Researching pawn-shops for sermon preparation (as you do…) I was quite surprised to see a shop offering cash for your gold or your ukulele. A ukulele is a small guitar-like instrument – my nephew has one, although I’m pretty sure it is more of the bargain variety than the ‘restore your family fortunes’ type. A few friends of mine play ukulele and some of the ukulele orchestras look a lot of fun. Moseley in Birmingham has a group called Moselele which I was rather disappointed to miss at a recent event.
In the spirit of repurposing or reclaiming something, I was very impressed at Nick Pynn’s creation of a cocolele – a ukulele made out of a coconut shell. Apparently he’s not the first to try it, and other uke type instruments have been made over centuries from vegetable gourds or armadillo shells (charango). Nick is the only person I’ve seen play the cocolele, and he wrote this song for a small friend of his in Edinburgh. I’m hoping to catch him when I return to the festival next month with my own great musical friend whose height does not need to be mentioned.
Back to the pawn-shops, and I was a little upset to find how musical instruments seem to be a key item for loan security. Upset because I have recently bought a lovely guitar and the thought of being parted from it makes me very sad. I am really enjoying playing it – the tone is gorgeous and I am practising a lot, gaining pretty effective callouses on the fingertips of my left hand. The design of the guitar also means that barre chords (where you use one finger to press down all the strings) should be comparatively manageable to play. I am not very good at barre chords.
So, I was preparing an extended version of the mini-preach I did on Ruth and Redemption for church on Sunday and I wanted to give some examples of how you redeem something. So although it pained me a little, I talked about how I guess musical instruments are often used as loan security since they are relatively high value items (bargain ukuleles excluded) and comparatively non-essential. Most people would cope without their guitar and keep their car instead. If I had a car it would be a tricky choice, but I don’t. I talked about how I could use my guitar as security for a loan and then later pay back the money, plus whatever interest we’d agreed, and then I could redeem my guitar.
I said how someone else could help me buy back the guitar; that maybe some marvellous musician type would know a nice guitar if they saw one and would want to save it from the ignominy of the pawn-shop. However, if they paid to redeem the guitar because they wanted it for themselves, that doesn’t do much for me. I compared this to the relative of Ruth who agrees to buy back the land but then doesn’t want to marry her and have an ongoing relationship with her. Perhaps he thinks buying back the land is the right thing to do, or a good investment, but this doesn’t help Ruth in the way God wants.
In contrast, if some marvellous musician type offered to help me buy back the guitar on condition that I practice a lot, offering to mentor me and encourage my guitar-playing and song writing, then I am actually gaining a lot more than a guitar. I would love to have some guitar lessons from someone who would push me to play better, give me opportunities to learn and perform and perhaps even master barre chords! Feeling some debt or commitment to the person who helped me buy back my guitar and maximise my potential with it would be natural and healthy.
In the talk yesterday, as in the original mini-preach I ended up looking at how Jesus redeemed us, but that he also wants an ongoing relationship with us. I talked a bit about what this relationship can be like, drawing parallels with Ruth and Boaz although not being entirely comfortable with the concept of Jesus/God as a husband. I know this is biblical, but to me it’s only one aspect of what our relationship with God can be like. People who talk about Jesus like their boyfriend put me right off, but the idea of God as a jealous lover has been helpful to me as well. I talked about seeing God as our creator, king, friend, father, employer as well as our lover and tried to emphasise how God is so much bigger than we can grasp anyway, even though it’s good to try.
Since I play the guitar, the idea of a talented, encouraging guitar mentor rather appeals to me. It may not surprise you to hear that in my head, this mentor is also a Christian, male, single, attractive and rather interested in me. Well I can dream. But it seems daft to think that any hypothetical musician type could offer me something more than God can. Whatever kind of mentor, encourager, showing me how to fulfil my potential, how to be what I can be with his help; whatever relationship God wants with me, I want that. And whether I’m a fabulous guitar or a bargain ukulele in a pawn shop, I believe God wants me and can use me. And you. And everyone.