Cacophony and Symphony

Arts and TheologyThe previous posts were about a metaphor of jazz standards and the task of Christians in the church. Towards its end I was calling on the church to create compelling “standards”, creating a culture that is both new and familiar, enabling humanity to be all that it was created to be. This task is for those in and outside the church. There is somewhat of a problem here, however.

These standards will sometimes be played with wrong notes and will be out of time. Sometimes these notes will clash with each other in the worst ways. Sometimes it will sound like my first attempt to play the saxophone in the 4th grade: garish, fumbling, and squeaky. Hopefully we will ask forgiveness for these errors.

But these wrong notes illuminate a glorious thing about Christianity. Amateurs play alongside virtuosos. Wrong notes are not what we strive for, but we will hit them. Over time as we continue to play and create we will (hopefully) hit more right notes than wrong ones, but even virtuosos make mistakes.

A small amount of the population can be experts in a small area: playing piano, lifting weights, philosophical knowledge, etc. But these are very small and thin slices of the human experience. Life doesn’t have any virtuosos. Wrong notes will always be a part of our world, as much as we try and sweep them under the rug.

Christianity doesn’t merely teach this, it embraces it. It is foundational, contrary to the self-righteousness inhabited by some of it louder members.

Real Christianity is an affront to the self-proclaimed virtuoso. For someone who might pride themselves on always hitting the right notes, Christianity is a magnifying glass on all the wrong ones we hit on the way. This isn’t because Christians are sadists, it’s because we’re supposed to be honest. When we live honestly, we see all the right notes and the wrong ones, side by side. This is the sound of cacophony when we really desire a symphony.

What’s a virtuoso to do when she realizes she’s been creating a cacophony? Go back to the notes. Realize your lack of expertise, become a student, and go back to the original melody.

Though some might be farther along than others, the church is a collection of amateurs. Even amateurs have the ability to make something beautiful, but as amateurs, we do it humbly. As amateurs we constantly must be practicing. As amateurs we will also be asking forgiveness from our neighbors who easily hear our wrong notes.

This recognition gives freedom. The church allows us to be human, and being who we were created to be allows us to truly be ourselves, amateurish and all. A Christian’s confidence doesn’t come from her performance, be it good or bad, it comes from her radical acceptance. Acceptance from her Maker and into a new community. She now has the freedom to be human.

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