I pledge my love.
I pledge allegiance.
I pledge an oath to tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
But why? Why pledge?
A pledge is, of course, a commitment, a promise, a serious undertaking. Nobel prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling wrote that we pledge in order to make it more difficult for our future selves to give up on our goals. It’s a psychological strategy for sticking to it.
So, we are in the season of stewardship at Snowmass Chapel and our pledge campaign is underway. Stewardship is the congregation’s way of asking those who participate in the life of the Chapel – whether in small ways or large — to participate as they are able in its financial life as well. When we do, we make possible SO MUCH. Things like:
You can click on any of the items above to read about the impact being made. In addition, we have increased our attendance at the Chapel through online worship and have connected with people all over the globe who might otherwise not have a community. This gives us the unique opportunity to expand our reach in sharing the good news and God’s love. It has been an incredibly challenging time, but an incredibly rich and inspired one.
One thing is for sure: in the midst of the pandemic, the people of Snowmass Chapel have SHOWN UP. I could not be more proud of the way this community has just wrapped its arms around each other, and has reached out to embrace anyone in need.
So…why pledge? Pledge because you care enough to help the Chapel continue this work. You are committed already – it shows! By participating in the life of the Chapel you are part of God’s amazing work in the world, and your 2020-21 pledge ensures that work will continue in the year ahead. We won’t give up on our goals, and we hope you won’t either.
You are what makes Snowmass Chapel the loving, welcoming, high-impact church it is. With your stewardship, and God’s continued guidance and wisdom at the helm, we are making a real difference in the lives of the most vulnerable, and in bringing the good news to a hurting world.
Please consider making a pledge to make all we do possible – if you have never done so, we’d be happy to talk with you about it more; simply give our office a call. You can find more information here, and we are asking that all pledges please be mailed in or completed online by Sept. 30th so that we can plan for our 2021 budget.
And above all, we ask for your prayers for the continued work of Snowmass Chapel, and for your safety and well-being in this challenging time. We love you!
The variety of wildlife that shows up on our Chapel grounds is delightful, entertaining, and educating. Throughout the year, you are likely to encounter bears, deer, mice, dogs, cats, foxes, coyotes, an assortment of birds, and of course a plethora of squirrels. When we celebrate the blessing of the animals, other creatures like horses, snakes, crabs, snails, and hedgehogs also tend to show up.
The animals that inhabit this part of the Rocky Mountains and Snowmass Village are a welcome distraction that remind me there is always another world and varying perspectives of things happening at any given moment.
Over the last several weeks, I’ve been enthralled by a small squirrel. He or she is a typical looking squirrel. Grayish in color with a big bushy tail. What anyone coming to the Chapel grounds has noticed is that there is an increasingly large pile of pine cones near the Chapel entry doors. Day by day the number of pine cones grows by the dozens. If you sit or stand around long enough, you quickly will discover the identity of the culprit, a squirrel.
For a few moments, the squirrel scurries away. Several minutes later he or she returns, dropping a pine cone adding to the pile. This continues hours on end. The commitment to this task is impressive. I assume he or she is preparing for a long lasting food supply and the coming winter.
As we move into the fall season along with the daily and week to week uncertainty facing us all, the actions of our squirrel friend have prompted me to ponder and to ask some questions of myself.
Questions such as, “Where am I investing most of my energy? Am I collecting thoughts, feelings and ideas worth holding onto or letting go? Is the effort I am putting forth useful for something that truly matters or that will make a difference down the road?
We all make preparations for a variety of things. What am I preparing for? What groundwork am I laying out? When life is bumpy and challenging like a cold winter season, will I have the right foundations in place for resilience to occur? (similar to Jesus’ story of building a house on sand or rock, i.e., Matthew 7:24-27). Am I intentional and organized enough in my daily life? Am I aware of why I do what I do?”
As I think about our campus squirrel, I once again realize how much we can learn by simply stopping, listening, looking, and pondering nature, God’s creation, and all it has to teach us. God’s love, guidance, and wisdom often comes to us through God’s tangible created world, a world very much worth paying attention to.
I invite us all as we move into the month of September to spend time outside, in a spirit of quiet and prayer, and see what our ever present God might have to say to us at this time in our lives. The rhythms of God’s created order is incredibly instructive to each of us, especially when so much seems out of sorts. Visible expressions of Jesus’ words and God’s love and grace surround us. Look and see.
PS – I wonder if our Chapel squirrel is going nuts for Jesus? Sorry, I could not resist.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Santa Rosa area of California for a variety of reasons. My wife Regina’s folks live in the city. The surrounding area is once again suffering from devastating wildfires. And Santa Rosa was the home of Regina’s great uncle Wallace who recently died at age 99. For years, Wallace lived directly across the street from the Charles Schulz Museum. Charles lived in the area and the museum is dedicated to all things Charlie Brown.
Many people over the years have written about the philosophy, theology, and life principles to be garnered from the comic strip. I must say, I remain a big fan of a wide variety of stories, from Charlie Brown repeatedly failing at kicking a football because Lucy lifts it up at the last minute, to Linus and his dependence upon a blanket, to the Great Pumpkin Halloween story, to name just a few.
My life has been enriched by the characters of Pig Pen and his filth, Snoopy, Woodstock, Sally, Schroeder, and Peppermint Patty along with others. Indeed, there is a little of each one of us to be found in each one of them.
On one of my visits to the museum, I encountered an impactful collection. Charles used to sketch out ideas for his comic strip on lined yellow sheets of paper. When an idea was more formalized or he did not particularly like the way a concept was going, he crumpled up the yellow sheets and tossed them into the trash.
He did not know that his secretary at the time, retrieved the crumpled sheets, took them home, and then ironed and saved them. These ironed sketches are now on display and they remind me of something helpful to keep in mind these days. But before that, one more snippet.
In one Peanut’s strip, Snoopy is lying on top of his dog house. Snoopy has the following thoughts as he gazes skyward. “My life has no meaning. Everything seems empty. I search the skies but can’t find meaning. Sigh.” It is at this point in the strip that Charlie Brown arrives with a bowl of dog food. Snoopy’s next thought, “Ah. Meaning.”
A thrown away piece of paper collected by Charles’ secretary. A bowl full of dog food brought by a beloved friend. Perhaps the point is that sometimes great meaning is found in the small things in life we take for granted or tend not to notice.
Searching for meaning, the purpose of life, why we are here at this time in these circumstances are all essential questions with which to struggle. God has much to say to us as we engage the depth of such issues. That said, I believe there are times throughout each day that joy, delight, gratitude, and even simple fun, are to be found in the small things we dismiss or disregard, like a lined sheet of paper, or a source of nourishment, physical or relational, that perhaps we need to cherish a bit more.
This week, Charla talked about the way that church is changing, and how it has existed in the past. The very early Church didn’t have churches as we know them today. In 313 AD, the Emperor Constantine legalized the practice of Christianity by granting religious liberty in the Roman Empire. But for three centuries before that, Christians were persecuted by the state, and it was not safe for them to meet in large groups. Instead, early Christians gathered in homes, at established “house churches.” In 2020, it is again unsafe for us to meet in large groups (although for very different reasons!), and we have had to reassess what church means to us once more. While church means something new to all of us at this moment, it will mean something particularly new to me later this month. Earlier this year, I was surprised to feel God calling me to pursue a Masters of Divinity at Yale University. My final Sunday at the Chapel will be August 16th. I cannot begin to describe how much I have loved my time on the SMC team, and as a member of this church family. While I am excited for the future, I am also heartbroken to leave the church and youth I love so much. I will miss you all dearly.
I believe strongly in finding God wherever we are: church happens wherever we decide it does. As Charla said on Sunday, “the ground that we are standing on is sacred ground, simply when we experience the presence of the divine.” We all know people who seem to find it easy to experience the presence of the divine, but what about the rest of us? I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t call much of my day-to-day life “divine” at all. Some of you might have watched my video “Eating with a Eucharistic Mindset” back in March, in which I discussed turning meals into a Eucharist of sorts at home. For me, my experience of the divine often has to be intentional. As my parting gift to SMC, I have created Table Talk, which is designed to intentionally create divine spaces wherever we are.
The purpose of Table Talk is to prayerfully engage with scripture at home. It is not a replacement for church, but is a way to integrate church into further parts of your life. Each Table Talk includes scripture from that week’s lectionary, along with suggested questions to discuss and prayers to share with one another. The beauty of Table Talk is that you can do it in whatever context works for you: at the dinner table, during a break in a hike, on mountaintops, on beaches, in your bedroom when you can’t sleep at night. The questions are aimed towards people of all ages – it is designed to be a conversation you can have with children, grandparents, spouses, friends, or alone with a journal. Just as there is no one correct way to “do church,” there is no one correct way to engage with Table Talk. It is my hope that you will each find a way to make Table Talk your own: to intentionally invite the presence of the divine into ordinary moments in your day-to-day lives, with the knowledge that others (including me!) are doing it alongside you.
I am praying that it will be safe for us to meet in large groups again soon, but in the meantime, I am finding church where I am. I taste communion in my morning cup of tea as I stand outside with my dog. I feel the Holy Spirit as I blast music and dance around my apartment late at night. I am surrounded by fellowship when I zoom with my new cohort at Yale Divinity School. Now, I am inviting you to connect with a global family of Christians learning to “do church” in the midst of a crisis. I am inviting you to read the scripture that millions have read in their own homes for thousands of years, and feel connected to all who have come before us. I am inviting you to learn alongside your children, your roommates, or even your journal, and to encounter God in new, ordinary ways. Come to this table. Let’s talk.
My friend articulated the Kingdom of Heaven to me yesterday in one of the most meaningful ways I have ever heard.
We were on a walk discussing everything from school closures, to our moms’ health, to the protests in Portland, to a recipe for tinto de verano, when the topic of the Kingdom of Heaven came up. Go figure.
As the midday sun warmed to scorching and we zig-zagged the trail in search of any shade that might leak in from the occasional tree, my friend reflected on last week’s sermon topic from Matthew 13, Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. She offered this gem:
The kingdom of heaven is like the very last breath of this life, when you know you have given everything you have to living, and perhaps even fought long and hard to stay here, and even your rattled breathing is part of the battle and the will to BE; and then an awareness floods your senses and you understand at a soul level that you have no control anymore over anything, and you simply surrender. And in that place of surrender you take one final breath, which is pure peace.
I let the magnitude of her words settle, and then broke into a grin and said, “That’ll preach, sister.”
Surrender followed by Peace may, in fact, be the ultimate definition of the Kingdom of God. Think back to a time when you had no choice but to admit to yourself that you were not in control of a situation, large or small, and in acknowledging that reality you allowed yourself to stop fighting – even just for a few moments – the outcome. I suspect the act of surrendering control that you never had anyway was immediately accompanied by a feeling of peace (however fleeting, because God knows we love to control all the things). That moment – that breath – is the beautiful thing about the God’s kingdom: it’s accessible to us over and over again, whenever we need it.
Peace I give you, my peace I leave with you, Jesus said (John 14:27).
Consider this: When are you most at peace? Most loving? Most accepting of yourself and others? Have you ever felt that something was NOT within your control… and you were ok with it?
In this moment, right now, take a deep breath. And just for this moment – this nanosecond if it’s all you can muster – let go completely of pain, negativity, feelings of heartbreak, loss, loneliness or frustration at the world’s messed-up-ness. And allow yourself to be immersed in one thing only: the beautiful breath of peace.
About a month in to the pandemic that has plunged us all into the unknown, someone said to me, “If we aren’t all using this quarantine as a time of deep spiritual reflection and personal contemplation, we’re missing out on a great opportunity.” I guess I took those words to heart.
Through prayer, forced silence and downtime, changing family schedules and working from home, an idea emerged that I couldn’t stop thinking about. An idea that this pandemic time represents a massive opportunity for growth and change in the way we do everything, including church. Like a dance, we are creating new moves that we’ve never done before, and I wanted to actively learn the rhythm of this new dance (and, yes, that came to me on one of the many quarantined nights dancing in the kitchen!).
The sense of change, of course, was most palpable on Sunday mornings as I looked beyond the sea of empty pews to the camera lens where you invited our worship team into your living rooms. Online worship, zoom gatherings, prayer chains and phone calls have replaced our traditional ways of gathering and no one knows how long this will last. More unknown is how we will meet the needs of children when we can’t gather in Sunday School, what student ministries might look like or small group connections, and how the church will care for the elderly and the sick when our very presence poses a risk to them. For years the Chapel, and churches like ours, have said that church is not about the building but about being the presence of Christ in the world, wherever we are – yet how long can empty buildings stand? And, of course, layered on top of all of that are the issues that confront Christians and all people around the globe: how do we make lasting changes to our health care systems, our homelessness and poverty issues, racism, economic stability that can withstand massive upheaval?
With all of these questions swirling about us, and taking to heart the seriousness of the call to both contemplation AND action, I was given the opportunity to return to the classroom (again!). I am excited to let you all know that I was accepted to Duke University Divinity School, and beginning in August I will be pursuing a doctorate degree in ministry, focusing on the future of the church. I’m not leaving Snowmass Chapel – in fact, thanks to COVID I will be able to complete much of this year’s coursework online right here at home while still serving fulltime at the Chapel – but I will be spending the next two years with a cohort of other ministers diving into The Big Question: what next?
What is next for our beloved church? What does worship look like in the future? How do we care for one another well in the years to come? How do we define sacred? How do we define community? What kind of ministries are needed now? How do we chart a plan for social, spiritual and cultural reconciliation?
As I write these words, I believe they are questions we all should dare to ask. You are probably already discussing them around your dinner table, or as you hike with friends, or gather on your deck for a socially distanced visit. My prayer is that we will all continue to be in conversation together for the next two years and beyond, as we faithfully look for the answers. We are in a vulnerable time of great change in the world. But as Brené Brown wrote in her book Daring Greatly, vulnerability is simply “having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” We have no idea where all of this is headed. But it sure is an exciting time to show up and be seen!
I have no fear of this unknown time. Jesus promises to be with us “even to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20), so I know we are not alone as we navigate the dark new waters. And remember, Jesus knows a thing or two about walking on water anyway, so let’s trust together that he is right with us, urging us to keep our eyes fixed on him as we make our way.
I am beyond grateful for the opportunity ahead and I hope you will join me along the way as you and I get to travel the hallowed halls of academia together once more.
With gratitude, blessings and hope for a beautiful tomorrow,
I have long been intrigued by the lessons nature teaches us. When I am intentional and aware, over and over something around me in creation has something new to say or to remind me of a truth I need to hear once again.
A few weeks ago the sky in Snowmass was filled with smoke from distant fires elsewhere in Colorado. Our normal blue skies were occluded by the smoke for several days. If a visitor to the area had been here for just that 48 hour period, that visitor may very well have left with a mistaken assumption of what our skies generally look like.
Similarly, 49 years ago this month, my family moved to Los Angeles. In Southern California, fog and low clouds are the norm on many June days. When the fog and clouds clear, the area is often left with hazy yellowish skies with little distant visibility. The week we moved, sure enough, the mornings were gloomy with fog and the afternoons choking with smog.
But then it happened. One morning there was no fog. Instead winds began to blow and the air cleared. From our backyard, the San Gabriel mountains jumped out at me and I was astounded by their beauty and size. Had I only seen the normal June gloom, I never would have known such mountains even existed.
These two snippets are a great reminder of the importance of both perspective and sample size. As the saying goes, not only can you not judge a book by its cover, you also cannot judge a book by one page of content.
We are human beings. The vast majority of people are doing the best they can during this tough time. We all deserve some slack. That said, I have caught myself and seen others exercising snap judgments or opinions in response to seeing or hearing something.
It was just this week, when this happened, I was reminded of what nature has taught me over and over again. That is, there is often far more happening than we can see in the immediate moment and one moment in time is, more often than not, insufficient to reach informed accurate conclusions.
When you read stories in the four Gospels, there are numerous occasions when a person or group of people dismiss the importance of perspective and sample size. Said another way, in the Gospels and in our lives now, sometimes we forget that there is often a backstory, another truth, or something not obvious in a given moment that have a lot to say about what we are observing in a situation or in another person’s actions.
Just as particulates impede seeing a clear sky, when we forget the importance of perspective, sample size, and backstories, such things can act as particulates in our ability to see the whole story, understand context, or in fact empathize in what we are observing in the actions and words of another.
Jesus was a master at seeing the whole story of a person’s life. Because he did so, he was present in the lives of others precisely in the ways they needed the most. It is my prayer for all of us, that we will keep the image of particulates in mind when we are with or around another human being. When we do so, we too may be able to be just what they need at the moment as well.
I was quite excited the other day when our 20 year old daughter connected her i-phone to my car stereo and played song after song from bands I grew up with, including the Eagles. The group certainly was filled to the brim with extraordinary talent, including Don Henley. On one of his solo albums, he worked with Mike Campbell and JD Souther and together they wrote the song, “The Heart of the Matter.”
It is a beautiful song about love lost, the pain a relationship can bring, and how moving on can be a challenge. Here are just part of the lyrics. “I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter. But my will gets weak and my thoughts seem to scatter. But I think it is about forgiveness.”
While forgiveness certainly is central to our walk with Jesus, the line, “I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter,” caused me to pause and in fact think about Jesus and his life. Upon reflection, it seems that Jesus spent much of his time compelling people to go deep, down deep inside, in order to explore motives for taking or not taking certain actions. Motives for taking a position or not. Motives for a decision.
Just some of the questions Jesus asked those around him include, “Why would you not want to heal a person just because it is the Sabbath Day? Why would you want to stone the woman when you yourself fall short every day? Why are you so concerned about the words of what a law says more than the intent of the law? Why are you afraid? Why do you think some people are more important to God than others?”
In addition to these and hundreds of other questions Jesus asked his ultimate question. In essence he asked people, “What is the heart of the matter? In other words, what really is this all about? What is driving you? Where is your heart in all of this?”
As I think about my own actions, inactions, words spoken and words withheld during this time of vast upheaval in our country and world, I feel compelled to ask myself, “What is the heart of this or that matter for me? Where is my heart?”
In asking such questions, I realized that some of what I have done or not done, said or not said is based upon my heart being in the right place. A heart filled with love. That said, I have also recognized that some of my actions and words have come from a place not of love. A place where there is fear and a need for control or power. A place where I like being right. A place where what I like and am used to is at the forefront. A place in which I am in charge.
But Jesus was crystal clear. The heart of the matter needs to be love. Love of God. Love of others. Love of ourselves. Love drives forgiveness, selflessness, humility, flexibility, empathy, compassion, the ability to listen to vastly different perspectives, intimacy with God, and an openness to the movement of God within our lives.
So I invite you to join me in spending some time pondering our actions and words and feelings as of late. Where are they coming from? What is the heart of the matter? How much does love have to do with it? I am confident that when we take the time to reflect in such a way, we will find burdens lifting, replaced by God’s peace that passes all understanding, for God is love.
As our world continues to change dramatically and as the implications of the pandemic evolve, I, like many of you, have missed many things about the way things used to be. Such missing has led me to thinking about so many people who have left this life and now are across the horizon with God. Although he has been gone nearly 21 years, my dad has been on my mind a lot.
He was an amazing fellow and certainly was and remains a big part of my life. His words and actions have influenced much of what crosses my mind. The other day while watching some of the news on the riots, I thought of my dad. In the late 1960’s to 1971 my dad was mayor of El Paso. As a border city there were many challenges. But somehow, across racial, economic, and border divides, many problems were solved.
In 1970, as some of you remember, the Kent State killings happened. It was on May 4th that National Guard troops killed 4 students. The response across the nation was immediate. Protests, both violent and non-violent, exploded on many university campuses.
As mayor, one day my dad was in his office when someone entered and told him that students on the campus of UTEP, The University of Texas at El Paso, were protesting and things were getting out of hand. Several suggested that police arm themselves and dress in riot gear in response. My dad would have nothing of that.
Instead, he insisted that the police remove their weapons, go to the campus, and distribute massive quantities of ice water to the protestors. It was a brutally hot day in El Paso. He also asked the police to tell protestors that the mayor was immediately on the way to meet with them. There was no violence. Conversations began that day that continued for some time between my dad, university officials, the police, and students. I believe it is important to point out that my dad was a Omaha Beach and Battle of the Bulge 1st Army survivor. Weak and conflict avoidant he was not.
Recalling this episode has caused me to think about my own actions, words, and thoughts over the last several days and at other times of national turmoil. I have asked myself some tough questions, some answers of which I know, are compelling me to do some soul searching.
I’ve asked questions such as, “How do I respond when something upsets me? Are my thoughts about this and that likely to be thoughts that bring about peace, healing and resolution, or are they divisive, angry, mean-spirited, and far from empathic? Am I a peace-maker at heart? How can I be the presence of Christ for others when there is conflict? Do my words serve as weapons or as ice water? Am I willing to realize that my worldview is limited and there are other perspectives I will never understand, but I can listen? How can I be a unifying presence?”
While there are other questions, I know I have work to do. As followers of Jesus, we are all on a journey, but I believe that while we are in different places, our Lord invites us to his ways of doing things.
Before Jesus died on the cross he said to one of his followers, “Put your sword back where it belongs. All who use swords are destroyed by swords.” Our walk with Jesus must be one that yields peace, healing, unity, understanding, and love. Yet let us all remember that this is the hardest path there is because such a path led to Jesus’s crucifixion by those who sought, embraced, and lived by the alternatives.
Forward Movement is a ministry established by the Episcopal Church that publishes a daily devotional entitled Forward Day by Day. It is a tremendous resource for prayers and it can be found online.
One prayer that has been part of the publication for many years is below.
Give me strength to live another day;
Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties;
Let me not lose faith in other people;
Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness;
Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them;
Help me to keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity;
Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things;
Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth;
Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness;
and make me the cup of strength to suffering souls;
in the name of the strong Deliverer, our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
For a long time this has been one of my favorite prayers and the words within it seem incredibly relevant and appropriate for our current lives. Strength, courage, faith in fellow human beings, keeping our hearts in the right place, avoiding tit for tats, integrity, seeing what is good and right and true, joy, and being Christ’s presence for others are key themes within the prayer. I encourage you to use this prayer at the beginning of each day.
This last week in the news was the story about the giant hornets that are now on American shores. I love the outdoors and God’s astonishing creation, but frankly, these hornets look downright scary. One to the most disturbing aspects of these social wasps is that they sting and they do so mightily and painfully. Someone sent me a video of a fellow allowing himself to be stung just to see what it feels like. My reaction was, “Yikes.”
As I watched the video and the stinging wasp something interesting happened. I thought about the prayer I shared above and especially the line, “Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them.”
Over these last few weeks, I have witnessed loving acts of kindness, altruism, generosity, new levels of prayer, consideration, and words that reflect that we are all doing the best we can and we all need to cut each other some slack. That said, on occasion, whether through social media posts, letters to the editor, passing strangers on walks, or while shopping in grocery stores, I’ve seen people stinging others through behavior, words, or facial expressions. I certainly have had a stinging thought or two.
This time is more than upending and upsetting. I understand the stress and upset many of us are feeling. But through it all, I pray that as followers of Jesus, we, with God’s help, will avoid stinging anyone, even those with whom we disagree. “Oh Lord, keep us sweet and sound of heart,” the prayer I’ve shared says. What an amazing opportunity we have to allow ourselves to be the vessels through which God’s love is spread even when we get stung.