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On Faith: Grateful for Each Tiny Plateful

My Journey with Lazarus

By Bill Cummings
April 2013

"Eating's incredible; eating is good," sings Lazarus, the main character in the Bread for the World eponymous musical. "You have to be grateful ... for each tiny plateful ... of life-giving food," continues the hungry man at center stage of this parable.

Bread members and anti-hunger partners will get a chance to see the revival of this tale of food, justice, and redemption at the 2013 National Gathering on June 8, 2013.

Lazarus debuted in 1987 when Joel Underwood, then director of Church Relations at Bread for the World, decided to shine a light on one of Jesus’ fundamental lessons. The story, found in Luke 16, features a rich man, Dives, who refuses to share with a beggar, Lazarus, in life, but finds that he is the one in need in the afterlife. The musical brings Luke's narrative into today’s world—and into places where extreme wealth and poverty rub against each other.

I was given the gift of bringing new arrangements to Lazarus, learning a great deal in the process. I’ve always loved music: when I was young, our family sang in our little Southern church, and I knew every song in our worn-out hymnal. Throughout my life, from elementary through graduate school, God opened doors allowing me to share my music.

In December of last year, my friend Bishop Donald DiXon Williams, associate for African-American Church Relations at Bread for the World, sent me copies of the original musical score of Lazarus. For weeks I studied it with passion. I ate with Lazarus. I slept with Lazarus.

Music has changed since the debut of Lazarus, and I wanted to make sure that the melodic and harmonic structure felt contemporary—from the very first song, "the Ballad of Lazarus," to the last, "Mustard Seed Faith."

When arranging "Hunger and Poverty Blues," I expanded the bluesy melody to make sure that it would appeal to all music lovers. I know that younger listeners might not be as familiar with the blues as those of us who are lightly over 49.

"Brothers Awake" was created in my mind while jogging. A Latin beat kept it going around in my head until I was back home. I’ve learned that if you have a melody inside of you and you want to keep it forever, you had better hurry and write it down.

While the arranging the music was my first concern, this project also opened my heart—giving me deeper understanding of how hunger and poverty unjustly touch some people in our country and in the world. If this new arrangement of Lazarus can change other hearts and bring about an awareness of hunger and poverty in our country and the world, I feel that my journey with Lazarus will have been particularly harmonious.

The premiere of this new arrangement of Lazarus will be held at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 8, 2013, in the Kreeger Theater at the Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, D.C. The performance is open to the public, but you need to secure a general admission pass or ticket online.

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