Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Boy and the Drum (story and reflection)

The Boy and the Drum
as told by Mark Nepo in "Finding Courage"

There is an old Hindu story. In it, there is a boy who wants a drum, but his mother can’t afford a drum, and so, sadly, she gives him a stick.

Though he doesn’t know what to do with it, he shuffles home and begins to play with the stick. Just then he encounters an old woman trying to light her woodstove. The boy freely gives her the stick.

She lights her fire, makes some bread, and in return she gives him half a loaf of bread. Walking on, the boy comes upon a potter’s wife whose child is crying from hunger. The boy freely gives her the bread.

In gratitude, she gives him a pot. Though he doesn’t know what to do with it, he carries it along the river, where he sees a washerman and his wife quarreling because the wife broke their one pot. The boy gives them the pot.

In return, they give him a coat. Since the boy isn’t cold, he carries the coat until he comes to a bridge, where a man is shivering. Riding to town on a horse, the man was attacked and robbed of everything but his horse. The boy freely gives him the coat.

Humbled, the man gives him his horse. Not knowing how to ride, the boy walks the horse into the town, where he meets a wedding party with musicians. The bridegroom and his family are all sitting under a tree with long faces. According to custom, the bridegroom is to enter the procession on a horse, which hasn’t shown up. The boy freely gives him the horse.

Relieved, the bridegroom asks what he can do for the boy. Seeing the drummer surrounded by all his drums, the boy asks for the smallest drum, which the musician gladly gives him.

Reflection by Jessica Gray

Mark Nepo, the writer who told this particular story, also wrote a bit about its meaning:

“The true nature of generosity is only fully visible if we let the story – whatever it is – unfold. If we limit the story to the boy asking for one thing and his mother bringing him another, we have a lesson in not getting what we want but accepting what we are given. If we end the story when the boy gives the woman the stick, we have a moment of altruism or sacrifice, depending on how we look at it. If we end the story when the woman gives the boy half a loaf of bread, it becomes a lesson in barter and fair exchange, trading what’s timely and of use. But if we let the story take its full and natural course, we are given something quite different…. Often, this courage – to wait and let the fabric of the Universe reveal itself – dissolves our individual sense of ownership into a sense of guardianship over gifts that no one owns.”

During this Thanksgiving week, I felt a great sense of gratitude from many directions. For weeks my “friends” on Facebook made gratitude lists, naming everything large and small, from family and friends to little things like soap and water, food, clothes, shoes… But are those really little things? To a person in need, those are not little things at all. When you need a stick to build a fire, that is the greatest gift one could give you.

In many ways, this story is about “Paying it forward,” cultivating generosity on many levels. Instead of being upset when his mother gave him something different from what he wanted, the boy accepts it and then gives it to someone who needs it more. He never shows any sign of expectation that his generosity will be returned. Rather, he sees people with needs and gives of what he has to help fill those needs.

Now, the story wraps things up nicely by giving him what he wanted in the beginning. Life does not always work like that. Sometimes we are called to give up things we desperately want, the things we cherish and cling to, the things we would rather die than sacrifice. All is impermanent. But we are always given blessings in return. Often these blessings take forms we are not expecting – a horse instead of a drum. But if we keep looking for the next “upgrade,” then we miss the moment. We miss the possibilities that are right in front of us. We miss the fact that the stick can be a drum.

When I was growing up, my parents taught me that God would always provide all we needed. Matthew 6:26 - Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? From my adult perspective, knowing what I know now, my parents must have struggled so much to provide for us. My folks were part of what is sometimes called the “Jesus Freak” movement of the 1970s. They were hippies, but they were high on God instead of being high on anything else. They were called to their ministry, but often that ministry did not pay very much. I remember both of my parents taking all sorts of jobs – driving school busses, substitute teaching – so many things to keep their family afloat and their ministry alive. And yet, I never knew that we were “poor.” I never felt “poor.” Sure, we wore hand-me-down clothes. And we didn’t get everything we wanted. But we always had everything we needed.

I no longer believe in the same transcendent, omniscient and omnipresent God. For me, the Universe is much greater and more complex than any single cultural representation of God could encompass. But I still have everything I need. Certainly not all I want, but all I need. And that includes sometimes learning the lesson of the things I cannot have… at least for right now.

I hope we can cultivate a sense of gratitude each day, not just during the Thanksgiving holiday. I am impressed that this church begins each worship service with a statement of gratitude: “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” And so I count my blessings, large and small. On Thanksgiving Day, I shared my own gratitude prayer on Facebook: May everyone counting their blessings today join into one great force of gratitude. With that force, we can change the world.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pageant Time

Early Season's Greetings!

As many of you know, we began our sign-ups for the Christmas Pageant on Sunday. This continuing holiday tradition is one of the favorite memories of many kids who have grown up at First U. We still need a few more kid participants and a LOT more adult help. You can send an E-mail to and tell me what you would like to do, and I'll be glad to sign you up!

Also, would any other parents have need for childcare for their younger children during pageant rehearsals? Would that make it easier for you to volunteer as a Kid Wrangler, costumer, etc.? I'm going to line up childcare for my own child, Ariana (who is in PreK and thus too young to be an angel). Let me know if this would be useful for you.

Pageant Rehearsals:

Saturday, December 3rd
Narrators, Herod, Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the innkeeper, and wise people:
9:00 am – noon
Shepherds & Angels: 10 am - noon

Saturday, December 10th
Narrators, Herod, Mary, Joseph, Gabriel, the innkeeper, and wise people:
9:00 am - noon
Shepherds & Angels: 10 am - noon

PAGEANT - December 11th
All Participants should arrive by 8:45 a.m.

Thus far, the following kids and adults have signed up:

Grades 1-4
Shepherds: Darren Belanger, Mason Ronn, Connor West, Evan Ronn, Xavier Zinkevich, and James Ricardi

Angels: Talia Smith, Maia McKean, Maeve McKean, Caroline Zinkevich, Amelia Nadeau-DaCruz, Naima Masiki, and Riley West

Grades 5-6
Herod: Parker Ronn
Mary: Erin Hancock
Joseph: Andy Phan
Innkeeper: ???
Gabriel: Hannah Ennis
Myrrh Wise Person: William Hayman (myrrh)
Gold Wise Person: ??
Frankincense Wise Person: ??
Star: ??
Alternate: ??
(If others are interested in the part of Herod, we plan to have auditions on Sunday, November 27 at 11:45 am. All the rest of the parts are first come, first serve.)

Grades 7-8
Narrators: Alana Wyatt, Madeline Hayman, Nori Needle, Solomon Bellows, Ariana Cordova. (We could use one more narrator and two alternates.)

Kid Wranglers, 12/3
1. Kelley Zinkevich

Kid Wranglers, 12/10
1. Abigail Hannaford-Ricardi
2. Shari Belanger

12/11: All of the above

Holiday Crafts People
1. Laura Zick


Snack Kings and Queens
1. Laura Zick

1. Cindy Cordova

Props Assistants:

Hair Accessory Masters:

Director's Asst.

Let me know if you'd like to be part of the pageant magic!

Pajama Party on December 3

While the parents play, the kids are invited to a
Saturday, December 3

During the Dinner and Dance Gala, our kids will have their own celebration downstairs:

6-7 p.m.
(during the adult Cocktail Hour)
Kids' Dinner - Pizza and snack foods - Parents are encouraged to bring a snack to share, but we'll have the basics covered. Let me know if your children have any special dietary needs we should consider.

7-8:30 p.m.
(during the adult dinner)
Active games led by me (Director of Faith Development Ministries, Jessica Gray) - I know all sorts of fun, cooperative games that are good for all ages. These games will be simple but fun, and I look forward to getting to know some of the kids better. (That's one of my biggest frustrations here thus far - I haven't had many chances to interact directly with the children).

8:30-11 p.m.
(during the adult Dance)
Quiet activities and movies - We will choose which movies to watch as a group. Your kids are also welcome to bring a favorite (G rated) movie to add to the options.

Kids should wear their pajamas and bring a pillow and blanket (or sleeping bag) and a stuffed animal from home (but we've got extras here if you forget). The games are designed for kids of all ages. We will have a quiet room available if the kids get tired at any point. And the adults can stay as long as they like, knowing their kids are in a safe space. It's like camping out at church! Parents must stay on site, but kids can attend all or part of the evening. Adult volunteers are needed to help with each shift. Sign your kids up when you buy your tickets to the Dinner or Dance Gala! You can sign up in the fellowship hall.

Or, if you want to send me an E-mail so I can add your kids to the list, that's fine too. I'll even add your names to the grown-up list if you want.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

We Remember

Everything was ready. The kids rehearsed and learned their lines. Abby and I spent hours making monarch butterfly wings (and then fixing them after several broke in the first rehearsal). The youth had cakes baked and ready for the cake walk. All was poised for a dramatic and interactive All Souls Community Worship last Sunday.

And then the snow came. The wet, heavy snow landed on branches still covered with leaves. And branches broke. And power lines fell. And the city shut down. I don’t know if any church in Worcester had services this past Sunday. Schools were closed for two days. Even the celebration of Halloween was delayed. Everything stopped.

I feel a great disappointment for what was lost. Some things can be recreated. The Cake Walk will happen this upcoming Sunday with whatever cakes the youth saved (and froze to keep fresh). I take my little girl Trick-or-Treating tonight. But there is not another opportunity for the “Ghost Wings” worship service this fall, and as it is quite seasonal it won’t fit later in the year. We will have many opportunities for Community Worship experiences this year, but October 30, 2011 has passed. It is gone.

I find this especially interesting because of the story itself, a Mexican story related to Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. In it, a young girl and her grandmother visit the “Magic Circle,” a place in the forest where hundreds of monarch butterflies migrate every year. Her grandmother tells her that the butterflies carry the souls of the “Old Ones,” and while they leave each year, they also return. When her grandmother dies, the butterflies help her remember.

We remember. We remember that life goes on. We remember that snow melts (though I know in a few months it might seem like it never will). We remember the great joy when the power comes back on! In some ways this surreal Halloween has prepared us for the winter, for the seemingly unending darkness. The cycle continues, and when it is time, all things return.

On a bright note, our UNICEF Halloween Festival and Dance Party last Friday were quite successful. I am now especially glad we made the decision to have it on Friday instead of Saturday or Sunday (though no fortune teller or meteorologist could have predicted the events of the weekend when we made that choice). You can see some of the pictures here.

By our current count, we raised $230 for UNICEF. If any kids take out Trick or Treat for UNICEF boxes tonight, make sure to bring them back to church so we can add to our total. The Cake Walk this Sunday also will go to support UNICEF.

A lot of people worked to make the Festival and Dance Party a success. I feel so lucky to have a great team of professional staff: Abigail Hannaford-Ricardi and Lesa McWalters went above and beyond in their work. Church member and professional deejay Jeremy Champlin donated equipment and expertise. Anita Kostecki donated prizes for the costume contest. Cindy Cordova and Amy Borg, co-chairs of the Family Ministries Team, and Rudy Cepko, YRU2 advisor, helped with set-up and during the event. Christine Sugarman and David Gendler took photographs. Rhye Gray gave Tarot Readings. Kattia Yauckoes, Linda Wyatt, and Carrie West also helped during the event. And our BYKOTA and YRU2 youth kept the activities going. My apologies if I missed someone, but I just wanted to give a big shout out to everyone who helped.

There are so many exciting things ahead. But thank you for taking a moment with me to remember what was lost. For this, too, is part of the magic circle.