For several decades the field of positive psychology has flourished. With a broad focus, this relatively new area of study explores such topics as resiliency, how to thrive as a person, how to be happy, how to confront helplessness, how to overcome, well being, optimism, and mental and physical health, to name just a few. Positive psychology is not at all about hedonism. Quite the contrary and in many ways this new field of study has much to offer people of faith.
Two researches, Santos and Gendler, have explored causes of human behavior. While certainly countless people have looked at such causes for a long long time, their approach has been a bit unique. They came up with the idea of the GI Joe Fallacy. In the 1980’s the cartoon GI Joe was popular. At the end of each show there was a message to viewers. The goal was to offer people useful life tips. When the message concluded, there was another that said, “Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.”
Taking this idea, Santos and Gendler set out to explore how powerful knowledge alone is in affecting behavior and decision making. Here is one thing they write about the findings in this research area.
“The lesson of much contemporary research in judgment and decision-making is that knowledge— at least in the form of our consciously accessible representation of a situation—is rarely the central factor controlling our behavior. The real power of online behavioral control comes not from knowledge, but from things like situation selection, habit formation, and emotion regulation. This is a lesson that therapy has taken to heart, but one that “pure science” continues to neglect.”
Simply stated, simply knowing something does not necessarily change attitudes, ways of thinking or the actions we take. And it is here, I believe, this scientific field has much to offer people of faith. Knowing about God. Knowing the stories of Jesus. Knowing about the cross and resurrection. Knowing that God is love and love is the bottom line. Knowing any of these things alone does not mean we live differently or make different choices based on this knowledge.
What is far more important are the choices we make, the habits we intentionally form, the actions we practice, and the thoughts we allow to inform our lives. While there is much more to this whole idea, the key take away for me is that simply knowing about Jesus and knowing what Jesus expects, alone will have little if any impact on how I live and the choices I make.
Our faith life is not a head game or about head knowledge or about knowing the right thing, it all comes down to how we choose to live, think, act, and react and to what extent such things are in alignment with our faith. The good news is that God has given us free will be be able to make such choices.
I love Australia and Australians so I was particularly delighted recently to encounter so many folks from Down Under here skiing. While there are many world class and gifted Australian skiers, others who were visiting looked more like kangaroos hopping across desert sands.
A few days ago I was at the top of Snowmass standing in line to go up the Poma platter lift. I was surrounded by a group of gregarious and fun-loving Australians. I joined them in laughter and joking. Some of them had never been on a platter lift so, needless to say, person after person grabbed the pole and – instead of standing – attempted to sit down, resulting in roll-over tumbles. Despite the growing line, even locals found the scene to be entertaining.
When I finally was able to head up the mountain, I thought of how much easier the platter lift makes it to ascend to the top of the mountain. I for one know I would be winded if I had to climb to the top. In some ways my experience on the Poma that day is a great metaphor for God.
Like a platter lift, when we have steep ascents in life ahead of us, if we hold onto God, I believe challenges are much easier to endure. When we grab onto God instead of trying to do it on our own, I believe we often discover greater peace, more strength and greater staying power. But like a novice skier on a platter lift who tries too hard to control things, we’ll often find ourselves tumbling this way and that if we try to control God instead of letting God take the lead.
I wish my new Australian friends a joyous time here and I pray that each of us, regardless of which continent we call home, will invite God to help us make it up whatever mountain we have ahead.
I know that countless people join me in being grateful for a great snow season thus far. Not only does snow bring joy, excitement and adventure into many lives from all over the world, but it means employment, successful businesses, food on the table and healthy rivers and habitats later this year.
Like many who live in the Roaring Fork Valley we are blessed to have a dog. Our four legged companion is a Bouvier named Osa (feminine Spanish word for bear). Osa thrives on being outside and the more room to explore the happier she is. What has fascinated me for a long time is that she, along with other dogs in the neighborhood, is most content and pleased during the winter months.
While I know many of us are thrilled when there is a lot of snow due to what snow enables us to do outside, I remain a bit perplexed by Osa and some of her canine friends. Osa, like other area dogs, seems happiest when she is able to bury herself in a big snowbank or is allowed to sit outside on a snow pile for hours on end simply watching life go by. She rarely appears to be cold and is generally frustrated when we ask her to come back inside. That said, I have noticed there are particular times in which she is thrilled to come home.
I don’t know what you call it, but Osa, like other dogs, collects massive balls of snow on her legs especially when she runs around. There are moments when she must be carrying pounds of snow and I am surprised she is able to walk under the weight of it all. When this happens, Osa is pleased to come in the door and thaw.
After recently taking the picture of Osa in this e-letter, I thought of something. It hit me that there have been hours, days, or even sustained periods of time in my life in which I actually felt like Osa. Not weighed down by snow and ice on my body, but under the weight of challenges, problems and heartaches. That for all of us, there are passages in which we collect things that seem to hang on to us and cling to our hearts and minds.
The good news for Osa is when she comes into the house, the snow and ice on her legs quickly melts, at which point she joyfully rests and takes a long nap. And I wonder if, when we are carrying loads that tire us out, if God invites us to go inside of ourselves and intentionally take some time and spend time with God. Actually I don’t wonder, I believe this was what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Come to me all of you who are burdened and I will give you rest.”
I pray for each of us that we will find joy, excitement and adventure regardless of the climate conditions we find ourselves within. But I also pray that when we feel heavy, we will remember the story of Osa and, more importantly, what Jesus continues to say to us each and every day, “I will give you rest.”
This time of year many churches around the world have someone read from the 1st Chapter of John’s Gospel. As we start a new year, the words in the early verses are wonderful to reflect upon. Here are some excerpts.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Here we learn that God speaks, that all things are made through God, that God cannot be overcome by what is wrong and that God’s word became flesh, Jesus. This is not only a reminder that God came among us as Jesus, but that words, God’s and even ours, have a physical impact. Words are potent and they affect reality and the everyday experience of people worldwide. As such, we each enjoy the God given gift of words. Words which we can choose to use for or against the love of God.
A friend of mine recently said he heard someone say that when God spoke and God’s word became flesh in Jesus, God’s words were the most eloquent ever spoken. As I reflect upon Jesus’ life, indeed his words were eloquent, powerful, meaningful, forceful, healing and enlightening.
For some reason when I was thinking about Jesus’ eloquence, the phrase “The Eloquence in the Room,” came to mind. Obviously a takeoff on the concept of the elephant in the room. But as I thought about this more, I realized that the phrase “The Eloquence in the Room” is actually more than something silly and trite. In fact it is a reminder that if we pay attention, Jesus, the penultimate expression of eloquence, is indeed right in front of us, in every situation, in the midst of all, whether or not we notice or acknowledge His presence. I find this to be very good news indeed that I need to remember.
Eloquence, Jesus, is a continual presence in my life and in yours and what great news to carry along with us as we enter a new year. It is my prayer that each of us will notice the eloquence in the room more and more each and every day in the midst of whatever is happening as we enter 2019. Happy New Year and prayers for a joy-filled and blessed year ahead.
This Christmas season I have been spending time thinking about Mary, Jesus’ mother. We don’t have a lot of details about her life other than the few offered to us in the Gospels. Here is a sampling.
- Mary learns from God she will have a child, Jesus.
- She utters some of the most magnificent words in scripture in Luke 1 known as the Magnificat.
- Gives birth to Jesus in Bethlehem.
- Is visited by gentiles (shepherds).
- Flees to Egypt to escape King Herod’s order to kill males age 2 and under.
- Takes Jesus to the temple to be circumsized and learns a sword will pierce her soul, which alludes to the coming suffering of her son.
- Is frantic when Jesus is left behind at the temple as a young boy.
- Was on the receiving end of public ridicule when a crowd said, “That is just Mary’s son.”
- Tells Jesus wine is running out at a wedding.
- Is present when Jesus is crucified.
Clearly Mary’s life was not easy and was filled with both extraordinary joy and overwhelming grief and sadness. But through it all, Mary persisted through what was tough and thrived and rose to the occasion when needed.
Mary understood some things that sustained her in the midst of the good and the bad. Mary knew she was loved by God, was created by God, mattered profoundly to God, and that God was working through her life moment to moment in the midst of whatever was happening.
I believe what was true for Mary is also true for each of us. Our lives, each of them, are incredibly important to God. God loves us, gives us life, we matter profoundly to God, and God indeed is working through our lives moment to moment. Verse after verse in scripture reflects these truths. If we can learn to trust these four things, we will find ourselves sustained and peace-filled through all of life’s ups and downs.
As we move into 2019 in the coming days, I invite you to join me in praying about each of these four points and what God might have to say to us through them. I pray that each of us will find strength and gratitude from them. And as we close 2018, please know what a blessing it is to be among you as together we continue doing Christ’s work. Love and peace.
There is a song written some time ago titled, “Mary Did You Know.” Here is a sample of the lyrics. “Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water? Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters? Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new? This child that you have delivered will soon deliver you.”
I think the song is beautiful and it has become somewhat of a classic. But the questions raised by the lyrics are answered in Luke’s Gospel. We learn through the Gospel of Luke that Mary did indeed know that the child growing within was very special and one of a kind.
God told her she would bear a child that would change everything and direct the course of history. Indeed this has been the case. While Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection tell us that God’s spirit is ever present, we are forgiven, we need not live alone on our on our own power, death is nothing to fear, and eternity beyond description awaits each of us, there is something else to remember from Mary and her life.
As far as we know, Mary lived on the margins, was poor, and certainly had little if any influence of the forces affecting her life. But one day God made a decision to come into the world, into a very messy world, into the life of a very ordinary person, in order to initiate a new covenant, a new understanding, a new way of doing things with human kind. When God did so, his message to Mary was clear and powerful.
In essence, when Mary birthed Jesus, God was telling Mary the following. “I love you Mary. I created you. You matter profoundly to me. And I have something very special for you to do.” Mary understood these things which is why she broke out in song, “Oh how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
While this was Mary’s story, I believe this Christmas it is important to remember it is our story as well. Although we will not give birth to the Savior of humankind, by coming into the world as God did, God’s message to each of us is the same one Mary understood. God says to each of us, “I love you. I created you. You profoundly matter to me. And I have very special things for you to do on my behalf.”
Knowing, believing and trusting these things transformed Mary’s life and enabled her to endure through pain and thrive when things were going well. Knowing she was loved, mattered, and had a Godly purpose sustained her through the ups and downs of life. And I believe the very same is the case for you and for me.
Regardless of our lot in life or what we have done or where we are in our faith journey, God loves us, created us, we matter profoundly to God, and God has things for each of us to do day in and day out for God. l I invite you to join me in praying about this truth because when we embrace it, it changes not only how we live, but how we overcome.
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.