By Nikki Blair
Last week for my birthday I received a gift that every 39-year-old dreams of. Or maybe just every person who was 4 in 1978–if it still were 1978. That is: an album of Mr. Rogers songs.
Okay, it’s not 33-rpm vinyl like it would have been in ’78; it’s a cd, and the first thing I did was load it into iTunes. (Yes, some things have changed a bit!). But now every day, in the car, on the computer, as a ringtone on my phone, I can listen to “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” and “It’s You I Like,” and “You are Special.”
The thing about this disc, though, is that it’s not Mr. Rogers. That is, it’s his tunes, his words, even in the truest sense his voice… it’s just not his vocal chords doing the vibrating. It’s a woman named Holly Yarbrough singing covers of Mr. Rogers’ most beloved songs, backed by a swing band.
Sometimes when I’m listening to it, I forget what it is I’m listening to. It sounds so different; not just the vocals, but the settings of the oh-so-familiar songs, the very expression of melodies and lyrics that were practically hard-wired into my ‘70s-child brain.
But after all—as the song goes—”there are many ways to say I love you.”
No matter the voice, whether a jazz soprano or a sweatered television neighbor or a mom at her child’s bedside, the love still shines through these songs. I hear it and feel it when I listen, and I hope my children hear it and feel it when I sing the words to them (however badly). It’s a message I need just as much as they do.
There are, thankfully, so very many ways to say “I love you.” Countless ways. Ways we never even knew existed. If we listen we can hear them: in Jesus’ own jazz-like improvisations as he met women and men on the roads and mountainsides and docksides. We can hear them in our families, in the branches of our ancestries, rooted in our childhoods, and now spoken around dinner tables and over cell phone signals and in everything from diaper changes to care packages. And even in our church–perhaps especially there–if we listen very, very carefully we can hear many ways of “I love you” in unexpected expressions of worship, in the raucous fellowship of children at Godly play, in the quiet tones of a caretaker and the gentle arm of comforter, in leadership that rejoices in the gifts of others, in heated discussions over Bible study or church business, in the complex harmonies of song and of spirit.
If we can learn to hear these many ways, then we may eventually be able to speak in many ways. The listening may not feel comfortable; the songs may not resemble the soundtrack we were raised on, the stylings that we have always assumed to be good and right and true. We may need to listen with new ears to recognize the melodies and lyrics we know by heart, but when we do we can hear it: the same Voice still, reminding us in so many ways that we are special, that we are growing, that we– yes, even we–are loved.
By Glen Schmucker
She wanted to know if she could be baptized – again. It’s not the strangest request I ever faced as a pastor. In fact, it was heart-wrenching.
Strange is what happened to my dear friend, Bud. The widow asked if he would sing “Jingle Bells” at her husband’s graveside service. “It was one of my husband’s favorite Christmas songs,” she said. Bud, as always, was so very gracious. He wanted to accommodate her but this was a little over the top. Reluctantly, he went along and, in the most reverent, soulful way possible, he sang “Jingle Bells” as they lowered the casket.
After the service was over, the lady approached Bud. “I’m so sorry, honey,” she said. I meant to ask you to sing, “Ring Those Golden Bells.” Oops. Can’t un-ring that bell!
I had just announced the next upcoming baptism service when the young lady approached me about hers. I knew a little about her story but not the part she was about to tell me.
Some years before, she had walked in on a man burglarizing her home while she and her parents were away. The man quite literally beat her nearly to death before escaping by through a broken window as her parents showed up. He was never captured.
Her face still carried the scars of the wounds. Anyone who didn’t know her story might have thought she’d suffered a stroke. Hers was a heartbreaking story. Yet, the young lady behind the face was a warm, loving and deeply sensitive person. If she harbored any bitterness I never witnessed it. All she wanted was to be baptized again.
When the burglar beat her, he also damaged her brain. Much of her long term memory was lost forever. She knew she had been baptized; she just had no memory of it. She wanted a baptism she could remember the rest of her life.
Not long after that, I baptized her, for the second time. It was one of the most joyful acts of ministry in which I’ve ever been privileged to share. It was also an act of ministry that made me wonder.
How many times do I even think about, intentionally remember, my baptism? Or, baptisms, I should say. I got baptized when I was eight and then again at twelve because I doubted that my salvation at eight was genuine.
The pastor honored my request for the second baptism but he could not do one thing about the fact that, on the way home from my second baptism, I started doubting my salvation again. It’s been hard, but I’ve never asked to be baptized a third time and have no plans of doing so.
It took the Lord a long, long time to finally convince me that my baptism was not the act that enabled my salvation to be effective. It was simply that moment when I was supposed to celebrate what Jesus had done for me in his death, burial and resurrection and my acceptance of it.
It was also meant to be a moment of commitment. In my baptism I was giving witness to those watching that I would, too, die to self and be raised again to walk in the footprints of Jesus. As long as I thought my salvation was acquired by something I did, I would always wonder if I’d done enough to earn it. The moment I finally accepted that Jesus paid it all, my doubts began to die like wilting, un-watered weeds in the hot summer sun.
It’s good to remember not only the event of our baptism but also its meaning. How else do we stay centered on grace and faith and not works? When we remember our baptism, we celebrate and are also chastened at the same time to remember that we have “been buried with him in baptism, in which (we) were also raised with him through (our) faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead” (Paul, Colossians 2:12).
Now and then, I’ll glance down at the ring Nancy put on my finger on June 7, 1997. I remember the feeling of the moment. I remember the tears of joy. I celebrate her love for me and mine for her. I also remember that the ring means I am committed by marital love to only one other person on the planet.
The point is, I remember. The ring doesn’t make me a married man but it helps me remember the joy and responsibility of being one. The ring helps me remember a day so special it has none to which to compare it.
That’s all the young lady wanted. Something that would help her remember who she was and Whose she was. What in the world would we do, where would we be, who would we be without that memory?
By Ellen Di Giosia
We all know summer is a ton of fun. Whether you’ve spent it at the beach, in the pool, or on vacation, it’s good to get away from the grind for a little while and hang out with family and friends. But by August, the newness has definitely worn off. The beach is just so . . . sandy, and the chlorine in the pool burns the eyes. Even vacation seems harder – bickering from the backseat, too much fast food, long lines at airport and destination.
So there may be tears from students – and perhaps from parents of kindergarteners and college freshmen – but that whooping sound you hear is from many tired parents ready to drop the kids off at school and get back into the routine. Even homeschool parents relish a return to a more structured day and the clearer expectations that come with it. The summer reading may have been haphazard, but new folders will soon be filled with book titles and parent signatures. There’s just something about a routine that engenders commitment.
And guess what? It doesn’t just apply to kids and schoolwork! Now’s the perfect time to get back to church. Discipleship opportunities are all around you at Woodland, and Sunday School is an ideal weekly routine. Whether you prefer in-depth Bible study or topical groups, there is a class for you. Most importantly, on “just a routine Sunday morning,” you’ll be making friends, growing spiritually, and finding support for life’s difficulties and celebration for life’s joys. Before long, you won’t want to miss a single Sunday!
On Sunday morning, August 25, we’ll have a Kick-Off Coffee Hour to celebrate a new Sunday School year. We have some new class names, mission partnerships for each class, and a whole new slate of seminars. It’s the perfect time find a place that works for you. Our children and youth will promote to their new grade levels that day, so everything will feel fresh and new! Join us at 9:00am in Maresh Hall to get more information and catch up with friends you’ve missed over the summer. Hope to see you there!
I preached on the parable of the “Rich Fool” from Luke 12 last Sunday. You know, the story about the man who had too much grain, too much produce. So made plans to tear down his large barns and build bigger ones to store all that he had. But, God said to him, “Excuse me, Mr. Brilliant, tonight you will die. Now what will happen to all that you have earned and saved.”
Alex Rodriguez kept coming to mind last week as I read this scripture in preparation for Sunday. The “great” Yankees shortstop, Alex Rodriguez A.K.A. A-Rod, is in trouble with steroids again. He has been called one of the most gifted athletes ever to play Major League Baseball. He was the top prospect coming out of high school in Miami, FL where he hit over .500 his senior year. He was drafted in the first round by the Seattle Mariners. He played a year and a half in the minors before going to the big leagues.
His first full year in the majors with Seattle his .358 batting average led the American League. And he also hit, 36 home runs and drove in 123 runs. Alex Rodriguez has been a 12 time All Star, won the MVP three times, and has a couple Gold Glove awards. He has signed two contracts each worth approximately the GDP of a small country. One with the Texas Rangers valued at about $250 Million and another with the Yankees for about $275 Million. A-Rod must have some pretty large barns to store all these goods.
Yet, it’s never been enough. In his mind, he has never been good enough. These past few months he has been under investigation for using performance enhancing drugs. He was already caught and punished five years ago. His natural talent was not enough for him.
We don’t know what he could have been without steroids, and that’s unfortunate. Maybe he wouldn’t have hit over 600 home runs. Maybe he would have. Alex Rodriguez has as much talent as any baseball player in the past fifty years. Many people have said so. Yet, A-Rod certainly didn’t believe it. If he had trusted in the treasure God had given him (the ability to play baseball) perhaps he wouldn’t have lost the treasure of his good name.
When we try to make a name for ourselves instead building upon the life God gives us we risk losing both. We are all born with certain gifts and talents God gives us to use to make this world a better place. But, we get distracted. Too often we define our worth by our net worth rather than the treasure that is already ours by the grace of God. A-Rod lost sight of his worth. In doing so, he has lost his reputation (and probably his chance at the Hall of Fame). Distractions in our lives lead us to make poor decisions because they threaten our perception of value, which leads us to invest in the wrong things. In Luke 17, Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of God is within you. If you truly believe that treasure is within you now then that is something to invest in.