As you all know, the last two years working at the Chapel have given me many opportunities to spend time with kids. Indeed, there have been more than a few weeks where I feel like all I did was spend time with kiddos. This week at the Chapel has been no different. Currently, we are halfway through Vacation Bible School (VBS) and loving every minute of it. VBS is always a highlight of the year for many, but recently I saw something pretty special that I want to share with you. Yesterday we were talking about the great wisdom of Solomon (check out 1 Kings 3 if you want to brush up on the story). We went on to tell them how King Solomon, presumably the wisest man ever, wrote down much of what he learned in the Bible. It was at this point that I saw something in a kid that challenged me personally. As soon as this little guy realized that there was this great source of wisdom to be found within the Bible he started asking me questions. “Where can I find it? How do I know what it all means? What do all these little numbers mean? What is the difference between Ecclesiastes and Proverbs?” And throughout all of these questions (some of which I could answer and some of which I may need to do some further learning myself) I found that I was being challenged by the way this young person was eager to apply the wisdom found in the Bible in his life. Why aren’t I always hungry to open the Bible and make sense of how its teaching applies and changes my life? You know, I think this is one of my favorite things about working with children. Every time I start to think that we at the Chapel are teaching them really well something happens that makes me realize that I am as much the student as they are. In fact, I think God uses younger people and older people to teach each other.
This has been such a valuable experience for me I’ve decided to share it with you. The recipe is simple, combine one part Biblical wisdom with one part interaction with children. So here is your homework: First, find a child in your life to spend time with. Read a book. Go on a walk. Try to find sleeping ants. Anything you like. Secondly, read the following Proverbs one per day until Sunday. When you read them, try to find an example or area within your life that could be changed in some way due to the wisdom found within the Proverb. After all, like my little friend challenged me to consider, we should be thankful and eager that we have a book that gives us all some pretty awesome hints on how to live well in this life.
Thursday Proverb: Proverbs 3:5 —Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding
Friday Proverb: Proverbs 4:23 — Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Saturday Proverb: Proverbs 27:17 — As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
Sunday Proverb: Proverbs 15:1 — A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Jesus instructed people to become like little children and that’s exactly what’s happening this week at Snowmass Chapel. I don’t know who’s having more fun at Camp SMashBox, the kids or the grown-ups. One thing that always catches my eye is the focus on kid-friendly instructions. If you stop by the Chapel grounds you might see signs around campus like this:
We are in full swing with 85 kids making joyful noises outside my window and the very best kind of kid chaos. But fun should not be confused with foolish. In order to keep everyone safe and happy there is definitely some structure and a few ground rules written in language all kids can understand. “Drink Water. Wear Sunscreen. Eat Yo’ Food.” There is also a positive slant to everything – as in, provide information and tell them what to do not what to don’t: “Slippery when wet. Please dry off. Please walk.” Short, sweet, and as easy to follow as a yellow brick road.
Wouldn’t it be nice if all directions in life offered such simple advice in plain language? There’s a Colorado Department of Transportation sign that I’ve spotted on Highway 82 which is particularly convoluted, and I have to think not helpful, for anyone visiting our fair state: “MOVE OVER LAW ENFORCEMENT AREA.” It took me two miles just to figure out what that sign was trying to tell me the first time I drove by it. (If you can’t figure it out after re-reading this a few times, click here. It saves lives and it’ll save you a ticket.)
The Bible is also often difficult to understand with its list of obscure ancient laws, tricksters, prophetic dreams, and head-scratching parables. To keep me from sweating the small stuff I keep a scrap piece of paper in my Bible with the following quote: “Much of the Bible is confusing, but the most important parts are not.” Can I get an Amen? Jesus whittled it all the important parts down to this one: Love. When we can’t figure out what something means, or how we are supposed to behave, or why Jesus did what he did — just assume love is involved. Somehow, some way, Jesus is directing you to love regardless of Old Testament battles and randomly circumcised cities.
The Message version of the Bible, which puts scripture into easy to understand language, reinterprets Romans 13:8 this way: Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other…The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others.
Now that is about as plain as it gets! Even a child would understand those simple ground rules, and I think, after all, that’s what God wants. For us to become like children so that we enjoy the silliness of our surroundings, laugh easily, and love well.
We did it! We graduated from seminary, you and I. And don’t you dare say you didn’t do anything because that is FALSE. As I trudged my way through 1,800 hours of homework, more than 100 textbooks, and some 165 miscellaneous readings these past three years, of one thing I am certain: YOU WERE WITH ME. You offered your support, prayers, guest rooms. You asked hard questions that I promised to get back to you on, and offered insights of your own for me to ponder. You gave me tips on better preaching and your two-cents on whether I should wear a robe and a collar in the pulpit (sorry to disappoint). You built me up when I was tired and you cut me slack when my plate was so full things were tumbling from the edges. You were the very presence of Christ’s love and grace these past three years.
At the worship service the day before commencement, each graduate was asked to bring an item that represented our journey and to place it on the altar. I put you there. Really! Three years ago, as I departed Snowmass for my first week of seminary classes and retreat time with my cohort at Iliff, Snowmass Chapel sent me off with a blessing and basketful of the sweetest cards, letters and emails. I took them with me to my room in Denver, read each one (which took some time and a few tears), and decorated my room with them for the week. It was a visible reminder to me that first week that I was there by the grace of God and the good people of Snowmass Chapel. It was only fitting that you make the journey with me one last time. I hope you liked the view from up front!
Until three years ago I was getting pretty good at saying no to God when I felt that holy nudge. I wrote about my reluctance (and what finally got my attention!) here. I was so intent on where I thought I was headed that didn’t realize how AWESOME it is to be led one surprising step at a time. That’s what I reflected on today as I walked across the stage to accept my degree. The Spirit of God has whet my appetite and I can’t wait to see what’s in store next. We walk by faith, not by sight, scripture says. Yet so often we still want to be in control. One thing is for certain — if God had left it all up to me, I’d still be pushing and pulling my way and I most certainly would NOT have suggested I go to seminary! So graduation today is, for me, this beautiful example of opening up to God’s plan whatever it might be, and then stepping out in some cute high heels and saying, “Ok, God. Where to now?!”
I recently came across a very interesting article entitled, “9 things that make you unlikable.” The title caught my attention and it turned out to be one of those websites where you have to click through several pages to get through each of the “9 things.” But I thought the content was actually worth the effort. If you have the time, check out the article and see if you’ve fallen into any of these 9 pitfalls.
As I read through the list, I came to the realization that Christians really should be the most likable people in the world, because the Bible addresses pretty much all of the practices that could potentially make you unlikable. I created a quiz that pairs the 9 traits with Bible verses that are (hopefully) on topic. Take the quiz and see how many you can guess! Feel free to share your scores and comments after you finish.
In a world where love is generally contingent upon our likability profile, it’s pretty amazing to know that God loves us no matter how unlikable we are!
Best wishes for your journey!
Music & IT Director
Manchester, England. The severe famine in South Sudan. Syria. Drug cartels. Gang violence and homelessness. Roughly 10 percent of the population in Pitkin County, Colorado live below the poverty line. Times are beyond tough and as followers of Jesus we have much to do and many actions to take along with surrounding all sources of pain and despair with continual robust prayer.
Yet in the midst of all of this, there are the boundless loving actions people engage in everyday to help out friends, family members, and complete strangers. Indeed life is a complete mixed bag, always has been and will be.
I believe it is essential in the midst of responding to the tough realities that surround us, it is important to keep a sense of humor and not take ourselves too seriously. While humor can be defensive and shield us from pain, it also can be a helpful habit that is not defensive, but rather enables us to continue to respond to the needs around us.
Perhaps for this reason, recently, I have begun to enjoy silly solar powered objects. Like a solar powered Sumo wrestler or a solar powered Einstein. Such objects distract me, lighten my spirit, and foster creative thinking about how to respond to the crises that surround us.
Each of us is unique and therefore what we find funny and humorous will vary between us. That said, I encourage each of us to intentionally seek out and engage humor as a habit of faith. A habit that can energize us to do more each day for those who are hurting. As Mark Twain once said, “The human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”
These last few days I have been at a preaching conference listening to some of the best preachers in the country. It has been a blessing to be among so many deeply committed and loving Christian colleagues. I must say that I felt a bit sorry for an outstanding Catholic preacher as he followed a powerful charismatic Pentecostal African-American preacher who was on fire.
Yesterday as I sat alone having a quick breakfast, I could not help but overhear the many conversations going on around me. What struck me was how different each conversation was, not only in terms of content, but the feelings expressed. While my intent was not to eavesdrop and although I spent not more than a second or two hearing each one, I realized that there are always conversations going on all around us.
Conversations can be heard in the news, family living rooms, on sidewalks, in reception lines, magazine articles, churches, during sermons, and in echoes from our past, just to name a few places. Which conversations we choose to listen to impacts us dramatically and affects how we feel, what we think, how we act, the decisions we make, and how we plan for the day and the future.
While this may all be obvious, what is perhaps subtle is that if we only attend to conversations that are in alignment with what we think, believe, and feel, our understanding of ourselves, others and even God are likely to become overly limited as time passes.
I believe it is vital for each of us as we follow Jesus, to be willing to listen to conversations that make us uncomfortable, cause us to ask questions, and lead us to the place in which we might just be willing to begin to see things through the eyes of another person whose life experience is dramatically different. When we do so, we are far more likely to respond to others as Jesus would, with empathy, understanding, compassion, and care. And when that happens, each of us is far more likely to spend more time listening than speaking.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, what a breath of fresh air!
A few days ago, as I was driving, I encountered a familiar scene. At a particular intersection early in the morning stood a large group of men, largely from south of the border. They, like so many at other intersections across America, were standing hoping to be picked up for a day of work. A few hours passed and I drove past the intersection again to head home. This time, however, there were only four men standing at the same place where three hours earlier stood several dozen. Presumably, they were hoping to get at least a few hours of work in for the day.
As I drove by, I immediately thought of the parable of the day laborers in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 20. Here Jesus tells a story about a business owner who went out one morning to hire laborers for the day. The man did so early one morning. However, the business owner continued to hire men to work throughout the day who were standing in the marketplace.
At the end of the day, the men who were hired at 5 in the afternoon were paid first. The business owner paid the men a full day’s wage. Immediately the men who started working early in the morning got excited, believing that if the fellows who only worked an hour or so got paid so well, they would be paid much more than a day’s wage. The business owner, however, much to the frustration of many, paid every worker the exact same amount regardless of the time worked.
This story, which on the surface does not appear to be fair, is used by Jesus to illustrate what the Kingdom of God looks like. The Kingdom of God is something Jesus taught as being present here and now, although not fully realized. Said another way, Jesus teaches us that if God had God’s way, things would look quite differently than they do now.
As human beings, we see other people through the lens of differences, what is fair, categories, stereotypes, socio-economics, gender, and what is deserved, etc. Like the day laborers, however, God sees each human being through one lens, the lens of love and forgiveness. We are all the same in God’s eyes and Jesus reminds us in this parable that this is the way we too need to look at people.
For those of us who realize our own imperfections, the message of God’s grace is great news indeed. We need not earn God’s love, rather God invites us to live each day in response to the fact that God’s standard has nothing to do with what is fair, but what is loving. We are all loved, period. And Jesus reminds us to keep this front and center when we encounter people on any intersection, not just those on street corners.
Although it’s snowing as I write this, the last couple weeks have been absolutely beautiful spring weather here in Snowmass Village. The sun has been so consistent and strong that a couple of the trails have gone from being muddy and half snow covered to dry as a bone in a matter of days. Incredible. I think one of the best things about living in an area that has four distinct seasons is that there is always something to look forward to coming around the corner. What am I looking forward to in the upcoming season? Mountain Biking. Everytime someone mentions summer I think about mountain biking. When I think about graduating I think about mountain biking. When I think about things I can do with kids that I can’t now I think about mountain biking. I think I may have some sort of fever…
Anyways, last week I heard that the South Rim trail was not only open for use but was also dry all the way up to the ying-yang. Could this be true? Could there be dry and open mountain biking trails in April? As soon as I heard I knew I would need to conduct a proper investigation myself. So the next day I set off on my dusty bike for the trails.
Within minutes I found myself thinking, “this sure is harder than I remember it to be…” Admittedly, I haven’t had nearly as much cardio in my life during the winter as I did last summer. So it would make sense that this ride would be more challenging now than it had been at the end of the summer— but nothing could have prepared me for how biking in early spring feels in comparison to late summer. You see by the end of last season I had started to not only enjoy the riding itself but also the passing people that came along with it. Even though I could see riders ahead of me on the trail I simply could not catch them. And to wound my pride even further there was this runner who seemed to be catching up behind me as I rode!
So why am I telling you this? Other than the fact that it is funny I have found that our motivations affect our outcomes. The reasons why you do something mean as much as what you are or aren’t doing. You see, most of last summer I went riding because I love it. However, towards the end of last summer I began to get a little faster and started to enjoy passing other people. As my pride grew I think I started riding so that I could pass people. In effect, I had changed from doing something because I loved it to doing something because I was good at it. It’s a small change that creates huge waves in why we do what we do and how much joy we gain from it. Additionally, I had gone from simply enjoying something to needing to compare myself to others to enjoy something.
I think this same bait and switch happens in our spiritual lives all the time. Think about prayer. I couldn’t count how many times I’ve begun to pray more regularly because I’ve seen something in my life that made me realize how much better everything is with Jesus as a close friend. Here, I’m praying simply because I love Jesus and want to know Him better. But somehow this good motivation can be turned into something prideful. Even Jesus warned us against praying for the wrong reasons in Matthew 6 (check it out).
So how do we keep from allowing our pride to creep into our daily lives and change the reasons we are doing what we’re doing? First, I believe we have to let Jesus show us the way. Even in the Matthew 6 passage where Jesus calls out the people praying for the wrong reasons, He goes on to show them how to pray Himself (this is where we get the prayer that we say all the time in church– it starts, “Our Father”). Secondly, we need to help each other stop comparing ourselves to everyone else. Taking all these pressures off ourselves to gives us the ability to let God lead… and He leads to some pretty cool places.
I’ve had a hard time sitting down to write this week. I feel distracted, jittery, time-crunched and….sad. One friend said she knew it was bad when I texted her that I didn’t feel like talking but I was fine, just sad. Apparently I had never used the “s” word with her. Frankly, I knew it was bad when my husband showed up after work last week with flowers. Now, my husband is the BEST. He is my encourager, cheerleader and hands down the best hugger around. But the number of times he has brought me flowers? I could count them on one hand and still have some fingers leftover. It’s just not his jam. (For the record, Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs are his jam.)
I had some big losses last week — three in the span of seven days to be exact. Death is brutal, isn’t it? I know I am not alone in my grief, and I also know many of you have endured pain I can only imagine. My heart breaks for you.
But in the midst of it all this past week, I saw the most beautiful signs of God at work; what one seminary friend calls “God-sightings.” God-sightings are everywhere. Some of us see God in the spring green of the Aspen buds just beginning to poke out of their winter snooze. Some see God in the kindness of friends. Some in the way the dawn light dresses the very tips of the mountain peaks. Some in a baby who finally sleeps through the night (can I get an Amen?). For me, the God-sightings last week were specific and speedy answers to prayer.
If you’re anything like me (and I’m betting I’m not alone) you might find yourself saying to someone who is hurting, “I’ll pray for you.” I am always sincere in the moment and I would love to say I always remember but occasionally I find myself late into the night or the next day offering up an embarrassing, “God, you know there are people I’m supposed to be praying for. I’ve forgotten who but you never do. Please be with whoever it is that needs you.” I’m sure God has my back.
Last week I couldn’t afford to be so casual. So I found myself paying close attention to prayer because I was acutely aware of the pain in people’s lives. Three times I said, “I’ll pray for you,” but this time I dropped everything to do so. And every single time God proved to be right on the other side of the door. Each time I dropped everything to pray — and I mean fervent and specific prayer — the answer was so obvious, so glorious and so helpful to the people involved, I simply couldn’t pass it off as anything but God’s loving presence in our lives. My new mantra is “Stop, drop and pray.”
At some point this dark week someone told me they envied my faith. I remarked that it comes with practice. The more we seek, the more we see, the more our faith grows. God-sightings are there for us if only we acknowledge them as they gift they are. Not coincidence, not luck, not right-place-right-time. But the grace of God at work in our lives, walking alongside us, and dropping everything to hear our inmost pleas.
It was a difficult week, friends. But one thing I know for certain is that God was present and hard at work.