Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Tuesdays with Todd . . .

Delfeayo, Conquistadors, Pharisees, and Wisdom

It is so easy to overlook the wondrous things around us. Though they are always there, or perhaps because they are always there, we take them for granted. This spring I have been on a conscious quest to make some time to appreciate at least a few of these things.

In the past few months I have discovered Franklin, St. Francisville and the Clark Creek Natural Area and rediscovered Grand Isle, Mandeville, Abita Springs, Ponchatoula, and several other relatively nearby locales that I have long taken for granted.

In keeping with my motif of getting out and doing things I have not done before and discovering and rediscovering my own back yard, I did something this weekend that I had never done before.

Just up the road, about an hour away, lies New Orleans. The wealth and diversity of cultural and epicurean delights to be found there are virtually endless. Now, I have lived between one hour and one half hour from N'awlins all of my life, and yet had never been to a jazz club. Can you imagine living that close to the home town of Harry Connick Jr., Wynton Marsalis, Irma Thomas, and multitudes of other notable musicians, a place where you can find world-class jazz pretty much any night of the week, any week of the year, and never having taken advantage of that?

Now, in my defense, I just wasn't raised that way. Having grown up in a pentecostal church, in my mind jazz clubs were smoke-filled, tawdry, dens of iniquity wreaking of cheap cologne and stale booze, ... or cheap booze and stale cologne. And you could definitely make the case that there was little reason for a good Christian man to be in that environment. And there are many places in the French Quarter like that, places there would be little reason for me to patronize.

But, there are also some real gems to be found. I, and a couple of dear friends, found just such a little nook and enjoyed a wonderful evening of music provided by a member of one of New Orleans' premier musical families, Delfeayo Marsalis, and his band.

The scene I beheld was exactly NOT what I expected or had long envisioned. Instead of drunks trying to hit on my friends, I saw nice, polite people of many ethnicities enjoying very sophisticated music. I saw an older couple tenderly holding hands during a particularly romantic tune with a long lulling trombone solo. The mood was happy and the music was great. Musically I heard intricate melodies, subtle phrasing, complex chord constructs, mathematical rhythms, and a joyous energy that ranged from frenetic to genuinely romantic in the best sense of the word.

Preconceptions are very rarely accurate. Whether they be about people, places, or things, they usually mislead us ... and you know what they say about when we ass-u-me ...

Sometimes we have a gut reaction upon meeting someone that turns out to be exactly right. Other times, we make assumptions or sweeping generalizations, sight unseen, based upon no information, or second hand information, that lead us to faulty conclusions and preclude us from experiencing all of the good things that God provides for our enjoyment. I was recently speaking with a friend about these things. We ended up exchanging cliches like "don't throw out the baby with the bath-water" and "eat the fish, but spit out the bones". Sometimes cliches stick around for a reason - they encapsulate a fundamental truth about life.

Unfortunately we, as Christians, are sometimes the very worst regarding this. In our vain attempts to portray ourselves as what we believe appears spiritual and holy, we end up like the Pharisees, believing that holiness is derived by not going certain places, not eating certain things, and not interacting with publicans and sinners. This leads to an arrogance that is very unappealing to the very people we say we hope to win to God's Kingdom.

I am reminded of some of the first missionaries to the new world.. On the whole, they simply trashed the local religions. This stands in sharp contrast to the way Paul used the Athenians belief in an "Unknown God" as a starting point to bring them knowledge of The One True God. I believe that we make the same mistake when we simply trash other's way of life. It would be more profitable to start where they are and show the way from there.

For instance, it seems to me that starting with the beauty, emotion, and mathematical structure of music and working toward God from there, is much more in keeping with Paul's methods and much more effective than simply saying repent, you evil man with your devil music!

Of course, as with all things, there is balance in this. I am not saying that we should all get out and start going to clubs and that if you don't you're a Pharisee! I guess I'm just saying that we should not simply dismiss things out of hand. Maybe we should give a little thought and some prayer as to what things we do or do not do, and why we do or do not them.

This requires wisdom. Happily, this is something that, when asked for, God gives liberally.


Nicole said...

Well done, Todd. You nailed it as far as the arrogance factor. Holiness is a heart condition manifested in our actions toward others. When the Law governs our conduct, we will never measure up to the heart of Christ. The instructions are clear, and we all need to follow the heart of what the Holy Spirit is telling us.

Jennifer L. Griffith said...

You re-discovered my old hometown that will always be "home" to my heart...Mandeville...especially the lakefront. Unfortunately, it's changed so much that I hardly recognize the place where I lived for over 25 years when I go back to visit. But my dearest friends are still there and that will always keep it special to me.

Todd said...

It still has charm and is still a very picturesque town. I have seen some of the most spectacular sunsets in my life along that lakefront. Some of my favorite sunset pictures I have ever taken (http://picasaweb.google.com/todufrene / www.myspace.com/mightydad) were taken there.

Anonymous said...

well said.