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(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

When I took the Strong Interest Inventory about 20 years ago, some of the results indicated I might like to work in a church. Since I didn’t feel any calling in that direction and since I also like my weekends free from job-related tasks, I eventually put the suggestion down to a cultural bias. Just because I answered as a person of faith doesn’t mean faith-based work was my vocation. Perhaps I am just called to think and act as a person of faith in other professions/work settings. Nonetheless, I’m betting it was my “I like singing hymns” response that most directed that particular result.

But, hey, I do like singing hymns. In past centuries much of the best music was written for the Church and I’m into singing good music. Beyond that, though, part of why I am musical is because I was raised in a strong German-American family. The German-Americans where I’m from had traditions such as playing instruments together in family bands and meeting up often to sing—which included singing many of the hymns that came from the German chorales.

Even as teens and young adults in the 70s and 80s, my cousins and I had great fun doing this. It never occurred to us just how nerdy our singing hymns might appear to the general population. However, we didn’t sing just hymns—I remember singing songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” or pieces from musicals such as Pippin—but we always sang in at least 4-part harmony. The youngest cousins started as page-turners for my mom’s piano playing, learning from the bench before they were old enough to join in. When we reunited in song at Mom’s and an uncle’s services, it was as if we were doing what we had always done but with cousins moving into the places of director and accompanist.

My own music lessons began with piano and clarinet, but picked up vocally when we moved to a new town when I turned 10. With our family back in a Lutheran church again, Mom began to teach my brother and me—Sunday service after Sunday service—how to read and sing harmony from the liturgy and the hymns. So much of what I know about choral singing comes from first honing my sight-reading skills while singing hymns. Hymns have also helped me practice singing almost weekly since 1972, even during years when I do not participate in a choir.

Thanks to Mom, I always had an opportunity to sing while growing up, whether at home, in church, or through some group she was directing for my brother and me and our friends. Of course I also sang at school, but only through my freshman year in college. The hymn-singing is what has remained most constant for me.

And when I can, I sing the harmony in those hymns, week after week. Over time I’ve noticed the patterns of particular organists. For example, the organist playing for the church I attended in college always changed up the harmonies on the third verse while my church’s current organist usually varies the final verse. Until I joined the choir at church again in 2011, hymn-singing has been one of my only opportunities in adult life to sing harmony besides the three years in the 80s in another church choir and an earlier year (1990) with my current church choir. Singing harmony with hymns is to singing in choir as doing warm-up jogs are to running races or as writing in a journal is to formal writing—it is a very good way to practice skills even when you aren’t performing, so to speak.

As our society has transitioned to a post-Christian one—a society where a person who likes to sing hymns might not just be considered an average churchgoer but instead someone who should work in a church—so has the Church’s desire to be welcoming—as it should if it wants to remain relevant to all who hunger for God. We need to remove barriers that make others feel unwelcome. Yet at the same time we are also losing traditions, some strongly tied to eras when our ethnic traditions carried into how we “did” church services. Nonetheless, what feels inclusive to me most likely feels exclusive to someone raised outside my tradition.

I get it, but that doesn’t mean I like musical changes in the church service such as (only) the words of hymns being displayed on walls for us to sing or our hymnals showing just the melodies for many songs. For me so much joy has come from communal singing—in harmony.

Which means I better keep singing in a church choir. Trust me, though, when I say no one is going to pay me to do so as a profession. As Bach wrote at the bottom of each of his works, “S. D. G.”“Soli Deo Gloria” or glory to God alone. To get to sing to God—in harmony with others—is enough.

(c) 2012 Christiana Lambert

What you ask is that? Well, it’s just one of our corny family expressions. I majored in Spanish and my husband, well his teacher told him if he ever spoke Spanish in Mexico, then the people would shout, “Gringo! Gringo!” Poor guy—you should have heard the hard time the hotel gatekeepers gave him in Cabo San Lucas, but at least they never called him a gringo to his face.

Still, whenever I say “Vámonos!” (“Let’s go!”), he says, “Don’t call me Vomit Nose!”

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

But he doesn’t just garble Spanish. If I tell him he thinks he’s like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz and can click his heels to get home, he says, “Don’t call me dorky!”

Our family is full of traditions like that. Yes, Sherman and I are those awkward parents who are never going to seem cool to anyone, expect maybe to our Springer spaniels who love everyone, no matter what. According to our kids, however, their friends with more serious parents enjoy our witty repartee. OK, that’s not really what their friends say, but they think we are at least entertaining in our own way.

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

More family expressions include such gems as “Off like a herd of turtles” and “Hay is for horses” as well as multiple quotes from the Winnie the Pooh stories, The Muppet Movie, The Blues Brothers, Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles, and Airplane!

And just ask Mr. Vomit Nose about the tales he used to tell the kids about “Falling Rock” and about how the kids used to have a brother named Sam. (Note: we adopted a dog named Sam last year. Coincidence?)

(c) 2012 Sherman Lambert

But the family traditions just keep building as the effects of rock and roll start to take their toll on Sherman’s ears. One night at dinner somebody told him he needed hearing aids to which he replied, in all seriousness, “I have hairy knees?” Now any time anyone doesn’t hear something right (come on, those front row concert experiences aren’t helping our kids’ ears either and mine never recovered from the combo of Foghat and the front row)—everyone else shouts, “You have hairy knees!”

Oh, we’re high-larious in our family. Wacka, wacka and all that. Come on—you know you want to guffaw or chortle just thinking about our dinner conversations—we’re old school here, you know. Just please, no LOLing allowed—unless you really are laughing out loud.

(c) 2009 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Too bad the letter for today isn’t “E” since we have a tradition of dyeing eggs the day before Easter—which this is. However, I like that the daily letters challenge me to work around my original thought.

The truth is this tradition has become more about spending time with the kids’ grandmother. Sherman’s mom is Grandma Pat to them—I’m glad that last year Christiana could continue the tradition and that this year Jackson can do so.

When we’re young, if we’re lucky enough to have active, healthy grandparents, we take for granted they will be able to remain active participants in our lives and in the family traditions. At least, I did. Only one of my grandparents had slipped into dementia and poor health before I graduated from high school. The other three continued on much as I had known them for many more years and by the time another grandparent disappeared into dementia, she was just short of her 90th birthday.

I want this to be a glad post, but realize it’s really more gloomy than glad. The thing is you never know how quickly an aging person’s health will change, either physically and/or mentally. You have to hold onto your shared traditions as long as you can because when both the people you have loved and the traditions are gone, you will miss them for the rest of your days.

My kids can barely remember my father, who became ill in 2001 and died in 2002, while they remain heartbroken over how they lost who my mother had been to them over a period of three years. By the time she died last year, she was nothing like the talkative, energetic grandma who had put them at the center of her life.

(c) 1997: Alex, Grandma Pat, Jackson, & Christiana

No, when it comes to people whom we love, we really do have to live by a carpe diem attitude. Dye those Easter eggs with them, make the holiday cookies, and sit with them at the table of your family celebrations. And, if those options don’t work anymore, just hold their hands and be in the moment with them.

Grandparents are gifts to us too soon gone. Giving thanks today for my grandparents Esther and Charles Ritter and Elva and Pat Lange, as well as for my parents Dick and Mae Lange.

Am also reminded that dying eggs means more than a treasured tradition—it is a symbol of new life in the glorious resurrection. Now that is a gift beyond all others . . .

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