In addition to the rest and reconnecting that take place on my vacations, there often seems to be a mini-sabbatical theme to these trips, too. Currently I'm working my way through Jeremy Begbie's most excellent: Resounding Truth: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music. We first encountered Begbie at an IAM conference in NYC (International Arts Movement under the guidance of visual artist Mako Fujimura) and were blown away. He is an accomplished classical pianist and theologian who has worked extensively in the UK on ways of helping congregations reclaim their commitment to beauty and justice through the arts.
So one summer I read my way through his works in addition to devouring the guide to doing theology with the arts in local congregations written by his UK proteges, Hilary Brand and Adrienne Chaplin: Art and Soul: Signposts for Christians in the Arts. This, of course, led to another summer vacation/sabbatical given over to studying contemporary visual art in the context of Christian theology and included the works of Tillich and Barth along with the new wave of Evangelical writers that includes Mako, William Dryness, Lauren Winner, Barbara Nicolosi, Andy Crouch, Nicholas Wolterstorff and David O. Taylor. I was equally intrigued by Patrick Sherry's, Spirit and Beauty, as well as Richard Viladeseau's, Theological Aesthetics: God in Imagination, Beauty, and Art and the historical surveys in Wilson Yates' Arts, Theology and the Church.
For the past two years my focus has been centered on both jazz and contemporary Islam as we were engaged in a peace-making tour that culminated in Istanbul, Turkey. And now, after letting the post-Turkey year sink in, I seem to be looking for a way to better understand and embrace what might be loosely called an emerging spirituality of jazz. (I've posted a few thoughts on this theme already both to focus my thinking as well as get my sermon ready for the first week I'm home after our vacation.) Already I've discovered that there is way too much fuzzy thinking and sentimentality on this theme taking place all over the Internet than seems helpful.
And while I sometimes slip into my own sentimental rambling on music a la Schleirmacher - his commitment to searching out the link between music and religious feeling intrigues me even when I confess that this quest is a slippery slope - I think the insights of Barth and Bonhoeffer are more useful. Barth, for example, in his essay on Mozart suggests that music like faith is a gift from God - totally undeserved - and beyond our control: all we can do is respond to the gift with joy and share it reverently with the world. Bonhoeffer, as you might expect, pushed the edge with his observation that music is an expression of grace - a way to give it shape and form - that simultaneously evokes joy and teaches discipleship born of freedom.
Well, you can see where this is headed and more reflection necessary. And that's another part of this vacation: we'll be mostly wandering around the Montreal Jazz Festival and listening to the sounds of grace being shared all over the place. We'll take in some sweet sounds in Ottawa, too as one of our favorite indie bands, Lake Street Jump, is part of their local festival.
The out-going Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, once asked: "What is the world that art takes for granted? It is one in which perception is always incomplete..." I think this speaks profoundly to jazz so I am looking forward to walking around a bit with this question and seeing how the sounds, prayers, people, study and surprises in the music inform my thinking. An old hymn puts it like this:
For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind's delight,
For the mystic harmony,
Linking sense to sound and sight:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
This our hymn of grateful praise.
And now... it is time to get the oil changed: Que l'Esprit jouer du jazz!\
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