Ain’t no coming back!”

“How to enter into the gates of paradise
No, how to carry a burden too heavy to be yours”

When Lou Reed performed it, he understood that you need to shout the word “No!”
This thing about “carrying a burden too heavy to be yours” this is an important idea in Christian literature taking its most classic form in the book Pilgrims Progress where Christian, is carrying this heavy load around until he comes to the place where it is finally cut off and the burden rolls down the hill and is buried.   Christian is finally released from the burden, which somebody else loaded on his back, and he can then fully enter into the joy of his salvation.  I think we can all understand this was the great crime that the Pharisees were inflicting on the common people in Jesus’ day, these religious leaders were requiring all sorts of extra-biblical religious observance, things that they were not doing themselves." 

But we get to the crux of the song when we try to understand What does Bob Dylan mean when he says Jesus was “Struck down by the strength of the will”?

“Yes, I guess I loved him, too,
I can still see him in my mind, climbing that hill,
Did he make it to the top, well, he probably did and dropped,

Struck down by the strength of the will.”
This is the heart of the Christian message that most people fail to fully grasp.   That Jesus was struck down by …..   The strength of the will of God.  So it is the cross itself that must be understood in terms of God’s wrath against sin, of his imputation of our sin to Christ, and of the Old Testament sacrificial system of which the cross is the fulfillment

The prophet Isaiah spoke prophetically of this in the 7th Century BC, hundreds of years before the coming of Christ:

Isaiah 53:4-5Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.

This is what Peter is declaring on the very first day of the first Christian Church when he preaches the very first Christian sermon, Peter declares:
Acts 2:23 this Jesus, was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,…

God loved the world and gave His only son as the substitute for the sins of the “chosen few who will judge the many when the game is through.”
But for Red, Delilah and all those who follow in their ways….. and some of them pass the hat after preaching a false gospel and “put all that money from sin, into Swiss banks and build big universities to study in."  This is not the first time Dylan has gone after this crowd, again from the song Slow Train:

"But the enemy I see
Wears a cloak of decency
All nonbelievers and men stealers
talkin’ in the name of religion
And there’s a slow, slow train comin’ up around the bend"
for all of these…

“Your time will come; let hot iron blow as He raised the shade,”
Where does the hot iron blow?   Surely it is the fiery furnace of hell reserved as a place of punishment and torment for sinners like the ones described in this song.  

"God knows there’s gonna be no more water
But fire next time."

Now a furnace, in order to keep it nice and hot is always inside a container and to access it you have to open the door or lift a shade, so this is a reference to the land of endless torment "from now on this will be where you're from" for those who haven’t lived for Christ and instead spent their time scoffing at God and loving the pleasures of Red, Delilah and their ilk.  To these, the preacher [i.e. Dylan] warns……. “Your time will come.”

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Some Sweet Day Bob Dylan (73) will stand beside his King

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

Copyright © 2006 by Special Rider Music

When Bob Dylan says that “some sweet day he will stand beside his king” he must be referring to going to see Elvis right?   After all, when he was recovering from the life threating illness known as histoplasmosis in 1997, Dylan famously told the world, “I really thought I’d be seeing Elvis soon.”

Sorry No, I don’t think that this is a reference to Elvis here, because that was a joke back in 1997.  Elvis will also not work in the context of this couplet because in the next line he promises, “I wouldn’t betray your love or any other thing.”    So while Elvis did cover a few Dylan songs like “Tomorrow is a Long Time, Don’t Think Twice , It’s All Right,” Blowin’ in the Wind’ and “I Shall be Released” there is no evidence that he harbored any great love for Dylan.  Dylan early on in his career showed some interest in Elvis, telling Ed Bradley that he never saw himself as a prophet, a Messiah figure or the spokesman of a generation, but “Elvis maybe.”   He later clarified his relationship with Elvis in a 2009 Rolling Stone’s interview with Douglas Brinkley, “I never met Elvis, because I didn’t want to meet Elvis.”  Later in the interview he says, “Elvis was truly some sort of American king.  Two or three times we were up in Hollywood and he had sent some of the Memphis Mafia down to where we were to bring us up to see Elvis.  But none of us went…. I don’t know if I would have wanted to see Elvis like that.  I wanted to see the powerful mystical Elvis that crash-landed from a burning star onto American Soil.”

So it is pretty clear that Elvis won’t work, so who else he can he be referring to when he says, “Some sweet day I’ll stand beside my king?” 

Is there anything else in the song that could help us?  Overall this is a pretty vague song as far as Bob Dylan songs go.   It seems to be full of the typical studied ambiguity, some double entendre and so forth and it is not really a lot of clarity on the face of things concerning what is going on in this tune.   But the line that we have highlighted certainly stands out as some sort of important clue:

“Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king”

Thunder on the mountain, rolling like a drum
Gonna sleep over there, that's where the music coming from
Remember this, I'm your servant both night and day

Maybe this will help us crack open the meaning of this song by asking, Who is the song addressed to?   Who is Bob Dylan a servant to both night and day?  Well clearly every night he is performing somewhere on the Never Ending Tour, so he is a servant to his audience.   The Never Ending Tour is the popular name for Bob Dylan's endless touring schedule that has been going on pretty much nonstop since June 7, 1988.  But that works for the night, but the reference says that he claims to be “your servant both night and day.”   I think the only person who Bob Dylan can be referring  is the same person he refers to as “The Chief Commander” at the 14:13 mark in his important Sixty Minutes interview with Ed Bradley.  In the very last question of this revealing interview, where it is clear that Dylan is pretty much  playing it straight, Bradley wants to know who the Chief Commander is, so he asks, “On this earth?’  and Bob answers, “On this Earth and on the World we can’t see.”     After you have listened to Dylan awhile you know what he is talking about when he references “the world we can’t see.”   He has continually chided man because “All his believes are his eyes, and his eyes they just tell him lies.”

But who is this mysterious Commander that he references in the interview.   Well the book of Joshua in the Bible at Chapter 5 explains who the Commander is:

13 When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” 14 And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” 15 And the commander of the Lord's army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

There are several interesting things in this passage.  One is the way the Commander of the army of the Lord responds to the question, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?”  He answers in a way reminiscent to a Bob Dylan interview.   He refuses to answer the either/or question, thus in the process denying the premise of the question.  But he does however reveal Himself as the commander of the army of the Lord.  Now when Joshua falls on his face to worship Him, we don’t get the usual protestation that we find elsewhere in the Bible when a man bows down to worship another man or even an angel:

“When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.” Acts 10:25 

When the people of Lystra in Asia Minor wanted to offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas because they were healing people, Paul sets them straight:

 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.  Acts 14:15 

Finally the conversation with Joshua and the Commander of the army of the Lord indicates that the request for Joshua to take off his sandals comes because this is Holy Ground, indicating that this, like Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush, is another divine encounter.   No wonder there is no protestation when Joshua offers the Commander his worship, this is clearly a divine personage and therefore worship is totally appropriate in this circumstance.

So I think it is starting to become clear who the Commander of the LORD is.  Notice that the Commander of the Lord, is someone different than the person signified by the tetragrammaton.   I have been using the designation Lord (note the small capitals in bold) to distinguish it from other words translated as "Lord".   So we need to explain how someone can be a divine personage and yet not be the LORD (note the small caps).

The Apostle John begins his magisterial gospel account wrestling with the same truths as are being expressed in this passage in Joshua 5:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… John 1:1 

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John is telling us, Jesus is “God with us.”

The situation is that the divine personage, here called “The Word” who existed before “the beginning” and He had fellowship with God and He is in fact God, but he is a different person than God.  So this person, became flesh (i.e. became a man) and lived along side of the apostle John and the other disciples and they saw His glory, glory as of the only son from the Father.

So we finally have our answer.   One sweet day Bob Dylan will stand next to his King, who is the Commander of the LORD.  He is also known as “the Word,” and his name is Jesus.
Bob Dylan promises his King and Commander:

“I wouldn’t betray your love or any other thing.”   

Jesus did make a clear claim to be a king in his interview before Pilate in John 18:36.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
So he has a kingdom, so He must be a king.
Bob Dylan turned 73 a couple of weeks ago on May 24th.   The sweet day when he stands beside his king is drawing nearer. 

The following is a very well made retrospective video on the career of Bob Dylan in this song “Thunder on the Mountain.”  The thesis of the video seems to be this song kind of sums up Bob Dylan’s career.  Unlike a video put together by some fan, this one is very professional and once resided on the official Bob Dylan website.  It seems to carry the blessing of the artist himself.  Notice how at the 3:10 mark we are taken to the Saved Concerts when the song says, "I've already confessed – no need to confess again."  He is looking forward to a sweet day ahead!

Here is another version of the song by Wanda Jackson produced by Jack White.  There are some typical lyric changes.  But the most important one comes at the 3:14 mark when Wanda sings, "Some sweet day I will stand beside the king."   That is an earth shattering lyric change.  Bob Dylan is going to stand next to my king.   Wanda is unable to provide the personal pronoun!  She needs to stand next to her king.   Hopefully, one day soon, before she "walks the hard road down," she will yet reach out and find her king.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bob Dylan was talkin’, there’s a sermon he gave…

The preacher was talkin’, there’s a sermon he gave
He said every man’s conscience is vile and depraved
You cannot depend on it to be your guide
When it’s you who must… keep it …satisfied

Man in the Long Black Coat
Copyright © 1989 by Special Rider Music
You can't do that!  Your attributing to Bob Dylan something that he says is the preacher said.   But shouldn’t we always remember that in the 2001 song High Water (for Charlie Patton) Bob Dylan claims:

I’m preachin’ the Word of God
I’m puttin’ out your eyes

So I guess we better take him at his word, that in these songs Bob Dylan sees himself as often doing a little something more than simply singing us rhymes or lullabies.

The preacher in this song, The Man in the Long Black Coat, points out that there is a genuine problem with the human conscience.   It is very undependable.  It is undependable in the first place because it is vile and depraved, so that gets it off to a bad start, and then second, there is this major problem when it is you who is the one, who must “keep it satisfied.”  In other words, you are the ultimate judge and there is no outside standard.   But you are not an unbiased judge.   You are not a neutral source.  You have a vested interest in the outcome of the determination by your conscience of the morality of a certain action.  

The Apostle Paul in a letter that he wrote to the early Roman Christians in chapter two discussed the same problem about two thousand years ago in 55 AD when he wrote:

15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.

Paul is pointing out the very same problem with the unreliability in the human conscience.   An action that is sometimes accused by the conscience and at other times excused.   So it is not a dependable guide to determine the morality of a certain action.  So we need an outside source to help us determine the right thing to do in various situations.  We certainly don’t want to be a hypocrite and condemn certain actions at sometimes and then excuse ourselves at other times for the very same action, nor should we lash out at others for certain actions and then find ourselves doing the very same thing.  But we know we do it all the time.

But the song The Man in the Long Black Coat is about more than the unreliability of the human conscience.  The main actor in the song is a dark and mysterious figure, “he had a face like a mask.”   He has stolen away someone, someone who used to fit comfortably into that “soft cotton dress on the line hangin’ dry.”  At first it appears that she was seduced when he looked into her eyes… but she made a choice and gave herself over to this mysterious figure and even asked him to dance:

It ain’t easy to swallow; it sticks in the throat
She gave her heart to the man
In the long black coat

So it seems she got involved with him and the involvement came to the level that she decided to leave town with him in a hurry:
Not a word of goodbye, not even a note
She gone with the man
In the long black coat

The narrator is bitter about the whole thing, kinda like the guy in the Kenny Rogers song, “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucile….four hungry children and a crop in the field….you picked a fine time to leave me Lucile.”
She went with the man
In the long black coat

But the mysterious figure in this song is even a little bit more diabolical than the guy who lured Lucile away.   And this song rises to a higher and more cosmic level than Kenny Rogers could ever attain.  This mysterious guy was first spotted in that run down; no account dance hall outside of town where nuthin’ never comes to no good anyhow.

Somebody seen him hanging around
At the old dance hall on the outskirts of town

We finally get the decisive clue as to who this mysterious figure is, the man in the long black coat, the one with the face like a mask, when we notice:

There was dust on the man
In the long black coat

Dust.  That’s it, the Dust of Death.  This man is death itself!  He is a seducer;  He is a liar, and he even quotes from scripture:
Somebody said from the Bible he’d quote
There was dust on the man
In the long black coat

Jesus noticed that when he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness that old scratch was pretty good at reciting scripture verses, he just took them out of context and he was no good at systematic theology.  So Jesus had to show him how you can’t set two passages of scripture against one another (Matt 4:1-11).

So this man in the Long Black Coat, he is death personified.  He is darkness, and that, by the way, is why he wears the Long Black coat.  He has a face like a mask, because he is not real, he is hiding behind the mask.  He has come into town where he has no place being.  He is a stranger, outsider and an outlaw.  He seduces weak willed women (i.e. all of us) and draws them away into his lair of destruction.  He is a minion of the devil, if not the devil himself.  He keeps people from their true identity and their rightful place … in their soft cotton dress.

All of us have to deal with this outlaw.  He has an appointment scheduled with all of us.    But the Apostle Paul again, declaring the gospel, says in his Letter to the Corinthians chapter 15 that 

26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
This is good news!  The Man in the Long Black Coat is going down!   He will be destroyed!   What a glorious promise!

Notice how the Bible personifies death, and the Saints in Heaven will even mock him:
54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”
Paul is declaring that the achievement of the Savior was a decisive death blow to The Man in the Long Black Coat, the Redeemer's death actually saves his people, as that death was meant to do.

Here is a great performance of this magnificent song, with some extra special work on the harp:

Manchester Arena
Manchester, UK
November 16, 2005


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bob Dylan on the Imputation of Adam’s Sin


Temptation's not an easy thing,
 Adam given the devil reign
 Because he sinned I got no choice,
 It run in my vein

Pressing On        Copyright © 1980 by Special Rider Music

The Christian Doctrine of the Imputation of Adam’s Sin is not an easy one for Americans to swallow.  Now you’re telling me that simply because Adam sinned, I am guilty of it and I am in some kind of bondage to sin?  That doesn’t sound fair.  God wouldn’t do that to me.   He wouldn’t punish me for the sins of another…. would He?

But this doctrine, which seems to have fallen on hard times, it was once the popular and only one for the early British Americans known as the Puritans.  The New-England Primer, one of the first books printed in America in 1687 was the first reading primer designed for the American Colonies.  They used this little book to teach children the Alphabet by creating catchy rhymes to help children to remember each letter.  The first letter in the alphabet is A, so they thought they should begin with a foundational truth about Adam.  These early American Puritan children were taught to define the "self" by relating their life to the authority of God and His Word.

In Adam's fall
We Sinned all.
When you think about it, this idea of Federalism, i.e. that your Federal Head commits a sin and you bear the consequences, happens all the time.   When the leader of Iran, for example, makes a poor choice about developing an atomic weapon and the world responds with sanctions, suddenly all the people of Iran begin to suffer for the choice of the one.   Or if your parent is an alcoholic or addicted to gambling, the children will bear the consequences of no longer having a parent around or of not having any money left after the incessant gambling squanders away all that the family has to live on.

Now this word “imputation” is a bit hard to understand.  The dictionary tells us to impute, is to “ascribe or attribute to a source or cause” usually in a legal context.   We might use the word "transmission" instead of "imputation" if it is easier for us to understand this legal terminology common used by Reformed theologians.
But the theologians chose this legal word to connect it to the strong analogy made by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:12-21 between the work of Adam and of Christ and the Christian's relationship to each.

All of humanity stands with Adam as their representation to the extent that both his guilt and his corruption are imputed to them.   And similarly those who stand with Christ as their representative receive both His forgiveness and His righteousness by imputation.
The biblical position is that in Adam's sin, humanity was constituted sinners in the same manner that the elect are constituted as righteous – so we see this parallelism between Adam and Christ again.

As Paul puts it in another place (1 Corinthians 15:22) “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” 
Now there is another main theory on these matters and that is called Pelagianism.  It is named after the British Monk Pelagius (354-440 AD).  It is the belief that original sin did not taint human nature and that mortal will is still capable of choosing good or evil without special Divine aid.   While few know the name of this belief,  Pelagianism is very popular in the world today, but it is a very hard doctrine to square with what the Bible says.   See for example Jeremiah 17:9   

"The heart is deceitful above all things, 
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?"

Or Gen 6:5

"The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."

Only.... evil.... continually?, This is a pretty bad situation.  The human heart is clearly tainted

It is also very hard to square Pelagianism with a casual observation of the daily news, or the world around us.  In fact the doctrine of Original Sin is pretty easy to believe when you look reality squaely in the eye.   This biblical teaching is probably one of the best attested doctrines.   Look around for a minute or two and you will see human depravity almost every where you turn.   It is pretty clear to any honest observer; that there is something desperately wrong with human nature.  It is clear that sin has tainted human nature, so that it is no longer what it once was, and now one of the deepest longings of our hearts is to get back to that original place.

It was for this reason that James Madison, the father of the American Constitution, and student in his college days of the Presbyterian Minister John Witherspoon, wrote in Federalist 51, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary."   So the American system of representative government is built upon this fundamental premise, the doctrine of the imputation of Adam's sin.

To get clarity on this difficult subject, we need more easy rhymes like the Puritans used:
“In Adam’s Fall, We sinned All.”

Or like we find in some of Bob Dylan’s songs:
Well, God is in His heaven
And we all want what’s His
But power and greed and corruptible seed
Seem to be all that there is

Blind Willie McTell       Copyright © 1983 by Special Rider Music

For a really great version of Pressing On, Click the Link below to hear Dylan's poetic description of Original Sin and the difficult, but fundamentally important doctrine of the Imputation of Adam's Sin.

Pressing On by Liam and Glen Dublin 2011


Saturday, January 11, 2014

“How Long Can you Falsify and Deny What is Real?” When He Returns, Bob Dylan 1979

If Bob Dylan can release a great song like Dreaming of You over 11 years after he wrote it, than I guess I can dig up an old book review from about five years back and post it. 

Seth Rogovoy’s new book, Bob Dylan Prophet, Mystic, Poet is an admirable piece of work in many ways.  By reading its pages even the most devout Dylan fan is bound to learn many new things about Bob Dylan’s amazing life story and endless connections and influences upon Bob Dylan, America‘s preeminent singer songwriter who is estimated to have written 1,500 complete songs. Rogovoy’s love, even self confessed “obsession”[i] with the subject matter (i.e. Bob Dylan) is everywhere apparent and can be seen by the great attention he pays to every possible detail from most obscure liner notes to the most obtuse rumors.  All of this are tell-tale signs of the serious and difficult labors that went into this work.  However, it is this same obsession with the subject matter that seems to be its undoing -- as the obsession causes this book to be fundamentally flawed, and at times….. almost completely undermined.
Because Seth holds Bob Dylan in such high esteem –there are places in the book where he seems to regard him as of equal stature as the Biblical (that would be “canonical” for Seth) prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel -- he simply cannot accept the notion that Dylan might have truly converted to New Testament Christianity.  To do so in Seth’s mind would be to completely turn ones back on one’s upbringing, one’s culture, one’s friends, one’s faith and one’s family.   In Seth’s world, to become a New Testament Christian is the ultimate sacrilege and if Seth can find some way to interpret the data to hold open the possibility that Dylan has not completely gone over to the dark side (i.e. born again Christianity) then he is going to try to do it. 

But Seth, get over it!  He’s gone over!  And Seth, until you are willing to acknowledge that Bob Dylan has gone over – then we simply can’t trust you to be an honest interpreter.  We can’t regard you as an honest broker of the truth, until you are willing to do this simple, so self evident thing, then we just simply can’t believe you.  As Dylan cried out in the Royal Albert Hall in 1966 between songs when somebody from the audience yelled "Judas" and Dylan responds.... "I don't believe you!"  …..”

I have a friend who is Jewish and he is the one who told me about the promotional book tour that Seth was beginning at a local Jewish cultural center.   I had read many good articles by Seth in the past and esteemed him highly as a Dylan interpreter, so of course I wanted to go.  It turned out that Seth had obtained some advance copies of his book prior to its official release and he made these autographed copies available on this, his very first stop, of his fall book tour.  Both my friend and I purchased copies of the book that night and began reading them together.  We would see each other weekly as our children took tennis lessons together with the same coach throughout the winter season.  So each week we would be able to debrief and compare notes with each other out on the courts as we compared how the reading was going.

Now my Jewish friend told me that he was a slow reader, but I am a super slow reader.  I have always wanted to get that book entitled How to Read a Book Slowly but because I read so slowly, I have never had time to get around to it.  I can’t read a book unless I have a pen in my hand, and I use the pen extensively as I read.  I never fail to consult a footnote when it is presented before me.  So as my Jewish friend and I are working our way though the book my friend is starting to get a head of me.  He starts telling me things like “Oh you are not going to like this next chapter.”  “Why not,” I ask?  “Because of what he says when he is interpreting the Christian era, Oh No!  You are not going to like it at all.”  As the weeks move on, he moves on through the Christian era, while I am still working through the Rolling Thunder years while he heads on into the album called Infidels.

Now when I see my friend the next time, his countenance has dropped when he sees me.  “Oh this is really getting bad, it’s getting embarrassing.  You are not going to believe what he does with the song Man of Peace.”  Now this is really starting to peak my curiosity, but I am a disciplined reader, so I am simply not going to skip ahead -- even if strongly tempted by these sorts of provocations.  As a bit of an aside here, to get some background on the song Man of Peace, and Dylan’s understanding, at this period of the Antichrist figure in the bible, I recommend the linked “between song rap” at Massy Hall in Toronto, in April 20, 1980.  Here he says Adolf Hitler is a "preview" of the Antichrist figure and "he is going to bring peace to the world."

But the fact that even my Jewish friend found Seth’s interpretation of the Christian era so difficult to swallow, I think is very telling.  I set now before the reader my Jewish friend as exhibit A that I am not exaggerating when I say that Seth has almost completely undermined his good book.  And this is a shame, because as I have said, this book is a good work.  It just needs about 10 or 20 pages to be cut out because they are so incredibly far-fetched.

Sure it is a little bit more than annoying to always be seeing the italicized phrase in Seth’s book about Dylan’s “so called Christian period,” but I willing to cut him some slack on that.  But when Seth comes out and says things like the following, I just have to draw the line:

When I told people I was writing a Jewish biography of Bob Dylan, the question I was asked was:  “Isn’t he still a born-again Christian?”  To which I always replied “Who knows?”  Indeed who knows?  And in any case, it’s beside the point.  This book sets out to make no claims about Bob Dylan’s past or present religious beliefs or self-identification.

Now I am sorry Seth -- but who are you kidding!  Your whole purpose is obviously to point out Bob Dylan’s large indebtedness to his association with, and by extension, his personal beliefs in Judaism.  And you do a good job of it.  You accomplished your goal of digging deeply into the unique socio-cultural context in Duluth and Hibbing, where he was raised in Wisconsin and Minnesota.  But an honest reader will recognize that it is also very clear that part of your agenda in this book is to cast some serious doubt upon the idea that Dylan still is a “born again Christian” ………  as everyone keeps on reminding you.

And almost as if designed to blow up the thesis, just as Seth’s book is coming out in the fall of 2009, Dylan releases a Christmas album!  That really had to hurt.  And then when several reviewers of the Christmas album notice that Dylan is singing the Christian Hymns in complete seriousness like “O Little Town of Bethlehem” they are prompted to ask Dylan if he is signing these Hymns as a true believer in the Christian gospel (the Christian gospel is the good news described in the hymn as “the hopes and fears of all the years”).  To which Dylan replies in a promotional piece for public consumption, “I am a true believer.”   Then add to this that Dylan is at this same time beginning to open his fall tours with the song Change my way of Thinkin’ where he is proclaiming in very clear, not to be misunderstood language:  “Jesus is Coming, Coming back to gather his Jewels.”  This is certainly not anything your typical Jewish believer would ever be willing to confess.  To proclaim this message one has to have gone over… to have done the unspeakable… have become….a Christian.
I applaud the way the early life of the Zimmerman family in Hibbing are described in much more elaborate detail in Seth’s book than in any of the other many biographies, and this is great.  Seth has done a fine service here in unearthing unique information about the Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin, his mother’s family’s connections to the movie theaters in Hibbing, the Yiddish family connections, all of the this is great stuff.   He has done the work of a true historian here and given us a lot of texture to help us understand and begin to imagine the Bob Dylan boyhood.  Too bad we have to revoke Seth’s credentials as a true historian a little later in the book.

But let’s get right to that section in the book where Seth goes so seriously off the rails.  The section that becomes really too much to take is the chapter eight entitled, “Burnt Offerings” and we going to be suggesting that this part of the book should be excised and actually become … a literal burnt offering.  Seth gives us a little taste of what it was like for him when “word first started leaking out in early 1979 that Bob Dylan had become a ‘born-again Christian.”  He says “this seemed the worst kind of betrayal” …it “came as a huge letdown” and for Jewish fans it was to “turn his back on the faith of his forefathers” and it was simply “intolerable.”  When things become intolerable in a tough family situation (say in the case of alcoholism or child or sexual abuse) the way that many attempt to deal with the intolerable is resort to denial.  Sadly, this is the road Seth has chosen to walk down.   How many roads can a man walk down? .....and pretend that he still doesn't see?
So early in this chapter Seth indicates how he is going to try to explain all of this away.  He informs us that we are about to see that this really “wasn’t as stark and religious –  certainly not as Christian – as it’s often been made out to be.”  So he is telling us that a work like as Slow Train Coming is not really “as Christian” as it appears to be.  Really?  Now this is going to be interesting!  He is warning us …to get strapped in… and buckle our seatbelts, for he is about to take us on a ride of some serious intellectual gymnastics.  If he can pull this one off it will be akin to a miracle (like turning wine into water) because even the producer of the album, Jerry Wexler, a fervent atheist, famously said of this album: "His material [in Slow Train Coming] turned out to be wall-to-wall Jesus," said Wexler, "but I didn't care: it could have been the telephone directory.”  Wexler didn’t give thought to the material because he felt so honored when Dylan asked him to produce the album.  As Jeff Cocran says in the online journal Like the Dew, “It turned out to be a huge success, reinvigorating Dylan’s career and introducing him to a whole new audience.  Although many fans were disappointed, mystified or just plain angry about Dylan’s conversion to Christianity, millions were delighted with his musical sermons.  The album went platinum in the U.S. and peaked at Number 3“[ii]and earned Bob Dylan his first Grammy Award for Album of the Year.

I am wondering where Seth’s reference to a book that I found to be so helpful during this period of time was, and that was Paul William’s 1979 Book: Bob Dylan: What Happened?  If you are going to cover this period of the Dylan story, you really need to read William’s amazing descriptions of what those very first born again concerts were like in San Francisco.  Paul went to all of them, described them in exquisite detail, and was absolutely blown away.

And where are the references to the documentary film of Joel Gilbert’s Rolling Thunder and The Gospel Years, Inside Bob Dylan’s Jesus Years: Busy Being Born… Again!, which feature extensive and insightful interviews with Bob Dylan’s Pastors at the Vineyard Fellowship in Southern California as well as Jerry Wexler the producer of the Slow Train Coming album and Mitch Glaser founding member of Jews for Jesus.  As Joel Gilbert describes putting this documentary DVD together:

Everyone I approached was willing to speak with me, except the major figures at the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church, which included founding Pastors Kenn Gulliksen, Bill Dwyer, and Larry Myers.  For four months, I worked on these potential interview subjects, but encountered resistance because of a policy in the late seventies to protect Dylan’s privacy so he could grow in his faith without press intrusion.  I found these pastors were still playing the same role in protecting Dylan’s privacy – there had been no reason for them to change that approach despite the passage of years.  It was only by assuring them that my project sought to explain the history and context of Dylan’s religious music vis a vis the times, the Vineyard Christian Fellowship Church, the evangelical movement in the late 70’s, the born again experiences, Jews for Jesus, and so on that Pastor Bill Dwyer agreed to open up on the subject for the first time.  Pastor Dwyer explained that Dylan (who was a student in his Bible class), to his amazement, learned the Bible very quickly, and that his lyrics in “Slow Train Coming” displayed a fantastic grasp of the messages of the Bible.[iii]

This documentary by Joel Gilbert should have been consulted by Seth, because it provides the very helpful background details that are needed as one is piecing together the way the born again experience went down.  After viewing these materials it is easy to understand and appreciate the Christian albums as a sincere outgrowth of Dylan's own spiritual seeking.

Dylan’s acceptance of Jesus Christ as his personal savior was made known in Spring ‘79, soon after his conversion.   According to Clinton Heylin’s Behind The Shades, Dylan alluded to his faith in a pre-trial deposition to a defamation-of-character suit filed by Patty Valentine, regarding his song “Hurricane.” When asked about his wealth, Dylan replied, “You mean my treasure on earth?” He responded to a question about the identity of the song’s “fool” by describing that person as being whoever Satan gave power to….whoever was “blind to the truth and was living by his own truth.”  Five days later the deposition was reported in The Washington Post.  More statements of faith were on the way.

I was in the audience when Dylan returned to my home town, the always left leaning, Madison, WI, as a born again Christian and the Dane County Coliseum that Dylan which had always sold out for a Dylan concert in just a few days, was now only half filled.  I heard the boos and cat calls as Dylan persisted in his wall to wall Jesus proclamations, preaching and beautifully singing these exciting new songs.  I was an eye witness to the “Jews for Jesus” evangelists handing out religious information describing how one can be saved like Bob had been inside the Coliseum; it was obvious they were invited there by the artist himself.  I saw some older Dylan fans almost coming to blows with the evangelists when they presented them with the religious tracts.  I know what happened…because I was there and it was electrifying, both in the performance and the whole ambiance of the place, and  I know what price Dylan paid for his new found faith in the face of the shameless scoffers.  It is all well explained and described in the Bob Dylan song from a couple years later:  Dead Man, Dead Man.

But I digress.  I don’t think I need to go over the mountain of evidence that Dylan has plainly confessed to being a Christian in 1979 and that he continues to follow this road today, albeit a little less overtly.  If I went on, Seth won’t believe it anyway, even if I filled a thousand encyclopedias with the evidence.  As Dylan sings “for all those who have eyes, and all those who ears, It is only Him that can reduce me to tears.”   The Apostle Paul, himself a converted Jew, explains what it is like when you are given the eyes to see and the ears to hear the gospel, He says:
2 Corinthians 3:16   "But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed."
At the time of this book, Seth’s mind was completely closed off to this possibility.   Can he cast it aside, all this loyalty and this pride?   It’s a shame because the rest of the book is a pretty good read.

[i] In the Acknowledgments on the final page of the book (p.298) before the Permission and index, Seth thanks his children for “sharing their father with an obsession and the need to work it out through the writing of a book.”
There is a great version of the song:  Slow Train Coming from a performance in Rotterdam, The Netherlands  September 19, 1987 at the following site: