In praise of mystic Christian Joanne: “I recognized that our seminaries could teach us how to think and even how to apply the truths of Scriptures to certain situations, but our seminaries did not have the ability nor the capacity to teach their young ministers how to feel. Only the Prompt of the Spirit could provide that.” — James H. Hill, Jr.

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Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, and the Blues that Bellows to the Pews: The Necessity for Jazz Homiletics

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PeGmnydAXcc

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FvdxEyx8mU

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https://curtisnarimatsu.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/musica-amore-so-whos-lovin-you-baby-in-praise-of-smokey-robinsons-53-yr-old-classic-as-sung-by-none-other-than-our-salt-of-the-earth-lifes-most-enthralling-vocalists-ahsan/

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http://onetheology.com/2013/01/14/michael-jackson-miles-davis-and-the-blues-that-bellows-to-the-pews-the-necessity-for-jazz-homiletics/

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People ask me how I make music. I tell them I just step into it. It’s like stepping into a river and joining the flow. Every moment in the river has its song.”Michael Jackson

I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later. Miles Davis

It’s really no big secret that I’ve been a die-hard Michael Jackson fan since I was three years old. The first album I ever purchased was Michael Jackson’s Dangerous (well, to be honest, my mother purchased it, seeing as how I was only 3 at the time, but I was definitely there!) I remember watching Moonwalker as a child until the video cassette combusted.Before I entered Kindergarten, I could recite all of the Thriller lyrics from memory. I was a bonified fan!

To be honest, I can’t tell you exactly what drew me initially to Michael. Obviously, I could say it was his gravity-defying dance moves, but that would be misleading. I could say that it was his rich tenor, but I was only three and I don’t think vocal range, in and of itself, is potent enough to captivate the imagination of a toddler. In all honesty, if I had to propose a theory, I would simply have to conclude that it was him. Michael Jackson is what drew me to Michael Jackson. It was not one particular element of his repetoir that magnetized my senses but, rather, it was the soul that emanated from the core of his being that drew me into the electrifying vortex of his earth-shattering performances. Like millions upon millions of admirers around the world, I would watch Michael Jackson perfomances with a silent acknowledgment  that I was, in fact, beholding something wholly other. Simply put, flesh and blood did not teach Michael to do what Michael Jackson did time and time again on stages and short film sets (I know Michael hated the term Music Video, hence the phrase “Short Film“) across the world. Michael had been endowed with a gift from somewhere. He possessed that enigmatic element found within certain individuals that can only be classified as soul.

As I grew older and matured in my musical taste, I sought to branch out from my first loves, Hip-Hop and R&B, and began to experiment with different genres, namely Alternative Rock, Folk, and Jazz. Though I found a few Alt. Rock bands that earned a second listen and I grew to truly admire songwriters such as Tracy Chapman and Bob Dylan, I soon realized that I found a home within the smooth melodic terrain known to the outside world as jazz. It was just something about the arrangement of the keys and the melodic freedom that encapsulated every note that transferred me to another realm of reality; A reality much cooler than the one I felt encumbered and ensnared within. Artists such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Pride, Thelonious Monk, and John Coltrane were just that to me, artists! They painted vivid sound portraits with their instruments that had the power to soothe the soul into an ethereal state of tranquility or enliven the soul to view the world not as it was, but as the music said it could be. Jazz, to me, became the heartsong of the malcontent, the melody of the misunderstood, and the moan of the marginalized. Jazz spoke a language that broke through every strata of segregation and oblitered all lines of hostility. It united people through the groove. The boogie made us all one.

Though there were many titans of the groove that kept me in a perpetual state of awe, there was no one like Miles Davis. The first time I heard My Funny Valentine , I began to feel as if I was eavesdropping on angels contemplating the meaning of love aloud in the great celestial council. I knew, immediately, that no trumpet instructor taught Miles that. Miles felt that. Every single, solitary note that  cascaded from his bronze trumpet was enveloped in feeling and encapsulated in transcendant longing. I didn’t necessarily want to be Miles Davis. I just wanted to feel what he felt. I wanted to know the world in the same manner he harmonized the fragil sentiments of life. The music of Miles Davis  compelled me to recognize the validity of divinity. I know that it is said that we are not essentially different than the rest of the animal kingdom, but as far as I saw it, ain’t no llamas work the trumpet like Miles and Charles Darwin never heard  My Funny Valentine.

Now, it was around this same period of my life (I believe I was 18 or so), that I was radically saved by grace into the marvelous Kingdom of God. I remember being in a church service, a simple church service at that. There was no large, grand worship team equipped with electric guitars, neon strobe lights, and the all-important fog emanating from the conspicuous fog machine. No. I was arrested by the message of the gospel. Though I had been, for the most part, raised in church my whole life, there was something different about this message. Though I now realize that it was the Holy Spirit beckoning me unto salvation, I felt as if every word emanating from the mouth of the minister was an emblazoned arrow shot straight into the core of my being. I knew that I was lost. I knew that I was desperately in pursuit of meaning, hope, and love. I knew that the university did not provide the answers for my troubled soul through their theories and hollow formulas. I knew that my family could not provide the answer for my mental vexation and self-loathing, due to their own wayward cycle of instability. I knew then, what I really had known all along; that it was only the transcendant, yet immanent love of a sovereign and benevloent God that could free me from the chords of misery and loose me from the shackles of self-initiated enslavement. Jesus was born to visibly manifest the character and nature of the invisible God so that wretched orphans such as myself could find the love, security, and acceptance we so desperately longed for.  I knew that the cross was for me. I knew that Jesus loved me. I knew that I rejected him. knew that I needed to be saved. Further more, I knew that I wanted nothing more than to proclaim this beautiful and transformative Gospel that liberated me and set me free for the remainder of my life.

So, seeing as how I was replete with evangelistic zeal and consumed by a gnawing burden to learn all I could about this wonderful, redeeming Savior, I enrolled into Bible College and embarked on my quest to become a well-rounded, fire-breathing, scholastically astute minister of the full gospel.  I went there with my ambition. I went their with my burdens. I went there with my Michael Jackson and Miles Davis albums.

WIthin two years, I was swiftly climbing the ranks of evangelical academia and earning quite a name for myself. Professors complimented my sharp mind and my desire to probe beyond the established paradigms and contours of the academy. Students were drawn to my desire to seek  truth, even if that meant questioning some of the established practices and traditions held sacred within the four walls of our beloved university. But all the while, there was a deep disastifaction that was cutting away at my spirit.

It seemed that the schools that I attended did not put a high premium on what I would classify as jazz homelitics. Don’t get me wrong. I loved learning how to apply the laws of hermeneutics to the exegetical process. I loved being able to break down the different caveats of systematic theology and how it was necessary for me, as a minister of the gospel, to possess a mature view of God’s revealed attributes and characteristics in relation to his creation.

But I still had a problem. Being an avid lover of music, I knew at an early age that the musical notes, in and of themselves, could not generate the spirit that drove many of my favorite pieces. I knew that a man could know every note on his chord sheet, be able to hit the right pitch on every vocal note, but if he didn’t have soul, he might as well just stay at home!

I recognized that our seminaries could teach us how to think and even how to apply the truths of Scriptures to certain situations, but our seminaries did not have the ability nor the capacity to teach their young ministers how to feel. Only the Spirit could provide that.

What saddens me, as I walk up and down the corridors of intelligensia, is how many of my peers and comrades make cariacatures out of African-American preachers due to their passionate gesticulations, high-pitch exhorations, and cadence-ladened closing remarks. They critique their incomplete hermeneutic and lambast their sermonic presentation as being filled with “pomp and euphoria” and devoid of anything good, noble, or noteworthy.

In order to answer these critiques and indicting remarks, I feel it necessary to ask two questions of my own. Where does soul music originate and why is it that Black Americans are widely noted to hold a monopoly on soul music? Is it possible that soul music is nothing more than an offshoot of Negro Spirituals, which, in essence, was the lamentation of the slaves? Could it be, that the reason why this music is identified with the African-American race is that their style of song emanates from the dregs of degradation and their harmonic intonations were cultivated within the cesspool of antebellum enslavement? Could it be, that out of the bondage of enslavement, God bestowed the battered race with a gift that would bless the nations? The black song emanates from the black experience which, at the root, is a painful experience.

With that being said, when we understand the homiletic approach of the African-American preacher within the context of the African-American experience as a whole, can it still be caricaturized? If we idolize Black singers who are able to sing from their pain, should we not see it as jewel from above when we hear a Black preacher exhort from his?

Now, the subject matter of this particular piece is the necessity for a Jazz approach to the art of homiletics. What exactly do I mean by this? Does this only refer to the African-American preacher? Am I insenuating that the pastor of European descendent or the pastor of Latin descendent should preach like he’s an African-American if he wants to fully “tap into all that God has for him?” Surely not! Far from it! I’ve seen enough African-American minsters  commit that offense by trying to impress the Anglo evangelical majority by preaching in a way that will tickle ears yet deny heritage. I, in no way, form, or fashion, desire to  see the same atrocious grievance committed by my comrades of different hues.

However, Jazz homiletics is not relegated to a certain race or demographic any more than musical soul is relegated to the black race. John Mayer has more soul thanmany Black guitarists. No, Jazz homiletics is a term that simply refers to the man or woman of God speaking from their soul. Jazz homiletics means that the expositor feel the text. It is vital that we study to show ourselves approved and use all of the tools the Lord has placed at our proverbial fingertips but, in all honesty, sometimes you have to grab that pulpit, tilt your head back, close your eyes, and “preach that thang.”

I think a lot of people languish away in our churches and city streets, not because the gospel isn’t being preached per se or because we don’t have enough programs. I contend that many people waste away into spiritual comas because far too many pastors and leaders are getting up and speaking without soul!

Preaching with soul doesn’t necessarily mean shouting, hooping, hollering, sweating, or finding odd words to rhyme in the middle of your sermon. No! Preaching with soul means that you feel the text and you would give your last breath in order for your congregation feel it too! D.A. Carson can equip you with the tools to properly identify exegetical fallacies, but he cannot give you the fire needed to compel the single mother in the fifth row that, despite her fears and circumstances, God is able! Only the Spirit can give you that! Soul anything is a gift from God! Don’t bypass it! The pews cannot be revived until the pulpit is first revived. Just as Motown had the globe “dancin’ in the streets” in the 60′s, I believe that a deep understanding of Jazz homiletics is the key to getting many of our churches and our communities to see the power and authority that exists within the thongs of Yahweh’s Kingdom.

Michael Jackson’s rhythmic dancing captivated the hearts of a generation. Miles Davis’ musical silloquies created an entire genre of musical possiblity. But neither Michael or Miles walked on water. Neither man healed the lame, gave sight to the blind, or raised the dead. Neither man was crucified out of a loving commitment to the plan of God for the human race. Neither man was raised to life by God and is seated in a place of supreme exaltation. Neither man was Jesus.  However we, as believers, contend that Jesus’ Spirit indwells each and every one of us. If that is true, and His Spirit is, indeed, sealed within every believer and pastor alike, why is it so difficult to locate His soul?

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20 Responses to In praise of mystic Christian Joanne: “I recognized that our seminaries could teach us how to think and even how to apply the truths of Scriptures to certain situations, but our seminaries did not have the ability nor the capacity to teach their young ministers how to feel. Only the Prompt of the Spirit could provide that.” — James H. Hill, Jr.

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