Category Archives: Bob Dylan

Dylan Sings Sacred Hymns?

Photo on 2010-01-02 at 12.22This last Christmas, I asked for only two things, both of which my wife bought me.  One was a new foil cutter, and the other was the new Bob Dylan Christmas album, “Christmas in the Heart.”

The foil cutter was no surprise, as Colleen likes a good bottle of wine as much as anyone.  But the Dylan album testifies to the sacrificial love my wife must have for me.  She hates to listen to Bob Dylan, even the old stuff when he had some semblance of a voice.  And of course, Dylan is 68 and his voice is not what it used to be.  I, however, will listen to Bob Dylan anytime, and I’m happy to say that my sons will too.  (Josh even looks a bit like him from Nashville Skyline!).

I anticipated getting the Dylan Christmas album with some trepidation.  I had hoped it wouldn’t be some “phoned in” Christmas album such as those made by other Jewish performers like Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond or Barbra Streisand.  While I hesitate to speak for them, I haven’t seen or heard any evidence that they celebrate Christmas in any more than a secular way.  And growing up in a Jewish home, loving to listen to these and other Jewish musicians and performers, I can certainly remember remarks I made about Jewish musicians making Christmas albums.  And they weren’t always the most positive remarks.

But Bob Dylan is a different sort of Jew.  I remember so well when he became a Christian.  I was not.  I had been a Dylan fan for as long as I could remember, and, living in Dayton, Ohio in 1980, I was anticipating the Dylan concert that was coming to Memorial Hall in May.  But as I read some of the reviews of the concert tour, it became clear that Dylan was doing a gospel revival.  I wanted none of that.  In fact, I was a bit disgusted with him.  So I decided not to buy tickets to a show that did not sell out.  Instead, I bought tickets to see Harry Chapin, who was coming to Memorial Hall the next month.

In retrospect, I guess I’m glad I went to the Chapin concert.  Colleen enjoyed the music, we got to meet him and he signed a book of his poetry that we bought.  And he died less than a year later.

As I look back on that time, it was particularly hard on music fans.  Dylan had become a Christian, so he may as well have died to me.  John Lennon was murdered the following December, and Harry Chapin died in July.  And I never once considered the eternal consequences of those events.

Ironically, while Dylan may have been dead to me, he was being brought to life by God, while I was walking around dead in my sins.  (Is that irony, I never know anymore since Alanis Morrissette played around with that word and blew it!?)  And I don’t pretend to know what Lennon’s spiritual condition was when he was killed, nor do I know much about Chapin.  But had Dylan died that year, he would have lived forever.

Fortunately, I have had many opportunities to see Dylan in concert.  And having come to faith in Jesus as the Messiah of Israel since, I have come to love his gospel music too.  And “Christmas in the Heart” is no exception.  He sings some sacred hymns as well as “popular” Christmas songs, but I sense he sings with faith.  He certainly hasn’t been as “in your face” with his faith since the early 80’s, but in his concerts he still seems to get in some kind of a testimony.  And one fan, with the release of “Christmas in the Heart,” asked, “Bob is 68 — he’s seen a lot of Christmases.  But wait a minute, when he was growing up didn’t his family celebrate Hanukah?”  And according to Sean Wilentz, the official historian for Bob Dylan’s website, “When he (Dylan) was growing up in Hibbing, everybody listened to Christmas songs, including the Jews.  But this is Bob’s first Christian album since ‘Shot of Love.’  This is about his beliefs.  He’s a Christian — of a very weird kind.”

I’m sure Dylan is not very orthodox in his Christianity…let’s face it, he’s never been very orthodox about anything.  And I’m sure there are a few people I know who would say the same thing about me.  I’d love sometime to talk to him about his faith, but I believe, hope and pray that Dylan loves the Lord Jesus, and we’ll hear him singing in heaven around the Lamb of God.  I just hope Colleen can take it!