Sounds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I miss the sound of The Tongan Congregation of Kahuku United Methodist Church. Once a week, you could hear them practicing and their voices would carry on the wind to our front yard. Once a month, we would have combined services for communion and although I could never understand what they were saying, I could feel it. It was powerful and so full of conviction. I have not heard them for a very long time and I miss it. I left the Methodist Church soon after my grandmother passed away and so did my family. I didn’t belong to a place of Worship for over a decade. Though my parents and siblings found new congregations, I chose to attend the church of myself. It’s common for most individuals to spend some part of their life, living for themselves. I know I am not the only one. My church was a bar, a night club, a social event, my apartment, any place that made me feel good. I worshipped different spirits. I spent a good amount of time paying my respects to Vodka, Midori, sometimes Rum, Crown, Wine, Hypnotiq, Bud Light – well, I guess I worshipped many idols. It all depended on how I felt at the time, clear liquor was more calming and brown liquor brought out some aggression. I did cut back on brown liquor though. In church we would break the bread in remembrance of Christ but in the church of self, I broke open my body for the indulgence of the flesh and drank from the cup of pleasure. It was fun, I am not going to lie.

 

I made a different sound during this time of my life. It was loud and upbeat, it served its purpose of attracting others along for the ride. It was great, but it wasn’t meant for me, forever. You can only last so long, making a loud sound, before you lose your breath and start to fall apart. In the church of self, there is only one person trying to do it all. It is incredibly tiring, but I didn’t want anyone’s help, I was independent, I was living life on my terms, I was free from the constraints of religion and I was living my truth. As an individual it was important that my sound was heard above everything else, I was entitled to it. Anything else, would be discrimination. My individual sound was more important than yours. Yet, it wasn’t sustainable. I see people I knew when I was living the way I did, and some are still in it. I have no room to judge them, but I can see the exhaustion in their face, on their hands and deep within their eyes. The embrace of addiction, lust, pride and selfishness creates a false sense of security that all is well, that you are maintaining your sound but in fact, it’s killing you. We were not made to worship in the church of self, to live as a one-man or one-woman congregation. We may fill our lives with other people but still we stand alone because our sound, we want our sound to be heard above anything else. I have been there. My offense led me there, but my pride set roots in it. It is like being a tree in the desert, trying to survive every day and hoping to attract people in search of water but being unable to provide a drop of it when they arrive. We are not meant to live that way. We were created to thrive, to love and encourage others to thrive with us. We can’t give what we don’t have, because it’s tied up in proving who we are.

I couldn’t do it any more, I had no sound left but I tried to fight it. I tried to maintain my place in the desert because although it didn’t look good, it felt good. We thrive on feelings. I found myself in my mid 30’s moving back home with my parents and it felt like I was mourning. I had this deep sense of loss because I thought I failed and I was ashamed. I was humbled. Then I heard a sound and it echoed through the empty recesses of my wounded spirit. It flowed harmoniously through this half empty Public School cafeteria and it started to revive my true sound, the sound I was created to make. It came from a mother and her three children, each individually packaged but collaboratively executed. The very first day I walked into that church, I didn’t know what to expect. I went because my family did and if I was going to live here, I needed to participate. Funny how things happen. On my second visit, I almost didn’t make it. I was out late the night before worshipping other spirits at a small bar in Kaneohe. Everyone had left, and I had two choices to make. Continue to sit there in my hangover or get up, get ready and walk. I did the latter and there was this weird feeling, an otherworldly presence walking me to church that morning. It felt like my grandmother, we had walked these dusty roads many times together growing up.  It was comfortable. That was the day, the sound made a way in me and I found my place of worship. Towards the end of her set, I struggled standing with my arms wide open and as their melodies flowed over me something overwhelmed me and took me down.  I started to find my real sound again. I lived a life like a tree in the desert for so long and now there was a feeling of “foundness”. I was found, but it wasn’t by people it was like flowing waters of life met me where I was, as I was and began to produce life again. I was no longer on my own, I was found, I was a part of something greater. My natural sound started to become super natural.

 

Creatures great and small find their sound according to nature and the roles they fulfill. Whales can send low frequencies that travel far across the open ocean and birds can change their sounds according to the season. As a human being, we also find our sound according to our nature- the sin nature. It sounds so evil, but we are shaped by the choices we make, in fact, we are also shaped by the choices our fathers made, our mothers, our neighbors, someone in another country, another time, another fruit. Everything we experience continues to mold the brass, or add the strings, enlarge the valves or hollow out the drum, creating our own sound. But we cannot maintain our sound on our own. We need direction, we need composure, we need breaks and we need collaboration. We were not created to serve in the church of self as a lone instrument. We are called to a great body, a great orchestra. We are called to harmonies, crescendos, tempos and rhythms that work in conjunction with the sound of others in unity.

 

The church is not a place, it is not a building- it is a living organism of varying sounds. It was the sounds I heard in my place of worship that reactivated a desire to work in harmony, as an ecosystem, an orchestra of divinely crafted instruments. See, the woman who leads our worship team and her children do not hoard their sound for the sake of self. They boldly share and give of it with the invitation of participation by those who hear it, so together, we can create a great movement of sound. A vibration that calls heaven down. We develop our sound over time and it is shaped by the struggle that an atmosphere of sin creates. We will stand alone in that sound, no matter how hard we try to mask it. We will feel good but bare no fruit. My sound was shaped by my struggles, by my choices, the choices of humanity, culture and societal pressures. But my sound was remade, it was recreated, it was made sustainable. My sound went from one that operated in the self, to one that operated in unity with others as one body. One orchestra.

I got to know my worship leader very well in the past year and a half. She was so close to shutting down many times before I stepped into that public school cafeteria, but she knew her sound. It makes an impact to this day not because of her talents but because of the struggle that shaped it and the God that refined it. If she gave in to rejection. If she gave in to fear. If she gave into self-consciousness. If she kept it for herself. If she gave into the opinions of others I would have never heard the sound I needed to hear that day. The sound that was shaped by this world, sanctified by a father and shared with an open invitation so that I could live again. But she held her position in the orchestra, the body of Christ, that is made of many colors, many languages, many denominations and many varying instruments. We are all called to bring a different sound to this world, not one person has the same. We can choose to let it serve ourselves and be cut off. It might be a painful sound, a mournful sound, an upbeat, fast paced sound, even a joyful sound but the moment we surrender ourselves to the one who made the ultimate sound, the sound that penetrates the ages, it becomes something new. It no longer works alone, of its own accord. It was created out of sin but it was refined by the fire for a purpose that glorifies the Grand Conductor. You were created to work in harmony, to establish a kingdom in a world of individuality. Play your part, no matter how small or great for each is grand in the eyes of God and serves a combined purpose. Only through Jesus, by a sound of surrender, can the nature of sin which shaped all our lives be overcome and made anew. May the sound I make, according to the role I play set a tone in you of everlasting change.

Littered shorelines and pearly shells

I grew up within walking distance of a secluded stretch of shoreline. It rested on the other side of a golf course and we would often refer to our campsites by what hole it aligned with, like the 7th hole. The white sand stretched between two rocky points and little islands of Naupaka shrubs dotted the landscape. This was and remains a special place to many of us.

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This was my sanctuary for a good part of my life. As a child I was always amazed at the amount of treasure along the shoreline. I could spend hours sifting through plastic bottles, fishing line, nets, drift wood and sea shells. I had no concept of pollution at that point. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch was still in its infancy and so was I. At the north end of the beach were slabs of rock and reef that would expose themselves at low tide. Carved in the stone were the names of people come before, many of whom I recognized. There was always so much to be discovered here. There was always so much beauty.

Our lives are like this shoreline. It is expansive, it is beautiful, full of memories, experiences, and trash – yup, years and years of accumulated debris. As a teenager this place become an escape, a temporary respite from the war within my soul. I would always find myself called to her sandy, plastic filled shoreline, much like the Japanese fishing gear would. We had a lot in common. We were inherently beautiful creations, sometimes battered by winds, taunted by rising tides, an ever-changing glorious mess of pearly shells and plastic pieces. I would walk here, sit down and cry. The tide would rise within me and finally push its way out. I too was often overcome by salty water.

We are never, at any point in our existence- pristine. The sandy shores of our lives have both the beautiful remnants of those come before and the litter of a thousand stories. As children, we see everything as new, shiny and precious. The brown cowry shell and the plastic floaters. The limu(seaweed) and the fishing lines. As we grow and come to know the differences, we understand that somethings were meant to be found there and others weren’t. Some were divinely created, and others were from the world. So, it became clear to me as a teenager that I had much more litter then I could bare. A giant mass had accumulated beyond the reef and made its way to my shoreline. It demanded my attention. I saw it as a child, I knew it was always there- on the horizon. I had hoped it would never come to close.

It was called an abomination.

I couldn’t go near it, I tried to ignore it and I prayed and prayed and prayed that it would go away. But like the shoreline, I had no control over what would wash up over the course of time. So, we would sit together. The waves running along it’s face and the tears running down mine. Why me? How can I hide something so big that it’s weight influenced my speech, my gait and my heart? Everyone will see it. I don’t even know how to explain it.

The younger children at church would sometimes ask me if I was a girl or a boy and it would piss me off. Obviously, I was a boy, I think. I liked Voltron and transformers. I played with G.I. Joe. But sometimes, I wanted a My Little Pony and when no one was looking I would take my cousin Maine into the bathroom and play with Barbies. I always knew it was there looming, but how dare anyone talk about it. I had friends who were boys and we did boy things. But I dreamt of other things. I liked blue and pink equally. I liked chasing chickens and catching butterflies. I had dreams of He-man rescuing me from danger. Dreams of being Gem and the holograms. But don’t you dare call attention to it. I avoided preschoolers because they could see it, they would ask to much questions. They were always peering into my shoreline, looking at the abomination wanting to poke at it. Leave it alone and it will go away. Damn kids.

How could a piece of shoreline have so much in common with me? It is not even human. Yet, we would sit together. When my tears would subside, the waves were still rolling in. The wind was still howling amongst the brush. The littered shoreline remained, and the abomination still stood amongst the dunes of my life. However, another presence would always appear as my heart settled and my eyes dried. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it. I felt it in the wind as it touched my face. I felt its vibration over the roaring waves. It felt like glittering sunlight falling down my head, radiating out my arms and down my legs. I would forget the mess and the accumulated debris piles. I would see a humpback whale, a turtle or a passing cloud and think, Man! This is all so beautiful. I was so grateful to be here with you.

He knew. He knew it all along. He knew about the mass out at sea and how it would wash up on my shoreline. He knew who I was, more than I could have ever known. I would sit alone on the shore line, picking thru the pieces of litter that overwhelmed my life. However, I would always leave knowing that I was, in fact, never alone. You see, He was the one who brought the shoreline and I together. We had more in common than our inherent beauty. We had more in common than being a gathering place of the worlds waste. We were both created by Him. His footsteps graced the sands of both our existences. He walked them before I did. He planted the tree and laid the hinahina out as a carpet. He painted the cowry shell and poured out the sand. He fed the fish and gave light for the algae. He knew I would meet Him there, because I couldn’t see him anywhere else. He used the shoreline to reveal his creative force and the love He had for me.

The abomination still stood and every time I couldn’t bare it, I would come to the shoreline. It was my church. My place of worship. I had no control over the things I had to face, like whatever would grace my shoreline, but I became aware of His presence. Between that time and now, He invited people into my life and little by little they helped me unravel the mass – the abomination that came to my shore. I can’t wait to tell you how it evolved. It has been many years since these moments, but the lessons still live in my spirit. I accumulated more debris, but I had so much help clearing it. There are more pearly shells and glittering sea glass now. Life is beautiful, it is a gift and no matter what washes up on our shoreline we are never alone. We were spoken into existence and we are inherently beautiful. Waves may crash, and the sea might rise but His love endures forever and ever. He loves you and so do I.

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