Saturday, August 15, 2009

The blues

Earlier this week I spent some time clearing out the storage space in my apartment. Among the items I found there, and had hoped to find, was a notebook containing some songs I wrote in the 1980s. That decade represented easily my most creative period.

As well as -- and I don't think that's a coincidence -- my most difficult period.

Those of you who read my blog regularly or know me personally have an idea of what my particular issues were then, so I won't go into them in this entry. I bring this up because it was only then that I began to develop an understanding of "the blues." No, not necessarily the musical style which to this day informs every other style of music that originated in America -- the feeling of loss and desolation common to every person who has walked this earth which such music represents. Suffering, the Bible tells us, is part of life and we ought to accept it as such. In fact Bono, lead singer of the group U2, once said that the Psalms represent ancient Israel's version of "the blues."

That said, the blues -- while accurately expressing the brokenness of life -- always sees a light at the end of that dark, seemingly interminable tunnel; its ultimate message is "I'm down -- but not out." And it is that hope that keeps a person going in the midst of inner (and sometimes outer) turmoil.

Lately I've re-reading the book "Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith." The Rev. Robert Galinas, the author and a "jazz theologian," noted in the chapter on "Singing the Blues" that a certain vocalist he was listening to, while conceding that her performance was pure and pristine, lacked a sense of sorrow. I get that -- only recently have I begun to realize that it was my own pain that gives me the ability to make a saxophone cry.

And it was that sense of pain which gave the lyrics I wrote then the redemptive power they contain even now.

I think that's what's wrong with much of the evangelical church -- it's out of touch with what a pastor-friend calls a "theology of suffering." When you look at these humongous, sterile mega-church buildings; hear a message about "prosperity" or self-esteem; or subscribe to right-wing power politics masquerading as "protecting the culture," don't you notice something missing?

The thing is, the Good News of Jesus Christ has zero meaning without the bad news -- of sin, yes, but also of lack, abandonment and disappointment. After all, who has suffered more than He? Didn't He also have his heart broken, experience betrayal?

But get this -- He rose above all that; thus we're also supposed to. But not by ourselves. That's one reason He gave us His mystical Body, the church, where we can bring our messed-up lives to be redeemed for His glory by ministering to each other. We can't do that properly if we're trying to put up a front, saying that nothing's really wrong.

That's why I'm grateful that God allowed -- no, inspired -- me to write that music 20-some years ago. Not only did I grow my relationship with Him in the process, but He also also used that, as well as the background circumstances, to foster the healing that only He can provide.

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