The Wisdom of Cliff

Devoted United Methodist and Scouter, Cliff Coan attended the United Methodist Service Conference. Our average age was just over 67 years old. But even with a bit of creak in the bones, tremendous work was done to revive the chapels.

We spent time in prayer and communion. We shared thoughts about the challenges that lie ahead and behind us. Cliff shared his thoughts with me. I share these pearls with you.

In front of a conference of United Methodist Scouters, I once delivered a speech based on a Ted Talk by Tim Harford (you can watch his speech here) about how frustration can make us more creative, I only dimly guessed at the time how appropriate my presentation would be in 2022’s world of lawsuits and schisms.

Harford’s talk related how, in 1975, a 17-year-old girl persuaded famous jazz pianist Keith Jarret to schedule a concert in Cologne, Germany. Due to a miscommunication, the piano onstage that rainy night was a dilapidated rehearsal model — totally unfit for a musician of Jarret’s caliber.

He almost refused to perform, but perhaps moved by the young girl’s pleas, the jazz improvisationalist sat down at the junk piano, embraces and works with the mess, and . . . it’s magic!

Jarret’s producer had decided to record this concert as a cautionary tale. — “If you don’t give Keith the right piano, this is what you get.” They never expected that the music would be releasable as an album, let alone “The Köln Concert” album, which became the bestselling jazz piano album of all time.

Jarret didn’t just produce a decent performance because he’s a genius. He delivered what many people think of as his best performance — partly because of the challenges of a less-than-perfect situation.

Another venue that showcases working with less-than-perfect situations is “Forged in Fire” a “reality competition” I enjoy watching. It challenges master smiths who create knives, swords, axes, etc.

These competitors are experts — everyone knows they can take the best steel, the best handle material, the best forge — and produce a great knife.

One of the first scenes in every episode is where the judges introduce the competitors, then unveil the type of blade they will be making for the competition — but more importantly, the hosts unveil the raw materials the competitors will be using to make the knife.

And the materials are usually something completely unexpected — like, for instance, an old motorcycle, or a bunch of gardening tools, a three-inch ball bearing, or pieces of a car.

You see, the thing is, these competitors are experts — everyone knows they can take the best steel, the best handle material, the best forge, and produce a great knife. They are being challenged to perform under less-than-the-best conditions.

Mostly, the competitors hate it.

But just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it isn’t helping you.

Even though it may not seem true, disruptions, challenges, and hardships can help us solve problems. They force us to become more creative.

If you’re of a certain mindset, you could say that God likes to take even more impossible odds than broken pianos or rusty pieces of garden tools and show off his ability to produce artistry. Or He may just want us to trust Him to give us the creativity and inspiration to fashion a work of art. I don’t know His reasons — that’s way above my pay grade.

So, here we are today — figuratively seated in front of a broken piano that was once a finely-tuned mechanism for Scout units and United Methodist Churches to operate together, with a pile of rusty car parts at our disposal.

With the help of God, we have an opportunity to forge a new masterpiece, to create our best work of art for the youth of the future.

Like Jarret and the competitive knife smiths, we may hate the disruptions — but just because we don’t like it doesn’t mean it won’t help us come through stronger and better.

Published by Steven Scheid

Dir. Center for Scouting Ministries

One thought on “The Wisdom of Cliff

  1. Awesome, but short, service stint at Philmont! Fellowship, mission service and (of course) Philmont! Too short and too great! Cliff’s post is so intuitive and spot-on! Each step seems to be moving forward …… some do, some stall, and some another direction requiring/suggesting more. We stay on the trail! The end value is too high to cease.


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