Right before I turned out the lights last night, I realized that I hadn’t acknowledged a very important birthday. So I opened Facebook to make a few quick notes.

Well, I wrote a lot more than a few quick notes. There’s no way to be concise about a living legend.

In the end, what I wrote is blog-post-sized, much more than a Facebook status update. So I’m sharing it here today. After all, nobody’s stopping me from celebrating Bob Dylan all week long.

I can’t let the day come to an end without acknowledging the 75th birthday of one of the most influential human beings in my life.

Bob Dylan — a poet who followed the truth until he recognized that the truth was Jesus, and then, instead of building an altar there at that spot of revelation, he followed Christ from straightforward Gospel songs out into a wider world of subjects, and beyond any familiar vocabulary.

As he ventured so much more deeply “further up and further in” to the mysteries of the Incarnation, his own evangelical fans, for the most part, became alarmed that they no longer recognized his vocabulary and branded him a “backslider” and a “disappointment.” After all, once you’re a Christian, shouldn’t you just stay in church where it’s safe, singing songs loaded with Biblical references, or else launch an evangelical movement of some kind?

(I’ve even heard people say that his salvation must never have been genuine in the first place — a judgment so presumptuous that it seems to trespass into territory that the Scriptures say belongs to God alone.)

I’m with those who think that the Gospel enhanced Dylan’s already formidable powers of perception and poetry, and that the truth set him free to explore even more bravely, honestly, and insightfully through territories far beyond the comfort zones of those who would prefer that faith remain safe and familiar.

Listen to Oh Mercy or, even though some Dylan fans will cringe at the thought, Under a Red Sky.

Listen to Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft. 

These records are rife with allusions, parables, psalms, and proverbs. They lead Dylan all the way back to classics of the American songbook, and as he sings those familiar tunes in the context of his vast exploration, he finds threads within them that suggest they were sacred music all along.

God bless you, Robert Alan Zimmerman. “You gotta serve somebody” — indeed! And it sure seems to me that you serve the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Keep your heart in the highlands… you wild man, you voice crying in the wilderness.

And in your honor, I amplify these words from Thomas Merton:

“…if revelation is regarded simply as a system of truths about God and an explanation of how the universe came into existence, what will eventually happen to it, what is the purpose of Christian life, what are its moral norms, what will be the rewards of the virtuous, and so on, then Christianity is in effect reduced to a world view, at times a religious philosophy and little more, sustained by a more or less elaborate cult, by a moral discipline and a strict code of law. ‘Experience’ of the inner meaning of Christian revelation will necessarily be distorted and diminished in such a theological setting. What will such experience be? Not so much a living theological experience of the presence of God in the world and in mankind through the mystery of Christ, but rather a sense of security in one’s own correctness: a feeling of confidence that one has been saved, a confidence which is based on the reflex awareness that one holds the correct view of the creation and purpose of the world and that one’s behavior is of a kind to be rewarded in the next life. Or, perhaps, since few can attain this level of self-assurance, then the Christian experience becomes one of anxious hope — a struggle with occasional doubt of the ‘right answers,’ a painful and constant effort to meet the severe demands of morality and law, and a somewhat desperate recourse to the sacraments which are there to help the weak who must constantly fall and rise again. This of course is a sadly deficient account of true Christian experience, based on a distortion of the true import of Christian revelation.”

Listen. Do you hear it? It’s not dark yet, but that slow train’s still comin’…

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