It was January 12th, 2007, on a cold winter morning in a Washington, D.C. Metro station. A man was actually playing a violin for the roughly 1000 people who walked by during rush hour. Hardly anyone noticed him. In fact, Gene Weingarten, who wrote the piece for the Washington Post said, “Three minutes went by before something happened. Sixty-three people had already passed when, finally, there was a breakthrough of sorts. A middle-age man altered his gait for a split second, turning his head to notice that there seemed to be some guy playing music. Yes, the man kept walking, but it was something.” 1
For his efforts, this man received $32 after 45 minutes, and this, after he tossed in some ‘seed’ money to get things started. Those that did give, hardly slowed their step to listen to him play, and many just tossed a quarter. Who was this man and why is it significant?
The man was Joshua Bell, who just a few days before played at the Boston theater to a sold out crowd with tickets that averaged $100. Bell began playing when he was a young boy, and was clearly a musical prodigy. The instrument he used in the metro station was his personal Stradivarius, said to be worth 3.5 million.
What would people do if they walked by a man who was arguably one of best violinists in the world, playing, not popular tunes today’s culture would recognize, but classic master pieces that have endured throughout the ages? Couple that with his multimillion dollar Stradivarius, and you can’t help but wonder if people, even in a New York metro station at rush hour, would stop to listen, or even recognize the talent and beauty of the music and musician.
This experiment was caught on tape using several hidden cameras. Weingarten wrote, “There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch.” 2
Matthew 18:3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.
Matthew 19:14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
We go through life thinking we have gained so much knowledge. Some of us become quite learned with masters and doctorates to post on our wall and impress those around us, but for all we gain, the older we get there is a sense of loss.
Many adults, those middle-aged and beyond, can relate to the lost childhood, missing the wonder, excitement, and certainly the lack of responsibility. Even young adults who are working for the first time in their life, going to college, having to pay bills, can sit for a moment and reflect on a childhood that is now gone forever. But, is it really just freedom or the lack of responsibility we miss, or could there be something more? Are we viewing the world in a different way than little children, who, if the article above is pointing out something significant, see things we can’t or don’t any more?
Every week I work with students who look at things differently than I do; who ask questions I never thought of. Who are still impressed with the world around them, and things some people are able to do in life. My students see things, hear things, smell things, touch things that amaze them, but I don’t give it a second thought. They see the miracle that is imbedded in the world and our very existence, though they may not express it in those terms. They still see the wonder as to why things are the way they are, innately seeing the miracle in ‘something rather than nothing’.
Edith Nesbit, and English author and poet who wrote children books in the 1800’s said, “It is wonderful how quickly you get used to things, even the most astonishing.” Over time, even the miraculous can become mundane to us, because we forget what life is about, and focus on what is about our life.
Life can and does get in the way of our seeing that every morning. Flu’s, colds, bills to pay, disagreeable co-workers, a car breaking down, illness or loss in the family. “Our destiny may be eternal life at home with God, but we aren’t there yet. ‘So be truly glad!’ the apostle Peter said. ‘There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while’ (1 Peter 1:6). And Peter made it clear why God is keeping us here. He has a mission for us to accomplish.” 3
Joshua Bell has an amazing gift from God. This gift has gained him wealth and notoriety in certain circles. The gifts we have may apply only to a small circle of friends or family, or you may have a gift that will touch thousands, but what ever the gift is, it needs to be applied to our mission in life. Without a mission, without a purpose, without a plan, life has no meaning – just a moment in the geologic time scale. Our lives forgotten in a hundred years.
Viktor Frankl was a survivor of the Nazi death camps in World War II. He recognized and saw first hand the need for meaning in life, especially if you are to survive in difficult circumstances that result in long suffering. He wrote in his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, “As we said before, any attempt to restore a man’s inner strength in the camp had first to succeed in showing him some future goal.”4 Those who lost hope he explained, quickly perished, even the most hardy individuals. Only those who had a reason to live managed to survive.
In Romans 1:19-22 Paul wrote, “ since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools.” Carl Gallups, author of The Magic Man In The Sky said, “The apostle Paul wrote this passage to the church at Ephesus, to help these early Christians discern that there is an eternal purpose to life. He wanted them to be certain of the Grand Scheme.” 5
I have no doubt as to one of my purposes in life, and that is to teach at the Jr. High level and impact the lives of my students in a positive, Godly way. Over the years, I have had many students who lacked parents at home or any kind of father figure. What eternal outcomes I may or may not have had on many, I will never know in this life time, but I do know that I have influenced a few. That, along with some family, friends, and possibly this blog are my mission, my purpose.
Recently a young mother began attending our church. My wife noticed this new face and made sure to greet her when she saw her again. After a couple of Sundays, my wife noticed her sitting alone and invited her to sit next to us. We could tell she was pleased by the invitation, and she began sitting with us in church. Naturally, we each shared a little about our lives and she mentioned her boyfriend of several years. I asked if he would ever come to church and she said probably not. I asked if he attends any church and she said no, church was not his thing. I could tell she was a bit uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation, so I just asked her directly if he believed in God, she said no. I laughed and said, “No wonder he doesn’t want to come to church!” She laughed with me and that seemed to break the ice.
Last Sunday, she announced to us her live in boyfriend of 5+ years asked her to marry him. She was very excited and we shared in her joy. We don’t expect to see her for a couple of Sundays because they are traveling to Las Vegas to be married and will be out of town. It was not hard to touch her life, to invite her into our circle, to share the gift of Christ’s unconditional love.
You may not be a Joshua Bell, but you have a gift, which with little effort can be shared and recognized by all who encounter you. I saw a quote that said, “Greatness is not in what you have, but what you give.”
1. Weingarten, Gene. “Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation’s great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let’s find out.” Washington Post, 8 April 2007. Web. 9 February 2015
3. McDowell, Josh. McDowell, Sean. The Unshakeable Truth. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2010. Print.
4. Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search For Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press, 1959. Print.
5. Gallups, Carl. The Magic Man In The Sky. New York: WND Books, 2012. Print.
Recognizing Greatness by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://www.knowingforsure.com.