Silly me. Boarding my recent flight from Boston to Frankfurt, I was envisioning a welcome break from the intense on-the-job training which is modern life. The flight was only a quarter full – plenty of room to stretch out and relax! An immaculately groomed German flight attendant served a delicious dinner complete with complimentary wine. I was thrilled to have my sister with me, providing good company and her fabulous dry wit. To top it off, I had brought along a great book and planned to immerse myself in it. It was one of those “What could possibly go wrong?” times…..
The book I was reading is called The Anatomy of Peace – Resolving the Heart of Conflict. The reference to “the heart” in the title speaks to both looking at the core/heart of an issue and the decisive importance of the state of our hearts – whether we are attempting to make peace from a “heart at peace or a heart at war”. The author was saying that “Peace – whether at home, work or between peoples – is invited only when an intelligent outward strategy is married to a peaceful inward one….. If we don’t get our hearts right, our strategies won’t much matter.” I was reminded of Jesus’s admonition to Peter, saying, “Put away your sword…” when Peter’s instinct was to start a fight with the men who came to arrest Jesus.
In my book, powerful dialog followed, between an Israeli who had suffered profoundly at the hands of an Arab and an Arab whose father was murdered by Israelis. These were tragic stories and reminded me of the agony of our own county, aching for a route to peace. I was reading that the more intense the conflict, the deeper into relatedness we have to go to find true understanding and peace. As Jesus said, “My peace I give you……” (John 14:27) Had he not had a heart of peace, he could not have given peace. My mind wandered off, thinking of situations – both personal and global – to which this concept might be applied.
My drift into theoretical peacemaking was interrupted by a growing confrontation in the back of the plane. I dug deeper into my book…. Perhaps it would resolve itself. Time passed. Nope, not resolving. The volume and the tone in the conflict were escalating. I could feel my body tense with fear.
The fighter was clearly drunk. Anxiety was making its way into our previously-tranquil flight. Passengers looked around; anxious eyes met. No flight attendant around. More from a place of instinctive fear than of love, I found an attendant and explained what was going on.
Before she arrived, another passenger got up and addressed the man calmly – communicating care. He came right up to the agitated man, put his arm around the man’s waist, looked him in the eye and started friendly dialog. “What’s up, buddy? Who are you traveling with? Is your wife with you? Let’s get you back to your seat.” It was a profoundly moving scene. Arm in arm, the two came down the aisle, the drunk man spilling his story to the peacemaker. I felt humbled and not a little ashamed. A palpable sense of relief and “Wow! Why didn’t I think of that?” rippled through the cabin as, with virtually all eyes on him, this peacemaker skillfully de-escalated the situation with man-to-man conversation.
Getting off the plane, I heard multiple people thanking him for handing the conflict so effectively – with a heart of peace.
To the outside observer, it made no sense. The thirteen-year intimate friendship between Queen Victoria and her Indian servant, Abdul Karim, flew in the face of all social convention. It caused controversy so deep that all traces of the relationship, in England, were burned at her death. Yet “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) In Queen Victoria’s heart, this warm and spontaneous relationship made perfect sense.
The year was 1888. Great Britain was nearing the height of its empire. Victoria ruled more than eighteen countries. She managed a staff of three thousand at her five estates. Known as “the Grandmother of Europe” her descendants ruled eleven countries. She seemingly wanted for nothing. However, history shows there was something sorely lacking – in her heart. Victoria was profoundly lonely, bored and needed someone who would relate to her as a person rather than a Queen. She had grown up without a father. She was not allowed to associate with childhood peers. She endured six assassination attempts. Her husband died unexpectedly at age 42. Millions of her subjects resented her. She was quite isolated.
Enter Abdul Karim, aged 24, given as a gift to the Queen in honor of her Golden Jubilee. He dared to look her in the eye. He responded to her as a person who needed companionship and kindness. He saw her need for joy and thrilled her with tales and teachings of India. In return, she respected his heritage and treated him as equal to any white man. Ahead of her time, she defended him against the racism of her court and country. She honored him with the highest decorations of her country. All this because he met a need – her need for a confidante.
Still today as scientists have repeatedly shown, everybody needs a confidante. People who have at least one confidante recover more quickly from illness, may enjoy lower blood pressure, outlive loners and sleep better. One of Jesus’s first actions in His ministry was to choose a team of friends to walk His journey with Him and to be trained to continue His work. After the disciples’ failure to stay awake in Gethsemane, with the weight of the world on His shoulders, He pointedly asked His disciples, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) If Jesus did not “go it alone,” why should we?
I’m writing to give you some fabulous news about the Chapel’s involvement in a wonderful new initiative! “Let’s start at the very beginning” as Julie Andrews would say……
About fifteen months ago, Robert and Charla began attending meetings with leaders of a broad base of valley organizations. (The term “broad-base” means that the membership includes businesses, churches, synagogues, non-profit organizations etc. – representing the full spectrum of our Roaring Fork Valley population.) These leaders gathered to found an organization committed to “creating a safe space to build relationships and trust to working together” on valley-wide social problems. The organization is called the Manaus Valley Project (MVP). It is the brainchild of George Stranahan, a local philanthropist, and Rabbi David Segal. Rabbi Segal has long been a very strong voice for open communication between all people – regardless of race, religion, age or any other seeming “difference”.
A week ago, a team of ten people from the Chapel attended the first Sponsors Assembly for MVP, held at The Orchard church in Carbondale. The entire program was presented in both English and Spanish – something I realized is mandatory down valley. Over two hundred people filled the hall, chatting in multiple languages. After a welcome and opening prayer, nine valley residents told personal stories representative of challenges faced by local families. The high cost of living was prominent – particularly the prohibitive cost of medical care. Immigration issues also plague families often required to spend years apart from loved ones in the path towards citizenship. The critical lack of sufficient expert psychiatric care was underscored. Transportation and domestic violence also came up. It was a heartful! One couldn’t help but be deeply touched by the variety and depth of challenges facing so many.
We then broke out into the groups with which we’d come. Participants were invited to brainstorm how they might engage their own constituents in conversation, particularly in hosting house-meetings to allow us to really hear each other’s stories. From there, we will reconvene in later summer to determine those areas where we might collectively be able to make real and lasting change. Suffice it to say, we cannot wait to begin to hear how this will unfold for us here at Snowmass Chapel and in the greater Roaring Fork Valley.
Each of the fifteen founding sponsors of the MVP has also contributed financially towards the project’s growth. The Chapel contributed $5K. All told, $55K has been invested from the founding sponsors. George Stranahan and the Manaus Fund generously offered to match all donated funds!
In closing, a well-deserved tribute to Rabbi Segal was offered by Father Bert Chilson (St. Stephen’s Church in Glenwood) and Charla. A huge round of applause followed and the meeting adjourned.
If you have an interest in being involved in breaking down cultural barriers and working together to SOLVE PROBLEMS please contact Charla at email@example.com. In the meantime, what a breath of fresh air!
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.
Wow! The Chapel’s three-part series on healing, led by Dr. Michael Attas – retired cardiologist and Episcopal minister – has truly been a game-changer. Two of the sessions are now finished, but I would urge you to consider attending the wrap-up healing and communion service (with music) on Wednesday, June 29th at 7 PM. In the meantime, I would like to share with you some of the insights I’ve taken away from his series. I hope they will be helpful to you!
Dr. Attas reminded us that in primitive cultures, the tribal shaman/healer combined the roles of herbalist, counselor, psychologist, doctor, priest, therapist and probably more! Over the centuries, these roles became separated to the point that current doctors are responsible for only the biological condition of the patient. However, if we look back at the Greek word haelan, from which our word healing comes, we find that healan means “to re-integrate”. Even the much-used Christian term salvation harks back to the Greek root word salvas which means a “journey to wholeness.” Dr. Attas’s point is that true healing (contrasted with solely physical curing) involves a multi-faceted return to health. Ironically, healing work today is headed back towards its roots of attending to the many aspects of a care receiver’s life. Even the conservative World Health Organization now defines health as involving vigor in one’s biology, one’s social community, one’s psychological makeup AND one’s spiritual life. So much for the one-dimensional definition of health!
Dr. Attas then turned to some specifically Christian issues he has encountered in his practice. The most common is “I prayed. Why didn’t my loved one get better?” Statistically, prayer changes the course of a minority of medical conditions prayed for. Biology usually runs its course. To this, Dr. Attas responded that God is not Santa Claus and the purpose of prayer is not solely biological cure. His belief is that prayer is about building relationship. Prayer changes the one who prays. Prayer builds relationship with God, which is a cornerstone of healing. Remember how often Jesus said, “…your faith has made you whole.” (Matthew 9:22)
Summing up this idea of healing vs. biological curing, Dr. Attas recounted a story of a patient of his who had lived a life with disconnected relationships, discord at work and other unresolved issues. The man was diagnosed with fourth stage lung cancer, with six months to live. He used that time to resolve, as best he could, the relational wounds in his life. Happily, much was accomplished. At his funeral, the man’s wife said to Dr. Attas, “My husband died healed.”
May we all, and our nation, be healed.
Have you seen the new exhibit at the Pitkin County Library? It’s not fiction. It’s not rare books. It’s not teen fantasy. It’s a family of great horned owls perched high in a pine tree outside the library. A hand-made sign marks the best viewing spot and even offers the librarians’ help in finding the owls!
For the past week or so my husband, Richard, and I have been going out after dinner to see what’s going on with the owl family. From time to time we see the large, handsome male owl perched high in a tree watching over his family. He comes and goes, likely bringing food to her. But ALWAYS, there is Mom, sitting on the nest for she-doesn’t-know-how-long keeping those eggs warm. Day and night she’s there. Through all our recent snow storms, she’s been there. Keeping those eggs warm.
As I hear the hail rapping against my windows, I think of the owl. Keeping those eggs warm. One can’t help but be impressed by her tenacity and patience. She doesn’t know the outcome. How many more days? How many will live? Are there predators around? Yet she sits. Keeping those eggs warm.
Jesus spoke often about patience and its decisive role in our walk with God. He says, in Luke21:19, “By your patience you will gain your souls.” (NKJV) Not by good deeds alone, not by courage, not even by studying Scripture. By patience. It occurs to me that that may be because so many other attributes are required for patience. It takes courage. It takes faith. It takes love. It takes wisdom. Perhaps that is why Jesus says we can “bear fruit with patient endurance.” (Luke 8:15 NRSV)
The fact that the owl mother can’t know the outcome of her vigil brings to mind another aspect of our walk with God. We must wait for God’s timing in all things and “let patience have her perfect work.” (James 1:4 KJV) Isaiah says “Those that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength…. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31 NRSV) Today, it is almost counter-cultural to wait. But that is what God requires of us. Waiting for His perfect work.
So, do stop by the library and visit with the mother owl. She’ll be there. Keeping those eggs warm.