By Molly Shoulta
Last summer I served a rural church about an hour south of Raleigh, North Carolina. At the end of June, several churches combined forces for Vacation Bible School. The hit song of the week come Thursday was the timeless classic, “Deep & Wide,” that has surely stayed at the top of the VBS song charts for decades. Surely you may know it:
Deep and wide, deep and wide,
there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide,
Deep and wide, deep and wide,
there’s a fountain flowing deep and wide!
In addition to the words that proclaim God’s vast love, the real win is undoubtedly the motions. Ask any 5 year old, or 5 year old at heart – it wouldn’t be as fun of a song if we just sang words!
Of course, to fully perform the song, the motions are required. So we sing “deeeeeeep” with one arm as high as it’ll go, and one arm as low as it’ll stretch, then “wiiiiide” with our arms reaching so far out that we may eventually touch the walls to our right and left. We could sing the words, but without the motions, they’re just words.
Think about it what we’re teaching our 5 year-olds! This is where it begins – the words that stick in our brains from a young age that describe just how deeply our heavenly parent’s love is for us, just how broadly God’s love stretches to welcome us into mercy and just how refreshing and endless the fountain of living water is to souls thirsting for something more than what a broken world could offer. What a beautiful image – God’s fountain of mercy, grace and love is deeper (hands stretched up and down!) and wider (hands stretched to the walls!) than we can imagine.
We could just sing the words, but without the motions, they’re just words.
In March, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., with CBF friends to participate in the Advocacy in Action Conference, where we focused our discussion on the need for immigration reform and predatory lending regulations so individuals targeted may once again be given back their human worth in the eyes of the government, not degraded by Nationalistic or capitalist standards.
If God is God over all, then we are brother and sister to all.
Perhaps borders have become golden calves, and perhaps the lure of unsaturated markets at the expense of our sisters and brothers has overtaken our imagination of what mercy could, and should, look like. It’s deep and wide, we sing. But what about the motions?
We spoke with Bread for the World, whose focus this year is assuring continued federal funding for school children who cannot rely on meals at home, and whose education is often impeded by a rumbling tummy. It seems too simple, doesn’t it? Even the simplest instructions and actions of Jesus – feed the poor. Maybe we have all complicated Jesus’ command of meeting basic needs of all those he loves. Deep and wide?
We spoke with Melissa Rogers, Special Assistant to President Obama and Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, who explained that just because religious bodies may not offer services to federal institutions contingent on attendance or donation, does not mean they have to exist in opposition to or in fear of each other. Churches have helped organize and educate about weekend and summer federal food programs; others have established tutoring programs for children who didn’t have support from home; even within our Cooperative Baptist group, our attention was drawn to the Together For Hope initiative that has undertaken Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) as an effective tool to rebuild community pride and excite local economies. Look – there’s a fountain flowing!
As Baptists, missiology runs especially thick in our blood. But I wonder if our sense of mission is slowly being broadened to be able to admit failure within our own municipalities and borders where we are falling short in our universal Christian vocation of loving our neighbor.
Missions perhaps now means advocating for those whose voices we have realized are not being heard. We long for a style of public engagement that is both theologically profound and civically constructive. Sometimes it’s advocating for deep mercy to those slowly suffocating under the heavy interest rates of predatory loans. By way of capping interest rates on these types of loans, we take part in extending God’s mercy. Or perhaps we look at how immigrant families are intentionally legislated against because they were not born within a sacred border, an arbitrary and imaginary line.
Surely the wideness of God’s love is broader than a border fence. And maybe it’s even simpler. Perhaps it’s making sure appropriate funding stays in place to assure full bellies among school children. Love your neighbor, and feed your neighbor.
The next week after I returned to Durham, I stood in church singing “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy,” which I think just may be the grown-up version of “Deep and Wide.”
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, There is no place where earth’s sorrows
Like the wideness of the sea; Are more felt than up in Heaven;
There’s a kindness in His justice, There is no place where earth’s failings
Which is more than liberty. Have such kindly judgment given.
For the love of God is broader If our love were but more faithful,
Than the measure of our mind; We would gladly trust God’s Word;
And the heart of the Eternal And our lives reflect thanksgiving
Is most wonderfully kind. For the goodness of our Lord.
This depth and width of God’s mercy are images that can’t stop at VBS graduation. They stick with us, and though our seminaried and theologized and politicized language often complicates them, perhaps our interpretation about mercy is far simpler than we’ve made it.
We can sing about it, but until we put motions with it, we’re just singing words.
We know there’s a fountain flowing! Maybe we need to stretch our arms wide, from Washington, D.C., all the way to our neighboring counties who have lost hope in their own abilities to rise out of poverty. There’s a fountain of mercy flowing – no, overflowing!
How far can your arms stretch? We can’t just sing it – it’s time we add in the motions!
 Charles Mathewes, A Theology of Public Life (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 8-9.
Molly Shoulta is completing her second year at Duke Divinity School in the Masters of Divinity Program with a Certificate in Baptist Studies. She is originally from Louisville, Kentucky and a graduate of Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky. She has served the last year as a Ministerial Intern at Millbrook Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C.