Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Were You There, or My Junior Choir Trauma

I'm not sure if I have shared this story on this blog before. And rather than search through the archived posts, I will just go ahead and share it again. That's my way, really. My friends tell me I'm a story repeater. Oh, well.

It was a number of years ago, about this time of year. I'm reminded of this story because I planning an upcoming service and one of the songs we are singing is "Were You There." It's an old familiar hymn. Most regular church goers have probably heard it more than a few times. Anyway, I was in grade school and I belonged to the junior choir. I loved to sing, although I was not the most confident in my abilities. I joined the junior choir because most of the kids in my grade that went to our church were in it, and it gave me the opportunity to sing.

For one church service, our director decided we were going to sing "Were You There," and she wanted soloists to sing a few of the verses. I'm not sure if she asked for volunteers and I raised my hand or if she asked me explicitly, but somehow I ended up with the third verse.

When we performed the song during the service, each soloist was to leave their place in the group and stand out front for their solo. When it came time for me, that meant I had to walk out from behind the entire group (I always have been one of the tallest...). So I made my way through the group and stood in front and began to sing.

"Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?
Oooh-ooooh-ooooh-oooh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified m-"

And that's when I realized I was ending the third verse with a line from the first verse. I had messed up, made a huge mistake, in front of everyone! I should have calmly finished the verse, walked back to my spot and pretended like nothing had happened. But that is not what I did. Instead, I stopped singing. Then, I burst into tears and pushed my way to the back of the group.

Everyone was exceedingly gracious. They complimented my singing, and many people shared stories of how they had messed up while performing in front of a crowd. It made me feel much better about my mistake.

But to this day I cannot hear this song without flashing back to that day. I can see the church, the choir director standing in front of me, the peoples' faces in the pews. I remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized I had made the mistake, and the wave of embarrassment. All of these things add up to mean that this song is not my favorite. I don't think it's bad, but it's just not for me.

I also thank God that we are saved by grace and not on account of our ability to sing songs correctly.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Getting on my soapbox

You know what really bugs me? Well, I mean besides when the pizza guy takes too long to get to my house?

It's those stupid forwards that I get in my e-mail that share some religious story, often kind of sappy or sentimental, and then say something like "If you really believe in God/love Jesus/are a true Christian then you will forward this e-mail to all of your friends."

I don't like them at all. For a couple of reasons.

First, I don't like them because they are based on shame. They are shaming people into forwarding them. What they are telling people is if they don't send them on, then they must not really believe in God or love Jesus or be a Christian. As if their identity as a child of God is somehow dependent on clicking the "forward" link and sending that silly message on to others.

I think we have enough stuff in our lives telling us that we are not good enough, that we are somehow not living up to what we should be. We don't need some silly little chain letter putting its voice in the mix to heap more shame and guilt and "not good enoughs" on us.

And they're lying. Absolutely lying. Because our identity as children of God is in no way determined by our ability or willingness to send an e-mail. In fact, our identity as children of God is in no way determined by anything that we could do, have done, will do, might do or could ever do. It has already been determined by God through Jesus Christ. We are children of God because God loves us. Not because of our abilities or choices or circumstances.

Second, I don't like them because they have got it all wrong. They say that if you love Jesus/believe in God/are a true Christian then you should show it by forwarding that e-mail. I'm sorry, but there are TONS, no MILLIONS of better ways to do that. How about moving away from the computer and actually reaching out and helping someone. Share a smile. Do a good deed. Help a friend. Help a stranger. Serve in a soup kitchen. Volunteer at a food pantry. Shovel your neighbor's sidewalk. Mow their lawn. Donate your money to a worthy cause. I could keep going. The thing is, if we were to create a list of ways to prove that you believe in God/love Jesus/are a true Christian if forwarding an e-mail was even on it, it would most likely be near the bottom. Jesus told us that if we love him that we are to feed his sheep and that whatever we do to the least of these we do to him. Those who are hungry and poor and lonely and sick and broken-hearted and homeless and abused and addicted could probably care less if we sent a sappy little story to all of our friends. They would probably appreciate a friendly smile, a kind word and a helping hand a lot more.

And besides, if you DO forward that e-mail and then go on to share in some gossip, or ignore the needs of your neighbor, it gives people a much clearer idea of what is important to you, anyway.