Thoughts on Dylan, following your star, and Adelaide Pollard
The announcement came out recently that 1960s icon, Bob Dylan, would soon be the first musician to be granted admission to the world’s most elite literary club. You see, just in case you haven’t heard the news, Dylan, 75, is to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
As in most parts of his life he has remained something of an enigma about his religious faith, if any. He was born Jewish, but I remember the stir in the late 1970s when he released two Christian-themed albums that seemed to suggest that he had become a Christian, and the Christianity community of the day was falling over itself to welcome him into the fold. Then very Dylan like, he followed all of this up by then holding his son Jesse’s bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, which is one of the holiest of sites in Judaism.
The Telegraph last Saturday published an interview that Dylan did with writer Edna Gunderson that touched on many aspects of his life from song writer to painter and actor. He seemed to sum up his philosophy of life when he said: “There’s a lot of things I’d like to do… I’d like to drive a race car on the Indianapolis track. I’d like to kick a field goal in an NFL football game. I’d like to be able to hit a hundred-mile-an-hour baseball. But you have to know your place. There might be some things that are beyond your talents. Everything worth doing takes time. You have to write a hundred bad songs before you write one good one. And you have to sacrifice a lot of things that you might not be prepared for. Like it or not, you are in this alone and have to follow your own star.”
“Like it or not, you are in this alone and have to follow your own star.”
That line alone could be the mindset of our age put into a single sentence.
I was driving somewhere recently when a Johnny Cash song came on the radio. Few people wouldn’t recognize it, “Because you’re mine, I walk the line…” Meant to speak about Cash’s relationship with his wife and how it changed him. Although it was meant to pay homage to his love for her, I was struck in that moment by the selfishness of the lyric. Because you’re mine – not because “You love me…” or because “It’s the right way to live…” or even because “God calls me to be faithful…” – it is “because you’re mine, I walk the line…”
I’ve noticed a Toyota Corolla commercial that, in one version or another, seems to be on the TV all the time. I think it is geared at millennials who are now able to afford their first new car. It is filled with scenes of twenty-somethings enjoying the drive in their new Corolla and singing, defiantly singing, the 1963 Lesley Gore hit “You Don’t Own Me” (though they are probably more familiar with the 2015 version by Australian singer Grace). Written by Philadelphia songwriters John Madara and David White as a “break-up” song, it became “a factor in second wave feminist movement” according to Wikipedia. It is one of those songs that pretty much cuts across the generations – and everybody sings along when it comes over the airwaves.
It made me ponder for a few minutes how we Christians often treat our relationship with God as if it were simply another human relationship. Sometimes we are of the mindset, like Dylan, that even though we know better, we think we are “in this alone and have to follow [our] own star…” Sometimes we are more like Johnny Cash, willing to walk the line “because you’re mine…” when the truth be known it would be more proper to say that “the LORD, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture.” (Psalm 100:3).
Sometimes we are like a 17 year old Lesley Gore, pointing our finger at God and the world, crying out “You don’t own me…” when the Apostle Paul would remind us that, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God…” (I Corinthians 6:19-20).
And perhaps too often we allow the words of Billy Joel to echo in our mind, “Don’t go changing, to try and please me… I love you just the way you are,” when the Scripture appeals to us “…to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1)
You probably do not know the name Adelaide Pollard, though hopefully you do know the words to one of her songs. She was born in Bloomfield, Iowa, in 1862 and raised in the Christian faith. Her greatest desire had always been to go to Africa as a Missionary, and although she was there briefly, the start of WWI forced her to retreat to Scotland. She struggled with her desire to return to Africa and when her health prevented her, she became quite discouraged. In 1902 she attended a worship service one evening she heard another woman pray, “Lord, it doesn’t matter what you bring into our lives – just have your way with us.” She went home and meditating on the words from Jeremiah 18 she wrote out the words to the song that millions have sung:
Have Thine own way, Lord!
Have Thine own way!
Thou art the potter; I am the clay.
Mold me and make me after Thy will,
While I am waiting, yielded and still.
I still like Dylan, and Billy Joel, and Johnny Cash, and Leslie Gore, but the words of little known Adelaide Pollard are a better guide for our lives.