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Dylan Subtly Promotes Christian Freedom in China

The drama that unfolded in Beijing began when police evicted an unregistered “house church” from its usual meeting place. The police arrived again when this same flock tried to gather in a public place last Sunday. A church member who escaped told the Associated Press that about 200 were arrested.

This kind of persecution is old news for those concerned about the 60 million or so Christians in China’s “underground” churches. The crackdowns have become so common that they rarely inspire protests from human rights activists.

Bob Dylan, however, is another matter. His first-ever concert in China opened with an edgy gospel rocker that slipped past the Ministry of Culture officials who allegedly screened the April 6 set list to make sure it was safe.

“Change my way of thinking, make myself a different set of rules. … Gonna put my best foot forward, stop being influenced by fools,” sang Bob Dylan, performing a classic from the “Slow Train Coming” album that opened his “born again” era.

So who might the “fools” be in this context?

Seconds later, Dylan veered into alternative lyrics for “Gonna Change My Way of Thinkin’,” written for a duet with gospel star Mavis Staples. These lyrics added a clear reference to “end times” doctrines and the second coming of Jesus — subjects Chinese authorities have tried to curb in sermons, music and religious education.

“Jesus is calling,” he sang. “He’s coming back to gather his jewels.

… Well, we live by the golden rule, whoever’s got the gold rules.”

Many critics noted that the set list omitted Dylan’s most famous anthems of political protest, such as “The Times They Are A-Changin’ ” and “Blowin’ in the Wind.” The Washington Post coverage claimed that the set was “devoid of any numbers that might carry even the whiff of anti-government overtones.”

Then again, maybe the mainstream writers who voiced similar sentiments about this historic concert in the Worker’s Gymnasium in Beijing were only listening for messages about politics, as opposed to messages about religious freedom.

Many years ago, commentator Bill Moyers told me that the reason so many journalists struggle to cover religion news is that they are “tone deaf” to the music of faith in public life. That image still rings true for me, after 23 years of writing this column for the Scripps Howard News Service and more than three decades of research into life on the religion beat.

more here: http://therepublic.com/view/story/religion-faith041311/religion-faith041311/

Typically Dylanesque. Say, what about these house churches with 200 attendees?

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