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Archive for June, 2012

     The act of creating a path in our backyard forest has made me aware of how our backyard looks from a different perspective and how this new perspective welcomes me into this new creation at the same time my wife and I are uncovering what once was a spectacular array and arrangement of plants and shrubs and flowers amidst the trees of the backyard forest.

       This new perspective encourages me to ponder what story I might tell about this backyard forest through the eyes of a person who sees it afresh or maybe sees it for the first time, then tries to speak about what is seen, what is felt,  describing the images, the understandings, the meanings derived from the totality of this experience?

       Reading Acts of the Apostles 5:37-42, I begin wondering if this is what the apostles are doing by telling the gospel, telling the story of Jesus the Messiah so intentionally and unrelentingly. They are able to tell this story with such passion and energy because they are seeing God in action through a new understanding and a new imaging of God’s presence and God’s being in the world weaving around, among and within them in the person of Jesus the Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

        Jesus has created a new path through the forest of life and it is while the apostles are on this new path that they gain a new perspective and are able to see their faith, its rituals and the meaning of the ancient stories of God with God’s people afresh, perhaps even uncovering the beautiful array and arrangements of trees, shrubs and flowers of their faith garden that have been hidden beneath the institutionalized faith that is the accomadation of faith to a limited, fear based reality imposed by the oppressive Roman Empire. The hostility of those charged with maintaining the instutionalized faith towards the apostles is understandable, since those leaders are still seeing the world and God’s actions from the tried and true perspective of faith as they have known and experienced it. It is like comparing the original version of a song with a jazz interpretation of that same song. The orginal is so familiar one almost hears the notes before they are played and anticipate what has become the expected experience of the song and its meaning. However, when the jazz interpretation with its innovation and improvisation, is heard one doesn’t always know exactly what notes will be played, making it possible one will hear some new texture of tones, rhythm, and new meanings that are unfamiliar, unexpected, and perhaps even mysterious. It may be the same song, but it is experienced as a totally new song with new meanings and new insights calling for a response.

      Now, one might respond with hostility as the instutionalized faith did to the apostles and as the instutionalized church has in the 20th and 21st Centuries to the emerging communities of Christ and to the desire to change the liturgy, the music, the instruments, and the leadership roles by those Christians seeking a new perspective for comprehending God, or one might respond as the teacher Gamaliel has suggested by waiting to see if God’s is doing a “new thing.”  

     And, if Giod is really up to something new, the challenge for the people of God is to fully embrace God’s presence and God’s new way of being and live into that presence and Way, whichjust might be a path created in the world that links one portion of life with another portion of life in such a way that what appears separate is the one path of life with God, who is not distant and elusive, but who encompasses every aspect of one’s life and who is visible from any number of perspectives, though each perspective experiences God in such a way that another image and another way of comprehending God’s presence and God’s intentions for humanity and creation emerges and challenges Christians to move from the status quo of seemingly settled images and understandings of God and God’s intention for humanity and creation to a new vision for living and walking God’s one path of life.  

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I read an observation about jazz by Wynton Marsalis, “Jazz is not just, “Well man, this is what I feel like playing.” It’s a very structured thing that comes down from a tradition and requires a lot of thought and study.” i have been pondering this and the realization about the other aspect of jazz I read about “the complex history of jazz beginning with the blending of New Orleans ragtime piano, brass bands, African folk music and the blues and gospel, which was coupled with a social context of lament, praise and yearning and hope. As jazz matured it was the seed bed for swing, Latin and Afro-Cuban, bebop, fusion, rock, and “cool” jazz. It is played by soloists, duos, trios, ensembles, quartets and quintets, big bands, now even symphonies. This diversity sprouts a diversity of instrumentation and complex range of musicianship from self-taught to highly conservatory trained virtuosos. This may explain why Wynton Marsalis is acclaimed for jazz and for classical musicianship.” Jazz is vital and alive because it improvises and gives breath to innovation and improvisation which is exactly what I and other storytellers are doing.

Storytellers often innovate and improvise with stories they tell because every time a story is told by a storyteller it is changed by the tellers’ voice, change of emphasis on a word here or there and by the perspective of the storyteller. The story might be contemporary or it might be quite ancient, but the very act of telling the story will mean that the story takes on a slightly different nuance, different meaning because of how the storyteller tells it. Also, storytellers often study the structure and traditions of stories and storytelling, so they might improvise and innovate knowing why they are moving in the direction they are moving mindfully and attentive to the act of improvisation and innovation. They are not just showing up and saying, “I just feel like saying this story this way today.” or because they forgot most of the story they were going to tell.

Yet there is one more place of congruence for jazz musicians and storytellers because both jazz musicians and story tellers know that performance is contextual and must be contextual because it happens in a particular place at a particular time and before a particular people.

I believe, as I read Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles and the Gospels, that this is how the church matured as well. The church is jazz and storytelling with a rich tradition of story and liturgy and meaning and symbols, which if handed over to each generation becomes richer and deeper. The early church matured out of a tradition already rich and deep as part of the diversity of God’s people as the apostles and members of the early church improvised and innovated led by God through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit in each of the contexts of Jerusalem, Ethiopia, Greece, Roman city states and among people who had to learn something of the old tradition along with the improvisation and innovation before they too would eventually improvise and innovate. This is what congregations need to learn as part of the story- telling nature of being God’s people called Christians. They are to be more like jazz musicians and storytellers who learn the tradition and the structure by study and by practice, so they too might improvise and innovate within their context just as the early church did. I am convinced that Christians and whole congregations need to focus their energy, imagination, creativity and resources in becoming like jazz musicians and storytellers because I believe this is how congregational growth and transformation occurs as opposed to a formulaic plan based upon the principles of McDonaldization and industrial modernity or the latest quick fix product or fad sold to denominational hierarchies as “the silver bullet” that will solve all of their membership and relevancy woes.

Additionally, this is one of the steps along the path of congregational sustainability because it encourages the folks in the congregation to do what they are naturally capable of doing-telling stories.

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