The Apostle Paul and Jazz

Wynton Marsalis, internationally renowned jazz and classical musician, writes movingly about two aspects of jazz he discovered early in his career.  First, jazz teaches you to express your uniqueness.  “Through jazz, we learn that people are never all one way.  Each musician has strengths and weaknesses.  We enjoy hearing musicians struggle with their parts, and if we go one step further and learn to accept the strong and weak parts of people around us and of ourselves, life comes at us much more easily.”

Second, jazz teaches you to work willingly with others.  “Jazz also reminds you that you can work things out with other people.  It’s hard, but it can be done.  When a group of people try to invent something together, there’s bound to be a lot of conflict.  Jazz urges you to accept the decisions of others.  Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow—but you can’t give up, no matter what.  …  The aim of every performance is to make something out of whatever happens—to make something together and be together.”

Reading that, I thought immediately of Paul’s words in I Corinthians 12 about spiritual gifts, about unity and diversity in the body of Christ. In the first eleven verses of that chapter, Paul describes the variety of gifts distributed to believers by the Holy Spirit, how the gifts are different but all come from the same Spirit, how the Spirit determines who gets which gift(s), and how the gifts are given for the common good.

So we each have at least one gift, a gift to be used not primarily for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others.  Some of us are drummers, some of us are piano players, some are bassists, and some play brass instruments.  And though we may all get to solo for a measure or two, we sound best when we work together with each other, respecting each other’s gifts and parts, and listen to each other (an absolute must for a jazz musician).

In the last twenty verses of I Corinthians 12, Paul focuses on how the body of Christ, although it has many and varied parts, is still one body, and furthermore, how much we need all the parts.  One part can’t say I don’t need you other parts.  Likewise, we should not be jealous of the other parts who seem to be more important—or maybe are just more visible—nor look down on ourselves because we think we’re an unimportant part.  In fact, Paul says we should be so tight that if one part suffers, we all do, and if one part is honored, we all rejoice.

So, drummers can’t say they don’t need piano players, and bassists shouldn’t regret they’re not brass players, and piano players mustn’t think they’re more important than the other instrumentalists, and so on.  Yes, working and living together will bring conflict, because we’re all sinners.  Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.  Sometimes you won’t agree with decisions that are made; learn to accept them.  The aim, as Marsalis reminds us, is to make something together and be together.

As members of the body of Christ, let’s appreciate each other!  Let’s recognize that we need each other.  Let’s praise God for the gifts he has given each other, and use those gifts for the benefit of each other and for God’s glory.  Let’s express our unity not despite but through our diversity.  Let’s make beautiful music together, with wonderful melodies, lovely harmony, and soaring riffs.

And when it all comes together, well then, in the words of Cole Porter, now you has jazz.

Steve Hoogerhyde is a Ruling Elder at GRC.  In his dreams, he plays drums in a jazz ensemble. Or sometimes tenor sax.