With the arrival of the Advent season this weekend, we begin our new church year. Many churches internationally use the same church calendar. This helps us not only remember and reflect upon key events in Jesus’ life and that of the early church, but enables Christians all over the world to be focused upon similar biblical stories day in and day out creating a synergy among followers of Jesus.
Advent, which means coming, is the season in which we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth while anticipating His return. Other seasons include Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost etc., each with specific focal points. On a side note, you may notice that our wall hangings and the stoles clergy wear all reflect the current season. You will notice an abundance purple now in the Chapel, which is the color representing Advent.
Advent becomes more meaningful as we engage and immerse ourselves in a sense of anticipation not only for Jesus coming again, but for His daily arrival in our daily joys and sorrows. Advent also is, of course, when people all over America feel enhanced pressure and distress over all the demands of the season, both real and perceived. And as we approach Christmas, which is joyful for many, I invite us all to keep squarely in view that this can be a brutal time of year for others.
Grief, loss, physical illness and family separation exacerbate emotional upset, but so does mental illness. Mental illness is widespread in our country. Sadly, pervasive effective treatment does not yet exist in all areas and potent stigmas remain. CS Lewis once wrote, “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden. It is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than to say ‘My heart is broken.’”
As we begin this season of Advent, I invite us all to be sensitive to those around us who are struggling and to be intentional with our sensitivity. While how to do this is beyond the scope of this blog, remember that listening rather than speaking, being empathic rather than offering advice, asking questions rather than making assumptions, simply taking the time to be present without an agenda and diligently praying for the person, all go a long way as we join others in their healing journey.
A great gift we can give to others is to invite them to share and bring their pain into, and alongside of, the joy we may be feeling during the season. This is why Paul wrote, “When others are happy, be happy with them. If they are sad, share their sorrow.” (Romans 12:15 TLB) While there is much work to be done with regard to mental illness, there is much that each of us can do to help alleviate and share the burden of others. Know that I along with our entire Snowmass Chapel team are here to help.
Jesus’ loving presence in our lives is the greatest gift of all, and we can share that gift with those who need it the most. After all, the reason for the season is precisely this: Jesus came into the world to end destruction, pain and suffering. He came to mend a broken world and to heal our broken hearts. The true meaning of Christmas is that God has come near to us in our suffering. Often, His presence is felt most palpably in the presence of someone who cares.
Recently I came across an article written a few years ago by Tullian Tchividjian. The title of the article is “Theology of Glory vs. Theology of the Cross.” These terms have been around at least since the 1500’s when Martin Luther wrote about these two ways of viewing God and human life.
While the reality that these two lenses exist through which to view our existence is complex and subject to much discussion, I like how Tchividjian summarizes them.
He writes, “Theologies of glory are approaches to Christianity and to life that try in various ways to minimize painful and difficult things or move past them rather than looking them square in the face and accepting them. Theologies of glory acknowledge the cross, but view it primarily as a means to an end, an unpleasant but necessary step to personal improvement, the transformation of human potential…
A theology of glory prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, and wisdom to folly. A theology of glory operates on the assumption that what we need is some optimistic encouragement, some flattery, some positive thinking, some support to build our self-esteem.
A theology of the cross, in contrast, understands the cross to be the ultimate statement of God’s involvement in the world on this side of heaven. A theology of the cross accepts the difficult thing rather than immediately trying to change it or use it. It looks directly into pain. A theology of the cross defines life in terms of giving rather than taking, self-sacrifice rather than self-protection, dying rather than killing. Such theology shows us we win by losing, triumph through defeat, and we become rich by giving ourselves away.”
If we spend time thinking about these two perspectives, you can see them play out in the lives of people day in and day out by where people focus, how people speak, and how people approach life. It has also been said that third world countries tend to adopt more of a theology of the cross than first world countries do. In fact, it is suggested that first and third world countries need to more closely understand and appreciate such differences in perspective.
Wherever one is with regard to these two approaches to life and God, I believe it is essential to embrace them both. If we don’t, we can become desensitized to pain and distort reality to such a point we become blind to widespread massive suffering. Conversely, we can focus so much on pain we can lose hope and our ability to see God powerfully acting in the world for good in amazing ways.
The theology of the cross reminds us who saves us and that we are wholly dependent upon God, while the theology of glory causes us to remember the talents God has given each of us to use in changing what is wrong in order to continue to bring about what is right. The theologies of the cross and the glory remind me too that while the sun sets, it also rises and that when the sun rises, it also sets.
Our views about ourselves, our opinions, our politics, our way of relating to God and others are all influenced by these two perspectives. I invite us all to see the necessary wisdom in both.
This last week, 17 of us from the Chapel had the opportunity to spend some time along the border in El Paso, Texas, my hometown. El Paso is part of my soul as are the people of Mexico and their magnificent culture. My family has lived in that region since the late 1800’s. It was an eye-opening experience for many as was the intention, including the fact that it is one of the safest cities in the US, despite the deadly conditions in neighboring Ciudad Juarez.
Our time was spent walking along the border wall, meeting with the Mayor, as well as with the Director of a bi-national health care operation and an Art Director. We also served at a food bank distribution center, and visited with local people from both the US and Mexico, many of whom I have known for years. Our discussions in Spanish, broken English, and Spanglish were enlightening and honest. In addition, we spent three nights in an area of El Paso called the Segundo Barrio, one of the poorest places in the US. Despite the poverty, there is much pride among the residents of the area and I had zero concern for our safety, even though we were five blocks from the border.
The house in which we stayed is owned by a school named Lydia Patterson Institute. It was formed in the early 1900’s as a Methodist Church outreach to boys from Mexico and South El Paso. The purpose was to teach English and train the boys for future ministry. In fact, Lydia Patterson Institute is where ESL programs were created and started.
Today, Lydia Patterson is a day school for boys and girls, grades 7-12. Three-hundred of the 350 students live in Juarez, Mexico, a stone’s throw from the school campus. The students, some of whom live in cardboard shacks with pallets, rise early and walk to one of the international bridges close to the school. On the bridge they wait between one and four hours to cross on foot, legally. We met the students at the bridge early one morning and walked with them to the campus.
The vast majority of the students are on scholarship as their family members at home, if they are employed, have little to nothing. Scholarships come for the Methodist church and private donors and tuition is $500 per month.
The children were respectful, kind, loving, full of life and motivated. Ninety-nine percent of the kids graduate from 12th grade at Lydia Patterson and 98 percent go on to college in the US and Mexico. Many graduates of the school accomplish extraordinary things upon completion of college.
All of us visiting were deeply impressed by their character, strength, integrity, motivation, courage, and commitment. We reflected how much children in the US have to learn from these kids who have to go through so much just to get to class each day. Sure, kids are kids, but these students respect their teachers, don’t complain, have no sense of entitlement, and drugs and alcohol are a zero problem.
One morning we spent time in the school Chapel with about 50 students hearing their stories in English. What we heard was deeply moving and awe-inspiring. In the midst of this time, the students became aware of the fact that one woman traveling with us was celebrating her birthday. She is a parishioner at the Chapel and is from Guadalajara. Spontaneously the students stood and began to sing “Las Mananitas,” a traditional song in Spanish. When the song ended, without any prompt, all 50 children surrounded our parishioner and gave her a group hug to celebrate her life. All were moved to tears by this expression of selfless love.
Near the end of the trip, one person said to me, “It is impossible to know what we have experienced living so far from the border. You must experience it to even begin to have a glimpse about what those living on the border are like.”
I believe that regardless of where one is politically or philosophically on concerns that divide us on border issues, one thing is very clear to me. The rubber meets the road as we follow Jesus precisely in those places in which there is the most pain, dissension, division, misunderstanding, and heartache. It is in such places we encounter a mirror that shows us where each of us is in our walk with the Risen One who is love.
As I go through my mom’s possessions following her death in July, I continue to find some hidden gems. A few weeks ago I shared a letter she had written about my brothers and me. Recently, behind a photograph I was in the process of hanging up, I found another letter securely taped. The photo was of my mom and dad having dinner in New York City the day he arrived back home when WWII ended. He had been on the beaches of Normandy, in the Battle of the Bulge, and other places of bravery and horror.
When my mom wrote the following letter, she was 20 years old, he 23, and my parents had been married around 6 months. I know she would not mind me sharing excerpts from this letter as I believe her words have much to offer. Remember, when she wrote this letter, she did not know whether she would see my dad again because of the war. Here are the excerpts…
Dearest Peter. This is not a goodby note. This is an I love you note. In it, I want to tell you something I learned today. Love is as sacred as two people make it. It is beautiful only as they allow it to be beautiful. It is as God-like as they wish it. The word love is often misused and hence the world in general gets a very rough and uncouth idea of what it is.
Love is the unselfish gift of one person’s self to another. Unselfish is the important part of love. Only unselfish love can be complete and permanent. Neither you nor I yet has completely unselfish love for each other. Do not be shocked for I don’t believe that we will attain it on this earth or even until we reach the culmination – the merging of our souls with God. But in our desire and striving for it we lift ourselves above ordinary love.
Through my mother’s words of so long ago, I am reminded of what one person in our own era says. “Hate is not the opposite of love, selfishness is.” Indeed, selflessness is at the heart of what love is all about, something Jesus clearly understood and lived by.
My mom’s words are not only invaluable for loving couples to ponder and act upon, but they are words useful to all of us whether in a relationship or not. To be selfless is to follow the footsteps of Jesus and to be selfless is how to relate to those we encounter day by day.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul wrote these words to the people living in an area called Galatia long ago. His words really are quite extraordinary if you think about the culture at the time in which women had few if any rights. I have never understood patriarchal societies, inequality of any kind between the sexes, nor limiting the roles that men and women can have.
I am who I am because of the women in my life. Women have shaped who I have become in every area of my life. I have been blessed not only by an extraordinary wife and daughters and of course a son, but I have been taught and mentored by astonishing women over the years. This in part, is why I have always loved the Book of Esther. What a hero she was.
Esther’s story is about a woman, a woman of courage, guts, and doing the right thing even when the consequences of doing so could have been catastrophic. But in addition to Esther, there are so many stories of amazing courageous women throughout scripture, so astonishing in fact it is unbelievable that any church got started without having women at the top of leadership. Many of the greatest leaders, passionate faith followers, and engagers of bold action in the Bible were women.
Take the Samaritan woman at a well in John’s Gospel. She was a foreigner and part of a despised religion. And yet, she does not run from a man named Jesus. Instead she engages him, questions him, and takes the news of who he is to disparaging men. Take Deborah, an amazing leader at a critical time who was instrumental in military victories that freed the people of Israel. Take Hannah who boldly prayed to God over and over again and dedicated her son to God’s service.
Take Abigail whose husband nastily rejected a request from King David. It was Abigail who intervened in the situation with tremendous courage and insight that kept David from murderous revenge. Take Mary, the mother of Jesus, who praised God in spite of the surface odds against her. Take Ruth who put commitment and integrity ahead of her personal interests. Take Mahlah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah who went to Moses over a land distribution issue. Their actions expanded the rights of women when such actions were unheard of. And the list goes on and on and on.
I share these stories because I believe we have a long way to go in our country when it comes, not only to eliminating discrimination based on gender, including within many communities of faith, but that men in particular need to continue working on speaking less and listening more.
Not long ago I joined the Board of Response, the organization whose purpose is to support, educate and empower survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Tragically such issues are rampant in the Roaring Fork Valley. I believe we are compelled by our walk with Jesus to respond and confront these issues head on.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month Quoting from Response, “The purpose of DVAM month is mourn those who have died because of domestic violence, celebrate those who have survived and to engage communities with those who work to end domestic abuse. Domestic Violence – or Intimate Partner Violence – is a pattern of abusive behaviors including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion that are used by one intimate partner against another to gain or maintain power and control in a relationship. Batterers use a range of tactics to frighten, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, blame and often injure and sometimes kill a current or former intimate partner.”
Eighty-five percent of victims are women and 1 in 3 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. It is also important to point out that men too suffer from inexcusable rates of domestic violence.
All of us are called, I believe, as people of faith, to celebrate and uphold women in our lives as fully equal partners, and work to model listening more than speaking and then acting upon what we hear from those who have suffered in a culture that often turns the other way in disbelief.
Shortly after my mom died at age 95 in July, my wife Regina found the following letter in my mother’s desk drawer. Her letter is a brief reflection on her three sons, one of whom is gay. While there is much within the letter, at its core, it reflects not only who my mom was, but the essence of Matthew 22: 36-40. I love my brothers and I love and miss my mom.
Written some time ago by Mardee de Wetter:
“On this small earth, we equally receive the love of God. But as the world sees, we are differently disposed. Some of us have lived the simplest sort of lives, cradled from the beginning by loving parents, growing up in ways that pleased. We had the opportunity to meet and fall in love with God’s own choice for us. We spent our lives in chosen fidelity and in constant love for one another.
When children were born to us, one grew up worldly-wise and made his way, living by prescribed civic rules, honored because of his many contributions and loved by his wonderful wife and children. One was born with great sensitivity and spiritual gifts with which to become a pastor, a preacher of unique ability. He too had the great love of his wife and children. Then among the three sons one was born with a difference, though his talent and intellect told us at once he was gifted.
This special one, the creative child, found his rather lonely place among those who compose the music, play the instruments, paint the art, and pen the books. He learned to fend for himself in a world so hostile that those of us who live in pristine elegance of spirit never know their pain.
Every once in a while God looks down and selects a family, so sublimely blessed with understanding that He says, ‘Ah, here are those that will welcome this child of mine and learn of him and love him. They will always cherish him as my own child, vouchsafed to them. He, in turn, will open doors for all of them as many lives are better for his touch.’
Does it matter then that the self-righteous Pharisees offer him condemnation? Does it matter that the church which nurtured him through childhood now renounces him? Does it matter that he who served his church in its choir, as an acolyte, as a vestryman now finds rejection? It must not matter, because in the end this is God’s world and Jesus takes each one of us unto his breast and comforts us. Our family, learning through its pain, has found that all God’s people are intended to share His Rule of Love, as Jesus, our persecuted Savior, taught the Way.”
Claire Wineland had a national social media following and it is no wonder given her character, strength and wisdom. She died this last week following a 21 year long struggle with Cystic Fibrosis. I never had the blessing or opportunity to meet her, but I wish I had. Near the end of her life, Claire, as quoted on CNN, said, “Go enjoy your life. Really. I mean that seriously. Go enjoy it because there are people fighting like hell for it.”
These are powerful words worth not only reflection, but incorporation. For a number of years I had the privilege of working in oncology with both staff and patients when I was a psychologist. So many of those I worked with, in essence, said the same thing Claire Wineland did as she neared the end of her life.
Enjoying life is not a self-centered, egocentric, narcissistic stance. Rather it is an approach to day to day living that is based on a heart of gratitude. I believe if more of us woke each morning with gratitude and began our days with such intention, we would find our culture to be vastly different than what we are experiencing now.
Fighting, caustic commentary, negativity, hostility, division, hatred, and quick reactivity is not reflective of people who are living from a place of gratitude. Yes we can have passions and convictions, but who said we need to be so ugly about it all. I believe gratitude, while not a panacea, would address much that ails what has been happening in the country.
Gratitude is not a denial of what is wrong. Gratitude is not about sticking our heads in the sand. Gratitude is not about inaction. Rather gratitude enables us to face difficult and complex problems from a vastly different place in our hearts and minds. Gratitude can be a common ground from which we approach each day with an expectation for positive change, listening, empathy, and respect.
And let us all remember that our walk with Jesus is all about gratitude whether we work as a server, in business, at a school, or even if we work in Washington at whatever level. From beginning to end, scripture is filled with stories of gratitude and what happens when gratitude is lost and replaced by much of what we see happening in our nation today.
I invite you to join me in spending some time thinking about Claire’s words. “Go enjoy your life. Really. I mean that seriously. Go enjoy it because there are people fighting like hell for it.” Ponder how such a stance might lead us to gratitude and how gratitude could change everything in our own lives and those around us.
The video reviewed some recent data on something known as digital dementia. As the speaker on the video simply states, “Smartphones make us stupid.” When we depend on smartphones we tend to use our brains less.
Examples were given such as the fact we memorize fewer phone numbers, we let the phone do simple math for us, and we rely on the phones to keep obvious and regular appointments, etc. In other words, just as muscle atrophy happens when we do not exercise, when we stop using our brains as much because of smartphones, our brains may very well degrade.
All of this worries me with regard to children, teens, and adults, and raises big concerns about me because of my smartphone use.
As the video finished, however, something equally if not more troubling came to mind. Our relationship with God requires quiet, down time, making room for few distractions, and turning computers off or at least walking away from them. When we have a smartphone in hand and it inhibits us from truly focusing on the person in front of us, if we keep smartphones in hand when communicating and listening to God, does it not also diminish our focus on God?
Also, when someone reads a text or email or tweet we send along, the person receiving the message only has the opportunity to respond and react to words. Words in isolation do not represent a whole way of communicating with a person in any way shape or form. This is why e-mails often get people into trouble because words alone can be misinterpreted.
We are all much better off communicating directly with people. And if this is the case, if our brains are affected by smartphones, are we then, therefore, not more likely to be relating to God in a diminished way because smartphones train us to focus on words alone. When God communicates with us, God uses many modes of communication, not just words alone.
I believe God is calling me to make some changes in response to all of this, changes that are not easy to make because so many of us, including me, are addicted to technology and smartphones. That said, I realize if I don’t make some changes, my relationship with God will be affected in an unhealthy way. I invite all of us to examine and pray about where we are with this whole issue and to take some time with God, and to ask God what God would have addressed. If we do so, I believe we will find our journey with God to suddenly become far deeper and more transformative.
As many of you know, my mom, Margaret Belding de Wetter, died July 11 after 95 years of living, 94 of which were wonderful. The last year of her life was tough on everyone as she slowly degraded in mind and body. She spent many arduous hours lying in bed, unable to do anything as her body shut down. I have grieved much in my life, but losing a mother is different. A friend of mine said, “When I lost my mom, it felt as if the world shifted.”
I, along with many are so grateful and thankful to God for my mom’s life. We are grateful she lived the life she did and we feel the same way about my dad who died 19 years ago. My brothers and I along with our families are so blessed we had the parents we did. That said, in the midst of gratitude, celebrating her life, being thankful her rough journey at the end is over, I for one am experiencing a litany of feelings, including deep sadness in the midst of the joy I have for her life.
I’ve recognized for many years that when life is full and then ends, it is not tragic. That said, the journey in grief we each take is unique. When families lose someone, I pray that members of the family will give each other the room and space to grieve in various ways and that the journey in grief for each will be honored by all. My family certainly has been doing exactly this. For me, our faith invites each of us to allow ourselves to feel the full range of emotions God has given to us, whatever those feelings might be.
In the midst of everything, this last week I have been reminded once again about the heart and spirit of the Chapel. Thank you for being so incredibly loving, kind and supportive. Regina and I have felt so loved and cared for since we arrived 9 years ago. Thank you. We are grateful!!! Thank you for showing us what it means to walk the talk as we all follow Jesus.
Years ago I wanted to get into shape. I said to family and friends, “I am going to get in shape. Being in shape is important to me. My health matters for many reasons.” Days passed. So did weeks. Even several months. My mantra was the same, “I am going to get in shape.” I soon realized that despite my words, I was not serious about my physical health, had I been, I would have exercised. Clearly being in shape did not mean much to me as my words and actions did not match.
This is a trivial metaphor of something tragic about America. We say we care for children, we say we love our children, we say children are important, but reality does not match what we say out loud. Millions of children are hungry. Millions do not receive adequate medical care. Millions do not have access to mental health care. Millions are in deficient academic environments. Millions suffer from abuse and neglect. And what is completely shocking is that every child in America could be killed any day in any neighborhood while sitting in a classroom. Twenty-two shootings have occured this year alone in America’s schools.
A February, 2018 NY Times article states, “Since a gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults with an assault rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide.”
Frankly, I am grieving not only the horrendous loss of life, but I am not proud that our nation does not care about children. If we did, the facts would be different. Elementary school children would not be slaughtered.
Caring for children will only happen when we and those in leadership positions are willing to be apolitical and put all and every option on the table for how to be a nation that cares about kids. Are there people that care? Yes. Are there great parents? Yes. Are there great ideas and programs out there based on those ideas happening? Yes. But as a nation, we have failed and are failing every child as long as there is hunger, as long as schools are danger zones, and as long as all the issues harming our children continue.
I am shattered when I talk to kids and drills for active shooters are part of their vocabulary. I am embarrassed to be part of a nation that is so incredibly uncaring and instead so agenda and partisan driven. I am horrified by the fact that my children have to worry about being shot every day they go to a campus.
As a religious leader I believe we need a national time of repentance. A time of listening and being honest. The facts speak for themselves. I am sick to my stomach over the state of children in America for the reasons I have outlined.
I am praying diligently about all of this and asking the Holy Spirit to guide and lead me to do something, somehow about caring for kids. And frankly I feel convicted that to date, I have not been part of the solution. Please join me in prayer. Pray that God will intervene and that each of us will be willing to put everything on the table and to shed our divisive partisan views with regard to our kids.
We overcame the evils of the Axis powers as a nation in the 1940’s and we did so because all Americans had the same goal in mind. We need such a shared vision and passion if we are going to say we care for children with any sincerity.