1998-12-12 Pastoral Care for Men

Eric Paul Lemonholm

December 12, 2998

Dr. Timothy J. Wengert

Luther and the Law

Pastoral Care for Men

This paper is an attempt to develop a Lutheran understanding of pastoral care for men.  I shall begin by exploring Martin Luther’s writings in his historical context, with an eye to light they may shed on pastoral care for men.  I shall then develop an understanding of contemporary men’s experience, in the light of the works of two songwriters, Jay Farrar and Bob Dylan. I shall explore the work of Farrar and Dylan in the light of Erik Erikson’s understanding of the life cycle, with the aim of seeing how American men might understand their own life cycles.  Finally, I will put Luther in conversation with the life experience of contemporary men, and see what light Luther can shed on pastoral care for men.  My aim is to help men (including myself) make sense of our lives, to see our experiences and feelings as part of a more holistic view of life as a pilgrimage.  Luther’s dynamic view of vocation can help us do that. 

As a future Lutheran pastor, it is important for me to develop a Lutheran approach to pastoral care for men.  Too often (as Donald Capps has noted), the church fails to reach out to men, and involve them in the life of the church.  A better understanding of the life cycle of men, along with a Lutheran understanding of vocation, might help to change that.  Thus, I do not mean to exclude women.  Indeed, Luther’s understanding of vocation, along with Erikson’s life cycle theory, are (essentially) applicable to both women and men.  In addition, there are many wonderful songwriters who are women, but they deserve a paper of their own.  Let it be understood that my focus on men in this paper is not meant to exclude women.

Luther on the Vocations of Men


Men as Pilgrims: Looking For a Life Worth Living

For the past four years, I have been drawn to the music of Jay Farrar, a singer and songwriter who was part of the musical group Uncle Tupelo, and is now the head of a band called Son Volt.  In six records since 1990, Farrar has written songs that explore the struggles of life as a Midwestern working class man.  His music alternates between folk, country, and rock and roll, and can perhaps best be described (as someone put it on the Internet) as “Americana.”  Farrar is part of a long tradition of American folk/country/rock music.  As a Midwestern man myself, I am especially interested in this genre of music that flows from the heartland of the U.S.A.  The significance of Farrar’s lyrics is not limited to Midwestern working class men, of course, but speaks to the experience of men (and women) throughout American culture.  I know very little about Jay Farrar, except that he is now in his early thirties, and he is originally from Belleville, Illinois.

I will explore the main body of the artist’s work for insight into how American men experience and cope with the deadly sins, and struggle to develop the saving virtues, in the life cycle.  I want to find out how men understand and orient their lives; I am searching for images of the male life.  Even, or especially, the clichés that Farrar uses can teach us something about how men commonly understand and speak of their experience, precisely because the phrases are readily available and comprehensible tropes.  Farrar is a good representative of a long tradition of American folk music, as evident in the continuity between the traditional songs he records and his own songs.  I see his work as a coherent whole, as a varied, open ended, unfinished narrative.  It is a narrative worth probing for a deeper understanding of men.  It should be understood, however, that while the narrative I have traced through Farrar’s work is sound and valuable, it is not the only narrative voice in his work.  I am telling one story, performing one exegesis; others are possible, I am sure.  I will also draw on Bob Dylan’s recent album, Time Out of Mind.  Dylan beautifully illustrates some of the challenges of adulthood and even, perhaps, mature adulthood.

Many of Farrar’s songs simply give voice to the hardships and pressures that men experience, such as “Looking For A Way Out”:

I can only sing it loud

I always try to sing it clear

What the hell are we all doing here?

Making too much of nothing

Or creating one unholy mess

An unfair study in survival, I guess.

But it always comes down to

What to do when it’s all around you.

This tightwire act

Leaving us here for dead to news of the world

And liquor piles up ahead.

Dodging those with words of power

Forever on their breath.

When the quality of life gets tripped up

Strangled like death

It seems it’s getting harder out there

Especially without time enough to see.

True to life is another hangover

True to life is more and more politics

True to life is always having to look over your shoulder

True to life is assembly-line sickness…[1]

Farrar does not gloss over the reality of many men’s lives: a life spent walking a tightrope does not allow time for reflection and growth, especially when one is barely hanging on.   This is a reality check on my hope for men to come to terms with a wider understanding of the life cycle.  Many men are overly invested in their work just to survive, and hopefully to support their family.  They have precious little time and energy to devote to self-reflection and small group work, when they do not even have “time enough to see.”  Workaholism is perhaps more of a middle or upper class phenomenon; for blue-collar men, the struggle is often over being forced to work too hard for too little just to get by.

In all economic and social classes, however, men overwork for a variety of reasons.  Some men overwork because that is how they have learned to be real men.  If a man is measured by his accomplishments in the ‘real world,’ which is defined as the arena of competitive work, then he must throw himself fully into his work; otherwise, he will not measure up.  Note the phallocentric language of ‘measuring up.’  Note also that blue-collar workers probably recognize the tragedy of being defined by their work better than white-collar workers.  If they give all of themselves to their work, they may still lack the money, prestige, and power over others that are supposed to be the spoils of succeeding in the system, and they will then feel shame. 

Farrar often sings of the struggles of those whose lives are lived on the “Factory Belt.”

Well I’ve heard it said

That after seven years the factory belt

It gets in your head.

Looks like it’s time to lay this burden down

Stop messing around

Don’t want to go to the grave without a sound.

Give the soul a place of rest

Not to ride on the factory belt…[2]

The work life of a man often leaves him empty, “dead to news of the world,” and dead to his family and loved ones.  When they see what “true to life” is, many men turn to alcohol to numb their awareness of it, to drown their despair and isolation in an ultimately hopeless gluttony.

But Farrar also gives voice to a rebellion against working class conditions.  Many of his songs directly address the capitalist structure that causes alienation and emptiness in workers, and offer both resistance and hope for “a place of rest” for one’s soul, a release of the burden of work.  This is an example of the proper use of envy, as the perception and revelation of an unjust distribution of wealth.

No thanks to the treadmill

No thanks to the grindstone

There’s plenty of dissent [descent?] from

These rungs below.

The clockwork of destruction

Hanging low over our heads

Always a smokestack cloud

Or a slow-walking death.

No light ever shines

Dead-end tears that dry.

Maybe a waste of words and time

Never a waste of life…[3]

Farrar reveals the truth that those on “these rungs below” on the ladder of society usually understand the system better than those on the top, because they are often the victims of it.  The picture that the songwriter paints is gloomy, but it is not hopeless.  With the knowledge that one’s work situation is a dead-end, “a waste of words and time,” comes the possibility for escape, so that one can voice the hope that there is “Never a waste of life,” that one’s life will not be lived in vain.  The man is striving for integrity.

In his earlier work at least, Farrar seems to see two negative ways that men try to escape from their situation: through drinking and through religion, usually understood as conservative American folk Christianity.  Farrar’s band Uncle Tupelo recorded several traditional Christian songs, such as “No Depression,” “Warfare,” and “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down,” which describe an escapist Christianity:

Fear the hearts of men are failing

For these are latter days, we know.

The Great Depression now is spreading

God’s word declared it would be so.

I’m going where there’s no Depression

To a better land that’s free from care.

I’ll leave this world of toil and trouble

My home’s in heaven, I’m going there…[4]

The Christian in this song flees from the despair, toil, and care, and looks toward his heavenly home.  This limited view of Christianity is contradicted only in one old traditional song that Farrar covers.  “Lilli Schull” is a song in which the narrator is a man waiting to hang for murder.  At the end, he prays:

Now I bow down to Jesus

In penitential grief.

And I beg him now to save me

Like he did the dying thief …

It was then that I heard a whisper

In a most gentle tone:

“My grave is one sufficient

To save the vilest one.”[5]

Here, we are given a glimpse at the possibility of grace which religion can provide even one who is experiencing intense, deserved, “healthy shame,” to use Smedes’ phrase.[6]  In this song, the murderer accepts the judgment against him, feels remorse and shame for what he has done, and makes a public confession.  His “penitential grief” goes beyond guilt; he knows that there is nothing he can do to make right his wrong.  But the gracious, forgiving love of God embraces him.  It is sad that his executioners were not able to love the murderer like Jesus (their shepherd) does.  Here we see an alternative vision of the healing possibilities of faith. 

In general, however, the artist and much of the folk tradition seem to see religion as an escape from life rather than a distinctive way to engage life.  Alcohol, moreover, seems to be a more effective sedative than religion.

Persuaded, paraded, inebriated, in doubt

Still aware of everything life carries on without.

Because there’s one too many faces with dollar sign smiles

Got to find the shortest path to the bar for a while

A long way from happiness

In a three-hour-away town.

Whiskey bottle over Jesus

Not forever, just for now…[7]

If religion is nothing more than an opiate for the masses, intuits the artist, it is better to drink; then, at least, one is more honestly and more effectively sedating oneself.  Religion cannot completely mask a man’s doubts and his awareness of  “everything life carries on without,” but neither can alcohol.  As a man wakes up with “another hangover,” he knows that his life has not changed, and his shame still owns him.  In another traditional song he recorded, “Moonshiner,” Farrar voices the common conception that the only time an escapist Christianity is worthwhile is on one’s deathbed.  If Christianity does not help me to live a more coherent, fulfilling life now, I can do without it.

Let me eat when I’m hungry

Let me drink when I’m dry

Two dollars when I’m hard up

Religion when I die.[8]

If the artist is sympathetic to those men who escape from the hardships and uncertainties of life through alcohol or religion, he yet recognizes their hopeless situation.  He holds out a hope for a better life, a way out of the hopelessness of gluttony, as in “Life Worth Livin’”:

This song is sung for anyone that’s listening

This song is for the broken-spirited man

This song is for anyone left standing

After the strain of a slow, sad end.

It seems everybody wants what someone else has

There’s sorrow enough for all

Just go in any bar and ask.

With a beer in each hand and a smile in between

While all around is a world grown mean.

We’ve all had our ups and downs

It’s been mostly down around here.

Now this whole damn mess is becoming quite clear.

Looks like we’re all looking for a life worth livin’

That’s why we drink ourselves to sleep.

Yeah, we’re all looking for a life worth livin’

That’s why we pray for our souls to keep on.

There’s nothing left now but broken pieces

Of one man’s broken will to care.

And in the end before it’s all said and done

How many others might follow him there?…[9]

Again, the artist’s perspective is bluntly realistic, but he expresses well the searching nature of the lives of men.  It is in our failure to find “a life worth livin’” that we turn to drinking or other forms of escape or sedation to numb our despair.  We do not have hope for a better tomorrow.  Yet, we do not want to give up, we “pray for our souls to keep on.”  Farrar sings to “the broken-spirited man” about a faint hope for a life worth living.  The question is, Where do we look?  How can we find a life worth living?

Especially in his past two albums, Trace and Straightaways, Farrar has explored what one might call the myth of the open road, an often solitary search for truth and meaning on the “asphalt prairie”[10] of America’s heartland.  This is a common motif in popular American thought.  The highway runs on to the ever-inviting horizon.  We need not be confined to our present space and our life as it is here (wherever we are), because we can always move on.


Now and then it keeps you running

Never seems to die.

Trails spin with fear

It’s not enough living on the outside.

Never seem to get far enough

Staying in between the lines.

Hold on to what you can

Waiting for the end, not knowing when.

May the wind take your troubles away

May the wind take your troubles away

Both feet on the floor, two hands on the wheel

May the wind take your troubles away.

Trying to make it far enough to the next time zone.

Few and far between past the midnight hour

You never feel alone, you’re really not alone.

Switching it over to AM, searching for a truer sound.

Can’t recall the call letters, steel [steal a?] guitar and settle down.

Catching an all-night station, somewhere in Louisiana

It sounds like 1963, but for now, it sounds like heaven.

May the wind take your troubles away…[11]



One of the motives for hitting the road that the artist articulated in earlier albums is to try to escape from a failing relationship, to escape the pain and the shame that the narrator feels in the relationship.  This is a commonly voiced concern in Farrar’s songs.  Committed relationships of any kind open one up to shame and pain, as one’s failures at work and at home are intimately known by another.  It seems that the open road is an easy way out of the tensions between intimacy and isolation.  In an earlier album, the artist expresses the desire to escape from a fiery relationship in this way:


Fighting fire with unlit matches

From our respective trenches

No authority can clean up this mess we’re in.

A miracle might point the way

To solutions we’re after

And avert our chronic impending disaster.

Chickamauga is where I’ve been

Solitude is where I’m bound.

I don’t ever want to taste these tears again.[12]

While expressing a measure of hope in a miracle to solve their chronic fighting, the singer expresses the desire to escape from Chickamauga (the site of a major Civil War battle) and seek solitude away from the warlike relationship.  In another song, Farrar offers a quieter, sadder perspective on a relationship that is not working out.

Try to face up to the blinding sun

Racing for the final word to come

Facing up, it’s hard to stay devout.

I can see the sand and it’s running out.

We quote each other only when we’re wrong

We tear out the threads [threats?] and move along

We can’t seem to find common ground.

I can see the sand and it’s running out…[13]

Here, the struggle for both true intimacy/love and fidelity seems to be dying.  In a third song from the same album, the narrator seems to link his failure in the relationship with a profound sense of shame. 

What the hell were we thinking?

Before the fire burned out

I can’t find you now

And I didn’t know you then.

Loneliness drinks the bitters

Until the cold winds warm again

It’s a feel for the game.

Mouth open wide, screams and hollers.

Working in the halls of shame.

Lay it down in full view

Lay it down.[14]

As I interpret this song, the narrator is expressing his sense of loneliness, regret, and shame after the end of a relationship.  When he sings “Lay it down in full view,” he is laying down his shame, into the open, before his estranged lover.  I do not know the content of his shame, but he seems to be working face it, and open up his shameful self to one who was once close to him.  This is an important step both in healing the damaged relationship, and in healing the shameful self.  There is hope that, when the “cold winds warm again,” the struggle between intimacy and isolation will not end with the latter.

If wandering is Farrar’s (preliminary) answer to profound relational strife, where should he go?  That is a question that is never satisfactorily answered in the artist’s songs to date.  We are merely wandering, searching for a life worth living.  And the trail is full of peril:

You may be quite sure you know where you’re going

But sooner or later you’re out of the picture.

Too many lost names, too many rules to the game

You better find a focus before you’re out of the picture

Somewhere along the way the clock runs out

Somewhere along the way you’re lost and still.[15]

 A man’s life is indeed a stressful one.  It is as if we are playing a game with more rules than we can know, and the rules keep changing all our lives.  The challenge is to find a focus in life, before it is too late, before your life ends in despair or melancholy.  In “Tear Stained Eye,” the artist gives his usual answer to the scars he (the character given voice in the song) has gained in a hard life: to move on, aware that more pain is ahead, searching for a better life.

Walking down Main Street

Getting to know the concrete

Looking for a purpose, from a neon sign.

I would meet you anywhere

The western sun meets the air

We’ll hit the road, never looking behind.

Can you deny there’s nothing greater,

Nothing more than the traveling hands of time?

St Genevieve can hold back the water

But saints don’t bother with the tear stained eye.

Seeing traces of the scars that came before

Hitting the pavement, still asking for more…

If learning is living, and the truth is a state of mind

You’ll find it’s better at the end of the line…[16]

The artist is still searching for purpose in life, learning by living, not looking back.  It is significant, however, that the wanderer is not alone on the journey.  In his later work, Farrar emphasizes the importance of friendship for the journey of life.  In fact, the one who sang so passionately about running away from a troubled relationship now sings more of the desire for forgiveness and reconciliation.

I want to see your smile through a pay phone.

The season has changed

I want to see you in it

The lights that shine are caustic without you.

When we’re all passed over

The rhythm of the river will remain…

You turn and before you know it

We’re just threading this needle for life…

Someday we’ll be together

Farther south than the train line.

The Delta mud will be there

We’re just living this way

Because we know no other.[17]

The estrangement is caused from the couple’s inability to create a workable life together.  The question is, Can they learn a different way to live, so that they can stay together?  Are their identities strong enough to create a common identity?  Can they commit to one another in love and remain constant and faithful?  The artist expresses the desire (and hope) to do so, even though their relationship may still be a little muddy, cluttered.  They are doing the best the can.

The hope for reconciliation is even stronger in “Back Into Your World,” as the artist earnestly seeks to be reconciled with his estranged loved one.

Living for the moment

Flashes and fades and takes you down

Familiar deserted byways.

Shelf-stored memories

Lead you where you’ve been

And can no longer go

Guess who’s guessing now?

Let me back into your world

In the blink of an eye, no uncertain terms

Let me back into your world.[18]

The wanderer has gone far enough down the lonely path of “living for the moment,” and he is drawn back to his former lover, by whom he pleads to be accepted, long after he had abandoned her (or him) in pursuit of his own selfish aims.  To live for the moment is to fail to live according to the basic dispositions of world engagement, continuity and constancy, and vitality.  It is not to live a virtuous life, a life of integrity.  This is a moment of opening up himself to himself and his former lover, a moment of great vulnerability and potential shame.  His self-centered journey has led to loneliness, regret, and shame for giving up on their relationship.  In the end, it seems, Farrar leaves us with the image of a man’s life as a journey, a search for a life worth living.  But a man should not undertake the quest alone.  He needs the nurturing and challenge to growth that friends (and a spouse and/or family) provide.

Passing under barren skies

Waiting for our worlds to collide

And there you are, all alone, feeling bad.

Interstate moving again, barrel through thick and thin

Side by side, to survive, like creosote.

Born under widespread changes

The search for higher reason.

Learning the ropes okay

When fate just runs you around.[19]

A type of creosote is made by distilling wood, and can be used as an antiseptic or even to preserve smoked meat.  According to Webster’s, “creosote” comes from the Greek words kreaj, body, and swter, savior or preserver.  I interpret the artist to mean that people in community preserve and protect each other, building each other up, helping one another survive.  We live in a rapidly changing, complex world.  We are lucky if we manage to merely “learn the ropes okay.”  We need a community of support if we are going to make it, and have some say in our own fate. 

Farrar himself is on the road much of the time, playing concerts in cities throughout the U.S. and Europe.  But he travels with a band of men, with whom he has been working, writing and performing music, for years; two of them are brothers, and at least one has a wife and children.  Moreover, the artist is closely connected with many other musicians in what seems to be a close-knit musical subculture.  It is important to note that this man, who writes so much of loneliness and failure, is a successful collaborative musician, part of a long folk tradition.  In his quest for a life worth living, Farrar, it seems, is not alone.

As much as I am drawn to Jay Farrar’s body of work, and as insightful as it is, it is limited.  As the artist himself seems to recognize, the road is a lonely place, and a solution that is not a solution.  A man cannot drive away from his shame, isolation, and mistrust, because he takes himself with him—the same vulnerable, insecure, depleted self he tried to leave behind.  Men need other men and women to make the trip with them.  After listening to Farrar’s serious, often sad music so much lately, I need a healthy dose of lighter-hearted, more relationally based songwriters, such as the Jayhawks.  I especially need to listen to some female songwriters, such as Victoria Williams, Tracy Chapman, and the Indigo Girls, women who sing of life, love, and God from the other side of the gender gap, often with great insight.  We men can learn much by listening to women. 

As James Dittes argues so persuasively in Driven By Hope, however, we need to recognize the genuinely religious nature of men.[20]  Jay Farrar’s work is deeply religious.  His songs never remain within the boundaries of the actual.  He is always restless, always pushing beyond the here and now, always searching for something better.  A man’s work is not fulfilling, but rather kills the spirit, and eventually the life, of the man, leading to an early death.  Farrar’s song “Shaky Ground” starts with this stanza:

In memory of a miner

Who dragged himself to work

And worked himself to death 

Working for someone else.

We follow each other around on shaky ground.[21]

Men’s work all too often leads to an early death.  And yet, “We follow each other around on shaky ground.”  We work ourselves to death, as we saw our fathers and grandfathers do.  That is not the road of wisdom and vitality.

Farrar takes us beyond this situation, by giving an alternative vision of a man’s life as a quest, in Dittes’ language a pilgrimage.  We are travelers, seekers, looking for a life worth living.  Pilgrims should not travel alone, for we are safer and surer of the road if we travel together.  We pilgrims can also carry one another’s burdens.  When my shame, guilt, or despair is too heavy, I can “lay it down in full view.”  It may be that my fellow travelers can help me to lighten the load, or shift the weight around, so that it rests more evenly on my soul.  Maybe I do not need that pack at all, and my pilgrim friends can help get it off my back.  We can help one another by bearing one another’s burdens with our care, through example, through teaching—especially the older men.  We can help one another develop the vital strengths we men need to finish the pilgrimage with integrity.

This concept of life as a pilgrimage undertaken with others is one way to respond to the apathy, melancholy, and isolation of Bob Dylan’s wonderful new  album, Time Out of Mind.  Throughout the album, Dylan mourns the loss of love and time, as the narrator ages.  This is especially evident in “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven.”

The air is gettin’ hotter, there’s a rumblin’ in the skies.

I’ve been wadin’ through the high muddy waters,

But the heat riseth in my eyes.

Everyday your memory goes dimmer,

It doesn’t haunt me like it did before.

I’ve been walkin’ through the middle of nowhere,

Tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door.

When I was in Missouri, they would not let me be.

I had to leave there in a hurry, I only saw what they let me see.

You broke a heart that loved you,

Now you can seal up the book and not write anymore.

I’ve been walkin’ that lonesome valley,

Tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door.

People on the platforms, waitin’ for the trains.

I can hear their hearts a-beatin’, like pendulum swingin’ on chains.

When you think that you’ve lost everything,

You find out you can always lose a little more.

I’m just going down the road feelin’ bad,

Tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door.

I’m goin’ down the river, down to New Orleans.

They tell me everything is gonna be all right,

But I don’t know what all right even means.

I was ridin’ in a buggy with Miss Mary Jane,

Miss Mary Jane got a house in Baltimore.

I’ve been all around the world boys,

I’m tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door.

Gotta sleep down in the parlor, and relive my dreams.

I close my eyes and I wonder, if everything is as hollow as it seems.

Some trains don’t pull no gamblers,

No midnight/midlife? ramblers like they did before.

I’ve been to Sugartown, I shook the sugar down,

Now I’m tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door.[22]

Like Farrar, Dylan often pictures life as wandering, as a journey.  Dylan has a vague idea of the goal of that journey, but he (as narrator) has the feeling that time is running out.  Life is filled with loss—especially the loss of intimacy, but also the loss of opportunities.  Eventually, one might lose more than everything.

In “Not Dark Yet,” Dylan grapples directly with the issues of mortality and melancholy.

Shadows are falling and I been here all day

It’s too hot to sleep and time is running away

Feel like my soul has turned into steel

I’ve still got the scars that the sun/son? didn’t heal

There’s not even room enough to be anywhere

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Well my sense of humanity is going down the drain

Behind every beautiful thing, there’s been some kind of pain

She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind

She put down in writin’ what was in her mind

I just don’t see why I should even care

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

Well I been to London and I been to gay Paris

I followed the river and I got to the sea

I’ve been down to the bottom of a whirlpool of lies

I ain’t lookin for nothin’ in anyone’s eyes

Sometimes my burden is more than I can bear

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

I was born here and I’ll die here, against my will

I know it looks like I’m movin’ but I’m standin’ still

Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb

I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from

Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there[23]

Here is a man looking back over a life that he is unable to judge with integrity.  He reacts with apathy tinged with the disdain of melancholy to the letter from (one presumes from the rest of the album) an estranged lover.  Although he seems to be moving forward, he is actually “standing still.”  Rather than walking decisively toward the darkness in the wisdom and integrity of a man who accepts his life as it was given and lived, the singer notes passively that “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”  Darkness will inevitably overtake him in any case.

This album does not end with darkness, however.  The final song is “Highlands.”  It is a long, rambling song, with a touch of melancholy and mournfulness and wisdom.

Well my heart’s in The Highlands, gentle and fair

Honeysuckle blooming in the wildwood air

Bluebells blazing where the Aberdeen waters flow

Well my heart’s in The Highlands

I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go

Windows were shaking all night in my dreams

Everything was exactly the way that it seems

Woke up this mornin’ and I looked at the same old page/pain/paint?

Same old rat race, life in the same old cage

I don’t want nothin’ from anyone, ain’t that much to take

Wouldn’t know the difference between a real blonde and a fake

Feel like a prisoner in a world of mystery

I wish someone would come and push back the clock for me

Well my heart’s in The Highlands wherever I roam

That’s where I’ll be when I get called home

The wind it whispers to the buckeye trees of rhyme

Well my heart’s in The Highlands

I can only get there one step at a time…

Feel like I’m driftin’, driftin’ from scene to scene

I’m wonderin’ what in the devil could it all possibly mean

Insanity is smashin’ up against my soul

You could say I was on anything but a roll

If I had a conscience, well I just might blow my top

What would I do with it anyway, maybe take it to the pawn shop

My heart’s in The Highlands at the break of dawn

by the beautiful lake of the Black Swan

Big white clouds like chariots that swing down low

Well my heart’s in The Highlands only place left to go…

Well my heart’s in The Highlands with the horses and hounds

way up in the border country far from the towns

with the twang of the arrow and the snap of the bow

My heart’s in The Highlands, can’t see any other way to go

Every day is the same thing, out the door

feel further away than ever before

Some things in life it just gets too late to learn

Well I’m lost somewhere, I must have made a few bad turns

I see people in the park, forgettin’ their troubles and woes

They’re drinkin’ and dancin’, wearin’ bright colored clothes

All the young men with the young women lookin’ so good

Well I’d trade places with any of ’em, in a minute if I could…

The sun is beginnin’ to shine on me

But it’s not like the sun that used to be

The party’s over and there’s less and less to say

I got new eyes, everything looks far away

Well my heart’s in The Highlands at the break of day

over the hills and far away

There’s a way to get there, and I’ll figure it out somehow

Well I’m already there in my mind and that’s good enough for now[24]

Dylan’s album ends on a note of wisdom.  Life may be filled with regrets and loss, but they can be mourned, and life can go on.  Dylan is struggling in this song with hope for tomorrow, a hope more difficult to sustain later in life.  He is sustained by a transcendent vision of a better future in “the Highlands.”  Perhaps, the narrator does not need to travel there alone.  Many others are making the same uncertain pilgrimage.  The narrator, moreover, is not alone.  He has a friend, an advocate, closer than a sister or brother, in the God who loves him and deems him valuable.

An Appendix on Friendship

This lyrical exploration has been revealing.  To dwell on the image of “creosote” a little more, the “body-preserving” ministry we men can perform for each other underscores the importance of being there for each other, physically, to support each other, to experience life together.  Strikwerda and May’s thoughts on “Male Friendship and Intimacy”[25] are insightful and accurate, in general; many men lack intimate friendships.  Much of the friendships of men is more on the level of comradeship.  But men can become much more than comrades.

Intimacy takes time and effort.  You cannot force intimacy, but friendships take time and conscious effort to develop; you cannot pretend to know the depths when you stay on the surface.  That is not to say that the surface is shallow.  As one of the Niebuhrs stated (as mentioned in class), the surface is “thick.”  Men do things together, spend time together.  There is a depth in shared experiences, shared lives.  In that sharing, I catch glimpses of the depth within my friend, even if he does not spill it upon me verbally.  Feelings, hopes, and fears can be communicated indirectly—in fact, they are always communicated indirectly, even if one manages to put them into words.  It remains the case, however, that we men need to learn to recognize our feelings and verbalize them, both to ourselves and to others.  It is not just that we do not share our inner lives with others; too often, we are disconnected from our own inner lives.  We need to learn to speak in the language of feelings. 

A problem with male friendships, especially when friends are separated, is a lack of intimacy and sharing.  If a man re-envisions himself as being on a pilgrimage with his friends, then he will want to keep up with them better, to ask how they are holding up, to share himself with them more openly.  He will want to be connected with his own inner life, so that he can be a more authentic person to his friends and family, so that they can journey “side by side, to survive, like creosote.”

[1] “True To Life,” Uncle Tupelo, from the album Still Feel Gone, Rockville Records, 1991.  I checked my transcriptions of the Farrar songs that are on Uncle Tupelo albums with transcriptions made by Jake Roberts, with help from Chuck Taggart, Michael Pemberton, Barry Kelley, and Amy Haugesag.  Their transcriptions are found at the Internet site, ftp://ftp.sunet.se/pub/music/lyrics/uncle.tupelo.  It is my understanding that Farrar co-wrote the Uncle Tupelo songs with Jeff Tweedy and Michael Heidorn, but that the songs I quote in this paper were essentially written by Farrar.  It is not essential for the purposes of this paper that all the songs were written completely by one man (although I shall assume it); the continuity between the Uncle Tupelo songs and the songs that Farrar has written with Son Volt is strong in any case.

[2] “Factory Belt,” Uncle Tupelo, from the album No Depression, Rockville Records, 1990. 

[3] “Grindstone,” Uncle Tupelo, from the album March 16-20, 1992, Rockville Records, 1992.

[4] “No Depression,” traditional, from No Depression.

[5] “Lilli Schull,” traditional, from March 16-20, 1992.

[6] Lewis B. Smedes, Shame and Grace, San Francisco: Harper, 1993, p. 31.

[7] “Whiskey Bottle,” from No Depression.

[8] “Moonshiner,” traditional, from March 16-20, 1992.

[9] “Life Worth Livin’,” from No Depression.

[10] “Cemetery Savior,” Son Volt, from the album Straightaways, Warner Brothers, 1997.

[11] “Windfall,” from the album Trace, Warner Brothers, 1995.

[12] “Chickamauga,” Uncle Tupelo, from the album Anodyne, Sire Records, 1993.

[13] “High Water,” from Anodyne.

[14] “Slate,” from Anodyne.

[15] “Out of the Picture,” from Trace.

[16] “Tear Stained Eye,” Son Volt, from Trace. St. Genevieve, as I learned on the Internet, is a small town in Missouri whose residents worked together to keep the flood of the summer of 1993 from destroying their town.  In this song, Farrar again voices the conviction that religious people, “saints,” do not (or cannot) care about the troubles people face in life.

[17] “Live Free,” from Trace.

[18] “Back Into Your World,” from Straightaways.  Transcribed by the author (me), with help by e-mail from Scott Jagow and Tom Stoodley.

[19] “Creosote,” from Straightaways.

[20] James E. Dittes, Driven By Hope: Men and Meaning, Louisville: Westminster, 1996.

[21] “Shaky Ground,” from March 16-20, 1992.

[22] Bob Dylan, “Tryin’ to Get to Heaven,” in Time Out of Mind, Columbia Records, 1997.

[23] “Not Dark Yet,” in Time Out of Mind.

[24] “Highlands,” in Time Out of Mind.

[25] Robert A. Strikwerda and Larry May, “Male Friendship and Intimacy,” in Rethinking Masculinity: Philosophical Explorations in Light of Feminism, Second Edition, Edited by Larry May, Robert Strikwerda, and Patrick D. Hopkins, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1996, pp. 75-94.

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