Last night I attended the Jazz at the Vespers service at Convergence and found myself settling some questions that could only have been settled there. As I sat with eyes closed allowing the music to wash over me and resonate in odd little chambers in my head and chest I realized again, that for me – this is worship. I suppose it comes down to an issue of language. Most worship experiences have a predominately word focused approach to entering into holy space. Even the music is chosen for its words or how its supports what is spoken by the officiant of the service. There is always an explanation in the native tongue of spoken word with the intent that everyone may enter in, participate, get it.
In full disclosure I will tell you that after many years of questioning and searching, a masters in theological studies and my own unshakable sense of God’s presence in the world I am a disciple of the Christ, a follower of “the Way,” a Christian, but I don't always get it. I understand it – the language of lecture and having things worked out and explained for me. Many times it is instructive and gives me lots to think about. Many times though I drift off into my own thoughts and prefer to go to the source and do the research for myself.
But, every time I sit in this jazz vespers service, I go there. My mind finally manages to clear of all the worry and thoughts of what needs to be done. The music shakes me up a bit and allows me to let go of distractions. When I need help I reflect on one of the images in the program or read a verse or quote over and over again to anchor me. And something about the combination of these things. Something about the unpredictability of the music brings me to full attention and awareness of God’s presence and the presence of others. I become convinced again of my responsibility to my fellow humans and even something so simple as “be kind” resonates clearly because I am intimately aware of God and sure that God is aware of me – of us. I’ll confess that before Convergence this rarely happened in church for me.
I say that not to condemn other churches or worship experiences, but rather to suggest that there are probably people who walk into a worship experience like the jazz vespers who don’t get that either – because it is a different language. I might not go where I go during that time if I didn’t have some understanding of jazz or art or know how to read a text slowly, savor it, break it down, for myself. I might not see the doorways into the worship experience. I might not understand that this is Christian worship. And that is ok; I’ve been where you are on many Sunday mornings in all kinds of denominational settings asking the same thing myself – How is this worship?” and Where is God really in all of this?
But, I was encouraged as a light bulb went off last night. I realized again that this very divide between languages is the impetus for this strange creature called Convergence. It is our task to build bridges, to teach each other new languages and to come together from different places and understandings and see what might happen in our world if we all got over what makes us misunderstand each other and instead trusted one another to bring who God created us to be fully into the mix.
There is so much hope for us all to get it. My training is theatre. I know next to nothing about jazz or visual art or even classical music. But, the little I have gleaned, just a few little keys into these worlds is what allows me to unlock those languages. The more I learn, the more I am rewarded by access to ways of speaking about, to, and hearing from God. I have never met an artist who didn’t love to talk about what they do and what it means to them. If you make it a habit to ask questions, pretty soon you’ll get it too.
Todd and I realize that we need to do more translating and bridge building and that will be a top priority this year. We want to be clear that the reason Convergence exists is because we believe that Christ instructs us to love all people, and to remember those not in the majority, not in power. And for us that means (among other things) a focus on the artist. But, last night I was reminded that the established church also needs to learn and be loved into understanding these languages. Just because someone doesn’t get it doesn’t mean Christ isn’t being worshiped. It may just mean that person is having an experience so many of us in the arts have experienced – a worship service that was conducted in a language other than our own. But, there are plenty of tutors around and we want to help everyone understand and speak it. In fact, your own worship experiences might be enhanced as well once you do.
Nuc includes this quote from Duke Ellington in the program for the jazz vespers: Love is supreme and unconditional; like is nice but limited. I think this is instructive for us as a church (for all churches). To like something or someone only goes as far as our preferences and our own limited understanding. But to love (especially to love as Christ loved) goes so much further and gives so much freedom. I am learning about these things from the musicians and visual artists and actors and photographers and dancers I serve and call friends. Their languages are beautiful and Oh! Does God ever speak those languages!