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Echoes Blog

Out of the Mouths of Babes

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“I’m hungry,” the little boy announced, right in the middle of the children’s sermon. The startling proclamation brought an unexpected but hearty burst of laughter from the congregation.

The question on the table was, “If God were to write a letter to you, what words might you hear?” 

One kid said, “Don’t be bad.” And when prompted to say a little more, he said, “Be good.”

One kid said, “Love one another.”  

And then, after what seemed an interminable silence, a little boy stood up, walked toward me and said, “I”m hungry.”  When the laughter died down, I took him by the hand, and held it through the rest of the children’s sermon, thinking, “How do I respond to such a clear proclamation?”

Hindsight is so clear. Afterwards I thought that I should have said, “Me too! Let’s get out of here and get some lunch.”  Or perhaps a more theological response would have been better: “We’re all hungry. We all are longing for something. And here in God’s sanctuary, gathered with God’s people in worship, we will feast on the Word of God!”  I went to seminary after all, and every answer should have a theological dimension. Shouldn’t it?

But what if God wrote a letter to us, and all it said was, “I’m hungry”?  

We might first think, “This isn’t our God.  Our God doesn’t require food like one of the pagan idols of old. Scripture clearly tells us: 

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?

    says the Lord;

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams

    and the fat of fed beasts;

I do not delight in the blood of bulls,

    or of lambs, or of goats. (Isaiah 1:11)

Someone else might say, “I know you don’t want food, God. What you’re hungry for is a contrite heart.” 

Other people might say, “I hear you, God! I know you are hungry for justice! We are too!”

Some erudite theologian might say, “God is impassible. God is not moved by passions, strong emotions, or suffering, To say that God hungers cannot be taken literally. It is a metaphor for our own belief in lack that is strongly projected onto Divine Being.”  Huh?

And in the midst of it all, a boy stands there, interrupting the decent and orderly worship service, resounding for all to hear with, “I’m hungry.”  

And we are reminded that the needs of the world stand before us. We can engage in deeply theological and scriptural reasoning that keep us from responding directly and in the moment, but the world will still be declaring, “I’m hungry.” 

Jesus tells his disciples, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35)

And his disciples asked, “Lord, when did we do this? When were you hungry?” 

Jesus reminded them, “Whenever you cared for the least of these, you cared for me.”  

Whenever we feed another, we feed Jesus.

I am grateful that Pinnacle is a community of people who feed others in body, mind, and spirit, and in such feeding we sit at the table and commune with God.

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Thinking about the July 4 holiday just passed.  In preparing my sermon for July 7, I discovered the connection between Langston Hughes' 1926 poem, "I, Too," and Walt Whitman's poem, "I Hear America Singing," written just before the Civil War.  Even with their dated language, the conversation between these two great poems of the American spirit might still tell us something about us, even today.  We, all, sing America.

Here's an excerpt from that July 7 sermon:

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning,
or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

Those are the words of Walt Whitman, from 1860.  It's his poem, "I Hear America Singing"

Whitman's been called the poet of democracy. Ezra Pound called him, "America's poet."  He was devoted to understanding and perfecting our democracy. Some of his poetry sounds like a loving recognition of Americans and their spirit (our spirit). His vision included people excluded from power or scarred by violence yet still resilient in their own work to make America. 

At one point, Whitman insisted that “The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem."  By that he seems to mean that like poetry, democracy tries to make a whole thing out of disconnected and imperfect parts, to make meaning from jumbled words, and to make freedom from people living many different lives.  And so poets make the nation by their labor of words.  I suppose preachers do too.  And we all make the nation by our varied carols, and our dreams—sooner than laws, or politics, or celebrity, or official kinds of power. 

Whitman's disdain for slavery was an embodiment of this belief, that while America is human through and through, it is also chastened and inspired by truths beyond itself. 

And so 86 years after Whitman published "I Hear America Singing," in 1926, another great poet—this one at the center of the Harlem Renaissance—named Langston Hughes, directly responded to Walt Whitman's, "I Hear America Singing." 

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

 ~~ Langston Hughes, 1926

Let us hear the song and create new harmonies.

Consulted:
Langston Hughes, “I, Too” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes.  Can be found online at www.poetryfoundation.org.

Walt Whitman, "I Hear America Singing," from Selected Poems (1991), originally in Leaves of Grass.  Can be found online at www.poetryfoundation.org

See David Ward, "What Langston Hughes’ Powerful Poem 'I, Too' Tells Us About America’s Past and Present," https://www.smithsonianmag.com.

How Well Are You Aging?

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As I continue to have birthdays, I’m more and more convinced that age is not produced by time but rather one’s frame of mind. There are those who are old at 40, and others who are young at 80. How well are you aging?

That same observation is made in the following piece which appeared in a newspaper many years ago. Unfortunately the identity of the author is unknown.

“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind, a product of the imagination, vigor of emotions, a predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite for adventure.”

 “No one grows old by living a number of years. People grow old when they desert their ideals. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. Worry, self-doubt, fear, and anxiety - these are the culprits that bow the head and break the spirit.”

“Whether 16 or 70, there exists in the heart of every person who loves life the thrill of a new challenge, the insatiable appetite for what is coming next. You are as young as your faith and as old as your doubts.”

“So long as your heart receives from your head messages that reflect beauty, courage, joy, and excitement, you are young. When your thinking becomes clouded with pessimism and prevents you from taking risks, then you are old…”

Although I have neither the talent nor the insight to write such words, I pray that as I grow younger I will discover the grace and the will to live them!


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For a few years now every morning I have been waking up to one piece of music: Aria "Erbarme dich" from St. Matthew Passion by Johann Sebastian Bach. Performed by Collegium Vocale Gent under Philippe Herreweghe and published by Harmonia Mundi it is, in my opinion, one of the best recordings of St. Matthew Passion.

I am not a superhuman; like you, I do get tired with music which is repeated often. In fact, repetition is one of the biggest challenges of being a professional musician. Keeping the brain active and in a learning state during the daily, highly repetitive practice requires a focused creative effort. Oh, the infinite struggle to reach the Sublime!

Listening to this particular performance of "Erbarme dich" every morning stirs my mind and heart in ways I cannot describe. The sound of the violin, voice and orchestra blended perfectly together, executed with impressive attention to details, and at the same time full of passion, pain and hope. There has yet to come a day when I will discover all the layers and meanings of this aria, and satisfy my listening need.

The layers of Bach's writing are bottomless. His music can satisfy as just pure sound - vibrations our brains perceive as beautiful or harmonious. After peeling this first layer there is a depth of meanings, emotional and intellectual joys which can be derived from following and analyzing the form, the flow, the motives and their development, the use of intervals, numbers, rhetorical and theological concepts, etc. Bach's vast knowledge of theology, of music that came before him, as well as his virtuosic command of many instruments, especially the organ, make his compositions complex and demanding to listen and to perform.

In times when easy-to-digest music is ubiquitous, Bach may feel heavy and complicated. Actually, already in Bach's times his music was treated that way. The need for simplicity and accessibility in music is a common phenomenon which have existed throughout the ages, and its necessity and role it plays in our lives cannot be overstated.

But then, giving a try to unpack music that seems hard to grasp at first, may lead to moments of epiphany. Spirit-led human expression through art is endless. The more we open ourselves to the unknown, the more layers, meanings and dimensions of our lives are there to be discovered.

Let the Spirit guide us all on the journey!

Children & Family Ministries This Summer

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This summer, the office of Children and Family Ministries is not on summer vacation!  In fact, we are working in overdrive hosting Vacation Bible School, Wild About God 2019 Music, Mission, & Leadership Camp, introducing our new Children and Family Ministry Team & supporting the Youth Mission Trip in the Bahamas.  Summer fun has never looked so good!

Vacation Bible School took place June 3-7 and Pinnacle hosted a record number of 300 participants, leaders and many, many student volunteers.  The week’s theme took us to Africa learning ROAR; Life is Wild, God is Good.  Daily, we focused on specific Bible Stories to be reminded of God’s constant love.  Monday’s theme: “When Life is Unfair” as we learn in the Bible that the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, “God is Good”. Tuesday; “When Life is Scary” as it was when God sent the plagues on Egypt, “God is Good”.  Wednesday; “When Life Changes” as it did for the Israelites when they entered the wilderness, “God is Good”.  Thursday, “When Life is Sad” as it was when Jesus died on the cross, “God is Good”.  And Friday “When Life is Good” as we are reminded Jesus is risen and lives within us, “God is Good”.  The energy of our music, games, snacks, crafts, and science supported the amazing Bible storytelling.  Families took away God’s Love as the week ended with the amazing participation on VBS Sunday. 

Wild About God 2019 Music, Mission & Leadership Camp takes place July 22-26.  This week, we focus on the importance of being good leaders all the time, by bringing music into worship & serving God, and how, even as children, we can serve our community.  We will visit the MIM and enjoy a drum class & tour, we will pack meals at Feed My Starving Children in Mesa, and we will explore God’s creations at Wildlife World Zoo & Aquarium.   We anticipate 60 participants and volunteers and could use more adults to join us – especially Wednesday, July 24 for our Feed My Starving Children outing. 

Children and Family Ministry Team kicks off Sunday, July 28th, at 11am.  This Team will: 

  • Create a Family Ministry Strategy

  • Introduce Special Needs Ministry 

  • Enhance our Presence and Love to Pinnacle Preschool Teachers & Families 

  • Support our Music Ministry with Thoughts and Suggestions for Upcoming Children and Youth Performances & the Music Mission Trip to California January 17-20, 2020

  • Educate & Adapt Safe Practices & Procedures to Ensure Children, Youth and Leaders are Safe and Prepared 

  • Plan Children & Family Ministry Events

Volunteers are needed.  We welcome those with many backgrounds; parents, grandparents, retired teachers, and students. 

The Youth Mission Trip begins Saturday, June 22, and we return Sunday, June 30.  37 Students, Chaperones and Children and Family Ministry Staff will serve Haitian Refugees in Nassau, Bahamas.  We will work alongside a mission organization, Praying Pelican, as we tile a church floor, install a playground slab for student’s outdoor play time, and host Vacation Bible School. 

We would love to have you participate with any of these amazing opportunities.  The more we encourage our children, youth and families, the better our church family becomes!