Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blue like Theology

The other night I was at a winery with Bethany's aunt and uncle. There was a jazz band playing and I felt the warm night air lazily coast over my skin. I took a sip of wine and listened to the music dance.

One of the things I love about jazz is the way the musicians interact with one another. They feel where the music is going and work their way along, each listening to the others as the music goes from dissonance to dissonance, sometimes reaching resolution, but not always.

We were down in Ohio seeing Bethany's grandmother, who is not doing well. Earlier that morning, I heard that my grandmother's health issues are also continuing. I knew our monthly vestry meeting was only a few days away, and while we are blessed in my parish by a wonderfully healthy and good vestry, any priest will likely tell you that vestry meetings are significant work.

All of these thought swirled through my head as the music played on. The emotions and stresses mixing as the guitar danced over the top of the base line. And yet, anytime my thoughts began to descend deeply into the ponderings of these past days, the music kept grabbing me, pulling me in, inventing me to slip between the chords and find something, something tenuous and hard to grasp.

I don't know what was there, beckoning me. But as I thought about the pain of watching those I love inexorably age, day by day... as my mind turned over the work ahead in my life as a priest... in the midst of all of this, the music would not be ignored.

There was a book that was quite popular in evangelical circles several years ago called Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. It came out in 2003, I heard the buzz, read some of the first few pages, and bought it. I only actually read the book through for the first time a couple of months ago.

I've never been terribly good at being hip.

But there's this great line at the very beginning,
I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing a saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes.

After that I liked jazz music.

Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way.

I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve. But that was before any of this happened.
I promise you, I did read the whole book, but I don't think anything else in that book came close to the poignant truth in those few paragraphs. Don't get me wrong, I still think it's a good book. It's just that those paragraphs have haunted my theological memory for the past several years since I first bought the book after having read them.

We spend so much of our lives aching for resolution. We want things to be whole and good and permanent. We don't want to lose people, for them so slip off the map of our lives. We want consistency to our daily life, not the constant up and down and change that is so often its actual shape. We want things to do more than just be, we want them to remain.

I wonder what it means to say that God doesn't resolve. I wonder if the beatific vision, if the theosis we are all undergoing, if it winds up leaving us in some place where we don't reach stasis, but instead, where we grow in love enough to finally embrace change and growth, to finally be content with no resolution just a continuing journey.

These are the sorts of thoughts that are easy to have when you're drinking good wine and listening to good jazz. They're much harder in the bright light of day when life surrounds you.

So I think I'll turn some jazz on. I want to hear what I heard that night, in between the notes and the chords, somewhere next to the dissonance of a diminished ninth, reaching out and inviting me. Maybe when the Holy Spirit isn't at church, she hangs out in jazz music, inviting people to love and live differently. If the Spirit is hanging out there, what words of wisdom might be spoken? What words of grace might I hear?

1 comment:

  1. Jared,
    This is a very moving article and I certainly related to it. You are so wise at an early age.
    Wish I knew all this earlier and perhaps I wouldn't have tried to resolve so much and just enjoyed the process and the journey. Oh well, it is never too late and I feel I am there at last!
    Barbara Grimm