Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Review of "The Jazz Theologian"

What does jazz have to do with Christian existence? Can one find deep themes in jazz that resonate with the Christian explanation of reality and which inspire the Christian life?

Last night (March 31) I friend and I attended a performance at The Soiled Dove Underground of "The Jazz Theologian," an evening of oral vignettes, musical performance, and some projected images and words. This is the brain child of Robert Gelinas, pastor of Colorado Community Church and a graduate of Denver Seminary, who has written a unique and rewarding book called, Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith (Zondervan, 2009).

The evening opened with several numbers by a large band called House of Soul. While it features an impressive horn section, the style was less jazz than it was soul and some gospel. The ensemble was tight and enjoyed themselves tremendously. Following this Pastor Gelinas spoke briefly but winsomely several times on key features of jazz and how they harmonize with Christianity:

1. Syncopation accents the off beat and produces swing. God is concerned with those overlooked by others and acts in surprising ways.

2. Improvisation allows one to be creative within a pattern. God has revealed his "song" but we can improvise within the chord changes. (I jazzed this one up a bit, in the spirit of the evening.)

3. Call and response means that we respond to God's initiative. He calls us to love him and live in and through Jesus Christ.

4. Jazz groups are ensembles in which the many function as one without the members losing their unique identity. Christian are united in Christ, but can express their individuality in harmony with others as part of the Body of Christ.

Robert also emphasized that jazz in rooted in the blues. The blues teaches us to embrace our pain until we smile. Jesus embraced the ultimate pain on the Cross and turned into redemption. This lesson was illustrated by the tragic but aesthetically rich life of Billie Holiday. A convincing rendition of "Strange Fruit" was performed with slides of lynched black men (whose faces were tastefully not shown). This may have been the most powerful part of the evening pedagogically.

The most impressive musical performance may have been Part I of Coltrane's "A Love Supreme," where the tenor saxophonist (the multi-instrumentalist, Chris Lang) gave an inspired interpretation while the bass drums and electric piano stayed far in the background. Robert's brief discussion of Coltrane spiritual quest was well done. His book mentions that Trane was not a Christian--something left out this evening.

The evening ended with about another half hour with House of Soul. I had to leave early, but the event certainly deserved a standing ovation. If you were there, please post something.

This performance covered the first three chapters of Finding the Grove. There will be five other performances (two each month) covering the rest of the book. It was a marvelously creative and innovative way of relating jazz and the Christian worldview and way of life. It wasn't forced, nor was it trite. Neither was the Christian message overwhelmed by the discussion of and performance of the music. I hope to attend the rest in his inspiring series.

Visit Robert's web page: Reflections of a Jazz Theologian.


Anonymous said...

While I've had some exposure to the world of Jazz, it is still a very new and foreign country. I found this performance very helpful not only in understanding some of the basic elements of Jazz, but in seeing with new eyes the truth of the Gospel and the goodness of God. I would highly recommend it to any that have the slightest interest in Jazz or wish to increase their appreciation for the art.

Craig Blomberg said...

Let's see, "Finding the Grove" would be what Mormons like to do when they visit Palmyra, New York. Robert's book is "Finding the Groove." Don't you just love it when I find typos? As we used to say in another life, "groovy, man, groovy"! :)

Doug Groothuis said...

Thanks, Craig; you always catch them.

Lisa said...

So I’m curious, Dr. G;
Could that have been a Freudian slip, and you secretly keep a best of the Dooby Brothers CD in your closet and you were thinking of “China Grove”?