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Friday night was the quarterly Jazz Poetry Slam at the Columbus Music Hall. For those who may not be familiar with this phenomenon, a poetry slam is competitive poetry. Yes, at the end of the night a poet walks away with a cash prize. Think of the Beat poets reading at City Lights Bookstore, but with judges holding up scorecards to rank their efforts, a la Olympic figure skating. But this time there was no international conspiracy, and no one whacked a competing poet on the knee. That was good. And although not all slams follow this format, the poets Friday night were accompanied by a live jazz trio (organ, guitar, drums), playing everything from Coltrane to Gershwin, improvising to follow the flow and the meaning of the poetry. When it works (and it works surprisingly often) it is thrilling. More than 150 people showed up, standing room only, and I found myself marveling at the surreal nature of the scene. People were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, craning their necks to watch, yep, poets. This could only happen in some alternative but felicitous universe in which people genuinely value artistic expression. The world may not be quite as desperate as I thought.

This Friday I got to play Judge, a role for which I am eminently suited. Just ask my kids. And it was considerably more difficult than I had envisioned. There are no guidelines on how to weigh the various factors that make up a poet

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This Friday I got to play Judge, a role for which I am eminently suited.

Do tell more.

How is your church so involved?

I won't pretend to understand all the dynamics, but my church, which is a relatively small one (150 people or so) is crammed full of artists. There are painters who display their works in galleries in Soho and Greenwich Village. There are many musicians, some of whom have figured out a way to make a full-time living playing music, who play in bands that probably many folks here would recognize, and who play everything from hardcore metal to jazz to power pop. And there are a number of writers, several of whom are published on a regular basis. It's wild. It's a great blessing.

Part of it, I suspect, is that like attracts like, and thus people who love and follow the arts are attracted to similarly minded people. But although art is a focus of the church, it's not the main focus (that would be following Jesus, best I can tell), and there's at least an equal focus on serving and ministering to the poor (it's an inner-city church, with the usual needs), and living in community and forming deep relationships with one another.

It mostly works. It's incredibly messy, but given the people involved and the location that's probably not surprising. If you'd like to read more about my thoughts on the mess, you can check out my blog here. The poetry slam I mentioned is hosted by one of the writers and musicians in our church, a poet naturally, who also happens to be the owner of a relatively well-known concert venue in Columbus. He's also a great jazz drummer who has spent most of his life playing with and recording with many famous jazz musicians in NYC and Paris. So he combines his loves, opens up the concert venue to poets once per quarter, the poets (Christian and otherwise) descend, he gets to play jazz drums, and everyone has a great time. One of his loves is Jesus, and he sees this as a way to build bridges and form good relationships with people who otherwise might never encounter Christians who value the arts, and who love and appreciate good art, regardless of its ideological basis. And he's right. It's a good thing. I'm very happy, and often thrilled, to be a part of it.

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Sounds intriguing. I went to Ohio State, but could never settle on a church home away from home. I ended up bouncing between Clintonville Baptist, various incarnations of the Grace Brethren churches so prevalent in Columbus, and New Life's campus church. Would have loved to visited yours--but when I was in college, it might have freaked me out! ;)

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