Lessons to Learn in a Washington, D.C. Subway Station
Joshua Bell may not be a name familiar to many of you. He and his two sisters grew up on a farm in Bloomington, Indiana. Although he was a fairly good athlete, especially when it came to tennis, his true gift was music. Continue reading . . .
Joshua Bell may not be a name familiar to many of you. He and his two sisters grew up on a farm in Bloomington, Indiana. Although he was a fairly good athlete, especially when it came to tennis, his true gift was music. When he was four years old, his parents noticed him plucking tunes on rubber bands that he had stretched around the handles of his dresser drawers. They bought him a violin. By the time he was 12 he was widely recognized as a prodigy.
Today, Bell routinely packs out concert halls around the world and has recorded more than 30 cd’s of what many regard as the best in classical music.
But in 2007, the Washington Post decided to conduct an experiment in what they called “an unblinking assessment of public taste” (Gene Weingarten, “Pearls before Breakfast,” Washington Post, Sunday, 4/8/07; page W10).
It happened in a Washington, D.C. Metro subway station during rush hour. I wasn’t there, and I doubt if you were either, but you can view the entire thing on You Tube. Just type in Stop and Hear the Music.
Bell, wearing a baseball cap and blue jeans, played a brilliant classical repertoire for 45 minutes. It’s important that you understand that Bell is routinely paid an astronomical sum of money to play in the most prestigious concert halls worldwide. But here he was playing in a subway station with his violin case on the ground in front of him, to see who if any would reward his efforts with some loose change.
1,070 people passed by during the course of the 45 minute concert. 27 paused briefly to listen. And only 7 people put money in the violin case. Bell collected a total of $32.17 for his performance. Another thing that no one bothered to notice is that he was playing a Stradivarius violin made in 1713 that is reportedly worth $3.5 million!
Of those 7 who donated some money, among the 27 who paused momentarily to listen, among the 1,070 who passed by during rush hour, only 1 young lady recognized Bell and waited until he had finished to acknowledge who he was and to thank him for his performance.
Why am I telling you this remarkable story? I suppose there are a number of reasons I could cite, but more than anything else this incident tells us a lot about human nature. We see here how easy it is to overlook and pass by something of remarkable value and importance, without so much as a blink of an eye.
If the 1,070 who walked past Bell had later been stopped and asked why, I imagine they would have given all sorts of excuses, such as, “Well, I had other things on my mind,” or “I was late for work and was afraid I might miss my train,” or “I’m so accustomed to these musicians playing in the subway for money that I’ve trained myself not to notice them,” or “I was so preoccupied with thoughts about what I needed to do once I got to work that I never even heard the music,” or who knows what other excuses people might have made.
So now let me come straight to the point. This is a perfect illustration of how the church is supposed to be different from the world. I said “supposed to be,” but all too often is just like the world.
How often do you simply ignore the people around you, especially the ones you don’t know? I’m not suggesting that everyone in your church is a musical talent comparable to Joshua Bell, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable or of any less importance. In fact, precisely because they are men and women created in the image of God and redeemed by the blood of Christ, they are of indescribable worth!
We’re not surprised if the world at large is so preoccupied with life and distracted by other things that they fail to notice someone of profound importance. But it ought never to be that way in the church. Ever!
Is it your custom in your local church simply to walk past someone you don’t know by name, because it feels uncomfortable to engage them or you’re worried it might lead to a time commitment that you aren’t willing to make? When you sit down do you pretend to be in prayer, or so fixated on something in Scripture that you ignore the person sitting next to you? Are you afraid of stepping outside your comfort zone and speaking a word of encouragement to someone whose name you can barely remember?
The church of Jesus Christ cannot afford to be like the people in that D.C. subway station. We cannot afford to become so absorbed in our own little world that we fail to recognize the beauty of what is right in front of us and the value and dignity of another soul. We cannot afford to overlook or turn a deaf ear to the potential that exists in every human heart.
One young lady out of 1,070 not only stopped to listen, but recognized who was playing, and had the courage to engage him in conversation, thanking him for his remarkable gift. It ought not to be that way in the church, among those who claim to be members of the body of Christ.
Don’t let the distractions of this world and the rush of life blind you to the significance of the people with whom God has united you in your church. Don’t treat that man or woman across the room on a Sunday morning or even at a house church gathering as if they were anonymous and unimportant and too much of a bother. Instead, follow the Apostle Peter’s advice:
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).
Up until now in 1 Peter he has been speaking to several distinct and particular groups of people: slaves, wives, husbands. But now he addresses everyone. “Finally,” he writes, “all of you . . .” The issue here is not how to relate to civil authorities, or masters, or unbelieving husbands, or wives. The issue here is how to relate to each other in our life together as Christians.
To be continued . . .