For years I never gave the month of August much credit. What I remember is that it signaled the end of summer break and going back to school. About the best thing I do remember is that in Pueblo the end of August meant that the State Fair was running. I can still smell the corn dogs, the rabbit pavilion and the unmistakable accent of the announcer at the rodeo. Somewhere in the that last 30 years or so, I began to appreciate all the special joys of August.
Yes, August brings the birthday of my step-daughter Faith, my Uncle Paul just turned 96, my granddaughter Michaela turned 27 and at the end of the month my dad would have turned 100. On Monday, August 1, I picked up a 35 years of Sobriety chip at the mother ship of recovery in the West— York Street.
On August 11th the king of homegrown Colorado produce, Dominic DiSanti—lead farmer of DiSanti farms, tells me that is the day that all of the vegetables, save green chili, are at their peak. We will be making a road trip to Pueblo to stock up on corn, squash, tomatoes, melons, beets, carrots, cucumbers, onions, and big hugs from this wonderful family. I will also receive my order of a lug of Palisade peaches from the Western slope. I would put up a Colorado peach against any peach from Georgia.
On or about August 23rd there will be a shift in the weather. This phenomenon has been noted by a number of my friends. It is subtle, but there is a turn towards autumn that is palpable. The air feels and smells different. The next three plus months are heaven. Warm days, and cool nights. The trees signaling the long rest of winter. August is a pivotal month. We still get the many gifts of summer, but the monsoon moisture comes in the form of powerful but short lived afternoon showers. I have been converted to being an August lover. It’s a month to savor and enjoy. And I promise you this— the sweet corn from Pueblo will stand up to anything from Iowa or Olathe. Onward and Upward, Mark
Tomorrow July 31 will mark exactly 45 years of ordained ministry for me. This past month I went to a reunion where I was with people that have known me since 1967. More than once I had the sincere question posed to me, “Mark, I admit I never saw you as a minister. How did that happen”? I am never offended by the question, in fact I have wondered the same thing. My answer was usually something like this—“Well, neither did I. It was sort of an experiment that worked. I backed into ministry”. The one thing I was never going to be was a local church pastor. Well, six local churches later I admit I was mistaken. The irony of my 41 years of life in the local church is that I love it. My greatest fear about “the still small voice of a call” was that if I was a pastor I couldn’t be who I really was. Well, with some loving guard rails I have managed to be “me”. I call myself a narrative theologian. Simply stated, “the divine is revealed and encountered through story”. So whether it is through preaching or listening to another’s story, the mystery of loving connection comes. In these 45 years I have served in the following roles— Institutional chaplain at the Enid State School, associate minister at Central Christian Church, Pueblo, senior pastor at First Christian Church in Alamosa, and then as a ‘yoked pastor’ also serving the First Christian Church of Monte Vista. Then, moving on from “The Valley”, I served nearly 18 years as the senior pastor of South Broadway Christian Church in Denver. I failed retirement, and went to work as a Lyft driver following a three month stint as an interim at First Christian in Cheyenne, Wyoming. In 2017 I became ‘pastoral duct tape’ at the First Christian Church of Greeley—I am now well into my 6th year there. In the great imagination of God, I found my way into a life where I can honestly say “I love what I have been able to do”. A local church pastor who is connected with their congregation is much like the family doctor. I get to be with people at every twist and turn of life. Ministry is not about having answers but being present to life, grace, pain, sorrow, joy, transitions, birth, death, and having fun living with people on the journey. I am a blessed man because I have been able to live my life doing what I love to do. Onward and Upward, Mark
“Camp Runamuck” was a sitcom that ran for one year in 1966. I was a senior in HS then but since I had spent about 20 weeks of my life in one camp or another I truly found it fun. Camp Runamuck was the boys camp and across the Runamuck River was the Camp Devine— yes the girls camp. Runamuck was run Commander Wivenhoe— who could not stand kids. This week with the help of my daughter Amy, son-in-law Christian and my Nephew Jed and his “gift from God” wife Allie, we pulled off a family vacation where the 10 of us managed to negotiate five days of continuous ‘family time’. The kids ranged from 7-18 which provides a challenge of its own. We did everything from karaoke, to floating the San Jaun River. I had not been in that close company with kids for a while. Anytime I head into a family event there is the fantasy vs. reality of the experience. This time my reasonably high hopes were exceeded by reality. I think my favorite times were the meal times when we would circle the table and spend a couple of hours telling stories—the kids were great contributors. The best story was about my great nephew Weston and the day he cut his own hair. Of course the video of his conversation with his dad Jed, that we watched about 5 times on the iPad, helped. Our 13 year old granddaughter on the second day went into the “I am bored” whine of young teen. Grandma Mary Kay headed off to Walmart and returned with a ‘needle point’ kit which Zoe had never done. By Saturday she was well on her way to a pretty nice still-life. Her cousin Emily —aged 9– showed up that day and wanted to join in the effort. She took right off on her project. The great part is that they were part of the group as they stitched away. We stayed connected for five days ( yes I did have my own napping cave and lap pool). My son in law Christian was ordered by wife Amy that he was going for the week. He is in the midst of opening the first ever brewery in Hood County, Texas. His 60 hour weeks were taking its toll. I bet he spent five hours a day on the east facing deck where he got the beautiful mountain mornings and the shady afternoons. I literally watched the stress fall off him through the week. I don’t want this week to sound too copacetic— there were tears, time outs, spills, debates about the “real facts” of passed events. More than once the order was given, “I don’t care what you want to do do get in the van and lets go”. We were certainly aware that there were gaps in our attendance as my sister Rita (Jed’s mom) and Dave were on Covid lock down which is par for the course in any family event in 2022. Last night before dinner there were numerous conversations and kid noises going on all at once for at least 20 minutes. It was the noise of joy and connection. Yes it was a raucous cacophony which sounded like love. Today I came to the gathering place to say goodbye— I was hugged and loved by every one of them. Today my six hour drive home was fueled by knowing that sometimes things really do turn out even better than expected. Onward and Upward, Mark
There are those movies you can watch every year and laugh at the right spots, even knowing exactly what is coming. The 1983 “Vacation” by National Lampoon is one of those movies. Little did I realize that three years after it’s release I would be moving to the heart of where much of the story takes place—the San Luis Valley. The “old Sonic Drive-In” in Alamosa’s stall #14, was the exact spot where Chevy Chase and his family had one of their classic scenes on their way to Wally World. If you remember this all takes place in their ‘pea-green’ monster station wagon. The 11 years we lived there, from 1986-97, that slot was the prized space for “Happy Hour” and cherry limeade with a large order of tater tots and onion rings. Somehow, to be seen in the same slot that made “Vacation” a cult favorite, made one feel special, even in the midst of nowhere. One of the next scenes takes place near South Fork, Colorado at a Kamp Komfort— which is really “Fun Valley”. Fun Valley is at the base of Wolf Creek Pass headed west. Every time I drive by it in the summer its allure escapes me. Yesterday I saw at least 400 RV’s that run in size from the 14 ft variety to the 50 ft land yachts. They were packed in this area along the South Fork of the Rio Grande River. Looking down at the scene it reminds one of something you might see in New Delhi. The only difference is that the backdrop is the wondrous San Jaun mountains and the crystal clear river running by. I realize I might be stepping on some road warrior toes, but for the life of me I cannot see why someone would load up their $100,000 fifth wheel to go spend a week crammed in something less than a ghetto for aluminum homes on wheels, and a couple of thousand strangers playing horseshoes, bingo or firing up 300 barbecue grills. I never go by that place that it is not packed with “fun seekers”. Back when I could, my idea of camping was backpacking with a group of friends and getting as far away from traffic, streets, and civilization as we could. I guess “Fun is where you find it”— “to each his own’. Fun Valley must be fun for folks who like to bring the suburbs in a very condensed version to a backdrop of mountain splendor. As I was driving into South Fork on our way to Pagosa Springs I noticed a huge construction project. It is a new RV camping park that will dwarf Fun Valley. There will be spots for 100’s of RVs along with maybe 50 tiny home
style cabins. On a day when the heat index in Ft. Worth is 111’ I guess I can see why sitting on your ‘pull out’ porch in 78’ Colorado July might sound good. As for me I go to Texas in either October or April—and I have plenty of fun. Onward and Upward, Mark
A crossword favorite is: “A four letter city in Oklahoma”— Enid. My first trip to the heart of the Cherokee Strip was in 1966. I went there on a recruiting trip to ‘check out’ Phillips University. I was certain that I would NOT GO THERE, however the charm, warmth and academics took me out of Colorado. I began my freshman year in the fall of 1967 and thus began a 55–year connection with a city of 60,000, whose skyline had not mountains but massive grain elevators. My most recent trip there was to attend the 100th anniversary of Gridiron Club—which I pledged in 1968. Believe it or not, Phillips once had a stellar football team which recorded a 10-0 victory over the University of Texas “Longhorns”. For whatever reason I began to keep count of my trips back and forth from Colorado to Oklahoma. After completing 20 round trips to finish my doctorate from 92-95, I had logged 115 trips. This means that I burned up a good car in the Panhandle of Oklahoma. In 55 years I have watched farms melt into the ground as they have been abandoned, while at the same time thousands of wind turbines have sprouted along the route.
I have a love/hate relationship with Enid. I have made great friendships there, I have three degrees from all things Phillips, yet there are times I found its myopic, parochial, conservative politics, shallow and selfish. A few months ago we had new neighbors move in across the street. He was a retired history professor with a PhD from Oklahoma State. In our first meeting I asked him if he knew my favorite Phillips U. history prof, and he quickly responded “It was a well known fact among educators in Oklahoma that in the last half of the 20th century, Phillips University was the best school in that part of the country”.
Fate and Enid provided me with two children, four nephews, and two handfuls of grandkids. It was the place of memories of great joy and deep sorrow… such is any place that matters. I plan to visit there again this fall where I am going to this beautiful farm and watch my friend Mark’s bird dogs show off. Oh yes—Enid got the nickname “Enid America” from John Denver when he walked out in 1972 to a packed auditorium and said, “Hello Enid America”. In that very same space I saw Linda Ronstadt, Lilly Tomlin, and
Sugarloaf play… and believe it or not I was a cowboy dancer in “Destry Rides Again”!!! Tomorrow is July 4th—From the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam…we are blessed. Whether that be at a baseball game in Enid or cooling off in the mountains at Pagosa Springs (that’s me bragging), we are one nation still trying to live out this gift we call America. Onward and Upward, Mark
“Green and Gold our colors bold we honor faithfully, here’s to you Old Franklin, Elementary”. The lines from one of the many songs I learned singing from the back row of the Ben Franklin Elementary Choir. The highlight of the beginning of my choir career was being part of a “living Christmas Tree”, which was filled with about five tiers of kids singing their hearts out. I loved to sing especially when part of a group. In 8th and 9th grade I had the best choir teacher ever—Mike Stefanic— who filled us with stories about growing up in Crested Butte, Colorado, where they would often ski off the second story on their snow bound home. I can still sing a number of the Rogers and Hammerstein songs we learned for the all school talent show. I am not sure why but when I hit high school I dropped choir, probably because I thought I was too cool. I did not pick up singing in a choir until 1987 when we formed a choir at First Christian in Alamosa. I even took voice lessons from the choir director where I learned “Caro Mio Bene” by Mozart. Singing in Italian was a challenge but it was fun. From 94-97 we combined choirs from the Alamosa and Monte Vista churches— which was double the fun. The choirs would join about twice a month sharing in worship 19 miles apart. When I got to South Broadway CC in Denver in 1997, we were able to grow the choir from about 10 to 25. One Christmas we combined with three other churches and pulled off a mighty fine cantata. When I retired in 2015 my choir days went on the shelf. All of this background leads me to a tribute I want to make today, to a man we had a memorial service for, at First Christian Church in Greeley. I went to Greeley FCC in early 2017 to help them transition. Five years later we are still transitioning. Soon I joined their choir. I found myself sitting next to Gary D, who I soon realized was the best bass with whom I had ever sang. It turns out he had degrees in choral music and had been singing longer than I had been alive. One night I said to Gary, “Feel free to coach or critique me as I have never sang next to somebody who was so accomplished”. We slowly became a part of the best men’s section with whomI have ever sung.
I have heard it said, “When you sing you pray twice”. Today I was part of a combined choir that sang one of Gary’s favorite anthems. There is no more beautiful instrument than the combination of human voices. Something happens when they are joined together and life and love fills the space. Thanks Gary, for your patience and making me a much better baritone. Onward and Upward, Mark
I will do about anything to avoid dealing with calling toll-free help lines. First comes my default— procrastination. Almost always hoping that magically things will fix themselves, just raises my frustration. Somehow I still suffer under the fantasy that the little Elves who make the shoes will come in and fix whatever is not working. I think it worked once… perhaps it was operator error. Recently my iPhone was on the fritz. This afternoon I braced myself for the 30 min music concert which came after telling the robot “I WANT TO SPEAK TO A PERSON”.
First I was asked what kind of music I would like to listen to while waiting. I procrastinated and missed my opportunity to listen to Classical, so I had ‘white noise’ for my wait. After about 20 minutes I began to imagine trying to explain why I felt totally at the mercy of whoever I got as my “assistant”. My low grade anxiety raised.
I was met by a very friendly guy with a southern accent. He started the ‘screen share’ which, allows the technical assistant to see exactly what the customer sees. This becomes really helpful when I don’t understand or go freelance. Within five minutes we had a diagnosis which first required me to get a new password. Soon we found out that I needed a new IOS update. Sure enough, it worked. What I really want to talk about was the kindness and patience of the tech support guy. Turns out, he is in South Carolina going to flight school. He is about a third of the way through and is doing great. Soon he will be filling the gap of the pilot shortage. But today, he was my hero.
He closed the conversation by saying “thanks for my best call of the day”. I was able to say ‘thanks for such a great spirit and fantastic help”. He made my day—and my phone works great. Onward and Upward, Mark
There are many signs of my slow decent into the word I HATE— Senior Citizen. My first wake-up call came when AARP sent me a notice that I was able to achieve Membership Status… Oh boy. Yep, I am a member. Next was my willingness to order off the Senior Menu, which was soon followed by asking for Senior Discounts. Soon I hit 65 and of course the Medicare was gleefully welcomed, as was the monthly Social Security payment. All the while, I was mostly in denial that I was among the millions of aging Americans. One of the blessings and curses of spending 47 years in pastoral ministry, is that I have been able to participate with humans in every phase of the life-cycle. If I am honest with myself there are no surprises about where I am and what is coming. As a result of my Covid Delta Variant 18 day stay in the hospital last fall, I now have been visited with “post-covid” or “long- haulers” syndrome. The results are that my joints and soft tissues have sustained a hit and I need more rest. The good news is that as best I can tell, my heart, lungs and brain have been spared (of course there is a debate among some that this is not true). When we moved to the far reaches of NW Arvada, just a stone’s throw from the foothills, 4 1/2 years ago, we were blessed with both a front south facing porch, and a back north facing patio. Our dining room looks out into a verdant open space which is mostly occupied by bunnies. We decided we needed not one but three bird feeders. Each feeder has its particular function and attraction to certain birds. In 1986 my dad gave us “The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Bird—Western Addition”. It has been more than useful, as I had no idea there were so many kinds of sparrows. It has been fun to identify dozens of kinds of “dining birds” who visit our home by the hundreds. Bird seed is now bought in bulk. Last week I spotted my first Yellow Finch of the season. We have Pigeons, Grackles, Chickadees and Mourning Doves—when they show up together there is often a bit of a ruckus. We have a suet feeder which attracts a variety of birds with long beaks. I am not a birder, but I certainly can see why people enjoy the adventure of observing and celebrating these amazing little creatures. Two years ago, a
family of barn swallows found a home over our front door. Two things— they build their homes from mud, and they poop a lot. They raised not one but two families before heading south. In Colorado it is illegal to disturb these amazing messy bug eating flyers. So, when they left, MK researched what we could do legally to keep them from coming back. Her answer was four inch metal spikes which come in strips you put above the door. The birds showed up and did their best to work around the spikes. They gave up. They came back this year and gave it another try—the spikes won. Whoever came up with the phrase “it’s for the birds” was an “old buzzard’. Onward and Upwards, Mark
I have a ritual that feeds my soul most every Friday. It begins with coffee with some peeps, then a drive to Cherry Creek State Park. There I get to watch and experience the very subtle changes that seasons and weather bring. I keep track of the huge variety of wildlife found right in the middle of the urban complex. Once a four point Mule deer walked right up to my parked car. Various birds of prey put on an aerial demonstration as they catch mice, snakes, rabbits and prairie dogs. I listen for the return of the Meadow Larks and Red Winged Black birds—their songs still thrill me. One of my favorite scenes recently was three coyotes hunting voles together in a big field. Bald Eagles and White Pelicans are often there. Yes, nature connects me with life and its source. When I head home, I like to avoid the highways by working my way through town. Yesterday the flowering trees and tulips were putting on a show. As I was heading north on Logan St. I saw an entire gaggle of most likely, 2nd graders, with trash bags and gloves. They were not getting leftover Easter Eggs. Rather, they were picking up trash. Their bags were full and smiles were everywhere. It hit me—today is Earth Day. My dad was an ecological advocate before there was ever a day dedicated to the earth. He recycled because it was the right thing to do and I never remember him walking through a parking lot with out stopping to pick up somebody else’s trash. Caring for creation is not political—it’s sanity. I had a friend in my Alamosa days who would talk about people who would “poop in their own nest”. One could say “Shoot themselves in the foot”—however you want to phrase it. I will close with a gift from my brother Don. He entered a contest sponsored by the Department of the Interior and Baskin Robbins Ice Cream. Don was 11. The contest was simple—complete the phrase “This Land is Your Land________________________. His winning answer was, “Give it all you have got, it is all we have”. He took me as his chaperon/ guest on an all expenses paid trip, for a week to Washington DC. We had a most amazing time. Don’s life was a shooting star that ended at age 20 —that week still fills my heart with memories and hope. Don was right—be kind to your Mother.
Tomorrow at the First Christian Church of Greeley we have our annual Easter Egg Hunt. We will have a few dozen “hunters” who will show up with their baskets, sacks etc. There will be a few kids in their Easter Best but the rest come dressed for combat. The whole event takes about four minutes. I always find myself trying to coach the less aggressive kids to the eggs that I have spotted, yet to be grabbed. Invariably, witnessing this event takes me back to the “Egg Hunts” of my childhood. There were two Pumphrey families in Pueblo. There were the four Paul Pumphrey kids (my dad’s brother and lifetime business partner). They were ‘North Siders’ and Country Club people. Then there was the Bill Pumphrey kids—we were from the East Side and members of that not nearly so prestigious Belmont Club. I could never get my dad to explain how we ended up on the left side of the Pueblo Social Status Bell Curve. They were “co-equal” partners in the business, but this 11–year—old knew the difference between a golf course and an elegant restaurant, and a basic swimming pool and a snack bar. One year, my cousin Jailee found the “Golden Egg” at the Country Club egg hunt. Her reward, if I remember correctly, was a real duckling and a giant chocolate egg. Our egg hunting was relegated to the giant community egg hunt at Belmont Park. This event brought in 100’s of kids to a park which was part park, and park flood drainage—replete with Goat Heads and Sand Burrs. The local merchants peppered the park with lots of eggs, which included those horrible marshmallow eggs covered with hard candy coating. As much as I loved to eat—those eggs covered your mouth with red, blue, yellow or green dye and they were pure sugar. I would gladly give mine to my sister Rita Jo. We did have a few prize eggs at our blue-collar eggstravaganza. These eggs could be redeemed at the “Shopping Center” at places like Duckwalls and The Belmont Bakery When I was in about 6th grade, I gathered with my buddies for the right of passage. I was there with Jim and Bob, and am not sure how we did it, but we spotted a winning egg by a tree in the center of the park. We cooked up a plan. I was not fast but I could block. Jim and I were to get as close to the tree as we could, and then throw a ‘downfield’ block on an approaching egg grabber. Bob, who was plenty fast, was to grab the prize
egg and we would split the prize. The kids lined up everywhere waiting for the horn to blast and start the chaos. It went off right at 10am and our plan went into action. I took out not one, but two kids, with a well executed “clip” and Jim nailed a very fast girl. Bob scooped up the egg and sure enough, it was a winner. We went on to pick up a few remaining eggs. All this was done in faster than a long stop—light. Our prize was a giant Easter Egg Cake from The Bakery. We took it our homes to show it off to our parents and then we gave it a proper consumption… which took about as long as the ‘egg hunt’. Ah Teamwork!!! Onward and Upward, Mark