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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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What Not to Wear When Living Spiritually

By Eugene C. Scott

Camo clashes with blaze orange

No matter who you are, where you live, what your life is about, we all had a common experience today. No, not coffee. Before that. Clothing. Each of us walked into a closet, or some such room, and chose what we would wear for the day. And if you’re a male, and married, or the father of teenaged daughters, after dressing you were strongly encouraged to give it a second try.

We spend an inordinate amount of money and time on clothing, covering ourselves up. What’s that they say? Beauty may be only skin deep but ugly runs to the bone. Humor aside, what if daily each of us walked into a closet and purposefully chose what we did each day based on the more intangible interior clothing that makes us who we are.

So far, for me, this concept of living spiritually is about asking questions. I’ve begun to ask questions about the intangible, interior of things. For example, what not to wear when living spiritually.

Following is a list of questions I’m beginning to ask daily just as I would weigh what wardrobe to wear–or not.

  • Is this idea or activity good for my soul? Not just do I have time for it.

Living spiritually means asking do I have the spiritual, and emotional bandwidth for what I fill my day with. Clocks have little to do with the world of the soul.

  • Will this produce faith? Not just is it safe?

Some safety is a good thing. My poor noggin can’t take any more concussions. But God is not a “tame lion” as C. S. Lewis hinted. Faith and fear are enemies. Life lived spiritually includes risk.

  • Who can I be today? Not what can I get done today?

What we do stands on the foundation of who we are. Forgetting this we often flip foundations and do things that go against our very grain and then we find ourselves wondering who we are. First and foremost you and I are children of God, not cogs in the wheel of a business or government. We are not consumers but God’s highest creation. This truth can impact what we do each day.

  • Who do I have? Not what do I have?

We all know the things that will last forever are not our cars and jewelry and toys. God breathed eternity not into them but you and me. Where are your people?

  • Michael and Eugene dressed to kill.

    Is this fun? Not is this profitable?

Fun is not frivolous. Laughing and smiling improve our health and outlook on life. Worrying about the bottom line steals our peace and happiness and days of our lives. This is an irony. Fun is indeed profitable while worrying about profits is not.

  • Who can I serve? Not who is serving me?

If there is one key to unlock the mysteries of life, it is giving. Another irony. Receiving empties us. Giving fills.

And my foundational question is:

  • What will God think? Not what will people think?

Someone once said, “Being a pastor is like being a dog at a dog whistle convention.” True that. I think life for many of us is like this. “Be this; be that; wear this; eat that.” We need to listen for one voice only. The voice of the One who knows us and loves us from the inside out.

These seven questions comprise an interior wardrobe. It’s like that great theologian/philosopher/poet the Apostle Paul said some 2,000 years ago:

“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.”

I’m thirty-eight days into this Year of Living Spiritually experiment (I started on December 26) and am still stumbling around quite a bit. These questions help define it and focus me. What questions or activities have helped you?

Finally, to paraphrase a friend of mine, pastor and song-writer, Sean Farver, I know a lot about the soul of this old world, but little about the world of the soul.

But I’m learning.

Eugene C Scott is helping Mike Klassen plant The Neighborhood Church. It’s a church where you can wear pretty much what you want, even if it doesn’t match. Just ask our wives. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the Facebook page.

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Is God a Tim Tebow Fan?

By Eugene C. Scott

The Author Tebowing

It’s a miracle! On January 8, 2012 the underdog Denver Broncos upset the ostensibly better Pittsburgh Steelers in an American Football Conference wildcard playoff game. Those of you reading in South Africa, Britain, Antarctica, and Lizard Lick, North Carolina may be asking, “How is that a miracle?” And it’s a fair question.

You see with only a year before America might elect a new president, the entire nation is embroiled in a huge controversy over whether Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow is a very good passer and, even more, whether he should start every interview with, “First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Those against Tim argue he is a terrible passer and is delusional to think God cares a whit about American football. Those for Tim counter with the fact that because he is winning, even though he is a terrible passer, proves that God is somehow involved. Hmm.

This last Sunday’s win did not help the debate, especially since Tebow passed for exactly 316 yards. His best day yet. And it turns out that Tebow’s favorite Bible verse is–you’ll never guess–John 3:16. Coincidence?

Then to top it all off–literally–a cloud in the form of a halo appeared above the football stadium after the game.

There is no doubt in many Tebowites’ minds that these are God sightings, signs that God cares about Tim Tebow and things as mundane as a Denver Broncos’ game.

As many said after the game, “It’s a miracle!”

If you’ve been reading this blog the last couple of weeks, you may remember we’re running an experiment. We’re spending 2012 trying to find out what it’s like to live every day spiritually: to look for the God-created soul in daily life. We’re looking for God sightings, little miracles, ways in which God becomes apparent in nature, people, music, work, movies, sermons, meals, the Bible, worship, prayer and other apparent mundanities.

But did God don a Broncos jersey after church and show up at the Broncos game? Are the 316 yards and the halo cloud God sightings? Miracles?

Stranger things have happened. Jesus had Peter pay his taxes from money Peter found in a fishes’ mouth. Jesus turned water into wine and later transformed a Roman torture device into a universal symbol of hope and new life. And almost every Sunday people gather–not in a stadium but in a worship community–to experience the sacrament of mere bread and wine mysteriously becoming the body and blood of Christ.

Closer to home Christ fashioned this fatherless boy into a father, this high school drop out into a teacher, this addict into a free man, this carpenter into a counselor, and this self-centered person into a servant. Stranger things indeed. History may not prove God engineered a Bronco win. But is sure shows God puts his mark on things big and little.

Was Tebow’s win a miracle? Maybe, maybe not. But people are talking about God outside of church and Google has had a run on searches for John 3:16. God seems very comfortable using what ever he can to get us to see beyond our own noses. And that in itself may be a miracle.

Personally I doubt God orchestrated Tebow’s big day but God does seem to be in the habit of breaking into our regular programming for a more urgent messages. Our task is to listen up.

Eugene C. Scott learned to love the Broncos from his late mother and has followed them since he was a kid. He actually shed a tear when John Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is not convinced Tim Tebow is the Second Coming of John Elway.  Other than that, football means nothing to him. He’d much rather you join him in watching for God sightings and telling your stories here and on “Living Spiritually” at facebook.com/livingspiritually. Eugene is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church and may wear his Broncos jersey to worship next Sunday.

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2012: The Year of Living Spiritually

By Eugene C. Scott

I’ve spent many brilliant mornings fly fishing. Why I remember that early summer morning on the Blue River, I’m not sure. I don’t remember catching any fish. But I can still see the rising sun clipping the tops of the Gore Range. The water was cold. Soon the river glittered where the sun touched it. I wore only a shirt, shorts, and old tennis shoes. I missed a couple of Brown trout, then climbed out of the river, my legs and feet frozen.

The sun had clawed its way up into the bare blue sky and I lay in the grass and let it warm me. Though silent, the air seemed filled with words. The very molecules popped. “Look. Over here. And behind you. See. God spoke all this into being. Like poetry.”

It was a transformational moment. I was in my 20s and still had much transforming to do. I had seen God in creation before but this was different. God seemed active not passive, pushing, aware of me and wanting me to be aware of him. Maybe that was the day I woke–at least partially–to the idea that life is as much spiritual as material.

Some people would call that day on the river a spiritual moment. And so it was. But isn’t there more to being spiritual than watching captivating sunsets and mountain vistas? Otherwise being spiritual depends more on mood and circumstance than something we cultivate. As much as I would want to fly fish everyday–hoping to hook another God sighting–it’s not realistic or practical. And spirituality has to be realistic and practical.

And there’s the rub. Most of us struggle even defining what it means to be spiritual much less daily living it. What does it mean to be spiritual?

I think it means to connect with the God-created soul of things. A spiritual reading of Scripture means you hear God’s voice in the story rather than just gather God-information. When taking a walk in your neighborhood do you see homes in which people laugh, cry, hurt, are born and die or just houses? So too with sunsets, music, parties, people. They become spiritual when we see or hear that fourth God-dimension. Being aware of God sightings.

But even if that is a good starting definition, how does one connect with the soul of things? Harder yet, how do we do it daily?

For Christmas this year my son, Brendan, gave each of us six adults in our family a journal and asked that we daily write down one or more things: a blessing, something we are thankful for, or how we have experienced the Presence of God that day. As I wrote in my journal the first day, an interview I had read with A.J. Jacobs kept coming to mind. Jacobs wrote “The Year of Living Biblically,” where he chronicles his attempt to spend a year following “every single rule in the Bible–as literally as possible.”

It occurred to me that what Brendan was asking us to do was spend a year living spiritually. To look at life as if the spiritual is just as real and important as the physical. To see a relationship with God and the world he created as more than obeying rules. To try to peer beyond the obvious and see–as often as possible–that fourth dimension.

If imitation, then, is the sincerest form of flattery, I intend to flatter Jacobs and launch my own experiment: The Year of Living Spiritually: My attempt to live as if there is more to this world than we see.

Each week in 2012 I will record my quest in my blog: the stumblings, successes, questions, and answers (I hope) I discover as I put on my 4D Glasses and venture out into the world.

But I don’t like to travel alone. Here’s my question for you: would you join me? Will you not only read along, but will you go along? Share your insights? Invite friends? Will you too spend a year living spiritually?

Let me know.

Eugene C. Scott has pestered his friends about God sightings for years. He most recently spotted God in his 2–almost 3-year-old grand daughter who said, “Papa, Papa, watch me.” Then she drank a glass of water making a funny gurgling sound. When she finished, she looked at him as if she had just climbed Mount Everest. It dawned on Eugene that God gets delight out of us seeing him too in the mundane ordinary things. Eugene also co-pastors The Neighborhood Church and likes to write fiction.

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To See the Stars: A True Christmas Story of a Son’s Dying Wish

By Eugene C. Scott

The following is a fictionalized version of a true story I read in one of the Denver newspapers when I was a boy.

He was just an electrician, blue-collar, working class. Other men were teachers, doctors, lawyers, important. Making big decisions in the world. He just ran wire in houses, attached outlets, lights, switches. And he fixed things. Toasters, mixers, that kind of stuff. He was good at it.

But he couldn’t fix this. Each night when he returned from work, he kissed his wife and asked, “How is he today?” This night, tears in her eyes, hands on her apron, she shook her head. He wrung his big calloused hands, feeling helpless.

Down the hall in his bedroom their nine-year-old son, now barely a wrinkle under the sheets, had grown too ill to even get out of bed. Cancer. The doctor said he may not even make it to Christmas, two weeks away. The electrician prayed as he entered his son’s room, “God, let me help my boy.”

The room was dark despite the drapes on the lone window being wide open. Outside dusk fell on Denver. The electrician switched on the light. His son started in his bed.

“Don’t, please,” his son whispered. “I want to see the stars.” The boy had always loved the stars and talked of becoming an astronaut and being the first to land on the moon. Not now. The electrician looked at his son’s skelatal face and flicked the light back off. He turned and wiped away his tears. He had moved the boy’s bed to the center of the room facing the window so the boy might catch a glimpse of those stars. It’s all he could do for him and hope shone in the boy’s eyes, when he caught sight of just one star.

Now the boy could not see well enough even for that. The father sat next to his son, helpless, praying.

A few nights later driving down out of the foothills, the lights of Denver, Queen City of the Plains, shown below him like stars. He pulled over and wept. “God, give my son one more glimpse of the stars, please.”

He started his truck and pulled back onto the road. The city lights danced below. Then it came. An idea.

The next day after work he asked his boss if he could take home some of the scraps and leftovers from the job. For his son. That night again his son asked, “Are the stars out?”

“Not yet.” After supper, the father descended into his workshop in the basement.

“Come to bed. What are you doing down there?” his wife called down, late.

“You’ll see. Go to bed,” he answered. Every night Christmas drew closer. And every night he worked harder.

Finally on Christmas Eve, as he prepared for work, there was a new spring in his step and the tiredness that usually fell on his shoulders lifted. He kissed his wife.

“I’ll be home early tonight.”

When he came home he visited his son. Sitting there next to the bed he wiggled in his chair like a child. After the boy fell back to sleep,  he drew the drapes closed on the window. Then he went to the garage and drug out a ladder. And trudging through the snow, he leaned it against the bare tree outside his son’s window. Then he retrieved his project from the basement. As he climbed up and down the ladder his wife looked out the back door but never asked. It took him until after dark but soon all was set–just as he had imagined. He took his wife by the hand and crept into his son’s room. The electrician’s heart beat like a drum in his chest.

“Son, son,” he said , shaking his boy gently. “Look!” And just then he drew open the drapes.

The boy opened his eyes and followed his father’s gaze to the tree outside his window. “The stars,” he gasped. “So close.” A smile lit his gray face. “The stars!”

From that night, Christmas Eve, until his son closed his eyes for the final time, bright, white stars of hope–big enough for the boy to see–shone just outside the boy’s window.

The father, just an electrician, had made the stars come out. And they still shine today. For those stars were lights the electrician father strung together in his basement and hung in the bare branches of a tree to give his son a final Christmas gift. Those stars are the lights we string on houses and trees from coast to coast during the Christmas season.

Christmas lights then are more than decorations; they are advertisements of a father’s love. And of a Father’s love.

Our heavenly Father sent us a Light of hope too. Several thousand years ago a Jewish writer named Isaiah wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” He was writing about the coming of Jesus. The first Christmas Light lifted up on a rugged tree. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. May the light and peace and hope of Jesus Christ illuminate your coming and going today, tomorrow and forevermore.

Eugene C. Scott proudly lives in Denver, where this story took place and he hangs lights on his house every year. He loves stories, fictional and non and is writing a novel. But isn’t everyone. He also co-pastors The Neighborhood Church which will celebrate the birth of Jesus with a Christmas Eve service at 5:30pm. Go to tnc3.org for more info.

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Harry Potter, Steve Jobs and the Danger of Magical Thinking

By Eugene C. Scott

I was first introduced to J. K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books by a worried mother in my congregation in Tulsa.

“Pastor, what do you think of these Harry Potter books?” This was not a neutral question.

“I haven’t read them,” I answered.

“They’re full of witches, ghosts, and MAGIC! [emphasis mine] Aren’t they Satanic? The Bible’s against magic. I think they’re dangerous for our kids to read.”

Books are always dangerous, I thought but instead I said, “I’d be glad read them and let you know what I think.” I love reading good fiction.

Is the Magic in Harry Potter Dangerous?

What I discovered were books filled with magic. The first three books especially–brimmed with incredible creativity, engaging stories, themes and questions worthy of books on philosophy and theology, and characters that walked off the page and into my heart.

Magic, the kind that makes things appear and disappear, was secondary. Harry and the gang were witches and used magic in the same way Captain Kirk and his crew were space travelers and used not-yet-real technology. Harry Potter never calls on Satanic evil forces for help. Nor does he simply wave his wand and wish his problems gone. This waving of a wand, or a pill, or a prayer to make problems go away is called magical thinking and it is very dangerous.

Magical Thinking is Dangerous

Magical thinking is a way to use the things around us to hide from problems (like Harry Potter’s “invisibility cloak”), while appearing to do something about them. It is a flawed, shallow coping mechanism and may have contributed to Steve Jobs death. Walter Isaacson, biographer of the late Steve Jobs, said, “I think that he [Jobs] kind of felt that if you ignore something, if you don’t want something to exist, you can have magical thinking. We talked about this a lot.” Jobs spurned traditional medical treatment for nine months after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Jobs is not alone. Most of us practice magical thinking.

Years ago, when my daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder, I leaped into action, found a counselor, and hoped the problem was solved. Sounds like the right thing to do, doesn’t it? But I was guilty of magical thinking. I had waved the counseling wand at my daughter’s pain. But it did not go away. Not without traveling a long, painful road of discovery and healing, that would include the hardest work I’ve ever done including many counselors, doctors, friends, and episodes of heart wrenching arguments with God that showed me how shallow and hidden I was as a man.

We often think of modern medicine in this way. Just pop a pill and all the pain–the disease–will dissolve. Politics too. If we elect my candidate, she will solve all our problems. Religious people use prayer and God and the Bible this way also. Exercise, diet, education all are used as magic wands to banish our troubles.

Magical thinking is dangerous because it is a way to hide from ourselves, our world, and our problems. And it usually makes them worse.

Harry Potter never does this. In every case, his magic is a tool to help him go deeper into danger, closer to the heart of the problem. And his real solutions to his struggles come from the struggle itself. He engages his mind, his heart, his friends, even his enemies in the battle. He never settles for easy, comfortable, known answers.

My daughter is now a mother of two, healthy, honest, deep. She still struggles. But none of us who went through that with her, hide; we don’t wave God, or counseling, or prayer around like a wand hoping all the pain will disappear.

The magic in Harry Potter is indeed dangerous. Because it is the kind that calls us to face ourselves and our problems. It reminds us there are no magic answers.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church and would like a magic wand that could solve car problems and maybe clear traffic in front of him during rush hour.

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Noxious Weeds: The Real Contagion

By Eugene C. Scott

The silence settled on me like an old friendship. I let go of pieces of my worry, fear, self-doubt, and tiredness with every breath. Though I had never hunted this section of the mountain before, I was home. Not just a place I called home or felt at home, but the place God birthed me, the dirt God held in his fist and blew my life into.

“Ahhh!”

Shredded mist, gray and translucent, drifted up from the dark timber, looking like the prayers and groans of creation Saint Paul spoke of in his letter to the church in ancient Rome. I offered a prayer and groan of my own.

“Thanks, God, for this piece of almost-Eden. Oh, that I could reflect your beauty like this.”

The morning felt as if this was how God intended the world to be, how the world might have looked the day before the gate to the Garden was flung open from the inside and those two naive but no longer innocent humans stumbled out. This felt like the world in which I could be who I was originally invented to be.

As the morning slid by, however, I noticed dark stalks sticking up above the native grasses and fading wildflowers. I didn’t notice them at first because they had a dark, contrasting beauty of their own. My eyes had painted the scene with an unreal perfection. These stalks, however, represented noxious weeds. Its Latin name “carduus tenuifloris” sounds lovely but actually is an ugly, natty, thorny, invasive thistle. Weeds.

Thistles

Except thistles and other noxious weeds are not just garden variety weeds. In America, sate and federal governments use the term “noxious weed” to describe a non-native plant that will–if left unchecked–destroy native plants and wildlife. Somehow these plants have been transported into an environment not prepared to resist them. Once there, noxious weeds take over and strangle the native plants and the animals that depend on those native plants.

Because of a few small weeds that could double their footprint each year, every flower and native grass, and thus the elk I love, the hawk wheeling in the morning mist, the mouse climbing flower stalks and knocking them over for seeds, was in danger. I was thankful for organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk foundations that spends thousands of dollars and volunteer hours fighting noxious weeds.

Still an old weight and realization settled on me. This one an old unwanted friend. You see, I too am infested with non-native noxious weeds. We–all of us humans–were once pristine, unmarred, golden, perfect. Now, however, we too are being strangled by noxious weeds with beautiful sounding Latin names, “invidialuxuriasuperbiaacedia, gula,avaritia, and ira.”

If invidia (envy) or luxuria (lust) grow unchecked in my life, my beautiful wife, my fantastic children and grandchildren, my ministry, even this moment hunting this pristine meadow will be lost. Meanwhile non-native superbia (pride) will destroy my friendships and acedia (sloth) would swallow my material possessions. Gula (gluttony) will outright but sweetly kill me. Avaritia (greed) will gladly deceive me. And ira (wrath) will rot my soul.

These seven non-native noxious weeds and their thousands of sub-species have taken root in every person God ever breathed his pure, cool breath into. They invade and destroy our God-given beauty and purpose. I’ve seen some of these weeds in your life and you have seen them in mine.

It is tragic. I look closely into the faces of my two tender, gorgeous, funny, intelligent, delightful grandchildren, their eyes sparkling, hair awry, and see the dark stalks pushing up from the seeds of my unchecked noxious weeds.

But there is hope.

A woman, like you and me, over-taken by noxious weeds: prostitution, lust, self-debasement, fear, and only God knows what else, knelt and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and long hair.

“Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus told her. Your weeds are on the endangered species list.

When Jesus died on the cross, his pure, sacrificial blood drenched her noxious weeds and began to drown them out. Just then Jesus began to restore her to her natural, pristine state. This is true for you and me too.

But killing these weeds is not about being religious, powerful, smart, right, or watching how-to TV shows, mumbling miracle mantras or whatever else we use to try to control our imperfections and sins.

Jesus’ sacrificial gift to us is about restoring creation, this nearly perfect mountain meadow surrounded by aspens turning gold, and us not-so-perfect humans as well, to its original state. No matter the state of our weedy gardens, we can be forgiven and restored. It is a gift of love.

Saint Paul again,

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Eugene C. Scott is proud to be a member of one of the finest conservation organizations around, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and a writer who has written for Bugle Magazine. When he is not hunting, he is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church

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