Tag Archives: Bible

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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Looking for a New Restaurant? Try God’s Kitchen

As a kid I didn’t have time for food, except peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hamburgers, and an oatmeal-like breakfast cereal I called “Cooked Bird.” I liked it because it had a funny bird on the box. Eating got in the way of playing.

But my mom worried. So, the doctor said, “If all he wants to eat are burgers and PBJs, let him.” I loved that doctor. She wore galoshes and a dress that looked like John the Baptizer’s camel hair cloak.She was smart and well dressed. But I was really skinny. “Eugene the string bean,” my sister teased threatening to tie string to me and fly me like a kite.

Even when I was older, however, and gained weight, food was little more than a necessary evil.

That was then. This is now.

Today I not only eat healthily but I enjoy food. I even cook. Ask my wife, Dee Dee.

What’s changed?

I wound up in God’s Kitchen.

First, I learned eating is a good way to stay alive. Dee Dee, taught me this. After we were married she said, “I don’t care what Dr. Thulin said. Eat what I cook or die.”

Dee Dee is a woman of her word and, fortunately, a fabulous cook.

Second, I’ve been surrounded by people who are gastronomical geniuses, including Dee Dee, three Dietitians, and several outstanding cooks. They’ve rubbed off on me a bit.

I’ve always been a little mystified and jealous of the above friends who really love food. At almost any meal not only did they savor

the same meal I was mindlessly shoveling into my gaping mouth, but simultaneously they recalled details of meals past.

“Remember the aioli sauce on the burgers we ate in 01? In that cafe in South Dakota?” one might say.

“Yes.” Lips pursed, eyes glazed, poised fork full of fettucine. “It was heavenly. So creamy but alive.”

What? I can’t remember my last bite.

Food is more than physical nutrition.

But the real turning point came when I discovered my eating habits were, in fact, going to kill me. In the spring of 2011, I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Read about that here. In the process I realized eating is as much emotional as physical. In their book “The Insulin-Resistence Diet” Cheryle R. Hart and Mary Kay Grossman argue having a “food memory” such as my friends have, contributes to physical and emotional health. They say overweight people often overeat because, though they are physically full, not having paid attention to what they just ate, they are emotionally unsatisfied and go back for more. Many without a food memory read, watch TV, or work while eating. For many then, enjoying food can contribute to emotional health because it works to satisfy on multiple levels.

Pre-diabetes I had zero food memory, though I was not hugely overweight. And dissatisfaction raged in me. I did not so much overeat as I ate fast and moved on to the next experience.

Food is also spiritual

Though I am still a food connoisseur in progress, slowing down and savoring meals has expanded more than my palate. Food is spiritual. Most religions feature feasts and fasts as disciplines for growing spiritually. Some form of food (mostly chocolate) is the number one item people give up for Lent.

Enjoying food is becoming a main ingredient in my spiritual life, a metaphor for slowing down to savor all aspects of life. Instead of simply praying a blessing over my meal, I take the first bite of my omelet, fully tasting it, slowly, and say the prayer of thanks with the flavor in my mouth. As I wrote here, slowing down and paying attention to life in general is this year’s Lenten practice.

And I am beginning to better understand Jesus’ many references to food.

“Man cannot live by bread alone, but by everything that comes from God,” he said. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “Eugene, branch out. There’s more to food than PBJs and there’s more to life than bread. Just as you sustain yourself on the bread that comes from God, do so with all of life. Pull up a chair in God’s Kitchen.”

Here Jesus seems to be trying to convince us that in God’s Kitchen, material and spiritual provision are not cooked up in separate bowls. They are one.

Then Jesus made an even bolder, stranger claim about food. One that had early Greeks accusing followers of Christ of being cannibals.

“Take the bread and eat. It’s my body, broken for you. Drink the wine. It’s my blood to wash you clean. As you eat, remember me.” Bread and wine then taken in the way Jesus prescribed fill the hungry void between us and God and mysteriously become sacramental, spiritual made material and material made spiritual. Communion, two worlds joined, becomes the means for God healing our souls.

This means when we are seated in God’s Kitchen, a meal is not merely a plateful of spices, textures, flavors, hot and cold, nor proteins, vitamins, fats, and carbohydrates, but rather a mysterious mixture of heaven and earth. Food is not a waste of time, but the redemption of it. I’m learning.

Of course there are still times, even in God’s Kitchen, I wolf my food and end with an embarrassing belch.

To that God usually responds, “Bless you. And cover your mouth when you do that.”

Eugene C. Scott usually eats with his mouth closed and believes hamburgers are humankind’s greatest culinary invention. He is attempting to see 2012 as “The Year of Living Spiritually.” You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the Facebook page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. God’s Kitchen, several good charities that feed the hungry go by this name.

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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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Living Spiritually Equals Giving Up Something Meaningful for Lent

By Eugene C. Scott

My world is the opposite of Paul Simon’s poetic world in his famous song “Sound of Silence,”

“Fools, . . . you do not know

Silence like a cancer grows.”

Like you, I navigate a sound filled, often noisy, world. Airplanes, cars, horns, radios, televisions, iPods, and worse are ubiquitous. The cancer in my world is noise. Maybe that’s why silence unnerves me. Moments of silence are rare, longer interludes downright scarce. I’m not sure what to do with silence. Paul Simon had a point. One never knows what will grow unbidden from silence.

Silence  Grows Accidentally

Like last Thursday morning. On my way to a meeting, I turned off my truck radio during a noisy, irritating commercial and in the ensuing accidental silence discovered something. There’s a lot going on–in and around us–that extraneous noise covers. In the first moments of this accidental silence, I began to listen to some of those things.

Silence Grows Old Memories and New Insights

The thump-a-thump-a-thump-a-thump-a of the seams in the concrete road beneath the tires of my truck struck a chord in me and, as if I had switched on an internal radio, I heard the rhythm of riding in my parents’ old Plymouth through Trinidad, Colorado, a small town with streets paved with bricks. The patter beneath our Plymouth that day told me a story. I remembered imagining workers, dressed in faded over-alls, sweat streaming down their tanned faces, laying paving bricks. Then I pictured carriages drawn by horses bumping over the newly laid bricks. History, though imagined, sprang to life for me.

The brick streets of Trinidad

As I drove radio-less to my meeting that Thursday morning, history sprang to life again, remembering my parents’ native home town, my family,  whole and together, as I had not seen them in years. Then suddenly it dawned on me. I have long been a story teller, even if it’s a story told only in my own head. That silence confirmed who I am today. I realized this love of story that so possesses me now, lived in me back then. And here I was doing it again, retelling myself the story of being packed in that old car, traveling to my grandparents’ house.

That accidental silence allowed me to relive a very sweet memory and add interpretation to it. The noise of my life amplified and symbolized by my radio would have blocked both the memory and the insight silence provided.

Silence Grows Uncomfortable

Despite that I had numerous meetings and several errands to run, I decided to spend the entire day with the radio off. I listened. A delivery truck next to me rattled and rumbled as it started from the light. Cars zipped by. My key chain swung and clicked against the steering column. I sat at the next light and waited in an uncomfortable silence. Bored and without thinking, I reached for the radio power button. It had been maybe five minutes since I swore off noise. But I caught myself.

The rest of the day repeated this pattern: reaching for the radio, stopping, impatiently waiting for another memory or insight to make the silence worth it. None came.

Why am I doing this? I thought in a moment of dead silence.

Because Living Spiritually is about listening. And you can’t listen with all that noise filling your head, I answered.

And having a conversation with yourself is better how? I countered.

I had no one to distract me from my foibles and insecurities. I realized it’s much easier to listen to Rush Limbaugh blame politicians for my life rather than face myself. This may be what Paul Simon referred to in his song. Silence may not grow like cancer but it grows uncomfortable.

Silence Grows Deep

Sometime during the day, however, I became aware that I was noticing people, wondering who they were, what loads they carried, what their stories were. I remembered friends who had once lived in the part of the city I was driving through. I prayed for these people as they came to mind. I recorded several story-lines for my novel on my iPhone at stop lights. Future blog ideas formed. My mind filled up. The boredom I had previously fought off with radio noise disappeared. I was enjoying thinking and interacting with my world. I found my mind racing through a world of ideas and wonders. In that once accidental silence, I had become deeply and fully present to myself and my world.

Silence Grows Longer and Purposeful

I didn’t grow up in religious circles. So I was oblivious to religious holidays beyond the ones that had secular spokesmen like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But even after Jesus found me lost and alone sitting under a pine tree, the lesser holidays such as Lent rarely registered. Though I do remember a high school girlfriend who gave up coffee for Lent. I teased her and have never to this day given anything up for Lent.

That changed that Thursday of my accidental silence. By the end of the day, the idea of a longer silence had grown on me. I had become comfortable in it.

For Lent, why not give up extraneous noise and add purposeful silence? I asked myself silently.

I still think giving up coffee or chocolate or not wearing socks or not using your garage door opener for Lent is stupid. But I could come up with no good counter argument for this idea.

Today begins the holy season of Lent, a six week period of personal and congregational preparation for Christians to remember the sacrifice and new life Christ offers through it. As part of my experiment in living spiritually, I decided to participate in Lent for the first time by eliminating extraneous noise–radio and television. I am not just shutting off radio and television, however. I am adding, making room for, a purposeful, uncomfortable, deep, long silence.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll hear something that will do more than mollify me, but change me. Maybe God will even speak in some way.

As a talker, Eugene C. Scott admires people who keep silent. Fortunately, since he is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church, people expect him to talk. And he’d love to hear how you plan to observe Lent or how you are faring with your spiritual living. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and 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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