Over the course of time, I will have a lot more to say about the subject that follows. It is a topic that many families deal with. It is a reality many in our parish and wider community personally have to live with. It is sadly something that has been on the back burner of most Christian communities of faith, and this is not only unfortunate, but tragic. What I am speaking about is mental health.
I believe it is now time we put mental health care and issues on the front burner of what we do at the Chapel, not only because we are compelled to address a need that is right in front of us, but because Jesus responded to mental health issues throughout his ministry. Such stories in the Gospels may seem hard to find, but they are there, especially if we remember that the language we use now to discuss mental health issues was not the language used then.
Mental health issues and challenges confront most if not all families in one way or another, from substance abuse, to depression and anxiety, eating disorders, disordered relationships, stress, and difficulties in adjusting to changes, including aging, etc.
As a result, members of our team are beginning to talk about how we can move mental health up the ladder of what the Chapel is about. Our focus remains Jesus and worship, but over the years you will note that we have dramatically expanded many programs, including our Stephen ministry program (we now have 19 people providing one-to-one care). In addition, part of our Children, Youth and Family programs are about creating healthy experiences and foundations that counter future mental health struggles.
The point of my letter this week is to share my deep concern and passion about this issue, to encourage our community of faith to eliminate the stigma of mental health issues, to hopefully help those in our community who are silently suffering to come to us, and to make it clear that our purpose at the Chapel is to Love God and Love People (one way we will do this is by expanding what we do to address the mental health needs of our community).
Let’s roll up our sleeves, drop silence and stigmas and hush hush, and together get to work to respond as Jesus does to the often hidden pain that surround us.
Last Saturday was an amazing day at the Chapel as we celebrated Charla’s ordination to be a pastor here at Snowmass Chapel. It has been a long journey for her that demanded tons of work, much prayer, learning about herself, and deepening her relationship with Jesus. That said, her ordination reminds me of something else important for all of us to consider.
A number of years ago, long before I was in ministry, I was stuck in a huge traffic jam. One of the kinds that makes you want to get out of your car and simply walk away. This was not an Aspen traffic jam, rather this was an LA rush hour scene. Something that would make the bridge project in Glenwood Springs look like a bike path in comparison.
Anyway, as cars were merging from 10 lanes to 3, a few folks were kinder about letting others in than some people. I’ll never forget this one guy, he was a real piece of work. I could see him in my rear view mirror cutting people off and pushing his way through traffic. Finally he got next to me.
He blasted his horn in a language that means, “hey buddy, I am cutting in front of you, this is my road.” I looked at him with dismay. As I did, I began pointing to my neck with my index finger. The reason? While I was a lay person with a t-shirt on, the fellow was clearly a clergyman wearing his collar.
What was interesting was that as I was pointing to my own neck, in the the hopes he might remember his collar, he appeared to realize something. He stopped honking. Put his head in his hands. And let a bunch of cars go ahead of him.
I need to be clear that my intent was not to be holier than thou, nor to create shame, but rather to try and bring some levity into the whole situation as everyone on the road needed some perspective, including me. Nor is this story is not about me pointing out the erring ways of a clergyman, as goodness knows I’ve been off base often. Rather it speaks to something far more important.
And that is, if we follow Jesus, like it or not, we all wear a collar. Everyone one of us has been given gifts by God to serve God and God’s people. Said another way, all of us are all called to some kind of ministry.
For some it is ordained ministry. Others are called to serve God through music, helping with worship, Stephen Ministry, teaching, working with teens, and the list goes on and on and on. All of us, whether ordained or not, are servants of God wherever we find ourselves (e.g., on the road, at work, at a store, on a busy trail, etc.).
My hope is that Charla’s ordination will remind each of us that we too are called to serve God in difference-making ways. I pray to that we will look at Charla’s call to ministry as pastor as the opportunity for each of us to re-up our own commitment to serving Jesus wherever we find ourselves.
People ask me all the time in which denomination I will be ordained. With seminary complete and full-time ministry on the horizon, it seems more urgent for everyone from my aunt to the lady at the grocery store to know what group I will belong to. Isn’t that just like humans, to need to categorize people into tidy little boxes? But I’ve been Christian long enough to know we are anything but tidy.
In churches around the globe people of all denominations profess that we believe in “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” But catholicity (or unity) does not require uniformity. An Episcopal church and a Pentecostal church, for example, look noticeably different in their Sunday worship but last I checked their Jesus is one and the same. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians that Christianity is one body made up of many parts. Many, MANY parts. Parts that are scattered from Tanzania to Tasmania to Texas. Yet the same Spirit moves in our worship whether to the beat of a tribal drum or the rhythm of a gospel choir. We read the same Bible, follow the same Jesus and profess the same Lord of all, do we not?
This is not to say that our denominational differences should be minimized at all costs; there are some things too difficult to agree upon, I know. Even still, I believe God is molding and shaping all things all the time. As theologian and writer Rachel Held Evans says about Christians, “We’re a family, after all, and so we fight like one.”
Which is why, rather than taking a stand firmly in one camp or the other, on the occasion of my ordination I think I shall call myself a Bapti-Christi-Metho-lic.
Raised Baptist, baptized Disciples of Christ, confirmed Roman Catholic, and graduate of a Methodist seminary, I get that my particular “brand” of Christianity can be hard to pin down. But I am the sum of all my parts: from my Baptist roots I learned all the books of the Bible, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and know John 3:16 is more than a football stadium slogan. The First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gently anchored me through my parents’ divorce and the tumult of teen years. I was baptized in a pool there at age 13, my white robe clinging to a Speedo one-piece underneath, and the church will forever hold a special place in my heart. I then spent ten years in the Catholic Church, attending mass, teaching religious education, witnessing my brother-in law’s ordination to the priesthood, and baptizing my children there, until finally one day I decided I would rather focus on our similarities than on our differences and I officially joined the church. From my Catholic faith I learned our magnificent shared history, the gift of the sacraments, and a deep sense of connectedness to the very beginnings of Christianity. And then some 15 years later God called me to seminary and it just happened to be Methodist, where I fell in love with John Wesley and amazing grace.
For nearly two millennia ministers have been being ordained. The Bible tells us that Jesus gave Peter authority to teach and lead the people of God. Later, in the Book of Acts, Paul appointed elders in the church, praying over them and committing them to service. To be ordained is to be anointed, appointed, installed, consecrated or conferred with holy orders, and it is a tradition as old as Christianity itself.
I find it appropriate and humbling that this Bapti-Christi-Metho-lic will be ordained by the non-denominational congregation of Snowmass Chapel in the laying on of hands by Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopal ministers who have gone before me, and one Rabbi for good measure! Confusing? Perhaps. Messy? Of course. But Jesus wasn’t one to stick to rules and religious orders either. It may not be a tidy little box but it’s BIG box, and there is most certainly room for all.
I really like garages that are well organized. The kind you walk into and there is a specific shelf space for each tool, pegs to hang things on, and work tables that have nicks and dents but are nevertheless all cleaned up.
A number of years ago when I was a small boy, my dad brought home a large metal gray box with small clear plastic drawers. I can’t remember if there were 30 or 40 little drawers, but there were a bunch. He asked for my help in getting the box organized by putting like objects together in each drawer.
Over the years I’ve learned it is pretty handy to go about life as if our minds were a box with separate drawers. I believe that it is healthy to have a mental drawer for work, a mental drawer for activities to do with children, a drawer for working out, a drawer for responding to specific ongoing challenges, a family dynamics drawer, a relaxation drawer, and a mental fun drawer.
Said another way, learning to compartmentalize things like putting like objects into a plastic drawer in a metal box, is a way of living that brings about health, resilience, and greater effectiveness.
But as I think about it, as I study scripture, as I ponder what others with far greater minds than mine have said, there is one thing, I believe we should not compartmentalize. That one thing, worshipping God. You might even say that worship is the box that holds all of the drawers of who we are.
A number of people have said that worship is not something we do, rather it is about a lifestyle. As one person writes, “Early Christians viewed their whole life as being an act of worship, a living sacrifice offered to God.” Another notes, “Worship refers to the way we acknowledge God’s worth; the way our knowledge affects the way we live.”
In the Letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament we find, “Let us offer a continual sacrifice to praise God.” In other words, we are called to worship God continually, not just on Sunday mornings.
I find the idea of bringing God into every drawer in my life and praising God is each area of my life to be challenging. That said, I find the words of William Temple to be helpful with regard to what we are talking about this morning. William Temple was the Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II, which makes his words even more potent.
William Temple wrote, “Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by God’s holiness. The nourishment of mind with God’s truth. The purifying of imagination by God’s beauty. The opening of our hearts to God’s love. The surrender of will to God’s purpose, and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.”
Said another way, worship is submitting all parts of our lives and who we are to God in a spirit of adoration and love that makes us selfless. It is in this way we can place worship at the heart of all aspects of our lives.
And so, I end with a question. A question we each are called to answer for ourselves. That question, “How am I going to worship God all throughout this day?” And to ask that question each and every day.
I believe the more you and I engage this question, the more we will find our lives, relationships, and our walk with Jesus fundamentally altered. I think we each will be amazed how much changes when we worship God not just with our lips, but with our lives.