Every 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month, our church leads a non-traditional worship experience, Thursday Night Live: Jazz for the Soul. I’ve had the privilege of working with this ministry for the last two years as we explored in worship the jazz as sacred music with food, art, spoken word and preaching.
One of the joys in planning worship has been the creative connection of biblical stories with examples from popular culture. The past year alone, we’ve correlated the scriptures with clips from Nina Simone, new soul trio KING, Patti Labelle, Gregory Porter and Kid President to show how God’s spirit speaks to us from texts from ancient to contemporary.
Last Thursday, we returned from summer break and began a two-part worship series themed Giant Steps. This series is in part a tribute to the music of legendary jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane (whose album Giant Steps is a certified classic) as we explore what it means to take giant steps of faith in God.
Our scripture for the evening was 1 Samuel 17:37, which says:
“The Lord,” David added, “who rescued me from the power of both lions and bears, will rescue me from the power of this Philistine.”
“Go!” Saul replied to David. “And may the Lord be with you!” (Common English Bible)
For the evening’s message, I shared how we are able to make “giant steps” of faith in God when we know that God has already made “giant steps” for us. In the familiar biblical story of David and Goliath, David makes a “giant step” of faith to fight Goliath, because he testifies to what God had done for him already. Our faith in God is not a guarantee to win the battle, because the journey doesn’t always go as we expect or plan. Our faith, however, is an assurance that God’s power is with us every step of the way, leading us through it in the way of the everlasting.
Of the clips we shared that night was an animated sketch of a 1966 interview with John Coltrane where he explains Giant Steps and how though there are forces that bring suffering, he wanted to be a force for good:
We also watched an animated trailer for the graphic novel King David by black American cartoonist Kyle Baker.
I love how his interpretation of the story sees the fight between David and Goliath as more difficult that we typically recall. For Baker, David’s first stone misses Goliath and he must scramble to get away from the giant’s attack. This rendering suggests that while battling Goliath may be hard, with faith, God gives us the courage, cunning and persistence to stay in fight!
Bishop Yvette Flunder describes a process of faith that moves beyond having all the answers to living the questions.
I taught my church’s young adult bible study last Tuesday night. We began a series on moving “Beyond Tradition.” We’re focusing on the ways an over-reliance on tradition(s) can hold us back from where God’s spirit may be leading us.
We opened by listening to “Thank You Lord (For What You’ve Done For Me)”, the classic 1990 gospel recording by Bishop Walter Hawkins & Love Center Choir and led by a young Bishop Yvette Flunder. For those in black church and gospel communities, this 1990 recording continues to resonate as a testimony of God’s presence, protection and providence in one’s life. (As a side note, I love how the musicians switch to a reggae riddim during the bridge about 3:25 in).
We followed with a close read of John 8:1-11 where Jesus encounters the “woman caught in adultery.” Three points were emphasized:
- The role of pharisees and scribes as “elites” or authorities on the law.
- The biblical definition of adultery as when a man has intercourse with a married or engaged woman and the violent(!) punishments for the offense for both parties (See Deuteronomy 22:22, Leviticus 20:10, Leviticus 21:9 & Deuteronomy 25:11-12)
- How Jesus “remixes” the law/tradition in a liberating way.
A core lesson for our group is how Jesus deftly exposes the tradition-based self-righteousness of the scribes and pharisees (“Where are they? Has no one condemned you?”) while offering sympathy and encouragement for the woman (“Neither do I condemn you”). Jesus’ response is a radical shift from the punitive punishment of the law to a restorative accountability for all (“Go and sin no more”).
We then recalled and reflected on the lyrics from Walter Hawkins’ Thank You:
It could have been me (thank you)
outdoors (thank you)
with no food (thank you)
and no clothes (thank you)
or left alone (thank you)
without a friend (thank you)
or just another number (thank you)
with a tragic end (thank you)
but you didn’t see fit (thank you)
to let none of these things be (thank you)
cause everyday by your power (thank you)
you keep on keeping me (thank you)
and I want to say…
Thank you Lord for what you’ve done for me!
In the context of this lesson, these lyrics came across as self-righteous for some in our group. Recalling this song pushed us to reflect on the self-righteousness that permeates our tradition(s). It is often subtle, well-meaning and unintentioned (as I believe it is in that famous Walter Hawkins recording), but is no less hurtful to people who have been or are ill, unemployed, underemployed, homeless, friendless or reduced to a “statistic.” We become like the pharisees and the scribes in this text who want to condemn another for their perceived “sin” or use their condition to remind us of how “holy” and “righteous” we are. Thank you, Lord, for what you’ve done for me, because you didn’t do anything for them.
We closed our session by listening to another song, by Atlanta-based recording artist Donnie. “People Person”, tells the stories of everywomen and men who may have their own hangups, shortcoming and vices, but also offer good to the world. He sings:
Well I know this girl named bonita
She’s what all the boys call a freaka
And if you don’t want to get fined
don’t you put no swine on her plate
And I know this dude from the islands
He want boom boom for the batty man
But I heard from above came true meaning of one love
Well I know this dude who’s a pusher
He got any drug you can think of
And he’ll sling it your way every day but the Sabbath day
And I know this small sect of Muslims
Who don’t like drug dealers so they kill ’em
But every three from afar you can hear them praying to Allah
In the chorus, he quotes John 8:7, singing, “So who are we to give up on anyone, let he that is without sin first cast the stone” and implores the listener to “be a people person” or one who has empathy and hope for all people to live into their potential.
Sometimes, the “law” or “tradition” can keep you from being the “people person” God calls you to be. We can use our church traditions, from high church stoicism to high praise pentecostalism, to lead us to believe we are “better” than others, but this scripture should remind us that Jesus’ call for love and a “common wealth” grounded in concern for the outsider because we are all “working out our salvation.”
Jesus was a “people person”. Are you?
“Theology is loving God with your mind!” – Dr. James H. Cone
I saw someone posted this on a facebook group that I’m a part of. I forgot that I put this “mash up” together!
Oh yeah, the music is the instrumental of OutKast’s ‘Liberation‘ from their 1998 album Aquemini.
The “word” still seems to be going around about our 7 Last Words service earlier this month. We posted the video recap last week that’s been making the rounds. The music on the video is a cover of ‘Mercy Mercy Me’ led by Cat Cain of Cain Management, who also arranged for our musicians and singers to come that night. The photographs were taken by Linda Furtado of Furtados.net (@furtadosdesign).
I love my sisters! I feel the need to share some love for my sisters who made unique contributions that night. Though he couldn’t make it, my brother, Chris Franklin, helped with graphics and promotion. My siblings and I have been through it all and it’s a joy to see us still doing our thing, bringing our talents and gifts together, after all these years!
Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is one of the most important albums of the 20th century. Released in May 1971, in this recording, Gaye meditates on an American dream deferred from the perspective of a Vietnam War veteran. Gaye wrestles with the problems of decay in black and inner city communities, environmental woes, military turbulence, police brutality, unemployment and poverty. Throughout What’s Going On, he expresses vigilant hope in God and humanity while giving voice to the pain, despair and suffering too many experience in this world. More at REBIRTHlive.net.
Recap from What’s Going On: The Seven Last Words of Jesus, a worship experience organized by RE:BIRTH Live and hosted by Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN on April 6, 2012.
WHAT’S GOING ON: THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS
SEVEN WORDS. FOUR PREACHERS. THREE POETS.
Victor Leon Cyrus-Franklin is the Assistant Pastor of EPFM United Methodist Church in East Point, GA. A Nashville, TN native, he is the lead organizer of RE:BIRTH Live. He blogs at REBIRTHblog.wordpress.com and you can follow him on twitter at @changingsame.
Vinni Tribb (Lavinia Rose Tribble) is a mortgage consultant, Zumba instructor, and a published poet (Abingdon Press and CATS). She has performed spoken word at the Africa in April Festival in Memphis, TN and Spoken Word Café.
Rev. Candace Lewis is a New Church Strategist for the General Board of Discipleship of the United Methodist Church. An ordained United Methodist elder, and Ocala, FL native, her charge conference is at Gordon Memorial UMC. You can follow her on twitter at @cmlewisPath1.
D-Revolution is one of the Music City’s hottest and hardest-working spoken-word artists. A native of Chicago, IL, he has gradually worked the underground circuit and is breaking through to broader audiences throughout the region and nation.
Will A. Radford is a Minister and Elder of the Village Church in Nashville, TN. At The Village Church, he has served as a youth & young adult minister, adult discipleship leader and the chair of the Stewardship and Finance ministry.
Sincere (Robin Wilson) is a native Nashvillian. She fell in love with words and “the word” at the hem of her grandmothers apron and the love continues even today. This woman of words has plenty to say.
Dr. Randall C. Bailey is the Andrew Mellon Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA. He is an ordained Baptist minister. You can follow Dr. Bailey on twitter at @rcbaileyitc.
Rev. Vance P. Ross is the Senior Pastor of Gordon Memorial UMC in Nashville, TN. A proud native of Bluefield, WV, he is a “Preacher by calling, pastor by training and trade, working-even now-on God’s Love Takeover in Jesus’ name!” You can follow Rev. Ross on twitter at @vphilipross.