The gift of figs

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

We have a fig tree in our back yard that is outdoing itself this summer – it is loaded with figs!

We pick them every day, and there are plenty to share with the birds and the squirrels; for making preserves; eating fresh; and bringing to the office for others to enjoy.

I’m pretty partial to this particular fig tree.

Several years ago, Rick and I prepared to put an addition on the back of our house. This required cutting down the fig tree to make way for the new construction. I shed tears as Rick cut it down to the ground.

Rick made other adjustments to the yard so that a pier-drilling truck could enter and do its work.

A week or two later in the wee hours of the morning, our daughter Eva appeared in the bedroom doorway. “Mom, Dad, there’s water all over the kitchen floor.”

We heard the noise before we reached the kitchen: rushing water splashing from our busted hot water heater.

As a result of that busted water heater, we decided to put the addition on hold and remodel the existing house.

As we shifted our focus and made new plans over the ensuing weeks, the roots of the fig tree began to send up shoots. And wonder of wonders! That little fig tree produced seven figs that summer.

This now big fig tree is a botanical reminder of God’s abundant grace; there is plenty for all.

Even during the winter, when the tree is bare, energy and sugars are stored in the roots, preparing for a new season of long days and warm sun, leaves and fruit.

The gift of figs never ceases to amaze me.

As one young friend reminded me, God’s abundant gifts are all around us, overflowing and ready to be shared.

When we share God’s gifts – whether they be figs or other signs of God’s love – that divine grace grows more and more in us.

There is a rippling, snowball effect: the more we allow our inner vision to “see” God’s grace around us, the more that grace takes hold in us, and the more we can be conduits of that grace.

This summer in worship, we have spent time considering the good news of God’s grace using the gifts offered to us through Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

As an ordained minister, Fred Rogers understood his call to be that of offering unconditional love and acceptance to young children and their families.

Mister Rogers spoke frequently about “growing:” not only growing up, but growing in character, in patience, and in understanding – both of ourselves and others.

Mister Rogers reminds us that we “grow” inside and out – just as trees grow, and grass, and flowers, and birds, and mammals.

God’s grace is not only the glue that holds us all together, but it is the medium and fuel for our growth into the ever-present, overflowing abundance of our ever-loving God-in-Christ.

May we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to accept the ever-present, abundant grace of God!

Musical diversity

Eldred Marshall Artist-in-Residence and Associate Director of Music Ministries

While planning the music for the July 7 worship services at First United Methodist Garland, I reflected on Senior Pastor Valarie Englert‘s message “The Gift of Diversity” (from our Summer Worship Series on “The Gospel According to Mister Rogers” and what that would entail, musically.

As Pastor Valarie shared, Mister Rogers did not teach “tolerance,” but rather that we embrace the different people around us – all our neighbors. In this, our lives, our expressions, our experiences would be forever enriched.

Interestingly, music does this sort of embrace far more easily than the people who create it.

Hence, I chose to highlight piano pieces that bend the genre in which they reside or thoroughly incorporate musical diversity, opening the musician and the listener to a new musical world.

For the prelude, I chose to make a personal arrangement of Richard Smallwood’s most famous gospel anthem Total Praise, with stylistic embellishments.

Even though the music is rooted in traditional Black Church musical expressions, Mr. Smallwood is a classically-trained pianist and composer who never hesitates to incorporate Western classical tradition in his compositions and improvisations.

In this respect, Mr. Smallwood and I share a common, and unique, musical language.

For the offertory at the 8:30am service, and for the first work in the 10:50am communion service, I chose to play Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2.

Gershwin felt most at home in his era’s popular musical forms: jazz, blues, rag-time, stride, etc. However, he loved classical music and strove to find ways to incorporate what he learned from that genre into his own musical language.

The piano prelude is a bluesy meditation that mixes the best of Romantic-era “absolute music” traditions of Brahms and Rachmaninoff and Tin Pan Alley.

For communion at both services, I played the Forlane movement from the piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin.

Firstly, a forlane is a French baroque aristocratic dance, commonly performed during the time of Louis XIV. Ravel maintained traditional baroque forlane characteristics (triple meter; ABACADA+Coda form), but chose to update the musical language to his present day.

Around this time, Ravel befriended George Gershwin and became intimately familiar with American jazz. By incorporating the new music and art forms around him, Ravel embraced the “gift of diversity.”

As a result, we have an entire suite of music that is a special mix of 20th century French impressionism, early American jazz, and 16th century French dance music.

In this acceptance and appreciation of his neighbor’s music, Ravel managed to become the first French exponent of a sub genre called neoclassicism, which would take hold in Western music long after his death.

Be it Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X’s blockbuster 2019 hit song Old Country Road, or the frequent collaborations between southern gospel artists like Bill and Gloria Gaither with the late Andrae Crouch back in the 1970s and 1980s, music has always given us a living example of the fruits of diversity.

May we be inspired to follow its lead – and reap the same rewards.

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