I Do All My Own Stunts

When I was not quite four years old, my parents bought one of those great swing sets that have two swings, a teter-totter, a slide, and a ladder. My parents decided that the ladder was “too dangerous” so it was put in the garage. On my own I decided to retrieve the ladder and place it on the side of the house, on the back patio. Long story short— I climbed up the ladder only to have it slide down the wall of the house with my wrists under a rung. Yes, I broke both of my arms. So much for protecting me from the ladder. This began a life-long series of pratt-falls.

The next significant crash was a fall down the basement stairs which broke my ankle. I suspect that in today’s world of reporting these kinds of injuries, my parents might have gotten a visit from Child Protective Services. My next crash of memory happened in 8th grade, when I was run over by an AV cart which half severed my Achilles.
I do remember the ice storms of Oklahoma which put me on the sidewalk more times than I can count.


My next fall of record happened during the Cleveland Browns vs. Broncos game that included “The Drive”. With the Rich Karlis kick for our win in overtime, I jumped up into the air in our family room. My toe caught the fireplace and I fell right through our glass coffee table. The only kids who were at home to witness the 10,000 pieces of safety glass on our floor, were Steph and Matt. After they saw no blood, Steph burst into laughter as I lay looking up through the frame of the table from the floor—Go Broncos.


My ‘all time best’ fall took place about 20 years ago when we lived at the top of Capitol Hill. I would often walk to work at South Broadway Christian Church, which was exactly two miles away. I was headed out the door and down the five flights of stairs to get to the street. Just before I got out the door I hear from upstairs “Honey could you carry that box out to my car in the garage”. That box contained a damaged and very expensive shadow box that MK had bought at the Cherry Creek Mall. I was frustrated for more reasons than I can enumerate. She was exchanging it and wove me into her scheme. I muttered and then took it to her car in the garage. As I was coming back in the the house through the kitchen I picked up a banana off the counter. I peeled it and shoved it in my mouth.

Then I hit the first landing I flung the peel into the street, about 30ft. below. As I stepped off the curb to the street, my right heel hit the peel and yes, it launched me onto Downing Street. I face planted well into the middle of the street. I looked south down the street to see a bus heading right at me. The irony of slipping on my own banana peel only to be run over by a bus stung. I got up and got back to the curb. The next question was “do I share this story”? It was too good not to tell on myself. My reward was this T-Shirt from my daughter Amy, which is featured here—I DO ALL MY OWN STUNTS.


My most recent crash was not of my own making. Last week I was coming out of the Men’s room after choir practice at FCC in Greeley. We had just installed new carpeting. The threshold cover had been accidentally left loose. My toe hit it and I went down like a ‘old growth’ tree. I hit the floor so hard that my Apple Watch wanted to call the Emergency Help line. In five minutes it asked again. “I see you are still on the ground, are you OK”? 12 days later I am healing and grateful that my worst fall was my first fall—some 69 years ago.
Onward and Upward, Mark

“Go Fly a Kite”


The other day as I was driving by the park in my neighborhood, I watched three kids about 10 years old or so launch a kite. In my growing up life, the month of March was ‘kite month’. For .25 you could buy a High Flyer kite which featured a variety of figures on it, and a paper skin that was stretched over the wooden support sticks. The “Man in the Moon” kite came in three colors if I remember—red, yellow, and blue. My preference was blue. A walk to Duckwalls “Five n’ Dime” could supply you with a kite, and a couple of balls of cotton string. The instructions for assembly were printed right on the kite. The trick was getting just the right bow in the cross bar, and then getting your mom to give you an old sheet from which you tore pieces to make the tail.
Once it was ready for flying, I would head off to the Ben Franklin Elementary giant play yard, to meet 10-15 other kids with their variety of kites. On a perfect kite flying day you would have a great breeze that would lift your kite to dot the sky. One of my most distinct memories was the year we got a kite up there with a couple of balls of string. In my kid mind it almost touched the clouds. I had an extra quarter in my pocket and Duckwalls was maybe three blocks away. I thought I would send my brother Charley there, to buy some more string—if two balls were good, four would be better.
Well, Charley did his job and we began to add ball number three. Buy this time we were sure that this kite could be seen from miles away. So we added number four to its line. Each ball was 250 ft, so I was pretty decent at math and we reached 1,000 ft. We were so proud of ourselves. There she was—our beautiful blue Man in the Moon kite sailing peacefully near heaven.
Then the laws of engineering stepped in. POP!!!—the string broke as a result of too much pull I guess. The kite took off towards the Fountain River. We hopped on our bikes and headed for a kite rescue. Oh we found it all right, stuck in the Cottonwood trees that line the river bank. There my kite was and my .50 investment. It was truly twisting in the wind.
That afternoon when my dad got home, we talked him into a possible kite rescue. We took him to the sight of our renegade kite. He said, “Boys,

that kite is a lost cause, but I will go to Duckwalls with you to get another one. This time we got a RED “Little Boy” and stuck to two balls of thread. On the all the Hi-Flier kites there was a print banner saying “Playmates of the Clouds”. I have a kite in the garage, I think Sunday afternoon I will see what she can do.
Onward and Upward, Mark `

Sofia Part II


So I took a week off as last weekend involved a three day round-trip to Oklahoma. I am here to report that the world is flat. Well at least it is for hundreds of miles east of here. I am a big fan of the road trip. This was a solo journey. Just me and my Sirius Radio. I had a lot to think about in those 10 hours of wind turbines, wide open space, and rest areas. We had just spent a week with our daughter Steph, and almost-three-year old Sofia, who I wrote about last week. Here is a summary of two Sundays ago and our counter clockwise, unplanned trip to the Nederland Carousel.
Sofia had her first experience being a PGK (preacher’s grandkid). We walked in the church an hour early—the bane of being my relative on a Sunday. Sofia had only been in a church building once at age six months, so this was a brand new experience for her. We enter through doors that take us right by a large “fellowship hall”. The crew who prepares the after church coffee was hard at work. We walked in this big space where she clung tightly to Grandma’s hand. I said, “Sofia, this is the snack room”. Bingo!!!—she was ready.
The next stop was the sanctuary, where Sandi the organist was practicing the organ. Sofia loves music—she already has over 100 songs on her daddy’s phone which she calls her ‘playlist’. This list very eclectic. It has everything from Devo, the “Bunny Song”, “Purple People Eater” to the Best Hits of the Three Stooges. However, her live music up until this time, was limited to Jordan the Banjo player who plays every Saturday at the Rancho Palos Verdes Farmer’s Market. She was totally taken in by the organ.
Her church experience went well but she was baffled that 80 people knew who she was. Mind you, 75% of her life has been spent living on lock down with Mommy and Daddy. After working the snack room following church, all three ‘girls’ wanted some real food. By the time we finished pizza, Sofia had been pushing for six hours without a nap. We loaded her in her car seat facing backwards, and by the time we hit Highway 34, Sofia went on a total meltdown. We are talking epic tantrum. Stephanie asked how long we had to drive until we got home. We told her 45 minutes.
“This is going to be a real mess. She will fall asleep and then we will have to wake her up and trust me this will continue. Can you go home the the long way?” Sure, we can keep heading straight to Estes Park. So it went.

Sofia conked out soon and the three adults had an unplanned Sunday drive. It was beautiful and the time of relative peace was special. We got to Estes Park and I said to MK, “Make a left here and we will go home the back way through Nederland”. That was another hour of lazy mountain driving. As we were pulling into Nederland you could hear Sofia waking up. Our plan was to be there on Monday. Steph said, “Hey let’s just stop here today”. MK pulled into the carousel parking lot. We asked Sofia if she knew where we were. “Yep, at the carousel”. “Do you want to go”? “Yes. So in we went. We rode it four times with Sofia picking a fish, a camel, a swan, and a frog.
We then headed back home towards Coal Creek Canyon, our direct route home. As we were driving down HWY 7, I had the strange feeling that MK had missed the turn home. Sure enough, it was time for a U-turn. We came back a few miles and turned up Coal Creek. We were working our way up the canyon and I spotted Bulwinkle tracks in the willows. I told Steph about how Colorado did not have a moose until 35 years ago, as the Wildlife Department attempted to transplant a few captured moose from Wyoming and Utah. The hope was that we might get a sustainable population of 300. We now have 3000. They like Colorado—(Wyoming still has only 800).
No sooner had I finished my moose lesson, than right there on the side of the road was a female dining on willow. We watched her for at least 10 minutes. This car pulled up going the other way and kindly asked if we needed help. We pointed out the moose and they flipped a U-turn and took up moose gazing with us. This day defined serendipity!!!
The next morning we were sitting at the dining room table all eating breakfast and out of Sofia’s mouth came, “I love Colorado”. So now Sofia and the moose have something in common.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Sofia Meets Snow


I have been blessed with ‘book-end’ grand kids. Zach, who was born on “Leap Day” 30 years ago, will celebrate his birthday with us Monday. His actual birthday will take place in that nano second on Midnight of Feb 28th. He was followed by seven other grandkids, the last of whom is Sofia who will be three this May. Sofia came today from California to spend a week in Colorado. Just a few minutes ago she put on her snow suit and went out to her first encounter with snow. Grandma packed her in the snow suit and she reminded me of Ralphie from ‘A Christmas Story’.
It was like watching a puppy in the park where she did everything from sticking her nose in it to throwing it in the air. She even made her first ‘snow angel’.
This past week I spent three days with grandson Miko in Taos, and had great visits on the phone with grandkids Michaela, Mattias and Zoe. I remember having a conversation with Dr. Jim Strain, RIP, a mentor, friend, Elder who walked with me for nearly18 years at South Broadway CC. He once served as the head of the American Academy of Pediatrics. We talked of the joy of grandkids. He said, “Well, we have an alliance with our grandkids, a common enemy—their parents”. We had a good laugh and then went on to brag with each other about those grandkids.
I call Sofia, “The Bonus Round” as none of us saw her coming. Our daughter Stephanie give birth to her just short of age 46. Tonight our home is full of joy as Sofia is currently ending her day with a bath, which for a two year old is an event, not a task. Tomorrow she is going to church with us in Greeley. I asked her if she would sit with me. She said “For a little while, but I want to sit on my own seat”. “You have a deal”!!! She smiled as she ate her pumpkin muffin.
Earlier in the week I got to spend three days with grandson Miko. We met in Taos, where by his invitation, we talked about possible screen plays he wants to write. Without giving anything away, we spent three hours cracking open a survival story that involves a 12 year old and his grandpa. Once we got on a roll the story almost told itself. For this narrative theologian/preacher it was as ‘good as it gets’. If I have bored you with my “Tales of a grateful Grandfather” too bad!!! In my world, in this week marked by human depravity and sycophants who excuse the inexcusable, my grandkid fix is on overload. Monday we drive up to the town of

Nederland to ride the most amazing carousel. And maybe just maybe we will see a moose on our way.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Daylight Savings Time


Well, we have zipped through February with relative ease. Perhaps it was the Olympics or the Super Bowl planted nearly halfway through, but it seems that this month has an economy of time that appeals to me. I love the fact that it is most often only four exact weeks long. When we hit March its like a giant do-over with three extra days. I was pondering what it would be like to have all 28 day months. They would each start on Monday and that, way for this preacher, the 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th would always be on Sunday. My problem is, what do you do with 29 left over days?
I spent some time trying to figure out what we could do with an extra odd month. I know some cultures actually have a Lunar calendar. As best I can figure, the Earth and its 365 and a quarter day rotation could care less how we keep score. I actually thought if we had an extra month, we could sort of use it like a “study hall” in our way too busy schedule. It would be a ‘freebie’ where the whole planet took a collective breath. It did not take my scheming long until I gave up on the idea, on the month of Festivus (thanks Seinfeld). I will just enjoy this February where paydays come three days early.
Today on the news, some politician was making his case to do away with Daylight Savings time. I was never quite clear whether he wanted darkness in the morning or evening, but he was passionate about his case. I did catch that ski areas were on one side of the lobby and golf courses on the other. The time change that is coming, “Spring Forward”, is always a shock to my system. I tend to wake up with the morning light and when my sleeping goal posts are moved, I miss that hour for at least a couple of weeks.
I remember when DST first came to Colorado, a woman wrote the Denver Post that this time change was opposed to God and it was going to kill her flowers. It’s like she believed there was someone who threw the dawn and dusk light switch, and they had decided to ignore God. On the campus of Denver U. there is a giant sundial. I suspect we would all do better if we just let the sun set the pace. Farmers have understood this forever. When the sun comes up you get busy, and when it goes down you slow down and hit the sack.

Time has taken on a bit of a different meaning during the last two years. Covid has disrupted nearly everything. The word normal hardly means anything. We have been playing “crack the whip” with the constantly changing variants, political winds, scientific interventions and the outbreak of stupidity. As best I know, the sun keeps coming up and going down. I woke this morning to a moonlit early morning. Light was glistening on the snow and both the sun and the moon said hello. I was reminded again that I am happiest when I just enjoy the day.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Snow Flakes


Last evening I stepped outside to check out that perfect snow. A ‘perfect snow’ means there is no wind, the flakes drift ever so slowly to the earth and peace fills my heart. On my sleeve I looked down to see the miracle frozen water crystals that make up a snowflake. They did not immediately melt, but displayed themselves to me as if it were my own private jewel collection.
I was soon transported to the bike rack at Ben Franklin Elementary. It was 1958 and I was in the third grade. It was February and the snow was falling just as it did last night. I looked down on my grey parka and the snow flakes landed to put on their show. I remember being taken in by both their symmetry and their uniqueness. It was a holy moment. The nine year old Mark knew I was part of something special. Beauty needs no explanation.
It’s like the time I took Matias (my grandson), who is on the ‘spectrum’, to see the Grand Canyon. He was either complaining or asking questions I could not answer. “Why do you want me to see this”?—Mattias. “Contempt prior to investigation will keep one in everlasting ignorance” (William James) and Papa Mark. We walked out on an overhang for his first view. He was speechless for at least five minutes. “You were right Papa Mark, its amazing”. I love being right, but what I love more is opening the world to my grandkids.
I don’t have much more to say today. I find myself wondering why some snowflakes are a lot like a starfish—spindly and basic, while other are more of the Sistine Chapel variety. I hope you have some time this year to hang out with a few flakes.
Onward and Upward, Mark

Lost In My Pockets


In the first month of our ‘in-person’ worship with mask wearing, one of my very thoughtful members gave me a gift. It was a “liturgical mask”, which was bright red, and in the center the Chalice logo. I knew I was extra cool when, at a press conference, the Governor of Kentucky was sporting the same mask. Then one day over a year ago, I lost the mask. I kept thinking “It will show up”. Finally I turned it over to St. Jude (the saint of lost causes). Occasionally, I borrow stuff from MK’s Catholic pedigree. I guessed it had gone the way of those dead masks you see soaking up muddy water in the grocery store parking lot.
This past Thursday I looked up to the second level of my closet and thought, “I haven’t worn that vest for a while”. I got it down, put it on, and reached in the side pockets. Hummmmm, I pulled something out of my left pocket and there it was—my special mask. I then began to think of all of the times—months or even years— that had gone by when I would reach in a pocket and find a $20 bill. The reunions are often more fun than the original connection.
When I was in the forth grade, my parents brought me this ‘real turquoise and silver ring’ from Arizona. I wore it proudly. I think now that I probably would make the “nerd” description, as I was most likely the only forth grader with jewelry. It was a very cold morning and I was walking to school not wearing gloves. I was swinging my hands I guess, and as my left arm went up—off the ring shot into the 8” fresh snow. (Yes, I should have been wearing gloves, but one never knows when you might have to load up with a snow ball). I had no idea where it was.
I had to tell my parents my prized ring was lost. I remember my dad saying “You never know—it might show up”. Fast-forward to the fifth grade. I was walking to school again and I happened to notice a glisten of silver under some leaves in a rose bed. Upon a closer look there it was— my very cool ring. I still have it.
To be re-united with that we know was lost or ‘never missed’, is often better than the original possession. This Sunday I will be sporting my ‘new old mask’ and I bet I take a little better care of it.
Onward and Upward,

Mark

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