Tag Archives: music

Easter Graces in Atlanta

Today was a busy, grace-filled day. Tonight, as darkness settles onto our neighborhood, I feel tired but satisfied. This was truly the Lord’s Day.

This past week was not all easy. We had some difficult conversations with our dear church teammates. Yes, it is possible to hurt people you deeply love. I have done so; have you? I am thankful that, as recipients of God’s grace, we can each give the grace that we each so desperately need. Then yesterday was a difficult day for me. Emotionally drained, I found my mind did not want to focus on the writing assignments before me. Let’s just say it was not my most productive day (though I did enjoy some good times at the piano).

But today.

Today was a day that was better than I deserve. (Aren’t all?) Tomorrow will be another battle. I will need fresh grace. But today was a day where the grace was heaped onto our plates, impossible to miss, sweet to the taste. Let me recount a few of the sweetest morsels.

Today was our turn to host church. The spring Georgia weather has been amazing lately, so we swept the freshly-fallen tree blossoms off the concrete pad just over the stream, and gathered for church in our backyard.

I would love to share a picture of the group that gathered with us today. But it is important to me to honor people’s privacy. So you’ll have to look at me and trust me that this was not just a solo piano session.

The gathering spot was delightful, with birds and stream blending with our voices and sunlight dappling the sanctuary. The blend of friends who gathered was also delightful—if a little raucous at times. Our family of five was there. So was the Smucker family of five. Then about another dozen joined us. Our international student friend was here. So were several adults from a house just down our street—some for the worship time and some for the meal. And so were a whole passel of children from two different houses on our street. (That was the raucous part. The fact that our “sanctuary” was just next to the “gymnasium”—a trampoline—didn’t help. The day’s bouncing started about an hour before our stated “start time,” which didn’t ease setup. But I reminded my wife that Rich Mullins would have been delighted.) At one point during our morning worship Zonya looked around and counted 10 white, 11 black, and one Asian present. Not exactly representative of ratios in our neighborhood, but so much better than if we had each gone our separate ways today.

We sang with piano, we prayed “popcorn praises” (great for children), we read from the Gospels the stories of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we sang a cappella (revealing a lovely singing voice brought by a first-time visiting neighbor), Steve shocked the children by making the “body” of one of his sons “disappear” from a card-table “tomb,” we sang some more, and we marveled over the 1 Corinthians 15 promise of our own resurrection. One person present expressed how glad he was to be celebrating his first Easter. Others learned to answer “Jesus rose from the dead” rather than “we look for Easter eggs” when asked “What is Easter all about?” Some had their hearts strengthened as they identified all too well with Peter while singing “He’s Alive!” (with guitar this time) and then sharing in the Lord’s Table.

Okay, here’s one more, since the only face you can see is Steve’s. Why can’t you see anyone else’s face? Because they are looking for Jesus’ body. They can’t see that, either. That’s because “Jesus” slipped out from under the table and is hiding inside the fireplace. (Note the gymnasium in the upper left corner.)

Lunch was delicious (lovely ham, Dearest!), if a bit of a zoo, what with refilling several hundred cups of tea and lemonade and water—“No, I want tea and lemonade together, with ice”—for about a thousand demanding children who were fighting for turns on the trampoline (or ignoring turns completely) and riding bikes up and down the drive and along the street. But how lovely to include several neighbors whose children have often enjoyed our backyard, but who had not yet been inside our house!

Shortly after lunch several unfamiliar young men appeared out on the street (we were still in the backyard), calling something out to us and apparently looking for, or expecting, trouble. First they ran away, but the second time this happened several of us men wandered out front in their direction. We managed to calm some mutual fears, shake hands, exchange names, and send the hungry visitors off peacefully with plates of leftover lunch. More on this later.

As outdoor cleanup ended and various guests left, my international student friend and I stole off to the piano studio for a little, where we practiced our duet (Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No. 8) that we are preparing for my upcoming piano recital. He also shared pictures and videos of a “piano club” concert that happened in his home country yesterday—a special event that he helped plan months ago, but then ended up missing thanks to now being in school on the other side of the globe. I find it fascinating and delightful how an English literature major and a math major born poles apart can find such common ground in their shared enjoyment of music. I am already starting to dread the day when our friend will leave Atlanta for the next destination in his educational journey.

Then the house was quiet. Just our family. I settled onto the sofa to relax, and my two youngest girls settled with me—one on top and the other beside, reading us “a scary story—but not too scary” about Horton hearing a Who. (Because “a person’s a person, no matter how small,” including the little ones we help parent in our backyard while trying to share in the Lord’s Table, right?)

But we had not even finished the story when our oldest bounded in with news of an Easter egg hunt that the neighbor children were about to head off to. Well… Easter isn’t really about egg hunts, but we had already shared the real meaning of Easter with these children, so… And they had come to our house, and now if they seemed to be inviting us to join them in their fun…? So I took the girls to go see what was happening. Turns out our van was needed to help carry all the children (10 total) who wanted to go to a nearby park for the hunt. Time there brought more friendship-building conversation with adult neighbors while our children, like a bunch of Energizer Easter bunnies, expended yet more energy.

I’ll skip over the bit about helping my wife accomplish her project of building a birthday gift for one of our daughters to say that part way through that activity yet another neighbor called across the yards to invite our daughters to join her son with his bubble machine. Our oldest drove her bike through the bubbles a few times then headed in the opposite direction to spend more time with the older church-and-Easter-egg-hunt friends from earlier in the day. Our two youngest enjoyed the comparative quiet of chasing bubbles with only one young friend.

Meanwhile, Zonya and I headed a couple houses further down our street to visit yet another house. There was a big family party there, and one of the children from this morning’s church gathering had invited us to drop in there, since it was his house.

That was a strange moment for Zonya and me. It was only one year ago that Zonya and the girls first joined me in our new house. We had not even officially moved in yet, and we knew almost no neighbors. Now, one year later, we were leaving two of our daughters at one neighbor’s house, the other daughter was hanging out with other neighbor friends at another house, and we were walking childless to follow up on an invitation to a third house, all on our block.

Two parts of that little visit stand out. Two, our hostess neighbor insisted on loading our hands with delicious food from their party—chicken and ribs done on her backyard grill, baked beans, macaroni salad, and cake. Mmm. And one, several men mentioned that they had seen our interaction with the young “trouble-makers” on the street earlier that afternoon. It turns out the same young men had been called out to their party, too, prior to meeting us. I was roundly praised (“Are you a pastor?”) for not doing what one of them said he would have done if he hadn’t been wearing a cast, and for defusing the situation by sending them off with food. More on this later.

We returned to the bubble-bursting daughters and invited this neighbor and her son to accomplish the oft-mentioned goal of letting her son jump on our trampoline. This brought more neighbor conversation opportunities for my wife and a chance for me to do a little more trampoline-side Jesus-shaped child training and encouraging. Chances like this aren’t hard to find these days, for some reason.

As Zonya walked this neighbor home, they bumped into a neighbor who lives between us. (She grew up there and is truly a gracious person to have next door.) Turns out this neighbor, too, had witnessed the food giveaway that happened on the street in front of her house. Wow. And to think that it never once crossed my mind that anyone might be watching. What might have happened if I had blown it? God, help us to be faithful in the little opportunities to live like Jesus! (More on this later?)

By this time day was dying in the west, so we retreated into the house that God bought and enjoyed the supper provided by the grandma of one of our regular backyard bikers and jumpers.

If I’m counting correctly, we visited in the yards and/or houses of four households on our block today. People from two of those households showed up at our own place as we hosted church. Plus, we exchanged friendly greetings as we passed a couple more houses on our block. And gave food to several passers-by. Oh, and I forgot the lady biking past this morning who stopped in just as church was about to begin to see if I could fill her bike tire. Yet another opportunity to share names and invite a new friend to join us for church sometime.

If you’ve read this far, you may feel as tired as I do.

I thank God for all the dear people with whom we shared this day. We feel both welcome and useful among our neighbors. I thank God for placing us here in Atlanta, here in West Lake, and right here on this block. I thank God for a day full of opportunities to offer our voices and hands for Jesus. And I thank him for a day when his grace is as sweet as the strawberry shortcake my wife served us last week.

Please pray for us. Tomorrow will be another battle. I have battled discouragement from time to time and expect to face this giant again. My wife needs God’s grace in her heart and on her lips. Our whole church team needs your prayers. But Christ dealt Satan his deathblow on that first Easter weekend, right? Satan is a wounded lion, roaring in anger as he goes down. Christ has the upper hand. May his hand be strong in West Lake! And may every day be the Lord’s Day this week, in your heart and mine.

May your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Thank you for listening. If you are a neighbor, or if you are a friend far away, feel free to leave a message in the comments below. We thank God for you.

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Poll: Which Is the Best Hymnal for Mennonites?

Someone gave our little Followers of Jesus Atlanta Church a generous gift for buying hymnals. We are very thankful! Now we have the delightful pleasure of selecting the best hymnal(s) to buy. And you can help us by voting.

So far, the following three-part approach seems wise, enabling us to move forward without forgetting our past:

  1. Choose one book that helps us connect with people in our neighborhood, which is about 95% African American.
  2. Choose another book that reflects our Anabaptist roots.
  3. Use CCLI (a church copyright license service) to legally copy additional songs.

Goal number three requires little discussion. And we have found a hymnal that achieves goal number one superbly: The African American Heritage Hymnal—which, incidentally, includes many classic hymns familiar to most American evangelicals. We are gradually collecting some very affordable used copies.


But finding a solution for an Anabaptist hymnal is proving more tricky. Of the four or so hymn books that we and our teammates the Smuckers grew up using most, only one is something that any of us really likes. And it (Great Hymns of the Faith, compiled by John W. Peterson) is not even an Anabaptist hymnal!

(I’m trying to be kind and avoid getting too specific about which hymnals we are less satisfied with, though I can say a couple things. First, we’d rather not have an editor changing too many original lyrics. We’d rather learn classic hymns in their classic versions, leaving editorial discussions as needed for the time of singing, as teachable moments. And second, we find some hymnals have more compelling musical arrangements than others.)

We are not absolutely set on finding a hymnal that is specifically Anabaptist. But there would be some advantages to choosing a hymnal that, for example, teaches our children the best of the hymns that their parents grew up singing. And I would consider it a good thing if this hymnal would intentionally include some of the best of our (admittedly comparatively sparse) Anabaptist hymnody.

Perhaps there is an Anabaptist hymnal that we did not grow up with that would achieve this goal well? Or a non-Anabaptist hymnal that is so strong we should consider it?

Thus, this poll. What do you think is the best hymnal for Mennonites? (Or Anabaptists, if you prefer.) I’ll pre-load this poll widget with some options. Then you can help in four ways:

  1. Vote. (You can vote for more than one if you think two are tie.)
  2. Add more options to the poll.
  3. Defend your preferences in the comments below.
  4. Forward this post to your most musical and insightful friends.

Sorry, I won’t promise that we will go with the winner of this poll. And there are no prizes if we select your suggestion—besides getting to sing from your favorite hymnal when you come visit!

So come on, all ye Mennonites. This is no time to eschew voting. Ya’ll cast your ballots for best hymnal now!


Note: Since I can’t embed links in the poll widget, here are Amazon links for each of the hymnals I’ve pre-loaded:

The Mennonite Hymnal

Hymnal: A Worship Book

Church Hymnal

Hymns of the Church

Zion’s Praises

Christian Hymnal

The Christian Hymnary

Church and Sunday School Hymnal

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Downsview Station Jazz Rap [Poem by Mom]

The wonderful thing about having a blog devoted to biblical studies is that you can legitimately include almost any topic under the sun, since the Bible itself includes just about every sort of topic imaginable. So if this month’s poem from Mom doesn’t sound sufficiently biblical or spiritual, go read something like a Gospel account of Jesus interacting with children or the story of Hannah and Samuel or even the Song of Songs, then read Mom’s poem again. I think you’ll see it fits in very well indeed.

This poem was written in honor of our firstborn daughter, who just turned seven. When she was still very new, we took her on an overnight bus ride from our home in Queens, New York, to Toronto, Ontario, to introduce her to my family for the first time.

The Manhattan skyline at dusk.  Photo Credit: Ana Paula Hirama via Compfight cc

I clearly remember little Priya on that overnight ride, eyes wide open, taking in all the sights—the curbside Manhattan bus stop, the fellow passengers, the bright lights outside the bus window, and, when whenever we pointed her in the wrong direction, the long-forgotten movie flashing on the bus monitors.

NeonBusStop Photo Credit: Stewart via Compfight cc

I think she squeaked only about once on that whole roughly-10-hour ride. She spent much of her time sleeping, and the rest of it looking wide-eyed at the wide world. We’d had fearful visions of keeping fellow passengers awake all night with a crying baby. But the trip turned out to be, as I recall, a magical experience for all of us.

The CN Tower rising behind Union Station, much as we glimpsed it before dawn that morning.
The CN Tower rising behind Union Station, much as we glimpsed it before dawn that morning. Photo Credit: wyliepoon via Compfight cc

We arrived in Canada’s largest city, at downtown Union Station, early in the morning. After strolling around mostly underground a while, past closed shops, we found the subway line heading to the north edge of Toronto.


After years of subway riding in NYC, it was fun to ride a subway in Toronto, for perhaps only the second time in my life. Perhaps my Canadian memory is just biased, but I’m recalling that the TO subway was quieter and cleaner than those in NYC.

downsview-IMG_2919Photo credit: Nathan Ng (See his Downsview Station photo collection.)

Soon we reached Downsview Station, the end of the line. There we worked our way above ground and found the passenger pickup waiting area.

The inside of the passenger pickup area where we waited for Mom and Dad. Photo credit: Nathan Ng.

Bright-eyed little Priya was a charm the whole way, and as we waited at Downsview for my parents to arrive to drive us to home in Parry Sound, all her innocent baby charm was poised to capture their hearts, too.

trip to Parry Sound Jan '09, etc 107
Photo of Priya during our Parry Sound visit.

I’ll let Mom continue from here. But first, perhaps this is a good time to remind you that “travelled,” “traveller” and “centre” are perfectly proper spelling for a Canadian poet!

Ken and I met Priya Simone, our fourth grandchild, on January 22, 2009. She was six weeks old when she and her parents visited us, and I wrote this poem after her return to her home in New York City.

I’m not sure what the genesis was for the style of this poem. I know little about jazz, and less about rap. Perhaps the rhythm was born of the turning of wheels, the tension and excitement from memories of subway rides in New York City, the relentless forward advance from the gritty determination to survive the wrenching separation from our newest grandchild after such a brief time together.

This was northern bush country grandmother meeting city granddaughter. Was I wondering if we could speak the same language, make the same music? But it was love at first sight.

I can still visualize the indoor park bench at Downsview Subway Station in Toronto, with tiny baby, wrapped against the winter cold, lying there so innocent and vulnerable, so out of place in an urban transit center filled with strangers, aloof and transient. She seemed to have been just dropped there out of nowhere, a gift to our world. With father and mother hovering nearby the image becomes in my mind a modern nativity, a babe in an unlikely place, of immense import to the two of us who had come to welcome her. With awe we peeked inside the blankets to gaze on our new little granddaughter, Priya. Then we all travelled north to celebrate a belated Christmas.

Christmas: to us a child is born. Christmas: the arrival of a child. Christmas: the journey to welcome, to worship, to open our hearts. Christmas: each baby born is a reminder, every journey an opportunity for pilgrimage, and every Christmas season another opportunity to worship.

—Elaine Gingrich, December 12, 2015

The passenger pickup waiting area where Mom and Dad first saw Priya—on a much colder morning.
The outside of the passenger pickup area where Mom and Dad first saw Priya–on a much colder morning. Photo credit: Nathan Ng.

To Priya (“Beloved”)

We met in Downsview station
When you visited our nation
From New York City on the overnight bus.
Parry Sound your destination
But Toronto the location
Where streets were gray and gritty when you first met us.

You slept like a pro on the overnight bus
Like a seasoned traveller who makes no fuss.
Child of the city, an urban daughter,
We met you at last, our third granddaughter.
Cradled on a bench in a subway shelter
You smiled contentedly in the chilly weather.

Downsview station
Parry Sound your destination
On the overnight bus
When you first met us.

In the chaos of commute, an island of repose,
I fell in love with you, from dark eyes to tiny toes,
The centre of our universe as travellers passed us by,
Unbelievably diminutive to hold our hopes so high.
Petite determination, tiny but so strong—
I ached to get acquainted and it didn’t take long.
You opened up your heart to us—so full of ready smiles
To grow a bond connecting us across the years and miles
With all the stunning impact of a little grandchild’s powers.
And all my mothering instincts rose to claim you—you are ours!

Downsview station
Petite determination
Making no fuss
When you first met us.

We headed up the highway to your family from away
To make the most of loving you, to count each precious day.
Child of New York City, but the north is in your veins.
Born south of the border, but the ancestry remains—
Looking like your daddy with your mommy’s eyes
Old baby photos demonstrate our family ties.
Through wonders of development and genealogy,
Genetics, procreation—God designed who you would be.

Jazz Loop:              Downsview Downsview station

Overnight bus.

Overnight bus

Where you first met us.

First met us

From the overnight bus
At Downsview station
Where you first met us.

Downsview station is where we said goodbye
Only one week later–I thought my heart would die—
A visceral tug as your parents rushed away
Among their bags and luggage toting you—you could not stay.

Downsview Downsview station
And you make no fuss
Heading via subway
To the overnight bus.
Back to New York City
Where the streets are gray and gritty.
Petite determination
With no choice of destination.

It was Downsview station where we met,
It is Downsview station when I close my eyes.
I see it in twilight—an empty park bench set
In the vacant station where I heard your gurgled cries.

Downsview station
Where you left our nation
On an overnight bus
But I will not fuss.

—Elaine Gingrich, February 6, 2009

Mom and Dad saying bye to Priya before she begins her homeward journey by subway, overnight bus, and subway, back to her home in NYC.
Mom and Dad saying bye to Priya before she begins her homeward journey by subway, overnight bus, and subway again, back to her home in NYC.

For the rest of the poems in this monthly series, see here.

And if you enjoyed this poem, leave a comment here for Mom, or send her an email at MomsEmailAddressImage.php.  Thanks!

I can’t resist adding a few more pictures from Priya’s first visit to her northern grandparents. Here are some highlights.

Our Parry Sound destination--Mom and Dad's house under a deep blanket of snow, with clouds above promising still more.
Our Parry Sound destination–Mom and Dad’s house under a deep blanket of snow, with clouds above promising still more.
Mom holding Priya while receiving the news that another granddaughter had just been born. Big sisters (Priya's cousins) share the wonder.
Mom holding Priya while receiving the news that another granddaughter had just been born–Priya’s cousin Megan. Big sisters Emily and Natalia share the wonder.
Mothers and babies: Chris with Megan (left) and Zonya with Priya (right).
Mothers and babies: Chris with Megan (left) and Zonya with Priya (right).
And the dads: Me with my big brother Tim.
And the dads: Me with my big brother Tim.
Taking Priya skating for the first time, in Parry Sound's Bobby Orr Community Centre.
Taking Priya skating for the first time, in Parry Sound’s Bobby Orr Community Centre.  Dad is pleased but needs to work on his posture.
Priya seemed to enjoy it.
Priya was a real natural on the ice.
Time for a chat with the coach.
Time for a chat with the coach. Pretty good game, eh?
Four generations: Priya, me, Mom, and Mom's parents. We owe more than we can fathom to those who have gone before us.
Four generations: Priya, me, Mom, and Mom’s parents. We owe more than we can fathom to those who have gone before us.

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