Tag Archives: art

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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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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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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What Would the Third Most Important Person in History Do?

Most lists include Jesus as the third most important person in human history. Third! Have they never watched “Talhedega Nights”? And no, the two finishing in front of Jesus are not the other Persons in the Trinity.

But seriously, Muhammad and Isaac Newton nose Jesus out at the finish line in these lists mainly because Jesus shares credit for the founding of Christianity with the Apostle Paul (#6) and because Jesus did not start a political movement.

WWJD in Politics?

Agree or disagree with Jesus’ third place finish, it is true Jesus was not very political. Why then are so many people today trying to enlist Jesus in their political causes? Why not ask What Would Muhammad Do? Or What Would Isaac Do?

Instead everyone from PETA to President Obama is asking WWJD? as a way to add biblical street cred to their ideas. The animal rights organization PETA prints the words “What would Jesus do?” over pictures of animals being killed. At the end of the video they answer for a silent Jesus and conclude, “Go vegetarian.” Trouble is he didn’t go vegetarian.

And though I could find no citable examples of the Religious Right using the WWJD phrase, religious conservatives have long implied Jesus may be on their side politically. They may have been the first to have drafted him to their team.

But the Religious Left has since piled on. Sojourners, speaking for the Religious Left, wonders, “Would Jesus Occupy Wall Street?” After exegeting many of Jesus’ actions as not only religious but rather political, and claiming Jesus was an angry activist, author Aaron D. Taylor answers his own question with, “I don’t see how a person [Jesus] can be an angry activist and a friend of aristocrats at the same time.” Problem is Jesus did have several aristocratic friends: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea to name two.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink calls this “transparent political pandering.” I think it’s worse than pandering. It shows either a towering ignorance of Jesus or a dangerous dishonesty. Or both. I have a friend who believes that because Jesus pulled a coin from the mouth of a fish and told Peter to use it to pay his taxes, Jesus is for taxes and, in this case, for raising them on the “rich.”

WWJD in Weird Ways

Victoria Emily Jones says, “The phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” has become a snowclone, a phrasal template that’s customizable to suit any purpose.  A lot of its present-day derivatives have nothing to do with Jesus, but instead substitute his name with somebody else’s.”

Jones is on to something. Many, however, are not merely using the WWJD? phrase as a snowclone, but rather are using Jesus himself that way, substituting Jesus for themselves in their political beliefs.

It’s the faulty “name it and claim it” theology (Jesus said for you to give me your money) being applied to politics (Jesus said you should join my political cause).

Neither false belief have much more to do with Jesus except using his name as a snowclone.

Jesus as a Reflection of Me

What this amounts to is not an attempt to honestly follow Jesus and to live life as the third most important person in history did. But rather it is striving to show Jesus would have followed us. In this way, we treat Jesus as a mirror’s reflection of ourselves mimicking our every move.

This is troubling first because it is so narcissistic. Second because it gives me permission to stay stuck in my misperceptions and misbehaviors that are destructive to myself and others.

Follow Jesus

What would Jesus do? My reading of his four biographies shows Jesus would challenge nearly every foundational belief in my life, either for me to deepen them beyond my shallow perception, or to throw them out because they are self-serving lies. Knowing which is tricky. Yet Jesus has often asked the latter of me.

Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me” not “Make up your slogan and recruit me.”

I know some of you reading this may not believe Jesus was the Son of God. That’s a subject for another conversation. You may simply think Jesus was merely the third (or second or tenth) most important person in history. What is undeniable is that, without starting a political party, enlisting a military, or founding a government, Jesus has impacted billions of lives.

Whether you believe Jesus was God Incarnate or not, my living spiritually challenge for next week (Holy Week) is this:

Read one of Jesus‘ biographies (Mark and Luke are very straightforward) and choose several humanly accomplishable things Jesus did. Then each new day of the week attempt to do that very thing.

For example:

Monday I will forgive something big the way Jesus did; Tuesday I will spend time with some children; Wednesday I will look at someone I disapprove of or am afraid of with non-judgmental eyes, Thursday I will not defend myself if accused or attacked; Friday I will give grace and mercy to someone who may not deserve it; then Sunday I will replace my fear of the future with faith.

I do not want this to be an exercise in perfectionism, nor in futility and frustration. More than likely it will take more than one day to accomplish any of the above. And if I know myself, I will fail at one or more of the above. What I do desire is to know and experience the attempt. What do I feel when I succeed or fail? What have I learned about myself? What have I learned about Jesus?

What would the third most important person in history do? Unfortunately not a lot that I fill my daily life with. Maybe this week I’ll find out. Join me please.

Eugene C. Scott doesn’t wear bracelets or outfits. Jesus didn’t either. He also loves to read and write stories. Eugene is currently writing another blog called 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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Presbyopia Are Not the Eyes of a Child

By Eugene C. Scott

Grandson Linc looking at life as a child

A few weeks ago, as part of this living spiritually experiment, I decided to try and look at life as a child would. Kids are naturally spiritual, not yet dividing life into neat practical categories. Not seeing all with disbelief. I wanted to reclaim a child-like sense of surprise and wonder, to once again have child’s eyes. The trouble was, at somewhere around fifty, I wasn’t sure whether to wear my contacts or bifocals for this experiment.

But seriously, I’m no longer sure how to look at life as a child would.

So, I tried to remember what it was like, seeing things as if they were new. That’s when I ran into another problem that comes with being older.

Wish we could have done that

No, not plumbing problems. It took me a while to remember seeing something for the first time as a child. Finally, I recalled my family visiting the Civil War Museums in Gettysburg, PA. I love museums, even now. But as a nine-year old boy, all those guns and cannons, the theater that realistically depicted the fierce fighting, and the actual battle field mesmerized me. I’d never seen anything like it, especially memorable were the life size figures posted throughout the museum.

One in particular drew my attention. It was the figure of a man, a sergeant or something, in a Union uniform standing stiffly at attention with his rifle at his side. It looked so life-like, almost alive. My brother and I ignored our parents’ commands to come along as we circled this figure drawing closer until we were nearly on the pedestal with it. I noticed how its eyes glistened. Its face sagged with soft wrinkles. Its hand holding the rifle was so detailed that fine dark hair stood up on its fingers. I so wanted to touch it. Then my brother stopped right in front of the figure and drew himself up for the closest look he dared, reaching out one hand.

Suddenly the figure slumped, then raised his free hand to his mouth and coughed. My brother and I screamed and fell over each other trying to escape. The figure then laughed and waved to us. Of course the figure was alive, an actor. It was wonderful. My brother and I stayed and watched him scare other kids, the two of us laughing harder each time, until our parents drug us away.

What surprise, what wonder, what child-like life!

Granddaughter Addi looking and seeing

That’s what I wanted again. So, I set sail. And I saw some inspiring things. I noticed the blueness of the sky. Donald Miller called it “blue like jazz” in his book of the same name. We call it Colorado blue sky here. I savored my food, as if I’d never had peanut butter before. The two feet of snow in our yard glistened in the weak winter sun. I considered building a snow man but had a meeting to attend. A chickadee called out. I noticed people. Their smiles and frowns. But none surprised me like that day in Gettysburg.

All week long I looked. But something was missing. Nothing appeared magical. I’d seen it all before. Disappointment set in. I felt like bagging the whole living spiritually idea. It was too hard. Like so many other self-improvement projects. But I remembered living spiritually isn’t about mere self-improvement. It’s about transformation. There is a difference, though I’m a little unclear about what that difference is as yet.

I stayed the course. Nothing happened. Nothing I expected anyway.  But here’s what I wrote in my journal at the end of the week:

I don’t know how to do that [see with a child’s eyes] anymore. It’s as if it’s been lived out of me. I can only remember what it was like [and none to well at that either]. And I’ve told and retold, or relived, my favorite stories so much, I’m not sure I can see them as new. 

I have seen many familiar things [this week] I’m grateful for, however.

So, maybe the contrast between young and old is that at one end you wonder at the newness; at the other you’re grateful for what you’ve seen and still have. A tight embrace, sitting with your grown children, having grandchildren, knowing life-long friends, hoping to arrow and elk, reading familiar scriptures in a new translation, hiking for a few miles, not worrying about pretenses and appearances.

Are these things spiritual?

Living spiritually may not always mean looking for what I’m missing, but rather holding tighter to what I’ve got.

Maybe the kind of eyes to have aren’t necessarily child-like, but rather the eyes you presently have. Not looking back at what was, nor too far forward to what will be. But seeing what is. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he asked, “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”

Papa Eugene looking at life as he should

Not only is Eugene a Presbyterian minister at The Neighborhood Church but he does–in fact–have Presbyopia. Which, you can see by looking him in the eye, is not so bad. Though he has lost or broken five pair of reading glasses. Please join the Living Spiritually Experiment by following and commenting on this blog or by clicking here and liking the Facebook page.

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What the Hell is Living Spiritually?

An eagle in Waterton Canyon my friend Steve pointed out

On a recent hike with Steve, a chemical engineer friend, I explained how the day after Christmas God had prompted me–at least I think it was God–to actively seek out the God-created soul in daily life.

“I’m calling 2012 The Year of Living Spiritually,” I told Steve. Then I breathlessly recounted several exciting stories of God sightings I’d had and how I was trying to pry beneath the surface of things and see people and experiences for who and what they really were: created and loved by God. I told him how much this experiment was changing me.

“It’s an experiment,” I said, hoping scientific, engineer language would help him understand. “I’m recording my experiences in a journal every day and reporting them in a blog called The Year of Living Spiritually. And my son, Brendan, and I have started a Facebook page where we can all compare our Living Spiritually experiences. I’d love it if you took part?”

Steve is practical, concrete, down-to-earth, in short an engineer. He wiped his hand through his wispy blond hair and looked at me as if I’d just asked him to count how many angels can dance on the point of a needle.

“So, what is it exactly I’d be doing if I joined you in this Living Spiritually experiment?”

What the Hell is Living Spiritually?

Good question. I had no easy answer. As far as I know he’s not yet joined the exepriment.

I’m obviously not an engineer, but even I know spiritual things are intangible and therefore hard to see much less measure. My greatest lesson of 2012 so far is that talking about being spiritual is much easier than living spiritual.

I think several people involved in The Year of Living Spiritually have hit the same roadblock and are asking the same question. I know, for me, some days look and feel just like any other day I was not trying to live spiritually. And then when something spiritual does happen, I wonder if I’ve made it up or just have gas or something.

A Prickly Pear Cactus: Joy & Sadness

In the fall, Steve, my engineer friend, will often pause on our hikes and gather handfuls of wild chokecherries and we eat them while hiking. Other hikers rush right by. Another day he showed me we could eat the fruit from a Prickly Pear Cactus. I’ve lived around these cacti all my life and never knew you could eat the fruit. It was a delicious little gift on a mundane hike. Steve always points out wildlife and all kinds of fun things on hikes.

Often a daily mundaneness numbs me. So, I decided I’d turn Living Spiritually into a metaphysical scavenger hunt and daily search out and write down one joy and one sadness, like picking fruit off the side of the trail.

A Joy

Searching out joy may seem obvious. But there is a lot of trouble and hurt in our world, big and little. We get overwhelmed by it and maybe miss a sparkle of light in the middle of daily dimness.

The ancient Christians had a proverb: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Yesterday my joy was grilling steaks, tossing a salad, and drinking wine. Dee Dee says it’s the first meal I’ve cooked for her in 32 years of marriage. She smiled. I did too.

A Sadness

But life is more complicated than the glass being half-full or half-empty. Sometimes the glass is heavy.

Another biblical proverb says it well: “Sorrow is better than laughter, because a sad face is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” We learn and grow most from our pain and sadness, if we pay attention and break out of denial. The Prickly Pear is a cactus.

Reading through my journals, I notice I write about a couple of big life questions or struggles regularly. I’m insecure at times. I still haven’t finished my novel. This makes me sad. I wish I were more disciplined and more . . . . whatever. There is also evidence in my journals I have grown, however, if even slightly. I don’t think I would have, if I had ignored these issues.

What the hell is living spiritually? It’s taking a daily hike into your soul and noticing, tasting, the sweet and sour, joy and sadness of life. There’s a lot out there we don’t notice. Since that day I started recording one joy and one sadness, I’ve added some variety. Now I am also often writing about one memory, one thing I’ve found or lost, one thing I’ve learned, and a prayer to sum that day up.

Maybe now I can go back to Steve–and you–and ask again: “I’d love it if you took part in this Year of Living Spiritually.”

Eugene C. Scott may have only “cooked” one full meal for Dee Dee, but he has grilled entire herds of steaks and burgers. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the page.

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