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Excerpts from Return to Rome on Website

Update: I've taken the excerpts down until the final galleys are done.

In the combox in the post about my forthcoming book, Return to Rome: Confessions of an Evangelical Catholic, Aristocles suggested I post some excerpts from the book. I have done so at the website returntorome.com. I have also included a detailed table of contents on the site. Just click "Excerpts" or "Table of Contents" at the top of page.

Comments (13)

Good luck with the book, Frank. It looks interesting.

From Chapter 2:
Accompanied by only four female Gospel singers, his piano issuing slow rhythm and blues riffs, Dylan belted out his words as if he were a prophet who had just returned from the wilderness with a divine warning to stir the wayward masses. Peter, Ruth, Fiore and I stood, cried, and clapped in awe at this cacophony of sounds, smells, voices, and words that were transcended by the clarity of the Christian message emanating from Bob Dylan's microphone. That was an experience that has stuck with me for decades.

I'm a big fan of a lot of Dylan's music, and listen to it a lot. (When my sons got me an ipod for my birthday, they put a limit on the percentage of Dylan songs that I could put on it. (I kinda cheat a bit by including some other musician's performances of Dylan songs, and not counting those tracks as Dylan.)) But I don't follow his life very closely -- I don't seek out stories about what he's up to, etc. So you likely know about this much better than me, Frank. But Dylan seems to have -- to some extent, in some respects, at least -- moved away from Christianity. In his music, at least, we don't any more have the clear Christian message you write about that was there in his TRAIN-SAVED-SHOT period of '79-'81. To some extent, you still have Christian themes, references, etc., but not to nearly the same extent, and not any more, it seems to me, than there was before his conversion to Christianity -- such themes were always present. So I'm wondering: How does that color your reactions to his work in his "strongly Christian" period? For me, I find it makes some of this material more poignant. Especially "I Believe in You," which is hard to imagine him producing now (lyrics at:
http://www.bobdylan.com/moderntimes/songs/believeinyou.html ). When I hear:

I believe in you when winter turn to summer,
I believe in you when white turn to black,
I believe in you even though I be outnumbered.
Oh, though the earth may shake me
Oh, though my friends forsake me
Oh, even that couldn't make me go back.
Don't let me change my heart...

I can't help but think that he has (at least to some extent) gone back; his heart has changed (ditto) in the way he feared. But perhaps that's based on a misreading of where Dylan is now.

That's a great question, Keith. I tend to think that Dylan still believes in Jesus for several reasons. He still sings some of those Christian songs. When I saw him in 2001 he sang Gotta Serve Somebody and opened up with an old Gospel song, It was on a Sunday, Somebody Touched Me. I understand he still sings Every Grain of Sand pretty frequently. In 1986 he opened his concert with Tom Petty by singing In the Garden from Saved. Before he sang it, he told the audience it was about his hero. His 1989 album Oh! Mercy touched on several biblical themes including these lyrics from Ring Them Bells:

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.

I think the most recent three albums are deeply biblical, but not in an American Evangelical sense, like the earlier albums were. "Beyond the Horizon," "Tryin' to Get Heaven," "Ain't Talkin'," "High Water" and "Nettie Moore" could not have been produced by a pre-Christian Dylan, IMHO.

I actually know the fellow who discipled Dylan when he attended the Vineyard in the late 1970s. Next year is the 30th anniversary of Slow Train's release. I am hoping to get an interview with this fellow for possible publication.

At the end of the day, only the Lord knows for sure.

Thanks for the kind words about the book.


Thanks for all that, Frank!

I may be a bit hard to convince about how the "post-Evangelical" (if we can call him that: counting TRAIN-SAVED-SHOT as his "Evangelical" period -- and we should probably count STREET LEGAL as at least borderline: I think it would be a cheat for me to cite stuff from that album as evidence that "pre-Christian" Dylan got pretty Christian) Dylan compares with the "pre-Evangelical," however. You're discussing this with someone who has a personal tradition of listening to BLOOD ON THE TRACKS (1975) every Good Friday.

I hope that interview you mention above happens. That could be very interesting.

I just finished reading the excerpts, and I think that its going to be a great book.

In a somewhat enigmatic response to a question about his "born again Christian phase," posed by a reporter for Rolling Stone (this was c. 2000, I think), Dylan said that the "songs are my creed."

This looks very promising!

I like how Dr. Beckwith has, at the onset (at least, from cursory inspection of the available excerpts), deliberately tailored his conversion story to make it his own rather than play up to the popular apologetics-styled conversion stories which so often end up sounding banal and impersonal due to the inane 'pop' apologetics theme such authors often adopt in their books. While the latter do have their place in the conversion story, it has been so ineptly interposed as to make the stories more about the apologetics itself rather than it being a personal story about the convert's conversion to the Faith.

As a convert from Evangelical Protestantism, myself (I finally took the big step this last Easter after a decade of dithering), I enjoyed the excerpts very much and look forward to reading the whole book. I really, really hope, though, that it addresses the deepest philosophical question that any conversion to Catholicism raises. ...

How did you escape RCIA???

"How did you escape RCIA???"

Classic! I'm sure it varies from parish to parish, but at mine, it means surmounting an obstacle course strewn with pop-psychology in place of "hard sayings" and a gauze of Oprah-like empathy covering Christ, lest He threaten our self-contentment. I assisted our RCIA program during the height of the sex-abuse Scandal and it was the resolve and ardor of the new converts that kept me sane and gave many of us heart. Welcome aboard the Barque, Lily.

This is how escaped RCIA. My parents baptized me Catholic as an infant, I received my First Holy Communion in second grade, and was confirmed when I was 12. All I needed to do was go to confession. My wife, however, did go to RCIA, which meant she entered the Church nearly 4 months after me.

I know it's unfair.

Thanks for posting the excerpts, Dr. Beckwith. I am looking forward to reading the book. I read Father Neuhaus's _Catholic Matters_ last year and it was most helpful in beginning to overcome the misperceptions I've grown up with about Catholicism. Your book looks like it addresses many of the questions I still have, in a way that will increase my understanding. I like the fact that you have written from the perspective of your own journey; such stories are often more helpful (at least to this literature prof!) than an abstract apologetic. May God continue to be glorified in your obedience to and love for Him.

Thanks for the welcome, Kevin. If you ever want to hear true horror stories about RCIA, I've got them. However, the third time was the charm. I had the incredible good luck to stumble into the most wonderful parish in my new home town. Solid teaching + welcoming, engaged parishoners + wonderful pastoral staff=irresistible!

Prof. Beckwith, I do look forward to your book and I am quite sure I am going to be looking for similarities to my own journey. I remain conviced that you lucked out though. Here, someone with your background would still have been strongly encouraged to do either RCIA or "Catholics Coming Home". I found it agonizing to wait, once I had made my mind up.

Lily, great news on your parish(let me guess - they have Eucharistic Adoration), but scary that it took 3 attempts. Makes you wonder how many people lose heart after a couple approaches or why it should be so hard for people to enter the Church.

Sadly RCIA is in some cases, little more than a hazing ritual performed by bitter church mice anxious over the direction of what they mistook as their own "club".

I guess that means the rest of us have to enter the fray and put our money where our mouths are.

By any chance, is there going to be an audio version of this book?

With all the books I've been trying to finish reading, it'd be nice if I could listen to this while on the road commuting in busy traffic.

I escaped RCIA by taking an adult confirmation class at my local parish. Many parishes will allow this option for well-catechized Protestants. It was generally a good experience -- three months of mostly doctrinal instruction. About half the class were cradle Catholics who'd somehow missed confirmation, the other half in my situation.

Since I had studied the doctrine so intently before joining the classes, all of my questions at first were about practice -- how exactly one crosses oneself, when and how to genuflect, do we really have to hold hands during the Lord's prayer. That sort of thing. I'm sure that my instructor was convinced that I was the most intellectually incurious convert she'd ever seen!

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