I had two conversations yesterday with student jazz musicians – and in both of them the subject of jazz musicians and drugs came up. In the first instance, it was a black American musician. In the second case, it was a white British musician. One is alive. The other is dead.
What are the common denominators between these two – besides jazz? Well, both are male. Both are associated with having an extraordinary level of talent – both in technique and musicianship as well as creativity. Both refused to just play one style of jazz music – they were into a wide range of music styles and refused to be pigeon-holed.
But both also became drug users and abusers – and in so doing, they have joined a very long list of persons associated simultaneously with both jazz and with drugs.
So, for the conservative Christians reading this who have been taught to associate jazz with the devil and his evil ways – these two would be perfect poster boys for the many anti-jazz campaigns that exist within the church – and even within society. And I’d respond to that – if this post wasn’t about something else. And I am staying on track.
There is a text that comes to mind from Galatians 6:
7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
This is as true for the Bible-believing Christian as for the Koran-ignoring Muslim as for the bigoted atheist as for the liberal adherent of a given Eastern religious system – etc. And yet, good people, please do not misunderstand me. I am not here to judge. I’m here to say that when people make certain decisions at certain times, they often do so without stopping to consider the potential long-term consequences of their actions. Our society has geared us towards the idea of instant gratification – and this means that we go with our feelings over our rational thoughts. Sometimes the effects of certain decisions are immediate. Sometimes many, many years can go by before the consequences of one decision are obvious to those concerned.
One person decides to experiment with drugs – and becomes addicted. But here is my serious question for the day: does anyone ever actually set out to become a drug addict? Is that the idea that governs the framework that takes a person from being a non-drug-user to being a drug-user? Or is it rather more likely that a person decides that they just want to see what it is like for themselves – they can handle it; they won’t get addicted? I used to play for a short period with a famous jazz musician who had a nickname due to the quantitites of a certain drug he always consumed. For those interested (and especially my fellow Christians – Seventh-Day Adventists in particular), let me add this this was my jazz career phase 1 – not the current one phase 2 which is focussed on sacred jazz – and more to the point – this man did nothing but treat me well and support my early career – and not once did I EVER see him do anything like that. My point being: this man spoke on certain occasions about others who had fallen into hard times through alcohol and drug abuse. And there was one time when he closed the conversation with the words, “….but when you are weak, you are weak.”
I have been pondering the import of those words ever since that day. I knew what he was saying. I also knew that what he was saying was not in line with what the Bible teaches about the human condition. This guy was in effect saying that if a person was strong enough, they could handle drugs. But if they were not – then maybe it wasn’t such a good idea [in fact, he was saying much more than that, but I’ll keep it simple this time]. But how is it that some people abuse drugs for years and live to their seventies and eighties, whilst others end up dead in their thirties and forties?
There is a well-known quotation:
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
You may not be a jazz musician. You may not be any kind of musician. You may not be a drug user. You may not be a subscriber to any religion (and let us not forget some some anti-religious people are positively religious in their hatred of religion – but let me not start on that right now). You may not see what any of this has to do with you.
I ask again: does a person ever set out to be an actual drug addict? Is that the picture that they see in their head when they reach out to put their hands on a substance (legal or otherwise) they they will then ingest?
TODAY – as you read this post, are you where you wanted to be yesterday? Last week? A month ago? Are you where you planned to be this time last year? How about five years ago?
Did you make the decisions and the sacrifices to get you where you most wanted to be? Or, as one of my ministry colleagues said in my hearing on one occasion, have you sacrificed (and are you sacrificing) what you want MOST for what you want now?
You might never ever become a substance abuser. But you can abuse other things – including your own body – in other ways that are both legal and socially accepted. 1 Corinthians 6:18-19 makes it very clear that we can in fact sin against our own bodies – something that even the die-hard Christians who use the word ‘sin’ frequently may not always remember as they should.
But the worst possible thing any of us can abuse is the grace of God. Check this text out:
1 Peter 4:10 (New King James Version)
10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
There is a LOT more that needs to be said – but I am planning at least one sermon on this in the next quarter. And I suspect that (as with so many things) this text will surface in another post here at the theomusicology blog. However, I am going to close this post by announcing that I intend to do more than merely talk about the grace of God. I intend to do my best to live my life in such a way that people see the work of God (His amazing grace) in my life. And I intend to play music that talks about this grace in ways that words never can.
What choice will you make today to determine your destiny?