Author Archives: Eugene C Scott

About Eugene C Scott

I'm a writer, coach, counselor, pastor-at-large, photographer, and creative. I've been married over 40 years and have 3 children and 5 grandchildren. I love the mountains and the outdoors and reading and writing. You can read more @www.eugenecscott.com

2001 A Space Odyssey, Psalm 121, and Home

Denver skyline

I grew up in southwest Denver with the Rocky Mountains beginning their ascent just fifteen miles west of my house. During the day, they towered over us. In the evening the sun set red behind them.

At night, from anywhere in my little world, I could look west and see a huge cross hanging on Mount Lindo. Just one sweep with my eyes told me where I was (the city was simpler then) and centered me, though I would not have called it that then.

One night as a middle schooler, I came out of a local theater after watching the confusing, frightening film “2001 A Space Odyssey.” The movie disturbed me. I didn’t know what on earth to make of it. I felt lost, disconnected from reality, as if my space tether had been cut. Then, standing in the parking lot waiting for my mom I looked west, and found the cross hanging there in the night sky. Suddenly I knew where I was. My feet touched down on my soil again. My soul settled.

Those mountains became more than landmarks for me. They are my roots, my anchor. My father loved fishing and hunting and camping. He took us up into the mountains every chance he got. After he died of a heart attack, climbing back up into the mountains was how I kept in touch with him.

After we moved out of Colorado in 1990, I felt lost again, like on that night way back in middle school. I would stand on the great flat plains of Illinois surrounded by corn and look west searching, yearning. No mountains, no cross, no memories. I felt who I was began slipping from my fingers.

Then while we lived in Tulsa, still 790 miles from my mountains, I read, as if for the first time, Psalm 121.

I look up to the mountains;

does my strength come from mountains?

No, my strength comes from God,

who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

He won’t let you stumble,

your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.

Not on your life! Israel’s

Guardian will never doze or sleep.

God’s your Guardian,

right at your side to protect you—

Shielding you from sunstroke,

sheltering you from moonstroke.

God guards you from every evil,

he guards your very life.

He guards you when you leave and when you return,

he guards you now, he guards you always.

Slowly I realized as much as the Rockies mean to me, they are only symbols of the true source of my identity and strength. As a twelve-year old boy, I knew nothing about God and so looking up and seeing that cross hanging in the night sky only grounded me physically. But it was a prophetic event.

Now those mountains and that cross on Mount Lindo (we moved back to Colorado in 2001) point me to something bigger than myself. To the Creator. To a God of power and love.

What is your anchor? Is it something that God is using to point you to Someone even stronger yet?

Eugene C. Scott finds it ironic that he moved back to Colorado in 2001, the same year as the “Space Odyssey” that discombobulated him so. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Freeing Yourself from the Curse of the Redshirt, the Expendable Crewman

“Nobody wants to be the expendable crewman,” my friend Mark said over the phone the other day. For some strange reason we were talking about how in the original Star Trek, when Kirk, Bones, Spock, and some anonymous crew member in a red uniform beamed down to a planet filled with hostile aliens, the crewman in the redshirt always ended up dead, while Captain Kirk scores the sexy alien who looks vaguely like a Victoria Secret model, only with green skin.

I loved Star Trek.

To ensure the story had conflict someone had to die and it could’t be Kirk, Spock, Scotty, or Bones (unless it was a show featuring time warps where the deceased Kirk, Spock, Scotty, or Bones comes back by the end of the show, but that’s another story). Trekkies dubbed this guy “the redshirt” or “the expendable crewman.”

And no one wants to be that guy.

But many of us get up each morning, don our redshirts, and beam down to a hostile environment with a sinking suspicion we are indeed expendable. That’s why I don’t wear red much. I don’t want to be the next target.

Do you feel expendable?

But seriously. There is always someone who can do our jobs better, is better looking, is younger, or older, or smarter, nicer, funnier, taller, newer, or just all around better.

For example, when I first decided to go into church planting four years ago, after over twenty-five years in the pastorate, a younger pastor–an expert in church planting–advised me that, at my age, I should consider church redevelopment instead. Translated that means, “Old guys like you can only handle dying churches. Leave the real, hard work to us younger guys.” I wanted to punch him, but he was considerably younger and I didn’t want to hurt him.

He saw me as a redshirt, completely expendable. I’m glad I listened to a higher authority on what I can and can’t do.

Have you been told you’re the expendable crewman?

God, the higher authority, doesn’t see you that way. 

I find it ironic that the Being who needs no one else in order to exist does not view us as expendable while many of us who desperately need each other in order to survive treat each other as disposable.

Is that because we’ve been conditioned by a throw-away, newer is better culture? Probably. But we created that culture.

The deeper reason for this attitude might be that we believe if we treat others as redshirts on our crew then we must be the indispensable James T. Kirk–or his equivalent. Treating others as expendable makes us feel as though we are not. Work-a-holism boils down to this.

“I must . . . make . . . myself . . . indispensable,” we groan under the load while our children, spouses, friends, and sometimes God himself wait out by the trash dumpster.

But doesn’t this only make us more insecure?

Thus we’re constantly looking over our shoulders for our replacement, creating a vicious circle. We know he or she looms there because we were once someone’s replacement.

The true source of our security.

This is why knowing we were created and loved by an Indispensable God is so crucial to living healthy, spiritual lives. It gives us a true, unmovable foundation to base our lives on.

God does not need you or me in order for the world to keep spinning, for the world to be healed.

Better! He wants us to play a part.

God is not waiting for someone better to parent your children, sing your song, love your spouse, do your job, pray your prayer, write your book, right a wrong, weed your garden, laugh with your friend, be a part of your community, or dream your dream. God chooses to love you and out of that love chooses to use you.  God’s choice makes you non-expendable, not your false belief that you can live without others, nor your IQ, fast car, job, or lofty, faulty self-image. So take off that damn redshirt and get busy.

Eugene C. Scott is non-expendable in part because he can perform the “live long and prosper” sign without glue or masking tape. Please join the Living Spiritually community by following his blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Time Management According to Michael J. Fox, William Shatner, and Twelfth Century Monks

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathleen Turner, Michael J. Fox, and William Shatner have all done it in movies. Though not with each other. In hot tubs, space ships, funky machines, and DeLoreans, among others.

No, I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about time travel. Time travel stories are an extremely successful movie and book genre.

Mark Twain wrote one, “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” is a classic children’s book. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote a time travel story that is a classic novel, no matter the genre: “Slaughterhouse-Five.” And Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” was a New York Times bestseller.

Time is a Trap

Apparently I’m not alone in feeling time is a trap that must be escaped, warped, changed, or messed with. Ominous clocks tick down the minutes, seconds, and now, nano-seconds of our lives. They flash at us red and angry from contraptions in every room of our houses. They demand we not be a minute late and hold fearsome deadlines against us. And, as from all bullies, we yearn for release.

The Gift of Kairos

Once upon a time, however, most people viewed the passing of time from day to night and night to day as a logical, good rhythm to live by. A gift. Sleep and waking, planting and harvest, birth and death flowed as a smooth river through every person’s life. Some called this “kairos,” “the appointed time in the purpose of God.” Life was seen as a whole not an ugly patchwork of disembodied seconds, minutes, and hours. It was created this way.

Chronos: A Tyrant is Born

Until some German monks in the middle ages invented mechanical clocks designed to mark the passing of an hour.

But mechanical clocks were not intended to be the digitized oppressors they’ve become. Rather, these 12th century monks invented “glockes,” a bell that rang out regularly, to remind the monks to seek God through prayer, stillness, and meditation. Originally glockes marked kairos. The bells drew attention to the ever-present God in whom we live and move and breathe. The glocke was intended to remind us of the rhythm of life: eat, pray, work, pray, eat, make love, pray, work, read, sleep, pray, eat, watch, pray, play, work, sleep. Time was seen as something to live within–not to escape–and, more so, to live spiritually within, according to a spiritual rhythm.

Unfortunately that time is long past. Oh, to enter one of those fictional time machines and travel back to natural time keepers such as sun and shadows, and growth and death. These marked time with a huge sweep of the hand. Now we are ruled by chronos, the segmenting of time. As the Greek myth reads, Chronos then wrapped its serpentine tail around the world and split it apart.

7 Minutes with Who?

Even in our spiritual lives chronos has become our god by dividing and conquering. We worship one day a week for an hour, sharp. If that. A popular book of the chronos age called “7 Minutes With God: Daily Devotions for a Deeper Relationship” advocates a precise, agenda driven appointment with God. Imagine saying to someone you love, “Hurry. We’ve got seven minutes.”

Can God fit in an hour much less 7 minutes? Since living spiritually is about deepening our relationships with God, be warned. It will take longer than 7 minutes.

Need I say it? Time, as marked by inhuman and unforgiving glockes, has become our master, our god. And not a god of mercy or grace.

Jesus, King of Kairos

Yet, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Today Jesus might say it this way, “Time was made for people, not people made for time.” Jesus never consulted a clock. And Jesus proved time need not be a tyrant, that oppressors, even inanimate ones, can and should be thrown off.

Living spiritually, it seems to me, calls us to travel back in time when we walked in the fulness of the gift of kairos. Free. But we don’t need any crazy machines to get there. We can simply–once again–grab time by the tail and use it to call our attention away from the finite and toward a timeless infinite God.

Kairos lives!

Eugene C. Scott loves watches and clocks. His two watches of his father’s are his favorites. But ticking clocks drive him crazy. He also hates to be late, though it does happen. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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How I Almost Invented the Zip-Line and Other Bad Decisions

How I saw myself

“Let’s tie a rope from the top of this cliff down to that tree and slide down,” I said standing atop a thirty foot cliff. I was ten years-old and full of myself, being one of the older and cooler kids in our gang, and also having just been named the starting pitcher of my Pee Wee baseball team.

“Great idea,” said Tim, who was slightly older and, in reality, a lot cooler because it was his rope.

I tossed Tim’s rope down and secured the top to a large rock. Tim tied the other end to a tree. We then cut a short piece off the end to loop over the zip-line.

“It was my idea so I go first,” I said.

“It’s my rope.”

“I go second then.” We tied a safety rope around Tim’s waist and slowly lowered him down.

“I’m going again. Without the safety rope,” Tim said when he came back up. He zipped down the second time laughing and shouting.

Finally my turn came. I sat on the edge of the cliff with my legs dangling over. My brother and a tall kid looked up at me. Fear turned my mouth desert dry.

“Go! Or are you chicken?” Tim chided.

I launched myself into thin air. Unfortunately, Tim, not being a Boy Scout, was not trained in knots. The bottom knot came untied and I fell straight down, landing standing up, on my left leg. I felt and heard it snap. The tall kid took off running for home.

“I broke my leg,” I whined when everyone gathered around me.

“You did not.”

I pointed to my left foot which was hanging sideways on my leg. Both bones, compound fracture, end of my baseball career. I’ve regretted that day, especially years later when I realized I almost invented the zip-line.

Unfortunately, jumping off that cliff was not my worst decision. I’v made many more. So many that at times I’ve been afraid to make one at all. I’ve frozen at the top of the cliff, so to speak.

My Top Six Worst Decisions:

6. Dropping out of high school for a job at Gordon’s Greenhouse that paid $1.75 an hour.

5. Climbing to the top of a glacier to see if “Those really are bear tracks going in that cave.”

4. Moving from the Mile High City, gateway to the Colorado Rockies, to Bloomington, ILL, popcorn capital of the mid-west.

3. Breaking up with my future wife, Dee Dee, when I was in the 8th grade.

2. Trusting Tim’s meager knot tying skills.

1. Buying a used Chevy Citation. For the sticker price, without bartering.

I have good reason to not trust Tim or myself. But I’ve made some good decisions too. Or more correctly, just as not all that glitters is gold, so too, not all that begins daft ends dark.

My Top Five Best Decisions:

5. Dropping out of high school for a job at Gordon’s Greenhouse that paid $1.75 an hour. I’ve seldom quit anything since and have been married 33 years and now have a doctoral degree.

4. Climbing to the top of a glacier to see if “Those really are bear tracks going in that cave.” That’s just really a great story I’ll tell another time.

3. Moving from the Mile High City, gateway to the Colorado Rockies, to Bloomington, ILL, popcorn capital of the mid-west. My youngest daughter was born, my oldest daughter met an incredible man and married him, and I am grandfather to the two best grandkids in the world to name a few unexpected outcomes of that move.

2. Trusting Tim’s meager knot tying skills. I now know that scars, physical and emotional, are–at the same time–the most tender and tough parts of me. And if I had become rich and famous because I invented the zip-line, I would not have become a pastor.

1.  Finally marrying Dee Dee. You knew that was coming. Plus, there is nothing even God can do with a used Chevy Citation.

Does Life Just Work Out for the Best?

But this is not simply a case of life “working out for the best.” Nor is it proof “everything has a reason.”

No.

Shallow platitudes and blind fate had no hand in my worst decisions becoming my best. This was not a mere learning my lesson. I still don’t trust ropes or philosophies tied by the mere hands of man. Only God can bring beauty from ashes and joy from weeping and give even suffering a reason. As I look back, I see God’s hand, gently–or not so gently–redirecting my poorly chosen paths. And because of that, I (more often now) face decisions–and life generally–boldly, fearlessly. Because this turning of worst to best is the powerful work of God’s perfect love. It’s called redemption. And that is where I place my trust and base my decisions.

Eugene C. Scott decided to get up this morning. That was either a good or bad decision depending. He also believes living spiritually means living fearlessly. You can join the Living Spiritually community by clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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The War in Afghanistan and Mother’s Day Combine to Make a Holy Day

Sunday morning, Mother’s Day, as the light of a new day was still meandering down our street, my across the way neighbor walked out to the curb to pick up his newspaper. He stood for a long time staring up and down the street, holding his paper, a look of satisfaction smoothing his creased face. I followed his gaze.

American flags, on thin steel poles, about ten feet tall, lined my side of the road. He watched the flags catch the wind. I could see the pride swell in him as the flags fluttered.

After a time, he turned on his heel and stepped over the purple flowers draping the sidewalk and started back to his house. But he stopped, turned, and looked to his right at the three small stars and stripes he had decorating his garden. Bending down he pulled the middle flag up, adjusted it, and stuck it back in the ground. Then he stood facing the three flags, erect, heels together as if on a parade ground, as if he wanted to salute, but couldn’t. Maybe because he’s retired Air Force and was not in uniform. He and time stood still. Finally satisfied, he trooped back up to his front door.

The night before, a family in our neighborhood had welcomed home their son from the war in Afghanistan and had asked permission to plant flags along our street. I don’t know the family, though I’m very happy for them. And on Mother’s day weekend! They–along with me and my neighbor–will remember this holiday for a long time.

Soon my neighbor’s door closed behind him and I returned to brewing my coffee.

Why Celebrate?

Humans celebrate special events. We mark birthdays, rites of passage, anniversaries, raises, graduations, and important memories. Our lives revolve around rhythms: Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Passover, Easter, Cinco de Mayo, July 4, Father’s Day (hint, hint), and more. If we can’t find a reason to celebrate we make one up.

Animals don’t do this. At least not the ones I’ve known. My sweet dog wagged her entire body, tail first, the same way every time I returned home whether I’d been gone ten minutes or ten days.

We Need Holidays

Perhaps we need holidays because we habituate to the remarkable. “Ho hum,” people living in Vail eventually say to a mountain scape. God paints a new, unique, glorious sunrise every morning and we need a Sunrise Service to make it special. Everyday is a gift but we need birthdays to remind us.

Without a rhythm of feasts and festivals and parties throughout the year we may have to resort to the techniques advertisers use on us shouting, “New and Improved,” “Free,” “Epic television” just to get us to pay attention to our own lives. Or not.

Skeptics ask, “Why celebrate mothers only one day a year?” Yes, we should be grateful for mothers and fathers (hint, hint), and sunrises and our faith and marriages and children and each other every day. But to set a day aside and mark it out for a special celebration elevates the person or issue or idea above all others, if only for that day.

Everyday Can’t Be Holy

This is what the word “holy” originally meant: “special or set apart.” Thus a holiday is a holy day, or season set apart for special recognition. Despite what Garrison Keillor says, we can’t all be above average.

Most of the twenty or so flags are still standing along my street. They are beautiful still; but now when I’m in a hurry to get to an appointment, I can’t drive slowly admiring them and praying for the family whose son returned.

And I have since seen my across the street neighbor once again retrieve his paper. This time he picked it up and went straight back in. Perhaps his coffee and eggs would burn if he lingered. Or perhaps we both had that one holy moment and that was enough. We simply need to be prepared for the next one.

Eugene C. Scott fancies himself a writer so believes he has poetic license to watch people and write stuff about them. He is also attempting to write about what it’s like to live spiritually for a year.  You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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A Mother’s Day Tribute: Love Like You

My mom, third from the right, just two months before she passed.

By Eugene C. Scott

My mom passed away in 2003. I still miss her. She was a fierce, tiny woman, who loved to work and drank coffee all day long. She was a single mom before that garnered any sympathy, help, or understanding. She held the reins of our stampeding family with pioneer strength, though sometimes futilely.

Mom was a fighter. Sometimes we had to live without things other kids had. But we never lived without pride and her determination.

She was beautiful too. After my dad passed, men chased her constantly, but never caught her. And determined. Among her many jobs, mom held a job at Walgreens well into her seventies, even struggling with emphysema.

She was sweet but crass.

“Wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up the fastest,” she would quip, except sometimes she didn’t say “spit.”

She taught me how to work and how hope makes you get up each day no matter. And she planted love in me. She loved me through all my crazy teen years and all my rotten treatment of her. Then she acted as if she knew all along I was going to be okay when God finally brought me to my senses. After I survived my own stupidity and she would send me birthday cards or letters, she wrote on the envelope in shaky letters, “Reverend Eugene C. Scott.” I laughed at that.

If I’ve loved anybody in my life, it’s because mom loved me first.

Fortunately, right before she died, I was able to sit on her bed with her, talking, praying, remembering, saying what needed to be said, thank you, I’m sorry, I love you, mostly. We laughed and cried and told stories too. And prayed more.

“They’re not your responsibility,” she said of the rest of the family. She was in pain and on a lot of drugs. “I’m ready to go home. I want to be with Jesus.” Finally we had hospice come and they took her out of her second story apartment on a stiff blanket-like chair. She sat in it grinning and waving like she was on a float and said, “I’m a queen.” Even though we all knew she was never coming back.

She was gone the next morning.

Still as I think of her–she would be 90 last month–there are things I would like to tell her. How strong she was and how much her strength added to my life. I would not have made it without her. How once again sharing a strong cup of coffee at her kitchen table in her small apartment would be worth a trip to the stars. She’s been on my mind and heart a lot.

That’s why, after my friend, Cliff Hutchison, sang the unfinished chorus of a song he had written about his mother, who like my mom had raised him as a single mom, I woke up in the middle of the night with a picture of the rest of the song in my head. I asked Cliff if I could work on it with him.

So, I wrote some lyrics out on a legal pad and he brought his guitar over to my study and sat in my ugly orange chair. I drew close to him in my desk chair, with the lyrics on the floor below us. We bantered and he sang. We crossed out words and added some back. And this, “Love Like You,” is what we came up with.

“Happy Mothers’ Day, Mom.” Thank you for loving me even when I didn’t deserve it.

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Living Spiritually as an Art: Counting on God

True epiphanies are rare. I’m not talking about instants of sudden inspiration or “aha moments.” Those are rare enough.

I’m talking about those times that the dictionary describes as “a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being,” those scarce times when God breaks through.

My first epiphany of the sacred kind came in 1972. It came like a meteor knocking me out of a degenerating orbit and into the path of redemption. As Phil Keaggy sang back then, God’s “love broke through.” That meteor saved my life.

I can count the other meteors on one hand.

Counting God’s Presence

But are those life shattering moments the only times we can count God’s presence? As if living spiritually is all mountain tops and glowing sunsets.

The late Guy Chase didn’t think so. Chase, a renowned artist, carried a piece of shirt cardboard and an India ink pen in his back pocket and every time he sensed God’s presence he yanked out the pen and placed a dot on the cardboard. He finally considered the strange piece of art finished after he had recorded 40,000 mini-epiphanies.

In the course of 2012 being the Year of Living Spiritually, I’ve tried similar experiments to heighten my ability to see God in the ordinary.

Living Spiritually is an Art

What I’ve come to realize, besides how difficult it is to intentionally see God in daily life, is that living spiritually is more of an art than it is a science. Guy Chase seemed to know that. While I try to record my encounters with God in words and pictures (which are also art) and ideas, Chase counted them in artistic dots that, when taken as a whole, look to me like a doorway into some unknown and adventurous place. Chase’s art calls me into a new daily adventure of seeking God.

Chase’s art has also shown me that artistically representing something mysterious, such as an encounter with God, can often better capture those encounters rather than trying to define them precisely. Seeing living spiritually as an art gives God room to move and show up in my life. Not that we should’t try to articulate and define our experiences with God. It’s simply that God is more than we can count.

40,000 versus Infinity

Still I try. But I find I can’t count 40,000 of anything much less 40,000 times I’ve felt God present. In reality, even that number would pale to the truth of God’s omnipresence. There is not a cardboard big enough to record God’s continual caress of our lives.

As I scan Chase’s dots, I can only imagine how alive Guy Chase must have been during his art project. How he must have grown and changed, knowing he was never alone. And I realize how I long to hear just one or two of the things Chase saw and learned as he marked dots on his cardboard. How I yearn to live with such intensity and awareness.

Yet, as day 135 of the Year of Living Spiritually opens, I have noticed a laxness in my counting God’s presence. My daily journal entries have shortened, as has my God-attention span.

Chase must have grown tired too. But the final truth in his untitled, and now lost work of art, is that God does not grow tired of investing every molecule of life with his presence. You can count on that.

Eugene C. Scott can count to ten without using his fingers. Beyond that?  He is also very honored to count you as a reader and would love to hear about how you count God’s presence in your life. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Into the Mist: Going Deeper Spiritually

By Eugene C. Scott

Some of my favorite times in the woods are when things are not quite clear. Clouds, like heaven reaching down, filter through the trees. Ghostly trunks stand out of the mist like distant soldiers on guard. Suddenly your senses are alive, alert.  You know there is something beautiful out  there just beyond sight, just beyond sound, just beyond yourself. And–nerves jangling–you wait.

That same mystery and anticipation I’ve found is part of trying to see the God-given soul in life. Or as we have named it here: living spiritually. But as I’ve ventured into the fog, I’ve glanced back now and then. Ironically that is when what this adventure is all about has become more clear. Today’s blog–and the next to follow–will feature reflections on a few of the things that I now see have helped me go deeper in my spiritual life.

I Woke Up:

Someone once joked, “Statistics show most car accidents happen within a mile of home; so I decided to move.” There’s a twisted kind of truth in that jest. Ruts and routines can be dangerous.

I’ve called 2012 “The Year of Living Spiritually.” I could also call it “The Year I woke Up.”

Not paying close attention to God, people, and the life around me was much like being in one of those half-sleep, half-waking dreams. You see it–and maybe remember it–but it makes little sense.

I’ve found that paying attention has been a simple way to see and better understand the spiritual all around me. A friend of mine has this quote at the bottom of all his emails. It never fails to stun me. “Today I woke up. Some didn’t. I think it’s gonna be a great day. I’ll take advantage of it.” Baron Batch

I Tried Something New:

A few months ago a friend, Cliff Hutchison, asked me to write a few more lyrics for a song called Love Like You he had started. The idea scared the Sam Hill out of me. Why me? I thought. I’m a story-teller. I am not, I repeat, am not musical. I took poetry writing classes in college and found rhyme and lyric constraining.

Against my better judgement I gave it a shot. I think it turned out pretty well. But more than that, it opened my eyes and heart to so many new things. The song is about our mothers and I now appreciate my late mother better. And the song writing process itself, with such a talented man, was amazing and humbling. Sitting in my study, Cliff played his guitar while we puzzled over just the right words and images until something beyond both of us was born. It was a profoundly spiritual moment. One I never would have experienced had fear reigned.

A professor of mine once said, “God is often in the green edges of new opportunities in you life.” This has been true for me this year.

Both of the above ideas were things I more or less stumbled upon, as if trees in the mist. What have you discovered that helps you live spiritually?

Eugene C Scott believes that life–especially spiritual life–is much more complex and rich than can be described in a blog. But he hopes these thoughts help. He is also co-pastor at The Neighborhood Church.

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What if Every Day Was Earth Day? Heaven on Earth Day?

By Eugene C. Scott

I live in Colorado. I’m not bragging. Just sayin’.

19th Century Denver entrepreneur Frederick Bonfils once crowed, “‘Tis a privilege to live in Colorado.” John Denver called Colorado home, writing lots of cool songs about the mountains. Not many other states can claim that. Take Oklahoma for example.

“Visit Colorado for the skiing; move here for the summers,” they say, because we have four distinct seasons. Just when you’re getting tired of 90 degree days, a crisp fall breeze rolls in and changes all the aspens to gold. Then comes hunting season followed by ski season.

Even so, Colorado is not perfect. We don’t have as many bugs as, say, Illinois. And the mountains sometimes block your view. Spring is muddy. And winter is horrible. Like Minnesota with tons of snow (wink, wink, wink).

Never-the-less, many people consider Colorado heaven on earth. I tend to agree, though not literally, of course. But I’m biased. I was born here.

Heaven on Earth Day

I apologize for gloating. It started yesterday on Earth Day, April 22. About 3:30pm my wife Dee Dee, my son, Brendan, and I took a four mile hike into the foothills west of our house. It was a spectacular day, 80 degrees, with a topless blue sky, small white clouds crowning the mountains, the tips of the aspens turning chartreuse, and the earthy smell of being outside and away from man-made contrivances.

Climbing the rocky trail I was in awe. “God is an artist, a craftsman, a dreamer beyond compare,” I thought. “What if every day were Earth Day, heaven on earth day?”

What if we really believed that God created this place and in so creating gave it an inherent worth and beauty? What if, like Jesus, we believed “the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

We might better care for it. Admire, love, nurture, steward it.

Some fail to see heaven on earth

Those of a spiritual mind-set have struggled to grasp the God-given worth and beauty of the material world, however. Christians especially have had too little regard for the material, while dreaming of a celestial place called heaven. This dualism has skewed their view of their environment. They become “so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good.” They fail to see heaven on earth.

“This place is not our home,” many of fine-tuned spirituality say while lusting after pearly gates. C.S. Lewis compared our time here on earth to a stay in a fabulous hotel. No matter how nice the hotel, Lewis said, you yearn for home.

Why trash the hotel

Hotel or not, no one but drug crazed rock stars trash the hotel. Yearning for heaven does not mean we ignore God’s command to care for and steward the very place Jesus’ and our own feet touch down.

We are people with two homes

In his book “Christ Plays in 10,000 Places,” Eugene H. Peterson argues that creation is first and foremost about place. This place, not just heaven. “All living is local,” he writes, “this land, this neighborhood, these trees [and here is where radical environmentalists miss the mark] and streets and houses, this work, these people.” (p.72) Like a fine work of art, it all carries the brush stroke of the artist.

God created the very soil we were drawn from. And the earth is not just a platform for our ethereal spiritual selves to briefly settle, like butterflies flitting from flower to flower little recognizing their beauty nor realizing they are a source of life. The material is imbued with spirituality. And spirituality is carried by material reality. They are linked and both are crucial to our lives.

Jesus lived an earthy spirituality

Jesus, who most assuredly lived spiritually, knew this, “Even Solomon in all his splendor was not adorned as these,” Jesus said taking in a hillside of lilies. He was no radical environmentalist. But his was an earthy spirituality: one that saw the touch of his Father in all creation, especially where we least expect it. Not only in flowers, rocks, sunsets, aspen trees, sparkling rivers, but in fishermen, children, prostitutes: people too.

I’m fortunate. I live in a place it’s easy to see heaven on earth. But you do too. Like a room with mirrored walls full of two-year olds, God’s fingerprints are everywhere. We simply have to stoop down to see them.

Where have you seen God’s mark lately?

Eugene C. Scott once yelled at some high school kids who threw trash out their car window. His wife and children were terribly embarrassed and the high schoolers drove off laughing. He is an avid conservationist and loves the outdoors, hunting, fishing, hiking, and people. You can join the Living Spiritually community by clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Blue Like Jazz: A Movie Review

By Eugene C. Scott

I wouldn’t voluntarily see a “Christian movie.” It’s not that they are cheesy. That’s a cheap shot. I’ve seen my share of cheesy “non-Christian movies.” Rather, it’s that movies produced by the Christian faith community, which supposedly portray faith, and might produce faith, seldom exhibit faith in God’s ability to communicate through a story well told. This usually makes them lousy stories. And it’s ironic because Jesus fearlessly told stories: one comparing God to an unjust judge.

Today’s Christian movie industry would never do such a thing for fear that some poor sap like me might misunderstand the point. Therefore, Christian movies seldom tell authentic, compelling stories because they are overly concerned with not offending popular Christian orthodoxy, with getting Truth right, and with ensuring that the movie gets people to heaven. For an example of this, read here  for a discussion of whether the character “Penny” from “Blue Like Jazz” is Christian enough.

But I wanted to see “Blue Like Jazz” because I read the book several years ago, and found it refreshing, not your typical pastor-of-mega-church-preaches-sermon-and-turns-it-into-a-book book. Donald Miller is an excellent writer: poetic, funny, serious, irreverent, and honest in his prose. Miller trusted me to get the point instead of impaling me with it. I hoped the movie would follow suit. Plus Christianity Today said, it’s hardly Christian cinema as usual.

So, though I had trouble imagining Miller’s series of “nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality” being turned into a complete story, I donned my disguise and trooped off to see “Blue Like Jazz” (I always wear a disguise when going to Christian movies or book stores in case someone recognizes me.  Just kidding, sort of).

Eugene heading for his local Christian bookstore

The movie is the story of a fictional 19 year-old Donald Miller, who begins to feel his Bible-belt is cinched a bit too tight. “Don,” played dryly but authentically by Marshall Allman, has been accepted into a Christian college. The scene depicting his “graduation” at church is as intentionally uncomfortable as any I’ve sat through. Exaggerated but too close to home. Unknown to Don, his estranged–and strange–jazz-loving father enrolls him in uber-liberal Reed College in Portland. He rejects the idea as crazy until his mother inadvertently jerks his magic-carpet faith completely out from under him.

The rest of the film shows Don struggling to figure out who he now is, if he is not some caraciture of a flannel-board Christ. Don’s struggle is real and funny. I have not traveled Don’s path, but I did during the movie and I wanted his conflict and disappointment and loneliness to shape him into the person I read about in the book.

The writing is sharp, bouncing from Seinfeld-like irony to true soul searching. The scene where Don is sitting on a bench, alone, writing in his journal was powerful story-telling. More-so, when a friend from Houston unexpectedly shows up at Reed over Christmas break.

Director Steve Taylor filled Miller’s college life with quirky, troubled, and extremely intelligent fellow travelers. The movie claims the average IQ score at Reed College is a couple above genius. I have to admit, for several reasons, I may not have survived at Reed. It looked to me like flypaper for the world’s wildest and weirdest. But Reed made for a perfect setting for Miller’s journey.

Blue Like Jazz was not “Christian” nor cheesy. I enjoyed it. I laughed, cringed, hoped, and was lost in the characters and the story most of the time.

A couple of exceptions:

The animated car scene where Don drives from Texas to Portland is silly, even cheesy (but not “Christian cheesy”). I found myself taken out of the story then and it took me a few minutes to dive back in. I wish Taylor had spent that valuable screen time letting Allman develop Miller more deeply.

Too bad Taylor didn’t have more money so the cinematography and technical aspects would match the writing and over-all story. Even then it is well done on all levels.

Also, despite Taylor’s success in letting the story speak for itself, there were a couple of scenes that seemed built to communicate information rather than show Don’s struggle. But this was not often.

Over-all, however, “Blue Like Jazz” is a well-told, thoughtful, provocative story about a young man digging below his facade of safe, American consumer-driven religion to see if there is a real, living, breathing God buried there. That story is one, according to sociologist Christian Smith, many in fictional Donald Miller’s age group are living.

It’s a movie to be enjoyed and discussed. What did you think?

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. He tried to sound a lot like an official movie critic in this review because he grew up reading the reviews in TV Guide and it’s always been a dream of his to become a crusty media critic. Besides after ranting about Christian movies and book stores, he might need a back-up career.

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