Friday, January 16, 2009

Church, Gaza, and all that jazz

Last weekend we celebrated the birthday of my son. It fell on Sunday, a day when Daddy is tied up, so we had a day out on Saturday before having a special lunch with friends on Sunday.

As he's interested in trains and all things that move, we took him on the tram from Wolverhampton to Birmingham, and then went to the National Sealife Centre.

When we left the aquarium, we walked back to the tram station via the International Conference Centre and were delighted by one of life's serendipitous moments. A band was playing a free Jazz concert in one of the bar areas, so we made our way to the back of the audience and caught a little glimpse of something wonderful. Here was a group of people, of mixed ages and ethnicities, playing together a blend of the most wonderful sounds. As we watched and listened I realised that the band were being led by the two elderly gentlemen in the middle of the room, both with large saxophones (I later discovered that the band were Andy Hamilton and the Blue Notes, and that the saxophones were probably tenor or baritones).

They were getting towards the end of a set, and as they played we noticed that one by one they were all playing a kind of solo, amidst the other instruments. I first noticed that the pianist was doodling away as the others played gently and smiled at him, then the older saxophonist pointed his horn to the younger man on the bongo drums, and the other instruments became quieter as he played a solo that sounded like ten people playing at once, then the other drummer came in, and played, then the guitarist took over, then the bass player then the two saxophones together. It was wonderful, young and old player, deferring to each other, giving each other space to express themselves, yet the whole thing being held together by a shared melody, rhythm and joy in what they were doing.

As a spectator, it was mesmerising, and more than that, made me want to join in. It looked like fun, it looked so positive, and joyful. But alas, I don't play an instrument, yet.

Of course, it made me think of church. I wondered whether it was possible to create a way of doing church that saw each person allowing each other to express their own sound, and also finding the courage to take a breath and summon the courage to make their own contribution, a place where people of diversity could be so united in playing a tune, where whichever spectators there were found themselves longing to be a part.

And then we walked on, and almost immediately found ourselves walking into Victoria Square, met by a rank of police officers and 150-200 angry people protesting about the situation in Gaza. Just as we arrived there was a rush as the crowd surged towards the police line. We found a quick way out of danger and headed for the tram station. As we walked I was just saying to myself “oh well, back to the real world with a bump!” when I realised that what we had experienced in the ICC was just as real, just as possible, just as true as the anger of the protest, as the feeling of fear, frustration and of powerless that those people felt and expressed as they looked at the absence of harmony, the hatred between ethnic groups, and the lack of a uniting tune.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians uses a powerful image of the cross smashing down the walls that divide people groups. I wonder how its power is made manifest in our day?

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