Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church

TEEZing Out the RootsImage


Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots


In high school Latin Ms. Kris Schwickrath instilled the power of this onomatopoeia in me through our translation of the Aeneid.  From ululare, it means “they wail” or “they cry out.”  The reason it burrowed deep into my consciousness was her urging us to keep adding lu-lu-lu-lu-lu and imagining the actual sound being made.


As a high schooler in Shelbyville, IN, I could imagine something but could never actually grasp what this might sound like. In the States it seems that many communities have lost the practice of ululating. I say “lost” because etymological research shows that several of the root languages from around the world have a similar form (Greek—ololyzein, Sanskrit—ululih, Lithuanian—uluti, and Gaelic—uileliugh). Given that the word was there in our ancestral history, I am sure the practice it evokes was also there. Indeed, I think it names something that was there in the very beginning for shared ritual expression.

Let me tell you, because of my time in Zambia I no longer have to imagine anything. Ululations have become a striking part of everyday life. Celebrations, times of mourning, expressions of appreciation, and cheering are all marked by a chorus of lingual and glottal howls.  I’ll never forget the first time I heard it, now pretty much a full year back. Since a proper church service can take a community through all of the above celebrating, mourning, appreciating, and cheering, churches are the echo chambers of ululations across Zambia. So, it was when I first walked into Mindolo UCZ—of squeak yodel fame—that I was hit with this undulating wall of raw, human sound. I was honestly in awe.

I still stand in awe of the communal ululation and all that it communicates. There is nothing quite like rising as one and expressing something vocally without having to use words. This is especially powerful when it comes to community-wide lamentation. It is all too often the case that words get in the way of what really needs to be expressed.

I am saddened that in my own context we have lost the ululation. We certainly have communal expressions, like clapping and shouting, but we don’t have anything that reaches the depths of the elemental choruses here in Zambia. Even after a full year I am not very good at it. It’s difficult for me to let go and let it all out. I get concerned that I am not doing it right or that I am an imposter or that I sound ridiculous—all worries and rationalizations related to my privileged social location that fundamentally contradict that spirit and purpose of the ululation.

And I NEED the ululation. I am to the point here that I need to express something deep down that words simply cannot convey. I need to let out this great big mess of grief, joy, gratitude, guilt, hope, anxiety, and love that is growing in my gut as my time here comes to an end. And I need to do so communally with my friends and neighbors, loved ones and family members who have impacted me and whom I have impacted.

Will you join me?

Come on, do it.


Posted August 23, 2016



Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church - Outreach - Blogs - TEEZing Out The Roots

I have fond memories of Palm Sunday growing up, largely because of the fun my brother, our friends, and I would have with the single fronds we received.  It was our great (and sacred?) ritual after worship to sit across from each other and stick the fronds into each other’s noses.  The winner was the one who could withstand the invasion the longest, an invasion that was at once painful, ticklish, and hilarious.  For one or all of these reasons, there were always some tears streaming.  Perhaps I should stop using the past tense, though, as I am sure there will be more Palm Sundays like this in the future.

As I experienced Palm Sunday in Zambia yesterday, I realized that it was not our masochistic game that was ridiculous.  Instead, the ridiculousness lay in the fact that our Palm Sunday celebration consisted of each person receiving a single palm frond at the door and then simply carrying it to the pew to be held throughout the service.  A single frond.  Quietly sitting in pews.  No fanfare.

A Catholic Palm Sunday Parade

Contrast this with my experience yesterday.  All the churches that I knew of gathered sometime between 7 and 8 in the morning some distance from the church buildings.  Some congregations were alone and some were big, ecumenical crowds.  Children, women, and men carried actual palm branches with many fronds.  Marching bands blasted brass- and drum-filled music.  Everybody shouted, “HOSANNA HOSANNA HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!  BLESSED IS THE ONE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!  HOSANNA HOSANNA HOSANNA IN THE HIGHEST!”  With palm branches waving in the air, triumphal music blaring, and voices shouting, the multitudes marched to their various buildings, proudly proclaiming their messiah to everyone in town.

The Boys Brigade Drummers for UCZ

Obviously this scene does not match the biblical tradition exactly.  According to Matthew and Mark, the palm branches were laid on the ground along with cloaks to create a carpet for the donkey upon which Jesus rode.  In this case the branches were not being waved in the air.

The Palm Parade Entering the Church


The rest, though, is remarkably accurate…even to the point of enlightening me on a detail I have always overlooked.  You see, for some reason I have always pictured the people standing by the roadside and laying down their clothes and branches, shouting and cheering as Jesus rode by.  In reality, the crowds went ahead of him and followed him, shouting.  Jesus was in the midst of a giant parade.  And, as Matthew tells us, “When he entered Jerusalem the whole city was in turmoil” (21:10).  This was a loud, disruptive multitude of people marching with “the one who came in the name of the Lord.”


Of course the story of Palm Sunday is more complicated than the scene of people welcoming and parading with Jesus.  For, within a matter of days many of these same people would condemn him to death.  Some might even believe that the people were knowingly deceiving him with this welcome.  


Again, though, the story is more complicated.  It was the Temple leaders, not the common people, who led the charge against Jesus.  The sadducees were in direct cahoots with the Roman empire and had power because of this relationship.  Jesus was threatening the stability of their religious hierarchy as well as the political positions.  Jesus was thus threatening the very stability of Rome.  Perhaps it was the same people who shouted Hosanna and then shouted for his death.  This does not, however, negate their joyous celebration welcoming their messiah.  I believe that the people sincerely found hope in this man who would heal the sick, focus on the poor, and spend time with sex workers.  I also believe that what comes next is one of the best examples in history of how leaders with power and privilege use demagoguery and deception to turn people under the yoke of oppression against each other.


I had the honor of witnessing the sincere, hopeful parade of people welcoming their messiah yesterday.  They didn’t march as a mockery or in ignorance of Good Friday.  They marched, as they do every year, because they know that even if their voices would have joined those of the crowd at the court of Pontius Pilate, Jesus conquered death and the systems of death.  They know that in rising up Jesus declared that he could not be defeated by the machinations of powerful, privileged oppressors.  They know that Jesus accepts the change of heart that would turn the crowd at the court of Pontius Pilate back into the crowd that joined him with shouts of acclamation on his way to flip the tables at the Temple.

And A Picture To Give You Life

Posted March 21, 2016


Posted by Tyler W. Orem with

Being planted in the rich soils of Zambia to inspire regrowth at home. “Other seed fell on good soil and bore fruit” -Matthew 13:8