viewmaster disc entitled "Chazzybear"

View what’s possible: an astonishing experience of the infinite

By Kelly Kahlstrom

I don’t know if you recall the View-master’s from childhood. A “reel” of slides could be dropped into the stereoscope and with a click the slides would change and tell a story. Even the slogan “View-master- View what’s possible” held great intrigue for me. I am asking you to imagine this blog as a story in a View-master.


Title: ChazzyBear: a story in four pictures.


I was in the car driving to Tucson for a weekend with my grandchildren. I hurriedly leave right after work hoping to arrive before they go to bed; a few minutes of Oma time and perhaps a few books before lights out. Just outside of Marana I received the text. Chaz was dead. So many questions I could not address in the car nor adequately from Tucson. I was alone with my thoughts and my time with the kids was frequently punctuated with images of Chaz. Chaz my love…such a short life you had…woefully packed with more than your fair share of demons…Early life trauma begat addictions to food, nicotine, alcohol and pain meds which seemed to manage you for much of your life as did the medical complications that followed…Your anxiety and alternatively your depression seemed immeasurable and endless… You had aged out of services but were not yet ready to fly… You did not fit the gender binary… So many obstacles for one young person to have to hurdle in a thousand lifetimes of trying…The pathology was overwhelming… And then you were gone… a death out of the normal sequence of time…suddenly, regrettably, but sadly, not unexpectedly.  


Now imagine her peer group huddled together in disbelief at this turn of events. It had been 3 days since the news broke of her accidental overdose. Skillfully encouraged by an adult volunteer, her peers offered their expressions of remembrance…Silly, brave, fun, divine, daredevil, genuine, compassionate, funny, artistic, wonderful, thoughtful, mindful, deep, enduring, laughter, real, outspoken, smile, caring, open, sharing, friend, courageous, supporter, leader, sassy, survivor, inspirational, powerful, heartfelt, dancer, joyous, empathetic, rebel, charismatic, non-apologetic, beautiful, challenger, fearless, forward, radiant, sparkle, confident, loved.

To her peers she was a bad-a** woman who was not afraid to own her issues, and who expressed her pain and joy through music and dance.


Flashback, if you will, to a time before photography, at the turn of the 19th century, in the center of cultural life in Berlin. The literary salon; “a simple tea-table with a charming hostess, enthusiasm for reading and discussing literature, sparkling conversation and an atmosphere of friendship”. The Aufklärung, or the Enlightenment, dominated the world of ideas shared in these salons. Reason was fast becoming the primary source of authority and legitimacy. Yet, one member of Henriette Herz’s salon was something of an enigma to the typical salon participant. A brilliant and gifted conversationalist, by all appearances an Enlightenment thinker, but also a cleric who retained his Moravian roots and, seemingly, the antiquated beliefs of the church. For his 29th birthday, the salon participants gave him free reign to “explain himself” to the “cultured despisers” of his day. This is what he said to them:

  1. You think religion is only about priests and rules (or knowing and doing). It is not.
  2. This is what I think religion is: an astonishing experience of the infinite which can be found in the most mundane, finite moments of our lives if we are awake to them.
  3. Learning to “stay awake” must be cultivated and takes practice.
  4. These experiences of the infinite are so cool that they beg to be shared with others. The more they are shared with others the better each of us are at recognizing the infinite when we see it.
  5. There is a social structure already set up to cultivate and talk about these experiences. It is called church. You should try it sometime.  The only differences between the experiences of those inside church and those outside of church is that the church calls these experiences God.

Young Friedrich Schleiermacher was able to convince some of his closest friends to consider this possibility.


Now picture the conference office, fondly called the 917, filled to capacity and decked out in flowers, candles, and pink and purple balloons. A video projector played a loop of the many pictures of Chaz dancing, singing, and participating in the life of this community. Through the outreach efforts of Elizabeth Youngberg, pastor of Rebel & Divine, Chaz’s mother, younger brother and maternal grandmother were present for the service. It was peer led; her friends offered the prayers, the music, the poetry readings, and the remembrances. Simple…Heartfelt…Tearful…Beautiful.

This was the environment that Chaz’s brother stepped into when he stood to say a few words. He was, by his own admission, as shy and introverted as Chaz was outgoing. The dress shirt and pants purchased for the occasion seemed uncomfortably out of character for him. He apologized for his perceived lack of eloquence and then, with quiet sincerity, he shared his thoughts. He was surprised to learn of Chaz’s attachment to this community – a community that we call church. And through this experience, he realized that he had never really known his sister. This led to a request for conversation; an open invitation to all who knew Chaz to share their stories with him so that he could fill in the gaps of his own, and perhaps fractured, experience of her.  


Epilogue: Only Chaz’s brother can say if the service and fellowship afterward constituted an experience of the infinite for him. It certainly was for me. Like the View-master slogan- “View what is possible,” I am continually amazed at the opportunities we have to adjust (and by this I mean broaden) our own perceptions when we actively participate in the life of a community. Especially a community that finds experiences of the infinite so cool that they beg to be shared with others; whether or not they can call these experiences God. ChazzyBear…you left bigger shoes to fill than I first imagined. Rest in peace.

One thought on “View what’s possible: an astonishing experience of the infinite”

  1. Dear Kelly: Thanks so much for this view master experience of Chaz’s life, service and church. I’ll bet she would be so happy to be remembered this way. Thank you for grounding your story in the experience of the community, reason, theology and philosophy. You helped us to see and participate – and to be something more than voyeurs. May she rest in peace. May her family be comforted. May Rebel and Divine flourish and grow. May our society and religious communities come to the acceptance of diversity that fosters health and life, and yes, real faith. Thank you.

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