Come and See
Reflections on Jazz and the movie True Grit
by George Hermanson
Over Christmas I visited with long time friends and our theme was still the U2
great song called “Still haven’t found what I am looking for.”
Then over the beginning weeks of January, I gathered with another set of
friends. Watched movies. We started with the movie True Grit, produced by
the Cohen brothers. It was satisfying in sound, visuals, and dialogue. Under
the images was that great old gospel song: “Leaning on the everlasting Arms.”
The movie ends, not with a nice happy ending, but with a reprise of the Peggy
Lee song, “Is that all there is?”.
Through out all the conversations was the question of how to hear supreme
love ... to hear John Coltrane’s “Love Supreme.” The yearning for what
Whitehead calls the Adventure of Ideas, harmony and intensity that moves, our
feet, our bodies, into new realities. These songs reflect the perennial existential
question of what makes humanity flourish? We come to the questions about
what is worthy of us at different stages of our life. Context shapes our
question of what is it that we want to define us.
One of our tensions in our modern society is how we are both an individual and
a community. How do we flourish? What are the defining characteristics of a
community that supports the flourishing of all? What is the nature of heroism.
As Stanley Fish said about the new True Grit “heroism, of a physical kind, is
displayed by almost everyone, “good” and “bad” alike, and the universe seems
at best indifferent, and at worst hostile, to its exercise.” It was easier when we
knew that the bad guys were all bad.
The issue that True Grit lays out for us is the same issue that events like what
happened in the USA in Arizona lay out for us. As Fish puts it: “You must pay
for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free except
for God’s grace.” These two sentences suggest a world in which everything
comes around, if not sooner then later. The accounting is strict; nothing is free,
except the grace of God. But free can bear two readings — distributed freely,
just come and pick it up; or distributed in a way that exhibits no discernible
This attitude that there is no discernible pattern runs through all interactions.
There is a subconscious nihilism in our age. It is seen in our approach to the
environment. The environment is instrumental, that it is a benefit to us and to
us only. There is no sense of the intrinsic value of the other - we judge on
usefulness to us. We define the natural world in terms of economic value, and
even when we resist this, we speak of how things like flowers make us feel
good. The external world is judged by its usefulness to us - the attitude of
self referencing determines the meaning of the other. The dominate ethos of
our time is, "Is it good for me?" The view is I create reality.
An issue for our world is how to have both a sense of inclusion and a valuing
of distinctiveness. A healthy society has shared values and a welcome of
difference-honoring the strength and the gifts of the other, with a mutuality
As Fish says: ‘while the Coens deprive us of the heroism others look for, they
give us a better heroism in the person of Mattie, who maintains the confidence
of her convictions even when the world continues to provide no support for
them. She goes forward not because she has faith in a better worldly future —
her last words to us are “Time just gets away from us” — but because she
has faith in the righteousness of her path, a path that is sure (because it is not
hers) despite the absence of external guideposts.”
To create this attitude we need to feel some beauty, goodness, love, truth which
is symbolized in Love Supreme. This is a love poured out on us which is
beyond our merit or deserving.
This is the feeling that comes when a Jazz group begins to take and break a
given pattern. They push the edges, find new grooves, and create melody that
was not there before. They take risks. Sometimes there is failure. Given that
there is push of harmony and intensity to start out again, to find new groves.
In the end, though, it is only a beginning, not an eternal static note, but new
notes to be found again.
The answer to our skepticism is that the way you test reality is not by some
theory but by living. It takes time, it takes commitment. The narrative of Jazz
suggests that it takes time to create music and you do that by playing again.
This is true of all art forms. The mission is living the Love Supreme as a reality
now, and the implication of that living is to be worked out in everyday
encounters. Quality is an emerging reality. We learn from how we have
flourished in the past and seek to enhance that flourishing in the present and the
future. We judge the outcome by how we participate in making room for the
flourishing of all life.
Each particular life form will have its own flourishing, and what we do is create
open space where this happens. This is not a pre-defined blueprint approach.
It is a let’s give it a try and see what happens: a “come and see approach.”
This approach is the pragmatism of creating a better reality now and seeking to
make sure that good will continue. “Come and see” defines a way a community
is formed and lives. It is one of honoring the gifts of each. It is one of
welcome. No fear, no you are wrong, no lists, only come and see. Play on.