Saturday, August 27, 2005

A rebel's chronicles

“I'd come from a long ways off and had started from a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.”

You may call him Bobby, you may call him Zimmy. To a lot of people he’s the most iconic songwriter and singer of the 20th Century, if not the greatest. He’s been called a visionary, poet, genius, and fellow protest singer/former lover Joan Baez agrees. He claimed that he wrote “Blowing in the Wind” in 10 minutes - when he was 21 - a song that’s become the anthem of the cultural shift of the 60s. Talk about manifest destiny. In 1965 at 24, he wrote what he called his best song - “Like a Rolling Stone” – which 40 years later has been voted by Rolling Stone Magazine as Number 1 among the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. That’s Bob Dylan.

I came upon Dylan late myself, in Art College as the seventies came to a close, through a friend Lai, a walking encyclopaedia on all things Dylan. Lai would mimic his songs, pointing out the threads of his hero's enigmatic lyrics, so rich with imageries and stories woven from politics, history, and the Bible. Mention Dylan, and it's his jagged snarls and folkie nasal inflection people remember. Or mock. Love him or hate him, his was the voice of an entire generation. "It’s a foreign sound," he says in It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding). You know he wants his listeners to take him as he is, or just shove it.

When I picked up his autobiography from a visiting book vendor, a twentysomething in the office asked, “Who’s Dylan?” Indeed the times they are a-changing. Chronicles is a rambling book that’s put together in no particular order, intriguing in what he reveals (would you believe the man loves Moon River, and wants nothing more than to live in a house with a white picket fence and to tend his garden?) and what he’s left out (what, no infamous motorbike accident? nothing on his ‘saved’ period?). His story begins with his meeting with music publisher Lou Levy, and ends on the cusp of the 60s revolution, a strange world described by Dylan as "a thunderhead of a world with jagged lightning edges."

But Chronicles is only the first volume covering Dylan's formative years and hinting at his most fecund period. So we wait. Regrettably there are no photos - nada. All the same it pulled me into a fascinating era that was at once so long ago although it felt like only yesterday. I remember listening to his music in the car as I was reading the book, you know, to get into the mood of the times.

Martin Scorcese’s 4-hour documentary on Bob Dylan NO DIRECTION HOME airs on PBS in September 26,27 – a week after the release of the DVD. I don’t have to tell you that’s on my wishlist.

Related stories:
I had an interesting time wading through the hugh amount of writings on Bob Dylan online. Bob Dylan's American Journey 1956~1966 is one great read. The site is part of an ongoing interactive music museum project featuring musicians of influence, and this one on Dylan started last year and ends September 5.
Expecting Rain is a site that lists all things Dylan - appearances, publications, stories - to satiate every Dylanophile craving. Of course you don't want to miss which is the man's official site.
If it's lyrics you want, stop by Book of Bob. Not shabby at all, with more links.
LA Times' occasional feature on songwriters and their art takes a look at Bob Dylan in a piece aptly titled, 'Rock's enigmatic poet opens a long-private door.' If you don't think you're up to reading a 300-pg autobiography, this is a more than competent overview on Dylan's craft and a nice entree for when you're ready.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Listening for God's heartbeat

HopeEFC Camp at STM: 20 ~ 22 Aug 05

Well, that's a great camp come and gone! It was a heart-in-the mouth affair for awhile and some of us really thought it might not even happen. First, we (the organisers) were unexpectedly hit with exam blues (trial exams affecting a few college kids) and 'defections', resulting in a smaller turnout than we'd hoped. On Thursday Sivin called to ask for prayer over a possible situation affecting his attendance. (Ends up everything's okay, and we were all cheers!)

Soon after, a call came to say that Lulu's mother had passed away. Pending funeral arrangements, I would have to conduct the memorial service that evening, and perhaps the funeral if it were to be held on a Saturday . Had to rush home, grab a quick dinner, meet the bereaved family, and deliver the eulogy. Thankfully, the family decided to hold the funeral on the very next day - Friday, with our Pastor presiding - allowing our Campers to leave on Saturday without a hitch. Or at least that's what we thought. Unknown to us, STM in Seremban was on water rationing, resulting in a lot of us not having a proper shower and all that evening. Ah well. We had water aplenty the next day though.

It was nothing too unbearable really, and I'm happy to report that most of us felt it was a genuinely blessed time. I-Ching from RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministry) took us through 2 workshops on worldviews drawn from James Sire's 7 handy classifications. Heady, and probably a mite too tough for some of us whose daily diet consists of somewhat lighter stuff. On the plus side, someone asked that we continue the study back in KL , and maybe look at pluralism and how to deal with it. Fantastic!

Sivin Kit's messages on Jonah was great. His workshop based on Mclaren's 13 Strategies (Church on the Other Side) was revealing, and it certainly raised issues. Gotta take a closer look. Outside the sessions, I enjoyed the interaction with Sivin and was glad for the opportunity to exchange notes. Looking forward to more.

At the start of the camp, I-Ching asked with reference to the camp sessions involving 2 facilitators (herself, and Sivin) from almost 'opposite' poles(!), "What are you doing to your church?" Well, I was trying to push the envelope, getting people to take ownership of the church we all identify as 'ours' to think more deeply about issues that impact our comfort zones, and grapple with the often messy stuff of life. Here's hoping some things will stick, and that the Lord will continue to work.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


We were doing a series on church membership and body life, looking at Paul’s injunction to conduct ourselves in a manner that’s worthy to our calling as God’s people. So how is this demonstrated? 1 John 2:15,16 sum it up as not loving “the world love or anything in the world.” That would be the world’s values that deny God’s sovereignty over all of life - “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does.”

The early church fathers understood it well for they knew there had to be a visible difference between a believer and an unbeliever. Here’s what Mathetes (130 AD) had to say:
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners [or resident aliens].
As resident aliens, these believers’ allegiance was elsewhere, their eyes set beyond the dictates of the times, their desires shaped not by the temporal.

As biblical as that may seem, I appreciate that being 'otherworldly-minded' tends to make killjoys of believers. At least that’s how it appears to a lot of people, not least the youth. At the end of our lesson, a college girl spoke up: “But we young people want to have fun.”

Are our lives so dour that we're curiously out of step with the abundant life promised by Jesus?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Bono: grace travels outside karma

U2 frontman and rock icon Bono talks about his faith in a new book, Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas. Christianity Today has an excerpt of his interview with journalist Assayas, which I must say, provides the clearest picture yet of the faith behind the man. Check out Bono's views on the difference between Grace and Karma as "the thing that keeps me on my knees."

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.

[Clearly points to the theme in his song Grace from the album, All That You Can't Leave Behind:]
Grace, she takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

Grace, it's a name for a girl
It's also a thought that changed the world

And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything

Grace, she's got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She's got the time to talk
She travels outside of karma, karma
She travels outside of karma

When she goes to work
You can hear the strings
Grace finds beauty in everything

Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition
What once was hurt, what once was friction
What left a mark no longer stains
Because Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

Grace finds beauty in everything
Grace finds goodness in everything
When asked if the idea of Jesus as Son of God seemed rather farfetched, Bono replies:

Bono: No, it's not farfetched to me. Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: "I'm the Messiah." I'm saying: "I am God incarnate." And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is: either Christ was who He said He was—the Messiah—or a complete nutcase. I mean, we're talking nutcase on the level of Charles Manson. This man was like some of the people we've been talking about earlier. This man was strapping himself to a bomb, and had "King of the Jews" on his head, and, as they were putting him up on the Cross, was going: OK, martyrdom, here we go. Bring on the pain! I can take it. I'm not joking here. The idea that the entire course of civilization for over half of the globe could have its fate changed and turned upside-down by a nutcase, for me, that's farfetched …

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The whole truth

If Christianity is really true, then it involves the whole man, including his intellect and creativeness. Christianity is not just "dogmatically" true or "doctrinally" true. Rather, it is true to what is there, true in the whole area of the whole man in all of life.

Art and the Bible
Dr. Francis A. Schaeffer
1912 - 1984

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Mystery, Wonder, and the Glory of God

"[Christians] want to dot every "i" and cross every "t" and make sure it's uber-clear what's happened by the end of the story. We've lost the ability to create mystery and wonder. Movies are not good at giving answers. Movies are great at asking questions. Movies that do that are lasting.”

Ralph Winter, producer of Fantastic Four and the X-Men franchise.

I know exactly where he’s coming from, having emerged from a drawn-out email debate with someone who’s denounced J.R.R Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as subversive (books and films - and therefore not recommended for upright Christians). In one of our final exchanges, he asked if the trilogy came from a perspective of a biblically informed writer, “why did Tolkien not make it more obvious?” At which point, I knew we were talking at cross-purposes, and ended the conversation.

Unfortunately the tension is indicative of the Church’s bipolar appreciation of the arts. We swing from one extreme to the other, maintaining unhelpful positions where the arts (high and low) are purely utilitarian on one hand, or entirely evangelistic on the other. Both views do no justice to our God whose displays of creativity in creation are not hemmed in by our own lack of imagination.

I like what art historian and author Hans Rookmaker said in his book Art Needs No Justification (his last before his death in 1977). It may not be a popular position, but I am thoroughly in agreement with the view:

All too often people say to artists, “To be an artist is fine if your art can be used for evangelism.” And art has often become a tool for evangelism. But let’s be precise. As such there is nothing against this. But we must be aware that art cannot be used to show the validity of Christianity; it should rather be the reverse. Christianity is true; things and actions and human endeavor only get their meaning from their relationship to God; if Christ came to make us human, the humanity and the reality of art find their foundation in him. So art should not be used to preach even if it can help. Yet there is another way that art can be or is meaningful.

To fit into the patterns of evangelism, artists have often compromised, and so prostituted their art. But Handel with his Messiah, Bach with his St. Matthew’s Passion, Rembrandt with his Denial of St. Peter, and the architects of those Cistercian churches were not evangelizing nor making tools for evangelism; they worked to the glory of God. They did not compromise their art. They were not devising tools for religious propaganda or holy advertisement. Precisely because of that their works were deep and important. They were not the means to an end, the winning of souls, but they were meaningful and an end in themselves. They were to God’s glory.

Rupert Murdoch of 20th Century Fox is also in discussion with Ralph Winter to do a series of movies based on Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life. Check out the full interview with Jeffrey Overstreet.

Not too fantastic

I saw Fantastic Four, and no, you can’t say it’s in the same league as Batman or X-men.
Although it’s probably closer in tone to its comic book origins it still could have been better. The aforementioned movies have a psychological depth that resonates with human experience, but FF just zips merrily along without making a big deal about what it’s trying to do (which is, to entertain). Ioan Gruffud makes a bland Richard Reed, while the role of Debbie (played by Laurie Holden) as Ben Grim's ex-girlfriend seems out of place and unnecessary. Dr Doom could have been a more formidable foe, but as it turned out he became a 'road-show Darth Vader,' in the words of a reviewer. There is nevertheless a compelling moral underpinning to all the super heroics: why does saving the world from evil matter?