Thursday, June 07, 2007

Faith Like Jazz

When two or three of my friends tell me, “You need to read this book, Lewis, I think you will like it…it sounds like you,” I eventually get a copy. The most recent recommendation was Donald Millers book, Blue Like Jazz.

Miller acknowledges on his website that he wrote this book when his career was going nowhere. He had nothing to lose and so he penned honest thoughts just about anything that popped into his head about God. When you have nothing to lose you can do that. Most Christian authors and speakers have to worry about what the Church or evangelical community thinks. If your irreverent or live more like a hippie from the 60’s rather than a buggy riding Mennonite you can take such risks. Miller, like C.S. Lewis who was also not a part of the established ministry, gets away with being honest because he doesn’t have to cover his backside less he offends religious establishment and loses his means of support. What makes his book successful is that (a) he’s writing about what other people are thinking but won’t share with their friends, (b) he takes potshots at the norm of evangelicals, i.e., support of Republicans, intolerance of gays and, (c) has a postmodern approach to faith, including lifestyle and doctrine.

Christianity, according to Miller, is like jazz. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to write a score for jazz. Classical music is structured with proper beat, synchronized melody and timing. Classical music is predictable math. Today’s Christianity is like classical music, precise, ordered, and predictable. Knowing God is a formula and when one follows the pattern it looks, smells and tastes right. In typical postmodern style, Miller argues that knowing God is not math and that having a relationship with Christ is as random as jazz. Depending on your preference, of music and theology, you’ll either love this book or hate it.

1 comment:

Dreamcatcher said...

As a classical musician, I disagree with Miller's assertion that classical music is simply "predictable math." Those who say such things show that they lack a personal understanding of what is really involved in the interpretive musical process.

Jazzers like to brag that no two performances of their music are alike...true enough. But the same can also be said of artically valid performances of classical music. Any classically-trained musican knows that each performance, whether by a soloist or an ensemble, contains various nuances of phrasing and tempi that depend on and happen in the moment. The issue is not that spontaneity is non-existent in classical performances, but that the detection and appreciation of spontaneity in classical music requires a background in the discipline, that is, one must be informed as to how to listen. This makes me wonder whether Donald Miller is, himself, a trained musician. If not, he should find a basis of comparison with which he has a more intimate knowledge, because things are not always as they seem on the surface.

Sound biblical faith combines both the objective (written Word) and the subjective (guidance of the Holy Spirit). Clearly, jazz is more subjective with some degree of objectivity (good jazz is not an "anything goes" or "totally random" art form) and classical music is more objective with some degree of subjectivity. In my mind, it would be a more accurate picture of faith to view both approaches as valid and valuable, being therefore complementary to one another rather than adversarial.

Classical musicians know that they can benefit from the study of improvisation and jazz, and jazzers know that they can benefit from a disciplined study of the classics. The balanced Christ-follower will embrace and celebrate both objectivity and subjectivity as necessary and essential to knowing God, keeping in mind that the subjective aspects of faith always need to be informed by the objective.