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.

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