My Most Recent Books
- My Five Favorite Lesser-Appreciated Dylan Albums July 30, 2015
- Practical Help in Navigating Relationships with our LGBT Neighbors July 20, 2015
- Stalking John Travolta July 17, 2015
- Is Christianity Really Shrinking? Not the Good Kind July 14, 2015
- Making a Bumper-Sticker Out of the People’s House June 28, 2015
- First Reflections on Today’s SCOTUS Marriage Decision June 27, 2015
- To Join the Trans-Jenner Caitlyn….Or Not? June 3, 2015
- Does the Church Focus on “Hot-Button” Issues over Poverty? May 18, 2015
- Once Same-Sex Attracted Always Same-Sex Attracted? May 10, 2015
- Dylan Nails It Again… March 6, 2015
Being a considerable and long-time Dylan fan, people will ask my favorite Dylan songs and albums. Those are hard to pick, as they are far too many. Dylan’s body of work is like an iceberg. What’s above the water, what most people know of, is small compared to what’s beneath the water, those less familiar works. That’s where my favorites are.
(On the topic of his massive body of work, one reviewer said that Dylan’s official and very successful collective bootleg albums themselves – all the golden material that never made it onto albums – would amount to a successful career in themselves for most artists. He’s right.)
But I can list my favorite albums if you ask about them by more precise categories. Here’s the list my five absolute favorites that are under appreciated – if not totally unknown – by most.
Upon release, Bob’s first album was quickly referred to as “Hammond’s Folly” in reference to John Hammond who took a big chance on signing the young man from Hibbing, MN to Columbia Records. The album hardly made a bump its first year, selling only about 5,000 copies. There are only two original compositions on the album, the rest are great folk bits from others.
Featuring simply Dylan’s strong and organic voice, his acoustic guitar and harmonica, this album is an absolute explosion of energy, the most powerful being “Fixin’ to Die”, “Freight Train Blues” and “Gospel Plow”. “Freight Train” has an unbelievably long dragged-out one breath hold on the last word of the refrain…”blues”. Longest I’ve ever heard and never have been able to come close to following it as I sing it along with him. The disc also features “House of the Rising Sun”.
This one is arguably Dylan’s most energetically performed albums. And the cover photo is classic. It is the only one from those early days where he doesn’t sport some sort of attitude, either good or bad. It is really a great photo, allowing his boyish innocence to stand evident.
Dylan has a small handful of albums that are very distinct from everything else, regarding the songs and manner in which he performs them. His picture on the cover of New Morning tells you this is different, as it presents a different kind of Dylan. New Morning is simple – his voice and some backing musicians. Each song is beautiful and a winner, one of those works where it is hard to pick a favorite tune.
One favorite, a wholly unique tune, is “If Dogs Run Free.” It is the only Dylan song featuring scat. Yes, scat. Who knew? Rolling Stone gave the whole work a glowing review in 1970, including this gem: “‘If Dogs Run Free’ puts me in mind of a beatnik poetry reading at the Fat Black Pussy Cat Theatre in Greenwich Village.” “The Man in Me”, “New Morning” and “Time Passes Slowly” are all gems. Deeply performed from the depths of his soul. It features two good gospel songs to close up the LP: “Three Angels” and “Father of Night”.
Any even semi-serious Dylan collection should have New Morning, as well as this next one.
Street-Legal was the studio album just before Dylan’s world-shaking emergence as a born-again Christian with his best-selling “Slow Train”. Every song on Street-Legal is absolutely rock solid, many of them heartfelt confessions of broken or troubled love. This is not surprising given this album appeared the year following his divorce from his first wife, Sara, with whom he had four children and adopted her daughter.
My favorites here are “Changing of the Guards” (which Patti Smith does a wonderful cover of on her remarkable collection of great covers, Twelve), “Is Your Love in Vain” and “True Love Tends to Forget.” “New Pony” is a creative and different little song, save for the fact that his new pony’s name is Lucifer.
The noted critic, Greil Marcus, couldn’t have been more wrong about this LP in his Rolling Stone review, saying “Most of the stuff here is dead air, or close to it.” He notes that some of the performances are “wretched” and one is “particularly cruel” to any listener’s ears. If you have any interest in Dylan’s music, get this album and see just how embarrassingly wrong poor Marcus is.
Not many Dylan fans would list this one as a favorite in any category, but I’m not most Dylan fans. I just like so many of these songs because they are clever and have so many great lines. The opening track – “Tight Connection to My Heart” – bursts forth with this great line:
“Well I had to move fast, and I couldn’t with you around my neck. I said I’d send for you and I did, what did you expect?”
As well as,
“Someday maybe, I’ll remember to forget.”
“While they’re beatin’ the devil out of a guy who’s wearing a powder-blue wig.
Later he’ll be shot for resisting arrest, I can still hear his voice crying in the wilderness.”
No doubt the guy deserved the beatin’ because of his wig choice.
In “Clean Cut Kid” he tells of a promising young kid – he was clean cut supposedly – who got turned into a killer by the powers that be. Dylan explains how this young man had quite a diet after his defilers got finished with him.
“He drank Coca-Cola, he was eating Wonder Bread, he ate Burger Kings, he was well fed.”
So, if you ever have the trivia question come up, “Did Bob Dylan ever sing about Wonder Bread or Burger King?” you now know the answer.
There are two particularly beautiful songs, “Emotionally Yours” – the wonderful arrangement transfixes me, particularly the violin – and “Dark Eyes”, a hauntingly beautiful song, of which Judy Collins does cover that will silence you.
I listened to this disc constantly in graduate school, serving as background music during long bouts of reading and writing my thesis. I love this one because it is a collection of very old folk gems performed by Dylan’s voice, acoustic guitar and harmonica. Clean and stripped down. We have to go back to 1964 to find his previous scaled-down offering. Oh, and it includes “Froggie Went a Courtin'”. Who can’t love that?
My two favorites are “Canadee-I-O”, a traditional Canadian ballad written in the early 1800s of a young maiden who dresses as a sailor so she can follow her love to sea. “Authur McBride”, an Irish folk song, written in the early 1800s as well, if not before, tells the story of two men who resist the invitation of a military recruiter to join the war because they know he’ll “send us to France, where we would get shot without warning.” It is a remarkable story and performed so uniquely and creatively by Dylan. “Jim Jones” is another favorite, another sailing song, about Jones who is a convict banished to New South Wales, but he promises to get his revenge on those who have sent him there.
What I love about this album is the classic folk ballads, the simpleness of the arrangements – Dylan and his acoustic – and the total soulfulness with which he performs each number. He puts all he has into them, allowing you to reach right into his very heart.
So there you have it, my top five under-appreciated Dylan discs. If this were a list of six, I would include his second gospel album, Saved, which features songs written and performed with such passion of spirit, conviction, humility and anointing that they could have only been created by a man who possessed an unquenchable evangelical faith. You can’t fake stuff like this.
(And for the record, he has never denied that faith in the intervening decades and will often perform a number of these songs, even though nearly no one is clamoring for them. He does so because he still wants to, because he believes they still say something worth saying.)
Enjoy the enrichment to your music collection.
Was recently invited by my good friend Juli Slattery to be a guest on her wonderful show, Java with Juli recently. She is a great interviewer, asking very practical question. Listen in for some good advice in dealing well in relationships with our LGBT family members, co-workers, friends and neighbors in both truth and grace.
She also asked me to write up a quick post providing more advice on her website, Authentic Intimacy at Christianity Today’s Today’s Christian Woman.
Thank you Juli!
Listen and read, then share with your friends. No, right now!
A few years ago i wrote about going by Bob Dylan’s house while in Malibu. I like to find the interesting houses of interesting people. I am driving through Ocala, FL today so naturally I have to swing over to the little town of Anthony to see John Travolta’s home. It’s worth seeing, no so much cuz it’s Mr. Travolta’s, but because of the house itself. Like no other in the world.
He and his family live in a community centered around, not golf, but airplanes. Instead of each house backing up to a golf course, they each back to a huge runway. Large enough for Travolta to get his Qantas 707 airliner aloft. Pretty cool, uh?
The neighborhood is off this non-descript, country two-lane road. As you would imagine, you can’t really see his house from the road. Although it is relatively close, but hidden by trees. But if you are tooling down this road one day and see this sign, you are there.
And I did get a slight glimpse of his airliner’s tail through the trees.
…which you can see in this pic of him taking from LAX.
And I got this picture of one of his neighbors. No kidding. This was only one of about 7 similar trucks I saw around there, letting their thoughts and values be clearly known. Wow.
And then finally, posting about Mr. Travolta’s house gives me the opportunity to post this picture I took two years ago in the main plaza in Orvieto Italy. I knew it would come in handy one day.
Now I’m headed to Palatka, Florida, where my great aunt lived and a my dad’s extended family, where my brother and I spent summers with Aunt Mable and where my parents are buried. Oh, and a very young Billy Graham preached his first sermon there at Bostwick Baptist Church, which still stands.
You have no doubt seen and been startled by headlines such as these…
“Christianity Declines Sharply in US, Agnostics Growing: Pew” – Newsmax
“Christians In U.S. On Decline As Number Of ‘Nones’ Grows, Survey Finds” – NPR
“Big Drop in Share of Americans Calling Themselves Christian” – New York Times
“America Is Getting Less Christian and Less Religious, Study Shows” – HuffPo
With such powerful and respected news sources proclaiming this dour news, who could possibly doubt the truth of it?
Well, the story is more complex than most of the current mainstream stories explain. These headlines refer to a new report from the good folks at the Pew Research Center on the shape of America’s religious landscape. They do excellent investigations into and reporting on how faith practice and belief in general is faring in the United States.
There is indeed bad news in the report for Christianity in general, but it actually turns out to be relatively good news. How can that be?
In general, the big picture shows that:
Christianity: It indeed declined nearly 8 percent, with 71 percent of American adults identifying as Christians today, down from 78 percent in 2007.
“Nones”: Overall, those who identify with no particular faith increased just over 6 percentage points over this same time, from 16 to 23 percent.
Non-Christian Faiths: These grew very slightly – 1% – from very low numbers of 5 percent in 2007. The greatest increases were found among Muslims and Hindus, both of which generally doubled. Jewish identity grew by a smidge of a percentage point and Buddhism remained steady at 0.7 percent of all U.S. adults. Most of this small growth is from immigration of Muslim and Hindu individuals rather than conversion.
BUT… things get interesting when you break down the various Christian traditions and identities.
There are obvious changes happening among mainline Protestant traditions as too many of them have accommodated themselves to the spirit of the age, jettisoning essential Christian truths: Salvation through Christ alone, the reality of sin, Satan and Hell, increased acceptance of abortion, free sex, homosexuality and same-sex marriage, all the way to ordaining clergy who are in same-sex relationships. How are these traditions holding up? Are they growing soundly as they become more “welcoming”, gracious and inclusive?
No doubt that was their plan, but it has not quite worked out that way.
The mainline protestant churches are absolutely hemorrhaging members. To mix metaphors, members are running for the exits as if they are on fire. In absolute numbers, these churches have collectively declined by 5 million adults since 2007, easily the starkest decline of any Christian tradition. Of course, their precipitous decline was already in full flow prior to 2007, only getting worse in the following years.
What about other Protestants, such as evangelicals? Well, these are the rigid, judgmental, busy-bodied fundamentalists who of late have become both hateful and bigoted. We know this because the elites in New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC keep telling us so…repeatedly. So how are the evangelicals faring in terms of decline?
While the mainstream protestant churches are now down to 36 million adults, there are 62 million American evangelical adults. But actual numbers don’t show us decline or growth. Are evangelical churches growing or not? It would seem doubtful given that nearly every other religious category is either merely maintaining or declining. However, Pew explains that the number of evangelicals in America may have increased at best by as much as 5 million since 2007.
In 2007, largely half of all Protestants (51%) identified as evangelical, whereas today, 55 percent of all Protestants identify as evangelicals.
Why the Growth?
The good news here is not just that evangelical churches are continuing to grow, but why. It’s this that really matters for our faith.
These are the churches that seek to be faithful to the teachings of historic, biblical Christianity, teaching the scriptures without changing it to the blowing winds of current social fashion. They know that it is God’s church, not theirs to change as they see fit. And people are voting for this fidelity to Christianity with their feet.
People are coming to churches like these – even the mainline churches who haven’t compromised – because they actually offer something that people desperately need: the Gospel and the call to obedient discipleship. To paraphrase the great Southern novelist Flannery O’Connor, if your church isn’t going to believe and practice real Christianity, “why bother!”
Why bother, indeed. And the latest Pew data bears this out.
I write this post not as a partisan, but as an American.
The White House being lit up in rainbow colors by this Administration was wrong and in very bad taste. It is not at all about what those colors represent, if you can believe me on that. It is that the White House should not nor never be used as an icon or celebration for any particular political or even social cause or purpose, regardless of our personal belief on the rightness of that cause. It just shouldn’t.
There are many reasons.
First is who’s house it is. It’s the people’s House which we happily and proudly present to every President to conduct his solemn business of leading our nation and for the protection, enjoyment and relaxation of his family. It is not one person, Administration or a particular group of people’s house to proclaim his or their particular views on any topic of social or public policy. To do so is to misuse it’s purpose.
Second is the nature of that great House itself. It is in itself – with no need for help or added flourish – an powerful icon of our nation and ALL it stands for. If you are proud of what happened on Friday, the White House itself, as well as the dignity of the Court’s building, represents that simply because of the kind of government system each stands for. It’s physicality and nobility should not be enlisted and used for other purposes. It is not a bumper sticker, banner, billboard, placard or t-shirt and should not be used as one. This House is not our governmental equivalent of a google doodle.
This is not only true of the physical structure at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave itself, but its representation as well such as in the current icon on the White House’s twitter account, seen here.
Indeed, the White House is not to be used in such a way even when that purpose can be celebrated by all citizens.
- It would not be proper to light up the White House in the colors of our nation’s flag when we celebrate our nation’s birthday later this week. (It inherently represents what is great about our country and nearly everyone who see it for the first time feels that very reality.)
- It would be improper to flood it in pink hues to call us all to Breast Cancer Awareness.
- It would be improper to use the nobility of the White House to celebrate if Congress passed a law that would wipe out our nation’s hunger problem without adding a cent to our national debt.
- It would be wrong to illuminate it to remind us all of Missing Children Day (May 25th btw).
- It would not be proper to celebrate a cure for cancer.
You get my drift. Sending messages about such things is just not what the People’s House is for. But those are each issues of good taste and propriety.
Last, it should certainly not be used to praise and celebrate any public policy issue that is so clearly divisive to our nation’s populace, regardless of what that issue is and how righteous its celebrants believe its virtue. There will always be serious Americans who oppose any public policy change for serious and well-intentioned reasons. To treat their small bit of ownership of that house in that way is at best un-neighborly and insensitive and at worst, to rub their face in it. I will not make any judgement about this Administration and their motivation here.
Celebrate Friday’s decision and do so wildly if you are inclined. But don’t enlist the White House itself in that celebration. It’s simply not what it’s for. I would hope that all our nation’s citizens of good will could agree on that.
It’s been a VERY long day, but wanted to post some quick personal reflections on today’s monumental Supreme Court decision. I will do so under a few quick headings.
Does This Settle the Marriage Issue?
- Today’s ruling settles and puts this issue to bed no more than Roe v. Wade settled the abortion issue in 1973. Issues having to do with such basic issues of human life, sexuality and marriage cannot really be settled in such a way. That is demonstrably clear.
- Particularly, Roe benefited from a clear and strong 7-2 majority, but did nothing to settle question in hearts of Americans since that day. It undeniably inflamed the issue and that fire still burns white hot today.
- Anyone who reads the entirety of today’s decision clearly sees that this question is not even settled among the Court itself evidenced by the narrow tilt toward a “yea” vote via the tie-breaking opinion of Justice Kennedy. The dissenting four justices did not only disagree, but categorically rejected the slight majority’s conclusion and entire rationale.
Some Basic Problems with the Majority’s Rationale
Of course, enough will be written on the perceived problems with the decision over the coming days to wipe out whole forests, or at least employ countless terabytes. I offer just a few curious observations from my reading.
- The majority dismissed the historically monolithic understanding that marriage is between men and women as obviously wrong, but held tight to the assumption – as if self-evident and universally agreed upon – that marriage must only involve two people. Who will wager real money that the majority’s sure assumption of the distinct virtue of couplehood will not be deemed discriminatory by their own peers in the less than twenty years?
- As most other Courts favoring SSM have done, this majority bases its decision largely on some very ephemeral characteristics of the plaintiffs. The majority took great care to explain how kind and caring the plaintiffs are. People any of us would admire. That is indeed good to know. But what if the plaintiffs were in fact surly and impertinent folks? Would it be just to claim that should weaken their case? The majority assures us they have the best intentions toward marriage. Excellent, but what if they possessed only a negligible estimation of marriage? Does their supposed Constitutional right rest contingent on the strength or weakness of their personal qualities? What court would consider such a subjective and prejudicial rationale? Uhm.
Bigotry and Loving v. Virginia
As most know, Loving was an important and necessary 1967 Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws that prevented White and Black citizens from marrying each other. The declared motivation of such laws (Literally entitled the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in Virginia) was to use marriage for purposes of protecting “racial purity”; thus enlisting marriage into the service of a vile ideology. The Court unanimously struck down these obscene laws, declaring marriage was all about bringing male and female together, not keeping the races apart.
The Majority today made hearty use of references to Loving. It was a smart move but only for the lowest of rhetorical reasons. Loving was discriminatory and that Court did God’s work in fixing it. Of course, only the nastiest brand of bigots would say the the Court’s decision in Loving was wrong. Today, the Majority has told us they are only following the example of those good Justices in righting another great injustice. And yes, the comparison itself communicates that only the nastiest brand of bigot would oppose today’s Court in doing God’s work. It is a clever but despicably manipulative chess move.
As such, consider which justice gave the most ink and passion to rebutting the Loving comparison and did so for this very reason. That would be the only justice on the Court who is Black and in an inter-racial marriage.
Justice Thomas, who one would assume would have the deepest personal interest in extending to others the protections Loving provided to him, described the comparison crisply as “both offensive and inaccurate” because “laws defining marriage as between one man and one woman do not share the sordid past” that antimiscegenation laws do. Not by any comparison.
That is why the enlistment of Loving into this debate is not only wrong, but inexcusable and leads to the next point.
Will Disagreement Be Tolerated?
If same-sex marriage is indeed a fundamental Constitutional right, where does that leave citizens and organizations who cannot go along with it in good conscience? This no small or purely academic question. The Court asked the question in Oral Arguments and got no clear answers from those arguing for the change.
- Will Focus on the Family and other such groups be in violation of basic human rights when we contend that children have a basic right to be raised by their own mother and father? Will that be deemed discriminatory at best and hate speech at worst?
- What about a Christian, Jewish, Muslim or Mormon college that provides special housing for married students, but only for husbands and wives? Will they have they hammer of discrimination come down on them?
- What about marriage retreats that churches and organizations like Focus hold that are based around a particular teaching on marriage? Must we make adjustments in our lessons and include same-sex couples?
- Will faith-based adoption agencies be driven out because they only place children with mothers and fathers? A number already have and the punishment such agencies will face will only get more sharp and punitive.
- What about the individual business owners who are asked to participate in same-sex weddings by virtue of their artistic skills? The incredible pressure and great legal challenges they are already facing will only get more blunt.
I predict it will get worse than most of us imagine and more quickly.
Justice Alito, in his dissent laments,
“I assume that those who cling to old beliefs will be able to whisper their thoughts in the recesses of their homes, but if they repeat those views in public, they risk being labeled as bigots and treated as such by governments, employers, and schools.”
Is there even one person celebrating today’s decision who can honestly say people who have serious religious, moral or intellectual reasons for opposing same-sex marriage have nothing to worry about? The answer to that question should be chilling to all classically liberal and free-thinking people.
The Banner of This Movement
The push for redefining marriage into an androgynous institution has made great use of allusion and reference to the long battle for the civil rights of Black Americans. Like appealing to Loving, this has been a smart rhetorical move for the very same reasons. But it’s apparent by simply looking at the demonstrations we have seen today in comparison to the demonstrations of the Civil Rights marchers of the 1960s that these two efforts and rationales are indeed very different in important ways. It is seen in the very different cases each has made for why their call for basic rights is unquestionable.
Consider the dramatic difference in the two iconic images that have come to represent each struggle.
- One movement argued from its commonality with all others – I AM A MAN
- The other celebrates its uniqueness from others – I AM A GAY MAN
The first refused to qualify their membership in humanity. The other is fully centered in qualification. A basic human right cannot itself be based upon one’s distinction, but rather one’s commonality. The first asserts the moral argument that “I must be treated just like you because I am just like you.” Appealing to exceptional ism fundamentally diminishes one’s inherent dignity in the long-run by declaring “I am not like you.”
This brings me to the final point.
What Must Be Front of Mind For Us As We Move Forward?
I’ve been thinking quite a bit today about how someone with my convictions and beliefs conducts himself in a proper manner in the weeks, months, and years ahead. How do I be a good neighbor to those who have a different take on today’s news than I do? Here are some thoughts.
- First, I must keep center of mind that those I very much disagree with on this issue share my common humanity. I must respect and care for them as people even as I disagree and even tangle with them around these ideas.
- I would respectfully ask the same consideration from them.
- While I cannot morally affirm homosexuality, there are far too many things about my own sexuality that I cannot affirm. Not one of us has it all together, which is the great equalizer. It demands our humility.
- I must contend that my happy acceptance of my gay or lesbian neighbor as my friend cannot be contingent on my acceptance of homosexuality or same-sex marriage any more than I can make their acceptance of and friendship with me contingent on their affirmation of my sexuality, my faith or any other essential part of who I am. True friendship doesn’t make such conditional demands.
- Those mourning today’s decision cannot see this as the end of the world. Nor can those celebrating it see it as the dawning of a wonderful new age. Life is never so clear and absolute either way.
- I would hope we can all call ourselves and our ideological peers to task when we make prejudiced and assumptive statements about the character, motivations and intentions of those we disagree with. Challenge of such behavior with “Have you ever actually asked them why they believe/act/think that way?” This requires us to engage one another as people rather than stereotypes in the midst of our serious disagreements. This is essential and must be pursued by all people of goodwill.
As this issue will no doubt be like the abortion issue has been ever since 1973 and before, we as a people of one nation have a long road of passionate and deeply held disagreement before us in the public square, over the back fence, around the water cooler, over the dinner table and in our places of worship. We must each ask ourselves and seek answers to the question of “How do we as a Americans disagree with substance and passion while still treating each other with care, dignity and respect?”
No court can answer that question for us. It is up to each of us to seek the answers and demonstrate them the best we can.
Can we agree on and commit to that?
In the midst of Caitlyn Mania, here is a good article (save for its thoughts on Jesus and some potty language) regarding the emerging demand that all play along nicely and celebrate Jenner’s or any other trans person’s personal reality. To continue to refer to him as “him” – much less not see him as brave and heroic as expected – is deemed hateful.
This assumption has no place in civil society.
If this comes down to the seriousness of being tagged as a hater or a lover, there are some important questions to be asked.
- At what magic moment did it become wrong to use male pronouns for Jenner or any other trans person? Was it when the VF cover hit the stands or at some point prior? At least in terms of how the general press has referred to Jenner, the cover seemed to be the line of demarcation. But according to the rules, where is it actually?
- If this idea is to really be taken seriously – if Jenner is and always has indeed been a woman as we are being asked to believe – should his medals be revoked because a woman competed in a men’s Olympic event? It is not a petty question.
- If gender identity is merely a social construct – something that society forces upon us as gender theory goes – why is that a trans woman is genuinely, naturally and authentically a woman, the women she was always meant to be?
The rules on this whole thing become quite fuzzy. I choose not to accept the premise.
There is, or at least should be, room for not going along with what Jenner believes about himself. Reasonable people should allow for that. But if one chooses to reject the Bruce-is-now-Caitlyn narrative, I contend it should be done with thoughtfulness and compassion for him and his family’s very real human struggles. Whether male or female, he is a fellow human being who deserves to be treated with dignity.
Now… whether choosing not to agree with him IS to rob him of his dignity is indeed the question. But dignity and affirmation are two very different things. One is unconditional, the other is situational.
And as I argue for space for dissent, of course I welcome it. I will not make accusations and assumptions about why you believe as you do on the matter and I simply ask the same.