Monday, June 22, 2015

H is for HYMN

         When you’ve been a church goer for many decades, you tend to have a lot of hymns stored in your memory—at least I do—which can resurface at unlikely times after lying dormant. 

This past week my husband acquired a new car, trading in my historic Kia Rio, affectionately called the Lima Bean by some, and a few less appropriate names by others.
However, my husband forgot to bring the Kia’s title along, so he had to mail it to the dealer the next day. This incident sent a message to my brain’s retrieval system and I began to sing,

Do you know how hard it is to find
a photo of a gospel QUARTET?
Google can't count. I finally chose this Gaither photo.
When I can read my title clear
to mansions in the skies,
I'll bid farewell to every fear,
and wipe my weeping eyes;
and wipe my weeping eyes,
and wipe my weeping eyes,
I'll bid farewell to every fear,
and wipe my weeping eyes.

(Memory validated at

            I didn’t remember the next three verses, but I did fairly well on the first. And I didn’t just remember the words and lyrics, I heard a men’s quartet singing it in harmony with a lively tempo. 

            Hymns have the speculative fiction qualities of time travel and teletransport. (I might have made up the second term, but I’m sure there’s a more familiar word out there.) What I mean is, a hymn can take me back to another time and another place. (It must be one way time travel, because hymns never take me forward.) When I see Psalm 91, not only do I hear a choral arrangement, but I’m singing it on the chapel steps at Northeastern Bible College with the rest of the choir in the spring of 1972. And I’m eighteen years old. Eighteen. Years. Old.

            When I sing “In the Garden,” I see and hear Jorge Zambrano playing his guitar and singing with an Ecuadorian accent. He was part of our Open Air Campaigners team from Hawthorne Gospel Church. I wasn’t even eighteen then.

            Some people don’t like hymns, or any kind of church music for that matter. When our little choir leads the praise songs at the beginning of our worship service, I’ve sadly gotten used to people staring silently at us, sometimes their arms folded defiantly. “You can’t make me sing!” My sons acted like this, and I once asked a coworker how she got her kids to sing in church. She looked at me like I was crazy before giving the obvious answer, “I smack them in the back of the head.” Aha. 

            You might be surprised to learn a New Testament writer commands us to sing hymns, and not just hymns, but other music. The first passage is from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, while the second passage is from his letter to the Colossians.

18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5, NIV)

One Sunday we ALL used tambourines.
One church lady called 9-1-1.

          Don’t go to the bar. Go to choir practice.

Notice that several kinds of music are listed. They seem like they should be synonyms, but there must be nuances of meaning. I hope I’m correct in taking that to mean we have God’s blessing to use different styles of music in our churches. One trend I like is joining old hymn lyrics to new melodies or new rhythms.

Notice that our singing serves two purposes:  We sing to each other and we sing to the Lord. Why do we sing to each other? The Colossians passage answers the question: We  teach each other through our music.

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (Colossians 3, NKJV)
            If you hate hymns, you probably stopped reading a few paragraphs ago. If you love hymns, which ones are your favorites? Why? Which are your least favorite? Why?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

G is for GROUT

I am an HGTV semi-addict. I love Flip or Flop, Fixer Upper, House Hunters (domestic and international), Property Brothers, and Love it or List It. Oh, and don’t forget Beach Front Bargain Hunt. Don’t invite me to your home, because I’ll probably estimate the square footage and evaluate everything else: the closet space, the master en suite, the kitchen cupboards, the countertops.

And every day I hopelessly hope one or two of those HGTV stars will come to my house and gut it and then make it amazingly amazing.

Bucket o' grout
Yes, please.
All that just to tell you I’ve seen my share of grout, although I haven’t actually worked with it. Grout is, according to, “a thin, coarse mortar poured into various narrow cavities, as masonry joints or rock fissures, to fill them and consolidate the adjoining objects into a solid mass.”** Exactly. It’s what Jonathan Scott spreads across all that subway tile he keeps putting in everyone’s kitchen. When he comes to my house, he’s going to have to push the grout into the little spaces between the square colored glass tiles. I don’t care for subway tile. Who wants to eat in a subway? A Subway, yes. A subway, no.

 G is also for GRACE.

I think grace is like grout, and not just because they both start with “gr.” Just like grout holds together a lot of disjointed tiles and makes them into a beautiful pattern, grace holds together the disjointed pieces and even splintered shards of me and makes me into a beautiful person. (Caveat:  It’s a process!)

What is grace, anyway? There are more Google results for definitions of grace than hymns about grace, and that’s saying a lot. You can read about grace’s linguistic origins in Hebrew and Greek—hesed and xaris—and lots of technical articles with many quoted scripture verses.

A simple definition I heard decades ago uses an acrostic:

G         God’s
R         riches
A         at
C         Christ’s
E          Expense

Simple, but not too shabby. By his death and resurrection, Jesus Christ paid the bill for me to receive God’s extravagant favor. Now the Lord continues to carefully choose (and purposefully lose) pieces and remake me, grouted with grace.

Here’s my prayer for you today and every day: May you be grouted with grace.

**An archaic definition of grout is “coarse meal or porridge,” but let’s not discuss my cooking.

Friday, June 12, 2015

F is for FEET

Will you join me in thanking God for functional feet? Having experienced non-functional feet for a few months, even puffiness around my titanium-fortified right ankle or taking the stairs one step at a time first thing in the morning doesn’t lessen my gratitude.
Some of us work more than others on making our feet beautiful. We exfoliate; buff, clip, file, and paint toenails; and buy lots and lots of shoes. Some of us even wear toe rings and ankle bracelets. And don't forget tattoos that look like toe rings and ankle bracelets.

Did Jesus have beautiful feet? 

Probably not by our standards. Like most men in his day, he wore sandals and walked on dusty roads and through muddy paths. There are a few feet-related incidents in Jesus’ life that jumped out at me recently.

In chapter 7 of his Gospel, Luke narrates the account of a dinner at the home of Simon, a Pharisee. An uninvited “sinful woman” there was the only one who cared for Jesus’ road-dirty feet; we know this because Jesus called the Pharisee on his social blunder:
“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.”
(Luke 7:44 – 46)

Though Simon had invited Jesus, he didn’t welcome him according to the basic social customs of the day—a basin of cool water for his dusty feet, a kiss of greeting, and oil to anoint. Simon dishonored Jesus instead.

Jesus told Simon a parable about a person forgiven a small debt and another person forgiven a large debt, and the punch line was “whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47) The so-called sinful woman loved Jesus much in response to the forgiveness of her many sins; she showed her love by washing his feet and worshiping there.

Mary of Bethany also loved Jesus much, though the Gospels portray her as a godly woman with no obvious sins. She, too, washed Jesus’ feet and worshiped him there. Mary had a better situation, since we can assume Jesus’ feet had already been washed with water when he entered her home. Mary, her sister Martha, or a servant would have offered this hospitality to their favorite friend. Instead of water, “Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:3)

In the first incident, Simon the Pharisee criticized Jesus for letting a sinful woman touch him. In the second incident. Judas Iscariot criticized Mary for wasting this valuable nard when it could have been sold and the money used to help the poor. Jesus gives Judas no parable, just a rebuke, “Leave her alone,” and a riddle, “She’s preparing me for burial.” It’s likely only Judas understood the riddle since he planned to turn Jesus over to the authorities when the opportunity arose.

            In a third foot washing incident, we find Jesus himself on the floor with the towel and the basin. When Jesus and his disciples celebrated Passover together in a borrowed guest room, apparently no one arranged for an attending servant. None of the disciples cared to fill that role, although Jesus had previously taught them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42 – 45)

             So Jesus modeled the attitude he had commanded and performed the lowly duty of freshening his guests’ grimy feet. Peter was offended enough to resist Jesus in this outrageous act—but not offended enough to offer to take his place. Like the two women, Jesus also loved much. By the next nightfall, Jesus demonstrated the enormity of his outrageous love by giving his own blood to wash soiled souls.  
           Did Jesus have beautiful feet? Nailed to a cross, his feet were not only dirty, but also punctured, raw, and blood smeared. Yet, with the ancient prophet, I strain to see beyond the obvious physical reality and agree:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”(Isaiah 52:7)

All scripture is quoted from the New International Version.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

E is for Eglah.

How fun is this! I would hard boil
dozens of eggs just to see them
magically stripped by this machine.
Who or what is an eglah? Is it a new generic knockoff of Eggo waffles? Is it a kitchen device making it easier to prepare eggs? Like the Eggstractor, which I desperately want, but not enough to pay $14.99 plus processing and handling. Still, the idea of peeling eggs in a totally unyucky way tempts me.

Eglah is neither of those. It is the name I have chosen for my somewhat new car. Since summer, 2003, I had driven a green Kia Rio. It had many names and descriptions, most derisive. Even a Kia dealer called the color “baby poop green,” although she didn’t say “poop.” I immediately asked her if she meant a breastfed or bottle-fed baby, and she, being an unmarried non-mom, had no idea what I meant.

One of my more polite students took to calling the Kia the Lima Bean. I found that fitting. It’s small and green.

Then in summer 2014, I acquired a purple PT Cruiser, and my husband claimed the Lima Bean. But what would I call the Cruiser? It’s big and purple, and in keeping with the vegetable theme, I decided it is an eggplant. So the Cruiser is now Eglah the Eggplant.

This is not Eglah. This generic purple PT Cruiser
belongs to someone else.
But where did I get Eglah from? I’m so glad you asked. Eglah was one of King David’s wives. Second Samuel chapter 3 lists Davd’s sons, “And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David's wife. These were born to David in Hebron.” 2 Samuel 3:5

Before I realized Eglah was a bona fide royal wife, I encountered her in what is a contender for the cheesiest Bible movie of all time. I regularly showed it to my Old Testament classes. The only well-known actor was a huge, glowering Orson Welles as King Saul. The young shepherd David, dressed in an obscenely short tunic, had a girlfriend named Eglah who continuously gushed, “Oh David, I’m so afraid!” right up until the moment when she was struck by sideways lightning. 

Yes, sideways lightning in an old black and white movie. We replayed that scene over and over again in my classroom to the devious delight of students and teacher alike. David eventually overcame his sorrow and went to Jerusalem (which had not yet been conquered) to confront the priests in front of the Temple (which would not be built by David’s son Solomon until after David’s death many decades later).

What the film lacked in historical accuracy it made up for in state-of-the-art special effects.

And so in memory of poor, sweet, dead Eglah, every morning I power up Eglah the Eggplant and go forth to seize the day, taking special care during thunder storms.