Disruptions

In Tim Harford's new book Messy he recounts a story about the value of disruption. "Late in January 1975, a 17-year-old German girl called Vera Brandes walked out onto the stage of the Cologne Opera House. The auditorium was empty. It was lit only by the dim, green glow of the emergency exit sign. This was the most exciting day of Vera's life. She was the youngest concert promoter in Germany, and she had persuaded the Cologne Opera House to host a late-night concert of jazz from the American musician, Keith Jarrett. 1,400 people were coming. And in just a few hours, Jarrett would walk out on the same stage, he'd sit down at the piano and without rehearsal or sheet music, he would begin to play. But right now, Vera was introducing Keith to the piano in question, and it wasn't going well. Jarrett looked to the instrument a little warily, played a few notes, walked around it, played a few more notes, muttered something to his producer. Then the producer came over to Vera and said...If you don't get a new piano, Keith can't play...There'd been a mistake. The opera house had provided the wrong instrument. This one had this harsh, tinny upper register, because all the felt had worn away. The black notes were sticking, the white notes were out of tune, the pedals didn't work and the piano itself was just too small. It wouldn't create the volume that would fill a large space such as the Cologne Opera House. So Keith Jarrett left. He went and sat outside in his car, leaving Vera Brandes to get on the phone to try to find a replacement piano. Now she got a piano tuner, but she couldn't get a new piano. And so she went outside and she stood there in the rain, talking to Keith Jarrett, begging him not to cancel the concert. And he looked out of his car at this bedraggled, rain-drenched German teenager, took pity on her, and said...Never forget...only for you...And so a few hours later, Jarrett did indeed step out onto the stage of the opera house, he sat down at the unplayable piano and began. Within moments it became clear that something magical was happening. Jarrett was avoiding those upper registers, he was sticking to the middle tones of the keyboard, which gave the piece a soothing, ambient quality. But also, because the piano was so quiet, he had to set up these rumbling, repetitive riffs in the bass. And he stood up twisting, pounding down on the keys, desperately trying to create enough volume to reach the people in the back row. It's an electrifying performance. It somehow has this peaceful quality, and at the same time it's full of energy, it's dynamic. And the audience loved it. Audiences continue to love it because the recording of the Köln Concert is the best-selling piano album in history and the best-selling solo jazz album in history. Keith Jarrett had been handed a mess. He had embraced that mess, and it soared. But let's think for a moment about Jarrett's initial instinct. He didn't want to play. Of course, I think any of us, in any remotely similar situation, would feel the same way, we'd have the same instinct. We don't want to be asked to do good work with bad tools. We don't want to have to overcome unnecessary hurdles. But Jarrett's instinct was wrong, and thank goodness he changed his mind. And I think our instinct is also wrong. I think we need to gain a bit more appreciation for the unexpected advantages of having to cope with a little mess."

Another example from Harford's Messy. "Psychologist Katherine Phillips recently gave murder mystery problems to some students, and these students were collected in groups of four and they were given dossiers with information about a crime -- alibis and evidence, witness statements and three suspects. And the groups of four students were asked to figure out who did it, who committed the crime. And there were two treatments in this experiment. In some cases these were four friends, they all knew each other well. In other cases, three friends and a stranger. The four friends solved the crime 50% of the time, the three friends and a stranger solved the crime 75% of the time. That's quite a big leap in performance. But I think what's really interesting is not just that the three friends and the stranger did a better job, but how they felt about it. So when Katherine Phillips interviewed the groups of four friends, they had a nice time, they also thought they'd done a good job. They were complacent. When she spoke to the three friends and the stranger, they had not had a nice time -- it's actually rather difficult, it's rather awkward. They didn't think they'd done a good job even though they had. And I think that really exemplifies the challenge that we're dealing with here. These disruptions help us solve problems, they help us become more creative. But we don't feel that they're helping us. We feel that they're getting in the way...and so we resist."

Disruptions and overcoming unexpected obstacles are not how we typically feel creativity comes to us, how we function best. In fact we do everything we can to avoid such circumstances. I can't help but feel there is a spiritual part of this. Paul speaks specifically of the value of different gifts, like different parts of the body, all connected but all unique (1 Corinthians 12). Jesus refers to a banquet where the seats are not reserved for our friends and those just like us. Rather the host is to invite randomly folks from the street. Talk about including a stranger! I would also argue that as the church finds itself stressed by fewer people, fewer dollars, the challenge to do church differently is a disruption that can, and often does, infuse huge doses of creativity and Spirit into the body of Christ.