Six of us gathered at Nathan's place around 6:30 for good food and drink and we hung out and talked and two more people eventually showed up.
Introduction: Opened with finding out how little or much those gathered knew about Bob Dylan and his music. Most were passingly familiar, a couple who were fans of his music, one or two not really familiar at all with Dylan. We began with talking about the difficulty of pinning Dylan down. Dylan is an artist adverse to giving explanation for his work and its meaning. He is Jewish and he did convert to some form of Christianity before the three albums Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love, we surveyed. It is unclear whether he continued in some form of Christian faith, returned to Judaism, or something else. This ambiguity is part of what the title of the study distinguishing between Christianity and the American Religious Experience and yet the ways in which those to are also deeply related. Dylan also plays in a large variety of genres of American popular music. In the 1960's many of those engaged in protest saw him as a spokesperson for a generation and a prophetic voice. He has both denied this and affirmed this. The three overtly religious and Christian albums produced after he converted to Christianity give an excellent way of exploring both the ways in which Dylan plays with language of faith (Christian) and use of Scriptures both Jewish and Christian, as well as Dylan’s musical versatility. As we listen we should be aware that Bob Dylan is Jewish and the complexity and ambiguity of Dylan's "faith." His conversion is a issue but also illustrates both the way that American Religion can be distinguished from Christianity but is also closely linked to Christianity.
Lyrics are available, but in part I would argue it is these as songs, so the music style is key. Pay attention not only to the words but what you feel in the music and in the lyrics. We should perhaps pay equal attention to what we don’t hear as well as what we do. Questions that I find interesting here, is how Scripture is woven into his music. Also the question of what sort of Christianity is it we find in these three albums, is it the same. Lastly we should perhaps in this study be explicit we may ask the question of what Bob Dylan believes, but be open to the real possibility that Dylan’s music doesn’t give us Dylan’s faith even in these most explicit of albums. Dylan’s Judaism also should be kept in mind I think even in these albums that are produced after his conversion to Christianity. It is also worthy of note that it is somewhat uncertain what his current faith is.
Slow Train Coming (1979):
Track 1 -Gotta Serve Somebody- Focus on Rich and poor any station in life. Declares a chose "Devil or the lord" you will serve somebody, but leaves it opened as to how one knows or even which is better. Can be read as simply metaphor of serving the good verses serving evil systems. more Biblical allusion ("Can't server God and Mammon...") than direct citation or use.
Track 4,the Title Track,Slow Train Coming - Concern for social justice, much of the song seems very contemporary. Hard to find overt scriptural or Christian connotations. However, in terms of American popular Christianity modes of transportation are metaphors for Eschatology and the end either of the end of life or end of the world. Possible allusion to Wisdom (as a woman) as manifest in Martin Luther King Jr.
Track 2 Saved, title track- Shocking to some. Seems to be such a departure from Bob Dylan's Characteristic traits of layered meaning and ambiguity. Definitely Gospel. If listen to the full album it does seem to have the ark of a Gospel and/or Charismatic/Pentecostal worship service. This is a song of thanksgiving for what God has personally done for the worshiper. This is overtly religious. He does take up themes of being saved in ways consistent with his other work. But it is a Gospel song and a Gospel album, and is a bit of a departure.
Track 7, In the Garden,- Takes up the Passion of Life of Christ, through asking the question. Reminded a number of us of various hymns and the Spiritual Were You there When they Crucified my Lord." There is the element of inviting to identify with those who would have seen Jesus before his death and resurrection. We talked about why so identifying is important and how it can be a distraction from the meaning of our faith for our day to day life now.
Shot of Love (1981):
Track 1 Shot of Love, Title track- Feels more like Dylan. Gritty, and not always clear. Not overtly religious, or even clear references or even allusions to Scripture. Who is the doctor. Is this about romantic love or Divine Love. Could reference to doctor and health be allusions to God as physician, and Christ language of being a physician who comes to the sick?
Track 10 Every Grain of Sand - Seems a great contrast to Saved. Again feels more like Dylan that the album Saved. One maybe two Scriptural allusions/references, Story of Cain in the bible, and possibly an allusion to the parable and the Seed and the sower, Weeds choking out the seedlings and sun drying up the seedlings in rocky soil. Possibly an articulation of a maturation of the faith expressed in the previous two albums. Faith that sees God at work even in struggles. a letting go of an expectation of dramatic works of God in ones life, recognizing God maybe works more subtly as often as not.