Tag Archives: belonging

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.

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2001 A Space Odyssey, Psalm 121, and Home

Denver skyline

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look up to the mountains;

does my strength come from mountains?

No, my strength comes from God,

who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.

He won’t let you stumble,

your Guardian God won’t fall asleep.

Not on your life! Israel’s

Guardian will never doze or sleep.

God’s your Guardian,

right at your side to protect you—

Shielding you from sunstroke,

sheltering you from moonstroke.

God guards you from every evil,

he guards your very life.

He guards you when you leave and when you return,

he guards you now, he guards you always.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I loved Star Trek.

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

And no one wants to be that guy.

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

Do you feel expendable?

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

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

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

Have you been told you’re the expendable crewman?

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

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

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

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

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

But doesn’t this only make us more insecure?

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

The true source of our security.

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

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

Better! He wants us to play a part.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Celebrate?

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

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

We Need Holidays

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

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

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

Everyday Can’t Be Holy

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

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

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

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

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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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Moby Dick and How I am Forgiving the Church

By Eugene C Scott

I set Monday aside for practicing forgiveness. Believe me, I need all the practice I can get. Regardless, my thought was that during Holy Week, like Jesus, I would forgive something Big. So, I rummaged around in my past and touched on a particularly putrid wound I had so far bandaged over as “just a flesh wound.” Wiser people call it denial.

Ignorantly I pulled this memory out and laid it on the table. I could’t believe it. This grievance was not that big when I stowed it away for safe keeping, I thought.

But there it lay–a virtual Moby Dick.

I’m supposed to be good at spiritual stuff like forgiveness. I am a pastor, after all. But maybe I should have started this during-Holy-Week-do-one-thing-a-day-that-Jesus-did experiment with something easy like walking on water.

Gaping, I wondered if I could hide Moby away again. But it was too late. I had even told my congregation I was going to work on forgiving something Big on Monday.

“I’m going to forgive the Church,” I said naively.

But it was difficult knowing where to start.

Like many of you, I’ve had several painful experiences in the church.* And yes, I said several. That means I’m like the guy who gets sick from the all-you-can-eat salad bar but keeps going back for more. And I’m not talking a little food poisoning here. I’m talking hemorrhagic colitis or E. coli O157:H7 infection.

But seriously, these three situations crippled me, hurt my family, and if not for God’s tender, firm hand and a few very good friends and counselors, I would have left the pastorate–and the church–and maybe the faith.

Never-the-less, all day Monday, as I went through my work day, I studied my wounds, and prayed, and grieved anew. This new pain piled on old is why we are reluctant to forgive. Mid-day, however, I remembered reading a book on forgiveness by Lewis Smedes. Smedes wrote you have to specifically name the wrong done to you before you can forgive.

I realized it was not mere denial blocking me from forgiving theses churches and moving on in a more free life. Low-grade bitterness stemming from vague forgiveness was keeping me emotionally bedridden. I had told others this truth but never applied it to these wounds of mine. Yes, I knew they hurt me. Yes, I was wronged. But how exactly? I was surprised after the years of moaning and groaning I’d done about this, I could not state the cause of my pain in anything but vague, general terms.

Unlike Aspirin, forgiveness cannot be applied as a general anesthetic.

Monday night I broke out my journals and began pouring over them to find clues as to what the real issues were. First, I recognized I was not hurt by “the church.” But rather I had experienced three separate battle field traumas in churches. Some were inflicted by individuals, some by systems, some by whole groups, some–in part–self-inflicted.

Second, I saw the wrongs ranged from a lack of acceptance resulting in judgement and subsequent isolation to emotional and spiritual manipulation leading to abuse or what is called clergy mobbing.

Suddenly the whale began to break into smaller pieces, pieces I could work on. Something in me floated free. Forgiveness began to feel real and attainable.

Attainable not in one day, however. As I ended Monday writing my newest journal entries on an old story, I adjusted my Holy Week goals. I would still work on my daily list. But forgiving something Big would not be a sprint but rather a marathon.

The next step? I’m not sure. But, as they say in running, I’m just going to put one foot in front of the other. And I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Eugene C. Scott is not a runner but likes to use running metaphors. Metaphors are not nearly as strenuous. You can 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.

*In saying this I am not claiming to be a victim or innocent. Though I was wronged, I realize my faults and sins added to these situations. **Clergy mobbing is a term researchers have begun using to apply to the abuse of clergy.

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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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