Search This Blog

Friday, February 17, 2012

Aging Jazzers Catching Up After All These Years.

A few weeks ago, a jazz bassist friend of mine sent me a message on Facebook saying he'd like to catch up. We'd not talked in at least three decades, and it wasn't because we'd had some weird falling out over music or bad behavior on either or both of our parts.

Over the years, my friend, Joe, has become a jazz musician of some prominence in the Free Jazz wing of the art form (also called creative music by insiders). He's lived and played in New York City for a long time. He told me much of his work now happened in Europe, and was about to leave for such a trip a few days after we talked. He's had the great fortune of playing with many luminaries in the Free Jazz world. Joe is a strong player of a challenging instrument; very creative with a distinctive musical voice, and a fearless heart when it comes to exploring sonic possibilities. He's a prolific composer as well. I was fortunate to play with him for the 2 years I did.

So we chatted about our current playing - where and with whom. Joe, was well-acquainted with the music scene in Northampton, as he'd been a part of the UMass Jazz Program in it's golden years. He told me about Cary, the guitar player we worked with in the the late 70's, in a joint project called Quartette, and that he was living and working in Chicago these days. I told him, John, the very talented vibraphonist and composer of the group, was living and working in Hartford. We also talked much of family. He's married and has kids who've blessed him with grand-kids. In that, our lives were similar. We talked as men who've been graced by how life has turned out, including the storms and struggles we'd weathered through on our differing journeys.

I was struck by the warmth and affection of our conversation after all these years. Not only had we had the shared experience of making creative music together, but we shared the experience of being fathers and grandfathers now in our "mature" years. Ours was a connection of shared values. We'd traveled some decades, faced many challenges, and could still relate at a heart level.

Joe has always been real, refreshingly so. he really is himself, take it or leave it (not arrogantly so). He has an authentic love for his work and the people he's given himself to. There's a certain simplicity to his ways, but underneath a depth and wisdom coming from life pursuing one's heart commitments, and paying the price to do what one loves and believes in. He's always been a humble man, gentle and approachable. The fierceness he expresses comes through his music.

Our phone conversation left me warmed and happy; old friends and creative explorers reconnecting after all these years. We went separate ways since our collaboration, but sharing music for the time we did marked both of us, leaving room for catching up as men should before they grow old - if you get what I mean.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Trusting: Learning to Follow Jesus Out On a Limb and Then Stay There.

I'm a born explorer by motivational design.

I'm at my most free when heading out toward the new, and "going beyond." where I've been. I've taken risks most of my adult life and failed at many of them. Then again, I've been able to establish some worthwhile Kingdom enterprises. Even at this "starting-to-be-long-in-the-tooth" age of 62, (but way young at heart and alive in spirit, I might add), there remains in me an indwelling, persisting drive to start a new thing: to open a fresh door, begin from scratch, and launch out into a wisp of a dream which intrigues like crazy, and promises a slice of alive life. Creating is a way of being to me - a chronic impulse toward discovery and birthing.

But, I've been made aware of late of how much, and to what length trusting God (read seeing my limits), is required in exploring and creating this vision through imagine in Northampton. And it's a peculiar perch of trust he's showing me.

It goes something like this: Jesus beckons subliminally, but persistently, "Come on up here and walk out on this high branch with me." I've no idea how flimsy is the limb he's inviting me to.  But I realize he's beckoning me to go right out to the tip of, what I'm sure, is feather-thin. It's gonna break. Fear-laced common sense indicates it's so. To even go out there at all, I have to trust because he's already there, he won't let it break or allow me to fall beyond repair.

To make matters worse, he says: "Stay here; live here; abide here; do imagine here."


In other words, "learn to trust me here where it mostly trembles and vibrates; the branch groans from the stress of its constant bending (and appears to me only a micron from the calamitous breaking point), and leaves you vulnerable." Put another way, "Will you abide in the palpable uncertainty of following me into, the Kingdom mission I've given, no matter the cost, inconvenience, strain, even suffering?"

Big question. Essential question for all who seek the Kingdom, and God's summons to manifest it in the real world.

I don't know about you, but over the years, I've also given a substantial amount of unabashed loyalty to safety and security, especially the kind which yields the plenteous comforts of the American-style leisure culture. They are powerful addictors, but ultimately soul-smothering killers of fire-hearted trust and courageous Christ-following . Easy does it as a way of life is no life at all. But the idea of actually embracing a life of Kingdom risk-taking, camping out on a limb without a safety-net, and betting the farm on God's timely provision in the mission is an order too tall for many if not most of us.

In truth, learning to head out on a limb after Jesus yields rich spiritual bounty in the growth of a resilient and tenacious faith. The deep trust formed by exercising such vigorous faith gradually becomes quietly determined, especially in threatening vicissitudes peppered throughout life. aith and trust to this degree has been "kiln-fired"  to a hardness shining and proving durable for the long haul.

Preferring to stay on the the limb with the Lord of Hosts is the happy result of being convinced this is the vaunted place called "life to the full" where the Kingdom action is, and where the most fruit for his glory can be yielded. On the other hand, settling for a comfortable Christian life of manageable religious routines and "the way it's always been," creates a kind of spiritual sleepwalking or living on autopilot: go to church, read your Bible and Christian books, listen to Christian music, attend a small group, put something in the plate, and volunteer, serve on a committee, and maybe even go on a Mission's trip. None of it bad, but where's the adversity, the "if you don't show up, Lord, it's all going down the tubes," reality, the "we're not giving up, Father, until you bless us with this family, this neighborhood, this city, these people, etc?

Just a glance at Jesus' life, the lives of his disciples, those who experienced Pentecost, the dispersion of the Church from Jerusalem, Paul's missional journeys, and the gradual spreading of the Gospel in Judea, Samaria and beyond reveals what daily life on the limb looks like. It is singled-hearted trust in the One who's called you to love God with all of you; love your neighbor (including the off-putting ones) as yourself, and as you are going, make disciples all the time.

I've found the more more we trust him, the further we'll head toward what and for whom God cares; not just with our free time, discretionary dollars and a little volunteering. Trusting him with everything precious to us and yielding our whole lives because of it, puts us out on the Kingdom limb where the power of God, and the faithfulness of God hold us up and keep us set to his tasks.

So, is your head down grinding out Monday's through Friday's so you really don't even notice the trees around you, especially the one where Jesus is perched on your limb and looking at you? Are you down on the ground staring up at him, and the limb he's calling you to? Are you half way up the trunk of the tree creeping toward the limb, standing on the notch, or actually abiding there, following him as he builds the Kingdom through you?

Which is it?