By David Ramos

Recently I attended a church where the congregation had a gifted and well-orchestrated ensemble of musicians. They had a brass section, various percussionists, and even a violinist. The worship service was going well and then they seem to hit a wall. In one song they were off and I strained to figure out where it was coming from, and then I discovered the source of the problem. The saxophonist was screeching out a long note that seemed to throw the whole piece off. At first I thought, “Hey, everybody has an off day.” Then I thought, “This guy is too good for that (I just happen to know that he has traveled the world as a musician playing various instruments at different high profile venues).” Was he playing a sophisticated form of counterpoint that just seemed to escape me?

While I love jazz and can truly appreciate the experimental fusion and fertile contributions made by the masters and how it inseminated genres that followed, yet by the response of the congregation, you can tell this wasn’t working. In a brief time the worship leaders shifted songs, the music was rectified and they were off and running towards more symmetry.

Those brief moments spoke to me. You see I love counterpoint and seemed to live many times in the spaces of counterpoint. In the eighties I loved the line in Cindy Lauper’s song, “Time After Time,” when she says, “The drum beats out of time,” because it underscored the deliberate intention of the musician to be out of time, to perpetuate creative dissonance thereby introducing the unexpected into the musical score accentuating the melody or the beat. It takes someone who really knows music to pull this creative tension off. Throughout my many years in my foot stomping, hand-clapping Pentecostal services I “counter-clapped” to the music. Many times, I witnessed people inadvertently follow me, thinking that I was following the “congregational clap” and soon chaos would ensue.

As a leader I rushed in to fill the “empty spaces” I loved to pull rabbits out of hats, see the unseen, provide an alternative option to problems and I didn’t mind being the minority report. But there is a time and a place for this. Many times what some think is a prophetic position, is merely noise perpetuated by the Self. Sometimes the counterpoint voice can end up being a heckler to the purposes of God! As in music and in life dissonance can be tolerated for so long because extended dissonance collapses upon itself and destroys the beauty of harmony. As leaders we must monitor our voice and be cognizant of our influence. There are moments to stand “over and against” positions, policies, people, projects and programs, to serve as counterpoint; however, does it accentuate, improve upon and add to the score or are we creating disharmony, chaos, and noise? Like creative musicians, we must know when its time to be out of time.

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