Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown.
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
As I write this on July 25, I am somehow drawn to a tale that my uncle first told me when I was a boy. Somewhere buried deep in our Jewish culture is a legend about the precise moment when the world changed. Some say that was the moment when everything that was held sacred abruptly ended. Others reflect back and say that was the moment when everything that is truly sacred actually originated.
As I recall the story, there was a favored young priest who was born with an extraordinary talent for leading services. His lamentations and calls to prayer were so authentic and moving that every year more and more pilgrims found their way to the Temple. The high priests, who tightly controlled the precise nature of prayer, were so thrilled with the throngs of worshipers making their way to the temple that they began to give the young priest more and more freedom in how he expressed reverence for the true word.
On a warm summer evening, a particularly large crowd had gathered for the late prayer. It was rumored that the young priest was going to do something so different, so spectacular that it would truly change the world forever. Neither the multitudes of worshippers nor the elder priests could contain their excitement as they all eagerly anticipated something so moving, so emotional, that it would bring them that much closer to the Source and thus change their world. And he did not disappoint them, he did change their world, but not in the way that they had expected.
The service started and rather than hearing the wisdom of words swept along by the dulcet tones of his unique voice gently accompanied by the familiar strumming of an acoustic guitar and occasional harmonica, they were shocked to hear the piercing twang of an all electric band at a festival devoted exclusively to folk music. In fact, a normally peaceful Pete Seeger was so outraged that he tried to actually cut the power cable in the middle of Maggie’s Farm, a song that leveled criticism directly at the movement that had spawned the Newport festival in the first place.
Hopefully, by now you realize that this is not a Talmudic allegory or some lost Hebrew apocrypha recently uncovered in the desert. I am talking about July 25, 1965, the night that everything changed, the night that Robert Zimmerman aka Bob Dylan plugged-in and sent the folk music scene into fits of anger and then into an existential depression from which some in the movement have yet to recover. This was also the night that many believe legitimized a new musical movement. A movement that gave the past a vote but reinterpreted it, dare I say reconstructed it, by fusing styles, cultures and experimentation creating an experience that was at once familiar but completely distinct and frankly more relevant and vital than the Folk community had realized at the time.
As you are all aware, our movement has begun to undertake some changes over the last 7 months. Personally I am glad to see a continued reevaluation and reconstruction to insure the uniqueness and vibrancy that initially attracted my family to our denomination over 20 years ago. As a congregation we should embrace this spirit as well; it is imperative that we reevaluate what is working and be bold enough to try new things, express ourselves in different ways and allow ourselves the freedom to experiment knowing full well that it may initially appear to be a failure when upon deeper reflection it may be a guidepost pointing us in the direction of something wonderful.
“If you try to be anyone but yourself, you will fail; if you are not true to your own heart, you will fail. Then again, there’s no success like failure”
Epilogue: Bob Dylan was booed off the stage that night in Newport. Seeing how upset he was, Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary, handed him his acoustic guitar and prodded Dylan to return to the stage where he performed Mr. Tambourine Man (listen to William Shatner’s version) which mollified the hostile crowd. Pete Seeger also “forgave” Bob Dylan and now recalls that night with a smile and a twinkle in his eye.
Enjoy the rest of your summer. With the greatest respect,