About 2 weeks ago, I heard Kirk Byron Jones preach at the American Baptist Convention. I had never heard of him, but I figured he must have some skills, as he was one of only 2 or 3 people chosen to preach to the entire convention. He pretty much lived up to the hype. He was funny; he was dead serious; he made us think about the biblical text in ways we hadn’t before; he made us face some of our frailties; he gave me a shot in the arm of courage; and he was finished in well under a half an hour.
I was so impressed, I went to meet him at a book signing later that evening and felt moved to buy his book, “The Jazz of Preaching: How to preach with great freedom and joy.”
I got from the book that the most dangerous thing that can happen to a person who preaches the gospel is to become “a reverend.” What that means is, we can not afford to lose our personal lives to our professional roles. Sure, I’m a clergyman, a pastor, an expositor of the kerygma. But does that mean I can’t still play basketball, make love, tweet on Twitter, dance, or go to the movies? When people who know me as “a reverend” witness me talk about or do any of these things, there is often some surprise. But if I didn’t live fully in this world of ours, I’d have no way to relate to people, and nothing worthwhile to say to them, either.
For Jones, jazz is the inspirational force that takes him inside himself. He notes the way the musicians aren’t afraid to improvise, the way the blues is so painfully honest, the way artists can sit and dream up “the right note” instead of forcing it, and I agree.
Only thing is, I’m not a jazz guy. I’m just not. I would never badmouth Ella, Coltrane, Miles, Dizzy, or Louis. The creative genius is undeniable. My wife and I played Todd Ledbetter for 10 hours straight while she gave birth. Jazz has its place. I can appreciate it, it’s just not my favorite type of music.
I was raised to love hip-hop. The same way the author of “The Jazz of Preaching” finds confidence and comfort in jazz–that’s how I feel about rap. Yes, some of the language is inappropriate, but Miles Davis and John Coltrane weren’t choir boys, either, so big deal.
Rap teaches me bravado, not to be afraid to say what I feel. They use every ounce of their vocabulary. The greats are clearly inspired and inspiring. Rappers have style. The best rappers set high goals for themselves and work hard to achieve them. The beats alone are often mesmerizing and transcendent. This author (Kirk Byron Jones) is making a case for jazz, but I think many types of secular music can get your creative juices flowing. And pastors should never be too “reverend” to listen and learn.