A Plastic Recorder and a Borrowed Ukulele

by DanWolgemuth on September 18, 2020

There’s a pause, pregnant with anticipation. Then music. A note or two on a piano or a single voice, or a misaligned entry point for a little plastic recorder.

And moments later, the vague resemblance of a familiar tune. Then words that confirm the identity of the cloaked hymn.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…

John Newton, a 47-year-old English poet and clergyman put pen to paper, and as history seems to validate, he wrote with indelible ink.

From slave trader to abolitionist. From lost to found.

Mahalia Jackson, Joan Baez, and even Arlo Guthrie at Woodstock sang the song, and with it the powerful and redemptive words.

But so too did many who couldn’t carry a tune or manage a keyboard. So too did grade-schoolers and the musically constrained.

And while I love to hear the song performed with precision and clarity and matchless harmony… it’s not always done that way. Sometimes the melody and lyrics are nearly indecipherable. Yet what I know is that in both cases, the message and meaning are not altered. When I hear a first-grade choir singing the song with tambourines and cowbells and plastic recorders, I don’t invalidate the work of John Newton. When the song is “performed” over Zoom instead of in Carnegie Hall, I don’t dismiss the former as an impostor or a fraud.

Great or dreadful, the performance does not remove the power of the Newton pen, or the heart that birthed it.

In some ways, this is a fractional understanding of what happens when Christians live out the Gospel of Jesus. His perfect, redemptive, sacrificial message… carried on the lips and lungs of first graders blasting it out on a plastic recorder or a borrowed ukulele. Sometimes it’s nearly indecipherable. Sometimes a complete miscarriage. At other times, compelling and amplifying.

But never does the power of the life of Jesus twist in the breeze under my rendition.

Those who would dismiss Jesus because of my poor “performance” would hardly question the masterful work of Tchaikovsky and the 1812 Overture because they heard it played at a Middle School orchestra concert.

And today, it seems that we see many grade school recorders attempting to play “Amazing Grace”. It’s painful. At times it’s embarrassing. Yet, Jesus is not scrambling with His PR department to salvage His reputation.

The timeless masterpiece of grace will survive, and thrive, and flourish… in spite of many flubbed performances, including my own.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that survived a tambourine, cowbell and plastic recorder. It saves. Then and now.

Powerful. Unconstrained. Unmatched.

And my effort to play this masterpiece with clarity and joy and love and hope and power is a gift I give to the author. To Jesus.

He is worthy of perfection. And because of that, I will give Him my all.

Amazing grace. Trust the author, not the choir that is attempting to perform it.


Only a pebble…

by DanWolgemuth on September 11, 2020

My work day had concluded, and I made the short commute from the office in our home to the front porch. Mary was sitting there, watching over the water play of two of our grandchildren. Our two youngest. Juni, our 3-year-old, and Mack at nearly two.

They had filled a clear storage tub with water and were delighting in hopping in and out. But the fascination soon subsided and quickly they shifted their attention to moving rocks from our corner landscaped area into the tub. One at a time. Each trip rewarded with a corresponding splash. And each trip accompanied with joy as the rocks made their way to the bottom of the transparent tub.

Juni and Mack had no difficulty maintaining their attention when it came to this new activity. Back and forth they went. Sometimes it was nothing more than a pebble; other times it was a rock the size of their hands.

We watched with interest and joy, until Mary wisely noted that it was time for a warm bath and bed. Reluctantly, they complied.

My task, at this point was to pour the water from the tub and return the rocks to their rightful, and aesthetically pleasing location. With the water drained, I bent over to hoist the tub and carry it to the corner. To my surprise, I couldn’t lift it. Not an inch off the ground.

With less patience than my grandkids, I moved the rocks in front of me… but as I did, I was struck by the reality that a three-year-old and a two-year-old had produced an object too heavy for me to move.

Let that sink in.

Let it sink in when you question whether one small act of mercy or justice or kindness or grace will make a difference in a vast sea of hatred and brokenness.

Let it sink in when you feel as though one small comment about the love of Jesus is insignificant or meaningless or hopeless… a pebble.

Capture this vision when you think about an apology you need to make that feels trite or trivial or unnecessary against the blaring headlines of blame and self-righteousness.

Tug this visual to mind when you feel small or weak or insignificant.

One small rock. One. On top of one more. Matched with somebody else’s small stone…

And with patience, persistence, perseverance, grit, and teamwork, something significant is created. Something immovable. Something righteous and just and good.

The strength of a grown adult was no match for the collective work of two tiny hands and feet.

Is your act of mercy too small? Is your contribution too tiny?

Not a chance.

One small act of courageous obedience after another, and before long something immovable.

Find a rock. Find a pebble. Do the next right thing. Small. Unnoticed. Insignificant.

But the right thing. Do it. Lift it. Move it. Make it splash. Then go get another rock.

This is not only “a way” to make a difference, it is “the way” to make a lasting and sustainable difference. One small, God-honoring act at a time.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
                             and what does the LORD require of you
              but to do justice, and to love kindness,
                             and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

One small stone at a time. 


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Seven words

July 24, 2020

In a book with over 783,000 words, these seven pour a footing in the foundation of grace, justice, and redemption. They were words spoken by a bit player in an epic drama. But in a profound and meaningful way, they splash light on the darkness of prejudice… and they do so Biblically. Profoundly. Authentically. At […]

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Becoming Ugly, Admitting Ugly, Transforming Ugly

July 10, 2020

I was between my Junior and Senior year at Wheaton Central High School. A spindly and awkward teenager, trying to carve his way in the world… and more importantly, his high school. My brother Ken, ten years my senior, was the Creative Director for the Campus Life Magazine, and somebody I admired and trusted. That […]

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