Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Trouble no more

From an atheist's appreciation of "Bob Dylan’s Soulful Christian Phase":
.... Bob Dylan has released a new box set, Trouble No More, chronicling the period of his career most controversial to critics—the three years, beginning in the late 1970s, during which he made exclusively Christian music. To anger secular listeners with great severity, Dylan’s gospel was not of the “Jesus is just alright” hippie variety. It was fire and brimstone, “sinners in the hands of an angry God” exhortation. In live performances, his introductions to songs such as “Ain’t Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody” and “Are You Ready” included end-of-days prophecy and warnings of hellfire for nonbelievers.

Discovering Dylan’s Christian music decades after its release, I was prepared to hate it. But it became the stage of Dylan’s chameleon-like career to which I most return. The rock-gospel trilogy of Slow Train Coming, Saved, and Shot of Love boasts of some of Dylan’s most powerful and impactful music. ...

In the most marvelous composition of Dylan’s Christian music, “Every Grain of Sand,” the songwriter takes measure of his entire life, and searches for some semblance of meaning and source of purpose:
Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay
I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.
The questions at the heart of Dylan’s struggle are those that trouble every human life: How can we prevent our regrets from disabling our ambition? How do we face our imminent extinction with pride and strength? How do we gain the confidence to behave as if our lives matter for more than what is empirically verifiable? ....