Dear Advent People in Christ,
“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.” Exodus 3:7
When we suffer, we die to self. It is always the darker part of the journey of being a Christian that no one wants to talk about. And although liturgically we are reminded of this every Lent, for many people life situations with cancer, mental illness, addiction, dysfunctional family life…you name it, it is not a part of the journey that you wish upon anyone and has no liturgical season because it is ‘full time all the time’. But as Pastor Nancy says each Sunday at the end of the Eucharist: ‘Life is short, we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be quick to love and make haste to be kind…’
What does suffering have to do with Jazz Mass and why do we have them at Advent? I was asked these questions recently. First, it is so easy to forget that our second hymnal (Lift Every Voice and Sing) is dedicated to and filled with music empathizing with the legacy of slavery in America. Jazz has been called ‘the music of an oppressed people’. I realize that some people do not see Jazz that way and that is unfortunate because ‘the blues’ (literally and figuratively) is at the root of this great music. Dr. King wrote: “Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved… Everybody longs for faith.”
My spiritual mentor, The Rev. Canon Lloyd Casson speaks more plainly that this by raising the idea… “ How racism still separates us and so blatantly still defines American life.” It is the National Episcopal Church that has stood up to and still stands up to racism. This has in fact defined us as a church when we stood with Dr. King as the Civil Rights movement was so ‘fired up’ in the 1960’s and again in the 1980’s aligned with Archbishop Tutu against the practice of Apartheid in South Africa. The Jazz Mass, Jazz Vespers are expressions of this and… ‘take on the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.’ (Dr. King)
For my part, my original jazz composition: ‘Pavane for a Dragonfly’ and ‘David danced (after Ellington) empathizes with this legacy of suffering and loss. In fact, my ‘Pavane’ is dedicated to Father Dave Thomas and for me help put that loss into a context to move forward. If you a member of Advent in good standing, ask me after a Sunday service and I will give you a copy of my latest Jazz recording which begins with ‘Pavane for a Dragonfly’. It features Advent’s own alto saxophonist, Ed Kirkpatrick and was recorded at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, 38th and Chestnut Sts at our Jazz Vespers there. I am grateful that Jazz as an art form resonates with so many of Advent members and I appreciate their support more than words can say. Many of you know that Joan and I have five amazing grand-boys in Brooklyn who are people of color. Their lives will be shaped by the world that we leave them. And so our investment of faith is an investment in hope for the future in this country.
I will close with another quote from Canon Casson. I believe that this is where our hope lies: “ Where I wish to end up is with prayer that we in the US and for all peoples everywhere, will seek to become what our Creator-by whatever Name or no name-intends for all of us: to respect the dignity of every human being and to love our neighbors as ourselves.”
Isn’t that what God is calling us all to become?
Director of Music