A Jazz Drummer, Christ the Savior, & Dynamic Unity

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I was reading Christ the Sacrament of the Encounter with God by Edward Schillebeeckx (Oxford: Sheed & Ward, 1963) and discovered a surprising metaphor for Christ as a sacrament. Schillebeeckx writes:

“Just as when a drummer is playing, he is extending himself through all his bodylines into the instruments grouped about him, so that these instruments dynamically participate in the expressiveness of his rhythmic movement, making but one total movement… so too the heavenly saving will of Christ makes one dynamic unity with the ritual gesture and the sacramental words of the minister who intends to do what the Church does” (page 77).

This brought Buddy Rich’s “Dancing Men” to my mind. The song begins with Buddy setting the tempo and riffing around the song’s main beat. At about 12 measures, the horn line blasts the melody, and the song is off and going. Everything in that song goes back to the drummer. Buddy “extends himself through all his bodylines into the other instruments.” Everyone participates to make one total movement.

In the church, we live out our salvation. Through singing, communal prayer, reading and studying the Bible, and celebrating our Lord’s supper, we become unified in Christ. This dynamic unity moves, just like jazz. Different people play different roles. Sometimes one person stands up and everyone watches that person’s role, just like the different musicians taking turns playing solos in a jazz group.

Schillebeeckx is a serious theologian. He’s not the type to draw the comparison between theology and jazz. The Belgian-born Dominican taught at the Catholic University in Nijmegen, Holland. One of his central arguments was that we should approach Jesus from below. This means beginning with his earthly ministry. That is, everyone can relate to the idea of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Schillebeeckx’s Christology begins with this bottom-up approach.

As a Baptist, I appreciate Schillebeeckx’s approach. As a jazz listener, I was happy to see how he used jazz to demonstrate dynamic unity in the church. Churches around the world are struggling to show that they are relevant. Some try gimmicks to attract people. Jesus didn’t do that. When people demanded miracles as proof he was who he said he was, he said no. For Jesus’ earthly ministry connected people to God and to one another. His life started building the dynamic unity that still exists in the church today. The best part is we get to participate.

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