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“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity.” ~ Ecclesiastes

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” ~ W. B. Yeats

“Trust and Obey.” ~ hymn, John H. Sammis in 1887

Sometimes life feels like one continuous wheel of futility. What we might want in such times is that word of hope…no matter how fleeting it may seem…that helps us find a sense of purpose in the midst of the world’s vanity…the world’s lack of diplomacy. For me, I want the story of scripture to invade my life and offer me a glimmer of what God is up to. “Tell those wonderful words of life, whisper them over again to me.” Tell me that, though the moral arc of the universe is long, it bends toward justice, toward the light, toward the good, toward reconciliation, faith, hope, and love. Tell me that, though I feel the deprivation of light in this world, there is a flame that shines in the darkness still. Declare that the Divine Diplomacy includes a grand design, and “that this Plan is wrapped in the folds of my Being, even as the oak is wrapped in the acorn and the rose is wrapped in the bud…that this Plan is permanent, indestructible and perfect” [The Divine Plan, Glenn Clark]. Hold my hand through that long, dark night, and sing me to heaven, that I may grasp onto something, even if that something is but the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table. I want to grasp onto something. . . tangible.

The Divine Design rarely looks neat and orderly from our perspective, for “now we see through a glass darkly.“ [1 Cor 13] The world saw Jesus’ crucifixion as a failure of God’s diplomatic mission to reconcile all humanity, and yet those three interminable dark days of the tomb have become for us a living metaphor of existing between the times, awaiting resurrection, awaiting reconciliation, awaiting restoration, awaiting redemption.  And along the way, we do experience moments of the in-breaking and overarching web of God’s design; we catch glimpses, not of a hidden god, of a mechanistic charlatan behind a curtain, manipulating circumstances in haphazard ways. Rather, like Jesus who saw the heaven’s ripped open, the Spirit descending like a dove, we see the Divine at work in countless acts of mercy and grace and power. The Divine Design unfolds with a neatness and orderliness that can only be understood, only grasped, by the power and grace of God’s Spirit. 

Sometimes we wait for seasons and seasons to see the unfolding moral arc. Sometimes we wait generations and centuries. Sometimes the Divine Diplomacy simply says, “No. Not now. Not ever.” Sometimes we must bide God’s “no” and have to trust that the web is bigger than we can understand. Sometimes, we live long enough and faithfully enough to be able to see the world of God’s design intersect with our world, rearrange the chaotic birth-pangs of the kingdom, and we proclaim, “God’s plan, God’s Spirit, God’s reconciling, righteous reign has gone before us. Trust and obey. Have faith. Whisper words of hope in the darkness, and cling to the hands of the family members who walk this weary road with you. Look for the ways that God’s Way goes forth in directions you never imagined. Do what you can to provide safe harbor for other wayfarers. And keep the home fires burning. For God’s plan is wrapped in the folds of your being as the oak is within the acorn. And you are wrapped up in the fabric of God’s design…a coat of many colors, a shroud of consolation, and a cape of reconciliation. Come to the welcome table and let God put on you his finest robe. You are clothed in Christ, the host at this great feast.” So that, season after season, we can proclaim along with the psalmist, “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

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Jean Vanier died last week. 

His story is worth telling, and his words worth taking to heart.  He was born in 1928 to Canadian diplomats in Europe.  His family fled Paris just before Nazi occupation, and he spent much of the war as a young student in the British Naval Academy.  He was profoundly moved when he and his mother went to assist survivors of the Nazi concentration camps. 

He took a Royal Navy commission, which he left in 1950 to pursue a spiritual calling.  He considered priesthood, but decided on an academic career, which included a doctorate on Aristotelian ethics and a budding teaching career.  But then, in 1964, through friendship with a French priest he became aware of the plight of thousands of people institutionalized with intellectual disabilities.  He visited an institution and befriended two men, who he invited to leave the hospital and live with him in a house north of Paris.  He soon discovered that he was not doing something for them, but that they were making a home together.  That led to an idea, which led to the first L'Arche community, where people with disabilities live with the people who care for them on as close to a one-to-one ratio as possible. This was a radical approach then, and still is.  And it has changed the world.  There are now around 150 such communities in nearly 140 countries.  Seventeen in the U.S.  L'Arche means "The Ark," taken from Noah's Ark.

Vanier wrote 30 books, began organizations offering retreats and workshops designed to open people's hearts.  He lived in the original L'Arche community until his death.

Vanier's most popular book is simply called, Becoming Human.  

Find it.  Read it. 

In Becoming Human, Jean Vanier says that to be human is not to be autonomous and productive, but to be fragile and vulnerable to others.  He describes five "principles" that helped him understand this (with quotes from the book).

One: All humans are sacred . . . and each of us needs help to become all that we might be.

Two: Our world and our lives are in the process of evolving. This is a part of life, for good and ill.  We change. Life changes. We want to encourage the flow of life and growth.

It is a question of loving all the essential values of the past and reflecting on how they are to be lived in the new. These values include openness, love, wholeness, unity, peace, the human potential for healing and redemption, and, most important, the necessity of forgiveness.

Three: "Maturity comes through working with others, through dialogue, and through a sense of belonging and a searching together."  We need enough security to embrace the insecurity we need to grow.   

Four: Humans need to be encouraged to make choices, and to become responsible for their own lives and for the lives of others.  We need to be encouraged to . . ."break out of the shell of self-centeredness and out of our defense mechanisms, which are as oppressive to others as they are to ourselves. . . .We need to freely risk life in order to give of ourselves." 

Five: In order to make those kinds of choices, we need to reflect and to seek truth and meaning.

To be human means to remain connected to our humanness and to reality. It means to abandon the loneliness of being closed up in illusions, dreams, and ideologies, frightened of reality, and to choose to move towards connectedness. To be human is to accept ourselves just as we are, with our own history, and to accept others as they are. To be human means to accept history as it is and to work, without fear, towards greater openness, greater understanding, and a greater love of others. To be human is not to be crushed by reality, or to be angry about it or to try to hammer it into what we think it is or should be, but to commit ourselves as individuals, and as a species, to an evolution that will be for the good of all.

Thank you for your witness, Jean Vanier.

Tellers of the Story

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Some time ago I received a film catalogue through the mail which was addressed to the “Head Story Teller.” My administrative inclinations left me wondering for a while to whom I should direct the catalogue until I realized that I was supposed to be, like it or not, the Head Story Teller.

My primary responsibility is to express the Gospel through music and to encourage others to share their gifts and talents in a similar fashion. In both endeavors, I am basically sharing the story of God’s love for His people---for you and me. That story began thousands of years ago when the nomadic ancestors of the Israelites perceived an order and reason behind the universe as they knew it. The story reached its climax in the life and example of a carpenter from Nazareth whom we profess to be the Christ, God’s Anointed One. The final chapters of the story are still being written as successive generations of Christ’s followers try to live their lives according to the message he proclaimed.

The truth is that every Christian is called to be a teller of The Story. To be sure, in every age, some have been able to tell it more persuasively than others, but the imperative to share it rests with all of us. One does not need to be a priest or trained theologian to tell The Story. Some of those who have shared it most effectively have been unschooled but able to tell The Story with simplicity and with a power and persuasiveness which comes from the heart.

It should be said that when telling The Story, words are no substitute for deeds. What we do, not what we say, is always the most compelling witness we can make. Emerson was right when he pointed out that what we do often speaks so loudly to those around us that they can scarcely hear what we have to say!

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As long as I can remember there have been “ways” to lose weight.  One of my earliest memories was Richard Simmons and his commercials for Jazzercise, as well as ads for weight loss pills in the ’80s that promoted giving you a tapeworm, that would eat up to 1200 calories a day, so you could eat what you want and still lose weight.  Don’t believe me that this was a thing? Google it. 

Americans are obsessed with quick lose weight schemes.  The top three New Year's resolutions?...to lose weight, workout more, and eat healthy.  Today we are still looking for the solution to quick weight loss. There are things like Paleo, Keto, Beach Body, as well as hundreds of other “plans” to help you lose weight and look good. Many diets today involve healthy eating and requires those trying to lose weight to keep track of what they are eating.  Whether it is counting calories, fats, carbs or proteins or simply counting the meals you eat in a day and when you eat them. 

One of the ways I have tried to lose weight, off and on, over the past few years is macronutrients.  Macronutrients is a program where you calculate the amount of fat, protein, and carbs you should have each day and then try to consume that exact amount each day.  The more weight you lose, the more your numbers change.  For instance, I am supposed to consume 242g of carbs, 240g of protein and 71g of fat...every day.  It is a lot and takes a lot of meal preparation and calculations to make sure you get the exact numbers you need.  The thing I like about it is your day is 24 hours long.  If today I come up 40g of protein short and 100g of carbs over my plan, I don’t cut something or add it tomorrow.  A new day means exactly that, a fresh start.  I can’t fix what I did or didn’t do yesterday, all I can do is start all over today, and try my best to hit my numbers today.

I mention this as I feel like we often do this in life.  We like to keep track of the things in our lives to make us "feel good."  The things that people did to us and the things we did to them.  At the end of the day, we look at how we treated people compared to how we were treated. And we add up the score and see where we stand.  If how we acted today wasn’t as “good” as we think we should have acted, often we try to make up for it the next day.  Likewise, if someone treats us poorly, we hope the next time we see them it will be different, but often we have our scorecards and can't let go of what happened in the past.  We allow it to dictate how we see and treat that person going forward.  It is strange how a single encounter, good or bad, can determine if we give someone the benefit of the doubt or not.

What if it wasn’t that way.  What if we lived life one day at a time.  For 24 hours.  What happened yesterday, happened, and we can’t change it, but what we can change is today. 

The other day I had one of those parenting days where one of my children just wouldn’t stop.  The listening skills didn’t exist.  The non-stop antagonizing their siblings.  One of those days that you think they are doing it just to make you angry.  As the day had grown long, I had finally had it. I lost my temper, yelled and went into a “dad monologue” with all three kids having to sit through my ramblings for what probably seemed like 2 hours, but in reality, was like 5 minutes.  When we got home, there was to be no electronics, just brushing teeth and going straight to bed.   However, you know that didn't happen.  The moment we walked in the door the negotiations started.  I thought I was going to lose my mind. 

Finally, after everyone was in bed, I had time to reflect on my actions, and how I let one thing roll into another, and into another, until it ended where it did.  The next morning, when I woke the kids up for school.  I went in, climbed into bed, and said, “I am sorry for my actions yesterday.  I know you did some things wrong yesterday, and we will still need to deal with them, but I shouldn’t have acted the way I did.  I will try to be better today.”  You know what I got in return?  “It is ok dad; I forgive you.  Today will be a better day for both of us.”

If you think I am making a point about how I am a great dad and always say the right things, you are misreading this blog, because that is not what happened at all.  What I am trying to say is that even when you get so angry that you go into “monologue mode” either internally or externally, every day is a new day.  Now I still had to deal with things that had happened the day before, but I didn't let it define my relationship or my actions.  We often let what has happened in the past control how we act or treat others in the future.  We often like to say that “other people” made me do it, but other people don’t control us, not our actions or our emotions.  We are the only ones who control our actions.  We are the only ones who have control over what we say, do, and how we treat others. 

When tracking macros the only reason you track, is to make sure that you are staying on track to reach the goal that you have set.  You don’t track your numbers to be better than anyone else. You do it to make yourself better and to become the person you want to be.  As Christians, we should have an idea of how we should live our lives and how we should treat each other.  Jesus tells us that he is the way...and living a life as he prescribed is the only way to live a spiritually healthy life.  We just celebrated Easter, a day that changed all others, as it gave us a new beginning.  Paul tells us that we are no longer a slave to sin, but a new creation, the old is gone, and the new is here!

Today is a new day.  We have 24 hours to do the best we can.  If we mess up, which we will, the good news is tomorrow is a new day.  So the question we have to ask ourselves is,  will we continue to hold on to things in the past or live into the newness that we have as Easter people? 

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Fifteen years ago I studied music at a uniquely international school, the Conservatorium van Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The students came from the US, Canada, Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Portugal, Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, India, Afghanistan, Iran, etc. Some of us spoke English well, and some not so much; some had strong accents that were hard to understand. I especially remember one day when we met to rehearse a piece by Johann Sebastian Bach with a large choir and orchestra. When the conductor lifted her hands and we played the first measure, all language barriers disappeared. We sounded like one voice, as if we spoke the same language, thanks to our common ability to decipher the musical score and to translate it into beautiful sound.   

Signing up your children for the music programming at Pinnacle, like handchimes, bells, choirs, drums, give the kids opportunity to learn that beautiful language. Studying music from an early age is an important part of children's physical, social and mental development. Learning to read and understand music and its underlying theory facilitates learning other subjects. Kids become disciplined, acquire a skill, become part of a community they can be proud of, manage performance skills, and practice cooperation, sharing, and compromise. These increased social skills can make them better members of their community. Performing gives children the opportunity to serve others instead of being served. 

David Allen, Melissa Trafficante, Sonja Branch, Hillary Mackowski and I are committed to follow in the footsteps of all the wonderful musicians and leaders who came before us, and we are excited to continue growing the music program at Pinnacle. While you listen to the kids performances on May 5 and 12 in the church, please consider signing up your children for the following school year of weekly classes which start in September 2019. Please don't hesitate to contact me at ikadler@pinnaclepres.org if you have any questions.