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What a Year.... "I Hear the Ancient Footsteps..."

Those words are from Bob Dylan's song, Every Grain of Sand . They are words that seem more real to me than ever, as 2007 comes to a close. In their context, Dylan's biblical lyrics seem to convey the sense of awe that has dominated my consciousness during this year of changes and challenges for me and my lovely wife, Frankie:

"I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other times it's only me.
I am hanging in the balance of a perfect finished plan
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand." (Update: The original sung here)
BobPope.jpg

2007 was the first full year Frankie, her sisters, and her mother lived without her father, Joseph Alexander Dickerson, Jr., who died in May of 2006. A World War II veteran and pilot, Joe was a man of impeccable character with an uncommon common sense, the sort of man that once dominated the cultural landscape, but is, sadly, receding out of memory and into history. Soon after his passing we discovered, among his personal items, a St. Christopher medal, inscribed from a Bishop Choi to JD. We believe Joe was given the medal while he was on the ROTC faculty at Fordham University in the late 1940s. Impressed by the Jesuits at Fordham and the seriousness of their faith, Joe wanted to become Catholic, but his wife, my mother-in-law, discouraged him. For she told Joe that his parents would be devastated if he were to join the Catholic Church. So, Joe acquiesced to his wife and, as far as we know, never made a Christian commitment of any sort, though, ironically, he lived the Christian virtues better than most Christians. This is why when Frankie was received into the Church on August 18, 2007, she took the name "Joseph" as her Confirmation name, in honor of her father and his unfulfilled desire to become Catholic.

I began 2007 as the 58th president of the Evangelical Theological Society, resigning four months later on May 5, seven days after returning to the Catholicism of my youth. Although this resulted in a torrent of internet and media commentary and stories (including making CT's top 10 for 2007), for me and my wife this was a deeply personal decision, one that seemed, to us, like a natural development of a spiritual journey that each began independently in our youth but one that we are now on together.

Since those early days of May, I have had the privilege to talk and correspond with many devout Christians from the around the world. Although most were Catholic well-wishers, we received hundreds of encouraging notes and calls from Orthodox, Reformed, non-Reformed Protestant, and Anglo-Catholic Christians. In fact, you would be surprised at the number of inquiries we received from Protestant clergy who are seriously considering Catholicism or Orthodoxy.

We were impressed and touched by the sentiments of many Evangelical Protestant friends who, though not agreeing with our decision to become Catholic, publicly expressed their appreciation and support for us as fellow followers of Christ. Six in-particular stand out: Timothy George, David Howard, Craig Blomberg, Paul Owen (my co-editor of The New Mormon Challenge), C. Michael Patton (and here), and the ETS Executive Committee.

And, of course, there was vitriol here and there, including the requisite questioning of my eternal destiny and whether I was an "apostate" or "heretic," terms usually employed by those who don't seem acquainted with their theological pedigrees. But, amazingly, we never dwelt on the comments of these less than charitable souls. If anything, it reminded us of the importance of how one should conduct oneself as a public Christian facing adversity while moving from one tradition to another. There were a few times when holding my fire was difficult, I must confess. But one verse kept popping into my mind: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mark 8:34b). This is a hard saying, one that runs counter to my default narcissism.

We don't know what we would have done without the spiritual guidance of our priest, Fr. Timothy Vaverek, a learned man of deep devotion, intellect, and wisdom. Fr. Timothy, pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church (our parish) in Bellmead, Texas, is the perfect combination of counselor, historian, theologian, philosopher, and friend.

2007 was the year I heard the ancient footsteps. I could not ask for a better companion than my wife, Frankie, with whom to follow down that path. She heard the ancient footsteps years before I did. This is why she calls herself a John Paul II Catholic. I am truly blessed. Soli Deo Gloria.

Comments (47)

I like the Dylan quote, though I know nothing about Dylan.

That's quite a story about Frankie's father. I can't help wondering why it was Catholicism or nothing for him. I mean, speaking psychologically, not even theologically. I would think a person who felt that way would go to some other church instead of no church as the compromise.

I'll have to look at the Mormon book.

though I know nothing about Dylan

I hope Paul sees that.

I can't help wondering why it was Catholicism or nothing for him.

I was wondering about that too.

Don't worry, Bill, Lydia and I have corresponded on the topic of Bob Dylan before. I am well aware of her indifference, and it does not bother me in the least.

On the other hand, I'm glad Frank is around for many reasons, not the least of which is that I have a fellow Dylan fan among the Contributors.

I don't believe we've ever heard your opinion of Mr. Dylan, Bill . . .

Mr. Beckwith - Thanks for sharing a little or your journey over 2007. I first came to this website because of the top 10 article by Christianity Today that addressed your return to Catholicism. When I was a grad student at Wheaton College I was a student and friend of Bob Webber, and it is hard not to be in his company and consider the value and strength of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Currently I am an Anglican, and member of the first U.S. diocese to leave the Episcopal church and align with the larger Anglican communion through the Southern Cone. Even after this monumental re-alignment, there are still times that I consider both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and it is helpful to hear about other Protestant/Evangelicals who are considering changing traditions, or who have done so.

Peace be with you.

errata: this is the "of" in place of the "or" in my first sentence. :-)

He was a prolific writer of folk rock songs, and a singer cursed with a lousy voice who made it work because of the kinds of songs he wrote. But without his gift of melody (as is true of all music), none of it would have worked. Some of his songs would in fact not suffer his voice, but fortunately other musicians who could sing - like Peter, Paul and Mary and The Byrds - turned those songs into hits. He's just part of the good-time musical memories that accompany the nostalgia for one's youth. (In case some aren't aware, he's been at this since at least the early sixties.) I never took him seriously as some kind of chronicler of my time. The author of an article you referred us to says that "The body of Dylan’s songwriting work is every bit as formidable as the novels of Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have no doubt that Dylan will go down as the most important artist of my generation." This is just slobbering, pop culture sycophancy on the hoof. It's equivalent to saying that his work is as significant as the stories, novels and essays of Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy or Eudora Welty. It's evidence of a disproportion and inability to discriminate rather typical of "my generation", and we've done a wonderful job of passing it on to our children.

As to Dylan's hypothesized secret conservatism, I don't have much use for secrecy in this area. If he thought, say, that a law allowing us to slaughter unborn children was a moral horror, he might have said so. If he ever did, I'll take that last part back, but without adjusting my opinion of his "importance."

hypothesized secret conservatism

He can be hypostatized, homogenized,
a natural law theist as you like,
a moralist and director,
a true blue respecter
of universal truths that Kant
the chords and standards of right and wrong.
What is good for everyman--
You can cash in on Zimmerman.


Well, Bill, as I said before, I'm agnostic about the question of whether rock music will ever legitimately secure a place in the tableau of human art. Seems unlikely, but then again, there were plenty of critics who thought the same of the novel when it first emerged.

As for the lousy voice charge, well, in my view it is often overstated. See, for instances, this:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=NPpxwjsP76E

Or this:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=P1xGTanXvfs

The singing aint bad, is it?

The "secret Conservatism" business is more a matter of overthrowing the conventional wisdom of Dylan the radical, Dylan the Liberal balladeer, Dylan the Voice of hippiedom, than of recruiting him to, say, write for WWwtW.

You made CT's top 10, but still placed behind Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Falwell, and Kennedy. Just a reality check. : )

Here's to hoping that the impact of your new book, Defending Life, keeps you in the top 10 for 2008 as well.

your grateful grad assistant,
gerard

At the risk [spelling corrected] of summary deletion, I must say that the comments of Mr. Luse with regard to Bob Dylan show him to be largely [insult deleted] of Bob Dylan's career and oeuvre. The term "folk rock", for instance, is one from which Dylan dissociated himself as soon as it began [spelling corrected] appearing in the press in the late '60s. The vast majority of his songs would never have fallen into that category, in any case. The term was out of circulation by the mid-'70s.
What is a "lousy voice?" Did Louis Armstrong have a "lousy voice?" A bad voice, to me, is a voice that is not commensurate in skillful phrasing and emotional intensity with its material and therefore cannot deliver a song convincingly to an audience. That does not describe Bob Dylan's voice, or he would not have lasted five years, much less nearly fifty.
The songs of, for instance, Cole Porter, will live, and the songs of Bob Dylan will live, for much the same reasons. To suggest that they will not is to suggest that popular songs are not "art" and not expressive of the period and of the culture from which they emerged. One is left wondering about the genesis of the animus towards Dylan that is so obvious in the comments of Mr. Luse.

Actually, I said I liked him, part of my fond memories, praised his gift for melody and all that. Neither did I say that his songs wouldn't "live"; I was contesting his importance relative to other things. As to his voice, I agree with my friend TSO: "If Bob Dylan has a good voice, then Marilyn Monroe was flat-chested."

Mr. Luse--
To say that somebody is [-----oops, almost slipped it in] on a particular topic and then to show why this statement was made with particular examples, is hardly an "insult."
The grown-up- [in- the- world- according- to- rodak] thing to do would be either to delete the whole comment, if it is truly offensive, or to leave the word you consider to be unfair in place, and defend it.

Paul, the voice is better (which ain't saying much) in the first link because he'd quit smoking by then. For perspective, listen to this duet in which the other participant has a real voice while he shouts his lyrics in her ear. Better yet, listen to her on her own.

You have no idea of my familiarity with Dylan and his work. You just don't like my opinion.

A homemade video with the original audio of Every Grain of Sand can be found here.

You have no idea of my familiarity with Dylan and his work.

Calling his oeuvre "folk rock" gives me a solid reason to believe that you know little about his work after the 1960s. As does the sentence: He's just part of the good-time musical memories that accompany the nostalgia for one's youth.
Actually, Dylan's last three studio albums are among the best he penned.
It is quite true, of course, that I don't share your opinion. Whether I like it or not is irrelevant, since, as opinion, it's as valid as my own.

Btw, Mr. Luse, editing another person's comments without attribution is really not a morally licit act. You define yourself, sir.

gives me a solid reason to believe

As I said, you know nothing, and are likely to find out little more since I consider the line of inquiry about as important as the question of whether the ingestion of beans induces intestinal gas. If you wish to strain the gruel of this thread into the weakest of water (as you've done with so many others) you'll end up talking to yourself.

At least the editing is not intrinsically evil, since under the proper circumstances it can be licitly employed to prevent a greater evil. Which it did.

Sir. I like it better than your other imputations.

Rodak, let me tell you a little story.

It so happens that I work with several former Deadheads. I mean, the real deal: these guys spent whole years of their lives following the Grateful Dead and/or the Jerry Garcia Band around and listening to show after show after show.

Now, as everyone knows, the Dead played Dylan songs constantly, and usually played them very well (Weir and even Gracia had better voices, for one thing). But these guys cannot let a mention of a Dylan song pass without inserting a remark to the effect of, yeah, "Queen Jane Approximately" or "Tangled up in Blue" or "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again," is a great song, but you haven't heard it properly unless you've heard the Dead's version from Nashville in the spring of '83.

Fortunately these are good-natured guys, and the whole thing is quite comical. It has become a running joke here at the office. But I want you to imagine if they insisted on making the point a matter of rigid and solemn argumentation. What if they responded to a statement like, "hey, I like the Dead well enough, but I still prefer Dylan's own version of 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues,'" with "well, you're just ignorant" or "well you just don't know the Dead, that's all"?

You differ with Bill on the question of Dylan's importance. That's all. I'm probably closer to your view, but I really fail to see the need for fiery polemics on the subject. Agree to disagree, man, and move on.

Here I sit so patiently
Waiting to find out what price
You have to pay to get out of
Going through all these things twice.

Paul--
I don't object to his opinions, although I disagree with them. What I object to are his deletions; particularly where they are not duly noted.

William--

At least the editing is not intrinsically evil, since under the proper circumstances it can be licitly employed to prevent a greater evil. Which it did.

Like waterboarding, you mean?

Now, as everyone knows, the Dead played Dylan songs constantly, and usually played them very well (Weir and even Gracia had better voices, for one thing).

This is off-track, but I was listening to a Dead show the other day (I think it sometime from '84, but I'd have to check my ipod to find the exact one) that I had grabbed from Archive.org, when I realized that the guy singing Desolation Row was in fact the great RZ himself. Jerry and Bob did indeed have the better voices, and Dylan didn't seem to be paying attention at all to how the tempo was going, but it was still a way cool surprise.

As far as other-people-covering his songs, I think I read once that Dylan said that he liked Jimmy Hendrix's version of Watchtower better than his own. Once upon a time, the roles of singer and songwriter were separate, much like the roles of screen-writer and actor are today.

Brandon00
Dylan did a tour with the Dead. There is a live album available. Dylan's version of "All Along the Watchtower" done with The Band on the live album "Before the Flood" is even better than the Hendrix version, in my book. Of course, it must be admitted that it was clearly influenced by the Hendrix version. But it rocks hard. The whole album is good, btw. No band ever suited Dylan so well as did The Band.

At least the editing is not intrinsically evil, since under the proper circumstances it can be licitly employed to prevent a greater evil. Which it did.

Consequentialism?

Keep guessing. The third's usually a charm.

Snappy, William.

De nada.

Consequentialism?

Editing is intrinsically immoral? Better call the CDF, they've got a dubium to write.

Zippy--
If misrepresenting your fellow man is intrinsically immoral, then editing a comment without either implicit permission, or explicit notation, is immoral. It is a form of lying.

The permission you grant us to have your comments redacted when they are inappropriate or insulting isn't all that implicit. It comes along for the ride with posting here. Read the posting rules.

It looks to me like the redactions are explicitly notated with [ brackets ], so it seems as though that gripe is just false. You weren't misrepresented, you were prevented from violating the posting rules. If you don't wanna be gagged, don't say gagworthy things.

The editorial work that I most strenuously object to is the following:

The grown-up- in- the- world- according- to- rodak thing to do would be either to delete the whole comment, if it is truly offensive, or to leave the word you consider to be unfair in place, and defend it.

Here, Mr. Luse has inserted text (i.e. "in-the-world-according-to-rodak") into my comment which makes it appear that I have referred to myself in the third person and that I am personally asserting the arrogance of which he is accusing me.
I understand that I implicitly give permission to have my comments edited, or completely deleted, if I cross certain lines. But both that understanding, and the right not to have my comments altered without notation must be in force, it would seems to me.
Finally, I did not "insult" the person of Mr. Luse. [redacted]

OK Rob, I'm sure Bill just missed putting in the brackets for that redaction. I put them in for you. (The redacted text wouldn't make any sense in your voice anyway). I'm not terribly sympathetic to the attempt to shield personal insults with further personal insults ("fragile ego" etc) though, as you can see.

Zippy--
If I made some comment about, say, the Catholic catechism, and you reponded that my comment displayed my ignorance of the Catholic catechism, and then demonstrated why you were saying that, would I be right to feel personally insulted? I think not. I would either shrug and admit my ignorance, or I would defend my original statement by showing what I did know about the Catholic catechism. I didn't call the man an ignoramus. I merely took issue with, for instance, his categorization of Dylan's music as "folk rock."

[Redacted]

Rodak: You really need to stop impugning peoples' integrity and then acting all shocked that what you write is treated as the personal attack that it is. Really.

Rodak,

Dylan did a tour with the Dead. There is a live album available.

Yeah, I used to have a tape copy of Dylan and the Dead. Then I moved to digital, and all my tapes went obsolete. Luckily, the Grateful Dead archive has most of the shows that I really like from my tape collection, but there are others that are gone.

Dylan's version of "All Along the Watchtower" done with The Band on the live album "Before the Flood" is even better than the Hendrix version, in my book.

Don't know that I've heard that one. I'm not really a Hendrix fan at all, so in my book Bob's version is better. (I don't think I like much of the crazy-electric guitar stuff that came out of the acid-rock era). I prefer the country-rock feel that the Band has myself.

Then I moved to digital, and all my tapes went obsolete.

Oh, you need one of these! Or this one, not to mention this for all that old vinyl!

Oh, you need one of these!

I would need one, except that a few years back I left the bulk of my tape collection in my graduate lab over the summer and someone cleaned them up. And most of my old vinyl I had bought used for $2 or less, and it's still at my parents' house with my dad's record collection.

As I said, you know nothing, and are likely to find out little more since I consider the line of inquiry about as important as the question of whether the ingestion of beans induces intestinal gas. If you wish to strain the gruel of this thread into the weakest of water (as you've done with so many others) you'll end up talking to yourself.

And I suppose, Zippy, that isn't a "personal attack"--and crude, to boot? If you're going to chide me for alleged words of malice, at least be even-handed about it.

If you're going to chide me for alleged words of malice, at least be even-handed about it.

I remain convinced in this case that my response has been proportionate. FWIW, I have the impression that you really, genuinely don't perceive a difference between attacking someone's integrity (however banally) and criticizing his writing (however colorfully).

[Redacted -- I really tried -- Z]

[Rodak: saying "I'm not attacking Y's virtue X, I'm just pointing out that Y has a crack in virtue X" is attacking Y's virtue X. School is over though. This part of the discussion is officially closed. ]

As a fellow Catholic-revert (Lent 2000) I was inspired by your "journey home" story. On another blog you mentioned the possibility of writing a book that would go into more detail. I'd buy it.
Thanks.

As a fellow Catholic-revert (Lent 2000) I was inspired by your "journey home" story. On another blog you mentioned the possibility of writing a book that would go into more detail. I'd buy it.
Thanks.

As reverts ourselves, we rejoice with you in this new phase of your journey~
God bless
Russ and Deborah

Ring them bells, ye heathen
From the city that dreams,
Ring them bells from the sanctuaries
Cross the valleys and streams,
For they're deep and they're wide
And the world's on its side
And time is running backwards
And so is the bride.

Ring them bells St. Peter
Where the four winds blow,
Ring them bells with an iron hand
So the people will know.
Oh it's rush hour now
On the wheel and the plow
And the sun is going down
Upon the sacred cow.

Ring them bells Sweet Martha,
For the poor man's son,
Ring them bells so the world will know
That God is one.
Oh the shepherd is asleep
Where the willows weep
And the mountains are filled
With lost sheep.

Ring them bells for the blind and the deaf,
Ring them bells for all of us who are left,
Ring them bells for the chosen few
Who will judge the many when the game is through.
Ring them bells, for the time that flies,
For the child that cries
When innocence dies.

Ring them bells St. Catherine
From the top of the room,
Ring them from the fortress
For the lilies that bloom.
Oh the lines are long
And the fighting is strong
And they're breaking down the distance
Between right and wrong.

My friend has a St. Christopher that was her Grandfather's. It is inscribed to EC from Bishop Choi. The Bishop gave the medals out to pilots in the Pacific during WW II.

Greetings all. I haven't any insights to offer regarding Bob Dylan's place in the history of music. I don't possess the knowledge to compare him to other artists of his generation. A deep critical analysis of his work is out of my league. But I can say Dylan's song "Jokerman" haunted and hounded me just before my coming to faith in Jesus. In some deep, internal way I still can't explain, that song touched me, drew me, roused the sleep from my spiritual eyes. It was not the only thing but one of many things the Lord used to call me to himself. So Frank's statement, "Dylan's biblical lyrics seem to convey the sense of awe that has dominated my consciousness" took me back to that sweetly haunting time in my life when the biblically poetic imagery of Dylan's Jokerman played on the radio, and over and over in my mind, and into the very heart of my heart.

Frank, I'm not Catholic but have followed and learned from you through the years. Out of sheer respect for you, my friends and I will read your Confessions of a Vain Philosopher. As always, we look forward to your keen insights wrapped in one of the best sense of humors around.

God rest ye merry.

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