Creative Team Building and Leadership Resources - In our Elements

Jamming on the Free Way

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Fellow Passengers: Today’s Primary Passage* (John 14:1-14) transports me to the NAMM Show (National Association of Music Merchants) circa 1979, in Atlanta’s World Congress Center. I was 17, and had been steeped in a year of learning to play jazz and blues guitar. During that senior year of high school, my life revolved around chord theory, ear training, arpeggio and scale practicing, and jam sessions to develop and hone improvisational skills. Looking back, it seems so strange, for a teenage boy of the 1970s to suddenly stop listening to his favorite music – Led Zep, Pink Floyd, Stones, Beatles – and become completely and singularly enamored with the world of jazz. Joe Pass, George Benson, and Mike Stern replaced Page, Richards, and Gilmour as my heroes. There were some crossover players, like Jeff Beck, who helped me keep at least a foot in the rock world. I particularly loved figuring out and analyzing Beck’s solos on Freeway Jam, one of my favorites of his. So when I found myself, on a fluke, representing Dunham’s Music House at the NAMM show, where every musical instrument maker comes with their signature artists to showcase their wares, I was in seventh heaven, walking around the coliseum floor with the likes of Ray Brown and Herb Ellis jamming away to “crowds” of 10 or 20 people squeezed into little makeshift booths. To top it off, I saw that Mike Stern, guitarist for Miles Davis, was going to be in the Fender showcase. To top that off, when I squeezed into the little listening room to hear him and his band, they started the set off with none other than Freeway Jam. It was all a confirmation to me, a sign that I was on the right path. My plans were to head out to LA after graduation, enroll in the Guitar Institution of Technology, and become some kind of cross between Pass, Benson, and Beck. Somewhere along the way, though, between the NAMM show and graduation, my plans changed, a calling was placed on my life, and I wound up going to college and seminary instead. A different kind of immersion ensued, and a different path. A different freeway.

I don’t know what kinds of plans any of Jesus’ disciples had when they left their lives behind and started traveling down his Free Way. One thing is for sure, they didn’t want the journey to end, and when he began describing the changes that were about to occur with his life – his suffering and death and his leaving – they were essentially lost. He tried to console them with a promise that they could continue to follow him; that he was showing them a Way, THE Way, a true way, full of life even in the midst of death. That they finally got it sometime after his death and resurrection is certain; the book of Acts names those early church folk as people of The Way. It was a Way of grace and mercy for enemies, a way of welcome for strangers, a way of shared contentment where people had neither too much nor too little, for they had everything in common. What a Way. They would be jamming on that FreeWay, Jesus said, and they would know they were on the Way by the works they would do. Works even greater than his. Jesus set the theme, the tune and the chord changes, but like a highly skilled jazz combo, the followers would be free to jam, to improvise on that theme, to take it to new places. When I look around now and see the amazing gospel works done by womanist theologians and restorative justice activists and gay and lesbian ministers breaking down all sorts of cultural barriers, taking it out as they say in the jazz world, I see the gospel at work, fulfilling Jesus’ words about greater works.

Sometimes I ask myself the what if questions, and wonder about what life would be like had I traveled a different path, followed a different way when I left high school. It doesn’t help matters when I see Jeff Beck videos now, as he is accompanied by the Australian prodigy Tal Wilkenfeld, a 20-something Kate Winslett look-alike jamming away with him on bass. I suspect that had I seen her on stage at the NAMM show in Atlanta, my teenage calling into ministry would have been forever lost to more earthly desires, and I would have been heading west on I-40, LA bound. Listening to Freeway Jam, for sure. No offense to the beautiful and talented young Australian, but I am grateful I found the better Way.

What about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.



  • August 28, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I am grateful you found and followed the better way also. You have been the catalyst that put so many other lives on the right path and God has richly blessed your ministry. I thank God for you always.

    Comment by Jerry

  • August 28, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    Acceptance of Homosexuality in Christianity-Ravi Zacharias Answers Question:settled

    one of the great apologist answers the question that you continually want to raise and does it with great grace and with great eloquence.

    Comment by jim

  • August 29, 2012 at 7:06 am

    Jerry, thanks so much for the generous and gracious words of affirmation. It means a lot, coming from one of my heroes in the faith and in the family. I thank God for you as well.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • August 29, 2012 at 7:22 am

    Jim, I watched the video you referenced, from the Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, whom I had never heard of. I also read up a bit on him, and was interested that the fundamentalists have now thrown him under the bus, for flirting with the emerging church movement and Robert Schuller’s re-thinking movement and for praying at the National Day of Prayer without invoking Jesus’ name. Oh, and for building theological bridges in his ecumenical work with the Mormons. So it’s interesting to me that you cite him as your reference for “settling” the matter of homosexuality.

    The problem with Christian apologetics, for those so concerned about doctrinal purity, is that the apologists often wind up having to “apologize” for their previous errors. A case in point is the Southern Baptist stand on race relations, which Ravi references in his answer. He speaks with confidence and clarity about the sacred nature of one’s race, and how it cannot be violated. He conveniently forgets how recent a stance that is for Southern Baptists, who were founded on support of slavery and supported segregation. Richard Furman, the Christian apologist for whom Furman University is named, and who helped launch the SBC, famously said this: “The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.” It took all the way to 1995 for the Southern Baptist apologists to publicly retreat from the historic theology and doctrinal positions now seen as racism. In 95 the SBC apologists apologized for their previous errors: “Be it further RESOLVED, That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27).”

    Now, to his primary point, he claims that sexuality is sacred and cannot be violated if one remains faithful to God’s purposes. Yes, I agree with him. I also agree that we cannot blithely affirm aberrations to sexuality, yes. Here’s where I diverge from his erroneous apologetic: For those whose sacred sexuality is same-sex, it is an aberration for them to try and engage in a straight relationship. Same-sex marriage is a fulfillment of their sacred sexuality, created by God. Ravi speaks about the way spouses meet each other’s emotional needs, as designed by God. Every evidence is that God has designed a small minority of humanity to have their emotional needs fulfilled in loving life-long committed relationships to persons of the same sex.

    Ravi goes on to ask. “What does it take to be a member of the church?” He speaks about his “particular church” and says that there must be adherence to certain doctrines and practices. The key phrase here is “particular church” because of the 38,000 denominations worldwide, I am sure there are many thousands of churches filled with committed Christians who do not share all of his “particular church’s” stances and doctrines. There are some churches in the family of faith that are welcoming and affirming of gays and lesbians, including ordination of gays and lesbians to the pastorate.

    Ravi concludes by asking: “Can one live practicing that [homosexuality] and then be part of a teaching community of committed believers?” For him the question is rhetorical and his obvious answer is no. But the reality is, there are many teaching communities of faithful and committed believers with gays and lesbians on faculty.

    Finally, he closes his argument with a curious phrase: “Ends of dying the death of a thousand qualifications.” This to me speaks to the futility of apologetics. Talk about dying the death of a thousand qualifications, this really seems to describe the state of affairs of those who have taken it upon themselves to police doctrinal purity in the church. I would rather live the abundant life, and encourage you to let go of your heavy worries about doctrine and take Christ’s yoke upon you- his yoke is easy and his burden is light. It’s a good life.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • August 29, 2012 at 9:54 am

    race is inherent and sexuality is a choice, he also points out henry nouwen, who chose to stay celibet because he represented Christ and that it would bring reproach to the name of Christ. Unfortunately, in the last few years, Ravi has moved away from biblical truth but in this instance he is spot on my friend. Hope you will join me and stand on the solid rock of scripture and not depart to sinking sand of human thought and liberal bias.

    Comment by jim

  • August 29, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Jim, Henri Nouwen chose to stay celibate because he was a Catholic priest. He would have chosen to stay celibate if he had been straight, too. Even Ravi admits that sexuality is not a choice, as he speaks of it as a “disposition.” I will continue to stand firm on the thought of Jesus and his bias. Love of God and neighbor – all the law and prophets hang on these two. I am grateful to have gay and lesbian followers of Jesus who help embody these great commandments. I encourage you to stick to these commandments, and let go of your worries about people’s sexuality. It really isn’t harming you or anyone else for people of same gender to have lifelong faithful and loving relationships, in which they partner together as a family.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

  • August 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    love and tolerance are not the same! you seem to confuse the two, so you can justify your creeds but in the end they do not mesh with scripture.

    Comment by jim

  • August 29, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    Hey Jim, I think I’ve covered this before, but you must have forgotten – I do not confuse love with tolerance. There are many things that I find intolerable in our culture – greed, violence, and discrimination being examples of three that I see Jesus not tolerating in his life and ministry. I’ll follow his lead on that. And I am not justifying a “creed.” My understanding of scripture and the Way of Jesus is not a credal or doctrinal matter in the way you use those terms, but a matter of discipleship – following.

    Comment by Stan Dotson

to top