Another Lesson in Humility


One of my new pit stops is the COSTCO located off of I-25 just north of 160th. For you non Colorado folks, that is way north between Arvada and Greeley on my commute. I can save about $.50 a gallon, which adds up when you are driving four to six hundred miles a week. The other night I had a perfect plan. I had just enough gas to make it to COSTCO on my way home. As is my habit, I call MK on my commute home as we need no stranded geezers on I-25. I told her my COSTCO plan and then the dreaded words that every honest man learns to live with, “Honey, would you mind…”. This time it was AAA batteries, I was trapped.
Well I gassed up, then I gathered my red cane, got a choice Handicapped Parking spot and headed in to do battle at COSTCO. My theory at these places is that one must take full advantage of being there. Hence, the giant cart might as well get filled if I am looking for batteries and TP. Shopping alone can be great, if I want it, I buy it. There is no “are you sure we need this”? So I made efficient use of my Costco errand. One of the problems with this particular COSTCO is that its floor plan is a mirror image of the one I ordinarily shop at. It took me 30 minutes of hunting to figure out that everything was flipped around. My first thoughts were “Now I have COVID brain too”.
I got everything, including AAA batteries, all in the top of the cart. The checkout was seamless, except that the well meaning staff person had put my giant paper towel bale and the 36 roll of COSTCO TP on the bottom rack. So I headed out on the very icy and cold pavement, dreading trying to retrieve the paper products, as my Post—Covid joints are really tricky. I got everything but the two bales of paper products loaded. About that time, a 3/4 ton BA truck pulled right across from me, complete with a MAGA sticker. The sizable driver hops out and quickly says, “Can I help you sir?” He went to work, got the two items put perfectly in my car and then said, “Is there anything else I can help you with”? “No that was great”. “Oh yes, can I take your cart back?” Now two weeks ago, I had taken the ‘I will always return my cart’ pledge as a result of being called out by one of my kids. “Thanks so much, I will tell you that you have made my day. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and kindness”.
I got in my toasty car, pulled out, and looked at the truck whose driver came to my aid. I am not used to being the recipient of these random acts

of kindness. Humility is not humiliation. Rather, it is knowing where you fit. The literal definition of humus is ‘of the earth’. Humus (the root word for humility) is not just for gardening, it’s the gift of either being brought down or lifted up—some days they happen at the same time.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Buzz Cut with a # 2


I am not sure when I got my first “haircut” but I do remember sitting on a yellow stool with a tea-towel pinned around my neck. My dad was the “barber” . The buzz of the clipper and the smell of the blade lubricant still remains. The itch that followed was an irritant, but the feel of a freshly smoothed head always made me smile. The evolution of my hair being cut is ending where it began.
I was probably about five when my dad loaded me in his 53’ Chevy pick- up with port windows. “We are going to ‘Slick’s Barber Shop’ today for a real haircut”. Slick’s was classic old school. It was in the basement of the Pueblo Star Journal and Chieftain building. The staircase was adorned with a red, white and blue barber poll. To enter Slick’s was go to the center of my slowly emerging manhood. There were four barber chairs there, all staffed with a team of men in white. Slick called my name and I took my place in the chair. He had a handle on the side which he pumped and got me up to the right level. The best part was the “smell good” he put on as he finished. I matured at least five grades on that day.
I don’t think I went to Slick’s for every haircut but it was always a treat. I do remember my dad getting me inside of the bowels of the newspaper when the presses were rolling. It was almost as great as getting to watch freight trains arrive at the depot just a few blocks away.
Slick’s gave way to Hamm’s Barber Shop which was at the new shopping center. What I remember is that I was really in to “flat tops”, complete with Butch Wax, which was beyond me dad’s homemade hair cut expertise. When high school hit we discovered a barber shop in the Colorado Building in downtown Pueblo. They had Playboy magazines for your viewing pleasure, and a long line of 16 year olds from every high school.
For the next forty plus years, I migrated to everything from chain hair places to beauty shops. When I first moved to Denver I got my hair cut for a couple of years at a place that gave you a neck and shoulder massage. About seven years ago, I decided to go back to the home barber arrangement and MK bought her own clippers, which came complete with one of those yellow and black books “Haircuts for Dummies”.

A couple of years ago MK announced that she was done with being my barber, and suggested that I use her private stylist named Guy. Guy is awesome. He is a good friend of our grandson Zach. We have worked out a barter system where we trade time share for buzz cuts.
Yesterday I was at least three weeks past my date with the #2 clipper stetting. Guy worked me in and in 12 minutes there was a pile of hair on the floor and a smile from Guy. He showed me the entirety of what he cut. How did it become so grey? Well my motto for years has been “turn grey and stay”. So far, my forehead has grown a bit but there is no shiny back side.
From Slick’s to Guy’s living room, they both create an experience that is better than just getting a buzz cut.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Denver East High


Twelve years ago I was asked by my cousin Chelli’s then-husband if I would give the introductory lecture at a brand new class he was teaching at Denver East High— Exploring Comparative Religions. He asked if I could give an hour and a half presentation on “What is Religion and its Role in Society”? I told him I would be honored. This past Thursday I taught two sections for this now very popular class.
Last year I had the challenge of doing it via a screen. We made it work but there is nothing like face to face. Ministry offers a huge variety of opportunities and experiences. I have spoken at middle school health days on addiction and recovery. I have served on panels, been interviewed by both print—media, and television. I can tell you that my every semester kick off at East High is my favorite thing I have ever done. Thursday was no disappointment.
I always begin each class by asking every student to tell me their name and why they took the class. The answers every year are consistent—“I heard it was a great class”, “My counselor made me take it”, “My sister took it and told me to”, “It just sounded cool”. The thing that moves me each year is the hunger that students have for honest conversations about the mystery of our existence, and how religion attempts to make sense of it.
I tell the kids that what will make the class work is their questions. “There are no questions that are off limits, I will do my best to give you my take and what I am really excited about is honest dialog”. Things usually start slowly and by the end of class, the teacher Shaun has to get written questions for me to respond to, as the 80 minutes are too short.
This year in both classes a very similar question was asked,”Has there ever been a time you did not have faith”? Without trying to retell you those moments, I share that my greatest growth has come during and after “Dark Nights of the Soul”. I told them about my most recent experience of my 18 day hospitalization with Covid. “One night at 3am I lay there in a diaper, unable to to anything for myself. I said ‘Ok God, it’s you and me’. For an hour I lay there in lonely silence. Then my answers came. The little voice that never lies to me spoke very directly. One word—Compassion”.

That was it… that was my answer. I shared that compassion is the reality that connects us with all that is.
We then usually enter into a conversation about the difference between belief and faith. Certitude is the enemy of a healthy life giving faith. When we we think we “know something, or have something” we quit growing. “God is not something you put in your pocket, or get a merit badge in. That’s what I find so compelling about Jesus—his faith grew as he engaged with real people struggling with these very questions”.
I left the high school through the midst of the most diverse crew of kids I could imagine. They were all out in front of the school on a break. They were wearing masks, but that did not deter their energy.
Once again, I felt like I received way more than I gave—and I remember my friend who said years ago, “That axiom is true, but we don’t give to get”. These kids give me some hope.
Onward and Upward, Mark

January 1, 2022


It is afternoon on New Year’s Day. It’s always interesting to decide if I have anything to write about. When I was driving for LYFT it was easy. The stories showed up in my car. It was often the case that I had four or five customers that lit up my imagination. COVID stopped my Lyft driving, so in the mean time I have tried to share stories of where the ordinary reveals the extraordinary. People, places, events, all provided a point of reflection. I was thinking about exactly two years ago. I did a little LYFT driving, game watching, and planning out my year.
We all know what happened in 2020. Those days are long gone. For many 2021 held a lot of optimism. Some talked about a new normal. You all know how that worked out. We probably each have our own list how 2021 was not normal. For me, my Breakthrough Delta Variant 18 day hospitalization tops my list—it beat out the attempted coup by a band of pretend patriots.
So I just got a phone call from my daughter Amy. They were getting ready to leave on a 7–day beach vacation road trip to Florida. My son-in-law Christian, tested positive for Covid. They have to cancel their trip. Mind you, they are all vaccinated. Amy said, “I know we have to do what we would expect others to do… and I don’t like it”. This stuff seems relentless. So instead of Daytona Beach it will be another week of ‘staycation’.
This past day we got a beautiful 8” snow-globe style snow. Things out my window look pristine. Two days ago, I was watching our bird feeders go parallel in a 100 mph windstorm. I read on my phone alert of grassfires in Boulder county, six miles to our north. Today the report came that 991 homes were burnt into their basements just over the hill from me. The paradox of the purity of the snow and a firestorm disturbs.
I am by nature a hopeful and optimistic guy. I remain so. However, I understand the only anecdote for living through this “crack the historical whip” life we are now dealing with, is to be in the present moment. I think that is one of the things I loved about LYFT driving—each and every ride required me to be present to what was. The app gave directions to where, and my job was to be safe and present.

So here it is a brand new year— I will try to be grateful and present and set expectations aside.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Christmas Trees


This is the second year that our home will not be graced by a traditional Christmas tree. It is a hard decision but when it is just the M and MK show at the townhome, and MK leaves Christmas Day for a month with the California crew, it makes no sense. We have settled for these two trees in these pictures.
While I was swimming my hour today, I started thinking about all the Christmas trees I have experienced over my life. My memory bank takes me back to ‘bubble lights’, metal tinsel, paper chains and popcorn strings. I have tender memories of my mom lighting this huge candle, putting on an LP record on the HIGH-FI and sitting on my couch while the fire crackled. If an eight year old can have a profound spiritual experience—I did.
My dad was a YMCA devotee. He was in the Y’s Men’s Club. which supported the local YMCA, which was a centering point in our family life. The Pueblo Y owns a magnificent summer camp in the Greenhorn mountains. Every year his club would head into hundreds of acres of forest and harvest about 200 trees. They would then set up a Christmas tree lot on a vacant space next to my dad’s business. One of the joys of my early life was being invited to join my dad and his buddies to ‘hang out’ while they peddled trees. I remember a warming fire in a 55 gallon drum and the smell of whiskey in their coffee.
You might think that because my dad was so invested in both the harvesting and selling of these trees, that we would have our pick of a choice tree. Every year my dad would find a tree that he ‘felt sorry for’. It was always a Balsam with a couple of gaping holes in its form. I do love Balsam trees for their soft needles and the little pockets of sap on the their skin. I learned very early if you poked the sap pocket with your finger nail, a glistening drop of sap would cover your finger. The smell was Christmas.
The part I miss most about not decorating a tree are the memories attached to the ornaments. Last Sunday in our weekly Zoom call with granddaughter Sofia, she was “decorating” their tree. More than five times

we noticed an ornament that we had passed on or gifted. Those connections with memory are amazing. Who knew that a mouse in a Santa hat could take me back 37 years to a Christmas filled with four kids, who had been thrown into a new family.
I love to drive around and go look at Christmas lights. Certainly there are some spectacular displays. However, nothing warms my heart more than a family tree in a bay window smiling at the world.
Onward and Upward, Mark

DT


I have not kept it a secret that I have been a loyal and unwavering Bronco fan since 1960. I was at the first game they played in Colorado, where I attended with my dad and his buddies. Every year after that we would come up to Denver to see the hapless Broncos. I remember being at a Charger game in about 1965, where there might have been 10,000 fans scattered though-out the old Bears baseball stadium. We roamed around in bands of teenage boys where we had pretty much free reign in the stadium.
In 1984 I came into possession of two season tickets in the South Stands which was called MILE HIGH. I was there for John Elway’s debut at 22 and now he is pushing 60. In my Orange and Blue memory bank I have reams of moments of agony and ecstasy. A few years ago I had to have a serious talk with myself. Summed up it went like this—“Mark either you have to treat this like entertainment provided by overpaid young genetic freaks, or you need to give it up. It’s not that important.” I chose to enjoy the Broncos and not let them determine my worth as a human being.
Over the last 61 years I have watched a lot of players. In 1985 my son Mateo and I met Karl Mecklenburg in Pueblo. He had speaking engagement on behalf of the Tennyson Center and we were his hosts. He asked if he could take us for a soda. We spent the next hour being driving around by that gentle giant who told us his story of choosing football over medical school. I literally crashed into John Elway at the Cherry Creek Mall as we both turned around a blind corner. He was on his cell phone herding four kids into the mall. We laughed as I watched his kids get away from him as fast as they could to go Mall it Up.
Last night a banner came up on my TV screen that 33 year old Damariyus Thomas, a retired Denver Bronco, was found dead at his home. I listened as the tributes poured in about DT. They all pretty much said the same thing—a very kind, shy, genuine and humble young man. This morning I heard again the story of when he was 11 and his mother and grandmother were arrested and sent to prison for drug dealing. I heard about a young boy whose primary concern were his younger two siblings. They told of boy who went to manhood overnight. He should have been another

statistic and instead he thrived and most of all, gave. He often said what made all the difference were people who loved him and believed in him.
Story after story was told about his genuine love of kids. About his willingness to give totally of himself but never pointing to himself. When he retired he said, “I don’t want to be remembered as Damariyus the football player, but for the kind of man I am becoming”.
It happened right in front of me. It was overtime and the Bronco playoff game against the Steelers. Tim Tebow threw a perfect pass to DT who headed down the sideline. He have a perfect ‘straight arm’ to the Pittsburg safety, and then bolted into the end zone. The game was won, just like that.
“DT was a better person than he was a player, and he was a Hall of Fame player. That tells you how good of a person he was. He treated my kids like they were his own. He was there for every teammate’s charity event.” —Peyton Manning.
DT #88 lived to give. Football was just something he was great at playing. Life was something he was good at living.
Onward and Upward, Mark

My Red “Not Candy Cane”


When I was a teenager cars were of great fascination and a source of status in Pueblo. That was an age where style was more important than function. It was before muscle cars—just hot rods and “Cherry-ed Out” anythings—save a Nash Rambler. The color of choice for the real gear heads was Candy Apple Red, the same as the cane you see pictured. Yes, that is my own cane. I never had a Hot Rod and my only red car was my Mitsubishi Sport Lyft-mobile. It seems that in my post Covid life the one function of my body that did not fare well are my joints. They were already suspect but now they are failing fast. So I get a hot red cane for being a Covid survivor.
I thought when I got done with rehab that I could ditch the cane, no such luck. I actually went to “cane class” with both a physical and occupational therapist. We practiced things like stairs, chairs and walking in a straight line. There are some days I don’t seem to need the cane much and then others its my constant companion.
Last week we went to a Bronco Game. I walked nearly 10,000 steps’ (ask my Apple Watch) all of them with my cane. Not my brightest move I might say, but I want to comment on how a guy in a bright Orange Bronco Hoodie with a cane is treated. I am amazed how kind and thoughtful people are. For the most part if they see the cane coming they are careful to make room, give me an affirming smile, and more than once a “What a great Fan, I am proud of you”. Mary Kay commented how she noticed the warmth of strangers towards the guy with the shiny red cane.
My male ego is taking a fairly large hit these days. I am beyond grateful to be alive, I just miss my joints working. I have read where this is one of the “long hauler” manifestations of joint and muscle pain—TRUE!!! I guess it beats broken lungs or memory. I still think of myself as the young guy. I recently attended a fantastic clergy retreat with 25 others. I was the oldest person there and the only one with a cane.
I don’t want to sound like I don’t like this red beauty, it is a tool that is fast becoming a friend. My dad used to say to me “Mark if you live long enough you will get many lessons in humility, learn from them”. So today I want to say thanks to Walgreens and their fancy cane selection. She’s a

Candy Apple Red beauty who not only helps me walk, but can turn on and off lights with the flick of my wrist.
Onward and Upwards, Mark

My Red “Not Candy Cane”


When I was a teenager cars were of great fascination and a source of status in Pueblo. That was an age where style was more important than function. It was before muscle cars—just hot rods and “Cherry-ed Out” anythings—save a Nash Rambler. The color of choice for the real gear heads was Candy Apple Red, the same as the cane you see pictured. Yes, that is my own cane. I never had a Hot Rod and my only red car was my Mitsubishi Sport Lyft-mobile. It seems that in my post Covid life the one function of my body that did not fare well are my joints. They were already suspect but now they are failing fast. So I get a hot red cane for being a Covid survivor.
I thought when I got done with rehab that I could ditch the cane, no such luck. I actually went to “cane class” with both a physical and occupational therapist. We practiced things like stairs, chairs and walking in a straight line. There are some days I don’t seem to need the cane much and then others its my constant companion.
Last week we went to a Bronco Game. I walked nearly 10,000 steps’ (ask my Apple Watch) all of them with my cane. Not my brightest move I might say, but I want to comment on how a guy in a bright Orange Bronco Hoodie with a cane is treated. I am amazed how kind and thoughtful people are. For the most part if they see the cane coming they are careful to make room, give me an affirming smile, and more than once a “What a great Fan, I am proud of you”. Mary Kay commented how she noticed the warmth of strangers towards the guy with the shiny red cane.
My male ego is taking a fairly large hit these days. I am beyond grateful to be alive, I just miss my joints working. I have read where this is one of the “long hauler” manifestations of joint and muscle pain—TRUE!!! I guess it beats broken lungs or memory. I still think of myself as the young guy. I recently attended a fantastic clergy retreat with 25 others. I was the oldest person there and the only one with a cane.
I don’t want to sound like I don’t like this red beauty, it is a tool that is fast becoming a friend. My dad used to say to me “Mark if you live long enough you will get many lessons in humility, learn from them”. So today I want to say thanks to Walgreens and their fancy cane selection. She’s a

Candy Apple Red beauty who not only helps me walk, but can turn on and off lights with the flick of my wrist.
Onward and Upwards, Mark

Doing it again for the first time


This Sunday starts the first week of Advent. It is also the first time I will preach since August. I got an ‘unintentional sabbatical’ for 12 weeks. For any of you first time readers, I contracted a “breakthrough delta variant” covid infection which put me in the hospital for 18 days. For the last almost five years I have served as the lead pastor at First Christian Church in Greeley—I failed retirement. The first three years we were experiencing an exciting growth and visioning—then Covid.
Last year we had ‘hoped’ to reboot for Advent and Christmas, the second wave hit and we remained virtual. Tomorrow is Hope Sunday. As I approach such an inviting topic, I realize that the Mark who has take a homiletical deep dive into “Romans 8”, is not the same Mark who was skipping along blithely three months ago—I had a “Significant Emotional Experience”. It got me to thinking about the times in my life that what I experienced changed how I view the world. Hope means something different to me today, having had my flyby with the ‘grim reaper’.
These turning points will come to all of us. We don’t control them, all we can do is examine how we react to them and learn from them. I am thinking about those times in my life where a significant turn was taken. I am going to list a few of them (people love lists) and I would invite you to do the same:
*** 1953– My mom was hospitalized with “postpartum psychosis” after the birth of my brother. Then, for the next four years she battled a deep mental health crisis. Needless to say it affected all of us. I am blessed to share that she came though it and helped many other people with their struggles.
*** 1958– On a trip to the North West I got a case of Ring Worm. I had to have my head shaved and wear a sailor cap for four months. It became sport for other kids to… be cruel. I honed my capacity for empathy.
*** 1965-66– We hosted a foreign exchange student from Belgium, named Paul. He remains my brother—we FaceTime once a month and hope to resume our trans-Atlantic visitations—post Covid. Our relationship opened up a much bigger world to both of us.

*** 1979–In one month I found myself divorced and couch surfing, and then my youngest brother Don was killed. I learned more about grief than I could imagine.
*** 1987— I had my last drink and found AA. I learn more everyday about what really matters.
There are many more.
The question I am having to ask myself today is, “What really is Hope?” I just read an article about “Luxury Advent Calendars” from the Wall Street Journal. “Advent calendars were once a humble fun way to count down to Christmas. Now they disgorge expensive beauty products, gin, flavors of pork cracklings or $150,000 of Tiffany jewelry”. As for me give me a good daily devotional and a candle to light.
If I learned one thing from my recent “viral experience”— what still gives me hope is the kindness and generosity of so many of you!!!
Onward and Upward, Mark

It’s Christmas in Clinton, Oklahoma


This past Wednesday we took the “scenic route” from Granbury, Texas to Plainville, Kansas. We had spent a week in Texas with daughter Amy and family, where it could not have been any better for Papa Mark. It was topped off last Sunday with a Denver Bronco romping of the Dallas Cowboys.
We treated the whole Piatt clan to nosebleed seats at AT&T stadium. We were a house divided. My only hope for the game was ‘please don’t embarrass Colorado’—in fact in spite of Vegas odds that had the Broncos losing by 13, the boys in Orange humiliated the Cowboys. I tried very hard not to gloat, but watching my son in law’s face sink into just this side of despair almost made the fortune I spent on the tickets worth it.
Recently I have connected with friends I have not seen for 40 years. Kathy and Charlie invited us to stay at their house in Plainville, KS on our way both coming and going to Texas. The time with them was truly a gift which I suspect will grow into even more shared experiences. On the way to Texas we did the I-70, I-35 route. It might have been shorter but the stress factor was off the charts—construction, rush hour, and way too many BA__ trucks. We decided to take the two-lane route back.
It was a beautiful autumn day as we worked our way through one small town after another. What I saw was the “melting away” of rural America. Town after town had dozens of shuttered businesses and homes. What were once bustling post—WWII communities were all wilting on the vine if not already gone. The worst was Roosevelt, Texas. It would make a great set for a very scary movie. Blocks of decaying homes and businesses littered the highway through town. The only vital businesses were junk yards that sold very specialized “car parts”. One whole city block had nothing but side panels, while another had truck beds. I was reminded about my time in Israel, where we visited archeological sites that revealed 23 different communities built on each other.
I suspect we went through 15-20 communities all of which showed the slow death of changing times. The whole time we did these 100’s of miles, we were listening to “Willies Roadhouse” on satellite radio. So many of the songs echoed through images of times gone by. The only constant is change.

We came in through a part of Oklahoma l had never seen. I knew the names of the towns, Lawton, Fredrick, Hobart and the like. I had spent 11 years of my life living in Oklahoma, and politics aside, I consider it one of my homes.
We decided to get gas in Clinton, OK which is actually a town which I once visited. We stopped at a dapper convenience store/gas station/gathering place. After gassing up I went in to take advantage of the facilities. I was immediately greeted with a very friendly “Welcome, how can I help you?” I asked directions to the WC and as I was walking back there I realized that the I was listening to Gene Autry singing “Here Comes Santa Claus”. The music was piped into the sparkling clean Men’s room where the music transitioned to “Oh Holy Night”—you can’t make this stuff up!!! It was November 10th, they still had left over Halloween candy on sale.
I bought a bag of “Dots Pretzels” which, if you have not tried them, have raised the pretzel bar to a new level. I learned about them from my 2 year old granddaughter, Sofia, a couple of weeks ago. They are made in North Dakota and they should be illegal—that good. So I noted to Miss Extra Friendly about the Christmas music. She said, “I need Christmas. I already have two trees up at home”. About that time the Muppets were singing the “Twelve Days of Christmas”. Who was I to argue. At least it wasn’t “Please Daddy don’t get Drunk this Christmas”.
So, Christmas in Clinton begins at the Shell station in early November. Fun is where you find it.
Onward and Upward, Mark