Sunday, April 4, 2010

Dylan on a Sunday

I'm a big believer in voice. That your most powerful self is the most authentic self. And I believe that voice, in this sense, is elusive, subject to various temptations of mimicry.

Which brings me back to the documentary about Dylan's music in the 80's. The 80's saw more than just Dylan's "Christian trilogy," they also saw the release of what many consider Dylan's worst efforts: e.g. Empire Burlesque, Knocked Out Loaded. Disco beats, synth effects, Don Johnson wardrobe covers. Even Dylan was susceptible to the corrosive pop pressures of America in the Reagan years.

Commentators say Dylan was lost. And they point to his performances at LiveAid and on the song "We are the World," as prime exhibits. (There's a hilarious clip on the documentary of Stevie Wonder coaching Dylan on how to sing his lines for the song. Stevie does a dead on Dylan). By the end of the 80's, with the help of Daniel Lanois, and the release of Oh, Mercy, Dylan had found his voice again. Or so the story goes.


I taught preaching for awhile. And the big thing in homiletics (the science of preaching) during this period was naming different approaches to the preaching. This is how you preach a deductive sermon. This is how you preach an inductive sermon. The emphasis was on the surface structure of the sermon. After working with young preachers, I totally scrapped distinguishing between various sermon strategies. The reason? Voice.

The "aha" moment came one afternoon when an African-American student preached an inductive sermon in class. It was well designed. Thoughtful. But it lacked life. This lack of life was more striking in an African-American student, I think, because they have such a strong preaching voice in their churches. This emphasis on a surface structure completely rubbed out this student's own voice. From that point on, I wanted my students to focus on saying something meaningful in a voice--their voice--they would discover over time in relationship to the biblical text. The student sermons got much better.

This is not true only for preaching. I think something like this is true for aspects of life that don't have to do with speaking, singing, etc. There are habits, practices, professions, that over time provide a vehicle for "voice." And I think this happens the moment when we're no longer conscious of imitation (we never escape it), but move in a practice as if its our own. That's a powerful thing.

No comments: