Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Deleting The Leader

For the last several weeks, I've been listening to an extended mix of James Brown, one of those Youtube constructions that now make up a considerable portion of my listening.  It's a good deep funky mix, an hour and forty four minutes of sweet delicious licks, and it blares through the speakers in my half finished basement as I work out, keeping my pasty white behind bopping on through my weightlifting regimen.

It's a funny thing, this era, when "Music Television" has almost nothing to do with music, and an online streaming video service is a global repository of music.

What I enjoy most about this mix is that it's a paradox.  It's James Brown without James Brown.  Oh, sure, the Godfather of Soul is still there in the background on occasion, but what makes it such a delight to listen to is his absence.  He has been almost entirely edited out.  It's a little like the difference between Garfield and Garfield minus Garfield. 

It's just better...truer...without him.

Not that I have any great beef with Brown, other than noting his titanic ego, and his tendency to be more than a little bit abusive in relationships, and the PCP, and the...well...yeah.    He was a difficult person...creative and driven and often unbearably hard on those around him.

But the bands that gathered around him?  Those bands were amazing, made up of some of the most talented artists of the late 20th century.  Setting aside the insistent voice of their "leader" for a moment, their gifts are clear.  They laid down some of the sweetest, fattest grooves in the history of music.

Which they continued to do without him, moving on and forming their own bands, combining and recombining.

There's a truth there for the church, I think, one that needs to settle into the egos of everyone who calls themselves a pastor.  What made James Brown the Godfather of Soul was not James Brown.

It was Maceo and Fred and Bootsy and others, the soul all around him, a music that continued even in his absence.

In churches, that is equally true.  The measure of a good church is that it is, of itself, a gathering that understands its purpose.  That can be heightened by a pastor who tells the good story well, and who represents in their person what the church represents.  It can be helped by someone who guides and teaches, both in word and in their own life.  It can be strengthened by an individual who has a gift for articulating the vision that rises from a fellowship.

But ultimately, the gifts and graces of those who have gathered are a truer measure of a congregation.

Do the members of a church do Jesus on their own, even when the pastor isn't watching?  Do they show forbearance and kindness to one another, even if Dear Leader isn't there to tell them to?  Do they...when the fires of disagreement or misunderstanding arise...put out their own fires?  Do they serve from the joy of it?

It is in those places, I think, absent the presence of The One Who Holds Formal Authority, that the music of the Gospel is most truly sung.