Easter 2020

I write today because it is what I have been doing nearly once a week for the last three years. I ask myself ‘what do you have to say that matters anyway’?  I have no ‘rides to share or unique takes’ today.  I am reminded of a family monopoly game we played back in the early 60’s.  It seemed to go on for hours.  I am not sure what precipitated my younger brother Charley, to pick up the whole board and launch it across the living room, but memory of paper money, green houses, and pewter pieces strewn on orange shag carpet lives.  I do remember that after a “recess” we reassembled and played again. I have no idea who won but Charley regrouped and stayed in the game.  Right now it feels like the game is flying through the air in slow motion.

At its core Easter is about hope.  I spoke last week about my day with Elizabeth Kubler Ross. I remember her telling us about how she found her path into both the study of, and care for the death and dying.  She was an identical triplet.  She described feeling like a third of a person with no real identity of her own. It was right at the end of WW2. She convinced her father, a physician in Switzerland, to let her go volunteer in Poland.  At 15 she got on a train to Poland.  She described pulling into Triblinka, where the death camps for children were headquartered.  She described seeing huge piles of little shoes and coats outside of the barracks.  She then described getting out of the train with other volunteers.  They walked all around the camp. Graffiti was everywhere.  She said there were no drawings of skulls or fires.  No, rather there were flowers, butterflies, clouds with rainbows and smiles on kids.  “It was in that moment that I realized the human spirit is bigger than suffering and death”.  She told us story after story of grace in the midst of grief.

Today there are no lilies, or colored eggs, or chocolate bunnies in my sight. I can however, still hear my Grandma Opal singing in her warbling voice “Up from the grave he arose”… as her grandkids giggled with warmed hearts.  Today I will draw from the well of both memory and hope.

My line: “Praise the Lord— CHRIST has risen.”

Your line: “He has risen indeed!”

Onward and Upward

Mark

Tuesdays


When I began this marathon on March 6th of ‘life at home’ I sensed I
was in for the long haul. I had given my last Lyft ride and prepared my church for the ‘no touching hug fest’ that we tend to carry off each week. By the following Thursday I had called the staff and leadership team together to let them know I had decided ‘no gatherings at the church’ for the foreseeable future. After sharing with them the information I had been given by very credible sources, they unanimously agreed. “Do you think we will be back by Easter”? It was an honest question and my answer was, “Under the best circumstances we might be back by Mother’s Day”. I have now amended that to Father’s Day. The journey began. The following Tuesday I noticed a hint of sadness in my being. Each subsequent Tuesday it has gotten progressively deeper. I talked with my son Mateo, a couple of days ago and he shared with me that he too found Tuesday blues showing up.
Forty years ago I was privileged to spend the day with nine other chaplains and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross MD. It was a remarkable time as she walked us through her personal journey in the study of grief. DABDA was how she taught us to see the identifiable stages of grief. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. This I have come to know— grief is a gift— and it strips you away from attachments to what we thought we had. This past Tuesday my grief was deep. There were the personal losses like a road trip with my boys in June, the loss of routine, human connections. Then there was the deeper grief of scenes of refrigerator truck morgues at hospitals, nurses pleading for help and the ongoing parade of lies, meanness, scapegoating and self congratulating narcissism from______. It was a sad day.
Today is Saturday, I have already walked my neighborhood loop which takes me by ponds, birds, kids on bikes. Everyone, and I mean everyone waves and greets from a distance. This is as if Mother Nature has hit a giant reset button. I in no way want to minimize that loss, pain and grief. My sense is my ministry, in and through my congregation, will be to walk with the world as we slowly heal, while never forgetting just how much we need each other.
My daughter Amy read me her Palm Sunday prayer for tomorrow. I share it in closing, with her permission—

God our Hope, today is a Palm Sunday like no other.
The separation in our lives is undeniable – when we would usually gather to
remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem by waving palms and singing hosannas, today we stay home and wait for the angel of death to pass over us.
When we would usually enter this Holy week journey toward Easter with a sense of reverence and anticipation of resurrection, today we stay home fearful and locked away.
And yet – all of this is your story. None of this is new to you, God. We’ve heard about your redeeming grace that saved the Israelites who marked their doorposts, but now we pray daily – “Mark us by your love, oh God – that we would be spared from suffering!”
We’ve heard the story of the disciples who fled the crucifixion and locked themselves away, but now we long to hear Christ say, “Peace be with you,” and to “Receive the Holy Spirit” from his breath in the room.
We’ve heard so many times about when the people raised their palms and threw their cloaks on the ground with shouts of “Hosanna!”
But today, they are more than just words from our sacred past. They are the cries of our hearts – “Save us!” Save us, Jesus. Save us…
Help us to follow you in the way that leads to new life; the way of the cross. Hear our prayers for our community and for the world.
Unite us in your love, that even in this time of isolation and suffering, your grace will be revealed. Guide us all, in the ways of your justice and peace; that we may honor one another and serve the common good.
Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources responsibly in the service of others and to your honor.

Bless all whose lives are closely linked with ours, and grant that we may serve Christ in them, and love one another as You love us.
Comfort and heal all those who suffer in body, mind, or spirit; give them courage and hope in their troubles, and bring them the joy of your salvation.
Give strength to the caregivers – the doctors and nurses, the sanitation workers and first responders, the grocery store workers, truck drivers and mail carriers who are keeping our communities alive. Comfort all who mourn in grief, who suffer loneliness in isolation, depression or anxiety in the stress and weight of this difficult and painful time.
In mercy, receive all who have died, that your will for them may be fulfilled; and we pray that we may share with all your saints in your eternal love. Hear our prayers, oh God. Save us. We ask all this in the name of your son, Jesus. Amen.
Onward and Inward, Mark

Hero


It has been two weeks since my last blog. There is a part of me that says “Mark, what could you possibly say or add to this cacophony of voices, memes, videos, posts, emails and news reports that has any importance”? I have set a goal of reaching out to every household at First Christian Church in Greeley every week. This experience has given me so much it feels like I am drinking out of a ‘fire hose of grace’. I want to share with you one story that has been circling between my heart and head.
I was talking with a recently retired member who sings a great tenor part in our choir which I really miss. He has a sister in Seattle who was in a rehab nursing home recovering from surgery. She now has Covid 19. She is the sole caregiver for a son with limited ability. He is home alone without food. In our congregation is a young woman named Amy, who decided to take a year off before college to be an Americore worker in … you guessed it — Seattle. Amy was home last week in the relative safety of Greeley. She headed back to Seattle to do her job with kids. She took on an added task of bringing food to the son who was home without support or resources.
I have only known Amy for a little over three years. She was the top student in her class, sought after by many colleges. When I asked her where she wanted to go she said, “I am going to do this thing in Seattle and sort things out”. Little did she know she was heading into the first epicenter of the pandemic. I had the privilege two years ago of touring Israel with Amy and her parents. I could see then that a call had landed on her shoulders. For what and with whom, is still being revealed. Today a man eats because a young woman brings him food.
The heroes of this time are in the trenches.
Onward and Upward (and week three of house arrest).

Mark

Pandemic

My Dear Friends,

Nine days ago my very wise kids Mateo and Amy as much as begged me to stop my Lyft driving for the foreseeable future. I admit I did not grasp the gravity of Covid-19  and its implications. I now do. This is real, and none of us can accurately predict how it will affect each and every one of us. Mary Kay and I are practicing social distancing.  I am hoping to write something each week.  Today I ask you all to take very good care of yourselves and trust scientists, physicians, especially epidemiologists. We will learn a lot about ourselves both the good, and not so good.  I will be Lyfting you up every day. 

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Texas Skiers


I grew up skiing. We started at at Broden’s San Isabel hill. It was a single hill with a rope tow. We had wooden skies, cable bindings, lace up boots. We were bundled up like Randy in “Christmas Story”. For those of you unfamiliar with a rope tow, you slide over to the rope, line your skis up in a groove, put the rope in your right hand in front of you, while letting rope glide through your hand and then the hard part comes. You take your left hand and grip the rope behind your back, squeeze hard and if your shoulders stay in the socket you fly up to the top of the hill. In 1962 my dad bought into Monarch Ski area. I still have a lifetime pass. I know every square acre of that whole mountain. I was spoiled; we knew most everyone on the mountain or so we thought. However, every Christmas and Spring Break, Salida was invaded by 100’s of Texans. I will default to stereo types— loud, pushy, hot girls, horrible skiers. We took delight in directing them to black diamonds or dead ends. I skied for 50 years, my knees won’t work anymore so I go skiing in my memories.
Last week I picked up three twenty-somethings at DIA who had never been to Colorado, never skied, full of questions and yes, from Texas. “Where are you going”? “We don’t know, do you have any suggestions”? We began an interchange that revealed a naïveté of Texas proportions. They were oooooing and ahhhhing about the whole front range. “Think of all of Colorado as a wrinkled sheet. If you flattened out all the surface area guess what it would cover? “We give”. “Texas… we have more surface area than Texas”. “So where should we go”? “First of all, book a total half day lesson package. Then take off at 5:30am, as the traffic is horrible”. They literally booked everything at Loveland per my recommendation. “I think you saved us a lot of hassle”. “Yep”… this was my amend for sending about 10 Texans from a Baptist youth group, in l967, down a path that the only way out was to hike back up.
A side note. My daughter, a light of my life, said, “I will never marry: a single child, blonde, blue eyed Texan. Christian Piatt is all of those… and I have fallen in love with Granbury, Texas – their home.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Dr. Jim

IMG_1405About three weeks ago I got a ping to go to a high rise senior living facility off of Speer Blvd.  The 80-something woman hopped in the back seat and asked me if I knew the street of her destination.  I said, “I sure do, I took you there from here, before Christmas.  You go every Tuesday to have dinner with your old neighbors who you lived next door to, in Park Hill”. “You have a great memory”. “Well, about some things.  Ask me where I left my car keys.  I spend my days herding my stuff”.  She laughed, “Well, I warn you young man, it doesn’t get any easier.  I remember, you are that Lyft driving pastor”. “Ding, ding, ding you win tonight’s prize”.  “I do, what pray tell, is it”?  “A 20 minute ride with my favorite Lyft driver…”.  “I’ll take it. So how is the church business”?  “Truthfully, it’s pretty amazing.  I am working on a workshop called “The End of Church as We Knew It”.

I then asked her what she did professionally. “I was a pediatric nurse practitioner”. “Did you know Dr. Jim Strain”?  “I sure did. He is the best I have ever known”. “Well, I have known him the better part of my life. He is in home hospice; I was just with him a couple of days ago”. We continued our conversation about Dr. Jim.  She got out at her neighbor’s home. “I sure hope I get you again”. “Well, if I am by this place at 6:30p on a Monday, I will turn on my app and hope for the best”.

Dr. Jim died on February 4th. I don’t know that I have ever known a man who lived as fully and richly as he did. Every person he met was important.  He is the reason I ended up as pastor of South Broadway Christian Church from 1997-2015. He was driving through Alamosa in 1995 and took me to lunch. He gently planted the seed that brought me to that magical, historical, gem of a congregation.  There is so much I could share about Dr. Jim. But I will agree with my Lyft passenger, ‘the best I have ever known’. He was never my doctor, but he was truly as fine a human, student, father, husband, grandfather, Day 1 Bronco fan, life long learner, with whom I have ever had the pleasure of sharing life.  Four years ago I went by to visit him as I was trying to figure out this whole retirement thing. “So Mark, what are you doing to stay busy”?   I told him about Lyft. “Oh, so you’re a taxi driver”. “Well, not exactly”. “Mark, call it for what it is… you’re a taxi driver”. A couple years later I remember another conversation we had. “Mark, we are two of the luckiest guys I know”. “Yes we are, Dr. Jim…” and sharing my life with him confirms it. 

Onward and Upward,

Mark

What are the Odds?

My Wednesday day off began with lunch with a friend in West Arvada. I decided to do a little driving from the ‘Heaven Dragon’ parking lot afterwords. It took 10 seconds and I was picking up Jason to head out on a 41 mile trip to DIA. Not a word was spoken for the first half of the ride. I have learned that not every rider wants a conversation, and so it was dead silent for the first half of the way. Then from the back seat the questions began to rain. I soon learned that he had four kids – 16, and 9 year old girls, followed by a 6 and 2 on the boy side. “My last Lyft driver said, ‘You have them at every phase, teenage drama and diapers’.” We had a fun time talking about kids, Colorado, and the upcoming Super Bowl. As we were pulling in to the drop off area I was pinged with a double shared ride, Steve and Mariel.

I circled back to level 5, Island 1,West side, and they both hopped in. Mariel was a 20-something who grabbed the back seat and Steve was a 50+ guy who got shotgun. Front seat: “I hope we are going to Boulder? I didn’t realize I ordered a shared ride”. Back seat: “Yep.” It is a 44 mile trip to Boulder. Steve began the conversation by sharing he was from Pittsburgh and he had just taken a side trip to Montana to ski before business in Boulder. We started talking about skiing. “I made my last run at Steamboat about six years ago. My knees can’t take it. I grew up skiing at Monarch, as I am from Pueblo”. Mariel said “Really! My dad is from Pueblo”. “What’s his last name”? “McCown”. “Bob or Mike?”

“Mike”. “Oh my, I know your family. Mike and I went through high school together. Your grandmother Muriel was the best English teacher ever. I am a pastor, I had your grandpa Dean’s memorial service”. The fun began.

It turns out her boss in Boulder was a fraternity brother of Steve’s. (Remember the front seat? )The energy in the conversations filled the 45 minutes with Joy. “Your Grandma Muriel was the best teacher I had in high school. We did Silas Marner and Shakespeare my junior year and advanced composition and vocabulary building my senior year. She brought out the best in her students. She respected us and expected us to give our best. We did”. Mariel’s dad Mike, was a ferry boat captain for the Seattle Transit Authority in the waterways of the Pacific NW. “My dad Bill Pumphrey, was born in Bellingham. He thought your dad had a dream job”. We agreed that our Lyft drive was more like a fun family reunion. I asked her for permission to share this with my blog. She said “Sure”. “I can still see your dad Mike, running for a touchdown our sophomore year. He was our hero. Tell him and your grandmother hi”. “For sure”.

Small world.

Onward and Upward, Mark

Mutton Buster

Up until the recent great migration into Colorado, Denver was known as a ‘cow town’. Every January we host The Great Western Stock Show. We traditionally leave our Holiday lights up until the last cowboy hits the dirt in late January. Believe it or not, many of the folk who come to see bucking broncos or ‘Spin Dry’ the Brahma bull, actually prefer to take a Lyft to the Stockyards and leave their ‘big A-s’ truck parked far away. Well, the Stock Show makes me happy. I especially felt that way when I picked up a family of four at a downtown hotel. Little Jimmy, who was sporting a cowboy hat that almost covered his floppy ears said, “I am a mutton buster”. Which in cowboy talk means it’s the first step to the broncs – they try to ride sheep.

Mutton Busting has been an annual event at the last half time show of the year of the Broncos game. It’s a Stock Show preview. It always gets a lot of laughs as the kids fly off a terrified sheep. Jimmy began to proudly tell me he had been practicing on Fluffy, the family golden retriever, and just last week he ‘almost got to the flower bed’. His older sister was his trainer and cheerleader, “I think he is going to win, he’s not afraid of anything’. I was having a flash back to when I was eight and my brother Charley was four. We spent two weeks on a dairy farm in Iowa. I talked Charley into dropping on top of a young calf from the fence. He lasted about two seconds.

We pulled into the ride share drop off at the stock yards. It was a parade of hats and boots and a whole lot of smiles. Some traditions are worth maintaining. I have no idea how Jimmy fared in his debut. But if

confidence is any predictor, there is a sheep who “got busted”.

Onward and Upward, Mark

Chemo

Let me first tell my readers that I took three weeks off from blogging.  Between the Holidays, writer’s block, and flying to California to play with family, I took a nice break.  This piece begins year 3 of my dive in to the blogosphere (autocorrect knows the word).  Over the past three weeks I have been doing some intermittent Lyfting.  There are probably 20 stories I could reflect on and share but one in particular stands out. 

It was on December 31st and I got a ping to St. Joe’s hospital in central Denver.  As I pulled into the drive-in pick-up I got a call. “Hi there, I am sorry the GPS brought you to the main hospital, it always does.  Could you drive to the cancer center; I will talk you there”?  She gave me perfect directions as she guided me to a complex a bit away… Siri you have competition!!! I pulled up in that drive through to be met with a big smile.  She hopped in the front seat, I hit the welcome aboard swipe and up came her destination— Evergreen 🌲– 39 miles one way into the mountains. We headed west towards the mountains. 

Without prodding she began to tell me her story. “When the cancer was diagnosed my Oncologist said ‘There are two choices. You can have four chemo treatments with a 75% survival rate. Or you can do 20 with a 95% success rate’. I chose door #2”.  “That would have been my choice”.  “I am half way through.  There are four Lyft drivers up in the mountains.  They take turns parking by my house to pick me up for my trip down.  Today you get to take me home, I hope you don’t mind”? “Heck no, I need a trip up to the beauty of the mountains”. 

I soon realized that I was riding with a 4th generation Coloradoan like my self.  She matched me tit for tat on “Native Trivia”. She even had the right answer to “If you think of Colorado as a wrinkled sheet and you flattened it out what state could it cover”?  “Well, Texas of course” she said with a cackle.  “Ding ding ding… we have a winner”. About that time we came upon a herd of elk that caused us to stop the car.  We both said almost at the same time “And we live here”. 

We worked our way up a winding road that turned to gravel.  I was in forrest heaven. We pulled up into a dapper mountain cabin.  I thanked her for her resilience and faith. She thanked me for a “fun ride”.  This made my New Years Eve.

Welcome to the next decade.  May my stories continue to Lyft you up!

Onward and Upward,

Mark

Pat

I begin my third year of Lyft driving from my location in the “Burbs of Arvada”. It is a very different experience starting at the far reaches of the NW area of our metroplex. I began over four years ago on this adventure from my perch at Wash Park. There, it usually took about 10 seconds to get a ping, as the population density and urban scene called for it. Friday is my Lyft day. Now I start by sitting in my driveway waiting sometimes 5-10 minutes. If nothing connects I usually move towards downtown. My first ride began at King Soopers where I picked up a young guy who said

“Do you mind if I eat this MacIntosh apple” ? “Help yourself”. “Well I

am from New England and they take me home”. He was on his lunch break from some big complex near the foothills. I dropped him off and waited in the parking lot for ride #2. It came after about 10 minutes – “Pat”.

I headed back north a bit to this 1960’s Arvada neighborhood that was tucked away by a small lake. It’s not an area that you would ever know was there. I was in a nostalgia Christmas trance as I admired the dapper ranch homes where no two were alike. I wondered if Pat was a boy or a girl. There she stood out on the curb, silver gray hair holding her smart phone. She could have been my Mom Pat’s stunt double. My heart sang and cried at the same time. Nat King Cole was singing “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”. She got in the back seat and my first words were, “My Mom’s name was Pat and she shared your stunning silver hair”. Pat smiled and thanked me. “I sold my car last year. I figured that I was better off taking Lyft for two reasons. I save a lot of money and I love being taken to my errands. It gets lonely living alone”. The next 10 minutes on our drive to Walmart were a delight. “I miss my Mom more than ever at this time of year. Pat, you have been a treasure to me today”.

We pulled up to Walmart and I saw her reaching into her purse. She grabbed my hand (just the way my Mom did) and put a handful of $1’s in my palm. “Mark, thanks for the ride, I really appreciate your time”. Her grace was a reflection of her 88 years of living gratefully. I knew better than to refuse her tip. As she walked into Walmart I admired again her stunning hair. Today I got my car cleaned at Water Works. The only $1’s I had were from Pat. I dropped a dollar in the tip can and somehow knew it would do some good.

Onward and Upward, Mark