A journey to the centre of the world stage

Published November 1, 2002

This column is eclectic and personal. I have followed the career of Oscar Peterson since I first heard him play in Montreal?s Alberta Lounge more than 50 years ago. He progressed to the world stage and is probably Canada?s most internationally honored performing artist. In A Jazz Odyssey: The Life of Oscar Peterson he recounts his story in an unpretentious way through anecdote, humor, personal experience and serious commentary, revealing the same integrity one recognizes in his musical performance. During early days he struggled to find his way through what was then a discrimination in classical circles against jazz, not recognizing the form or technical skills and harmonic knowledge required. Extemporization, the ability to explore a given motif, and push it to its limits, lies at the core of jazz and I remember well one of my musical mentors, Healey Willan, telling me we should all be grateful to jazz for keeping the art of extemporization alive. Oscar is a master of the art and a composer of note as well. [pullquote]One of the most touching vignettes is a description of Ella Fitzgerald breaking into What A Little Moonlight Will Do on their touring bus and of band members, one by one, sensitively adding instrumental obligato and accompaniment, ??we all knew we were part of a very special musical moment.?His analysis of jazz as an authentic North American musical form in contrast to classical forms borrowed from elsewhere is carefully presented as is its battle for survival. But through it all Oscar, like all artists, ?? however majestic their achievements may seem to others, they are never satisfied. Only perfection will do?.That is what drives me, and I know it will always do so.? Play on, Oscar.

Over the years while I was involved in raising millions of dollars for the Anglican Church of Canada, I had a nagging feeling that all was not well with the process. That is why I welcome The Passionate Steward: Recovering Christian Stewardship from Secular Fundraising by Michael O?Hurley-Pitts. This book could be seen as a promotion piece for his own fundraising firm but that does not detract from a penetrating analysis of what Christian stewardship means and how it has been subverted by secular fundraising techniques.

One of my favourite cartoons is of an Anglican adult being immersed in the waters of Holy Baptism with right hand held high clutching a wallet ? so as not to let it get wet. Far too often the question of money has been separated from the other two elements of stewardship: time and talent. It really becomes messy when they are substituted for each other. When this happens, our understanding of stewardship as an expression of our Christian profession is sadly compromised. ?We are called to devote our time, talent and treasure to the whole life of the Church, not just its buildings and administration. This includes first of all, people.?

More people struggle for a coherent understanding of Christian faith than churches usually acknowledge, but few are willing to expose themselves to the scrutiny of others. In A Skeptic?s Christianity, Mark Holmes does just that. An educator who traveled, with persistence and logic, from atheism to baptism sets out ?to draw a picture of Christianity that does not consist of a simple catechism consisting of tests of faith and does not assume that believers are formed as a result of historical accident, crisis, and personal stupidity.?

A key result of his inquiry is an emphasis on virtue and Christian character as that which must authenticate Christian truth. Fundamental is his belief, ?in an absolute God of truth, and?perhaps the most important thing in life, to interpret that truth.?

And so he concludes that, ?The real issue facing us is whether we live our lives based on a substantive idea of God representing the right way, or if we live our lives free of external restraints??

He examines liberal and fundamentalist assumptions and suggests ways of thinking about faith and life. Orthodoxy is not his main concern. Heretical? Maybe – that is the risk when people think.


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