This morning, I was greeted by little encouragement from The Jazz Theologian (Robert Gelinas). I dropped by his site, wished I could go to Finding the Groove Live!, and settled for reading some excerpts from his new book.
The back of the book says, “A jazz-shaped faith … balances freedom with boundaries, the individual with the group, and traditions with the pursuit of what might be. I have discovered in jazz a way of thinking, living, communicating—a way of being … a groove.”
Man, I need that groove.
Community is hard. Worship communities are hard. Online communities can feel downright impossible sometimes. In The Different Drum, M. Scott Peck described four stages of authentic community way back in the 1980s before everyone was talking about authentic this and that.
- Real community
Groups always begin in pseudo-community, when people “cover up their differences, by acting as if the differences do not exist.” This is what I’ve been doing at church for far too long. We drive up, take a deep breath, then I lock away all the parts of myself that will cause trouble so I can keep a smile on my face while I worship.
Only my heart was so guarded I didn’t have any room for worship at all. Like Pink Floyd, I was becoming “comfortably numb” and somehow thinking that was better for the community. Instead, I was being fundamentally dishonest with myself and my church. In trying to keep the peace, I locked them out, relegated them to a pseudo-community, and prevented real connection from forming.
Of course, I’m overstating things a bit. But it doesn’t feel like an overstatement to say we’ve moved into the next stage of community at our church, and it’s painful. Peck calls it chaos “when the people in the community realize that differences cannot simply be ignored.” It is characterized by conflict and power struggles and people “giving vent to their mutual disagreements and differences.” Individualism and disorder reign. To go back to Gelinas the Jazz Theologian, we’re asserting our individual freedoms, but we’re doing it way out of tune with the community. The result is a kind of blind and dischordant Bicycle Built for 2000.
And people start leaving, maybe because they prefer a more polished pseudo-community. Maybe they don’t have faith that this song can ever sound better. Maybe they’ve decided they want to sing a different song.
But I love singing with these people. And I’m tired of treating my church like a franchise. I’m not a baptist. I’m a Christian. I don’t go to a Baptist church because they make better hamburgers than the Presybertians or the Methodists or the Lutherans or McDonalds. I go there because they are my community.
Franchises and denominations can quickly descend into manufactured pseudo-communities. And I’m tired of it. I’m tired of chaos too. I’m ready for emptiness, I guess. I’m ready to come clean, even if I don’t always know how to do that. I’m ready for a groove.
In the beginning of Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz Shaped Faith, Robert Gelinas writes,
A jazz-shaped faith is worth pursuing because it balances freedom with boundaries, the individual with the group, and traditions with the pursuit of what might be. I have discovered in jazz a way of thinking, living, communicating—a way of being… a groove. Not a rut, but rather a set of factors that converge, creating a place to settle in and space to be.
Jazz is not the solution to all of the flaws of our faith. Rather it is a way for you and me to experience the gospel—the coming of the kingdom of God—in spite of and because of our deficiencies. The revolutionary movement of Jesus crosses racial, cultural, socioeconomic, denominational, and generational divides, and in the midst of our “franchise” approach to life and faith there is a crying need for something old and new, fresh and yet not novel—something that allows for our weaknesses and strengths…
What if there was a way for Christians to live with the tensions of our faith and to embrace their beauty?
Now, watch Robert’s super cool video when you get a chance. Pure poetry.
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