Sunday, February 11, 2024

#42 / You Either Got Faith... Or You Got Unbelief...

... There ain't no neutral ground.

I have always liked Bob Dylan's song, "Precious Angel." You can listen to him sing it by clicking the YouTube link, above. If you want to hear the "official" version, the version included on Dylan's Slow Train Coming album, then this link is the one to use.

That video recording I have linked at the top of this blog posting will let you hear Dylan sing the song at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco on November 16, 1979. I heard Dylan at the Warfield in person (in fact, I actually saw him walking around on the sidewalk, before the show). He played the Warfield on lots of dates in 1979 and 1980. Maybe I was in the audience, in person, when this recording was made. I don't actually know. I don't think I have any calendar evidence that would remind me of the specific date when I saw Bob Dylan at the Warfield. 

My so-called friends 
Have fallen under a spell.
They look me squarely in the eye 
And they say, well, “All is well."
Can they imagine the darkness 
That will fall from on high 
When men will beg God to kill them 
And they won’t be able to die?
 Bob Dylan, "Precious Angel"

The idea, here, is that we need to acknowledge how desperate is our situation. This is an idea that surfaces, repeatedly, as I write out these one-per-day blog postings. There is another assertion in Dylan's song, though, and that second assertion is also worth pondering. When Dylan says that "you either got faith, or you got unbelief," and that there "ain't no neutral ground," he is alerting us, I think, to how truly seriously we ought to be considering where we are and what we are doing - or not doing! 

Having to make some binary choice - "faith" or "unbelief," as Dylan puts it in his song - is not really the way we like to do it. "Smudge and fudge" is how we generally conduct ourselves. That's a lot more comfortable!

We can - and sometimes do - admit the serious nature of that "faith or unbelief" understanding of our human existence, and our position in this world. The temptation, though, is to make a little sidestep. We may think we can save ourselves from some difficult choices if we will just "Let The Mystery Be." 

That "letting the mystery be" approach is certainly better than a lot of assertions designed to divide and distinguish, since we have learned - we are still learning - that those asserted "divisions," differences," and "distinctions" can easily lead us to consequences that are horrific - more horrible, in fact, than we can actually stand, so we just try to turn our eyes away from the intolerable sight of what happens when humans assert that they know what is good, and what is evil, and who should live and who should die. Israel and Gaza provide our most compelling current example.

Now that I am eighty-plus years old - and this is the first year I can say that - I have an increasing appreciation for that "memento mori" advisory that has been sharpening up my sensibilities over the last several years. Even as my physical eyesight seems to get a little bit "fuzzier" each time I go in for my annual eye check, my understanding of what it means to be alive is increasingly clear. 

When we start really appreciating where we are, and we accept that - and let's be clear, the purpose of that "memento mori" advisory is to bring us to just such a place - we can then ask ourselves, and, in fact, we are forced to ask ourselves: How "consequential," really, is our life? 

"Faith" says our life is consequential. What we believe and what we do makes all the difference. 

"Unbelief" says the opposite. 

There is no room in the middle! There ain't no neutral ground!

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