Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Wait a Minute, What Kind of Christian Are You, Anyway?

That's a question I (or someone pretending to be me) often ask myself. I don't know the answer. Neither does he. The Vedantic kind? The Jewish kind? The Hermetic kind? The Sufi kind? The insufirable kind? The Subgenius kind?

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.


Robin Starfish said...

"Just what kind if Christian are you, anyway?"

What a great question.

Not a very good one certainly, but one certainly entrained by Vanscendence.

Excerpted example:

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah
Behind the ritual, making time in the days gone by

Behind the ritual, behind the ritual
You find the spiritual, you find the spiritual
Behind the ritual in the days gone by

So high behind the ritual, so high behind the ritual
So high in the days gone by
Drinking that wine making time, making time

Stretching time, stretching time
Drinking that wine, stretching time
Stretching time in the days gone by behind the ritual

Behind the ritual

-Van Morrison, Behind the Ritual

Petey said...


Anonymous said...

I attended a service 10 years or so ago at the John Coltrane Church in San Francisco. It was quite the experience. At the time it was a small storefront church off of Divisadero.

To start the service the rhythm section launched into the riff from "A Love Supreme" and two Ministers(?) in full garb came out in solemn procession wailing away.

I loved it. I still have the postcard with a rendering of a John Coltrane "Ikon" which hangs in my practice space for inspiration.

QP said...


light gathering horn
trumpets "take a swig of me"
spread Good News around

QP said...

Strikingly appropriate and relevant ->
from Maureen Mullarkey"s essay I posted on the quipTorum yesterday:

"Framed pages from a medieval antiphonal, however lovely, are inert compared with the sharp, plangent treble of a sanctuary bell. It is from that sound, not graphic notation, that Catholics and Orthodox gain heart for the silent road beyond all hosannas."

River Cocytus said...

In my experience, what makes Orthodox Orthodox is mostly a willingness to stick together. There's such a variety to the way the people I've met think that it would be hard to know they were in the same church if it weren't for the common symbols and rituals.

It's this stick-togetherness that allows us to be corrected when we go astray.

As for Coltrane, his style of improvisation is for the most part unlike anyone else's. I've heard others imitate him, but his music is more like a chant than a solo.

In some ways it reminds me of Byzantine chant, where the cantor sings long volumes of psalm and text over a free rhythm, with an 'ison' behind him that provides a riverbed for the music to flow on.

I recently learned that a proper ison is 'breathed' and not hummed or 'sang'. Most chant was originally improvisational but is written down for the sake of those who don't have the chops for free chanting.

Got the chance to do some Tone 1 chanting in our church yesterday, and the experience is somewhat otherworldly.

This has given me an interesting idea to write about...

(By the way, it seems like Trane is much different than other 'free' improvisors. Having tried to improvise over his chords compared to some others, I can't figure out how he does it. There ought to be uncountable different melodies that I can play over the chords but I can't find any of them.)

NoMo said...

If one has ears to hear, there is always sound coming with the light through cathedral stained-glass windows.

BTW, Bob. I saw Chick forever back in the days of "The Romantic Warrior" and can't wait to return. Since Forever isn't coming through our little burg, there might be a NoMo road trip in the offing. Oh, yeah.

Anonymous said...

Coltrane's influence was obviously enormous--all across various musical styles (as enormous, it seems, as the ensuing confusion in attempting to absorb what he did).

But the man went DEEP...there's no doubt he was a genius of the first order.

I enjoyed "Coltrane: The Story of a Sound" which goes into his influence.

The drive-by Naudo fan said...

Well the other day it was off-topic, but not today! Naudo covering Morrison, what more could you want (except of course Morrison covering MoreSon)...

And while we're riffing between jazz and classical, here's Naudo doing it both ways, and owning it...

Enjoy the day!

Gagdad Bob said...

I always thought Van might have playgiarized that one from Kenny Burrell's Midnight Blue. Couldn't find Burrell playing it, but here's some guy in his bedroom doing a version.

coonified said...

"cantor sings long volumes of psalm and text over a free rhythm"

One time, when I was reading the psalms, for some reason I started kind of inspirationally hearing the text over a background of guitar chords, or the chords just sort of emerged in the background, as if the text was superimposed on this "breathing" background rhythm.

I thought to myself, "what if I could compose a piece of music that as an experience would be played as a backdrop to the text? What would the psalms sound like without words at all. And would that be more accurate a transmission than text?

To bad I see all this stuff but can never bring it down to earth so that it can be transfered to other people. I don't worry much about the music disappearing, though. It's as if we're all antennas that sometimes get glimpses of the celestial music that's already there. Revelation is like crystallized music, which is to say, behind every revelatory religion--the points in manifestation where the sanatana dharma touched down--there lies a song waiting to be heard.

Gagdad Bob said...

This Santana Dharma has a killer version of A Love Supreme.

River Cocytus said...

This gives some impression of what it's like, though Fr. Seraphim Dedes is a better cantor than most everyone but is reading from written music.

I don't know if that page would help someone who didn't actually experience the chant live.

Anonymous said...

jazz theology! I dig, I dig!

The drive-by Naudo fan said...

Anon said...
jazz theology! I dig, I dig!

Oh yeah. This is Naudo's rendition of a creedal might call it higher mystical theology ;-)

NoMo said...

"...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..."

I suspect that, being who He is, He wouldn't necessarily have to touch one to know one. There is however some evidence that he "did His homework"...whatever that means.

Also, after He rose from the dead as dead can be (you know), He appeared to His 11 mates (frightening the bejesus out of them, so to speak), to remind them of a few things.

The Man definitely knew His scriptures and quoted them extensively - even when dookin it out wit de debil. KAPOW!

Anonymous said...

I just don't get much out of jazz. I like Christian Rock. Am I missing something in my faculties for art appreciation? What gives here?

Petey said...

Yes. Sounds like you're both not getting something that is there in the former and getting something that is not there in the latter.

But don't despair. We don't really get classical, at least not in any really deep way, except for maybe John Tesh.

River Cocytus said...


You mean, no wolfie?


Is it better to have an ear for religion and no ear for music or vice versa?

... hmm.

Guess we get to find out at the end.

River Cocytus said...

Jesus didn't read the Torah, he WAS the Torah (thus in Orthodox services the parading of the Torah book is replaced with the Body and Blood of Christ)

LeftHandedRightWinged said...

Can’t you see you’re not making Christianity better, you’re just making rock n’ roll worse.
-Hank Hill

P.S. I am reading your book Bob and thank you.

NoMo said...

Riv - Since "at the end", the complete absence of music ispart of the condemnation, we can only imagine what music will be heard by those entering the city.

julie said...

John Tesh?!? Please, please, please tell me you're joking!

mushroom said...

Jesus riffed.

julie said...

Unrelated to anything that's been said lately, you should consider drinking red wine on a regular basis. (via Insty)

NoMo said...

The Man definitely riffed.

NoMo said...

OK, Julie, I didn't read your comment before posting mine. That's just scary.

mushroom said...

John Tesh seems like an awfully nice, sincere dumb guy. There are worse things to be.

I like some jazz. Christian pop/rock just makes me ill. Except a few songs by Switchfoot who almost seem to get it. I think most Christian music takes itself way too seriously, is joyless and beats you over the head with its often trivial treatment of ideas it doesn't understand.

christopher said...

In re the sound. Some years ago I got involved in Sanskrit Mantra. My teacher, Thomas Ashley-Farrand (has books on this stuff) asserts that the kind of Hinduism he knows is based on sacred sound, which he likened to the Gospel of John's "in the beginning was the Word". In other words, first comes the utterance, the sound. What is truly spooky is the remnant of the Big Bang can is a really low frequency radio wave that can still be heard!

julie said...

Nomo - now that's weird!

Mushroom, "John Tesh seems like an awfully nice, sincere dumb guy. There are worse things to be."

I don't disagree, I just find his music (and admittedly, I haven't heard much of it, as what small portions I've heard made me want to change the channel) rather tepid. It's deep, imo, in the sense that it might impart a deep state of snooziness or agitation, depending upon the listener's sensibilities. Which to some people may be a good thing, but it just doesn't work for me.

I am 100% certain that some raccoons would feel the same way about many of my own favorites (which is why I usually keep mum during musical discussions).

julie said...

That said, I'll gladly take John Tesh over most Christian Pop any day.

Petey said...

John Tesh is good if you find Liberace a little too "edgy."

walt said...

John Tesh now hosts a syndicated radio program. In between music selections, he reads bits and bytes of cultural info, about relationships, work "issues," health/exercise/beauty tips, etc. The program's slogan says that listening to it will make you more "intelligent."

NoMo said...

Walt -I love that program. I never miss it...can't you tell?

QP said...

Ahem. The esteemed station manager at Radio KROK takes his bizness seriously - knows his competition.

Sibylline Zipper said...

Christian rock seems to me to be an absolute train-wreck clash of esthetic, emotional and spiritual sensibilities. Rock is a very visceral Dionysian mode whereas Christianity seems to be about transcending that. The two modes seem to be at war with each other to me. I must admit that I haven't delved very deeply into the genre but the only Christian pop/rock that works for me is ''Sixpence None the Richer'' They have had some commercial success and are pretty good craftsmen.

walt said...

Hey: the beauty tips have come in handy.


Petey said...

The problem is, any rock that is good is already Christian, otherwise it wouldn't be good, just as any truth that is true is Christian truth, so it is redundant to say "Christian music" or "Christian truth." In the end, most "Christian rock" musicians strike me losers who would like to make it in secular music, but can't, so they invented this format called "Christian rock," in which they pathetically ape secular musicians but throw in a few pedantic lyrics. I certainly don't see any innovation. It's entirely derivative.

There was a time that it was the other way around, e.g., the way in which soul music was totally rooted in, and nourished by, gospel music. The further away soul music has gotten from its sacred roots, the more disposable it has become.

mushroom said...

Petey says, "entirely derivative".

Perfect description. It's like we have to have a "Christian" alternative to the good stuff. Just give me the good stuff.

And I don't mean to offend anyone who likes John Tesh.

(But, hell, if you like John Tesh, what could offend you?)

QP said...

Beauty tips? Talk - talk - talk. Empirical evidence is required in the horizontal realm please!


julie said...

Nice Bo Diddley memorial, by the way, but R.I.S?

It's probably really obvious, but I have to ask.

julie said...

Slack; got it right as I hit preview.

Van said...

Hey sorry I missed your comment to me this morning (yesterday's post), slipped right by me in between comments.

I've made several rough prototypes of the app I have in mind over the years, from vb 5 & 6 windows apps, to xsl,, and even with some gaming features etc - enough for me to see different ideas in action, not enough to prototype a complete picture to investors... mainly because the hardware and web infrastructure hasn't been there to fully carry it out.

But seeing that the pieces are starting to come together out there, I've been reconceiving previous ideas and rewriting pieces into SqlServer2005 & C#, the idea being that core features would be able to interface out to either web, windows, multi-user... even X-Box (I've got a bit more to grasp and prove on that front) - I'm pretty excited about it, but given the little free time I've got available, I wouldn't want to give anyone the idea that I'll have a respectable proof of concept prototype ready in the near future.

Smoov, I appreciate your comments, and I'll definitely let you and the 'Coon Den know when I've got the vaporware condensed out of the Ozone and into actualware!

(I now return the comments to their regularly scheduled tOpics)

ximeze said...

Van, did you check out that link to Knowledge Publisher in the PJM article?

NoMo said...

Music had to be included when Paul wrote, "...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute - if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." (Phil 4:8)

Hmmm...sounds like something Petey said earlier.


USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Transcendental Language, Scripture, Music, Stories, Poetry, Haiku's, HumOr, Rebuke, In-struction, Art...the Constitution (and there is more)...all point and are derived from, and in fact are...Truth.

How do we gno? 'Cause it's...are you listening? Are you lOOking?

BeCause it's SELF EVIDENT!!!

If you don't "get" that, then you need Grace.
But you must be Open to Grace.
You must receive Grace!!!

Are you lOOking?
Are you listening?
Are you WILLing to sacrifice and carry your own Cross, no matter what?
Are you WILLing to give Him your burdens?

Mere science...mere facts...mere horizontal exspamsion won't give you what you need to grow, expand your gnoledge, and transcend.

Only the vertical, the most High can inspire you and motivate you to humble your soph.

Then, and Only then, will you be ready to Be Gin to Be HuMan.

You wanna gno what kinda Christian I Am? Read my stories.

You wanna gno what kinda Christian/Jew/Hindu any racoon is?
Read, listen, lOOk, perceive n' receive the many facets of Truth channeled and cOntained by the Truth in the haikus, photos, paintings, lessons, in-sights, music, Art, Goodness, questyons, coontemplations, revelations, testimOnies, comments, humor, links, etc...freely coonveyed by all the racoons here.

But beware. Unless you experience, realize and actualize the Truth for your soph, you won't "get" it.

Slack, silence, patience, and ObjectIvity is Ossential before you can begin to cOmprehend, and your pride, your rebelliousness must be broken and Obliterated.

You must unknow before you can begin to gno.

Thanks Bob, for another great imprOvisionation!!!
You got some great chOps there!!! :^)

Van said...

Yes I did, thanks. A good use of screen real estate, and I like the ability to select chapters, view related material, links, etc. makes a similar usage, though with banners and advertising... check this one out, with an interview with
Thomas Sowell (if for no other reason, than it's an interview with Thomas Sowell!).

Van said...

Or this one with Victor Davis Hanson who nails one of the big issues (and first motivations & smuggling points for corrupting) behind the destruction of Education in the USA, 'vocationalism', and others.

Gotta go, time for another 12 hr day. woo-hoo.

River Cocytus said...

Hmm, Christian rock is an example of what happens when people forget what 'worship' means. If we say the creation glorifies God, does it not do so by simply being? Likewise, those who proclaim that a Christian service without drums or guitar is 'dead' or 'not worshipping with stringed instruments (Ps.)' fail to also notice that Paul calls us to pray unceasingly. The 'rational worship' of the church is done without instruments, but the rest of the worship of the church inevitably includes them. If a pianist plays 'Hungarian Rhapsody', does he not glorify God, who created the mind which birthed both the piano and the composition? How then could we be doing anything other than worship when we do what God made us for? All that remains is to meditate on him in your heart while doing these things. If you can do that, you won't be led astray.

On the other hand, the rational worship - which is to correct and realign the lower mind - needs to be difficult and demanding but able to be done by all.

Every good prayer has a verse, a chorus, a bridge and a solo, just like any song. When you pray, do you think you will make a new song completely out of whole cloth every time, or maybe its good to start by covering some standards?