If you are studying systematic theology and have to work your way through Greek and Hebrew flash cards, you might think a nice quiet library would be the right spot. Not for Robert Gelinas. While working on a degree in biblical studies, he headed to a local jazz venue that stayed open late and offered bottomless cups of coffee. He would talk to the musicians about Jesus, and they would school him in the ways of jazz. "It was there," says Gelinas, "that I realized that jazz is more than music and, when understood, can be applied to prayer, Bible study, and the way we do church."
Today Gelinas is lead pastor of Colorado Community Church's Aurora campus, where he also founded Project 1.27, an adoption ministry that encourages the adoption of every child in the state's foster care system. (Gelinas and his wife, Barbara, have six kids—one biological and five adopted, including two from Ethiopia.) But these days Gelinas may be best known as the Jazz Theologian. He has a a website by that name, a book titled Finding the Groove: Composing a Jazz-Shaped Faith (Zondervan), and another coming in 2011, Strange Fruit: Responding to the Blue Note of the Cross (Zondervan).
Question & Answer
Who are your favorite jazz musicians?
I enjoy Miles, Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Dexter Gordon from back in the day. Today I like Kirk Whalum, Roy Hargrove, and Marcus Miller. But my favorite jazz artist is the great American novelist Ralph Ellison, who demonstrated that jazz is more than music with his classic novel, Invisible Man. He showed that if we understand the basics of jazz, we can see it expressed in a variety of ways.
What's "jazz theology"?
Jazz theology is what happens when we express the basic elements of jazz in our relationship with God—syncopation, improvisation, and call and response. These allow us to find our own voice within Scripture; experience life in concert with other practicing Christians; truly have time as servant leaders instead of time having us; and sing the blues so as not to waste any pain.
What do you mean by "sing the blues so as not to waste any pain"?
To sing the blues is to embrace the cross of Christ and the cross he calls us to bear. In the process we realize that Jesus not only redeems us from our sin and sadness, he also actually redeems our sin and sadness.
What does jazz-shaped faith look like in your life?
It helps me as a servant leader. A jazz drummer sitting behind the band has the worst seat to see from but the best to listen from. From that vantage point he is able to speed time up and slow time down depending on what others are doing. As a pastor this reminds me that one of the best things I can do is listen to what others are expressing about what God is doing in their lives, so I can serve them as Christ would.
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Robert Gelinas blogs at JazzTheologian.com.
Previous Christianity Today articles on jazz include:
Arts: God's Groovemongers, Bowls & Beasts in Sharps & Flats | Latin American musicians Justo Almario and Abraham Laboriel jazz up the gospel. (November 11, 2006)
The Dick Staub Interview: Why God Is Like Jazz | "Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, talks about why Christians need writers who honestly deal with their faults and why penguin sex is an apt metaphor for believing in Christ." (August 1, 2003)
One Musician, Two Gigs | A church pianist by day, Deanna Witkowski lights up the New York jazz scene by night. (May 22, 2000)
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