Today marks day three of the second session of Foundations of Christian Leadership, a program for new and emerging leaders of churches, organizations and denominations. On Monday, we had the opportunity to meet with personal coaches to review our leadership styles and to discuss our strengths and growing edges. Yesterday, I was tremendously blessed by the work of Tracy Radosevic, a biblical storyteller who currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland. I am sure that a future post will feature my gleanings from our time with her. Later that afternoon, as a precursor to our conversation of Samuel Well’s book Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics, we were led in an improvisational experience of the blues at Duke University’s Bone Hall. We were blessed to observe how improvisation lives in musical culture and to then reflect on our leadership practices and how improvisation could live in our work environments or institutions. “The way we listen is a reflection of the way we live,” we were told. With that, I closed my eyes to hear what these vessels and their instruments might say to me.
After solo performances from Anthony Kelly, a pianist and an Associate Professor of the Practice of Music, Nicholas Lewis, a bass clarinetist with the Richmond Symphony and principal clarinetist of the Williamsburg Symphonia and Russell Lewis, a percussionist who serves on the faculty of the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, we were encouraged to randomly call out five notes from A through G, flat or sharp. They, in turn, promised to compose a blues. BLAK, “a New Blues ensemble”, took our extemporaneous composition and played it as if reading sheet music. They demonstrated the beauty of improvisation and what could be produced when there is trust, a mutual understanding of our goal and/or purpose and comfort in the practices that we have come to live. Blues was a front porch and I felt welcome to sit down awhile.
As I reflect on a life lived racially, I wonder if we know how to live life without its sheet music. Could we respond to the many things that call for our attention without reverting back to the cultural norms, familial traditions and social disciplines of race? How long will we rely on its compositions because they are familiar and we have practiced them? Are we even aware of the multiplicity of tunes that we could play, the new music that our lives could make? We know how our lives sound and how they make us feel when we play to the key issues that race raises but this is not the only way that our lives can sound. We can feel differently about living and there is the possibility that what is created through improvisation (and by this, I mean a life lived without race) is better than anything we have ever heard or even thought possible.
Many of us are seemingly professionally trained when it comes to race, our training beginning at a very early age. But, race is an instrument, a tool. Race is not a vessel though many of our lives reflect a reversal in roles. Today, I want to have the courage to improvise, to live into the new thing that Christ is doing in us, His Body. I don’t want to say or do what others have. I don’t want my life to be an expression of someone else’s past and I certainly don’t want to repeat the mistakes of others.
I want something more and I want to do something new. I want my life’s song to be reflective of my experiences, my mind and heart, a melody created especially for me and that comes from me. I don’t want my life to be a collection of experiences that have already been had by so many others. I want my life to be heard as a new note in the composition of humanity’s song. I simply desire a life that is beyond repetition.