Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dylan on a Sunday

I started this day in Federal Way, WA. My friend, Jerry, drove me to the airport in his Toyota pick-up at 6 am. I took a commuter flight from Seattle to Portland on a prop plane manufactured in Canada. I got a shuttle from the airport to my hotel room for this evening where they let me check in early. I dumped my stuff in my room and walked to the nearest light rail stop (the Max), changed to the Gresham line at the Gateway transit center and rode it all the way to the end. That left me about a mile and a half from the East County Church of Christ, where I ministered for eleven years. I walked and arrived just in time for the opening song. After services, I walked about a mile to Edgefield, one of my favorite places in all the world, a kind of constant carnival of music, good food and beverage, golf, glass blowing, gardens, etc.

There should be a song in all of that, or two, or three.

I thought about that as I walked to Edgefield. I walked past a long stand of blackberry vines, which are omnipresent in Western Oregon and a nuisance. Except for this time of year, when they have ripe berries. And the best part of that is the smell. I used to run along trails in this area and the smell of the blackberries on the breeze made the run immensely more enjoyable.

Anyways, as I was walking past and smelling the blackberries, I thought this is the kind of thing that would show up in a Dylan song. While the song wouldn't be about it, (or if it were, only in an oblique way) a line about berries on the wind could very well make it into a song. The power of his observations are often what make his lyrics so great.

I am not always the most observant person in the world. Some things simply evade me. So when a particular smell opens up a fist-full of memories, I want to be a poet. I want the few things that I deeply observe to have a mark on the world, to linger, to have a shared existence. And I wish most of all that I could combine that with melody, and a great middle eight, and a chorus with a subtle, but memorable hook. Today will be content with a blog post, oh underachieving today.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dylan on a Sunday

I visited my Aunt Dorothy today (my mom's aunt, actually). She's in hospice care and so this may very well be the last time I visit with her. She's been a presence in my life. She was my 4th grade Sunday School teacher. During worship, she sat on the aisle on the second row opposite my mother on the other side of the aisle. I have told people that I learned the gospel by paying attention when Dorothy and my mother would nod during my father's sermons.

When I preached for the East County Church in Gresham, OR, Dorothy and her husband, Jess, sat on the second row as I preached. They were always dressed to the nines and became fixtures in our congregation. There was simply no one like them, especially Dorothy.

Dorothy is a Guild, one of my grandfather's younger sisters. And all of them are strong-willed, outspoken, insightful women with a more than a little bit of cantankerous mixed in. My favorite Dorothy story consists of an encounter she had with a famous Church of Christ preacher who had retired and attended the congregation she attended. He had a peculiar view of the Holy Spirit. He couldn't deny that the Bible talked about a personal indwelling of the Spirit, but he maintained that the Spirit was only active in relationship to Scripture, kind of a modified word-only position for those of you CoC'ers.

So, to demonstrate how ridiculous this position was, she bought a necktie, wrapped in in a gift box and gave it to him one Sunday after church. Once he opened it, she told him that she never wanted him to wear it. He protested. "Why would you give me a gift and expect me not to use it!" "Exactly!" she pounced. "Why would God give us the Holy Spirit and not expect us to use it."

Classic Dorothy.

I talked to her husband, Jess, yesterday on the phone. He promised Dorothy he would never put her in a home. And a few months ago, it looked like Dorothy's decline would be fast and final. But she's a tough old boot and is hanging in there. She's improved. And this could go on now indefinitely. And even thought the hospice workers come to their home periodically, along with other helpers, Jess is exhausted. He's 84, and while he's in good health, this is an ordeal.

He told me yesterday that he has fought in the war, been shot at, and had other difficulties in his life, but that this was by far the most difficult thing he's ever done. "I think I can do it, though, see it through, if I could just get a little rest."

I admire Jess. He's been married to Dorothy for 60 years and she is the more dominant figure in their relationship. I'm thinking not everything has gone his way, that he's had to swallow a few things here and there. But here he is, serving Dorothy, beyond his endurance and stamina allows. He wants more than anything to see it through to the end.

So, for Jess today, Dylan on a Sunday is When the Deal Goes Down.

In the still of the night, in the world's ancient light
Where wisdom grows up in strife
My bewildering brain, toils in vain
Through the darkness on the pathways of life
Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air
Tomorrow keeps turning around
We live and we die, we know not why
But I'll be with you when the deal goes down

We eat and we drink, we feel and we think
Far down the street we stray
I laugh and I cry and I'm haunted by
Things I never meant nor wished to say
The midnight rain follows the train
We all wear the same thorny crown
Soul to soul, our shadows roll
And I'll be with you when the deal goes down

Well, the moon gives light and it shines by night
When I scarcely feel the glow
We learn to live and then we forgive
O'r the road we're bound to go
More frailer than the flowers, these precious hours
That keep us so tightly bound
You come to my eyes like a vision from the skies
And I'll be with you when the deal goes down

Well, I picked up a rose and it poked through my clothes
I followed the winding stream
I heard the deafening noise, I felt transient joys
I know they're not what they seem
In this earthly domain, full of disappointment and pain
You'll never see me frown
I owe my heart to you, and that's sayin' it true
And I'll be with you when the deal goes down

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Dylan on a Sunday

I noticed that Brandi Carlile is playing the White House on the 4th of July. That's got to feel like a pretty big honor. I hope she'll do her cover of "Fortunate Son." That would set them on their ears.

That got me to thinking about what Dylan would do on the 4th of July (mostly because I write this blog). As I write this, he's about to go on stage in Ireland. I doubt he'll sing America the Beautiful, but I could be wrong. I imagine Dylan at this point avoiding anything that would seem like a statement, even if he thought not singing America the Beautiful would be a statement. He might play the White House on the 4th of July, but he would gloss the day, give no indication of its significance. Not make it a big deal, one way or another. At least, that's what I imagine.

One consistent thing about Dylan's music, at least his recent stuff, is that he brooks no idolatries. He writes from inside the details of life these days, not from a stance above it that would allow him some universalizing critique. There are no ideologies or utopias. There is nothing in life that doesn't have another side to it. Dylan is not likely to sermonize. He's more likely to undo you with irony, to let your project fall by its own weight.

I'm more comfortable with this view of life. I missed the patriotic gene somewhere. It's not that I'm not thankful for the life I have, and I know a big part of that is because I live in an impressive country that's gotten a lot of things right. I'm under no pretense that somehow I've earned or deserve the prosperity I enjoy. I've traveled enough to know how much I take for granted. I'm no America basher (though two weeks in Uganda is more than enough to sponsor some real Western guilt).

But I'll also have to admit that Toby Keith turns my stomach and you'll never catch me mouthing the words to a Lee Greenwood song. And if you want to get under my skin at church, talk about America as a Christian nation. I've only rarely enjoyed fireworks (I know, this is kind of grinchy), and parades make me very, very tired. I'm just not constitutionally cut out to be patriotic.

But I'm also wary of hyper-patriotism. I think it is one of the easiest places to set up idolatries, to use God's name for our own aspirations, especially when you're the most "powerful" nation in the world. I hope President Obama prays before he commits troops. But I also hopes he keeps that to himself, lest someone confuse our cause with God's.

I do plan on watching fireworks tonight. And I will give thanks for what we share as a nation. And if I hear Brandi Carlile sing, America the Beautiful, I imagine it will even deliver a goose bump, for which I'll be thankful.