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Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

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She was crying when I walked into her hospital room that long-ago afternoon in Charleston, SC. Blotting her eyes with tissue, she apologized for her tears, and when I asked if there was anything I could do, she blurted out, “I’m not getting better, and I know it’s all my fault.” When I asked why she felt that was so, she explained that a minister had told her she wasn’t improving because, he said, “she didn’t have enough faith.”

As I listened to her and watched the emotional pain which that self-righteous, judgmental pronouncement had caused, I grew angry. How in the name of religion or much less in the name of God, could such a thing be said? Why are we so quick to victimize the innocent to find easy answers to life’s endless supply of difficult questions? Beware of those who would have you believe that your problems, large or small, are because you do not have sufficient faith or because you do not believe what they think you should believe. Faith is not some kind of commodity that can be stockpiled in various amounts; rather it is an attitude of one’s heart and mind.

Faith, Reinhold Niebuhr once wrote, is to trust in a good God who created a good world though that world is not now good. It is to trust in a loving God though that love is not always reflected in a broken world. It is to trust in a God powerful enough to overcome the evil which men and women do and to redeem them from their brokenness. I believe that with all my heart, mind, and soul. Such a faith has the power to sustain and comfort a person even in the darkest moments of life. Ultimately, such faith is the gift of a gracious God who in return asks for our unconditional love and gratitude. We can offer no less for such a gift. In the words of a familiar hymn, it demands our souls, our life, our all.

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With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it, we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. James 3:9-10a

I love being a dad. It is one of the true blessings in life.  One of the reasons I love being a father is because every day is a new adventure into uncharted territory.  For instance, last week I was driving in the car with my three kids when Jude (7), my youngest asked, “Why is stupid a bad word?”  “You say things are stupid all the time, but when I call someone stupid or say I am stupid, you get mad at me.”  To this I said, “when we call someone stupid we are putting them down, making them less than us.  When we call someone stupid, we are saying that we are smarter than they are and better.”

Then he jumped to a hotter topic.  He asked, “Why can’t we call people gay?”  Remember he is seven and trying to figure out the rules of life.  I told him that the word gay actually means happy and carefree, but people have used the word to classify people and try to make them less than they are.  I went on to say there are some people who are gay and who identify with that term, but often, people will call things “gay” as a way of meaning stupid or dumb. And that sometimes people call other people gay in an attempt to put them down, to make them feel like there is something wrong with them, and that is why we typically don’t use the word gay, because most of the time it is associated with putting people down.

We went on to talk about the word “retarded” and how that is actually a musical term meaning to slow down, and how it was attributed to people who were slower, but now it is used as a word to make fun of people.  We discussed the phrase “you throw like a girl,” which in the movie Sandlot is considered the worst insult to a boy baseball player as if there is something inferior to the way a girl throws compared to how a boy throws. 

Our conversation continued the entire way to school and as my kids got out of the car, it made me really think about how words are used.  As I went about my day, I put the conversation behind me, until I got home that night and was making dinner.  I was reading a recipe and for one of the ingredients it said, “you can be a little more liberal or conservative depending on your taste.”  It made me laugh since typically in our society you are identified as a liberal or a conservative, and when someone calls you that, it generally is used to identify and separate, not a term of inclusion or to make things better. 

The book of James has a whole section on this very issue.  He says the same tongue that we use to praise God is the same tongue that we also use to put down and curse each other.  Since James wrote his letter almost 2000 years ago, things haven’t changed much.  His words are for those who follow Christ to act and speak differently, to use words to build up not to put down, to unite not separate.  I encourage you to think about the words we use, the phrases we say.  If we find ourselves using words to put down and separate, to preach hate and negativity, remember that it is with the same mouth, we praise God and tell people how great He is…so what does that actually say about us and what we believe about God? Are we really praising God when we use words to make those who, like us, are created in His image, seem like they are less than us or inadequate simply because they are different from us? 

We are told that we all have gifts and are created uniquely in the image of God. So it shouldn’t matter what our race, gender, nationality, or political views we have, we are all Children of God, and we should treat each other in that manner.

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It is with complete joy that I share with you about Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool.  The education of young children has been my passion for the past 25+ years.  After teaching Kindergarten for 10 years I became the Interim Director of the Preschool in June 2004 and have been here ever since.  “Nothing Without Joy” is often a quote contributed to Loris Malaguzzi who is considered the founder of the Schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy.  It is impossible not to be filled with joy when walking on the campus of the preschool – hearing the voices of laughter from the children and the gentle and reassuring voices of the teachers who foster curiosity, build early literacy and numeracy skills, encourage each child to experience success, to develop a positive image of themselves, and the world around them.  As we have often been told by visitors and families alike – the preschool is truly a magical place.

Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool was founded in 1994 as one of the first outreach missions by Pinnacle Presbyterian Church for the purpose of providing a weekday preschool for children from the church and the surrounding community.   The preschool began the 1994-1995 school year with 8 children and 2 teachers.  The preschool was housed in the current church office building.  The following year we had doubled our size to 16 children by offering morning and afternoon sessions.  The Preschool continued to add children to the program each year and in 2000 the preschool moved into the new children’s buildings with 101 children, 8 classes and 13 teachers.

In 2004, we sought to increase parent participation and to help parents towards a better understanding of their children’s learning.   We began our ongoing journey to become a “Reggio” inspired preschool by creating a more natural environment in our classrooms, endeavoring to better listen to children’s ideas and create an emergent curriculum around those ideas, using technology and documentation of children’s learning to communicate and revisit that learning and introducing students and teachers to the use of multiple expressive languages.  Accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is the mark of a great preschool and Pinnacle has been accredited since 2000.   To earn NAEYC Accreditation, Pinnacle Presbyterian Preschool went through an extensive self–study process, measuring our program and its services against NAEYC Standards and more than 400 related Accreditation Criteria. Our program received NAEYC Accreditation after an on–site visit by NAEYC Assessors. Currently there are only 2 schools in Scottsdale to be accredited by this prestigious governing body.  As a staff we visit other “Reggio” inspired schools, invite educators to visit Pinnacle for conferences and Shadow Days and attend conferences in the United States, in order to build liaisons and further our own learning.  In May, 2019, twelve of our staff will travel to Reggio Emilia, Italy to participate in week-long study tour with 150 other educators from around the United States.

At present, we have 155 enrolled children,  a staff of 20 including classroom teachers, studio teachers, the Preschool Director, an Office Administrator, a Director of Professional Development and a Director of Educational Practices who enrich the lives daily of the children in our care.  We welcome you to come visit and experience this truly magical place on campus for yourselves!

Preschool Registration begins for the 2019-2020 School Year on January 7, 2019 for Priority Families, including returning families and church members.  Registration opens to the community on January 15, 2019.  Please visit http://www.pinnaclepres.org/programs/  for more information and to see the programs we offer.

Fear Finds Courage at Christmas

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The angels said to them, “Do not be afraid” but they had every reason to be afraid.  Mary was preparing for her future with her husband and suddenly that future had changed, her husband-to-be could leave her, her community could stone her for her suspected infidelity, and at the very least she would be shunned from the community. 

Joseph became the foolish husband. He chose to believe an angel and his wife over logic. 

Poor outsiders, working in the fields as shepherds left the field to see a baby.  Would they have jobs when they returned?  Would they be able to get another job?  Was it worth it to see the Messiah? 

And those wise ones who trusted a star, got turned around many times, to bring gifts to a King who was not from their country.

I keep thinking about these words, “Do not be afraid” because I can’t help reflecting on how “not afraid” their actions were.  Instead of fear, we see courage. Courage to be vulnerable.  Courage to take a risk.  Courage to believe. Courage to trust. 

In these last few weeks I keep hearing people talk about fear.  Fear is a complex emotion found in every aspect of our lives.  Fear is expressed in anxiety, greed, jealousy and addiction.  Fear holds us back from opportunities and pushes us forward into places that seem safe but take us nowhere.  We all have it: fear of a medical procedure, fear of the future, fear of loneliness, fear for our kids, fear of parenthood, fear of retirement, fear of the political atmosphere. Fear seeps into the deepest crevices of our being and often stays too long.

But the opposite of fear is what we find at Christmas.  We find people who courageously ignore fear and step into the unknown.  I can’t even imagine the conversations that Mary and Joseph had that day or what the shepherds discussed huddled together after a chorus of angels sang before them. 

What I can tell you is that I have seen people with this same courage. 

We entered an apartment complex with Christmas presents in our hands, to find children running around outside, some with bare feet, others only in a t-shirt and shorts.  We were there to deliver gifts to a refuge family.  As we enter their humble home all they have is a mattress and a folding chair to fill the space.  This family traveled from Rwanda escaping with fear for their lives.  They had such great courage to meet us at the door and greet us with the only English words they knew—thank you. 

Courage of a grandfather whose daughter with three children got cancer.  Knowing he couldn’t afford to keep them he still took them in. His retirement funds quickly depleted and they were at a homeless shelter—thanking God that they had a roof over their heads for Christmas. 

A woman sits in the waiting room surrounded by anxiously waiting people.  She courageously turns to me and says “Can we pray that God will get me through?”

So often I think of the Christmas story as one filled with people who are willing to go where God calls.  But really, this story is about people who have courage to trust God no matter how difficult, stressful and fearful a situation might be. Be courageous this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

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Advent and Christmas are times that we tend to see more people in church. That’s wonderful. We, as a community of faith, have the opportunity to practice hospitality for those whose only time inside the chapel or sanctuary may be this time of year. We welcome them to worship and, although we are to put our best foot forward, we are also to be ourselves.  Because the service of worship is a reflection of who we are as a community, we let others know just who we are by the way we worship. The service of worship is a snapshot of our values; it is a microcosm (a little universe) of who we are and who we believe God to be.  Coming to Pinnacle, people have the chance to see that we are committed to an orderly and reverent worship where people of all ages are valued; where music, scripture, prayer, and preaching all convey who we understand God to be and who that God has called us to be. For those who come at this time of year for the first time, our service of worship also communicates our sense of mission to the broader world, and the practice of welcome and hospitality that is part of that mission. In our welcome we show others that their presence in worship is important to us, that worship itself is important to us, and that the church is more than the service of worship.

When I see all these folks coming to church (from my vantage point in the choir or the chancel), a certain question arises for me beyond how we treat them. I often ask myself, “Why do people come to worship?  I know why I come, or at least I think I do. But why do others come?” This question includes more than just the visitors. I really do wonder what motivates people to come to worship. It really is a strange thing we do as Christians: an hour of sitting, listening, doing a little singing, and doing a little praying. Life outside the church doesn’t look much like what goes on within its walls.

Do folks come to find out how to be a better person? Do they come because of tradition or habit? Do they want their kids to have a sense of what is good and decent? Are they looking for something meaningful? Do they come to church because they’re genuinely seeking God?

Church is really an odd thing. It’s a little bit of theatre, a bit of moral exhortation and, a whole lot of tradition. If it were just these things though, it wouldn’t be enough. I need all that has happened throughout my life of faith to be able to sit through an hour’s worship. Being in church for me is more the culmination of all the moments and momentousness of faith. For church to be “meaningful” to me, I need to know that encounter with the living God is always a possibility, and every previous encounter with God sustains my listening, praying, singing, growing in worship.

What else aids me in attending worship?  I am often a leader in the service, either participating in the singing of choral anthems, the reading of scripture, the prayers of the people, or in preaching. Being a leader in the church service means that I am invested and engaged in worship in ways that the majority of church attenders are not.  But this is not what truly sustains my being in worship. There is a whole history of my faith journey that allows me to come to worship and find meaning in it.

Everything that has served to deepen my faith feeds my being present in worship: singing in the choir, Bible study, prayer groups, acts of service and mission, and retreats. I’m sure there’s more, but these are what occur to me. Faith-deepening activities 1) help me know my place in the community and 2) provide me personal encounters with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

My gateway to being a regular attender of worship, which started for me as a teenager, was a youth retreat. Believe it or not, the retreat’s theme was ‘death and dying.’  What I experienced at this retreat was seeing how the adults of the church who were leading the retreat shared vulnerably how their faith was deepened in and through experiences of death and loss. I was moved by these expressions of faith, and found my way into worship because I had seen God in the people, the heart of whose faith life was worship. Since then, I’ve been attending week-long family retreats every year…sometimes up to four times a year!  These camps are intensive places of prayer, singing, study, learning, growing, and experiencing the presence of God…in nature and in others on the retreat with me. People being vulnerable and authentic about the struggle of their faith path, I could call these “testimonies,” invite me into a deeper faith experience and expression. 

All the years of studying the Bible with others, praying with others in small groups, and singing in the choir provide opportunities for the sharing of stories, the creating of new faith stories and to being open to one another and to God in ways that the hour of Sunday morning worship does not. All those experiences provide the foundation for why worship is meaningful.

When I step into the sanctuary, my entire life’s faith experience comes with me. Yet, even this is not enough. God ultimately is the one who supports mine and all of our being in worship. “God is in this place,” should be the thought that greets us as we enter the doors, and “God help me to worship in this place,” should be our constant prayer throughout worship.

There is a woman in our congregation who sees colors swirling around the sanctuary during the worship service. She tells me, “Mike, I wish you could see all the purple and gold and white light that radiates around the sanctuary when we’re worshipping.” I wish I could too! Knowing that all that God stuff is going on reminds me that amazing things are happening all the time in worship, and when our guests come to worship this Christmas time, we can let them know about our joy in God and our joy in their being present with us.   Let us proclaim with all we do, “Come, let us worship! Let us sing! Let us pray! Let us give thanks, for God is in this place.”