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Jazz Gospel

April 4, 2011 1 comment

Jazz Ensemble (Photo used by permission viz Creative Commons by JanetandPhil)

When reading through the Gospels, I sometimes hear a jazz ensemble in the background. Matthew lays down a steady beat with a cool tune exploring an expected birth that still comes as surprise. Luke joins the sweet sounds with a variation on a theme and adds to the surprise with another birth that comes unexpectedly. But then some minor chords from the song of Herod’s rampage break in with discordant strains that threaten the melody line.

During Epiphany, we focus on the great melody that surprises, delights, and fills with the wonder of God become man. This song seems to fully flower on Transfiguration Sunday, sending light beams of peace and love in all directions. During Lent, we pay more attention to those minor chords, playing a tune with a threat of discordance.

If you listen to those discordant sounds, the hints keep reappearing. Immediately after the baptism, the Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness to face the tempter. Think about that for a moment. The Spirit comes down and the Father speaks, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Right after this moment of glorious authentication of Jesus’ life and ministry, the same Holy Spirit drives him into the threat of the evil one.

Those minor key’s in Herod song resound in the Satan. Or rather, we discover the true singer of discordant songs, the evil one. His song works against the theme, attempting to question, challenge, unravel the glorious melody at every point. After Transfiguration, the discordance becomes more pronounced.

In fact, the stories have a bit of an edge. Think of the debates between Jesus and the Pharisees in John. Instead of the sweet miracle stories, we hear fighting words back and forth, back and forth. The dialogues are almost irritating, unsettling.

As the music moves toward Golgotha, the melody is virtually lost in the dissonance. The sounds sound more like noise. Voices shout. Mobs growl. Fists raise. The form falls. The song dies. Discord rules.

But then, suddenly the major chord kicks ups in full brilliance and the melody overwhelms with complete resolve. All we can do is cheer.

As we focus on the minor scales of Lent, life may seem to be playing the same troubling song. Discordant sounds encircle. Our world may reverberate like the chaos of crisis resounding from the evil one.

People hurting. The world in confusion. Problems with no answers.

Stop a moment and listen.

Listen.

Beneath the roaring cacophonies, a sweet melody still plays. It keeps playing and playing, steady unyielding, upholding, moving toward complete resolution.

If you’ll listen, you’ll hear echoes of a Choir surrounding the Risen One.

We’re waiting in hope for the great resolution. Though tarries, we don’t fear. We don’t lose heart.

We wait and listen.

Really listen.

This tune’s got a great beat and you can dance to it.

Categories: Lent, Music

Rhythms of Love

August 6, 2010 5 comments

Photo by Filhi bahthi photography via Creative Commons

I’m sitting in a coffee shop, reading, thinking…sitting. Music is n the background. “Celebrate Good Times” begins to play. And suddenly the celebration breaks into my world, my reading, thinking, sitting. My head starts nodding. Soon my shoulders join in. The sounds that were outside me seem to be reverberating from inside me, and my body is moving to the rhythm. Looking around I notice other people responding, moving, smiling. We exchange glances. In a room of strangers, the rhythm visibly connects us for few brief moments.

I’ve had experiences like this in stores, parks, churches and living rooms. The rhythm breaks in upon us and suddenly the room, the people are connected and moving to an unseen current. Music fascinates me, moves me, breaks in upon me. It comes from outside me through a speaker, a guitar, a drum, a singer. But soon it is inside me at the same time. My body, my mind, my emotions all respond, all echo back the rhythm. Somehow I’m connected, caught up in the rhythm.

And oddly, it lingers inside long after the music has stopped playing. The sounds, the words, the feel continues to resound within me. Though I speak about myself, I believe I’m describing an experience that is real for most of us. One moment we’re sitting alone and the next moment we’re caught up in an ocean of sounds that moves us, fills us, connects us.

Not all songs move us in the same ways. Hearing different songs can stir different feelings and different thoughts. For some strange reason, I used to force myself to listen to all sorts of music as some kind of imagined training. In college, I’d sit in the music lounge for hours soaking in all sorts of sounds. I’d join Columbia House Music Club again and again and again. I also joined the “Classical Heritage Society” and the “Jazz Heritage Society.” I’d listen to music I loved and oddly enough music I hated.

I remember picking up John Coltrane’s “Sun Ship” as yet another attempt at my musical education. I never figured it out. There were a few shining moments, but most of the time, I was immersed in chaos. I couldn’t hear one dominant rhythm. Instead, I felt caught up in a swirl of chaos. The music was disorienting.

It made me think of being caught up in the currents of a raucous ocean. Once my dad and I decided to “catch some big waves” by swimming at Myrtle Beach in the middle of an electrical storm. My mom was screaming and pacing up and down the shore while my dad and I were laughing and waving. It was fun but also disorienting. The currents above and below the surface pulled, pushed and turned us all around. When we finally decided to get out of the water, we had a hard time. The undercurrent resisted our every step.

I can only imagine the stress, confusion and disorientation of being caught in a storm at sea. With no land in sight, with no instruments of orientation, it’s easy to see how one could be truly lost of sea. I understand that pilots can experience a similar disorientation in the air. Without reference to his instruments, a pilot may literally not know which way is up. It is now believed that John F. Kennedy Jr.’s lethal crash into the sea in 1999 was a result of spatial disorientation. He thought he was flying up and flew straight into the water.

The currents of air and water and sound waves can propel us forward but also disorient us. We could be going forward; we could be going backward. We may lose our sense of direction.

We are immersed in a world of currents and rhythms. From the beating of our own heart to the fury of storm winds to the pounding of rain, we live in all kinds of rhythms and forces that impact us both inwardly and outwardly. There are also rhythms or currents of ideas, emotions, memories, and symbols that move through culture. The force of these rhythms are just as powerful as the physical force of ocean currents that move above and below the surface.

We cannot step outside of the rhythms of our world. We are all born at a time and place. We are born immersed in families and towns and eras with specific rhythms and struggles and currents. If I am born into a world where slavery is the norm, it will be very difficult for me to resist or act or think outside this force. If I am born into a land at war, I may have no memory of peace and find it difficult to even understand peace. If I am born into a family where divorce is the norm, I may repeat the pattern in my own life or never even marry.

Like the watery chaos of Psalm 46, all of us know the chaos of a world of conflicting ideas and emotions, of undercurrents that impact our dreams and our actions. The music of Scripture breaks into this world of competing currents with a strange alien rhythm. Sometimes when people first read the Bible, it might seem a bit disorienting. It should be. In fact, if it’s never disorienting we may not be paying close enough attention. The Word of the Lord breaks into our world as a challenge to the false rhythms of idolatry and oppression that reverberate on our planet.

In ancient Egypt, we discover the Hebrews trapped in a world of enslavement, oppression, and manipulation. The Word of the Lord breaks into this world as an alien rhythm, challenging the power structures and the whole conception of reality. After leading these nameless, powerless slaves into freedom, the LORD calls these people, His people and He gives them His rhythms that are rooted in love to God and love to man.

In Psalm 1, we hear a song inviting us to meditate or groan aloud these rhythms of love and worship and respect and honor. These rhythms directly challenge the constant rhythms in the counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners, the seat of scoffers. The world of the wicked, sinners and scoffers is built in resistance to the love of God and is rooted in self-preservation. It always leads to oppression and devastation. As the Psalmist sings, he reminds us that currents of the wicked produce a crop of chaff, of nothingness.

Like the disappearing world in “The Neverending Story,” the Psalmist realizes the end result of wickedness. Not some kind of naughty pleasure, but rather to destruction of all relationships, of all meaning, of all hope, of all beauty. The end result is absurd nothingness that blows away in the wind. There is only one sound powerful enough to withstand the gale force of oppression and emptiness: it is Torah, the Law of the Lord. The Psalmist proclaims that those who dwell, live, abide in this Law of Love will bear fruit in all seasons.

Yet even as I’m caught up the wondrous promise of the Psalmist, I am aware of my own duplicity. There are times when I speak words of love and life and encouragement. There are times when the rhythms of love seem to resonate in my every fibre. And yet, I know the fruit of selfishness. I hear James speaking directly to me when he cries out, “From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.” I am not the man who lives in Torah day and night. I am the man who aspires to live in Torah but knows the way of hatred and anger and mockery all too well.

Isaiah says that the Lord looks for one true man, but found no one.

The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there
was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him. (Is 59:15-16)

He enters into our watery grave of idolatry. He entered into the alien rhythms of all world in complete resistance to love, a world that cannot build without breaking, cannot speak without cursing, cannot embrace with killing. Jesus, the Son of God, comes as the one true man. He steps into this world of complete disorientation where no one knows how to step forward and everyone stumbles in the dark. He comes as the true light. In His light, in His path, in His words, we behold the true and genuine rhythms of love. He is the God-Man from Psalms 1 who dwells and lives and acts in Holy Love. He enfleshes Torah, he embodies truth, He reveals the Father. He reveals Love between the Son and the Father. In His Life, His Death and His Resurrection He sets in motion reverberations of life that continue resounding and will eventually stop every false rhythm–even death.

So we turn to Him. We behold Him. We cry out to Him, “Lord have mercy.” It is then that we realize, He has embraced us and His song is beating in our heart. Yes, we are still learning His song, but we are no longer adrift in a sea of chaos. The music of the heavens is pulsing through us. Ours heads, our hands and our feet are beginning to dance.

Jeremy Begbie suggests that music itself is not hope but it is a dynamic of hope because it is sweeping us forward. In Christ, we are caught up in a true dynamic of hope. We are joined together in a song of love the will not fail but will overcome every false rhythm and conquer every lying word.

Bob Dylan – Series of Dreams

October 11, 2008 2 comments

While my wife delivers a late night training session, I sit here in the hospital lobby listening to Bob Dylan’s recent release Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol 8. After listening to most of the album, I get stuck on the song Series of Dreams.

I can’t move on but listen over and over and over. When songs like this impact me, I am always asking myself, “Why?” Not sure I can explain, but here are thoughts echoing through my head. The rhythm is relentless forcefully driving the melody forward. The lyrics and the melody are repetitive, interacting with the dramatic tension of the drums to arrest my attention–much like some of the surf songs in the mid-60s. With minor variations in the melody at the end, Dylan brings a limited resolve to the tension, but it is incomplete.

For me, this tension highlights the spoken/sung lyrics that paint a series of pictures about unresolved tension within dreams. In these dreams, “time and tempo fly” as the dreamer is left running, climbing, and witnessing troubled scenes.

“And there’s no exit in any direction, ‘cept the one you can’t see with you eyes.”

In the middle of the song, Dylan offers this one line of transcendent hope. And I am reminded that in the middle of this life of struggle and doubt and fear and pain, hope may be the one real thing penetrating the illusions that so often pervade my thoughts. Oddly enough, as I’ve been listening to this tune over and over, I’ve also been reading St. Paul’s discussion of Abraham’s hope beyond hope.

The future was hopeless. Yet Abraham persisted in trusting the promise of God’s goodness. In this hope that endures the dark nightmares of failure, the future shines out with the surprise of love.

It’s All Over Now Baby Blue

August 27, 2008 Leave a comment

While I’m working on business KPIs and online marketing, I listen to the Grateful Dead belt out Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue.”

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

I feel a bit foolish as tears fill my eyes and a deep ache fills my heart because something, someone “calls for me.”I don’t always understand what makes me cry so easily. One minute I in the midst of promotions and products and schedules, and the next moment, I’ve slipped over into a thin place.

This joyful pain seems out of place in the cold light of fluorescent rows, staring down on endless cubicles of people pounding out metrics on laptop machines. And yet, the voice still calls.

Beneath our engines of enterprise and above our monuments of marketing, the still small voice is wooing, drawing and stirring us to love. Maybe the match I strike does not burn up this material world around me. Maybe instead I leave the cold, relation-less sterility of business behind, and remember once again that I am a lover and called to love and embody love in the midst of every place–whether lush green valley or a cynderblock room of cubicles.

Categories: love, Music Tags: , ,

Emusic Wants Your Poor, Your Tired, Your Huddled Cell Phones

May 22, 2008 Leave a comment

Don’t throw out your discarded Cell Phones and MP3 players. EMusic is offering cash, paypal and even charitable donation options. That charitable idea is great, and I’m glad they’re offering it!

Anybody who offers Larry Norman downloads is already rocking in my book!

Losing Touch with Old Loves and Old Friends

March 22, 2008 2 comments

Lucinda captures a certain grief in the fading of old relationships with her song “Out of Touch.”

Once in awhile we might pass on the street
We nod we smile and we shuffle our feet
Making small talk standing face to face
Hands in our pockets cause we feel so out of place

This simple song reveals the uncomfortable feelings of relationships that have lost the reciprocity of life. No more shared stories, no more share love, no more shared pain. There is a fading past but no hope of a shared future. Lucinda describes minor details of a meeting between two people who once knew each other to magnify the sense of loss.

Our paths may cross again in some crowded bar
We feel a little lost cause we’ve drifted away so far
Hoping to find the right words to say
We joke a little and then go on our way

The uncomfortable laughter covers our loss. Without the living memories of shared life there simply isn’t much to say. And so,

We speak in past tense and talk about the weather
Half broken sentences we try to piece together

Even the pain of physical death and suicide becomes simply information submerged beneath this cry out into the emptiness of lost love.

I ask about an old friend that we both used to know
You said you heard he took his life about five years ago

As she utters the final lines, I feel the ache of loss inside. I am made aware of friends that I once dreamed beside who have become simply another person in another car going to another place.

We may pass each other on the interstate
We honk and cross over to the other lane
Everybody’s going somewhere everybody’s inside
Hundreds of cars hundreds of private lives
We are so out of touch yeah

And as I grieve the lost relationships from yesterday, I ache for restoration and world where love never fades.

Categories: friendship, love, Music

Car Wheels On A Gravel Road

March 20, 2008 2 comments

car-wheels.jpg

If you want to listen to the heart and soul of country music, give a listen to Car Wheels on a Gravel Road by Lucinda Williams. True to her namesake, Hank Williams, Lucinda captures the pure essence of country music: human grief and joy reaching out for some sense of transcendence through ballads rooted in people and places.

Forget the radio and take a listen to Lucinda.

Categories: Music

Redemption Songs

March 14, 2008 Leave a comment

Bob Marley sings:

Wont you help to sing
These songs of freedom? –
cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.

If you listen to Marley, Dizzy Gilespie, Stevie Wonder or a host of other musicians, you’ll get the sense that song is at the heart of everything. They may not be so far off. Both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien envision the Creator calling all things into being through a song. The Bible reveals this as a Creation song (six days of creating, one day of rest). The song can be broken down six separate stanzas with a Sabbath bridge, or two sets of three (three days forming, three days filling, one day of rest/celebration).

But we live out of sync with this creation song. Instead of forming, filling and celebrating, we tear, break apart and criticize. Our choices and actions reveal chaotic dissonance that hurts ourselves, the people around us and the creation. Celebration turns into lamentation.

In the Silmarillion , Tolkien reveals this dissonant strain that threatens to unravel the stunning harmony of the creation song. Enter Bob Marley and the redemption song. The Bible reveals YHWH singing a new song after Adam’s calamity in the garden: the redemption song. I’m still trying to think through the structure of the song, but at a high level the song is about death, burial, and resurrection. YHWH sings an incarnational song where He enters into the suffering that echoes through humanity’s dissonant strains.

Bringing the dissonant strains of suffering into Himself, He heals the breach and ushers in new creation. Both the creation song and redemption song reverberate through all creation. particularly in the human heart. The redemption song tunes the whole human person to the glory of the creation song.* But the redemption song doesn’t stop. Both songs move from counterpoint to resolution, revealing a stunning polyphony.

So keep singing Bob and Dizzy and Coltrane. By YHWH’s grace, the Holy Spirit will “stir us up” and reveal the glory and wonder of these two loving songs in us, in our relationships, and in all creation.

*I remember some of the Christians Celt speaking of spiritual formation as the tuning the five-stringed human instrument (taste, touch, sight, hearing, smell) to the song of God’s glory.

Larry Norman 4/8/1947 – 2/24/08

February 26, 2008 1 comment

I first stumbled across Larry Norman‘s “In Another Land” LP in the early 1980s, and I played it over and over and over. Those songs made an indelible imprint upon me and the way I think. I rapidly snatched up all the Larry Norman music I could find. During the last month, I’ve been listening to his music over and over again.

Today in the age of mp3s, there is so much music abounding everywhere, I rarely have the same experience with music becoming deeply ingrained in my memories like they did back then.

I am grateful to Larry and the music he produced and pray blessings upon him and his family.

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Categories: Music
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