Wait a Minute, What Kind of Christian Are You, Anyway?
I suppose part of the purpose of this blog is to discover what kind. Among other qualifiers, it would also have to be the jazz kind, in that I suppose I immerse myself in the nonlocal archetypes of Christianity in the same way a jazz musician employs the chordal structure of a composition in order to say what he wants and needs to say. Furthermore, he doesn't know what he is going to say until he says it. To paraphrase Bill Evans, with jazz, you get five minutes of honest music in five goshdarn minutes, whereas in the case of classical, you might get, say, five hours (or five months!) of music in five minutes, or however long it took for the composer to write it.
So this is definitely jazz theology, in that it is totally -- and intentionally -- on the fly and off the cuff. I say "purposely," because the Tollster is right about one thing, which is that God can only be found in the now. It's just that some nows are deeper than others, and that's the whole point of the hole exercise. In order to do this at all, I really need to "cut loose" so as to prevent my mind from getting in the way of the temporal hole, which is why you will have noticed that the posts often have a slightly disjointed quality, to put it kindly. As the Beatles sang, I'm fixing a hole where the rain gets in / and stops my mind from wandering / where it will go / And it really doesn't matter if I'm wrong I'm right / where I belong I'm right / where I belong.
Again, let's go back to the analogy of music. Take Bill Evans and take your friendly neighborhood Norstorm pianist, please. Both are playing "in the now," but only one of them is capable of plumbing the musical now to its vertical depths. In fact, you might say that the superficial person "horizontalizes" the now, when one must find a way to verticalize it and drill down into it. For that is where life is really happening. It's where all of the non-action is.
This is one of the things that prevents me from coontemplating when the next failed book might appear out of nowhere, because a book represents, say, 52 weeks of writing in 7 days, or whatever the ratio might be. I find spontaneous improvisation to be so compelling, that I'm not sure if I could ever revert back to composition. Keith Jarrett has the same problem when he switches back and forth between playing classical and performing his lengthy and totally improvised solo concerts. I read somewhere that he requires six months of preparation to make the transition to what is a totally different mindset. In my case, I think it would be painful to have to go back and reread, edit and polish what I have written, which you sort of have to do if you aren't Jack Kerouac or Larry King.
Perhaps there is a lesson in the fact that Jesus did the same thing. Quite conspicuously, he didn't sit down, spend a few years thinking about reality, and write a book that streaked up the Jerusalem Times bestseller list. Interestingly, for a religion that is supposedly based on "The Book," Jesus is a poor example, for the Gospels provide no evidence that he ever touched one, with the possible exception of peeking at the Torah when the Pharisees were out getting a sandwich at Cantor's deli. In a way, Jesus just "riffed" on certain themes in the Torah, so in that sense I would agree with Pastor Wright that he was probably not just black, but specifically Afro-American.
Just yesterday I was reading about John Coltrane -- who, interestingly, has a church -- an "African Orthodox" Christian church -- named for him. (I don't know anything about it, but the description has a certain Coonish appeal: "Our primary mission at the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church is to bring souls to Christ; to know sound as the preexisting wisdom of God, and to understand the divine nature of our patron saint in terms of his ascension as a high soul into one-ness with God through sound. In our praises we too seek such a relationship with God. We have come to understand John Coltrane in terms of his sound and as sound in meditative union with God."
Sounds sound to my ears.
It's kind of interesting, so I'll continue: "The ascension of St. John Coltrane into one-ness with God is what we refer to as the Risen Trane.... [W]e are not dealing with St. John the man but St. John the sound and St. John the Evangelist and Sound Baptist [Boptist? --ed.], who attained union with God through sound.... [T]he Risen Trane is the post 1957 John Coltrane. He who emerged from drug addiction onto a path of spiritual awakening and who gave testimony of the power and empowerment of grace of God in his life and in his Psalm on A Love Supreme, and in his music thereafter. ('At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music. I feel this has been granted through His grace. ALL PRAISE TO GOD.') We, too, having been touched by this anointed sound and being called and chosen by the Holy Ghost, endeavor to carry the holy ambition and mantle of sound baptism of St. John Coltrane.
"We are fully aware of the universality of John Coltrane's music and his philosophy, and that his spirit and legacy does reach and touch the lives of people of many different faiths, creeds, and religions. We, however, in this time and place, are grateful for the opportunity to lift up the Name of Jesus Christ through Saint John Coltrane's music, knowing from personal experience and testimony, and from a great cloud of witnesses, that the Spirit of the Lord is in this Sound Praise as it is delivered from heaven through John."
That might sound kooky, but I have to be honest. I too have been "touched by this anointed sound," which was one of the many pointers in my life that brought me back to the vertical. In my book, I make reference to the need for the spiritual aspirant to locate one of those vertical springs that dot the landscape, but surely there are vertical soundscapes that can do the trick as well. Those of you who have a doggerel-eared copy of the Coonfesto will have noticed at least a couple references to the Risen Trane in the Cosmobliteration section, for example,
Spiraling outside in, past the viaduct of dreams, the seventh trumpet dissolving in shee-its! of sound. One Living Being, Life of All, A Love Supreme, take the coltrain to the old grooveyard, return to forever and begin a new corea. The key to your soul, ignited in wonder! (p. 260).
(Some decoding, just this once. At that particular timelessness, I was very much into the music of Chick Corea; "viaduct of dreams" is playgiarized from Van Morrison's Astral Weeks; the "seventh trumpet" is a reference to Revelations, while "sheets of sound" was a jazz critic's famous description of what Coltrane's music sounded like: "his multinote improvisations were so thick and complex they were almost flowing out of the horn by themselves... and the amount of energy he was using could have powered a spaceship.")
So I can well imagine starting up a Church of John Coltrane (or even Bo Diddley, for that matter; perhaps the Rhythmic Church of the Misbegotten Sons of the Eternal Diddley Daddy).
Now, back to the question at hand, "just what kind of Christian are you, Bob?" Yesterday I read a statement supposedly made by Sri Aurobindo, who said that "the demands of truth and the spiritual needs of mankind in this age call for a restoration of the Vedic truths, truths which represent a unique penetration into the nature of existence and which point to an advanced knowledge of the laws of the universe bordering on modern theories of particle physics, quantum mechanics and cosmology.” (I can't confirm that Aurobindo actually said this, as it was somehow sent to me as part of an email forum of which I am not a member or contributor.)
Now, the idea that the One Truth is embodied for all time in the Vedas is referred to as the Sanātana Dharma. As far as we know, the Vedas were the first Revelation -- I mean fully loaded with all the options -- given to man. (I'm not necessarily saying I believe this, I'm just relating what the believers believe.)
As I have said before, but it is worth repeating, religion is not about religion, but about what transcends religion (and everything else). As soon as religion is merely about religion, then boom, you've created a graven and no longer groovin' image. Those who believe in the Sanātana Dharma maintain that all revelations, to the extent that they are authentic revelations, are really a reflection of the One Revelation, like the white light passing through a prism and revealing a diversity of colors. Thus, to ask why there are different religions is a little -- or a lot -- like asking why there are different languages, the reason being because.... Well, just because.
I know what you're thinking -- if English was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for the rest of us. But that's beside the point. The point is, the same day I received that unsolicited email about Sri Aurobindo and the Sanātana Dharma, I was reading about the same thing in my god-eared copy of The Spiritual Ascent.
Will you get on with it?!
I'm trying, I'm trying.
But don't you think this solo has gone on too long already? Sometimes I can't tell if I'm just warming up or already finished. I guess it's the latter. I think we'll stick a fork in this load and discuss the Sanātana Dharma tomorrow, as it might just help to answer the question of what kind of Christians we are. Or will be tomorrow.