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Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

Newness and Difference

The first time I encountered the music of Olivier Messiaen, I was a junior in high school. I vividly remember the odd colors of sound coming from the organ in the strangest, most otherworldly combinations using rhythmic patterns I had never encountered, if one could even call them patterns. I remember the thought going through my head that it sounded like someone's pet was randomly stepping on notes on the keyboards. I was horrified. However, years later, Messiaen is one of my favorite composers. The shock of hearing something I was not expecting left me with a negative outlook that colored how I saw the new experience. I decided to give his music a second try, and I discovered that his music is not about notes; it is about creating an atmosphere of color and suspense in which you can let yourself go and allow the experience to envelop you.

Experiences in everyday life often hit us the same way. When we are not expecting something or we get thrown off-course from our plans, we often look to what is familiar and compare. Unfortunately, this can lead us to miss the beauty of newness and difference. Especially this time of year, we often experience new things: kids are starting a new year of school, young adults start college, often in a completely new location, new people join staffs of organizations, and we encounter new people we have never met or who may be very different from us. When these new experiences confront us, do we meet them with expectation, openness, or trepidation? Sometimes we simply experience shock. However, we can always rest assured in the hope God offers.

After all, new experiences can lead to wonderful places. Beethoven's audiences were shocked by his music, especially when he included a choir in his Ninth Symphony, creating a tune we sing today as the hymn, "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee." Scholars and theologians were shocked when Copernicus and Galileo suggested the earth might not be the center of the universe, and now we know more about the wonders of the universe that God created than we could ever have imagined. Michelangelo was almost certainly shocked when he was commissioned to paint frescoes in the Sistine Chapel when he, as a sculptor, had never painted a fresco in his life. In our everyday lives, let us remember God's promises to be with us through our new experiences and be open to see what we can learn and how we can grow. After all, everything we think of as familiar now was once something new.

In recent weeks, the monsoons have come in with a fury, and some neighborhoods in our valley were especially damaged by the high winds and heavy rains. One of the neighborhoods that was hardest hit was the area where UMOM New Day Center resides. Located at 33rd Street and Van Buren, United Methodist Outreach Ministries is the largest local center offering temporary shelter for homeless families.

The strong storm flooded 12 of the facility’s 150 family rooms and caused the only elevator in one of its three story buildings to stop working. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the storm, but a day after the storm passed, the damaged rooms were filled with mold and damp clothes, and the rains caused several trees on the property to fall, as well as causing damage to staff offices and vehicles.

Repairs for the damage will run into the tens of thousands of dollars, and will require funds that go way beyond what is covered by UMOM’s insurance. Until the damage is repaired, homeless families must remain on the waiting list, anxiously awaiting shelter, compassion and care.

UMOM is no stranger to Pinnacle Presbyterian Church, and has been a spiritual neighboring community for many years as our members travel to join UMOM’s residents for reading, sharing, praying, and spiritual communion. UMOM is part of our family. Our family needs some help.

While there are many stereotypes about homelessness, most homeless people are not violent, and all homelessness is not alike. There are people who are incidentally homeless due to job loss or other circumstances, and there are those who are chronically homeless. Many of the chronically homeless have serious mental health issues or addictions. Many homeless people want help and housing, but have trouble navigating the system. Housing is a critical need in this equation, a need that UMOM has met since 1964.

One teenager named Krista expresses the emotions that accompany homelessness:

My home can be everywhere or nowhere.
My daily meals consist of anything or nothing.
My knick-knacks and baubles are the clothes I wear.
My money is only what others give me.
I am a being.
I am human.
I am homeless.
If only people could see where I stand.
and help me through this all.
Will this loneliness ever end?
Will I begin new life?
Does anyone care?
Because I am here,
I am real.
I cannot be ignored.
I am a person.
I am alive.
And…
I am homeless.

It must have been with a broken heart that Jesus said to some of the people around Him “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not take me in, I was naked and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” (Matthew 25:42-43) We are blessed to have this opportunity to reach out in Christian love to those who need shelter, clothing and food. Donations for UMOM can be delivered to the church office or made online here. Select UMOM Flood Relief from the drop-down menu.

Wonder Women & Men

In the new blockbuster movie Wonder Woman, Diana Prince, leaves the safety of the Amazons with her lasso of truth, bracelets of submission, sword and shield to save the world from the evil god of war, Ares. The record-breaking opening weekend has left fans everywhere excited about the film and a renewed energy about this female super hero’s ability to fight as a warrior and show compassion and focus on the mission at the same time. What I love about Wonder Woman is her belief that she has a sacred duty to defend the world by fighting for love.  

Every super hero is focused on justice and is given special super powers in order to battle against the world’s evils but Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince begins her super hero career with the words, “Who would I be if I stayed?”  And at that moment she leaves everything she knows to fight evil so that love will win.  

Faced with the perils of World War Two, Wonder Woman quickly discovers the power of evil in our world, hate that can become all encompassing, and evil that lives within us has power to change even the simplest person.  She discovers, like we all do at some point in our lives, that no one person is all good or all bad.  Instead there is good and bad in us all.  Pastorally speaking, we are all sinners and yet we are not all bad.  

It would be easy to give up the fight because it is a lost cause.  You cannot conquer all evil with the swing of a sword or a lasso of truth. At one moment of the movie Wonder Woman is ready to give up.  Humanity doesn’t deserve to be rescued. That is until she remembers what really matters—love.  At this pivotal point in the movie she pauses and says, “It’s not about deserve.” 

She is right.  It is not about what we deserve.  If it was, Jesus would not have lived, died and rose for us.  Instead it is about unconditional love of God and compassion shown to us and each other.  Many have pointed out the parallels of Wonder Woman and Jesus.  The way they both come to save the world from evil and present the gift of life and love to us. 

I see it differently.  I see Diana Prince, a woman with a career as Wonder Woman and life.  Someone who has taken the time to recognize the good and bad in all of us.  Someone who shows compassion and kindness, respect and healing towards her fellow people.  Diana is willing to be vulnerable and compassionate.  She stands up for what she believes and is unwavering even when everyone around her thinks she is crazy.  

It is in these characteristics that I believe we are also called to live.  We too are called to see passed what people deserve, and show compassion to each other.  We too are to love first and hate last. We too are to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. 

Diana is daring us to be different.  To be the Wonder women and men in our communities by living with a different purpose—the knowledge that only love will truly save the world.  To walk with a lasso of grace and truth, to see the world through Jesus’ eyes of compassion and love.  

The movie ends with Diana aka Wonder Woman off to save the world one more time and these words, “And now I know, that only love can truly save the world. So I stay, I fight, and I give for the world to know it can be."  

Stay with God, fight for love, give compassion and grace to each other.  And live as God’s wonder women and men in His world! 

 

Genesis 19:17
When [Angels of the Lord] had brought [Lot and his family] outside, they said, “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills, or else you will be consumed."

We read these words from Genesis as instruction to Lot’s family as they leave the infamous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah just moments before the destruction of the two cities. Despite the angel’s warning, we read just nine verses later in v. 26, “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” 

Throughout the years there has been lots of debate about Sodom and Gomorrah, but we often gloss over what happens to Lot’s wife. I mean God went to the trouble of sending His angels to wake up Lot and his family and get them out of the city, before he brought judgment upon it, and then just nine verses later God turns Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt simply for looking back. I don’t know about you, but this has always struck me as strange.

Two weeks ago we spent the week in Navajo, working along the people who live there. It was during our time at Navajo that this passage started to become clearer to me. Let me explain. During our trip, we heard some of the stories of the Navajo people. How their holy people told them that they should settle between their four holy mountains. How for thousands of years they had everything they needed. Then the European’s came and brought disease and stole land that belonged to God. We heard stories about how the early settlers took the land where the Native American’s lived and how in an effort to tame the savages, the United States government took young boys out of their homes and sent them to boarding schools, “Indian Schools,” so they could be taught English and become more American.

We also learned the same government that took children from their homes and punished them for speaking their native language, 80 years later needed the Navajo and their language to win WWII. Some say if it wasn’t for the Navajo Code Talkers, the U.S. might not have won the war against Japan. After WWII, when a Navajo was asked why they helped the government that took so much from them, one Code Talker responded “I did it because this is my country.”

It is hard to hear about the past atrocities of the Navajo people as a European descendant and not feel a sense of shame of guilt. It would not have surprised me if there were Navajo people who, at the sight of our group, were hostile or showed resentment towards us. However, this was not the case. While we were there, we felt nothing but love and hospitality. So how do people who have had such terrible things done to them by the “white man” and our government not hold a grudge? Because they don’t look back!!

The Navajo people don’t believe in looking back, but rather to the future. One person said, “we can’t change the past, and we can’t change what happened to our ancestors by your ancestors, but we can change how we treat each other today and in the future, so let’s show each other love and respect.” This isn’t just something they talk about; it is part of who they are as Navajo. In fact, they have buildings called Hogans. These are the traditional building of the Navajo people and now used for ceremonial purposes. As you enter a Hogan, you enter the door and turn left. If you want to leave you, must walk around the entire Hogan and exit on the left, signifying the importance of never looking back and always moving forward. 

As we spent a night in a Hogan, it hit me how the Navajo way of life was much more “Christian” than the “Christians” who came and took their land, killed their food supply for fur and tried to wipe out their culture. As Christians, we spend a lot of time looking back, like Lot’s wife. We think about the people who wronged us, the “unforgivable” things we have done, or opportunities missed and it consumes a lot of our time and energy. There is something about the past that allows us to justify things in the future. How many of us have thought, “I did this, because last week/month/year, so and so did that to me?” 

I sometimes think, good or bad, we long for the past, like Lot’s wife, because it is what we know. The future can be scary, as it is full of uncertainty, but it is also full of hope and new beginnings. One thing, of many, I learned this past week is that to follow Christ, our hope must be in the present and future and not in the past. Despite the fact that many of us want to live in the past, we can’t change it, all we can do is move forward. 

Looking forward is part of the Navajo culture. It is who they are. It is because of this hope in tomorrow that allows them to forgive in a Christ-like manner. I encourage you to not to look back, but keep your eyes looking forward, to the hope that is Jesus Christ. If you need to let go of a past hurt or past sin so you can focus on the future, do it! Jesus tells us to lay our burdens at the foot of the cross, and He will deal with them, He will take away our burdens so we can live in the hope that is Jesus Christ because living with hope is how we should live life. 

To pay bills one summer during college, I drove truck for a fireworks company in Portland. In those B.I. days (Before iPhone), I carried a pocket New Testament wherever I went, to help me memorize. One day I tossed a pile of invoices on top of that little blue Book on the desk, and my boss went ballistic. “How dare you put anything over the Word of God?!” The man had never read the Book, mind you, but he was scandalized.  I’m not normally quick on the draw (always a sub-par trash-talker, actually, now envious of my sons’ knack for rapid repartee); but that morning I didn’t hesitate to deadpan: “Paper and ink.”

It may sound crass – even blasphemous, from a Bible guy. It did to my boss. But I’m still proud of that moment, because when Isaiah the prophet said,

The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40.8)
and,
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose...  (Isaiah 55.10-11)

– when Isaiah said these brilliant things about God’s word, he wasn’t talking about a tome or a scroll. Nothing like our Bible existed in his day. When he pictured the word of God, it was something that happened, not a book.

Isaiah’d been hearing family stories for as long as he could remember. He knew God spoke to Abraham and Sarah to start a people and through Moses on Sinai to shape that people. God told Samuel to anoint David as King of Israel, and God spoke through Nathan the prophet to bring him back down to size when he overreached. Isaiah may have heard that God started everything with words – “Let there be light!” The word of God for Isaiah meant nothing less than the speech of a God whose words work.

Near the end of the first century, a Christian man sat down to the impossible task of writing Jesus’ story. No book could contain Him, and so the author’s disclaimer: “If I were to write everything Jesus did, all the libraries in the world couldn’t hold it!” (John 21.25)  But how to start – where to begin? He prayed…and thought…and then wrote these sentences: 

In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the Beginning with God. All things were created through Him… And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we beheld his glory... (John 1.1-3, 14)  

Christians believe that God loved us enough to show us God’s self in this One. Many of us wonder where to start with the Bible. It’s never a bad choice to start with the gospels – the words about the Word. After Jesus, everything else falls into place.