In December 1995, I was 18 and had little experience playing gigs and thus couldn’t rightly command much in the way of compensation. So I took opportunities that offered more than the paltry $4.25 an hour I made at McDonalds.
Earlier that year, I did make about $300 playing keyboard in a community musical. That first three-figure check—big money!—set in a motion a desire to play professionally. I mean, who wouldn’t rather play music than serve Big Macs and fries? Hmm, playing in front of people who’ll applaud me or hand out bags of greasy food to junk food addicts, many of whom don’t even say “thank you.” (By the way, I think everyone should work in food service at some point; it helps you to be a more gracious patron.)
In a few months, I would direct the music for another community musical and make a lot more money. I wasn’t supposed to direct; it sort of fell into my lap. As it would turn out, the older woman who’d been directing the music for decades (or so it would seem) and who taught me a lot in the short time I worked with her, met with me for what I thought would be an initial rehearsal. Instead, she told me she had cancer and that she couldn’t direct that season. She asked if I’d do it. Though I was inexperienced and felt unsure of myself, her confidence in me (and the $1,500 she told me I’d earn) quelled any self-doubt. I wish I could remember her name. That crazy lady who could replicate an entire pit orchestra in her grandiose Broadway-style piano playing and who’d yell out musical instructions in a hoarse smoker’s voice died less than five months after she commissioned me to direct. I’ll always remember her.
(Funny thing about the Yuma Community Theater: all the musicians were paid but the actors had to pony up $25 to join the actor’s guild. Glad I stuck with those piano lessons.)
That was the spring of 1996 when I directed the music for Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, which featured my former choir director—a change of roles. He’d told me, a year out of high school, that I could stop calling him Mr. Blaker.
Back to 1995 when I was asked to play at a Christmas service for a small church. I’d been involved in music ministry at my church for only about a year and never made any money, so this seemed a strange request. It would get stranger. Though it didn’t take place on Christmas Eve, all the music would be Christmas-oriented—”Silent Night,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” all the standard hymns. I arrived at the small church in time to work through some of the music in case there was something different. Something was different, all right. All the music was pretty much the same, but many of the lyrics were unrecognizable. This was the Yuma Unitarian Universalist Church.
I grabbed this from the Unitarian Universalist’s website:
Unitarian Universalism is a caring, open-minded religion that encourages seekers to find their own spiritual path. Our faith draws on many religious sources, welcoming people with different beliefs. We are united by shared values, not by creed or dogma. Our congregations are places where we gather to nurture our spirits and put our faith into action by helping to make our communities—and the world—a better place.
Though they have somewhat dubious Christian roots, obviously not holding to Jesus’ claim that He’s the only way to the Father, Unitarian Universalists embrace all sorts of world religions. Among their rolls you can find agnostics, atheists, and humanists. It’s a hodgepodge of philosophical and pagan traditions. All this I didn’t know back in 1995, though it certainly explains why most of their hymns were redirected from Jesus in a manger to Mother Earth.
Ah, Mother Earth—also known as Mother Nature. Tomorrow many will bring homage to this pagan deity, for this week we celebrate Earth Day, which is sort of like mother’s day for Mother Earth, a time when we stop and realize we’ve neglected our mother and send her some flowers or give her a phone call—a text message, at least. As with our promises that we’ll call our mothers more often, we’ll pledge to Mother Earth to be more intentional about recycling, shutting off lights when not in use, and trying not to forget the reusable shopping bags we keep leaving in the car.
Actually, Earth Day is a good thing. The first Earth Day came about at the beginning of the environmental movement in 1970 in a time when “Americans were slurping leaded gasoline through massive V8 engines. Industry belched out smoke and sludge with little fear of legal consequences or bad press. Air pollution was commonly accepted as the smell of prosperity” (earthday.net).
Growing up in the ’80s, ever-present aerosol hairspray notwithstanding, we elementary kids were indoctrinated in environmental responsibility. Who doesn’t remember when Kimberly Drummond’s hair turned green due to acid rain? Forty years since the first Earth Day, I think many of us are more environmentally conscious.
Something to be wary of, however, is the veneration of the environment. While it’s okay to hug a tree now a then, we don’t worship the tree. And we believers should make nary a reference to Mother Nature. A pagan goddess, Mother Earth is the personification of nature, the life-giving and nurturing features of nature. But she is neither your mother, nor is she the author of life.
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. —Psalm 19:1-2 nlt
Nature and the world we’ve been given is to be cared for and stewarded but not worshiped. All that has been created should point us to the Creator.
Ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. —Romans 1:20 nlt
God commissioned Adam with the task of ruling over the earth before sin entered into the world. But because of sin all of nature “groans” to be recreated (Romans 8:18-25). See, our greatest offense to the environment is not carbon emissions but the sin humanity has embraced since the Garden. Nature is the innocent bystander murdered in the drive-by shooting of our choice to disobey God and exalt ourselves to “become like God.” The hole in the ozone layer is simply the exemplification of the place in our hearts God used to reside before we sent Him packing.
Yes, tomorrow let’s celebrate the world we’ve been given, a world whose glory despite 5,000+ years of sin has been reasonably preserved, for we know that someday God will make the world new again.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away … —Revelation 21:1 esv
Commenting on that verse, the ESV Study Bible notes “the fatal infection of evil in the world will give way to God’s creation of a new cosmic order where sin and suffering and death are forever banished.”
Earth Day is good when we celebrate God who created the world and us. But I’m looking forward to New Earth Day: “Behold, I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
This is my Father’s world,
O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong
Seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world,
The battle is not done;
Jesus who died
Shall be satisfied,
And earth and heav’n be one.
—”This Is My Father’s World” (Maltbie D. Babcock)