Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Tension of the hyphen--Bridges to God

I've struggled with this last post on hyphenization because of how deeply it is touching my soul. Forgive me for playing it safe. The beauty of a jazz musician, "lies in their ability not simply to hit a musical note exactly, but to move around the 'margins' of a note, thereby increasing the vibrato and resonance of the sound...When one too precisely hits a note or too accurately defines a reality in black and white, some of the color that captivates and motivates may be lost." I believe that to know God is to embrace tension, not necessarily resolve it. Classical theology seeks precision, jazz theology lives and thrives in the ambiguity. What are your questions about God..about the hyphenated Jesus...this mixed-race-fatherless-God-man-messiah? Some of our greatest understanding of God comes from the hyphen's of Jesus, the tension of Jesus' identity...Why does the changeless God seem to change his mind at times? How can he be merciful and the coming judge? Why would a holy God want to make it possible for the unholy to inhabit his presence? Why does the omnipotent God create intercession? Why does he heal and then conceal? Why does he teach us to pray only to remain silent when we cry out to him? Classical theology has helped my mind with these questions but not my heart. Jazz theology allows us to embrace the tension of life--the hyphen, that place of tension and questions, wrestling and seeking...that place where improvisation thrives. When I was younger it thought that everything would be better when I found out who I was. If I could just find my daddy...why don't I have a daddy...why won't anybody tell daddy is a what?! What I now know is that the truth becomes real in the tensions, on the hyphens, in the ambiguities...not always in the answers, but the questions. That's why I love Jesus...He's not afraid of those places. Do you know what I mean? (quotes from Brad Braxton's, No Longer slaves: Galatians and African American Experience)


Blogger Phil said...


I like your point here, about living in the space of tension. Another helpful way to describe this space is by the world liminal, or liminality.

Liminality........concept and explanatory tool most notably coined by the anthropologist Victor Turner; the word denotes an ontological and physical "transition" in which individuals and institutions are in a state of flux.

Turner: "The attributes of liminality or liminal personae ("threshold
people") are necessarily ambiguous, since the conditionand these persons elude or slip through the network of classifications that
normally locate states and positions in cultural space. Liminal entities are neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the
positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and
ceremonial." From Turner's _The Ritual Process: Structure and
Anti-Structure_ (1969) as quoted in Susan Love Brown, ed., Intentional Community (2002).

And then from Cornel West (from the Cornel West Reader (1999):
“The experience of dialogue – the I-Thou relation with the uncontrolled other – may result in dizziness, vertigo, or shudder that unhinges us from our moorings or yanks us from our anchors….This loss of our footing…compel[s] us to acknowledge that the very meaning of being [post]modern may be the lack of meaning, that our quest for such meaning may be the very meaning itself – without ever arriving at any fixed meaning. In short, the hermeneutical circle in which we find ourselves, as historical beings in search of meaning for ourselves, is virtuous, not vicious, because we never transcend or complete the circle.”

2:09 AM  
Blogger Pete Gall said...

Ambiguity I can live with, and love you in. Tensions and frustrations - "why are black people like this" answered with "I hate it that white people..." these things are good, and have been the evidence of progress in our friendship. Maybe in the way all friendships move.

I'm good with you having mixed feelings. I'm good with the truth that there are some aspects to your world I won't understand, and others you won't be in a place to pay to explain to me. I get that - I'm that way too.

Tension I can deal with. Hyphenization in terms of self and what to risk and what to protect I can appreciate. What I'm glad to hear from you in this last post is an invitation to wait on your porch for the moments we can share. This I'm very happy to do.

6:59 AM  
Blogger fatherneo said...

So long as your tension doesn't lead to denial of truth. How did the tension lead you to the truth, jazzy? I hear your heart...

9:12 AM  
Blogger jazztheo said...


Liminality, I'd read that somewhere before, I'll revisit it. Thanks.

So what has you reading Cornel West?

9:38 AM  
Blogger jazztheo said...

How could you ever have doubted and invitation, jazz theology is all about convergence! Tension doesn't have to mean fractures. As you can see from the picture, tension can produce bridges to God and each other. Hyphen's are just tension bridges between two realities.

9:42 AM  
Blogger jazztheo said...

Welcome back fatherneo,

Jazz theology assumes the truth, it doesn't debate it. After 2000 years of creeds, confessions, and statements of faith, we've pretty much nailed down the truth. Tension doesn't lead to the truth, it's just the opposite, The Truth creates the tension! Just look at what Jesus produced in people's life...the gospels are full of tension because The Truth had arrived!

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Scott said...

Re truth in this context: I dunno if we've nailed it down after all these years of creeds and debates... still a lot of fightin' fundies out there not agreeing on what it is. That is, if truth is essentially propositional--like a classical symphony trying to get mozart exactly right.

But if truth is essentially personal and relational... and most essentially a Person who seeks relationship with us... then I take it that seeking the truth might be more like finding out what happens in the space (tension and all) between players in a jazz ensemble, to use our current metaphor?

Perhaps it's a matter of emphasis, because Mozart is open to personal interpretation and Miles Davis follows certain rules... but I can get a lot more jazzed about seeking Truth in the latter sense. When I reflect on how that's actually played out in my life, it has sometimes been distressingly painful and other times incomparable joyful.

12:43 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

I find West illuminating and engaging, and first encountered him in college (1999) on C-SPAN; in an interview he said, "I'm a Christian and a Democrat...." I knew then that I should listen....

I guess I'd say that I read West as "leisure" reading, in addition to all the reading I do for grad school.

8:22 PM  

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