The Bob Dylan Hymn Book

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Tonight I’m listening and singing along to Bob Dylanold school.

It was a long weekend – finishing up our annual conference in New Jersey, then spending a total of 14 hours in the car over a 24 hour period to attend the funeral of David Panther, a dear friend and pastor.  The service was over 2 hours of powerful worship, testimonials of the power of David’s faith, life and witness and excellent worship music.

On the long drive back from Western PA, after Kimberly and Annelyse were fast asleep in the car, I began to search my ipod for the right music to comfort my restless spirit.  I eventually landed on Dylan’s very early works – it was perfect.  In that moment it wasn’t the soaring rifs, solos, or driving rhythms of cover versions of his tunes, but rather the raw voice, out of tune guitar and stretched out phrasing of Bob’s original works.  “Deep speaks to deep.”

For most of my formidable years, growing up playing the guitar I appreciated Bob Dylan as a poet, lyricist and song writer, but didn’t really like listening to his recordings.  I much preferred to hear the strong bending notes and soaring solos in Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower,” Clapton’s relentless solo in “Don’t think twice,” or Stevie Wonder’s groove in “Blowin’ in the wind”.  I was into the perfect time, the big arrangements and the endless wailing guitars. – Tonight all of that is missing in the original recordings.  The technical virtues of Bob’s voice, harmonica and guitar are nothing to write home about.  But, they are honest.

The honesty of the recording cuts to the quick.  It splits my soul open and strips away all pretense.  Every measure that is faster or slower than the one before changes tempo for a reason – it builds, or descends from an emotional peak, representing raw emotion.  The out-of-tune guitar on some songs even communicates a seemingly intentional emotion – out of sorts, as is, real.

That’s where I am.  Give me Dylan.  As I continue tonight to meditate on and listen to these psalms, poems and ballads, my heart longs to sing songs of faith in the same way. Give me hymns with no pretense – the tunes without the hype.  No big production, but the heart of the songs – the praise, the lament, the fear, the hope – that is what my soul desires.

Can we do that in church?  I long for hymns of the Christian faith Dylan style – “deep speaks to deep”.  There is a deep longing, not only within my own spirit, to strip down the grandiosity, the arrangements, the performance and reflect the raw prayers of the heart to God.  Do you share this longing?

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