Interview with a Jazz Theologian

I took an opportunity to visit with Denver’s ‘Jazz Theologian.’  His blog is

and he has a book coming out in February of 2009.  What follows is our discussion.

Neo: What is your passion?

JT: Discovering and being the Body of Christ.

Neo: What is unique about the Body of Christ?

JT: We are the only people with the potential to honor but not allow distinctions of race, class and denomination to keep us from being ‘one’ as Jesus describes in John 17.

Neo: What does that look like?

JT: A jazz ensemble.  Distinct instruments, playing the same song with room for improv. Call and response; playing in concert with and for each other.

Neo: I see Obama calling for Americans to move away from our polarization to embrace  our unity, to look at what unites rather than divides us.  Is this a realistic goal?

JT: ‘E pluribus Unim,’ from the one, many.  This is the fundamental challenge of our country–how do we make the many one?  It seems to be an elusive goal.  I believe the church, however, can be the vehicle that brings it about.  The Spirit can bring it about.  Look at Pentecost…unity without uniformity.  Obama is echoing what many desire–what Dr. King desired–but Obama hasn’t necessarily pointed to the answer.

Neo: What is your opinion of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright?

JT: One’s response to Rev. Wright reflects your awareness of the prophet he is named after-Jeremiah.  If you have read Jeremiah from the Old Testament, then Rev. Wright is no big deal.  Rev. Wright got himself in trouble when he called America to be damned when, as Christians, we should be calling for mercy.  We must have room in our ensemble for people to improvise with solos we do not necessarily like.  Don’t forget what Billy Graham said, ‘If God does not judge America, then he will have to personally apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.’  That’s tough stuff.

Neo: The Immigration debate is often characterized by more heat than light.  How does the Body of Christ respond?

JT: The question of national security, borders and immigration are public policy issues that I do not have any easy answers to.  What I do know, is that whenever God allows mass movements of people, he seems to be up to something.  Whether it is the Israelites migrating from Egypt and then in the wilderness for 40 years, or the massive number of people who had to migrate in Herod’s time for a census.  It is clear that God is willing to move massive amounts of people, just to have one baby born in the right city!

4 thoughts on “Interview with a Jazz Theologian

  1. Question for JT: What do you think Christ is saying in John 17 when He wants us to be one? More detail please. I would very much like to hear more context. What would that look like in completeness? What does it mean for us? To be fair, I have had to struggle with these questions and answer them, and the answers have changed my views on a great many things.

  2. E pluribus unum. The motto of the United States is full of idealism and promise, but both can be subverted when one or another group presses for power in defiance of true civil rights and social justice.
    Jazz Theo echoes true theology when he says that the Church can be the vehicle that brings “e pluribus unum” to reality. Throughout history it has done this well on some levels, but on other levels, and in some times and places, has worked against it horribly and with tragic results.
    Though I am a Greek Orthodox, to me the Church is “the company of all faithful people” as the BCP states, the context of this being of course that we’re talking about those who believe in Jesus Christ as Lord, God and Savior.
    I think we are actually in a post-Church age, though the churches are afraid to admit that. Temple worship doesn’t have to cease, if that’s what people still want, but Jesus tells us that the kind of worshipers the Father wants are those who worship in spirit and truth. Church hierarchies, chains of command, and so forth, fulfill their function as sheep dogs for the flock, but for those who really are sheep of His fold, only Jesus can be the shepherd, and He’s a good one. That flock is already “e pluribus unum” and actually always has been, even though the sheep dogs like to divide and conquer the flock, and try to keep us from hearing the Shepherd’s voice over their barking.

  3. Hello John,

    I’m not sure your specific qurstion but Jesus gives us the Trinity the model for what unity in the church should look like. The trinitarian model should trump all racial, class, generational and denominational divisions for the sake of displaying the love of God to the world. (Let me know if you what me to get more specific)

    Father Neo…you’re the man!

  4. The points you make are valid regarding race / class /generations, but they flow out of love for our neighbor — this John passage does seem to address the denominational component, however, and I will say more shortly. I 100% agree that we must love our neighbor as Christ loved us, Christian or not. I find myself to be among the worst of sinners in trying to live this out, but I pray God will have mercy on me and teach me to love more deeply.

    That said, the John 17 passage is often called the ‘Great High Priestly Prayer’ (I’m sure you already knew that) — yes, He is praying for the Church. In specific, He is praying that the Church would be one, like He and the Father are one — Christ himself is one with the Father, two natures: fully human, and fully divine; but one hypostatic union. To look at the qualities of His two natures, one is a physical nature (human), and one is a spiritual (divine) nature. He is praying that the Church would be unified both physically and spiritually — He is praying we would not have denominations (division). This is one of the many reasons I realized I could no longer remain Protestant — part of my repentance for division was becoming an Orthodox Christian some years ago. I see in this passage nothing about race, gender, etc, and everything about right doctrine (essentially the literal meaning of the word ‘Orthodox’) — sort of what you have said about denomination divisions, but not quite. These divisions are a dividing of Christ’s physical body, His Church. The only way to ‘trump’ such a division is to not take part in it. It is out of my love for Him that I stopped doing so — for I had nothing to ‘Protest’ anyway.

    I have a tendency toward the pedantic, so I think I’d be best off stopping here.

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