A musical friend recently blogged about attending a concert of The Goat Rodeo. While I am familiar with some of the musicians that make up the group (Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan and Chris Thile), until my friend explained, I couldn’t have told you to save my life why they would be called The Goat Rodeo.
Goat Rodeo: (UrbanDictionary) ... is about the most polite term used by aviation people (and others in higher-risk situations) to describe a scenario that requires about 100 things to go right simultaneously if you are to walk away from it.
The Goat Rodeo musical ensemble improvises — hence, the name. A lot of things have to fall into place if musical improvisation is not going to crash and burn. How musicians improvise was a mystery to me until my youngest son, Jacob, found his improvisational partner, Zach, and I was privileged to watch them work.
Jacob and Zach are violinists. They both were classically trained. But put them together and something magical happens. Not only do they instinctively draw on their own learning and experience and years of practice with chord progression and rhythm, there is something else less learned that happens between them. In churchy language we’d call it the Spirit. And the effect is exciting and energizing and joyful — everything you’d hope the life of faith would be.
What’s most interesting to me about what happens when Jacob and Zach play together popped into sharp relief at Jacob’s senior recital in college. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you what the classical pieces were that he first played, but, we, the audience, were duly appreciative. I, of course, was proud. But then, unlike most seniors, Jacob invited Zach to the stage and they did their thing. They began with a simple riff on a classical theme and then they let loose.
That was when I saw and heard the elements that would make their performance an appropriate example for this column — not on music, but on the Christian life. The elements that brought the audience to its feet, it seems to me, pertain directly to the life of faith.
First Jacob and Zach had practiced enough to translate their knowledge of musical theory into real life experience — technique. And that technique had eventually become second nature. In the Christian world, that would be the equivalent of taking the teachings of Jesus and living them intentionally until they became second nature. The result would be a freedom from self-focus and striving — a freedom that makes room for the Spirit.
That freedom provides a framework within which the musician and the person of faith can begin to see and honor the innate validity (blessedness, if you will) of everything and everyone else that exists. It is a framework within which they can begin to listen to and attune themselves to those others. If they rest gently in the silences that will appear, from within that freedom harmony can arise.
Perhaps the life of faith is just one big goat rodeo. Maybe an awful lot of things do have to happen just so, all at once, for us to finish it in good shape. After all, our lives are in constant flux, ebbing and flowing, approaching and retreating, a constant dance with everything and everyone else. But, maybe, just maybe it’s not so complicated. Maybe if we live faithful to the pattern that Jesus showed us, practicing compassion, self-giving, and forgiveness we will find that it becomes second nature to fill in the gaps for one another at times and other times come alongside one another in harmony. Maybe the kingdom Jesus proclaimed is one big glorious improvisation that with some attention to the One we say we follow will continue to bring folks to their feet in joy and celebration and hope for the world.
Leigh Waggoner is rector of St. Barnabas Episcopal Church.