I really didn’t have much planned past the first two weeks of my renewal leave this summer. The first two weeks were about visiting family in Texas and having two family reunions. Being we have lived a long way from family for over a couple of decades, it was great getting to see everyone! So, what happened in the other six weeks?

My vague plan was to take care of projects I have been ignoring for the last couple of years, such as unpacking all of the boxes still filling our garage! Most of these projects need to be done (eventually) but rank low on bringing me joy. A few of the projects were completed (like bringing the pick-up truck back to life), while most of the projects (like the garage) made little progress. God, however, took me in a direction I didn’t anticipate.

My wife and I were standing in an old general store in downtown Nacogdoches, Texas, when I saw an instrument I didn’t remember seeing before. It is called a banjolele. It looks like a miniature banjo and is tuned like a ukulele. The owner wanted to know if I wanted to play it. The unfortunate truth (or is it a myth?) is I don’t have a musical bone in my body. I’m the person who frustrated countless music teachers throughout my schooling. I have tried guitars a couple of times (I still own a guitar), but never made much progress. Yet I could feel this banjolele speaking to me.

I came close to buying this banjolele, though I was concerned I didn’t know anything about them. A couple of days later I ordered a concert banjolele on-line to arrive shortly after we returned to Arizona. This purchase led me to also want a ukulele. After a lot of research, I bought a tenor ukulele (it turns out terms like soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone refers to the size of the ukulele). I was unsure if these instruments would become decorations, or if I would play them. It turns out I really enjoy playing them. My renewal leave gave me time to start learning how to play them. My life has been expanded in a way I never expected to happen!

How often do we convince ourselves we can’t do something without giving an honest effort? I don’t know if I will ever play in front of other people, but my daily practice sessions already bring me joy. My own self-talk had limited my possibilities. I might have to stop saying there isn’t a musical bone in my body! As I have experienced excitement with ukuleles, I have brainstormed on ways they can be taught and used in churches. I came up with several possibilities. My excitement, though, might not be contagious in a church setting.

It seems common for our churches to try to fit people into our church culture (what committee would you like to serve on?) instead of letting the passions of our members expand our church’s reality. As church members and leaders, how open are we to trying things we haven’t done before? Are we seriously asking people what excites them, and then looking for ways to use this in ministry? If one person is excited, we may find there are others (maybe some who don’t attend our church!) who have the same passion. Have we grown into the habit of narrowing our vision of “church” while God is encouraging us to broaden the church (perhaps while also broadening ourselves)?

              Your brother on the journey, Mark

Further thoughts: My instrument collection grew with an additional tenor ukulele to be my travel uke. My first ukulele is made of solid wood and is not the best choice to be exposed to changing temperatures and humidity. I thought my banjolele could travel with me, but my hotel neighbor turning their radio up loud made me think it was a bit “jarring”. My travel uke has a solid top and laminate sides and back, which can handle changing conditions better. Someday I will have to share the names I’ve given my two ukuleles and my banjolele.

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