Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door with Poetry

1

On any given Sunday, it’s highly likely that some of the 320,000 pastors across the U.S. will step into their pulpit and preach on original sin and God’s plan for atonement. To underscore the idea that the human condition has us coming out of our mother’s womb steeped in iniquity as a result of Adam’s transgression, that pastor might say something like this:

I was blinded by the devil, born already ruined, stone-cold dead as I stepped out of the womb

And then, in an effort to provide his/her congregation with hope, the pastor might switch gears and include some thoughts along these lines:

By His grace I have been touched, By His Word I have been healed, By His hand I have been delivered, By His Spirit I have been sealed, I’ve been saved by the blood of the Lamb

Although challenging and encouraging, outside of those in Sunday pews, this admonition is likely to go pretty unnoticed culturally.

But last week, those words from the song “Saved,” along with 54 years worth of other poetic lyrics, helped singer/songwriter/poet Bob Dylan win a Nobel Prize in literature. As The New York Times pointed out, Dylan became the first musician to be distinguished with such an honor, something that “elevates him into the company of T. S. Eliot, Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison and Samuel Beckett.” No doubt, times they are a changing.

“In giving the literature prize to Mr. Dylan,” the Times went on, “the academy may also be recognizing that the gap has closed between high art and more commercial creative forms.” The answer to why the academy chose to close that gap is most certainly blowin’ in the wind, but whatever the reason, I have to smile a bit. The Bible tells us that God’s Word doesn’t go void and Dylan was a true expert at crafting a song that showcased the Lord’s heart for the souls of men. With news of this particular Nobel prize, it’s certain many will dig a bit deeper into the works of this balladeer and discover just that.

Now before I go any further, I should probably touch on Dylan’s spiritual life. Is he a Christian? I like Mark Joseph’s answer to that in his book, The Rock & Roll Rebellion: “Ultimately, the exact nature of Dylan’s relationship with his God is unknowable and between him and his creator. …”

Of course, Dylan was not given the Nobel Prize because of the Christ-centric words above. He wrote and sang on a dizzying number of topics. But in fairness, one can’t rule out an entire catalog of faith-based lyrics (written primarily in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s) either. In fact, many of the songs he penned during that period are my favorite Dylan tunes. So, before I leave, I’d like to highlight one more song of his—one of my favorites—that is part of Bob Dylan’s Nobel-worthy poetry.

Go ahead and talk about him because he makes you doubt

Because he has denied himself the things you can’t live without

Laugh at him behind his back just like the others do

Remind him of what he used to be when he comes walking though

He’s the property of Jesus

Resent him to the bone

You got something better

You got a heart of stone [“Property of Jesus”]

And check out Bob Dylan’s Grammy winning song (performed at the 1980 Grammys), “Gotta Serve Somebody”, below.

 

Who wrote this?

Bob Waliszewski is the director of the Plugged In department. His syndicated "Plugged In Movie Review" feature is heard by approximately 9 million people each week on more than 1,500 radio stations and other outlets and has been nominated for a National Religious Broadcaster's award. Waliszewski is the author of the book Plugged-In Parenting: How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids With Love, Not War. You can follow him on Twitter @PluggedInBob.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Timothy Collins More than 1 year ago
Bob, well said.

I hadn’t quite put two and two together with this one until I watched the1980 “Serve Somebody” Grammy performance, but isn’t it maybe just a wee bit strange and ironic that we evangelicals are somehow supposed to synthesize the idea of patting Bob Dylan on the back as the Nobel laureate with the ethical gymnastics involved in supporting the lesser of two evils in the current election cycle? I wonder what Dylan might have to say to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton today. Maybe that would be a message everybody should sit up and pay attention to—or maybe he could just write a special verse especially for them in his current concert performances of that song.

My favorite gospel-era Dylan tune may be the closer on ‘Slow Train Coming,’ “When He Returns,” the closing lines of which I’ll cite here:

Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask
He sees your deeds, He knows your needs even before you ask
How long can you falsify and deny what is real?
How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?
Of every earthly plan that be known to man, He is unconcerned
He’s got plans of His own to set up His throne
When He returns

Makes you think, doesn’t it?