Thursday, January 22, 2009

Who are we overlooking?

Many of the following facts are from the Washington Post

It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour at L'enfant plaza station - the nucleus of federal Washington.

A youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap removed a violin from a small case and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket.

In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work.

Each passerby had a quick choice to make: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? What's the moral mathematics of the moment?

Have a look and see what happened - from this youtube link.

No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall was one of the finest classical musicians in the world. He was playing some of the most elegant music ever written, on one of the most valuable violins ever made. His name was Joshua Bell.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100.

Yet, in the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment... an experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. In a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

A comment by one commuter gives this reason. She says, ""I had a time crunch," recalls Sheron Parker, an IT director for a federal agency. "I had an 8:30 training class, and first I had to rush Evvie off to his teacher, then rush back to work, then to the training facility in the basement."

I was so intrigued by this story - how we get so busy and preoccupied with our own agendas that we miss opportunities in the madness, we miss the extraordinary in the chaos and we miss the people we should be noticing while we're focussed on our own needs.

Who should we be noticing? Take a look at this from Matthew:

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.' "Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' (SEE 25:38) Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me--you did it to me.' (Mat 25:34-40 - MSG)

I think about my commute to work. I awkwardly rush past the homeless guy selling "the big issue" - could he be Jesus? the Salvo collecting money every Friday for the community - could he be Jesus? I get an email from a local pastor asking for furniture for a new family - could they be Jesus?

I use all the excuses I can find - "well.. I'm not sure the Big Issue has any articles that interest me" or "I don't really have any coins today and I'm not giving notes!" or "I might need that lounge one day"

I move on - feeling uncomfortable but unchanged. Who have I just overlooked?

For each person I encounter wanting something from me, I have a quick choice to make: Do I stop and listen? Do I hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation? Do I throw in a buck, just to be polite?

The challenge for all of us is to see the opportunities we are presented with everyday - as opportunities to notice Jesus in the crowd.

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