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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Play It Twice And Call It Jazz

"Play it twice and call it jazz" is an expression for how to make a wrong note sound like it was intentional. It's a joke that us non-jazzers find amusing because of our musical insecurities. It has been said of poetry and of music that you must know the rules before you can break them. The greatest poets sometimes use poor grammar, punctuation or speling. :) They bend the rules in order to create a beauty not possible within the confines of proper structure.

One of the problems with much of Christianity today is that we are too worried about playing a wrong note or misspelling a word. When we make rules that say Christians shouldn't watch R-rated movies, go to bars, drink alcohol, listen to "secular" music, or have tattoos, we are playing music in such a way as to be certain that we don't play a wrong note. We are sticking to the 3 chords that make up "Christian" music (ok, maybe it's 5, sometimes we get creative and throw in a 2 or a 6 chord but the 3 pretty much warms the bench.) Such a parallel between the simple state of Christian music and Christian living is perhaps telling.

This is not to say that simple music or simple living cannot be beautiful. To the contrary some, if not most, of the greatest works of art are the most simple (and there is some great "Christian" music.) Similarly, I have many friends who follow the Christian "rules" to a T and whose living writes a song of simple beauty before God. Many of us could learn a lesson or two about getting back to the basics. But forcing all musicians into the same mold is what makes cookie cutter CCM. Not only does it result in a plethora of bad art, but even what is truly beautiful only connects with those who like the same cookies. Similarly, if Christianity is to reach an increasingly diverse society, we must be willing to take the risk of using what the Apostle Paul calls Christian freedom in our living as well as our music.

This is not to suggest that we are to be governed by no rules at all. For the poet such an approach results in gibberish, for the musician in noise, and for the Christian in unholy living. As Paul says, we are not to use our freedom to indulge the sinful nature, but to serve one another in love. (Gal 5:13) But we must not be afraid of wrong notes. The simple truth of "Amazing Grace" reminds us that we get a second take. Moreover, it might not be wrong at all. It might be jazz.

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