…a place of peace and Presence by the sea
Welcome: Rev Dr Nancy Parent Bancroft
Focus: Deacon Nancy Batchelor – The elements of jazz have much to teach us about how to live fully in these difficult times. Jazz represents the finest elements of the human soul and the highest ideals of a free, democratic and inclusive society.
“Those who have learned to collaborate and improvise have prevailed.” Charles Darwin
Opening Meditation: https://billmoyers.com/story/democracy-jazz-wynton-marsalis-amazing-grace/
Call to Worship: Adapted from Psalm 86
Leader: Come, Let us worship.
People: Teach us Your ways, O Lord, that we may walk in Your truth; give us undivided hearts to revere Your name.
Leader: We give thanks to You, O Lord our God, and we will glorify Your name forever.
People: For Your love is great towards us; …You are kind and gracious, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Leader: Let us worship, let us praise, let us give thanks!
Opening Prayer: by Heather K Janules
From the power of our memory and history,
With high hopes for the days that lie ahead,
We gather to craft the destiny we share with one another.
We gather with faith in the practice of democracy.
We gather with hearts and minds open
To the wisdom in every voice among us.
In our gathering,
May we dream and design a bold future.
May we bring our best selves to this service,
And may we dream these dreams
And do this work
Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Scripture: Micah 6:6-8, Luke 10:25-37 – Sue Maccalous
Sermon: What Jazz Can Teach Us – Rev. Dr. Nancy Parent Bancroft
Musical Response: Just A Closer Walk with Thee Jazz /Improv/ Michelle Currie
Musical call to Prayer: (two times) Hush now in quiet peace, be still your mind at ease. The Spirit brings release, so wait upon the Lord.
Prayers of the People:
Closing Music: Great Is Thy Faithfulness Jazz/Improv/ Michelle Currie
Benediction: Blessings on Those Staying Home by Linda Barnes
We’re staying home. Love has never asked this of us before.
We’re staying home, this is our gift to humanity.
Let us wish each other well.
For those staying home alone, I offer you this blessing. May you grow a deeper understanding of your own worth. Dear one, leaven the aloneness with gentle care, for this too shall pass. May you be blessed with a peace and serenity; may you find the courage to reach out to hear another’s voice and to remember others need you too. May you be well.
For those staying home together. I offer you this blessing. May you find moments of patience and grace in your relations. May you offer each other enough time apart, reassurance and space enough to cry, to safely rage, for this too shall pass. Then, let peace come again into your home. May you see one another’s whole self as a gift.
May you be well.
For those working from home, I offer you this blessing. May you remember to take breaks. May you find the means to relish your imperfection and the imperfection of others as evidence of our shared humanity. You are enough even when there isn’t enough. Make order in your days and then let it go.
May you be well.
For those staying home with children, I offer you this blessing. May you find humor and compassion in your days. There will be learning of a different kind, deeper no doubt, unexpected for sure. May there be patience and forgiveness, again, and again, and again. For this too shall pass. May you all remember the deep love that brought your family into being. May there be peace and understanding in your home.
May you be well.
May we be well.
May it be so.
Postlude: Go in Peace
“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[a] “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[b] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him kindness.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Sermon – November 15, 2020
What Jazz Can Teach Us
Rev. Dr. Nancy Parent Bancroft
Jazz is a broad musical style that originated during the late 19th century within black communities of the Southern United States.
There are numerous jokes about jazz. They mostly have to do with the small audiences that jazz musicians have compared to other performers and how difficult it is to make a living as a jazz musician. Here are just a few:
What’s the difference between a rock guitarist and a jazz guitarist? The rock guitarist plays 3 chords for 1,000 people, the jazz guitarists plays 1,000 chords for 3 people.
How does a jazz musician end up with 1 million dollars? By starting with 2 million dollars.
What’s the difference between a jazz musician and an extra-large pizza? The pizza can feed a family of four.
What’s the difference between a dead squirrel on the side of the road and a dead musician? The squirrel was on his way to a gig.
What do you call a jazz musician without a girlfriend/boyfriend? Homeless.
I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz this year. As many of you know, Tom was a jazz enthusiast and he had lots of records and CDs. So, in the process of sorting out what I want to keep it occurred to me that there are life lessons to be found in jazz that can help us during these difficult times. By difficult I mean both all of the terrible things going on in our world and in our country and also our limited lifestyle as we self-isolate though the winter. Yes, it’s been hard for us and we’re tired of being distanced from one another and not being able to do the things we want. We’re weary. And with the increasing cold weather both the enjoyment of being outside and the ability for small safe gatherings will decrease. Life will seem even harder for us. And yet, we’re not off the hook. The Lord still asks of us the three things presented in the book of Micah: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
So, how can jazz help?
Jazz is a musical form, with a general foundation of improvisation, syncopated rhythms, and group interaction. A jazz ensemble usually plays a predetermined tune, with each musician adding their own interpretations. This improvisation is the defining element of jazz.
As I reflected on this, the story of the good Samaritan came to mind. We’ve all heard this story hundreds of times. Yet this time, as I meditated on it, something new occurred to me. Jesus used this story, as he often did, to teach a lesson. In this story two characters who hold respected positions in Jewish society, a priest and a Levite, fall short of doing the right thing. And to make matters worse, Jesus chooses a Samaritan as the hero of the story, a pagan foreigner, a member of a group that created a religion that the Jews considered heresy. But wait a minute. Maybe the priest and the Levite were both on their way to doing good things. Maybe they had an important Zoom meeting to get to. But the Samaritan also had an agenda. After all, he was traveling in enemy territory for some reason. The difference was that the Samaritan was the only one willing to be spontaneous, to let go of his plans, and to help. The Samaritan improvised. Listen to that part of the story. After both the priest and the Levite cross to the other side of the road to avoid the injured man, the Samaritan comes along and is moved to show kindness. He takes care of his wounds and then puts him on his own animal, which means he has to walk, and he brings him to an inn, spends the night with him and pays the innkeeper, allowing the stranger time to continue healing. I think that most of us would consider this over and above the call of duty. And yet Jesus ends the story, telling the lawyer and telling us, “Go and do likewise.”
If we are to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God in our present situation, we will have to improvise. And that’s not easy. As we get older, not only do our muscles tend to stiffen, so does our spirit. We get set in our ways, hold on to our comforting routines more tightly and are more likely to become impatient with intrusion. And let’s face it, in these days of Covid, we’re more limited with what we can do. Yet one rule of jazz is, “work with what you’ve got.” Jazz musicians don’t stop in the middle of a song when they hear an unexpected note from another band member. They roll with it and explore the new direction without expectations about what the outcome needs to sound like. Maybe it’s not what they anticipated…but it’s what they have, and they’ll make the most of it. It’s so important, especially now with Covid, to cultivate that “work with it” mindset. It’s so easy to lament on our situation, but it doesn’t do much good. Instead, we can assume that something positive exists within the opportunity as it is and dedicate our efforts toward finding it. It’s not easy at all. But if we can master the art of staying positive and finding potential, we’ll be happier, and our days will be more meaningful.
Charles Darwin is quoted as saying, those who have learned to collaborate and improvise have prevailed.” Acting instructor Martin DeMatt once said, “The fun is always on the other side of a yes.” And actor Will Hines could have been commenting on the story of the Good Samaritan when he said, “The right choice is often the brave choice.”
According to jazz pianist Frank J. Barrett, “Musicians prepare themselves to be spontaneous. Cultivating a virtue of improvisation can facilitate our ability to do justice, and respond to situations generously with kindness. I think that walking humbly with our God means that we remain constantly open to possibilities, to invitations.
Learning jazz language and developing a personal style is a life-long process- a result of consistent practice, listening, and playing with others. In his book, Outliers, which deals with performance practice and human learning, Malcolm Gladwell presents his “10,000-hour rule,” which states that one must have 10,000 hours of focused practice to become an expert at something. He is talking primarily about music, but that rule is likely applicable to all skills, including following the ethical teachings of Jesus Christ as we members of Union Church have committed ourselves to do.
Perhaps jazz has a smaller listening audience than other musical forms because it requires more from the listener. True jazz isn’t elevator music. Duke Ellington said that jazz teaches everyday people and listers how to focus on something and how to pay close attention to detail. He said, “Remember that jazz music has lots of amazing sounds and instruments being played and that often means you have to focus on what you hear. Jazz can help someone to regain a little more focus in their life and how to pay closer attention to what they say and do.”
It’s easy today to focus on what we can no longer do. Maybe we can take a lesson from jazz and sharpen our attention on what we could do. The needs are out there. How can we connect to others? How can we contribute. What if once each week we reached out and performed an act of kindness towards someone? What if once each month we did something to promote social justice? Actor Scott Adsit said it well, “The rules of improvisation apply beautifully to life. Never say no – you have to be interested to be interesting, and your job is to support your partners.”
Sharon Welch, a professor of religion at the University of Missouri, says that she has learned from jazz how to work with limits and opportunities, possibilities and ambiguity, obstacles and challenges. Improvisational jazz musicians never play exactly the same riff twice. To keep their performances fresh, they try new things. Growth is all about shaking things up. That’s innovation. We’re all guilty of falling into the autopilot trap now and then. But if we are to live fully, be our best selves, we may need to challenge our assumptions. Disrupt our norms.
In my roles as parent, counselor and spiritual director I’ve often challenged others. But I’ve tried to never challenge others about something that I’m not willing to do myself. This year I’m learning to live with a new identity, a new lifestyle as a single woman. The morning of Tom’s memorial service my future daughter-in-law Ashley gave me a little pendent of a humming bird. With it was a card stating that the hummingbird is a symbol of flexibility and adaptability and a playful and optimistic attitude. I could see right away that these were characteristics that I needed as survival tools. So, one thing that I did – get ready for it – was to sign up for a hip-hop course. I’ve been practicing beat box, gibberish and rap for the last few months. I’m terrible at it, but joining in groups on Zoom and taking risks of doing something completely out of my comfort zone is for me an emotional and spiritual exercise.
Charles Limb, a neurosurgeon who studies creativity, put musicians and rappers in an fMRI machine and asked them to play something from memory, followed by something they made up on the spot. Limb found that when his subjects switched from playing the memorized diddy to riffing on their own, their brain scans showed significant shrinking in the areas associated with self-censoring and concern about output. That critical self and worry about what others might think can be shrunk.
Good jazz musicians never overthink their next note. They surrender to creative flow. When we put too much pressure on ourselves to do everything right, we often hold back and do nothing at all. Our failures are just as important as our successes for growth and achievement. As Miles Davis once said, “If you’re not making a mistake, it’s a mistake!” When they play, musicians risk their egos. In other words, we can’t be our best selves, if we’re too worried about failure. It’s high time we shed the burden of expecting perfection from everything we do and jump into life with both feet.
When I began working on this sermon my plan was to explore how the elements of jazz might help us thrive during our confinement. But as I sat glued to the TV watching the election returns and thought of all of the devastations of this past year, a veil was lifted and I saw as many of you likely did, how dramatically divided, we are as a nation. Not only are we split pretty much in half, the intensity of that split is breathtaking. I don’t believe that any leader or group of leaders will be able to bring us to a center that is acceptable to all or even most. Our political leaders can no longer safely beat the same old drum. We need to let go of the tradition of self-congratulation that claims that things are getting better all the time and we just don’t realize it. That’s an old and outdated tune. Getting better for whom?
If healing is to take place, we’ll have to abandon this fantasy and the narcissism implicit in it and recognize that the world is moving into an entirely new historical period. Understanding the contemporary world will require that we let go of our preconceptions. Holding on solely to a, Western-centric, white male view limits our ability to see accurately. Indian essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra warns about holding on to a narrow understanding of reality that will not solve the serious problems of our day. For too long, he says, the self-interests and self-perceptions of privileged white men have been passed off as “global thinking”, world history and world philosophy. He points to philosophers, historians, economists and others from Egypt, India, Malaysia, Morocco, Jamaica, China, Brazil and Colombia who offer alternative visions of human coexistence on a fragile planet, but whose voices, like jazz, are rarely heard in the mainstream.
Jazz techniques can teach us something about bridging differences and elevating diverse perspectives. It can be both/and – both emotionally intense and possessed of a deep sense of harmony. Avant guard composer Jonathan Harvey says that when he composes music, he pulls “together these dark conflicts and contradictions in an intuitive drive toward the promised land of unity.”
Think of how many times a dualistic stance has gotten our world into trouble. Right versus wrong. Us versus them. Evil doers versus, well, who? But jazz offers us an alternative, for as Harvey says, if music is to be meaningful it must be more than one thing at a time.
Perhaps you are familiar with John Coltrane’s piece, “A Love Supreme.” When that recording was released it blew people’s minds. They just hadn’t heard anything like it. It was Coltrane’s own drive toward unity and healing, and love. Many jazz enthusiasts consider A Love Supreme the most powerful and spiritual piece of music they’ve ever heard. What if we could approach all conflict with the same drive toward healing and unity and love? All of scripture and most of history has shown that we have to be open to the unexpected and welcoming to the unfamiliar if we are to recognize and participate in divine action.
Unitarian minister Reverend Bret Lortie writes, “If we look at the chord progressions that are written into every jazz score as that which binds musicians in community, the logic of jazz teaches us something about transformation: that the social fabric is not held together by our intellectual ideals, but through people interacting with each other.
One final lesson from jazz – Watch a band play, and you’ll see one musician step forward, belt out a killer solo, and step back. Nobody takes the spotlight for too long, and nobody plays the supporting role exclusively. Everyone gets a chance to shine. We all have something to contribute and this broken world, this broken country needs us all. Let’s work with what we’ve got and play our best. Amen.