From the desk of Sue de Campo, Care Coordinator
Spend time in any large inner city and you can’t help but notice the homeless, the poor, the mentally ill. Likewise, in our schools we can easily spot the children who are struggling, alone, and who don’t quite “fit in.” But it’s not altogether easy to spot those who struggle mightily on the inside. They’ve learned to keep the demons at bay, or at least out of sight of others. Right here in Pitkin County, for example – in this bastion of recreation, beauty and abundance – the depression and suicide rate is among the nation’s highest.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Attempting a concise essay on this very broad and difficult topic has felt like trying to get my arms around an elephant! That said, here are some thoughts which I hope may be helpful as we ponder the inevitable question of “How can I make a difference?”
As a starting point, I turned to Christ’s life for an example of life-affirming action. How did He make a difference? Two things strike me about His life – he reached out to the outcasts and he built community. Since “social isolation is arguably the strongest and most reliable predictor of suicidal behavior,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Jesus was working on what is, realistically, the “ground zero” of suicide prevention.
Much of His ministry was to the marginalized, those on the “outside” whose voices were not heard, let alone granted significance – the women, the children, the sick, the disabled. The preciousness of each person was a notable part of Christ’s perspective. He says, in Matthew 10:30 “…even the hairs on your head are counted.” This granting of significance – paying attention to each other at a heart-and-soul level – is something we can give to each other. It has healing power. James Sullivan states, in his book The Good Listener, “When I listen well, my listening can heal your pain and give you a beautiful sense of your self-worth. But, when I listen poorly, whether I want to do it or not, I put you down! I give you the impression that you are not worth hearing.” Granting significance by respecting and listening well goes a long way to breaking a person’s sense of isolation and worthlessness.
Jesus’s community-building is a second central part of His ministry. The first act in His ministry was to build a team around Him. He could certainly have taught alone, or retreated to a cave to pray, but He began His ministry by choosing a band of friends to be with him. Community building. He was constantly inviting people to come towards him. He began debating with the elders of the Synagogue even as a child. Again, connection and community building. Although he valued solitude for renewal, He was a person of community and connections – connected with his family, his friends and thousands of strangers. We would do well to follow His example and foster connectedness where we can.
As we proceed through September, and our hearts go out to those in places of isolation and profound despair, let’s follow in His footsteps by reaching out to the marginalized and building connections as much we can.
Sweet Church! Another phenomenal summer is in the books! Camp SMashBox owes you a big thank you and a loud shout out. Relationships were built, memories were made, and silliness in the name of Jesus engulfed the campus at Snowmass Chapel this season. Kids were livin’ out lives of bountiful adventure!
If you were ever on the campus mid-week this summer, you may have had to step over a backpack or two (or 70!). You may have navigated around a craft table, walked past water balloon shrapnel, seen towels or even pants strewn about the lawn, or had to put your hands up in surrender to avoid getting blasted by squirt guns. You may have had to look past fingerprints on windows, smears of shaving cream on building posts, and even the occasional muddy footprint on the rug.
For all this stepping over and looking past, we thank you!
And then there’s the stepping in, and the walking with, and the praying for.
For that we thank you too.
There were those who stayed up late to fill hundreds of balloons with shaving cream the night before camp began. Those who donated money, or horsey-rides, or bikes, or time, or pool passes to make our inner-city girls camp a success. There were those who stepped in when a leader was sick, who stayed late on a Friday to help clean nugget grease off the wall, who ordered more paper towels in a pinch, and who wiped down bathroom counters time and time again.
Thank you, sweet church, for being a place for the children. Thank you for sharing your things.
Because share you did…
Do you know that over THREE HUNDRED K-6th graders participated in outreach camps this summer at the Chapel?? More than TWENTY FIVE 7th – 9th graders served as helpers / Junior Counselors, and THIRTY high-school and college students sacrificed their hearts and souls and dry t-shirts in the name of water wars and slip ‘n slides and being all-in for kids at our church!
Add all those people’s parents to the mix and we’re at ONE THOUSAND and SIXTY-FIVE people involved with our sweet little Chapel’s youth outreach program this summer. Now That. Is. Cool!!
Jesus said, “let the children come to me and do not hinder them.” (Mt 19:14).
Thank you, people of Snowmass Chapel, for letting them come. We love ya.
Xo, Camp SMashBoX
Hooooboy. Could we just take a moment for all the empty-nesters? Because yesterday our babies were clinging to us like their lives depended on it and we were waiting for someone to intervene with an extra set of arms and a glass of wine, and today we are crying at the sight of their too-clean bedrooms, all the left-behinds not worthy of their college dorm, and nary a wet towel on the floor to be found.
My oldest drove out of the driveway last week headed for his new Air Force base in Texas with everything he owned in the back of a pickup. My middle leaves in four days for a study abroad year in the U.K. And in two short days my youngest (I’m literally dying over here) catches a bus and two planes bound for her college orientation.
It’s ok. I’ll be fine. After all, I have endured four hours a night plopped on the couch watching Olympic coverage waaaay past my bedtime, so surely I can handle these hard things in life. (And by the way, we get a little picky with our Olympians after a few days, don’t we? We start saying things like, “She landed a little crooked on that vault, if ya ask me, pass me the bag of chips.” But I digress.)
Truly, I know life is hard and there are hurtful real struggles people have, and the fact that my babies are are leaving home and living out big fun lives is a good thing. But aren’t we all, in some ways, facing an empty nest of some kind every day? The “nest” may be a health challenge, a move, a death or illness, a job transition, a child who’s struggling, or maybe they just closed your favorite Starbucks. The point is we like familiar things. With thrive in the world of the known. Especially when those things are affirming and soul-filling, and life-giving. And then suddenly we are facing life…differently.
And so staring into the hollow heart of that beautiful little nest with NOTHING IN IT can be terrifying. Not because we don’t know how to fill the void – we do, and we will. But because what we created there can never be replaced. If we are paying attention, then wherever we go we can create a life we love. Little by little, step by step. So when the time comes (and it always does, friends) that something changes, the weight of what was is magnificent and so entirely powerful that all we can do is let loose a few good soul-cleansing sobs. I’m giving everyone who needs it permission right now to have yourself a good cry. But then do yourself a favor. Look into that nest. Really look hard at the gorgeous life you created. YOU DID THAT. You did it through hard work, love, massive reserves of energy and talent, and no small amount of time on your knees.
And what’s more, we are Resurrection people. We know that hope rises from empty places, stones can be rolled away in the darkness to reveal light, and God is always in the process of righting what has been knocked askew. I hope what you see when you look back on your little nest, whatever that nest may be, is that the nest is never empty. Because what’s left inside is you.
After I read the title of this post, I immediately realized that I had bitten off more than I could chew. There are so many things that I want to say about this topic that are not within the scope of a blog post.
As I have been watching the headlines in the news, the posts on Facebook, and the subjects of conversations, I have been perceiving an increase in “scapegoating.” Maybe the increase is simply my perception, but to me it feels like there is a rise in the use of fear to create a common enemy against which everybody can unite. There is a recurring narrative that frames a person or group of people in terms of, “They are the reason we can’t have nice things.”
This is nothing new. I would guess that most people who read this article will immediately think of the way that Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s economic troubles and successfully united the German people to commit genocide so that they could once again have nice things. This is an extreme case and it allows us to feel good about ourselves as we denounce the atrocities of this 20th century dictator. Thank God, *WE* are *NOT* like that! Are we?
Gregory Maguire wrote a book entitled Wicked that was later adapted into a record breaking musical by Stephen Schwartz. This retold story of an American classic (The Wizard of Oz) is a study on the question of self-justified violence and the often arbitrary division between good people and evil people as it opens with the question, “Are people born wicked, or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?” In an extraordinary set of plot twists, we come to see how the identification of “good” and “bad” characters varies depending on who writes the history. This book hits a little bit closer to home than the classic Nazi illustration, because we begin to see how well-meaning, good-intentioned people can do bad things in service of the pursuit of having nice things.
What is troubling is that scapegoating does work. Sort of. We all celebrate the death of the Wicked Witch of the West–so that means that everything is good and everybody will get along from now on, right? Luke 23:12 tells us that “Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other.” (NASB) Two former enemies became friends united in the cause of a common scapegoat (Jesus.) But the peace and friendship that scapegoating brings doesn’t last, because it doesn’t address the fundamental problem: We want nice things and somebody else is preventing us from having them. Everything would be better if we could just get rid of this troublesome person or that extremist fringe group. *They* are wicked and they deserve to die. Rene Girard described this phenomenon 50 years ago with his development of mimetic theory. A quick synopsis of mimetic theory is that people largely imitate (mimic) each other–returning evil for evil and good for good. The problem is that when we return evil for evil, we inevitably also escalate. Escalation reaches a critical mass, at which point, people and groups of people choose a scapegoat on whom they can unleash their accumulated violence.
Here is a positive example: The other day I was walking across the bridge in Glenwood Springs rather lost in my thoughts. I glanced over and saw a total stranger walking along the sidewalk by the road. On an apparent impulse, he raised his arm to me with the peace sign on his fingers. Without thinking, I returned the sign to him as I walked on wondering what in the world had just happened! I love that this random dude gave me something positive to mimic!
There are any number of negative examples in our current culture. A lot of folks are suffering. Many people are angry and stressed and they are looking for a scapegoat on whom they can pour their frustration. Every day I observe myself and others choosing to blame immigrants, corporations, teachers, politicians, gay marriage, white privilege, policemen, etc. Jesus understood this human tendency so well that I would say that he made it one of the central themes of his ministry. Centuries before Rene Girard outlined his mimetic theory, in the “Sermon on the Mount,” (Matthew 5-7) Jesus challenged his followers to do something wildly non-mimetic. He said, “love and pray for your enemies,” “turn the other cheek,” “give people the coat off your back,” “go the extra mile,” etc.
Jesus calls on us to break the cycle of mimetic violence. Our impulse to return evil for evil, good for good, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth is so strong that it seems that Jesus is asking the impossible of us. In order to prepare for writing this article, I did some research. By that, I mean that I typed some key words into Google! (Incidentally, I highly recommend searching the internet for “Rene Girard,” “Mimetic Theory,” and “Mimetic theory of atonement.”) As I began to understand the problem of mimetic violence, I refined my search to, “How do you break the cycle of mimetic violence?” And I have to say, I was pretty disappointed in the results. I guess we’re better at identifying the problem than solving it!
Jesus is calling us to a way of living that is astonishing, radical, and counter-cultural. It is a social construct that He called, “The Kingdom of God.” When you read Matthew 5-7, you constantly see Jesus contrasting “you have heard it said…” with, “but I say unto you…” It was called “The Way” by the early Christians. It is not mimetic. (Or you *could* say that it is mimetic of Jesus, but somehow, when you are smiling at somebody who is frowning at you, it doesn’t *feel* very mimetic or even remotely natural!) It is TOUGH. Our own violence is always justified, and after all, we only want nice things.
You probably thought that I would end with the solution, right? Instead, I would like this article to be the beginning of the discussion. So… How would YOU answer my Google search? How do you break the mimetic cycle of violence? Scapegoating is the traditional answer, but I refuse to believe that we have to kill somebody so that we can have nice things. I’d love to read your ideas in the comments!
I have had the opportunity to spend a fair amount of time with kids in the last few weeks. From Sunday school and Vacation Bible school to Camp SmashBox it seems like there are children absolutely everywhere! Although I’m usually leading or teaching in some form I have been shocked at how much these kids have been teaching me! These are just a few of the lessons the kids of Snowmass Village have taught me.
We are always planting seeds.
After we tell Bible stories at VBS we always try to ask some questions for review. Our group of kids had the jitters this morning and I was sure that a couple of them had not heard the story. After a few easier questions I asked one that I thought would be more challenging. One of the kids in the group that seemed to not be paying attention in the least raised his hand. I picked him, and he let go of a better answer to my question than I could have come up with myself! I thought about this more as VBS went on. When spending time with kids, or praying for others, or even passing someone on a trail with a genuine smile, you are planting seeds. Sometimes you get to see how and when those seeds grow and sometimes you don’t. Either way, know that God works in ALL THINGS for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8.28)
Everything’s better when shared.
Just a few days ago I got the chance to spend the day with 7 of the coolest young guys during Camp Smashbox. We played several awesome games, participated in an olympic running of the torch relay and even had snacks at the famous “Snack Shack.” After lunch there was a little free time and I asked a couple of the guys what they wanted to do. They said, “can we show you something.” I agreed— but I was sure that I had already seen most of what there was to see around Snowmass Chapel (after all, I live here). We walked across the bridge, down and around to a little gap in the brush near the creek. We ducked through the brush and entered a hidden little cove with a surprisingly deep pool within it. No one told me Snowmass Chapel had a swimming pool! My new friends were smiling and pointing at several well placed boards and sticks at the downstream edge of this pool. It looked like a beaver had studied civil engineering and been supplied with lumber. These guys said that they had built this dam last year during camp. I could see the pride they felt with their accomplishment, but I don’t know that they could see the pride I felt because they shared something special with me. I think it was my Dad who told me that the best things in life are those that multiply when shared. Love, joy, (the rest of the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23)) and even special spots by the creek all seem to fall into this category.
Sometimes the most valuable thing you can do is sort beads.
Yesterday afternoon my sole task for a couple hours was to write this article. Typically, I sit down and start writing and then re-writing until I have something that might be beneficial to read. Although I tried more than a few times to get started, I couldn’t. You see, there were a ton of awesome kids right outside my window at any given moment. There were crafts to help with and names to memorize but also a mountaineer article to write. About 30 minutes later, I found myself sitting on a sidewalk sorting beads with a new friend because he wanted make a pattern with the dark blues and greens. Although I had other things I needed to do, I felt like the most important task at that time was sorting beads with my buddy. Life is often busy for all of us and I regularly feel like I have thirty things I need to do at once. However, I do think it’s important to occasionally take a few minutes and go sort some beads with those around you. If you think about it, giving people the time of day when they didn’t expect it was a huge part of Jesus’ ministry. In Matthew 19:14 Jesus takes the time to hang out with little children. In doing this, I think He was teaching His disciples a very important lesson about what is really important in life. A lesson that I find myself learning and re-learning all the time at the Chapel.