I can’t help but think that Christians, myself included, could do much better at collaboration and improvisation.
Herbie Hancock, a newcomer at the time, has the opportunity to perform with the legendary Miles Davis and he experiences one of our biggest fears: he screws up in front of everyone.
Miles, instead of chastising or ignoring it, improvises and turns a what could have been a memorable mistake into an inspiring story of how to support someone who’s committing a very human error.
Metaphorically (I love me a good metaphor), let’s step into this story. We’re on stage and all eyes are on us. The small space of the speakeasy is damp with the sweat of every overheated patron and musician. The bartender can’t hear people’s orders over the sweet, almost tangible music in the air. The lights are blinding, but all of our other senses are telling us that we’re absolutely wrecking the crowd.
At a pivotal moment, the pianist hits a foul note that makes us all involuntarily cringe. What do you do?
If I’m being honest, I’d probably compose myself and keep playing hoping that I’m good enough to make everyone forget; to distract them from the uncomfortable shiver that’s still moving down our spines.
Not a bad reaction per se but not a memorable one either. I may have gotten back into the crowd’s good graces, but my pianist is trying to hold it together and some of my band mates are scowling at him so hard he can feel it through the back of his skull.
The show goes on, but the moment to make musical history is forfeited because I settled for fixing the moment rather than improving upon it.
I think Christians live that story far too often with the same reaction. Again, it’s not a bad one, but it’s not the best either. This retelling inspires me to do something different next time; to improvise.
Here’s a reminder of a definition for improvise: to produce or make (something) from whatever is available.
All songs, all performances, all stories are improvised, even with copious amounts of rehearsal and strategy. It’s just that, moment by moment, when we’re free to veer off the path, we choose to stick to the plan. But sometimes the plan doesn’t stick like you assumed it would.
It’s in those moments that we often freak out; that our fight-or-flight self-preservation instincts steer our decision making, but what if panic wasn’t in the driver’s seat?
I want to be a better Miles Davis and I want less of a reason to fear being Herbie Hancock. When a fellow Christian makes a headline for falling into the same trap so many of us do, I don’t want to pretend like it didn’t happen nor do I want to join the chorus of criticism. When I mess up (because the one thing I can guarantee is that I will), I don’t want to have to push through the condemning crowds of my brothers & sisters to get back on track.
All of our lives and all of our ministries are an improv performance and whether we like it or not, none of us are performing our solo.
Let’s remember the importance of self-improvement, but also its limits. Let’s remember that our perfection is not a part of anyone’s plans but our own. We don’t have a script, we have a director and we all look pretty dumb trying to perfect our monologues as an improv group.