God’s Jazz Ensemble

You know, God is so big, He can fit so many different analogies of how to think about Him. Each church has its own understanding that helps it relate to God in a meaningful way, which is beautiful. The beauty fades slightly when we let that get in the way of working together in expanding the Kingdom, but that’s another issue for another day.

I enjoy music greatly. I have been steeped in it since before I was born. My mother loves opera, classical, broadway and classic rock – which may seem weird, but those who know my mother understand that this fits perfectly. My father, on the other hand, can appreciate those, but also enjoys bluegrass, Southern gospel, and indie folk rock. So, to be fair, my musical tastes were doomed from the start. Over the years I have developed my own tastes to include things as disparate as jazz, power metal, Celtic folk, some hip hop, and electronic dance music. But today, let’s talk about Jazz.

Jazz is a truly American art form, born and developed from humble roots and made famous the world over by talented musicians whose names are still known fifty and sixty years later. Jazz takes so many different forms today from the original New Orleans sound, big band swing, cool, bebop, and many more.

I bring up Jazz, because I think God works with us more like a Jazz ensemble than an orchestra. Often, I hear people talk about God’s relationship with us being like a composer who has written out every part precisely, and then conducts the music, giving cues and cut offs. But what if God was more like a band leader in a jazz ensemble?

What if God is one of the players making the music alongside of us? Think about it. Jazz ensembles work because each player is listening to the others. If one begins to evolve the melody, the others respond and develop that changing melody. Notes that sound out of tune at first are suddenly brought into the music by a skilled group, and those “wrong notes” become a part of the texture of the music. I’m not sure what instrument God would be playing though. Maybe He’s a drummer, keeping the rhythm going, never ceasing in its ability to drive the music forward, or pull it back when necessary. Maybe He’s a bassist, laying down the foundation for the rest of the musicians, able to react on a moment’s notice. Maybe he’s a trumpet, or saxophone, transforming a simple melody in something that soars or adding harmony and filling out what the other musicians are creating.

Regardless, jazz works on a few principles. Every note can be used, these “off” notes are often called “blue notes”, and as long as the group accepts that the note happened, it can become part of the piece, changing it and giving it new meaning. Our mistakes seem to work like this. Sure, sin isn’t ideal, neither is playing out of key, but when we accept what has happened, those experiences can help us be more forgiving, grace-filled, and able to accept others for who they are rather than what they’ve done or their lifestyle.

Jazz is known by its syncopation – the off beat. Start stomping your foot in a steady rhythm. Once you’ve got that, snap or clap in the silent space between foot stomps. That’s the off beat. It was surprising when first used, stirring up an excitement that music hadn’t seen in a while. Syncopation pushes us to begin to anticipate the unexpected, where God meets us. We keep a regular rhythm of going to church and our prayer time, but God prefers to work in those in-between spaces. Consider that most of the great men and women of faith in the Bible were not called in what would be considered a holy place or time, but God’s presence transformed the mundane into something grand.

Lastly, Jazz is known for improvisation. This isn’t just “making stuff up.” Improvisation usually involves taking something that has been played already and changing it, interacting with it to draw something new out of it. The whole band is in on it, not just the soloist. I like to think of God as a great improvisational player, transforming the bad into good, drawing something new out of what has gone wrong. Consider Joseph. Each time he hit rock bottom in his story, the phrase, “And God was with Joseph,” appears. God took the sour notes of sin, lies, and betrayal and, to Joseph, unexpectedly transforms them into a new melody that includes forgiveness, redemption, reconciliation, and salvation.

Regardless of how you best understand God according to your reading of the Bible, take some time to think about your relationship with Him and with His relationship to the church and the world. It’s not something to take for granted that the King of the universe does actually love and care for you and has a plan for restoring the world.

If you’re interested in this whole “jazz theology” thing, check out Robert Gelinas’ Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith.

Photo Credit: Jas Messengers01.JPG via Wikimedia Commons

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