In mid October 1968, The Jimi Hendrix Experience released its most popular album and asked the world, “Have you ever been to Electric Ladyland?” The double-LP was the band’s most successful album. It also included the band’s most successful song — “All Along The Watchtower.” I am sure you’ve heard it.
My mom introduced “Watchtower” when I was young. Fifteen years later, I am still air-guitaring to it, but, recently, “Watchtower” has gained deeper meaning for me.
A few months back, I went to a small conference on Black Gospel music. Panelists discussed the genre and how it influenced and was influenced by other genres – like R&B and rock-n-roll.
A speaker said he felt it was almost spiritual the way Hendrix wails in his version of “All Along The Watchtower.”. He did an air-guitar at “wails.”
Wait. His version? I scoffed anyone would try to replicate the genius of Hendrix.
At Baylor, students attend two semesters of chapel. We are a Christian university with deep Southern Baptist heritage. You might expect these services to have conservative orientation. However, the staff does a great job presenting a variety perspectives. Not everyone agrees with me, though.
Recently, The Waco Tribune-Herald published an opinion piece from a fellow Baylor student, McKinney, Texas junior Jathan Young. In his column, Young laments that chapel is too political for our religious institution.
Young says, after only a short time in chapel, he began “to see that Chaplain Burt Burleson and the rest of the staff have an agenda that has nothing to do with promoting Christian values.”
He is uncomfortable with chapel staff interjecting panel discussion on the Black Lives Matter movement. He writes that during this service, panelists condemned “certain white Americans as prejudiced and racist.” He calls this “tasteless.” His point: chapel is not a time for politics, it’s a time for “Christ-centered worship.”
I disagree with my fellow student on his premise. I think chapel is a time to interweave politics and faith because that is more true to who we are, day-to-day. Faith impacts my politics. Challenging one challenges the other.
But I think there is a deeper problem in what Young says. In his column, he writes:
“You would be hard-pressed to find a church in our area that would ever pass off a panel discussion on Black Lives Matter or a session promoting environmentalism as a traditional Sunday service.”
I don’t know Young. I don’t know where he attends church. But I think what he might have meant was that it would be difficult to find discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement in white, conservative, Baptist churches – perhaps like what he attends.
And that is the problem.
Having been to several African-American churches across the country, I know there is discussion of this movement. Friends, who attend more multi-ethnic congregations, told me their churches had discussed it, too. (Also, remember Black churches were often the setting for mass meetings during the civil rights movement of the 1960s ― a political movement as well.) This issue is personal for Black Americans. It’s about them. It affects their husbands and daughters and neighbors. And, so, it’s not isolated to one area of their lives – Black lives matter to them at home, in public, at the grocery store, in their jobs and, yes, at church too.
However, I understand where Young is coming from. Had I never been to one of those churches, I could not have the perspective I do. There are dangers in how we can now tailor our worlds ever smaller – we only see what we agree with on Facebook, only watch TV “news” that promotes our views.
It’s easy to never experience different views because it’s easier than ever to hide from people with different perspectives.
Back to Hendrix.
After the conference wrapped up, I did some research on “Watchtower,” checking who tried to interpret Hendrix. I was incredibly embarrassed to learn the song did not come from his genius.
“All Along The Watchtower” is the work of Bob Dylan. He plays it at his concerts more than any other song. Dylan’s an idol of mine. “Embarrassed” is an understatement.
Now, the Dylan rendition is not better than Hendrix’s. It’s just different. And I never went looking for other versions of “Watchtower” because I was content with what I knew, with what I experienced.
Our worldview of music – like politics, faith, literature, people groups – is limited to what we experience. Not experiencing different perspectives means we sit, confidently, thinking Hendrix wrote a song he did not.
A few years before “Watchtower,” Dylan gave us “The Times They Are A-Changing.” There’s a line on this album I like. I think about it when I’m faced with different perspectives. It goes, “You’re right from your side, and I’m right from mine. We’re both just one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind.”
Meeting new people – with different stories, different experiences – that’s how we bridge the “thousand miles.” Try saying hi to someone new today.