Friday, February 4

Spiritual Jazz: Syncopation


A few weeks ago, I began a series of posts on jazz as a metaphor for the Christian life. Many think of the Christian life more as a marching band than a jazz ensemble. It is about marching together and staying in step and in line. It is structured and rigid. And though it can be beautiful and amazing, the lines are clearly drawn and everybody knows when you get out of step. It is about making music as a unit and in a way that typically doesn't emphasize the individual.


There is nothing wrong with those things. But when they are applied to the Christian life, it can become stifling. There is a freedom that comes from a life lived in step with the Spirit. There is discipline and there is structure, but there is also freedom to improvise and follow the call and leading of the God. Many are missing that. I would encourage you to go back to posts from September 24, October 1, and November 12 to see where we have been.


In his book, Finding the Groove, Robert Gelinas writes:


“Jazz swings. That is, it picks up momentum, presses forward, and searches for what is to come. Syncopation is the technique that creates that characteristic. Simply put, syncopation is accenting the offbeat…. You accent that which has always been there but hasn’t been heard. Syncopation is not limited to musicians; it just requires an eye and ear for that which goes unnoticed and unheard in life.”

Robert Gelinas, Finding the Groove, p. 31-32


Syncopation is a shifting of the accent, usually by stressing the normally unaccented beats. It’s emphasizing the things that aren’t usually emphasized. I think Jesus’ life and teachings are great models of spiritual syncopation. He accented things that neither the secular nor religious cultures of his day emphasized. His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is a great example of this. Jesus shifted the accent – the emphasis and perspective – of both cultures.


* He did this with the religious culture by changing the accent from “You have heard that it was said …” t0 “But I tell you …” He changed the accent from public displays of religious acts to giving, praying, and fasting in secret.


* He did this with the secular culture by changing the accent from laying up treasures on earth to laying up treasures in heaven. He changed the accent from worry over food and clothing to trust in a Father who knows and cares.


Even Jesus’ actions were marked by syncopation. He noticed the unnoticed. He made time for those who were on the margins in society. Jesus would take time to listen to those others told to be quiet. When Jesus was on his way to other “appointments” (such as healing a dying child), he would make time to minister to those he met (a woman who touched him).


Spiritual syncopation accents the things that society and the religious “establishment” often overlook. It is in tune with the values of God and the leading of the Spirit more than the values of culture and the voice of the crowd. Though it is lived out “in the world”, it demonstrates a value system that is definitely – and obviously – not “of the world.”


Does your life emphasize and value the same things as our culture? Or do you accent and value the things that God values? Are you just going along with the religious flow, or are you accenting things that often go unnoticed in the structure and busy-ness of American church culture?


Spiritual syncopation – shifting the accent to the normally unaccented, noticing the unnoticed, valuing the things of God and not our secular or religious culture. It adds a dimension to our lives that makes them move to the rhythm of God.

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