Monday, December 15, 2014

I'd like to bear my testimony of Bob Dylan . . .

Today I watched a fun video about a unique Bob Dylan concert:


As part of a Swedish TV show looking into what it's like to experience alone things you'd normally do in a social setting, they flew one Bob Dylan superfan, Fredrik Wikingsson, to Philadelphia to hear a Bob Dylan concert with only him in the audience. Besides being an interesting experiment and featuring some great Dylan music (albeit all covers), I was really struck by the (admittedly somewhat cheesy) follow-up questions they asked Fredrik, probing for what it meant to have this one of a kind experience.

In particular, Fredrik said that being alone made the experience itself probably more intense and powerful than it would have been in a normal setting full of other people. It also afforded him what sounds like the surreal experience of being completely mesmerized by the performance while it's happening (which happens often at a concert, I think) but then being very suddenly jolted out of that trance when he starts clapping alone after the first song and realizes how weird that is, how there is no acceptable way to act because that never happens--I can only imagine the mental whiplash!

However, Fredrik was conflicted about it, too:
I'm both grateful and happy that I was the only one there. But once I stepped out of the theater, all confused and dizzy, it could have been more intense if I had someone to share it with. In that way, I'm torn about the experience.
One thing Fredrik usually loves about seeing Dylan live (which he'd done about 20 times before this) is to turn to friends and process and relive it together. Did he really play Changing of the Guard with a reggae beat? His harmonica playing is as good as it was in '66! etc. But with this experience, there is no one to share it with, he's ultimately alone with it. (Obviously the above video of the event, even if it were more than just clips of the songs, can never come close to the actual lived experience. [1]) That made it more intense in the moment, but perhaps undermined the long-term enjoyment of it as well.

Anyway, all of that is to lead in to a random connection I made between that fun video and another interesting tidbit I came across today, a post from By Common Consent titled “Life withers when there are things we cannot share.” One of the things the author, Blair Hodges, argues is that a testimony only exists (or perhaps exists more fully) in a social setting. Leading with what he freely admits is a clickbait-y intro ("I don't have a testimony"), he argues that ownership of such a thing as a testimony is in some sense impossible:
I don’t have a testimony because I don’t feel like a testimony is something I can personally and actually have.
Especially not all to myself. I think a lot of Mormons recognize this deep down. After all, the setting where we most often use the word “testimony” is a group setting—a fast and testimony meeting. This is where we share our thoughts, beliefs, experiences; a testimony is really only such when it’s being shared. It exists in the gap between me and you, or maybe in me and you, but not separately, not ever. Testimony is the narratives we create together, the truths we forge out of the myriad experiences and sensations of our day-to-day lives, stories about our lives, and testimonies are always interpersonal just like people are. You are not you without me, and I’m not either; we must testify and we must live, but only together.
There's certainly a profound way in which this is true. It reminded me of the phrase "a testimony is found in the bearing of it"--in its original context the phrase of course is more about a reverent leap of faith than the social necessity of a testimony, but I still think it's apt in this more subversive context, too. A testimony is born anew every time it is expressed. We almost don't know what our testimonies really are until we put them to the test of trying to share them with others and see what words really spring to mind as we funnel our thoughts into narrow language, what the Spirit and ourselves feel the need to tell others (and ourselves) about our experiences and our hopes. Sometimes our testimony has changed, or the way it needs to be expressed has changed, whether because we've changed (for better or worse or just changed) or whether because we're in a different setting. We may have utterly transcendent experiences alone in our personal sacred groves, but if we don't or can't share some version of that with other people who have also been there we are torn much more than Fredrik was after his lonely Bob Dylan concert. That social aspect is crucial to whatever it means to "have" a testimony. Social experiences are crucial to spiritual life. [2] Ideally, a testimony might even be the best of both Fredrik's worlds: an intensely intimate, one-on-one experience with the divine--but one that others have shared. To be almost blasphemously trite, God puts on concerts for one every day.

So there you have it. Bob Dylan again illuminates gospel principles. Truly a prophet in these latter days :)

But seriously, I'm grateful for this beautiful, complicated world that we live in, and a loving God that watches over and guides it and helps us bring some order to it. I'm very thankful for friends and family and ward members to share my spiritual experiences with, and that they share theirs with me. I can't imagine how dry my life would be without all of that. And that is my simple, cheesy testimony of the moment. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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[1] In fact, in some ways the video is very different from the real experience. Fascinatingly, Fredrik has refused to watch the video of him watching the concert "in order to keep his own memories of the experience pristine."

[2] This social aspect also reminds me of Doctrine and Covenants 130:2 "And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy." Fittingly, verse 1 of this section is about entering into sociality with Christ.

2 comments:

  1. I think this is an interesting concept. To add to your thoughts, I think testimony is also "lived" in the sense that your actions are your testimony - serving/loving others is an expression of the truths you know. Also, I still think there are things you can know as truth in the absence of others but this post has given me a different way to look at testimony, which I like.

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