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Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

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In the March 12 New York Times Magazine, Eva O’Leary published a “Letter of Recommendation” for Lent.  Without reviewing the piece (you can read it with ease online), I want to give my take-aways here.

Ms. O’Leary writes about discovering Lent over a number of years, as she found her way into an Episcopal congregation during the time she broke up, got back together again, broke up, got back together again, eventually married, and then in the end divorced her love.  The travail of her relationship was an interesting backdrop to moving from skepticism about Lent (it’s odd, archaic, and only about giving up chocolate for no real reason) to embracing what Lent could mean in her life.  Or maybe it was the other way around, that discovering Lent gave an interesting backdrop to her ups and downs of love, sadness, guilt, and forgiveness.  Either way, she found her way around some profound thoughts about this time of year.  Here’s what I got:

We live into Lent, slowly.  Not many of us really do anything more in the 40 days (excluding Sundays) before Easter that we call Lent than think about it on Sundays and maybe do a midweek service once or twice.  Some of us do more:  fasting, taking up acts of charity, doing daily devotionals and weekly evening worship, reflecting on the human condition and our need for God.  But as we move along the continuum, Lent has gifts to give.  Those gifts can slowly remind us that our whole lives are long, rocky, twisty journeys toward the Love that made us.

We let Lent live into us, even more slowly.  No one need tell us we’re imperfect, or that life can be both hard and great.  We pretty much know this.  The questions for us are how to better understand, and even embrace, our imperfection as a place of grace, and maybe how to let new thoughts slowly redefine what we think is hard and what we want to be great—to change our sense of ourselves, what we want, and what our lives are for.  Those questions get answered, bit by bit, and maybe over years, in what Lent invites us to:  a long, repeated rhythm of being honest with ourselves giving the broken parts to God—with openness and thanks.  The insights of Lent are meant to move into our regrets as well as our happiness, to free us.

And when Lent’s power becomes real, it becomes what’s true.  “We are from dust, and to dust we shall return,” we’re told on the first day of Lent, as ashes are smudged on our forehead.  And yet we say that with gratitude, told that admitting that is the first step toward being released from the burden of thinking we’re supposed to hold everything on our shoulders.  We withhold words of joy, or things of pleasure, not because they’re bad, but to remind ourselves that they’re fleeting—so when they come (again) we can savor them all the more even as we learn to keep them in their rightful place.  We see life in all its breadth—the good and the bad—and so we learn to see others better too, to appreciate others in all their complexities too.  And we wait for the Easter bang, when trumpets and singing and flowers return—knowing that the gift of possibility and joy is, finally, the truest and surest thing of all.  Suffering is inevitable, but not necessary.  Love is all. 

So accept my own letter of recommendation for Lent—all the way to Easter.

In response to Christchurch

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March 15, 2019

As I write this, reports are 49 dead and dozens injured in Christchurch, New Zealand, in an act of terror.  Four people being held, with questions around three of them not resolved yet.  The details may change as reporting continues, but the reality of it all won’t.  It was a planned attach on two mosques while people were worshipping.  Bombs were found in at least one car.  These mosques would have been filled with Kiwi Muslims, immigrants, refugees from violence elsewhere.  Everyone dead or injured has their own story, as valuable and meaningful as anyone else’s—and as precious in God’s heart. 

We paused when the shooting took place in the synagogue in Pittsburgh.  We paused when the shooting took place in the churches in South Carolina, and Texas.  We paused when the shooting took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.  We’ve paused too many times.  The distance between here and New Zealand shouldn’t give us shelter, or any sense of separation.  For in our world of interconnectedness, these distances aren’t all that distant.  These are neighbors.  We should pause now too.  Just as we should pause when we hear news of mosques or churches or synagogues or other places of gathering attacked in Iraq, Egypt, France, Jerusalem, Germany, or anywhere.

Preliminary reports are that this act in Christchurch was done by one or more white supremacists.  They added to their perverse ideology of racial superiority a moral mandate to cleanse their small world of things and persons they believe impure and threatening, by any means necessary.  For them, maybe it was their ideas about what it means to be a “New Zealander.”  In our context, it often comes down to what someone thinks it means to be an “American.”  It seems to me that the lethal combination is that combination of ideology and moral mandate—to force what you want by cultivating fear, with no guiding or chastening principles but victory.  Combine this with delusional views of one’s own power and mistaken assumptions about how things work, and you’ve got fire on fuel. 

We can rightly name mental illness behind some of these attacks.  But I think we’d be wrong to assume that naming mental illness isolates the problem to the individuals who commit the acts.  For delusional and mentally ill folk use images and themes like any of us do, drawn from images and themes available in the wider culture.  Available rhetoric is used to create imagined stories of identity or righteousness that end in violence.  That doesn’t mean that those who are reasonable are responsible for how otherwise rational debates are manipulated into crusades of violence by a few.  But it does mean that we’d do well to be careful, to think about how we think and talk about how we talk, and put more themes of reconciliation and honest conversation into the public domain than we do themes of judgment and battle.  And we’d do well to promote learning, interest in others, and patience with difference even as we ask critical questions and speak of truth. 

This I know we can do as the church.  And this we’re trying to do here at Pinnacle.  Let’s keep at it, assured that even if we’re not talking about things that seem directly related to these terrible events of yesterday, we’re still cultivating the ground of healing, of hope, and of a better way. 

And let us pray for all those who harbor such delusions, and hate:  that their hearts might be stirred toward a truer righteousness.  And let us pray for victims and their families.  And let us pray for those all-around the world, and even here, who watch things like what happened yesterday in Christchurch and are afraid for their own safety.  Today, let us let those prayers go especially to Muslims in our own community, for freedom to worship and freedom from fear.

 

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The body of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you in everlasting life…
Wish there was someone here I knew. It’s lonely being a stranger. I thought George and Sue said they came to this church. I guess not; I don’t see them anywhere. Come on, pay attention. You’re here to worship.

Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you…
Peace…that’s a laugh. My job is evaporating, the kids are driving me crazy, and I’ve never felt more lonely or frustrated. I really need to talk with someone.

The blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you forever…
Maybe I should leave during the last hymn. It would be easier. What if nobody says anything to me after the service? It’s hard being new in a church full of people you don’t know.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord…
Relax, this is a church, the place where people are supposed to care about you and want to know you. Still, I wonder…

Thanks be to God…
Strange way to end a service. What do I do now? Awkward to be standing here where I don’t know anyone. What happens next?

 And how am I to face the odds of man’s bedevilment and God’s? I, a stranger and afraid in a world I never made. --A.E.Housman

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“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13

Whether it is leaping a tall building in a single bound or hitting the game-winning shot, we all have dreams about being the hero. Even before Superman hit comics in 1938, there were people like Flash Gordon, The Lone Ranger, Zorro. Go back even further to 800 B.C., and you have stories like Beowulf and Homer’s fabled heroes Achilles and Odysseus. In the next three months we will have three new superhero movies hit the big screen, (Captain Marvel, Shazam!, Avengers: End Game) and five more coming out by the end of the year. Marvel Studios has taken our love and desire to be heroes to a whole new level making over $17 billion bringing heroes to life on the big screen.  So what is it about heroes that draw our attention? Is it their superpowers? Overcoming great odds?  Maybe it is saving the day? Or is it something more? 

When I was a kid growing up playing both football and baseball, one of my heroes was Bo Jackson.  I had everything Bo, from baseball cards to football cards, to posters on every wall, and I still have them. Bo could do anything…there were even Nike ads that confirmed it.  I mean Bo knew not only baseball and football but racing, polo, basketball, golf, surfing, track, soccer, and even hockey.  Bo wasn’t a superhero per se, but Nike liked to portray him that way. In fact, in the ’80s there was even a cartoon where Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Bo Jackson were, in fact, superheroes with superpowers that saved the day. 

Often heroes are people we look up to but know there is no way we could ever be like them. The same is often true when we read the Bible.  We hear stories of Noah and the Ark, Moses freeing God’s people from Egypt, the mighty Sampson. We hear the stories of Mary, the mother of Jesus, faithfulness, how Peter, Andrew, James, and John left everything to follow Jesus, and even Paul who was persecuted for his beliefs in Jesus and we think they are extraordinary people and we can never be like that. However, what if we could?

In one of Marvel’s movies a Mutant named Colossus talks about being a hero, he says:

COLOSSUS: Four or five moments. That's all it takes. 

DEADPOOL: To?

COLOSSUS: Be a hero. Everyone thinks it's a full-time job. Wake up a hero. Brush your teeth a hero. Go to work a hero. Not true. Over a lifetime, there are only four or five moments that really matter. Moments when you're offered a choice, to make a sacrifice, conquer a flaw, save a friend, spare an enemy. In these moments, everything else falls away.

What if it is really that simple. Four or five moments. What if Peter had been too busy the day that Jesus walked by and turned his request down. Moses literally tried to talk his way out of doing what God wanted him to do, but to no avail. If we only have four or five moments that will help shape who we are, how people will remember us, we have to make those moments count. 

Today marks the beginning of Lent, our journey towards the cross. For the next six and a half weeks I encourage you not to give something up for Lent but take something on. Do something that will make an impact in the lives of those around you. At least until we get to Easter, I encourage you to do something every day, that will make someone else’s life better or easier. Lent is not supposed to be a time about us, but a time we think about Jesus, what better way to prepare for Easter than spending the time leading up to it showing sacrificial love for someone else. 

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With my first blog post I would like to say hello to you all. I am thrilled to be a part of this community! It will take me some time to get to know you all, but know that I am putting an effort into remembering your faces and names. I am eager to learn your stories, so please share them with me. And thank you for your warm welcome - I felt at home on the very first Sunday!

It was over a decade ago when, in the first month after my move to Phoenix, I went out to North Scottsdale to see the Richards, Fowkes opus 14 at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church. I was awestruck when I played it for the first time, and until this day I love every minute I get to spend at this organ. In my view, there are not many pipe organs in Arizona that match the quality of this instrument. 

What makes it so special? Ralph Richards and Bruce Fowkes put a lot of effort into studying the craftsmanship of old European masters, especially the Dutch. They traveled to see and hear many of the existing 17th and 18th century instruments, took measurements, photos and sound samples. Richards and Fowkes, as well as other pioneers in this style of organ building, went back to the basics and applied some of the older techniques in their workshops. It involved copying historical measurements, material composition and scaling of pipes, less use of machines and more manual labor.  All to deliver higher quality of pipework and thus sound. The outcome is such that every pipe and every stop has a uniquely beautiful quality, and altogether they blend into a powerful instrument that is capable of touching the Sublime. 

Another reason which makes this organ so special is its tracker action. Tracker action means that every key has an instant physical connection with a pipe through a wooden tracker. Depending how a key is pressed and released, it will affect how a pipe is going to open to speak and how the sound will end. It takes years of practice to make any organ breathe and phrase as if it was a human voice. With precise finger control on a tracker action a trained organist can make the sound edgy or round, lighter or heavier, softer or louder. This is almost impossible to achieve on a typical 20th-century pipe organ with an electric action, where a key is connected with a pipe through a wire. In this case there are only two options of opening and closing the pipe: 0 and 1, on or off, and nothing in between.   

I take pride in being the organist of Richards, Fowkes opus 14, and a member of the well-established music program at Pinnacle. I am excited to share my passion and energy for performing, directing and teaching, and I cannot wait for what is ahead!