The Jazz Theologian

The Jazz Theologian

Tertium Quid (p2)


Creativity is born out of tension.  Jazz came about when a group of people had to live as "unfree in a free land."  That’s tension!  But tension sets the stage for creativity and creativity leads to Tertia Quid–The Third Way.

Jesus knew what to do with tension.  One only needs to remember the woman caught in adultery and his response to marvel at what happens when we are willing to live with two opposing views being true at the same time.  (John 8)


The essence of tension is that multiple realities are simultaneously true–it is the result of two strong opposing elements. 

What if we invited tension into our faith?  What if we sought out the "interplay between conflicting elements?"  It wouldn’t be easy, for tension is difficult and painful, but it would also give rise to creativity and improvisation.  In Jazz music the musicians create with the tension of being individuals and a group, brass and strings, at the same time. 

I think that tension would revolutionize Christianity–if we stopped with "either/or" and embraced "both/and."

What if we were liberal and conservative; Republican and Democrat; critics and supporters; sinners and saints…full of grace and truth?


Jazz thrives on tension and a jazz-based faith will discover the wonder of improvisation if we are willing to embrace opposing views at the same time.

Take abortion for example.  What if both sides are correct?  What if life begins at conception and a woman does have the Constitutional right to choose?  We spend most of our time trying to prove the other side wrong, but assume that both sides are equally right, provides the necessary tension for improvisation.

If we were to sit with tension for a while, I bet that we could come up with some real creative ideas and solutions–I bet there is a third way still to be discovered.

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posted April 27, 2006 at 8:11 pm

Amazing post. I always love your words. I’ve been thinking about working on a tension theology for some time now, where both are correct and neither can work together. What does that mean…improvise. Awesome. Sometime it would be fun to collaborate posts…that is if you like what I have to say. Thanks again for your words. Working theology with jazz is such an awesome approach.

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posted April 27, 2006 at 11:00 pm

tension, resolution, fusion, let’s bring all those into the theological vocab.
well done!
i like the idea of both/and, but sometimes it also feels like we need to replace eithor/or with niether as well.
after all, some jazz movements and jazz pioneers choose to negate as well…

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posted April 27, 2006 at 11:53 pm

Beautiful post. Like someone has mentioned earlier, I totally love the way your word your thoughts.
Your posts are enjoyable as ever. Keep it going! :)

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Chris Martin

posted April 28, 2006 at 12:37 am

Tension is a beautiful thing, but I think there is a part of tension that also must be examined. That aspect is respect. In jazz, there may be a few instruments that are seemingly in-compatible soloing in the same tune. They may together clash and make some of the most amazing sounds imaginable, and that’s what’s beautiful about it.
But is necessary to note that neither is better than the other. Neither instrument thinks that it is the king or head instrument, but part of the whole. Actually, it may be safe to say that without these tensions the full beauty of one single instrument cannot be heard. What’s a solo without a rhythm section?
I wonder if that is the same in theology…0If abortion is our case study; can the pro-life stand be fully appreciated without the pro-choice idealism? Or must there be some sort of mutual respect?

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posted May 1, 2006 at 5:30 pm

Im grateful to all of you for your kind words.
But here’s my question…if tension leads to creativity, then what would be a creative alternative in the Abortion debate?

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posted May 10, 2006 at 6:40 pm

adoption comes to mind…
More about both/and…
Are you familiar with “Cognitive Dissonance”? That is a psychological break that occurrs when the tension of holding two opposite views to be true becomes too great to handle. Say a pacifist looses a spouse to murder. The pacifist wants the killer dead and the incongruent beleifs cause a mental break. Overly dramatic example, but you get the idea.

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posted May 13, 2006 at 10:27 pm

In a sense what I’m suggesting is that we make it a practice to choose “Cognitive Dissonance” in our faith. Most Christian teaching of the past century was approach with the goal of ridding Christianity of percieved contradictions and in the process lost all creativity.
stay in the groove,

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James Fletcher Baxter

posted May 17, 2006 at 7:55 am

Each individual human being possesses a unique, highly
developed, and sensitive perception of diversity. Thus
aware, man is endowed with a natural capability for enact-
ing internal mental and external physical selectivity.
Quantitative and qualitative choice-making thus lends
itself as the superior basis of an active intelligence.
Human is earth’s Choicemaker. His title describes
his definitive and typifying characteristic. Recall
that his other features are but vehicles of experi-
ence intent on the development of perceptive
awareness and the following acts of decision and
choice. Note that the products of man cannot define
him for they are the fruit of the discerning choice-
making process and include the cognition of self,
the utility of experience, the development of value-
measuring systems and language, and the accultur-
ation of civilization.
The arts and the sciences of man, as with his habits,
customs, and traditions, are the creative harvest of
his perceptive and selective powers. Creativity, the
creative process, is a choice-making process. His
articles, constructs, and commodities, however
marvelous to behold, deserve neither awe nor idol-
atry, for man, not his contrivance, is earth’s own
highest expression of the creative process.
Human is earth’s Choicemaker. The sublime and
significant act of choosing is, itself, the Archimedean
fulcrum upon which man levers and redirects the
forces of cause and effect to an elected level of qual-
ity and diversity. Further, it orients him toward a
natural environmental opportunity, freedom, and
bestows earth’s title, The Choicemaker, on his
singular and plural brow.

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