If I read a book superior to Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics in the next twelve months, 2011 will have been a vintage year. The chapters on accepting, blocking, and overaccepting are challenging and inspiring in equal measure. If, like me, you don't know what these technical terms mean, a story Wells tells will illuminate.
A concert pianist was performing at a packed venue. He vacated his chair in the middle of the performance to get a drink of water and stretch his legs. During the short interval a child wandered up on stage. The young boy sat on the pianist's stool and started hitting various keys in random fashion. The sound created was deeply unpleasant.
The pianist was now faced with three choices.
He could "block" the boy. That is, he could usher the child away from the piano and back to his parents in the crowd. He could stop this awful sound.
He could "accept" the boy. He could simply let the child continue until the boy decided of his own accord to stop playing.
The pianist decided on option three, however. He walked over to the piano and stood behind the boy, placing his hands down on the piano to the outside of the boy's. As the boy hit his random notes, the pianist began to play along, turning these notes into an improvised melody which delighted the crowd. He did not block the boy's playing. Neither did he merely accept it. He overaccepted it. He turned cacophony into symphony. He turned water into wine.
We face the choice between blocking and accepting every day, in ways small and big. We can kill the conversation with the old man on the bus who wants to talk about nothing in particular, or we can continue it. We can refuse to play with our eager nephew for "genuine" reasons like tiredness or more important things to be doing, or we can just play. There may of course be legitimate times to block and legitimate times to accept, but for Wells the dominant attitude of Christians should be overacceptance. This is because the dominant attitude of Christ was overacceptance.
The Sermon on the Mount is a string of overacceptance. Jesus does not block the law. He does not accept the law. He overaccepts it. If someone asks you to go one mile with them, don't say no. Don't say yes. Go two.
Then there is the adulerous woman. The Pharisees want her to be stoned to death in accordance with the law. Jesus does not block their demands, nor does not accept them. He overaccepts them - "The people who haven't sinned can throw the first stones at her". His overacceptance breeds the right kind of justice.
Think finally of Jesus's death. He does not block it. Neither does he merely accept it. He overaccepts death; he "out-narrates" it with an even bigger story of life.
If even death can be overaccepted, what is beyond this attitude?
I strongly encourage you, Christian or not, to read this book. The choice is yours - block, accept, or overaccept!