The month of April is “Jazz Appreciation Month.” And though there are no greeting cards associated with Jazz month, it is still an important aspect of American culture. Jazz music is an American art form—truly American. Unlike classical music, which is from Europe, most music that is considered American finds its roots in jazz music—blues and rock especially. I must admit, however, jazz music is an acquired taste. In some ways, I think it’s difficult to understand or appreciate jazz music without being invited to experience it. You almost have to go a jazz club to truly appreciate the “experience” of jazz music. It’s hard to appreciate when you have not experienced; it’s hard to understand when you have not experienced. Thinking about it more, eating sushi and befriending Jesus are much the same.
I remember my first time trying sushi. I was on a break from playing drums with a wedding reception band at a golf club on the south side of Charlotte. Without asking anyone, I heard that the wedding buffet had sushi on it. Being curious and having always wanted to try sushi, I ate some. Within about an hour, I was using my next break to relieve my stomach from the faux-sushi. Later that night, I told one of the other musicians about my experience. They laughed. That was my first sushi experience. Alone and hugging the porcelain god, it was not a fond memory.
My second sushi experience was different. I was in Okinawa, Japan playing a concert there with a jazz trio. The two other guys in the band are good friends of mine and the first thing they wanted to do after sleeping off the jet lag was to eat some “real” Japanese sushi. I was a bit hesitant, but only because of my history with the wedding reception replica of a California roll (aka: faux-sushi). My friends laughed when I told them about my introduction to this raw delicacy and assured me that the “second time will be a charm.”
As we sat around the sushi bar, the little plates of various sushi paraded by us. As each dish passed by, my friends told me the name and what was in it. After asking me what I liked to eat, they suggested what they thought would be a good piece of sushi to start with. Then they taught me about wasabi, soy sauce and ginger root. They described the taste, how to combine them and what they preferred. In short, they personally walked me through this meal, this experience. I asked questions, they answered–if they could. I tried some sushi I didn’t like, and I gagged–they laughed and so did I. It was fun. Not to gag, but experience something new with friends. I’m now a sushi lover, and I like inviting other people to try it because of this experience.
Meeting Jesus is the same way. People need to be invited into the experience, the friendship. Jesus invited Simon to be His friend–to follow Him. In response, Simon invited a few of his closest friends to party with him and his new friend, Jesus.
In a post-modern culture, it’s not healthy to work off of assumptions anymore. We can’t live our lives assuming that people know about Jesus—the Jesus that you’ve experienced. Just like faux-sushi, there are plenty of faux-Jesus’s out there. As well, living a life of assumptions does not create change; it only maintains those assumptions. Saying nothing changes nothing.
While I was on staff at a church a few years ago, I had a guitar player that played in one of the worship bands. Because a jazz musician friend of mine was in town for a few days, I had planned on meeting him and hanging out at a local jazz club after our worship band rehearsal. I invited this guitar player to join us. He had some things on his mind, and I thought we could continue our discussion at the club.
When we got to the club, it was packed, and my friend already had a table and a beer for both of us. Not knowing I had invited someone to join us, we quickly ordered another beer and began to watch the jazz trio (piano, bass and drums) play a song. As they started the song, I leaned over to my guitar player friend and gave him a “play-by-play” of what was happening musically. As we sat in the smoky club, the guitar player felt free to ask both my friend and I questions about what was musically happening with the trio and about jazz music in general. There were no bad or dumb questions. Nothing was taboo. We watched; we talked; we learned. We laughed a bunch, too!
So … jazz, sushi and Jesus–how do we connect the dots?
It all starts with an invitation. Take a moment to look back at early grade school. Remember how you felt when you did or didn’t get invited to a birthday or a sleepover? Although those feelings may age but they don’t mature. Maturity is often how we hide and bury our feelings—Right? All the same, invitations are powerful.
By invitation I don’t mean an invitation to salvation, but an invitation to friendship. For those of us who follow Jesus, we have this as a responsibility. This responsibility is two-fold (or more). First, it is natural. We need to live our lives in such a way that who we are is naturally inviting to others. Not what we do, but who we are. Not our words but our actions.
Second, it is intentional. We need to be very intentional in our personal and communal relationship with Jesus. As well, we need to be intentional about our activity in the community in which we live. This could be involvement in civic organizations or this could be something simple like using the public library instead of buying your books online. Make an effort to be around people.
Along with an invitation to friendship, we must extend an invitation to experience. We must be willing to participate in the experience with those whom we have invited. If I invite someone to eat sushi and then don’t eat, that doesn’t make much sense, does it? The invitation should lead to a friendship, which allows for a common experience. This experience creates conversation, ensues education and builds stronger friendship and healthier community. All the while, we are building trust.
The beauty of the common experience is that it doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad, because we’re together. Whether or not you like sushi or appreciate jazz, it’s about inviting others to experience life, to be together. There are no “dumb” questions and sometimes there aren’t any real answers, but one thing is clear—we’re together.
And as you think about these things, be free to know you are not the source, just the conduit. It’s overwhelming for all of us to live in and think about the complex issues of our post-modern world—we share this as humanity. And yet it is amazing the hope that can be found when we are intentional about focusing our attention on one simple part of our responsibility in following Jesus: to invite and to experience life.