We All Have a Song
A few nights ago, my sister and I were recalling joyful and fun times we’ve spent in a variety of United Methodist Churches, the tradition I call home. The thread of that conversation originated because I was telling her about her old church membership card I’d recently found in a metal file cabinet at Winfield UMC. She’s been watching us online with my wonderful brother-in-law, and I told her she needed to come on “home,” and that I had the card to prove her authentic Winfield ties!
Although I have mostly positive memories of my time in Methodism, and I do love the Wesleyan heritage from which I come, there have been a few times that I’ve felt the sting of rejection.
In 1967, when my mother divorced my father, she became a single parent. We moved from an apartment in Little Rock to Lakewood in North Little Rock because, frankly, the rent was cheaper for her across the river. The truth is, I pretty much grew up in “Dog Town,” and I’m proud of it!
Because I’m a discrete Methodist, I won’t call out any names, but we attended one church for a time. Back then, single moms were looked upon with suspicion. There were very few single people in churches who were middle-aged and divorced with a child. That was a harsh reality because, in reality, my attractive mother wasn’t fully welcome in the couples classes back then. Yet she still wanted me to have a church home, so we began attending.
In trying this particular Methodist church, I attended the children’s choir. I liked singing, and there were plenty of kids from my school who were part of that faith community. One evening, as we practiced for a Christmas cantata, I was singing my little heart out. I must have been because all I remember was enjoying the song, and really singing. The choir director looked right at me, and said, “Stop singing. You are too loud!”
That stung. I felt my face turn red. I had no idea that I couldn’t sing well. As a child who already felt different, no father in the home, my siblings all grown, and my mom older and working, I did not need that harsh directive. I might have needed some direction, but I didn’t need a scolding in front of other children from a woman who didn’t know my story, my history, and didn’t seem to understand that there are more important things in the church than how well a child can sing in the Christmas cantata.
Later, as a pastor who participated in congregational singing, I could tell that, though I didn’t read music, I at least had a bit of an ear. I can tell when someone is off key, and I’m certainly no soloist. Yet, from years of singing in the church, I realized that I could sing in a group. In the first church I served after seminary, I participated in the choir’s cantata! At another church, I could sing on key with others around me whose voices I could hear and hang with. What that woman said years before about me wasn’t really true. We all have a song, meaning we all have some part to play, some tune to carry.
When I retold that story about the children’s director who admonished me for my lack of vocal ability to my sister, we laughed until we cried, she on one end of the phone, and me on the other. In her exaggerated voice like our Aunt Mary, who has been gone many years, my sister said, “Only me and my God know what I’ve been through!”
As her expression sent us into more peels of laughter, I was thankful that I continue to grow in ways that remind me who I am: God’s child.
Of course, we all have moments of embarrassment that can hurt, but those embarrassments and failures can also, over time, be proven wrong. I showed that lady! I might not have gotten my degree in sacred music, but I did get a degree in theology. I did have a gift for something.
We are not boundless in our abilities, but we are also not defined only by our abilities. Christians believe our worth comes from God’s love for us. Let us not forget that when we encounter others who are different from us, or whose stories we do not know, God has made them, given them life, just as God has given us life. Let us be gentle, kind, hospitable, and not give in to judgment in a time when judgment ruins lives and destroys love.
(Pics: Membership Card, one of my sons preparing to sing on video for a recent online worship.