Tag Archives: authenticity

What Do You Do When Life Spins Out of Control?

When a small airplane goes into a spin, the worst thing for the pilot to do  to try to muscle it back on course. The harder you grip the stick and the more you wrestle against the spin the worse it gets. Or so I’ve been told.

Pilots know that stopping a spin is counterintuitive. You have to power down and point the nose of the plane toward the ground. Yikes.

So too when our lives spin out of control.

In my last blog I asked how you fight spiritual entropy, that state all of us fall into where, no matter how hard we grip the controls of our lives, the slow spin begins and takes our spiritual breath away.

The Fallacy of Self-discipline

At one time severe self-punishment was considered a mark of spirituality or godliness. Famous are the men and women of faith who starved, beat, and even mutilated themselves as a form of discipline, as a way to fight off the creep–and sometimes even the tidal wave–of sin and shame and guilt in their lives. The belief behind this was that they could flagellate the disobedience or evil out of themselves.

Martin Luther, before his “Tower Experience,” practiced such discipline fiercely. He felt God’s justice demanded he punish himself to pay for his sins. No matter that Jesus had already paid his–and our–bill. But Luther discovered that no amount of shivering in the snow all night long in February, nor climbing up and down the Scala Santa (Holy Steps) on his knees in Rome reduced his shame and guilt.

Luther wrote, “I was myself more than once driven to the very depths of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him! … I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul.

The real goal of all this pain was not mere punishment, but rather self-discipline. And maybe even to get God to love them. Luther–and others–wanted to better themselves and believed self-punishment and deprivation would help. It didn’t.

How Do You Punish Yourself?

Spiritual self-punishment is not as popular today, nor as severe, as it once was, thank God. But still many of us practice mild forms of it, maybe subliminally. Today we may only force ourselves to watch several hours of the TV show Jersey Shore, or watch one of television evangelist Benny Hinn’s “Miracle Crusades,” or–if we have really sinned–relive any of the New England Patriot’s Super Bowl wins.

But seriously, now that I’ve probably offended you, how do you punish yourself? In the extreme, self-cutting and eating disorders are well documented problems in the modern world. These painful, heartbreaking disorders are, in part, echoes of those ancient, ubiquitous drives for perfection. And they are just as ineffective at producing perfection.

The other extreme is quitting. Maybe you have just quit trying to grow spiritually.

Many of us, however, simply grab the stick tighter. We work harder. If at first you don’t succeed try harder. That works when cleaning a floor or driving a nail. It does not work so well in matters of the soul.

Rest: The Counterintuitive Answer

What do you do when your life spins out of control? Neither a tighter grip nor giving up is the answer. Irish poet and singer-song writer Thomas Moore wrote, “It’s important to be heroic, ambitious, productive, efficient, creative, and progressive, but these qualities don’t necessarily nurture the soul. The soul has different concerns, of equal value: downtime for reflection, conversation, and reverie; beauty that is captivating and pleasuring; relatedness to the environs and to people; and any animal’s rhythm of rest and activity.”

In the Christian world we call this Sabbath. “Sabbath is that uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activities enough to see what God is doing,” says Eugene Peterson.

Without planning it, my recent backpacking trip with my son, Brendan, and some close friends from Oklahoma, turned into just such a Sabbath. On the mountain there was not even a control stick much less an opportunity to grab it tighter. No cell coverage, no internet, no bad political news. Only eating and sleeping and fishing and talking and praying and stars. There was work to be sure. Pumping water, gathering firewood, cooking, the constant watch against the weather. But it is a different kind of work. Work sans worry. It is the work of letting go.

And in so doing the small plane of my life righted, pulled out of its spin, and leveled off.

Sabbath, I’ve rediscovered is powering down and letting go of the stick. But more than that, it’s releasing control of life to a bigger, more capable hand.

We’d love to hear about places and times you have found rest.

Today is my last blog post here.  It has been a pleasure to be a part of this blog for the last several years. Thanks, Mike. And thank all of you for your listening ear, wise comments, funny responses, challenging ideas, and your on-line friendship. Please consider, if you have not already, joining me on my Living Spiritually blog. Click here and subscribe. Eugene

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

True Olympic Competition: Freedom Versus Control

By Eugene C. Scott

The first competitive event of the 2012 Olympic Games in London was the Opening Ceremony. London versus Beijing. It was no contest. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Opening Ceremony stomped the 2012 London Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.

2008 Beijing

The Beijing ceremony, directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, cost over $100 million using 22,000 performers, including 2,008 precision drummers, 1,800 marshall arts specialists, 900 men under boxes to simulate keys of movable type, and countless children. China also used technology to prevent rainfall on their 43,000 piece computer enhanced fireworks show.

“With all the technical complexities involved, the opening ceremony was 100 times more difficult than making a movie, he [Yimou] said, adding that such a performance was unprecedented in the world,” wrote Zhu Yin for the news agency Xinhua.

Most people agree with Yimou, saying the 2008 opening was the most spectacular ever, and maybe, ever to be. Even Danny Boyle, the director of the 2012 ceremony said he would not try to compete with them.

2012 London

This year the Opening Ceremony cost only $42 million using 15,000 performers including 12 horses, a village cricket team, some sheep dogs roaming around, 70 sheep, 10 chickens, 2 goats, 3 cows, and 10 ducks. Oh yeah, they used real clouds above the stadium and Mr. Bean was there. The show looked disorganized and scattered, on purpose. One blog reported, “So disappointingly for anyone looking for rows, there haven’t been any.”

Perfection versus Imperfection

China wanted to prove something to the world. Uniformity and technology were the Beijing watchwords. China achieved this precision and uniformity by having performers practice their movements for up to 15 hours a day wearing diapers because they were not allowed to take breaks. Even the children practiced for that long. The final rehearsal was 51 hours long with few breaks and only two meals and no shelter from the rain.

In 2008 perfection came at the cost of freedom and with a great deal of coercion and manipulation. After the 2008 games, Yimou told the press that no other country, except possibly communist North Korea, could do a better opening ceremony.

Why? Because they could. In the West, Yimou said, no one would put up with how China treated its performers.

In Britain, however, the opening ceremony told stories, stories by and about imperfect people. Shakespeare, Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, James Bond, Queen Elizabeth, even Mr. Bean.

Kid’s wiggled, people missed cues, the whole thing played out slow and uneven. We were “trying to make you feel like you’re watching a live film being made,” said Boyle.

And the Winner Is

For me the London Opening Ceremony was the better. But the competition was not between Opening Ceremonies but rather between two opposite philosophies. Freedom versus control, machine versus human, uniformity versus individuality. I took a course in drama and theater in college. The professor assigned us to go and view both a movie and a live theater play. He asked us then to evaluate and discuss them in class. He pointed out that in a movie every shot, every word, every move was directed and choreographed. Movies, though well-done and exciting, are farther away from reality than a live show. The excitement, tension, and drama in the live play came, in part, from the possibility of someone missing a line or ad-libbing. The play was more real in its imperfection.

Living Spiritually Demands Freedom

Still I delude myself in my desire for predictability, order, and control in my life. I yell, “Why?” at God when things beyond explanation befall me. I want God to do away with disease and discomfort. And if God won’t, then I hope technology or government will.

The comparison between these two ceremonies reminded me of how we so often look for formulas and systems to help us get our lives under control. To help our lives make sense, have order. But by definition life cannot be controlled and still be life. It becomes something else, an automaton.

Spiritual life more so. No matter what any pastor (me included) or book has told you, there are not seven steps, five keys, or ten secrets to a fulfilling spiritual life.

Living spiritually is living in the freedom of loving God and being loved by God. It is leaning into the mystery of what the next breath of life holds. It is embracing the imperfection of human life while pursuing a perfectly loving God. In short, it is “watching a live film being made.”

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Freedom with a Twist

By Eugene C. Scott

Oppression is chameleon. Throughout human history it has changed its color and adapted itself to every age and every need or right we humans must have. And it’s disguise is always—at first—beautiful, promising. This chameleon usually first promises us safety in a dangerous world, then maybe protection of beloved values, or true peace, or more food, or better wages, and even—paradoxically—freedom. Then somehow, slowly—maybe even unintentionally at times—it changes its color. The trap slams shut and we are caught.

The ancient Israelites came begging Egypt for safety from a famine and wound up enslaved for over 400 years. That was one expensive meal.

In 1789 the French Revolutionaries began an overthrow of a corrupt and absolute monarchy. Freedom, they cried. They wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Then only four years later the Committee of Public Safety began what is now called the Reign of Terror. Up to 40,00 people were killed. The dictator Napoleon followed.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 turned out worse, with an estimated 30 million killed by Stalin’s government. Communist China and North Korea, so-called democratic nations in Africa, and the theocracies of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran have followed suite. To name a few more recent oppressive chameleons. Even the theological American ideal of “manifest destiny” turned murderous.

What is the common denominator in all this oppression? Some today say religion. Others corporations. Some governments. And these are all elements to be sure. But religions, corporations, and governments are made up of people. You and me. Humans are the root of all this oppression.

We are each capable of wreaking it on others or releasing it in the name of getting something we think we need. When I visited that horrific reminder of human oppression, The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, I realized it was not Nazis or Germans who killed six million Jews. Yes, the murderers wore Nazi uniforms and were mainly German. But beneath those uniforms they wore human skin. This the Bible calls sin. And on this level it is hard to deny.

The good news is we are also capable of resisting oppression. Freedom also comes in many different varieties. Though true freedom is never deceptive nor makes promises of mere safety. Some varieties of freedom come harder than others. With a cost.

Political, economic, religious, personal freedom are the most common freedoms we cry out for. But maybe the most precious freedom is one we avoid at almost all cost: The freedom to not be safe, to cry, to struggle, to suffer. This is the freedom Jesus chose as an expression of his love for us. He freely gave his life for you and me.

Note the difference? Oppression promises to give but really takes. And leaves us no choice in the matter. Only God gives expecting nothing in return. Because God needs nothing.

If anyone ever could become a demanding dictator it is God. Often our cries to God for safety, mere happiness, contentment, a cessation of pain and worry are just that, invitations for God to declare universal marshall law in the name of public safety. But how much more would God’s mighty fist crush us if mere humans such as Pharaoh, Napoleon, Stalin, and Hitler did such thorough work?

So God continually grants us the freedom to suffer. Knowing this then gives us the freedom to love and live as creatures of love.

The ancient Israelites were mud and brick, hard labor, economic slaves in Egypt for over 400 years. But when God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go,’” their freedom is not escaping human oppression. God goes on to say, “Let my people go . . . so that they may worship me.” Worship is an expression of love. Soon enough, faced with a barren and dangerous desert, however, the people are crying out for the safety of Egypt. Give us the leeks and onions of Egypt they tell Moses.

Finally, as these people then stand on the edge of the “promised land” which contains not only “milk and honey” but suffering too, Joshua says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Those gods, like our gods of protective governments and human systems only take because they cannot give us what we truly need. The freedom to receive and give love.

This freedom is costly. But not as costly as choosing safety and other chameleon promises.

Eugene C. Scott is enjoying the freedom he has and is thankful for both the joy and the suffering it brings. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. 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.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

If God Is Always There, Why Is it So Hard to See Him?

There are two places most people expect to catch a glimpse of God: In church or in nature. The trouble with that is we are neither place often enough to then live as if God is omnipresent. God becomes an add-on rather than a constant companion.

“A primary but often shirked task of the Christian in our society and culture is to notice, to see in detail, the sacredness of creation. The marks of God’s creative works are all around and in us. We live surrounded by cherubim singing, Holy, Holy, Holy.” Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in 10,000 Places.

In the above quote Peterson is not using the word creation as we often do, in the sense of  wilderness and nature untouched by human hands. Peterson rather is using it holistically, meaning all that God has created: humans, and even the good things we have made.

The pictures below are from an evening with a friend on the deck of a trendy place called Tsunami. God was not only in the sunsets, but in our conversation about family, frogs, rootedness, what the future holds, and most of all how we two are simple men who are trying to live authentic lives of faith. Such things are hard to catch in photos. So, the glass of wine reflecting the Cajun sunset will have to also reflect seeing God in the spaces between two people.

The tug toiling in the golden water . . . well what metaphor is that?

Eugene C. Scott doesn’t usually look for God in cityscapes, but maybe he should. 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.

15 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized