Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Saturate Groups | A Jazz-Shaped Faith: How "Talkin' 'Trane" & Tension Can Lead Us to Transformation w/ Robert Gelinas

Tension created one of the greatest albums of all time, A Love Supreme, in which John Coltrane faces his inability and simultaneously shows us that we can use tension to lead us to places with God we never would have gone if all of the tension were to be resolved. + Robert Gelinas

To strengthen Emmaus City's City Group participants to gather and go together in new missional communities to love each other and our city, we are jumping into Saturate groups this fall that will go through the Saturate Field Guide for the next 2+ months. Here are two previous posts in relation to this journey:

Saturate Groups | We Can't Do It Alone: Why We Commit to Practice-Based Transformational Communities  
Saturate Groups | Multiply: A Creative, Consciuous, and Beautiful Disciplemaker's Privilege and Joy

Eight weeks is a long commitment – and this is a lot of new material with a lot of soul searching in a concentrated amount of time – but Saturate Groups' journeys, both individually and communally, can also be a bit fun when we let down our defenses and look for Spirit-fueled surprises in unexpected moments along the way. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship is famous for the title, but in his introduction he writes, “ ... Discipleship means joy. ... ”

... If we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer these questions we shall have to go to Him, for only He knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow Him, knows the journey's end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy. ... 

Along with the Saturate Field Guide and Natasha Sistrunk Robinson providing wisdom along this journey with Emmaus City, I also discovered a powerful story yesterday from the life of world-renowned jazz musician, John Coltrane, that has helped me. In African-American author and pastor Robert Gelinas' book, Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith, he shares about a pivotal moment in the musician's life that has helped me understand how to live into moments of tension with more humility, patience, and creativity, trusting that God can use the desert and dark times with Him and others in community on mission to reveal more creativity and resurrecting life that might have been missed otherwise.

Talkin' 'Trane: Intentional Discipleship Can Help Us Live in the Creative Tensions of Our Faith and Be Transformed in the Process

To talk 'Trane is to recognize not only John Coltrane's musical talent but his soul; see both the tension that his deep struggles with substance abuse brought to his life and the divine deliverance that came his way; understand how his spiritual seeking and music making were interconnected; listen not only to what he played but why he played the way he did; lament the fact that we in our own lives don't allow God's overtures to truly transform us.

Musically, Coltrane was a genius and trendsetter. Practicing hours a day, he developed an unprecedented speed that awed all who heard. But why? What drove him to play the way he did? What pushed him to play scales at such ear-boggling, manic speed? By doing so, Coltrane was on the cusp of changing the way jazz was played by removing the melody line as the core of the song and making sure that each artist in the ensemble had the opportunity  and the time  to do their thing. But that's only part of the story. Though Coltrane was reared in his grandfather's church, alcohol and drugs became a part of his young adult life. Playing gigs in nightclubs gave Coltrane ready access to these substances. Gradually, his addictions became his deities, and he eventually moved in with his mother, playing less and abusing more. The many substances in his system produced much of the frenzy that he displayed on his instrument.

The year 1957 is the key to understanding Coltrane's paradoxical life. During that year he had an experience that was his defining moment as a man and a musician. It would change the very way he stood before a crowd, played a song, and approached life itself. We must first understand this profound experience in order to appreciate his music and  even more so  to see what jazz-shaped contribution he might make to our faith. Simply put, it was in 1957 that John Coltrane said he heard the sound of God.

One day, with the support of his wife and mother he sought the sanctuary of his room and began praying, seeking God's help to withstand the pain of the withdrawals. The presence of God and water sustained him. Four days later, he emerged a changed man, for – according to him  God had met him in a most unusual way. It was a sound, a droning resonance, a reverberation, unlike anything he had ever heard. To truly "hear" Coltrane we must know what happened to him in that room. "It was so beautiful," he told his wife as he hopelessly tried to reproduce it on a piano. This sound transformed Coltrane into the "Soul Trane" and launched a search that would last for the rest of his life.

Talkin' 'Trane: Intentional Discipleship Can Help Us Be at Our Weakest and Somehow Become Our Strongest

After that year, the titles of Coltrane's songs began to make divine references that hinted at his spiritual seeking. The main difference, however, was in the speed at which he played. He still possessed the skills to play with the quickness for which he was renowned, but his reason for playing changed so that he became more methodical and measured. He would stand before audiences and solo for thirty minutes or more  slowly ...  searching ... listening for the sound of God as he performed. He came to believe that if he could play that sound for others, then they, too, could experience what he had experienced during those four days in his bedroom. 

What was 'Trane doing? He was hunting that magnificent murmor, that melody, that met him when he was at his weakest and yet somehow becoming his strongest. He deeply desired for the sound of God to play through him as a witness to his audiences. When you listen to Coltrane's music, the question is not "Do you like what he is playing?" but "Can you hear why he is playing?"

He never found the sound again. That's jazz ... searching ... yearning ... unresolved tension.

I am captivated by Coltrane's knowledge of the sound and his inability to find it again because what it produced in this man's life I've felt in my own life: tension – more specifically, creative tension.

The curious paradox of this musician's life is that he searched for something he knew existed, and yet he couldn't find it again, despite his remarkable talent. The contradiction of this man is that with his saxophone, he made sounds that crowds applauded, but he couldn't produce the one sound he was trying to play. Even so, this tension produced one of the greatest albums of all time, A Love Supreme, in which Coltrane faces his inability and simultaneously shows us that we can use tension to lead us to places with God we never would have gone if all of the tension were to be resolved. 

+ Robert Gelinas, Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith

The Sound of God: Welcoming Tension from God Can Help Us Grow with Others in Transformational Communities

A Missional Community Example: Life on Life: Coltrane lived in the craze of alcohol and drugs seemingly enhancing his music, but destroying his life. So he became vulnerable with his wife and his mother, returned to his mother's house, and engaged the tension of detoxing in his old room with God (and with his family praying for him those four days).

In life with Jesus and the people He has brought close to us, we can be free to be vulnerable, too, knowing that we need change. Sure, on our own, life might seem easier, faster, and more exciting for a time, just like Coltrane's substance-fueled earlier years seemed to be, but when we slow down with others and peel back the layers, we have the opportunity to encounter God while we rest and wait to receive from Him and from others.

A Missional Community Example: Life in Community: After the experience Coltrane had with God, his story tells us that he said to his wife, "It was so beautiful." And even while he tried to reproduce the sound on piano with her and couldn't, he invited more people into searching for the beauty that had been revealed to him.

He didn't lose his talent in this journey with others, but it was changed, and the music he played with his band was reflective of his longing and his search. He wrote and played A Love Supreme with them, inviting them into his yearning, allowing them to complement his playing with their talents and sounds, and preparing to share it audiences that were waiting to hear from him. Even in the midst of a lack of repetition of that sound he heard in his bedroom during those four days, God helped Coltrane produce with others in community many other sounds that would dramatically impact them and people throughout generations ahead (For example, just check out the link to the full album of A Love Supreme on YouTube, and the first comment is "This album helped me survive a Dark Night of the Soul. Thank you John Coltrane and band.")

Sometimes the testing, trying, longing, and searching for what God wants with others in community, even when it seems like it's not found, can produce something through Christ which may provide a greater impact than we could think or imagine.

A Missional Community Example: Life on Mission: "The question is not 'Do you like what he is playing?' but 'Can you hear why he is playing?'" Those two questions could not only be about Coltrane and A Love Supreme, but also questions that we can ask ourselves with others about God in the moments of silence and tension and longing when we are joining Jesus in His work to love those He sends our City Groups to. 

The searching, yearning, and unresolved tension that Coltrane engaged every time he played A Love Supreme for others invited himself and all present into a beauty that crowds of people couldn't help but applaud even as Coltrane's own efforts couldn't replicate the exact sound he looking for. This tension drove him to keep playing before God with others, and God led him and others to places they never would have gone if all of the tension had been resolved. 

This can be the same for us when we join with Jesus and others to share His Good News in words and actions. It might not look exactly like we want it to. It might not sound exactly like we want it to. There may be more tension than we had planned for or hoped. But if we keep moving forward with Him and others, if we keep our journey open before God and others as we walk, work, play, and rest with them along the way, God will grow our faith as we step into the tension. And what we receive in those strange, dark, desert moments may produce something more needed and more wonderful in the end than what we hoped to accomplish in the beginning. And in the process and in the finale, we will have joined in the soundtrack of The Story of God, the melody and harmony of which all great compositions are tapping into, ultimately bringing forth the sound of God that rings, "For God so loved you and the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have abundant, everlasting life now and forever."

Please pray with me that Jesus will use this saturated time together with the Saturate Field Guide to make us creative disciples:

+ who participate in this 2-month Saturate plan to shape Kingdom visions sustained by transformational communities, 
who push through the tension with God and others,
+ who become sent disciplemakers with City Groups who go with Jesus to love and serve people in our city.

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