On the Prison of Jazz, and Other Topics

“The most instantly and awfully overshadowed by the wrath of heaven, the most near to madness and moral chaos, the most vivid with devilry and despair, is the practice of having to listen to loud music while eating a meal in a restaurant. For, though we talk lightly of doing this or that to distract the mind, it remains really as well as verbally true that to be distracted is to be distraught. To think of one thing at a time is the best sort of thinking. But to deal with a second thing which by its very nature thrusts itself more and more aggressively in front of the first thing is to find the very crux of psychological crucifixion.” (On the Prison of Jazz, G.K. Chesterton)

It is true that our modern mode of operation is a multitask mindset. Whether it be simultaneously working with three tabs on the web browser, or air pods for study sessions at the coffee house, or simply answering text after email during the evening Netflix, we are no stranger to distraction. However, the availability and ease of our distraction has normalized the multitask lifestyle, so much that we take pride in our ability to burden our minds. We may have become too distracted to even ask the question to ever-ready Siri; what has been lost?

Chesterton reveals this simple abomination while enjoying music and a meal, which is a coveted combination for our Friday nights. He argues that this distraction mindset is “rude to everybody concerned… One is an insult to the cook and the other to the musician; but both would be an insult to a companion.” Have we become so immersed in interruption that we cannot even conceive of a world of focus?

Ringside hosts, Rev. Joel Hess and Rev. Paul Koch, certainly enjoy the layered complexity of a great Boulevardier, a live performance, and roaming conversation. But our enjoyment of certain blends of distraction is not necessarily the problem. Both pastors have had struggles with kids remembering Christian confession after confirmation Sunday, and adults trusting in the new life of forgiveness and resurrection while dealing with a world of sin. Perhaps our greater disadvantage, today, is that we are not able to practice a centered single focus in our culture, at all. 

Curiously, for Christians, this may impact our own hope in a resurrected body. St. Paul expounds upon this resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” The crux of our faith. The one single reality that, if it is not true, then the whole thing falls apart. The problem that St. Paul is addressing in this section of Corinthians rooted from the very same problem we face: be single minded.

Christ is raised from the dead. This is the changed paradigm in which we live. He was risen first, you will follow him. It’s distracting to know the fact of the resurrection of Christ, yet still know our experience of death.  It’s distracting, Paul says, that Adam’s consequence for sin still applies to you. It’s distracting, Paul admits, to operate in two worlds at the same time. 

Perhaps, our own hope in the resurrection of the body would benefit from a single minded approach. Christ is risen! That is the first and only reality that matters. To think distractedly, as Chesterton would put it (lightly), is rude to everybody concerned. Christ is risen! He is risen Indeed!

Listen to the Ringside Preachers, Rev. Joel Hess and Rev. Paul Koch discuss live music in bars, Confirmation woes, NRSV translation issues, and more on the misunderstanding of the resurrection of the body on the latest Ringside episode “The Prison of Confirmation, Jazz, and the Flesh.”

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Dead Horse One – I love my man

Cover Photo by Paul Koch @rev_koch