Come on out for the 10th anniversary
gala benefit concert for the
Berkshire Environmental Action Team
—Beats 4 B.E.A.T. ! —
at First Church on Park Square on
Sunday, August 17, at 3:00 PM!
Between the Banks will once again serve as the house band, with special guests including
Charlie Tokarz, Linda Worster, Andy Kelly, Rebecca Leigh, Jon Haddad, and Weez McCarty!
A freewill offering will be collected — all proceeds go to support
the ongoing work of B.E.A.T. in our community.
This Sunday, July 15, Between the Banks will help the congregation explore the spirituality of jazz in the context of worship. We’ll share instrumental versions of “Birks’ Works” and “Take the A Train,” along with a vocal rendition of “Killing Me Softly.” In the words of Rev. Dr. James Lumsden, “Jazz is all about the sheer exuberance and joy of freedom, the bounty of God’s grace as a gift and the uniqueness of each and everyone one of us.”
Jazz teaches us to listen—carefully—to the music, to each other, to where the Spirit is leading us together. Jazz teaches us to wait—receptively—until we are moved to add our unique sound to the mix. And jazz gives us proof that by listening and waiting and trusting, something beautiful will indeed grow from that tiny seed of inspiration. That insignificant and broken thing we call our Self can join with other insignificant, broken selves and create a garden of sustaining beauty. Just like the song, “Killing Me Softly,” grew out of a number of individual moments of inspiration on the part of several different people to become a thing of beauty, made a hit by Roberta Flack and covered by lots of musicians since in many styles and settings,
we too can bring our individual inspirations to the table and create lasting beauty together. Please bring your inspiration to our table this Sunday and help us make something beautiful!
In his article, “Seeing God in Jazz,” in the fall 2011 issue of Duke University Divinity School’s journal, Divinity, Willie James Jennings describes jazz ensembles and how they demonstrate truths that would benefit all Christian congregations. His words apply to any musical ensemble, not just jazz, although jazz makes it more visible. I see in his words so much of what I experience and hope to express in making music with Between the Banks.
Churches could learn much from reflecting on a jazz band. Here are a group of people who work very hard at listening, yet give up nothing of themselves in that process, but in fact only gain a true sense of themselves in the common task of making music, producing sound that makes a central statement that exists only through the constitutive performances of each musician. …the many driving toward the one—the one sound, and the one ecstasy of playing well. … Musicians live and play in tight quarters, which is not only a matter of the given but also a matter of choice. They need closeness to hear. Would that Christians could grasp this basic truth of our witness: We don’t simply need each other, we need to be close together in order to truly hear the words we should be saying to the world and, equally important, to hear more clearly the voice of the world, in its pain, suffering, and longing.
Jazz musicians in the midst of playing often gesture toward new possibilities, making visible the reality of hope. It is a moment of transfiguration. As we watch them play it is as though an in-breaking has occurred and who we thought they were and we were gives way to a new revealing.
This Sunday, April 29, at First Church, we will hear from a number of folks about why they choose to participate in different aspects of the church’s ministry, including mission, justice, education, and worship. Between the Banks will lead some of the music, sharing an original song by Brian Staubach, “Broken World,” as well as a sacred harp tune, “Ecstasy,” Paul Simon’s “Slip Sliding Away,” and two very different takes on George Harrison’s “Isn’t It a Pity,” (one based on the original and one on Nina Simone’s jazz reworking). If asked why I choose to participate in worship with music, I couldn’t put it any better than Jennings does above. To me, music makes visible the reality of hope, and when I sing or play with a dedicated group of musicians, I can embody truths that my mind often has a hard time understanding or even accepting. I may not be able to say what I believe, but I can surely sing it!
Someone has requested this song, so stay tuned and you may hear a Between the Banks interpretation sometime in the future:
At First Church, we’ve decided to use those rare fifth Sundays in a month to venture beyond the usual Sunday morning bounds. On April 29, we’re going to celebrate some of the different ways we express our commitment to God. Instead of giving a sermon, Pastor James will “interview” a few people briefly about the way they experience and express their faith. One person will speak about living into our faith through Christian education, another will say why justice is important. Another will talk about mission, and for the arts we’ll hear from members of Between the Banks and the choir. Each interview will be accompanied by relevant scripture and music, including Brian Staubach’s original song, “Broken World,” which debuted in our Good Friday service. We will also reprise our two versions of “Isn’t It a Pity” and the jazz kyrie from the Good Friday service.
We’ll have our first band practice since Easter tonight—we took a much-needed and well-earned break after Holy Week to rest up, but now we’re ready to get back in gear!
This coming Friday – April 6th – we will be doing theology through the arts at First Church on Park Square. Here are the opening comments to set the context for our music, poetry, prayer and sharing.
Greetings and blessings to you all tonight: I am so very grateful that you are here for our prayerful reflections on the Cross of Jesus Christ in our 21st century context. We are engaged in an experiment you might call “doing theology through the arts.” Tonight we are using music and poetry – prose and prayer, movement and rest, as well as silence, sound and a sculpture that brings together light and darkness – to illuminate our connection to God in the Cross.
- Theology, you see, is the careful exploration of what we can know about God. We are given some insights, of course, through Scripture and worship. And in this community, we take those words very seriously.
- So seriously, in fact, that tonight we are trying to go deeper – to discover and listen and experience what can be known about God’s words in the Cross – because the wisdom of the Lord in not simply a linear, rational truth. It touches our hearts – and souls – and relationships. It changes the way we see and listen and move in the world.
As artists – who are also people of faith – we are going to use our gifts and imaginations to wrestle with the horror and hope of the Cross. What does it mean, for example, to follow a Messiah who is a total loser in the eyes of the world? What does it feel like to have all your expectations destroyed by the Lord? Or to feel abandoned, alone and forsaken as Jesus did?
What we have done for tonight has three layers – and let me try to clearly illuminate them so that you might enter this encounter more fully.
- First, we have taken one of the oldest prayer forms in the Christian tradition – the Veneration of the Cross and Reproaches – and rewritten them. Not only did we seek to strip the old form of its ancient anti-Semitism – for we stand in solidarity with, not judgment of, our spiritual forbearers in Judaism – but we also wanted to understand how the mystery of the Cross touches us today. We believe that what we do in worship is a matter of life and death.
Another artist – the painter Mako Fujimura – has written: What we do is about the Life we can live generatively verses commerce driven, celebrity crazed frenzy. When we encounter bodies of casualties like Whitney Houston, or Amy Winehouse, we wonder what struck us. And yet, we do not realize that we have been worshipping the wrong idols all along, and all of us are capable of such misplaced devotions, misaligned liturgies. It’s not so much about excluding ourselves from the secular liturgies, but to repent that we have not understood what a beautiful liturgy is, or to discover, for the first time, that gifts and stillness was there all along behind the voices of the casualties of culture wars and flash bulbs going off. This is a time to rediscover why and from whom the Greatest Gift of All has come from. But it’s more complex than to diagnose and speculate on what went wrong, when really, Houston and Winehouse are just the tip of the iceberg.
- Consequently, we have tried to remove any false or misleading distinctions that so often separate the secular from the sacred: that is the second layer of tonight’s presentation – an awareness that the Cross speaks to our politics – our use of money – how we see and treat one another as much if not more than what kinds of prayers we say when we’re all alone. That’s why we have chosen mostly secular songs that have spoken to us part of the wisdom of the Cross. “Isn’t It a Pity” is pure lament.
When the “Long and Winding Road” is set alongside the story of the Cross we see how often we find ourselves at a crossroads aching for help in choosing the most compassionate road home in the midst of often terrifying options.. When we deconstructed Paul Simon’s song, “The Boxer” it pointed to Christ’s own discouragement and shame on the Cross.
And then we discovered a taste of the fear the disciples themselves must have felt in a song called “On the Way Home.” That will be a hard song for some to hear – it is dissonant and harsh – and all about losing faith, being shamed by trusting Jesus and living for a time without any clear foundation. But like St. Paul taught, “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.19For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
I hope you will let yourself go into the deeper truths of the song even as the music challenges you…
- And third, each artist tonight has brought to this presentation a new sense of artistic creativity and humility: Brian has written a powerful new song about what the Cross looks like in our contemporary world. Eva and Dianne are singing songs waaaaaaaay outside their comfort zone as they listen for the truth of God in new ways. And Dave and Andy, Jon and Carlton and Sue bring their abiding and healing commitment to beauty and grace to the mix, too.
So that’s what we’re going to share tonight:
- a way of doing theology with the arts about the Cross
- a commitment to breaking down sacred/secular distinctions
- all within the context of creativity and faith and trust
Throughout the evening – during the music or the readings or even the silence – if you feel moved to express yourself in a visual prayer, let me encourage you to come forward and light a candle on the cross, ok? Ted has constructed it to be a place where you can offer prayers of hope or despair – sorrow or celebration – fear or trust. And you can come up whenever the Spirit moves you – from this point until the close – so let your heart be your guide.
Listen now for the wisdom of the Lord as we come to the Cross in our own Context…
On our way home from the Joan Osborne concert last night, James and I talked through our arrangement of “On Our Way Home” some more. Neither of us was really happy with what we came up with on Tuesday—it was too straightforward and pretty. So I thought I’d describe for you all the feeling or understory that I see in this song to help you understand what I’m trying to get at with it.
To me, this song expresses that “WHAT THE F***?!?” moment where what the disciples thought was happening in their journey was suddenly NOT happening and something else really HUGE and HORRIBLE was happening instead. The ground was completely torn out from under them. They knew going to Jerusalem was risky and tried to discourage Jesus from doing it, but he insisted, and then their entry into the city was a big parade with people cheering and waving palms so maybe they were wrong and this was all going to work out o.k., and then they have their Passover seder and all of a sudden Jesus is accusing them of betraying him and gets all weird and morbid on them. He stays up praying the whole night and then the next day Judas tips off the guards and Jesus is arrested and taken away. The crowds who were cheering him are now jeering him. What the f***?!?
So they want to dig a hole and bury all their scrapbooks, forget the whole thing. Pretend it didn’t happen. They were trying to find Sacramento: “sacrament,” “eucharist”—but felt like they were completely lost. “The compass broke; this map’s a joke; and we are turning around”—where they ended up sure didn’t feel like a sacrament to them, not the Coming of the Messiah they expected at all. And everyone is laughing at them. They want to just get the hell out of there.
The last verse to me both expresses the feeling that there’s a lot more to this whole Jesus thing than anyone understood or was prepared for (“all the thoughts we’ve ever had were hammers that sat in our garages gathering dust”), and draws everyone into it—we are all, each, standing in the disciples’ place (“everyone we’ve ever known is in us; everyone we’ve ever known is here”).
I’ve had a “WHAT THE F***?!?” moment in my life, where it felt like the ground I thought I stood on was suddenly gone. That’s the feeling I’m going for in this song. Confused, frightened, angry, humiliated. Musically that says to me: distortion, unexpected chord changes in the instrumental break, voices that aren’t perfectly in sync. Forget the directions I printed on the lyrics sheet—we’re taking it a whole different way. Living into the song…