When Jazz Mimics Life

Pastor Jim
Matthew 5:23-24

A curious fan asked the seasoned veteran piano player why he chose to make his career playing jazz.  The old pro looked up with busy eyebrows. “I don’t like crowds.” he said.

1) Be present, be aware

The performance of Jazz improvisation requires that the artist be fully present in his or her consciousness. Wayne Shorter expressed it well, saying that the music requires “total involvement . . . When you’re playing, the music is not just you and the horn – the music is the microphone, the chair, the door opening, the spotlight, something rattling. From soul to universe.”

Jesus said anyone angry with another who calls another idiot or fool. 

Just like playing jazz you have to be aware of yourself of what others are playing, if you’re going to advance the conversation. The more we pay attention the more we are.

What makes people our enemies? Are there aspects of yourself that you treat as enemy?

Why does Jesus make the nature of God akin to how we treat our enemies?

It’s hard to be aware of all the people whom you might have offended. Jesus called some hypocrites, and didn’t run after them apologizing.

But Jesus, I think, wants us to be aware of those relationships, where we hurt people, and not where we prodded to help them grow.

Jazz usually insists that even if you have a spat with someone you can make something beautiful together, that goes way beyond what you don’t understand about the other. In creating something new together, players give to the music what in a strange way is bigger and more satisfying than any one person getting their own way.

2) Music is Healing

It keeps the lonely company, consoles the broken-hearted. It speaks possibilities of hope and grace and presents us with the keys to the secret doors within us all. And all of this is possible without the utterance of a single lyric other than that of music itself.  If it is true, then introducing a lyric in music can serve to invite us to dream ourselves awake.

Then maybe we can awaken to leaving our gift at the altar. First go and reconcile with your brother or sister. Maybe, maybe God is in the relationships. What if God resided in our relationships first. If you called someone stupid or idiot you were saying you know more than you do about that person. The word in Hebrew means more than fool, it suggests that you know everything there is to know about the person and you have decided that there is no way you will ever have a relationship with them. In other words, your knowledge about the other suggests that you are God. Jesus says you can never know another that way.

So often when I say fool or stupid that enemy is reminding me about things I haven’t accepted in myself. The arrogant part in me that I don’t like when I see it in you then you instantly become someone I don’t like because your presence reminds me of that part within me that I have not accepted or dealt with.

So what if loving the enemy, not all enemies, but many becomes a key to accepting part of me that I have difficulty with. What if loving the enemy is a way to becoming connected inside or being made whole. Go to the relationship to find Jesus in the relationship, and then sniff out God.

As Simone Weil put it, “one cannot wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is the truth. If one turns aside from him to go towards the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.”

3) Improvisation

A single mother at home with a sick child, who has to go to work that day has to improvise.

A student trying to grasp how you apply a theorem in geometry to a bunch of shapes has to stop and see and sometimes improvise, into a new way of seeing.

Two people going out on their first date have to improvise. He realizes that he left his wallet at home. So instead of a movie he suggests a river walk, improvising on the way. We in these times and these days have to improvise at work, at home, at school.

You older adults have to improvise as perhaps you have to adjust in new ways to changing circumstances.

Improvisation is also important because it is a way for people to bind themselves together in a cohesive whole. It is a way of communicating that goes beyond words. Improvisation allows musicians to play. I don’t mean play their instruments. I mean play with music. You get to try new ideas and new techniques and see what you like and what you’d rather change. Playfulness helps musician get into a free space inside them, where it is easy to connect to others and to the world in a spiritual way. We all from time to time have to improvise.

Go to the person whom you have hurt and improvise an apology.

thought I was angry with you, but then realized that something about you triggered something in me that I hate. So now is the chance to become whole by loving the idiot who is me.

Kurt Elling says, “if you listen, and build on what everyone else is doing -- I don’t know how to explain it, but some kind of magic happens.”

Jazz is a form that creates a space for improvisation to happen. It is about giving space to others and supporting them. Everyone has their role in holding the space, but the roles get moved around from person to person, instrument to instrument, on an as-needed basis. To give space is a part of being a parent were we have to give our kids space, to grow up, and not smother that maturation.

Back in Genesis 1 where we catch the metaphors of God creating the world, we glimpse this wonderful dance of closeness, intimacy and letting be. God breaths into us and names us intimacy then let’s us be. It’s different for every parent with each child, but we all have to do that dance. Not smother them, yet not abandon them. Different ages demand differing dynamics, but good parents figure out that balance between closeness and letting be.

In a way, you have been playing it all your life. Improvisation is like a conversation where everyone listens to each other, and tries to build on each other’s points. Specifically, the improviser is dealing with chord progressions as abstract patterns through which she weaves her melodic ideas.  He is sort of breathing his way through waters of various colors. 

The great jazz trumpeter Winston Marsalis was top of the bill one night at a famous club in New York City. He was playing “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You” and reached a dramatic moment in his conclusion.
At that moment a cell phone started ringing in the auditorium. The audience and trumpeter paused in a moment of anxious tension as the caller scuttled out into the lobby. Then Marsalis began first to play, then to improvise on the cell phone’s ringtone. Over the next few minutes he resolved the improvisation and arrived back at the moment where he had left off, at the closing bars “with you.”

Jazz can tell us that when we mess up, however badly, God doesn’t give up on us. God can take the very worst things of our lives and turn them into the very best. That is what forgiveness is all about. Our worst mistakes can be taken up into the Christian story; God can make something out of them.

A good jazz musician (or any musician, for that matter) knows that if you make a hash of something, you don’t fret over the hash, but you try to weave it into the texture and make something of it. A supreme demonstration of that is seen in God’s work in Christ—in the cross and resurrection, the very worst situation becomes the very best.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

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