In the liner notes to the best selling album of all time,
jazz pianist Bill Evans describes the challenge that jazz ensembles have when
performing a piece of music:
Group improvisation is a further
challenge. Aside from the weighty technical problem of collective coherent
thinking, there is the very human, even social need for sympathy from all
members to bend for the common result. This most difficult problem, I think, is
beautifully met and solved on this recording.
Kind of Blue is the gold standard for the word
“masterpiece.” Rarely do the planets line up to bring together such talent at
the heights of their careers quite like this recording.
The music’s uniqueness comes from the manner of
improvisation. Prior to this recording, jazz musicians kept their creativity
within the confines of chord progressions. Although there had already been new
ways of looking into jazz improvisation (e.g., Ornette Coleman), Miles Davis
introduced a way of improvising in what he called “modes” or modal
The effect of these constraints on these musicians, playing
at the height of their creative powers, produces a very chill and moody album
with as much emotion as can be felt from music.
Pianist for the session Bill Evans’ description then is a
beautiful metaphor for the ancient struggle of the one and the many. How can a
human being live as an individual, complete with all their uniqueness and
distinctives, and yet lay aside those particulars so that she can function in
Kind of Blue is a powerful metaphor for what is possible for
man to achieve when he lives, NOT as this generation would have us to live—without
constraint, but with the RIGHT constraints. The result is not suppression, but
“Do you want to get well?” This may have seemed like a silly question for Jesus to ask a person lying ill for 38 years. After all, the answer appears obvious. Who would choose to struggle against persistent sickness, when an offer of healing was available? Why watch others receive the soothing balm when you, in your own flesh, could be cured? Surely the man near the pool of Bethesda wanted what Jesus was offering—a life of restored physical health, or more simply, just to walk again.
In many ways, I can deeply relate to this first century story. Although physically well, I battle other chronic ills, more spiritual and emotional in nature. I ache for the friend who has turned away from God and I cry over the pain of unmet desires. I pray to God about desperate and seemingly desperate situations, but sometimes I don’t hear anything in return. I occasionally feel what C.S. Lewis described when he was swimming in the grief of his wife’s death. Hoping to find God in his own despair, Lewis found “a door slammed in [his] face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”1 This is hardly the response one hopes to get when all resources are depleted and the last Kleenex used.
Although I want to be like the determined widow of Luke 18, whose tireless quest for justice ends victoriously, I don’t always persist in my knocking. Of course I hope for circumstances to change, and for restoration to come, but then I recall how much time has passed and I grow faint. In those times, I turn to this story in John 5, and I marvel over the unending persistence of God. For when I am lying lifeless, God takes the initiative, approaches me, and asks me whether I want my ills to be made well. I don’t always receive the instantaneous healing that the lame man got. Sometimes I taste just enough balm to last the day. But this story reminds me that when I surrender my long-held afflictions to God, I can be assured that whether in this life or the next, I will hear the words, “take up your mat and walk.” For God is the healer who binds up the wounds of His people, even those that seem most difficult to cure.
1. Lewis, C.S. 1961. A Grief Observed. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, p.6
I recently read through the Psalms and was blown away. A few thoughts struck me. The Psalter includes every range of emotion imaginable: grief, joy, angst, triumph, etc. The songs were more historic, specific, and interactive than any other worship songs I am familiar with. God's people sang prayers for specific deliverance from specific enemies, and they praised God for historic acts of intervention. It seems to me that the Psalter has fewer songs about the general traits of God than we do. Also, they include liberal use of the first person. The Psalms are perfect, and their poetry is stunningly beautiful. I'd love to hear all 150 Psalms set to music. On that note, I'll close with a Psalm that my friend Eric Priest used in his awesome album Psalms and Hymns. Psalm 46:10-11:
Blogging is not the format for careful arguments and developed strategies. It's more for letting thoughts drop out of your head and seeing how God uses it all. But this is something I've thought about for quite some time, so here's hoping it comes out clear...and begins a conversation.
My ministry is marked by two poles of emphasis. First is a faith that Jesus Christ is indeed Lord and Savior of an invisible church, unhindered by worldly boundaries. My days with YoungLife, FOCUS, the Army Chaplaincy, and even now at the Center for Christian Study have been about finding ways to realize this secret and shadowy countryside where anyone who follows Jesus is a brother and a sister. Some cringe when I call this work 'ecumenical', but I still see it as an evangelical ecumenism, an apostolic catholicity. The church of which Christ is the Lord is one church, even if we can't see that from where we sit.
The second emphasis is a desire to see the visible church in our times have the greatest possible impact on the culture, the common way of life, of our nation and community. For a number of reasons, I believe this includes Christ's deployment of the old mainline. They may be tired, lapsed, sleeping or dead, but they still have that huge sanctuary on the corner of First and Main with a steeple whose shadow tickles the courthouse steps.
So then, Five Principles for Mainline Resurgence...
“How do I feel this good sober?” is a persistent question
in Pink’s pop hit, “Sober.” I’m drawn to the brutal honesty in this song that
portrays a woman struggling with addiction. She goes from feeling “safe up
high, nothing can touch me” to lamenting her continued dependence on her
substance of choice to feel good.Over
the past few months, I’ve listened to this song over and over, drawn to the
truth and cutting beauty of its words. It reminds me of the frightening power
of my own sin and addictions. We all
have them. For some it is drugs or alcohol. For others sex or pornography. But
for others perhaps it’s building the perfect career. Or having the perfect
family and home. However our idols
manifest themselves, they promise us everything yet in the end leave us with nothing.
The struggle in this song reminds me of Romans 7:15,
where the Apostle Paul admits “I do not
understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.”
The woman in Pink’s song repeatedly does the very thing she doesn’t want to do.
In her struggle, she vacillates from saying being high is “perfection” and the
feeling of “no pain,” to crying out “never again” and admitting that she’s “just
trying to find a friend.” In exasperation,
she says this is “not the way I want my story to end.”
Several years ago I visited the Rev. Jason Barr,
senior pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I saw firsthand what transition looks like after change has run its
When Barr arrived at Macedonia 15 years ago, the church used a pipe
organ and primarily sang anthems. When he introduced drums to worship,
a church officer removed them from the sanctuary. Barr brought the
drums back in and chained them to the floor.
Under his leadership one traditional service at Macedonia became
three contemporary services. A few hundred members mushroomed into
2,500. I always assumed the contemporary worship at Macedonia was
simply an expression of Barr’s theology or perhaps a sign of pragmatic
pastoral savvy. But recently, I heard Macedonia was planning to
reintroduce traditional worship to the congregation.
“ Oh God, you are my God, and I
will ever praise you!”A line from
the very popular song, “Step By Step” written by Rich Mullins and Beaker in
1991.This is a song that you are
probably very familiar with and maybe even tired of hearing if you are involved
in a church or familiar with church music at all.Being a musician, I have performed this song literally
hundreds of times.I have seen
audiences big and small stand and sing this song together with an excitement
and joy that goes much deeper than familiarity or popularity.It’s not likely that everyone in the
audience is a good singer (unless you’re at a Church of Christ service).J
It’s not even dependant on the performance being flawless, although this
helps.There is something about
singing that we resonate with and are drawn to.There is something about singing truth that brings hope and
joy regardless of your belief.
can say to you, “I believe my God
is real and I’m always going to praise Him.”Depending on my delivery, this statement will determine
whether or not you believe me or believe this truth.It will lead you to inquire more or go on about your merry
way.However if I sing this phrase
because I believe it, and maybe I don’t sing well but I sing boldly and I don’t
care if you believe me or not, that will impact you.You’ll most likely resonate on some level with this
statement even if you don’t agree with it; you’ll be drawn to the fact that it
is sung more so than just said.
as mentioned, when a group sings this song it resonates with me on an even
greater level.No matter if I am
performing or participating, hearing this statement sung is much more powerful
than hearing it spoken.I may not
feel like singing or performing this song for whatever reason, but when the
people on either side of me are singing we are reminding each other that it is
true.The prophet Zephaniah talks
about the Lord rejoicing over you with gladness and exulting
(reminding/encouraging) you with loud singing.This is a picture of Jesus not just standing before the Father
stating what He has done, but rather singing what He has done to know us.When I sing the truth that I claim to
believe whether alone or in community, it brings about hope and joy for my soul
that completes the truth that begins as mere information or knowledge and it
D-day is just around the corner. Forty some-odd days to go until life changes forever. A month and some change until my husband and I will get to welcome the little life whose DNA twists and twirls with parts of him and parts of me. I’m more excited than I am afraid. Perhaps I should be more afraid.
Welcome to Common Grounds Online. Readers of Common Grounds have suggested a website to continue the explorations they began in the book. In keeping with the interactions of Professor MacGregor, Brad, Lauren and Jarrod, the theme of this site is ‘learning and living the Christian story.’
I have invited friends, and a few friends of friends, to communicate aspects of the Christian story that have been significant in their own lives. We’re all trying to find joy and pleasure in this life and the next, but often we forfeit the joy that could be ours by living out foolish, competing scripts. What distinguishes Common Grounds Online Contributors is not our own goodness, achievement or service, but rather the recognition of our need of God’s grace abounding in our lives.