I will also be quick to say that I don't totally get jazz. I know there are a lot of interesting things going on in jazz that trained musicians can pick up on and dissect. Some jazz gets really experimental and ... unique. That's not the jazz I love.
Instead, I love the Miles David/John Coltrane style of jazz. The kind of jazz you imagine in a smoky bar with a three- or four-piece group providing the background to conversations between people in fedoras and boas. (Which is where I've heard some of the best jazz in my life.)
What I love about jazz is the improvisation. I love listening to the way the band will take a riff and play around with it for several measures, trying different things each time. Or the way one of the instruments will go on a solo, pouring out sounds that are more like emotions than notes while the others maintain a regular rhythm to hold her/him on a path. In jazz there is both creativity and freedom, and there is a kind of restraint because all the parts are working together toward a common goal.
I love jazz.
I also love Jesus. And I think following Jesus should be a lot like jazz.
When I was growing up, a lot of Christian teaching made me think there was a specific way to follow Jesus. There was a set of rules to follow and a certain way to act and dress and if you followed all of them, you were Christian. If you didn't, well, thanks for playing.
In my music analogy, it would be like saying, "To follow Jesus, you need to play the piano and play 'Moonlight Sonata' perfectly."
But I think that's too narrow a view. Especially today. Life rarely follows a neat, clear path where every action has a predictable reaction. And every person in the church doesn't have the same gifts or passions or reasons for being in church. Instead, I think living a life of faith is like playing jazz music.
You have a group (church or fellow Christians) who have different instruments (talents) and you're all working together to make a beautiful piece of music (bring God's life to earth). But you're also improvising, repeating common themes (love, forgiveness, mercy) in different ways to create new sounds and ideas. The members are doing their own thing, but working together, being creative and free, but following certain patterns that are familiar to all participants.
This is much more like faith as I've experienced it than "Here's a piece of music. Memorize it." It's also what the church needs to be today.
We are in a time when technology and globalism are changing things constantly. We are in a time where we live with many differences in generations, ethnicity, gender identity, and more, even within one neighborhood.
In order to adapt, to love everyone, we need to improvise. We need to play around with familiar riffs in new ways. We need to work with the other members of the band to avoid chaos. We need to have a sense of playfulness and imagination, following the path of grace and love, but creating something new on the way.
This is why the church has been so different over the ages in a variety of cultures and eras, but still grounded in the same truths.
Faith is like jazz. Follow along.
From the Gray,
"Oh my life will be here waiting for you, my love, to find your way back home to me." -Sophie Milman, "Back Home to Me"