A Jazz-Shaped Faith 

Jazz motifs emerge. It is from the discordant that we might hope for creative resolution, or at least innovative progressions, and this seems a lot like redemption. And much of it is worked out playing off and with those willing. If you're one, please sit in for awhile. I hope for kind and creative interactions around meaningful topics of mutual interest. As in jazz, maybe together we can create something greater than ourselves.”     georgewbaum@gmail.com

My interest in faith and jazz has led me of recent times to read (and listen) to those who have found help in weaving the two -Robert Gelinas, Wynton Marsalis, and John Coltrane – into a jazz-shaped faith.

 Jazz is a combination of traditional melodies & chord progressions along with improvisational creativity; it is an individual discipline forged within a communal interaction – between the musicians and between the group and its audience.

 So it is with Christian faith: it is a combination of tradition and innovation; it involves individual practices (spiritual disciplines) forged within communal interaction – between church members, and between the church and the world.

 “I’ve found you’ve got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.”John Coltrane

The Ensemble (Assembled Community): Practice Assumed

 “Are you a practicing Christian?” In jazz music it is assumed that you know your instrument, have memorized the basic songs/standards (faith stories & essential beliefs), and have practiced (individual spiritual disciplines).

 Mastery or perfection is not expected, but a basic understanding of the essential grooves and riffs (beliefs and practices) is needed and expected when we jam together (in our gatherings and missions).

 “My creed for art in general is that it should enrich the soul; it should teach spirituality by showing a person a portion of himself that he would not discover otherwise . . . a part of yourself you never knew existed.” Bill Evans, Jazz pianist

 Examples of Practiced Christians

Stephen - In Acts 7, the early church faced a problem: widows were being neglected in daily provisions. The leaders’ solution: “we need a group of practicing Christians (deacons),  full of the Spirit and wisdom – turn the responsibility over to them.” (thus freeing the Apostles to play their gig). Stephen was one of this ensemble.

The Story (tune): Stephen was arrested by an angry mob, falsely accused, dragged into court. He was given a chance to explain himself (“take a ride”).

 Stephen, in the face of pressure, on the verge of execution, gives everyone a history lesson about God’s redemptive work on earth through the centuries – culminating in Jesus – all from memory. This is a practiced, proficient Christian.

And Jesus gave him a standing ovation.

 Mary - In Luke 1, Mary received news from a messenger she was going to give birth to the Messiah. She immediately interpreted this tune in light of her community – past, present, and future. In true jazz form, she composed an improvisational tune called “The Magnificat”.

If you compare it to Hannah’s song in I Samuel 2, it becomes obvious she is improvising. She searched her memory for another woman who’d been in a similar situation. Hanna’s story was a familiar tune. Drawing on the past, Mary added her own voice to an ancient song and poured out her heart.

 She had obviously been practicing (Scripture reflection, traditions of faith, prayer)

Not bad for a teenage girl.

 Church in Rehearsal

I think the church has been created as a safe place to practice – a rehearsal studio. We are preparing and practicing for now- and for eternity. Worship is a weekly dress rehearsal for worshipping God in eternity. Scriptures & Prayer & Journaling (among many disciplines) are how we practice. And together we serve: “In the love of truth and in the Spirit of  Jesus we unite in the worship of God and in the service of people.”

In Church (hangin’ out & jammin’), we practice & perform our Christian faith. We are part of an informal educational system that instills the basics and allows for experimentation.

 We create casual apprenticeships: drummers hang out with drummers, as do horn players, and keyboardists:  We learn from each other and enjoy the fellowship. Veterans and novices share together; we hold jam sessions where talk  about the nuts & bolts of faith) and practice (using our gifts & callings) take place, along with struggles & hopes shared. We need each other to do faith.

 Time in the Woodshed

We all need to do our own practice (woodshedding): time spent playing scales, learning chords, training fingers (and souls). Any skill requires that we spend the necessary time working on the fundamentals: worship, scriptures, prayer, service, etc.

Jesus modeled the woodshed for his apprentices: up early, solitary place, praying, sometimes all night, pondering scriptures, washing feet, loving God & people.

 "[Jazz] is triumphant music. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sound of the earth which flow through his instrument."  Martin Luther King

 God, the Original Jazz Ensemble. Father, Son, & Spirit are holding an eternal jam session that all of us are invited to join. Abraham, Hanna, Mary, Paul, Augustine, Francis, , Kagawa  and Mother Theresa all joined in long ago. Now it’s our turn.

 Life in concert with God and one another – ultimately that is what we are practicing for.

 “Nothing is out of the question for me. I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up in the morning and see the light…Then I’m grateful.”Miles Davis