April 2016


[This is a conclusion to the entry from yesterday, an excerpt from my radio script for “The Spirit of Jazz” radio program.]

It was Gandhi who said, “There is an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it though I do not see it. It is this Unseen Power which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses.”

As we consider the gift of mystery on this Spirit of Jazz program, maybe a listener or two, well… both of you…. are thinking, Hey, just turn to the Bible and the mystery is solved. The mystery of the one the creeds call “truly God, truly human,” or the mystery of the cross, or the empty grave, or the mystery of amazing grace… Oh, to be sure, the holy scriptures are filled with many questions and many answers and many more  questions…but there is still lots of room for wondering, puzzling, being mystified if you will.  The philosopher of Ecclesiastes, for example, put it this way: No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all their efforts to search it out, no one can discover its meaning. Even if the wise claim they know, they cannot really comprehend it.

And the Apostle Paul, who seemed to have an opinion on everything under the sun, wrote “…for now we see as in a mirror dimly…” or as a recent translation says, “Now all we can see of God is like a cloudy picture in a mirror…” Still another way to say it comes from Eugene Peterson’s The Message: We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.

So Paul says, in essence, “Look, since there is still in this life this mystery, we are left with three things: faith, hope, and love. And you probably know the rest: the greatest of these is … love. God’s for us, ours for God, and for each other. Maybe there’s nothing more mysterious than unconditional love!

More “mystery music” now from Miles Davis….this is simply called “Mystery.” [from the CD entitled “Doo-bop.”]

CLOSE (over Davis’ tune): That’s aptly entitled “Mystery” from the often mysterious Miles Davis, on “The Spirit of Jazz.” It’s no mystery that “The Spirit of Jazz” is produced by the Presbytery of Geneva for Geneva Community Radio. This is Jeff Kellam, inviting you in the coming week to embrace every mystery, every question mark, that comes your way, always being gentle with people, and with yourself.

 

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[One of my favorite programs in the “Spirit of Jazz” half-hour radio series centered on “Mystery.” The series originally aired in the early 1990s, syndicated to a handful of stations in larger markets by the Presbyterian Media Mission of Pittsburgh. I added a few new programs when the older shows played on an internet station in 2011-12. This script was one of the last among the newer programs.]

This week on “The Spirit of Jazz” we consider a sense of mystery.

Not the kind of mystery that we’d call a “who-done-it?” or a crime that Jethro Gibbs and his NCIS team would be involved in solving. No, let’s go deeper… like the mystery of life itself…not in order to come to any solution or ultimate understanding, nor to draw even a preliminary conclusion…but just to admit that there IS mystery, and that it’s perfectly OK to confess that we possess no key to unlock its secrets. That which we do not, will not, cannot understand – let us merely name it, embrace it, be grateful for it, and draw power from it.

As we begin, here is the jazz classic from Thelonius Monk: “Mysterioso.”

[music plays] and then…

I’ve been thinking about the mystery of it all recently. And I suppose the older I get, and I am getting pretty old, the more comfortable I am with the whole idea of “not knowing.” Maybe all of us who are well along in years are becoming more like children in that way. To the very young, isn’t almost everything a bit of a mystery?  Why is the sky blue? Where did I come from? Most of us who have raised children remember that constant question: why? At some point we ourselves may have stopped asking, but never, I hope, stopped wondering  — questioning, searching, puzzling —  why are things the way they are? Isn’t the brain a mysterious thing? What will death be like? How does reiki work?  Or, does it?Why did my friend Mark get cancer? Why…well, why a lot of things!

Now, admittedly, some folks are not amused by this “mystery” stuff. They don’t like encountering things they don’t understand, can’t explain, or fully quantify.  We live in a world of black and white, with not much room for gray, and rarely a tint of color. But mystery is so cloudy, and so colorful, and so full of gifts that keep us wondering and in awe of possibilities, and thankful, if we have the imagination to consider it, for all we do not know and may yet grow into. You want all the answers? No way is God going to let that happen!

What is the question you are dealing with right now? What’s the mystery you are confronting as this minute passes into the next? Here’s some mystery music to use as your soundtrack to wonder with: Pianist Marcus Roberts, and “Mysterious Interlude.”

[Music plays] and then…

That does sound mysterious, doesn’t it? From his CD called Deep in the Shed, Marcus Roberts and “Mysterious Interlude.”  On the Spirit of Jazz, we’re considering the meaning of mystery.

The rabbi and author Lawrence Kushner once wrote: The first mystery is simply that there is a mystery. A mystery that can never be explained or understood. Only encountered from time to time. Nothing is obvious. Everything conceals something else….Spiritual awareness is born of encounters with the mystery.

Fred Brussat liked how a French writer put it: There is nothing beautiful or sweet or great in life that is not mysterious. And Brussat adds, “The erotic touch that stirs our desire, the majesty of a rainbow from horizon to horizon, the feelings of power in a sacred place, the voice of a deceased ancestor in our ears, the unconditional love of a pet… all mystery.

That mention of the rainbow is interesting. It’s not really the mystery it used to be, because science has explained it all to us, and if we didn’t learn the science of it in school, there’s always Wikipedia. And yet, who doesn’t stop to look at the wonder of the rainbow. Its beauty can’t be explained.

While the Higgs boson may not be the mystery it used to be, won’t it continue to mystify and defy our human understanding for a very long time to come? Will wonders never cease? No. And that’s why mystery is such a gift.

Some more thoughts after this jazz from  our Spirit of Jazz “house band,” Bill Carter and the Presbybop Quartet, from the 2-CD set “Psalms without Words”  — “Deep Calls unto Deep,” from the 42nd psalm that expresses deep thirst for the face of God.

[music plays] and then…

“Deep Calls Unto Deep”… with composer Bill Carter on Piano, and Al Hamme on sax.

One of my favorite authors and theologians is the Presbyterian Frederick Buechner. In one of his older books called Wishful Thinking he writes,

“There are mysteries which you can solve by taking thought. For instance a murder-mystery whose mysteriousness must be dispelled in order for the truth to be known.

There are other mysteries which do not conceal a truth to think your way to, but whose truth is itself the mystery. The mystery of yourself, for example. The more you try to fathom it, the more fathomless it is revealed to be. No matter how much of your self you are able to objectify, and examine, the quintessential, living part of yourself will always elude you, i.e., the part that is conducting the examination. Thus, you do not solve the mystery, you live the mystery. And you do that by not fully knowing yourself but by fully being yourself.

To say that God is a mystery is to say that your can never nail [God] down. Even on Christ the nails proved ultimately ineffective.” So wrote Fred Buechner.

Now, here’s music from the Yellow Jackets: this is entitled “Enigma.”

[music plays] and then… to be continued tomorrow.

For years I’ve felt pretty smug that I didn’t have (or need) a so-called “smart phone.” I confessed that if I weren’t retired, I’d probably actually need one for my work. But having what they call a “burner phone” (on those TV cop shows) was all I needed in order to call my wife from the car if I were running late.

So, for those rare times when having a “mobile” phone was necessary, I had bought, many years ago, a no-contract, per-call phone serviced by Virgin Mobile. Walmart offered that one or a TracFone, and for some reason long forgotten, I went with Virgin Mobile. Whenever I had occasion to call Virgin’s customer service people, it was obvious that I was their oldest customer.

Whether being welcomed by a recorded message or a live rep, there was a “hip hop” attitude that didn’t quite fit my personal demographic. Each time I reached Virgin’s number, I felt old, really old. But also kinda cool. You know, part of what must have been what we called in the 1960s “the in-crowd.” Hip.

Whenever I pulled out that little featureless phone in the company of friends, I felt just a twinge of pity directed my way. All this phone could do was make calls. No camera, no flipping cover, no easy way to text, no ball scores. But I have to say this: people who were on the receiving end of my calls could actually understand everything I had to say. Voice quality was very good, they tell me. Because that’s all the phone had to do: communicate voices back and forth.

But then, after about 12 years, I fell off my bike…and onto the phone. It was in my pocket and came between my body and the pavement. It still worked, but was battered. So my wife took the plunge and gave me a smart phone for Christmas. In keeping with our principles and our budget (not necessarily in that order), Joan shopped around for some time, looking in stores and on line, before making the decision to get an “entry level” phone with an AARP-endorsed carrier. For some reason, they call these “Androids.”

The gift was a total surprise. And we had entered a new age. Granted, this was a modest new age. Knowing that I wasn’t about to trade my “good” cameras for one on a phone, the phone we got has a most basic camera, but serviceable. Google apps were more plentiful than I needed, but there they were. The data plan was very limited, keeping with our needs and budget. (Really, streaming a movie on a tiny screen like that? I’m not that desperate.) For someone who previously had rarely turned his cell phone on, we had all the “minutes” we’d need for calls.

Total cost for the plan was slightly more than what we had paid for the cheap burner.

Three months in, have I somehow been converted to a smart phone junkie? Not really. I hedge because the other night I was sorely tempted to check a ball score while enjoying a jazz concert. But I didn’t. However, when the emcee suggested that we could bolster the audience by sending messages about the concert to friends, I did enjoy posting a 30-second video of the next tune on my Facebook page. That was cool.

I’ve not texted. I’ve made a handful of calls (and my guess that the cheaper the phone, the better the audio quality has proven right according to the recipient of most of my calls: my wife). I admit to checking email and Facebook with my phone, but I suspect that’s going to wear thin. I’m very confident that, given the content I expect to find, there’s little need to let that feature interrupt my already strained ability to pay attention to real life.

So far the most fun part of the phone is the “OK, Google…” app that does voice-activated searches for earth-shaking answers such as, “Name the original members of Three Dog Night.” Self-disciple will be needed here.

I’ve already lost the phone, too, by the way. That old dinosaur cell phone stayed in the sunglasses compartment of my car most of the time. Couldn’t lose it there. The new phone, though, goes with me everywhere, for some reason. Late last week, it fell from my sport jacket pocket during an medical appointment. A half hour later, I went to call my wife and was chagrined to find the phone missing. First thought: call Joan to tell her I’d probably left the phone at the doctor’s. Ahem. One cannot use a phone if the phone isn’t there. It was waiting for me at the receptionist’s desk.

I do acknowledge that the smartphone will come in handy, and that there are some entertaining and addicting features. And that we will have to watch our “data” very carefully. But, I pray (literally) that this gadget doesn’t take over my life the way it has proven to change the lives of so many people around me. I am retired. I don’t need or want to be THAT in touch. Or, that smart.

You might want to check this space in three months, though, and see if I’ve typed a new entry using that teeny keyboard. If I haven’t stepped into a manhole.