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Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

Kitchen Has Community

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I am always amazed at the beautiful pictures of food and dinner recipes you find in magazines, newspapers and online.  Pinterest, a website for individuals to collect ideas from the internet, is a goldmine for beautiful looking meals we can all cook with ease and perfection.

I am not alone in trying some of these recipes and joining hundreds of folks whose meal doesn’t exactly turn out like the picture. But that said, it has not kept me from continuing to try new recipes, attempt alterations and try again. 

My mom taught me how to cook when I was little. She got me a step stool so I could reach the counter and help stir, pour, roll and watch. One of my favorite memories as a child was my grandma, cousins and I sitting in front of the stove watching cinnamon rolls rise.  

Since then I have been a lover of the kitchen. I am not sure what has continued to draw me into that space. It could be my love of the science of mixing flour, sugar and eggs together to make cookies. Or trying new techniques to make something taste a certain way or have a certain texture. Which I do love to do, but deep down I think it is because cooking and baking are about community.

It doesn’t seem to matter who we are cooking for, whether it is a meal for yourself, your family or a large group. Food is about people and our relationship to them. The kitchen is a place where differences and challenges can fade away because it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from or what life experiences you have had—we all have a relationship with food. 

On mission trips, whether we are across the border in Mexico eating with a family or doing disaster work with low income families, food is always a piece of the experience. Eating together simple meals they have prepared, laughing together, sharing life together across borders reminds us that we are all a part of each other.

With our partners in Haiti, we gather at lunch time with our simple meals of tuna or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with our hosts who often don’t speak English and communicate with hand gestures. We eat together and share life together.

When we serve a meal at Andre House individuals take the plate of food prepared by volunteers and say “Thank You” because the meal prepared lovingly by another, may be the only one they received that day. 

When we deliver Christmas gifts to refugee families and tea is waiting for us on the table. We sit, share and enjoy this moment of God’s life in us. 

At our new Table meals on Wednesdays for dinner and Sundays for lunch we sit across from people we don’t know and get a chance to meet someone new.

Most importantly is that whenever we eat, and with whomever we eat, Jesus is there.  Jesus is eating, sharing, and joining in conversation.  Some like to think that Jesus is even sitting in the empty chair at your dinner table.  Inviting us to share a little bit of ourselves and learn a little bit about another.

We cross borders in the kitchen. We meet people we would never have expected, touch people’s lives in a unique way, and see people from a different perspective. I think this is what Jesus was trying to teach us about at His last meal with the disciples. Eat together, learn from each other, comfort each other, love each other and remind each other that God is with you in this place. I hope we get a chance to eat a meal together sometime. No matter what, at your next meal you eat, find God and enjoy the amazing people that He brought into your life today.

What Makes For a Good Life?

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While a college chaplain I was given a year away from duties to write. The door was wide open to my return, but Lynne and I weren’t quite sure we would.  We didn’t know what the Spirit had for us. We packed the cars and left Lewiston, Maine, for New Haven, Connecticut. On the day we were leaving, a retired couple with whom we had become friends came by.  They had a silver pitcher in their hands, filled with water. They entered the house with farewell tokens, but they held onto the pitcher. After sweet conversation, they asked us to come out to the driveway. We wondered. They called us to where the drive touched the sidewalk and asked us to stand with them. They poured water from pitcher across the line between the drive and the street. “When we lived in Turkey,” Arthur said, “we learned an old custom. When you pour water from a silver pitcher in front of loved ones as they leave, you are saying that they are a part of you and that you know they will return. You must now return to us.” We chuckled, embraced, and said farewell. We did return at the end of that year, for a second dear period on campus and in the community. And as they reminded us of the silver pitcher when we later left in earnest for a new congregation in Chicago, we knew we’d be back—at least to visit. And we remember bringing our boys a few years later to their farmhouse, where they served homemade root beer and told stories of all they’d been doing since we last saw them. 

Arthur and Marianne. I saw them at nearly every public lecture on the campus about world affairs. Events coming out of the Chaplain’s Office or Edmund Muskie Archives were of special interest. Marianne was an accomplished musician, and so anything having to do with music caught her interest. They were committed persons of the church. And we learned their story.

Arthur was a retired pastor. They spent most of their ministry in the Middle East. After serving in the North Pacific in 1945, he went to Whitman College on the GI bill. He spent three years teaching English in the oldest American College abroad, Roberts College, in Turkey. Then a few years working in New York on behalf of international colleges. He married Marianne, who shared a hometown. The church sent them back to Turkey, where he oversaw finances for schools and medical missions in Turkey, Greece, Syria, and Lebanon. He was invited to establish a public relations and fundraising program to sustain the American University in Beirut, which he worked on both there and here for many years.  He started the first boy scout troop in Turkey.  He was instrumental in founding Americans for Middle East Understanding, doing whatever he could to raise awareness of the plight of Palestinians and others suffering in the region. Marianne played in symphonies in the Middle East and tended to much during their time there, including their two children. The spoke with love, wonder, and humility of those years. 

When they returned to a small family farm for retirement, which is where we met, they did anything but retire. They grew small crops for food and to share, raised a few chickens for eggs, brewed that root beer, and welcomed whoever came—stranger or friend. They hosted field trips from local schools where students learned about lambing season in the spring, sugaring off in the winter, and making cider in the fall. They were active in political and religious organizations, sponsored public discussions of controversial concerns, worked for civic leaders and issues they respected, and followed their highest love—which was nurturing deep friendships. I wonder how many silver pitchers of water they poured over the years. We were honored to be in that circle and cherish the memories.

As life moved on, we lost touch.  I can make no excuse for that but distraction, but they remained in our hearts.  In a moment of reflection, I wondered about them the other day.  Found an obituary online.  Marianne died a few years ago, after 56 years of marriage.  Arthur passed about 18 months ago. Some surely poured water from a silver pitcher on their way.

A good life. Not dramatic. Not aggressive. No drive for success. No need for fame, or power, or legacy.  Just a simple and persistent desire to serve, to be open to what God had in store, to love others, to love what is beautiful, to gently but strongly advocate God-desired justice for all people, and to make whatever difference they could. Simple. Persistent. Without ego. They left their world better and made room for the Holy Spirit to move through them. 

Not a bad way to live. May we all, in our own way, do the same. 

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Was Younger

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As I write this blog I am watching my oldest son practice football.  As I watch, I remember the days when I used to play.  The hours spent in the weight room, running, and watching film.  As I sit here I can’t help but think, if I only knew then what I know now. So this blog is some advice that I have learned that I would give to my younger self to help him along the way, I hope it might help others along the way as well.  (If given, I hope my younger self would be smart enough to listen.)

1) Like yourself and others will like you...if they don’t, who cares, it is their loss.
Who cares if you don’t have the coolest clothes or drive a cool car (1986 Chevette), in the long run what you have isn’t as important as who you are.  Spending time worrying about what others think of you is pointless. There will be all kinds of reasons people will not like you and most of them don’t have anything to do with you, but with stuff they are dealing with. The people who are worth being around won’t care about superficial things but will like you for who you are. Spending time and energy trying to be something you are not, to control something you have no control over, is time that could be used doing something more productive and investing in people who really matter. 

2) You only get out what you put in.
Whether it is a workout or homework, the effort you put in is what you can expect in the end.  Cheating on a quiz might get you an A, and you might fool your teacher, but you can’t fool yourself. Likewise, when you are supposed to run 3 laps and you only run 2, it might make you look faster, but you are only cheating yourself. Your coach really doesn’t care if you run 3 or 5 laps, they want you to be better than you are, to push you further and harder than you push yourself. If you cut corners, you are not cheating your coach, you are cheating yourself. Practice and hard work prepare you for the tasks that lay ahead.

3) Coaches are important, not just for sports but in life.
It doesn’t matter what sport or how good they are, all athletes have coaches to help them become better, especially the best ones. Coaches are important because they are able to see flaws in us that we can’t see or don’t want to see ourselves. We often think coaches are just for sports but they are not. It is important to have people in your life who love you and care about you enough to tell you when you are making a bad decision, as well as celebrate your successes.  Someone who loves you enough to tell you how to be better than you are as well as someone you respect enough to listen to. Find a coach and listen to their advice.

4) Read Scripture
Of all the things you will read in your life nothing will be more important and have more impact on your life than God’s Word. It is not enough to listen to sermons and what other people think scripture means, you need to have firsthand knowledge of God’s Word. As you read it ask questions and challenge assumptions. In doing so, it will help you better understand God and God’s plan for you. If you only listen to what others have to say about scripture and don’t take the time to learn it yourself, you become informed by other people’s opinions and not transformed by the living Word of God. Don’t be informed, be transformed. But don’t take my word for it, read for yourself.

5) We are not created equal.
If you look around, you will see that we are not all equal. You will be smarter, stronger, and more skilled than some around you, while others will be bigger, smarter and more skilled than you. Just because we are not created equal, doesn’t mean we should treat people poorly or less than ourselves. Scripture talks over and over about how we are unique and how we all have different gifts. Paul tells us that we are like the body, some are hands, some are feet and some are parts not so easily talked about, yet we are all important and vital to the body. If you are stronger than some, use your strength to help them, not to persecute them. If you become wealthy, do not look down on those who have less, but see your wealth as a gift to help those who are in need. Likewise, if you are not as rich or strong as others, do not let them look down at you or make you feel like you don’t belong, because you have other gifts to offer. As Christians it is our job to celebrate our unique gifts and use them to help those who need our help. It is our job to be God’s hands and feet for those who need it. However, it is important to realize that we are not always the one doing the saving, but sometimes we need to be saved.  Sometimes our gifts aren’t going to line up with our needs so we must allow people to be God’s hands and feet in our lives too when we need it. Despite not being created equal, it is our job to love others as Christ loves us.  It is our responsibility to make sure everyone is treated with love and respect, no matter what they look like, where they are from, or what their situation might be.  Although we are not created equal we should treat everyone with Christ-like love.

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Earlier this month, we lost the Queen of Soul.  Aretha Franklin has joined a heavenly choir, yet her inspiring music will live on for generations to come.  As Mary J. Blige pays tribute, she says, “Aretha is a gift from God.  When it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her.  She is the reason why women want to sing.”

Like many singers, Aretha had her roots in gospel, and it was the music she grew up with in the Baptist churches where her father, the Reverend Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, preached that propelled her to become the star soloist at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit and later to sing for presidents and massive audiences.

One of her most memorable and influential songs was “Respect,” and the song resonated beyond individual relationships to the civil rights and feminist movements.  “It was the need of the nation, the need of the average man and woman in the street, the businessman, the mother, the fireman, the teacher---everyone wanted respect,” Aretha wrote in her autobiography.

Our nation continues to be in need of respect.  Our neighborhoods continue to be in need of respect.  Our schools continue to be in need of respect.  Our churches continue to be in need of respect.  We are in dire need of civility toward one another.  Human beings deserve respect no matter what their differences of opinion.

Aretha belted out the need for respect, and perhaps we remain far too silent when we see others disrespected, demeaned or bullied.  Perhaps we contribute to a culture of disrespect when we walk away from verbal, psychological or physical brutality and pretend that nothing has happened.  Perhaps our voices need to join Aretha’s, refusing to normalize disrespect, vitriol and bullying.  Perhaps God put this message into Aretha’s voice as a sermon to us all.

“Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.” Romans 12:9-11

Good bye for now, Aretha.  Thank you, Sister, for sharing your gift from God.

Reconstructing Babel?

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Over the last few days I’ve been both enjoying a visit from some friends from France and at the same time struggling to draw forth from the inner recesses of memory the three years of high-school French I had…thirty-four years ago. I met Stéphane and Sandrine in Tunisia six years ago, while we were swimming in a mineral pool at an oasis in the Sahara desert. I heard this couple speaking French, and I went boldly forth with my limited knowledge of the language to strike up a conversation, which led to a shared dinner that evening and now to years of a transatlantic friendship.  The three of us have since met up again both in New York City and in Vienna…sharing meals and laughter…all in our common tongue of Franglish (or franglais…s’il vous plaît). Even with a limited amount of words and phrases, it is amazing to me how much we can communicate: did you sleep well?; it is hot today; do you want cheese with your eggs? We can create a shared experience even if we have little knowledge of one another’s languages, sitting around a table, learning to read each other’s heart language that speaks beyond our fumbling words.

And there are moments when utter bewilderment confounds us.  “Voulez-vous *hs7hg3 08&#)jf*@ (f*@ *&#h@f( *#(hf?”  Hmm…  I just smile and nod, waiting for some semblance of meaning to dawn over me. Then I’d have to admit, “Je n’ai pas compris. I didn’t get that.”

In the book of Genesis a story unfolds that seeks to explain why so many languages exist in the world. At some point after the Great Flood human beings still shared a common language, so the story goes, but, in their hubris, human beings’ reach exceeded their grasp. They started building a tower that would attain to heaven itself. God, seeing their foolishness, made it so human beings could not understand one another, to confound their joint efforts, and God scattered them abroad across the earth.

It seems like all of life is learning to bridge the communication, seeking to regain some semblance of comprehending our fellow human beings, whether we share a common tongue or not. The potential to misunderstand one another is great.  We may use words we think others will “get,” but shared meaning eludes us.  Just in uttering one word or phrase we discover a vast chasm between one person’s understanding and another’s may exist: “Socialism,” “Truth,” “Patriotism,” or “Black Lives Matter.” What you mean and what I hear can be vastly different. And in the Church we throw around words that trigger a whole range of interpretation: “Sin,” “Salvation,” “Justification,” or “the Blood of the Lamb.”

Having a shared vocabulary in no way guarantees that we will have a shared understanding. 

God knows this. And God speaks to us in ways that approach our capacity to “get” what God is saying. John Calvin says of God: “Who has so little intellect who does not understand that God, in a certain sense, speaks baby-talk (balbutire) with us as nurses do with infants?" (Institutes 1.13.1) and that scripture "proceeds at the pace of a mother stooping to her child, so to speak, so as not to leave us behind in our weakness" (Institutes 3.21.4). 

God’s greatest accommodation in communicating with us was to send his Word to us, to live among us, to share our human experience, to speak our human language, in word and deed. In Jesus God came to us, to spend time with us, sharing our human story so that we might be taken up into God’s story…and so that we might understand, beyond all the words we might use to talk about God, that God loves us truly and deeply. God comes in Christ to us to share a meal, around the table, where we might smile, laugh, and come to know one another more deeply, learning to read the language of the heart.

“Babel” was a place of great confusion. We don’t need to reconstruct Babel. In the Church we have the chance, with God’s accommodating and gracious love, to come to a place of shared understanding and meaning. It takes patience. It takes humility. It takes love.  Instead of striving to reach up to the heavens to become like gods, we can set a table, prepare a meal, and invite God in. We can sit around a table with one another and learn of one another’s souls’ “sincerest desires,” and pray that God restores our oneness.