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An Algorithm for a Mind that Doesn't Mind Jazz

My brother once told me that people who didn't like jazz don't like to think. Or at least, that's the general premise I remember. He may have been more diplomatic in his actual phrasing.

Today, I re-encountered jazz during a brief and full night out. Alone. I went to the library to return a stray book found under the couch, stopped at Walgreens' to pick up some salt (hey, big spender!), and walked across the street to attend a free college concert. Listening to some familiar big band tunes brought me back to high school, which I suddenly realized was half my life ago.

The space between me and the girl I was when I last regularly listened to jazz didn't make me feel old; it made me feel grateful. In this half-lifetime, I have completed thirteen years of formal higher education, fallen in love, married a cancer survivor, brought three little ones into the world, witnessed several miracles, lived in West Africa, and spent a year in near-gypsy style as we prepare to move to Southeast Asia. Through all these unexpected journeys, God has been very good to me. Far better, in fact, than I've been to my own self (as a dear senior at church used to say every Sunday).

An unexpected conversation today reminded me that my life should not be a commercial for excellence. If my résumé (including the abbreviated version in the previous paragraph) makes others feel guilty or inadequate, I have staked claim on a platform only God deserves.

But back to the jazz concert. After the last song, the conductor thanked the audience for attending and appreciating live music. His words underscored our existence in an era of edited perfection. We use filters and stage photos to share our lives with others who are doing the same. We download perfect versions of only the songs we have already decided we like. We see the world as we want it to be, ignoring often how it actually is.

How much grit and substance we miss by sharing only carefully manicured versions of our lives! I don't post photos of my "packing room" (formerly known as a dining room) because I want all windows into my life to look inviting. And further, I like to forget chaos of such magnitude has settled within my personal space. Instead daily, painstakingly I sort and re-sort each item we own into two main categories: bringing with us, or leaving behind.

Minimalism has charmed modern society, at least insofar as the decision tree applies to material possessions. But what about our thoughts? Do we follow a similar decision tree for thoughts we will bring with us, and those we will leave behind? Do we intentionally forget what is behind and strain towards what is ahead? Or do we carry excessive mental baggage because we refuse to let things go?

I am an old millennial. I think this means I can field several texts at a concert before putting my phone away and pitying (judging? God, forgive me) the college student next to me who never stopped scrolling through Instagram. Did she even hear the music? Was she afraid to encounter her own thoughts, and so she filled her mind with images of others'? I've been there, sister. And I'm not going back.

One thing I've learned during this year of perpetual downsizing: the things we carry are not nearly as important as the thoughts we carry. Most important are the thoughts we carry about the One who carries us, and how we press on to take hold of that for which He has taken hold of us.

The algorithm for a mind that doesn't fear its own thoughts is simple: hold on to the Gospel, and let go of the rest. Cling to Grace. Remember the cross: the price Grace cost the God who gives redemption freely. Look to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith and the writer of all true songs. We can carry thoughts of the One who carries us, and that's enough fodder for thought for every jazz concert I will ever attend.


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