Marjory Zoet Bankson: Becoming the Jazz Combo We Are Called to Be

Marjory Zoet Bankson
October 27, 1996

Becoming the Jazz Combo We Are Called to Be

On the overnight at Wellspring, we had the usual collection of rhythm instruments and, after some singing and a first round of "good nights," various drum sounds signaled the fact that not everyone was ready for sleep.

People were making various thumps and squeaks as we tried to find a way to be connected.

Finally, Peter set a clear, insistent rhythm with the drum Paul Holmes had brought from Togo, so the rest of us could join and improvise.

Then, when Peter stopped, Jesse set another rhythm and again, the rest of us were free to improvise, to join and drop out, play loud or soft, trade instruments or simply listen. But when he stopped playing, the cohesiveness ended and soon people began to depart for their beds.

As long as someone provided the basic rhythm, we could find a way to enter in. At an elementary level, that’s good jazz. Without a clear lead, it was just noise.

In another group, someone might pick up the basic rhythm and allow the first player to "take flight" and improvise, taking turns with the lead, stretching the tempo or shifting the mood altogether. We weren’t there on Friday night, but I could hear the possibility.

That’s what the Seekers call says we are–a community of soloists, committed to supporting one another in the places of our daily life and work. This morning, I want to speak about becoming the jazz combo we are called to be.

At a recent Church of the Saviour Council meeting, Bill Price asked our representatives, Peter and Kate, "Has Seekers found its corporate mission yet?" The fact that, after 20 years, Bill would still be asking that question, tells us something about the uniqueness of our call in the context of our "family of origin." A single corporate call is the orthodoxy of Church of the Saviour.

In 1976, when this and the other five "little churches" were born, this one was almost denied a place at the family table. In those days, all of the core members gathered to approve or disapprove the call of a new community. Gordon spoke against approving the Seekers call because we did not have a single strong beat to set the rhythm. He expected a community chorus, not a jazz combo.

Sonya remembers that there was considerable discussion, but finally, when a vote was taken, our call to support one another in the places of our daily life and work was approved. But Bill’s recent query suggests that the other sibling communities have been waiting for us to conform, to find our song and stick to it. They did not have a jazz combo in mind and they still don’t!

Like a sibling that doesn’t fit the family temperament or style of being, The Seekers Church is still trying to live out its unique call — to celebrate the ways we are "on mission" wherever and however that happens.

And, like a sibling that doesn’t fit the family orthodoxy, we may be tempted to reject our heritage…although it’s fascinating that all of the students in the Church of the Saviour history class which is meeting here on Monday nights are Seekers! We may, in the end, be the only ones with enough traditional structure to embody the tradition as a church instead of a task force or a mission group. That we "did" Mary’s funeral suggests that too.

For us, I think the question will be can we learn our craft well enough to be a good jazz combo…or will we settle for being a community chorus?

Now, let me turn to the question of The Seekers budget for 1997 and our Gospel lesson for today. We might begin with the question of shy we give money to the church at all.

It’s not a club that we pay dues to. It’s not a charity that we have to support. It’s not to assuage our guilt for having so much. And it’s not paying a fee for services rendered.

I believe that giving money to Seekers is one way to break our addiction to control, to the American "right" to make choices, to substitutes for God. Walter Wink would call it our addiction to the powers and principalities of this world.

Giving money to Seekers is a way to get beyond the metaphor of music to loving God by living the jazz of life!

In this congregation, many of us are eldest children. We work hard for what we have. Money does make us feel safe and secure in many ways.

Having money gives us choices. Most of us have made choices about the way we earn a living that needs some encouragement, because we haven’t followed the path to making the most dollars. Most of us do take vocational call seriously and know that our paid work has some greater good in mind. And most of us worry about having enough money, if not now then in the future. That’s simply a fact of life.

So what does giving money to Seekers do for us?
And why are we proposing a budget with a bigger total instead of tightening our belts and keeping our heads down?

In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus tells the Pharisees that the greatest commandment is "to love God with all your heart, soul and mind."

Giving money to Seekers is one way to stretch our ability to love God — and love our neighbors as ourselves.

We give to the church as a spiritual discipline, to grow in our capacity for love and gladness. We give to help get our priorities straight. We give because it’s a way to share what we have with our neighbors.

It’s been a matter of some pride in this community that we have been able to have what we want here — and still give away 50% of our collective income. The 50-50 rule has been goal to keep us from spending too much on ourselves and not be "storing up treasure" or "building bigger barns," to use a couple of familiar images from Jesus.

While our sibling churches have spent their money on their specialized ministries and raised money to buy the buildings occupied by their missions, we have paid a minimal amount of rent here and practiced giving half to our neighbors.

The Seekers Church has been able to support other CoS ministries–like Christ House and New Community and Dayspring–as well as a number of ministries where Seekers are directly involved–like Manna and FLOC and Hope and a Home.

We have been able to support special requests through the Holy Spirit Fund and support risk-taking by our members through the Growing Edge Fund. We have reached out to people in other countries where Seekers are involved through International Giving and supported local programs through Community Passions. In short, we have put our money where our call is–in the places of our daily life and work!

And the reason we are proposing a higher budget total for next year is that we want to keep supporting those missions while we undertake a move from this place.

For 20 years, we have lived "at home" here where the sibling churches grew up and we’ve learned some good lessons about giving as much as we got for ourselves.

Now, like a 20-year-old young adult, we are getting ready to take on the responsibilities of establishing our own home. Like any responsible person, we need to take a good look at our resources and our prospective income before making the move. And, like any new resident, we can anticipate new expenses–especially if we claim our identity as a "jazz combo" and make a real effort to connect with a network of like-minded churches.

When you look at our budget for 1997, you will see that we have added a "Future Fund" item under operating expenses. What that is going to do is shift the balance from 50% for ourselves and 50% for our neighbors to 65% for ourselves and 35% for others. The Financial Oversight Group is recommending to all of us that we choose freedom over a fixed rule for a 3-year period, until we are established in a new place.

The question that we will answer with our level of giving this next year is whether we really trust the CALL of this community…to discover ways that we can name and bless one another at work in the world.

Can we trust ourselves to keep loving others which our financial resources if we spend more on ourselves for awhile?

Let me ask if you do this in your personal life?

I do. When I am nervous about the future, I don’t give as much. I spend more on myself. I know people who make a point of tithing when they can least afford to do it and I confess that would be a mark of growth for me.

When we left Seekers and went to Germany in 1980, I didn’t give anything to Seekers…and I didn’t give much to the post chapel in Germany either. But when we came back and Peter found a job, we began working our way back toward a tithe.

While he went back into membership immediately, it took me longer because I was spending money on myself…going to seminary and working as a volunteer coordinator of women’s ministry at Faith at Work before I was hired full-time in 1985.

The "good news" of God’s grace actually came during that period when I was giving little and taking a lot for myself. I realized that I could be honest about that and still be welcomed as a core member. The question was CALL, not my ability or willingness to give what I had been giving before.

I suspect that changing the ratio of giving to 65-35 may have that same effect on Seekers. If we exercise our freedom to choose how we give and how we spend our collective income, we will learn more about being a jazz combo.

I’m not confusing a spontaneous drumming session with skill of professional musicians, but I think we heard what could happen if we practice paying attention to the gifts embedded in our lives.

Of course there are lots of things we fail at here. I could give you 10 ways to improve Seekers right now and you can too.

I hope we’ll keep working at ways to pastor each other in nurturing, caring relationships. And confronting each other by naming" what is…as pastor-prophets from our common CoS tradition. The balance is tricky… as any parent knows. It seems to me that parenting is probably the best preparation for the discipline and flexibility demanded by jazz improv.

Loving God moves the focus beyond your own family and mine to the wider world of work and neighbor. Becoming more conscious of our giving is a chance to practice the "Great commandment" and give up some control.

The Financial Oversight Group invites those of you who want to ask questions or make your suggestions about the budget to meet on the 3rd floor at 11 o’clock today. I will be there with other members of the FOG group to discuss the overall vision and the imbalance we have introduced by planning a 65-35 spending ratio.

The core members are already committed to giving proportionately, beginning with a tithe of our gross income. That frankly is the backbone of giving in this community. But we cannot survive as a functioning Body of Christ unless we all see giving to Seekers as a spiritual discipline–a way of growing in our ability to trust the joy and creativity in us.

Some are called to find a community chorus somewhere, with a strong leader who will choose the music for everyone to sing.

Frankly, I’m drawn to the jazz combo here and I hope you are too.

Please take a copy of the giving plan for 1997 and pray about the level of your weekly giving. And if you cannot stay today, the FOG group (Sue and Ken, Rachel and Kate, Jayne and I) welcomes your input by letter or phone.

Good jazz doesn’t happen without the discipline of learning how to play your own instrument– how to find you own call at this particular stage of life.

And good jazz doesn’t happen without paying close attention to other members of a combo. We have a lot to learn about letting different people take the lead in this community, but I believe what happened at Wellspring on Friday is a sign that our CALL is valid and can be passed to a new generation of Seekers in a new place.

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