Professor Bob Dylan

dylanCan you imagine having singer Bob Dylan as your high school history teacher?

According to a recent interview,* it could have happened.

Still actively touring in his seventies and considered an American musical icon. I was stunned to hear what he said about another path his life may have taken. The interviewer posted the remark this way:

Bob Dylan: His True Calling

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d be a schoolteacher—probably teach Roman history or theology.”

I didn’t realize he and I had so much in common! When I did my undergrad studies in history, I took every Roman history course the University of Washington offered. As for theology . . . well, having become a pastor, my interest in the study of God’s revelation of himself to the world is a given.

Can you imagine Dylan lecturing on apotheosis in the early empire? [Apotheosis is the elevation of a person to godhood, and was a formal event after the death of some emperors. The emperors themselves knew it was a farce, of course. Seneca wrote that emperor Vespasian, on his deathbed, actually said, “Alas, I think I’m becoming a God.”]

Bob Dylan’s interest in spiritual matters is genuine. He has high praise in the interview for Billy Graham. “This guy was rock ‘n’ roll personified. He filled football stadiums before Mick Jagger did.”

In 1979, Dylan released the first of three “Christian” albums, “Slow Train Coming.” It has a number of great pieces, and I listen to the album at least once a month. One song, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” won him the Grammy that year for “Best Male Vocalist.” It’s lyrics are sobering, and everyone should hear it at least once.

And, Speaking of C.S. Lewis

Well, we weren’t actually. But, here at Mere Inkling we usually do.

These two men bear some obvious parallels. They are masters of words. Poets extraordinaire. Lewis and Dylan both possess enviable creative imaginations. Each has accumulated a vast legacy in their work, which will continue to inspire for many generations to come.

I also learned this on the internet—they share the same Myers-Briggs personality type. At least, this site claims they are both INFPs. (I’m an ENTJ myself, a common personality aggregate for pastors.)

And, they had at least one more thing in common. They knew that in this life, there is no such thing as spiritual neutrality. When we ultimately stand before the throne of our Creator, it will not suffice to say, “Well, I didn’t do anything truly evil.”

In a moment we will listen to Dylan’s ballad about the choice before us. First, though, consider how Lewis uses the imagery of the war engulfing the world in the 1940s to describe this truth.

Why is God landing in this enemy-occupied world in disguise and starting a sort of secret society to undermine the devil? Why is He not landing in force, invading it? Is it that He is not strong enough? Well, Christians think He is going to land in force; we do not know when. But we can guess why He is delaying. He wants to give us the chance of joining His side freely. I do not suppose you and I would have thought much of a Frenchman who waited till the Allies were marching into Germany and then announced he was on our side.

God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realize what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world.

When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.

It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it. (Mere Christianity).

Now, as promised, “Gotta Serve Somebody.”


*You can read the entire interview in the current issue of AARP The Magazine, available here.

Charting Our Life Course

In our last conversation we considered the fact that life is a journey. And during this journey which encompasses our very existence, we follow a variety of paths.

Not all of the paths lead to “happy endings.” I almost wrote “fairy tale endings,” but then I recalled that some old folk tales conclude in a rather grim fashion.

Signposts stand as sentinels at the junctions. “Take this path to self-fulfillment.” “Follow this lane to explore forbidden pleasures.” “This way leads to power.” They offer promises aplenty, but their veracity is not guaranteed. In fact, the more outlandish the claims, the more suspect they become to the wise.

Speaking of wisdom, some of the most powerful words in the Book of Proverbs relate to this notion of choosing paths cautiously. Wisdom and Folly are personified as two women. One offers life-enriching knowledge and insight. The other proffers more carnal and transitory wares.

My son, keep my words

    and treasure up my commandments with you . . .

Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”

    and call insight your intimate friend,

to keep you from the forbidden woman,

    from the adulteress with her smooth words.

. . . and I have seen among the simple,

    I have perceived among the youths,

    a young man lacking sense,

passing along the street near her corner,

    taking the road to her house . . .

And behold, the woman meets him,

     dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.

She is loud and wayward;

     her feet do not stay at home;

now in the street, now in the market,

    and at every corner she lies in wait. . . .

I have spread my couch with coverings,

    colored linens from Egyptian linen;

I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,

    aloes, and cinnamon.

Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;

    let us delight ourselves with love.

For my husband is not at home;

    he has gone on a long journey . . .

With much seductive speech she persuades him;

    with her smooth talk she compels him.

All at once he follows her,

    as an ox goes to the slaughter,

or as a stag is caught fast

    till an arrow pierces its liver;

as a bird rushes into a snare;

    he does not know that it will cost him his life.

And now, O sons, listen to me,

    and be attentive to the words of my mouth.

Let not your heart turn aside to her ways;

    do not stray into her paths,

for many a victim has she laid low,

    and all her slain are a mighty throng.

Her house is the way to Sheol,

    going down to the chambers of death.

The power of this proverb is in its truth. I have actually known the seductresses (and seducers) described in these verses. Well, I’ve been acquainted with emanations of both female and male versions of Folly, since they are legion.

Despite the Lies, There is Still Hope

The key to journeying through life with the fewest deadly detours is to rely on a trustworthy guide. A compass, so to speak. A map or handbook that soundly advises which paths to take, and what precipices to avoid.

Of course, if we would rather take the risk, we can rely on human ignorance (is West to my right or my left?) . . . or worldly counsel (let us take our fill . . .).

The Bible lays out the safe and proven path. What’s more, our Savior—who calls himself “The Way,”—promises to accompany us on the journey itself.

One of C.S. Lewis’ least read books is entitled The Pilgrim’s Regress. It is modeled on the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan in 1678. The Pilgrim’s Regress was Lewis’ first published work of prose fiction. His protagonist goes through a period of disbelief, mirroring Lewis’ own. It is well worth the read, although, perhaps, it is best preceded by a reading of Bunyan’s original work.

Toward the end of his allegory, Lewis brilliantly describes the course of travel for many who sojourn for a season in foreign (unbelieving) realms. The traveler learns that all who earnestly seek the Truth ultimately find it in a single Source. I offer the following passage not as a “spoiler,” but to illustrate the importance of following the right path—and to entice you to consider reading The Pilgrim’s Regress.

“What do you see?” said the Guide.

“They are the very same shape as that summit of the Eastern Mountain which we called the Landlord’s castle when we saw it from Puritania.”

“They are not only the same shape. They are the same.”

“How can that be?” said John with a sinking heart, “for those mountains were in the extreme East, and we have been travelling West ever since we left home.”

“But the world is round,” said the Guide, “and you have come nearly round it. The Island is the Mountains: or, if you will, the Island is the other side of the Mountains, and not, in truth, an Island at all.”

“And how do we go on from here?”

The Guide looked at him as a merciful man looks on an animal he must hurt.

“The way to go on,” he said at last, “is to go back. There are no ships. The only way is to go East again and cross the brook.”

“What must be must be,” said John. “I deserve no better. You meant that I have been wasting my labour all my life, and I have gone half-round the world to reach what Uncle George reached in a mile or so.”

“Who knows what your uncle has reached, except the Landlord? Who knows what you would have reached if you had crossed the brook without ever leaving home? You may be sure the Landlord has brought you the shortest way: though I confess it would look an odd journey on a map.”

The Road Taken

They are both important. Where we are going, and how we get there.

It’s quite common for analogies about our lives to assume the form of journeys. The journey, in fact, is a fitting metaphor for all human life.

Aging is a journey. Maturing is a journey that should run parallel to aging (though it seldom seems to do so). Learning is a journey. And the image of the “lifelong learner” is something that appeals to most readers and to all who hunger for daily intellectual growth.

Our spiritual lives are journeys of a sort. They follow “paths,” with branches that invite us to travel in myriad directions. Yet all roads are not “equal.” David, the anointed Psalmist prayed, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
 teach me your paths” (Psalm 25:4, ESV).

Even secular poets have recognized the power of this concept. One of the most memorable lines ever penned in English is: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I . . . I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” (“The Road Not Taken,” Robert Frost).

The Inklings expertly used the metaphor of journey to frame their works. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are both propelled, in fact, by vivid journeys. Likewise, Narnia’s Chronicles contain a number of momentous journeys, which ultimately culminate in the final journey which just begins with the close of The Last Battle.

These journeys are, of course, literal trips. Physical traveling from one place to another. Of course, these physical passages occur simultaneously with far more meaningful changes.

The typical contemporary journey of life may take us to varying locales—but it’s possible to savor a rich life journey without ever traveling far from the home of our youth. Indeed, one could be bedridden from birth, and travel the world in terms of experiencing Life. Thanks to God’s gifts of imagination, dream, wonder and faith.

C.S. Lewis also employs this journeying metaphor in his nonfiction works. In The Problem of Pain, he paints a fascinating panorama of our life in this world. He reveals that suffering is actually a blessing, in that it prevents us from growing too attached to this world. Although God graces us with pleasing moments in this life, they are interrupted by moments of insecurity . . . lest we mistakenly believe this finite world is our true home.

Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.

May the roads we choose to follow bring us safely to the wonderful home our heavenly Father has prepared for each of us.


The beautiful, copyrighted photograph above appears compliments of Craig Sterken Photography at Check out his exceptional gallery!