Aspen Times Weekly: Finding Unity | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Times Weekly: Finding Unity

EVERY YEAR AROUND THIS TIME, we give thanks — for the year we've had and the one that lies ahead. This year, with a contentious election behind us and a bit of uncertainty about what the future holds, we asked our valley's spiritual leaders for their thoughts about giving thanks and the idea of community unity. We hope you find their words inspiring.

'I choose to be grateful today. I choose to be thankful.'

We all have our stuff, our challenges and heartaches, our stresses and upsets, our obstacles and hurdles. Yet it is into this mix that gratitude becomes not only an antidote for what ails us, but in fact changes everything.

Although I am still working on it, I have come to realize that when I practice gratitude and more importantly act on it, express it and share it, my perspective about everything changes.

‘Look outward and answer those struggles with love and respect to God and others.’Father Rick Nakvasil

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The days in which I am in touch with and express gratitude are vastly different than the days in which I am not grounded in a spirit of thankfulness. It has also become clear that "thank you" are two extraordinary words. When we look into the eyes of another, pause and say "Thank you." The impact on us is no less poignantly powerful than it is for the recipient of our gratitude.

From one unknown source is the following story. One day a rabbi said, "One is obligated to say a benediction, meaning a blessing, over evil as well as a benediction over good. Why? Because evil is a good thing? Suffering a good thing? Of course not! Absolutely not! Those are bad things and God is at work to one day overcome and overturn them."

The rabbi explained that one is obligated to say a benediction or a blessing at all times because we are always in danger of being thankful only when good things come our way. When we do that, our threshold for gratitude gets higher and higher and we become ungrateful people.

Said another way, we are called to work on gratitude in the midst of all circumstances. This does not mean saying thank you for what is terrible, it means in the midst of what is awful, finding things for which to be grateful and expressing it. All this means not waiting for only what is great or goes our way or is perfect, before we feel thankful.

Remember too that gratitude is not just a feeling or something to wait for, rather it is something to choose.

We can say to ourselves, "I choose to be grateful today. I choose to be thankful. I choose to express gratitude toward others during the course of this day. I may not have total control over what is going on, but I choose to find things for which to be grateful today."

Gratitude is a moment-to-moment decision.

Related to this, I would encourage you to pick a day and commit to saying thank you to as many people as you can. Servers. Store attendants. A neighbor. People you work with. The person who invites you to pass by in a crowded grocery store aisle. You might be surprised by what happens to others, as well as the impact it will have on you.

Want to develop more gratitude? Pay attention to whose voices you incorporate into your thinking.

Complaining, whining, criticizing, tearing down, gossip, violent movies or games, vicious song lyrics that degrade, and on and on, all get into our brains and affect how we think and how we process all that is around us. Want to develop more gratitude, turn all that stuff off and turn up your level of thankfulness.

When you wake up each morning, remember, gratitude changes everything.

The Rev. Robert de Wetter

Snowmass Chapel

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'By your endurance, you will gain your souls.'

In a normal week before Thanksgiving, I'd be waxing eloquent about how grateful I am to be serving a vibrant congregation like St. Peter's with truly sincere, hardworking people. Or maybe I would give thanks for the natural beauty that surrounds where we live and for the many chances to explore it.

This year feels different. Local instances of intimidation, harassment and vandalism motivated by racial or religious bias concern me. Nationally, two churches in my denomination were vandalized with hateful graffiti. I feel stressed, but I can scarcely imagine what someone who was actually targeted by something like this feels. I need to be strong enough to stand up for them.

The words of Jesus from this past Sunday comfort me in a way: "This will give you an opportunity to testify." Those words give me clarity and purpose. They remind me why people bother to go to church in the first place. These times are times of trial; neutrality is not an option. Things once hidden are being unveiled.

So it may sound strange, but I'm thankful for the turbulent times in which we live. So call me crazy but I'm thankful for neo-Nazis, racists, bullies and vandals, too. I pray for them; that they may turn from hate and embrace love. Hard work lies ahead but these words of Jesus, also from Sunday, give me encouragement: "By your endurance you will gain your souls."

Even in crisis, we are called to have a disposition of gratitude.

The Rev. Will Fisher

Vicar, St. Peter's in the Valley Episcopal Church, Basalt

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'Building the beloved community.'

Ed Schempp, from Barrington, New Jersey, has summarized our faith quite simply: "Unitarian Universalism is a fierce belief in the way of freedom and reverence for the sacred dignity of each individual. With Jefferson, we have sworn eternal hostility against every tyranny over the mind. Unitarian Universalism is cooperation with a universe that created us; it is celebration of life; it is being in love with goodness and justice; it is a sense of humor about absolutes. Unitarian Universalism is faith in people, hope for tomorrow's child, confidence in a continuity that spans all time. It looks not to a perfect heaven, but toward a good Earth."

The comment that worries me the most is that many people tell me they can no longer speak to family members of differing political beliefs. Are the deep familial bonds still there, or has politics robbed us of this too?

We cannot look away from the other half of the nation.

Our civic duty must go far beyond electoral politics. We must reach out to our neighbor, even if they are the political or social "other" and seek to understand. Often, we are too afraid. Fear, the poet Rumi said, is the cheapest room in the house, and we all deserve better living conditions. With such a negative election cycle we have to ask ourselves how much our political choices are based on fear.

We must heal ourselves and offer that healing to others. We must talk to our relatives we thought lost to the politics of fear, division and misinformation. If we are affluent white people, we must do this as the only ones who can form a place of relative safety — the FBI reports that marginalized peoples have been suffering a hate crime wave since the election. The people who picked the president were overwhelmingly white: our people so our nation truly can be a place of liberty and justice for all.

I do not advise reconciliation without responsibility or accountability. I believe in what Cornel West says: justice is what love looks like in public. My desire for healing is greater than my desire for righteousness. In my experience, the former creates a greater good and delivers the justice I seek. If relationship is possible, justice endures.

Being angry or apathetic towards politics because it's just too hard to work with someone we don't like is what brought this nation to this point. Turn to one another. Seek refuge where you know it is safe, and then go out into the world. Have difficult conversations. Let us build a better nation for all, doing the best we can with what we have, in honor of all of those who have come before us to make the world a better place.

Rev. Shawna Foster

Minister, Two Rivers Unitarian Universalist

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'Look outward and answer those struggles with love and respect to God and others'

I give thanks to God for the gift to serve God's people here in the valley. Every person that walks in our Churches is a Gift from God. Furthermore, I am truly blessed and thankful to have people of cultures whose families go back even a hundred years in this valley and also thankful for people who have just arrived to the valley and in many cases, to the U.S. Every day and especially Sunday, people at our Churches by their faith, hope and love give me hope by their example, especially those who are struggling the most with recent events. But instead of turning inward, they look outward and answer those struggles with love and respect to God and others. I am so thankful to them; I am filled with gratitude to God for having created them and all the people at Our Churches.

In God's love,

Fr Rick Nakvasil

St. Vincent and St. Mary of the Crown Catholic Churches

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'Doing Gratitude'

I am grateful for the privileges and opportunities I enjoy in this country. I am especially grateful for my immigrant grandparents and great-grandparents whose labor enabled my lucky lot in life. Now, after this surprising presidential election, I am grateful for wake-up calls.

Gratitude is a doing, not a feeling. Gratitude now must mean listening — more than speaking — to those who feel left out of America's prosperity and opportunity. Gratitude means joining in public coalitions to affirm dignity and opportunity for all people and to denounce hate and bullying in all its forms. It means building communities where people care more about each other's stories, hopes and fears than they do about a national partisan narrative designed to manipulate our votes.

On Thanksgiving, it's not enough to feel grateful. It's time to do those acts of giving that make our gratitude real and improve the world.

Rabbi David Segal

Aspen Jewish Congregation

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'A Rapturous Response to the Election'

Waking up on Wednesday morning was like arriving in a new world.

It is as if the Rapture had come – Hilary had gone, and Donald was left.

The rest of us were looking around trying to make some sense of what was left behind, and what had happened to the Departed.

One thing was clear, everyone was in shock.

Those who had won because they never expected to win, and those who had lost because — well you know.

I wandered this landscape like a stranger in a strange land. Being British I had seen it all before with Brexit, and yet this time I had no real part in what had happened because I could not vote.

And yet my overwhelming feeling was that something was being revealed that had not been seen before.

It had been there all the time, in plain sight, and yet gone unnoticed.

In the move to globalization people were being left behind. Left behind economically, culturally, politically and socially. And now their voice was being heard.

And it is being heard all over the world.

Globalization is not an exact science. It does not all happen at once.

It began with Television – the 'Global Village' where we began to see into each other's back yards. Economics followed with the rise of the corporation and the worldwide movement of jobs and raw materials, and then the internet set the seal on the deal, and made sure there was no going back by enabling mass communication at a micro and a macro level.

The next step will be a change in Global Consciousness, and that is surely something we can celebrate.

It seems to me that it would be such a shame to have to wait for an alien invasion, or some huge global disaster to happen before we all come together and realize that we are a community, and that we have to solve each other's problems as well as our own.

Poverty and pollution in China is just as much a problem for the US, as unemployment and wage disparity in the US is a problem for China.

And for us to come to terms with this there has to be a shift in the way we all see the world, a shift in consciousness.

What we are seeing now is a part of that. People are speaking out as to what they see in their lives, and wanting something different.

The universe has been around for 13.7 billion years. Humanity for considerably less. This change in consciousness will take time, and will not necessarily be either pretty or smooth. There is no 'smooth transition of power' when it comes to evolution.

But it is coming, and it is progress, whether we like it or not.

Einstein said that "No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it", and for us to move through this with everyone on board, we need to look at it from a new level of consciousness.

We might see one side as good, and another as bad, but in reality, they are both different sides of the same coin.

What we really need is a new currency.

Nicholas Vesey

Minister, The Aspen Chapel

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'We were — and are — built on giving and sacrificing individually for the good of all. That is thanksgiving.'

As the holidays approach, a number of things come to my mind and heart for which I am very thankful. These are not prioritized but are very present in the moment.

After many years of being away from the mountains I feel so blessed to be living for three years now in the Roaring Fork Valley as pastor of St. Stephen Parish in Glenwood Springs. Waking to God's indescribable beauty fills my being with gratitude every morning. Frequently encountering friends and acquaintances of my family members who have lived in Aspen for the past 45 years brings a gratefulness for relationships rekindled and remembered.

I give thanks for my country. Living in a place of such gifts, capacity and success. And even though I often feel we can do much better, I — we — love our country, are true patriots, defend our freedoms, work and play hard, disagree even bitterly and yet move forward. Even though I hurt seeing the post-elections divisions, I have a thankful confidence that we can and will take the opportunity to reconcile and work together. We conflict all the time knowing that we can do so openly and still wake up free. We've seen this over and over again in our history, and yet we're still Americans. We are still one people under God. As much as I cringe at the Ugly American stories that pop up, I also unflinchingly can say that we are a generous, diverse, compassionate, service-minded, and unselfish nation. We were — and are — built on giving and sacrificing individually for the good of all. That is thanksgiving.

Father Bert Chilson

Pastor, St. Stephen Parish & School

WORDS OF WISDOM

See and hear more from our valley’s spiritual leaders at https://vimeo.com/191893330