Tag Archives: faith

How the Movie The Return of the King Calls Us to Worship

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is one of my all-time favorite movies. Not only because it is one of few movies adapted from an even better book that didn’t slaughter the story (Nerd alert! I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy a dozen times). And I’m not alone in my assessment. It was a critical and box-office success and won eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

But I loved The Return of the King because it told such a big engrossing story. Like all good epics Peter Jackson’s movie connected the small everyday lives of its characters: Frodo, Sam, Strider, Legolas, Pippin, Faramir, and gang with a struggle much bigger than themselves. Save Middle Earth from slavery and death. The film deftly shows each individual character’s role in that cosmic battle.

Like The Return of the King, Worship is Epic

Epic stories well-told, such as The Return of the King, become classics because they strike a chord deep in our souls. Instinctively we want to be part of the chorus singing about the significance of life, if even singing from the back row. Or to return to a movie metaphor: simply to be even an extra in the army of Gondor might be enough to give our lives meaning.

This is because God created us to be a part of something grand, epic, so to speak. That is what that strange activity called worship is supposed to do: connect our small, everyday lives to something–or more so, Someone–bigger.

What Blocks Worship?

Donald Miller, of Blue Like Jazz fame, calls this living a better story. Worship is the door through which we enter a better story, God’s story. Unfortunately the story conflict often blocking the way is not a malicious ring, or Sauron but daily drudgery. Doing dishes, watching the news, rushing here or there. Forgetfulness.

Maybe we ignore God’s casting call to play even a small role in God’s Grand Story because we think we are miscast, or unable, or we believe there is no such thing as a Grand Story. Yet, as I wrote in my last blog, there are no expendable crew members for God. You are not miscast as a worshiper. It’s the role you and I were made for. Most people, when asked what they would do with large lottery winnings, say pay off debt and then do something big, like help the homeless. Worship. And, as to belief, even non-theistic scientists search for the meaning of life, the answer, the Big Bang. Again worship, just not of God.

We were created to worship God. This is why moutainscapes, brilliant music, the flick of a bird’s wing, or the birth of a baby freeze us mid-breath and leave us seeking more. They tantalize our earth-bound imaginations. Encountering these mysterious moments free our imaginations while at the same time worship of God anchors them to something real, not just fanciful.

Worship is More than Filling our God Tanks on Sunday

Sadly even many who believe in God have forsaken this gorgeous gift from God, unless it be the rare gape at nature.

For many the trappings of religion are what deaden the desire to worship God. Church does not often feel epic. Worship has become a show, or duty, or a time and place to get what we need from God. Worship today is filled with purposes and propositions and practical applications. All the while keeping the true mystery of communicating with God miles from us.

In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” Eugene H. Peterson debunks this popular view of worship. He writes, “Fear-of the Lord [his biblical term for a lifestyle of worship] is not studying about God but living in reverence before God. . . is not a technique for acquiring spiritual know-how but a willed not knowing [italics mine]. It is not so much know-how we lack; we lack a simple being there. Fear-of-the-Lord nurtured in worship and prayer, silence and quiet, love and sacrifice, turns everything we do into a life of ‘breathing God’.”

Much church worship is anything but breathing God. Worship is simply “being there.” Where? In the Presence of God.

Add Worship Back into Your Life’s Menu

But just like when some meals are bland and wolfed down only to fill our empty stomaches, we do not stop seeking that one gourmet meal set in an ambiance of laughter and delight, so too we need not give up the wonder of worship simply because we have turned it into fast food.

Next time you see a movie or read a story or view a sunset that makes you yearn for something bigger, give in to the urge and turn your eyes to God. It’s God calling, trying to connect you to something epic, Someone bigger than yourself. Go ahead, worship.

Eugene C. Scott believes the command to love God with all we are is an invitation to worship. 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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How I Almost Invented the Zip-Line and Other Bad Decisions

How I saw myself

“Let’s tie a rope from the top of this cliff down to that tree and slide down,” I said standing atop a thirty foot cliff. I was ten years-old and full of myself, being one of the older and cooler kids in our gang, and also having just been named the starting pitcher of my Pee Wee baseball team.

“Great idea,” said Tim, who was slightly older and, in reality, a lot cooler because it was his rope.

I tossed Tim’s rope down and secured the top to a large rock. Tim tied the other end to a tree. We then cut a short piece off the end to loop over the zip-line.

“It was my idea so I go first,” I said.

“It’s my rope.”

“I go second then.” We tied a safety rope around Tim’s waist and slowly lowered him down.

“I’m going again. Without the safety rope,” Tim said when he came back up. He zipped down the second time laughing and shouting.

Finally my turn came. I sat on the edge of the cliff with my legs dangling over. My brother and a tall kid looked up at me. Fear turned my mouth desert dry.

“Go! Or are you chicken?” Tim chided.

I launched myself into thin air. Unfortunately, Tim, not being a Boy Scout, was not trained in knots. The bottom knot came untied and I fell straight down, landing standing up, on my left leg. I felt and heard it snap. The tall kid took off running for home.

“I broke my leg,” I whined when everyone gathered around me.

“You did not.”

I pointed to my left foot which was hanging sideways on my leg. Both bones, compound fracture, end of my baseball career. I’ve regretted that day, especially years later when I realized I almost invented the zip-line.

Unfortunately, jumping off that cliff was not my worst decision. I’v made many more. So many that at times I’ve been afraid to make one at all. I’ve frozen at the top of the cliff, so to speak.

My Top Six Worst Decisions:

6. Dropping out of high school for a job at Gordon’s Greenhouse that paid $1.75 an hour.

5. Climbing to the top of a glacier to see if “Those really are bear tracks going in that cave.”

4. Moving from the Mile High City, gateway to the Colorado Rockies, to Bloomington, ILL, popcorn capital of the mid-west.

3. Breaking up with my future wife, Dee Dee, when I was in the 8th grade.

2. Trusting Tim’s meager knot tying skills.

1. Buying a used Chevy Citation. For the sticker price, without bartering.

I have good reason to not trust Tim or myself. But I’ve made some good decisions too. Or more correctly, just as not all that glitters is gold, so too, not all that begins daft ends dark.

My Top Five Best Decisions:

5. Dropping out of high school for a job at Gordon’s Greenhouse that paid $1.75 an hour. I’ve seldom quit anything since and have been married 33 years and now have a doctoral degree.

4. Climbing to the top of a glacier to see if “Those really are bear tracks going in that cave.” That’s just really a great story I’ll tell another time.

3. Moving from the Mile High City, gateway to the Colorado Rockies, to Bloomington, ILL, popcorn capital of the mid-west. My youngest daughter was born, my oldest daughter met an incredible man and married him, and I am grandfather to the two best grandkids in the world to name a few unexpected outcomes of that move.

2. Trusting Tim’s meager knot tying skills. I now know that scars, physical and emotional, are–at the same time–the most tender and tough parts of me. And if I had become rich and famous because I invented the zip-line, I would not have become a pastor.

1.  Finally marrying Dee Dee. You knew that was coming. Plus, there is nothing even God can do with a used Chevy Citation.

Does Life Just Work Out for the Best?

But this is not simply a case of life “working out for the best.” Nor is it proof “everything has a reason.”

No.

Shallow platitudes and blind fate had no hand in my worst decisions becoming my best. This was not a mere learning my lesson. I still don’t trust ropes or philosophies tied by the mere hands of man. Only God can bring beauty from ashes and joy from weeping and give even suffering a reason. As I look back, I see God’s hand, gently–or not so gently–redirecting my poorly chosen paths. And because of that, I (more often now) face decisions–and life generally–boldly, fearlessly. Because this turning of worst to best is the powerful work of God’s perfect love. It’s called redemption. And that is where I place my trust and base my decisions.

Eugene C. Scott decided to get up this morning. That was either a good or bad decision depending. He also believes living spiritually means living fearlessly. You can join the Living Spiritually community by clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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A Mother’s Day Tribute: Love Like You

My mom, third from the right, just two months before she passed.

By Eugene C. Scott

My mom passed away in 2003. I still miss her. She was a fierce, tiny woman, who loved to work and drank coffee all day long. She was a single mom before that garnered any sympathy, help, or understanding. She held the reins of our stampeding family with pioneer strength, though sometimes futilely.

Mom was a fighter. Sometimes we had to live without things other kids had. But we never lived without pride and her determination.

She was beautiful too. After my dad passed, men chased her constantly, but never caught her. And determined. Among her many jobs, mom held a job at Walgreens well into her seventies, even struggling with emphysema.

She was sweet but crass.

“Wish in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up the fastest,” she would quip, except sometimes she didn’t say “spit.”

She taught me how to work and how hope makes you get up each day no matter. And she planted love in me. She loved me through all my crazy teen years and all my rotten treatment of her. Then she acted as if she knew all along I was going to be okay when God finally brought me to my senses. After I survived my own stupidity and she would send me birthday cards or letters, she wrote on the envelope in shaky letters, “Reverend Eugene C. Scott.” I laughed at that.

If I’ve loved anybody in my life, it’s because mom loved me first.

Fortunately, right before she died, I was able to sit on her bed with her, talking, praying, remembering, saying what needed to be said, thank you, I’m sorry, I love you, mostly. We laughed and cried and told stories too. And prayed more.

“They’re not your responsibility,” she said of the rest of the family. She was in pain and on a lot of drugs. “I’m ready to go home. I want to be with Jesus.” Finally we had hospice come and they took her out of her second story apartment on a stiff blanket-like chair. She sat in it grinning and waving like she was on a float and said, “I’m a queen.” Even though we all knew she was never coming back.

She was gone the next morning.

Still as I think of her–she would be 90 last month–there are things I would like to tell her. How strong she was and how much her strength added to my life. I would not have made it without her. How once again sharing a strong cup of coffee at her kitchen table in her small apartment would be worth a trip to the stars. She’s been on my mind and heart a lot.

That’s why, after my friend, Cliff Hutchison, sang the unfinished chorus of a song he had written about his mother, who like my mom had raised him as a single mom, I woke up in the middle of the night with a picture of the rest of the song in my head. I asked Cliff if I could work on it with him.

So, I wrote some lyrics out on a legal pad and he brought his guitar over to my study and sat in my ugly orange chair. I drew close to him in my desk chair, with the lyrics on the floor below us. We bantered and he sang. We crossed out words and added some back. And this, “Love Like You,” is what we came up with.

“Happy Mothers’ Day, Mom.” Thank you for loving me even when I didn’t deserve it.

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Into the Mist: Going Deeper Spiritually

By Eugene C. Scott

Some of my favorite times in the woods are when things are not quite clear. Clouds, like heaven reaching down, filter through the trees. Ghostly trunks stand out of the mist like distant soldiers on guard. Suddenly your senses are alive, alert.  You know there is something beautiful out  there just beyond sight, just beyond sound, just beyond yourself. And–nerves jangling–you wait.

That same mystery and anticipation I’ve found is part of trying to see the God-given soul in life. Or as we have named it here: living spiritually. But as I’ve ventured into the fog, I’ve glanced back now and then. Ironically that is when what this adventure is all about has become more clear. Today’s blog–and the next to follow–will feature reflections on a few of the things that I now see have helped me go deeper in my spiritual life.

I Woke Up:

Someone once joked, “Statistics show most car accidents happen within a mile of home; so I decided to move.” There’s a twisted kind of truth in that jest. Ruts and routines can be dangerous.

I’ve called 2012 “The Year of Living Spiritually.” I could also call it “The Year I woke Up.”

Not paying close attention to God, people, and the life around me was much like being in one of those half-sleep, half-waking dreams. You see it–and maybe remember it–but it makes little sense.

I’ve found that paying attention has been a simple way to see and better understand the spiritual all around me. A friend of mine has this quote at the bottom of all his emails. It never fails to stun me. “Today I woke up. Some didn’t. I think it’s gonna be a great day. I’ll take advantage of it.” Baron Batch

I Tried Something New:

A few months ago a friend, Cliff Hutchison, asked me to write a few more lyrics for a song called Love Like You he had started. The idea scared the Sam Hill out of me. Why me? I thought. I’m a story-teller. I am not, I repeat, am not musical. I took poetry writing classes in college and found rhyme and lyric constraining.

Against my better judgement I gave it a shot. I think it turned out pretty well. But more than that, it opened my eyes and heart to so many new things. The song is about our mothers and I now appreciate my late mother better. And the song writing process itself, with such a talented man, was amazing and humbling. Sitting in my study, Cliff played his guitar while we puzzled over just the right words and images until something beyond both of us was born. It was a profoundly spiritual moment. One I never would have experienced had fear reigned.

A professor of mine once said, “God is often in the green edges of new opportunities in you life.” This has been true for me this year.

Both of the above ideas were things I more or less stumbled upon, as if trees in the mist. What have you discovered that helps you live spiritually?

Eugene C Scott believes that life–especially spiritual life–is much more complex and rich than can be described in a blog. But he hopes these thoughts help. He is also co-pastor at The Neighborhood Church.

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With These Two Hands I’ll Change the World

If you look close, you can often catch joy and sadness walking hand in hand.

Photo by Brendan Scott

I did anyway while on a ten-day mission trip in Guatemala. At a school in Xela, our team played crazy games like Zombie Tag, where the kids laughed and ran and mumbled, “Must eat brain, must eat brain.” In chapel services those same kids sang, “Sin has lost it’s power, Death has lost its sting, From the grave You’ve risen VICTORIOUSLY” at the tops of their lungs. Zombies, even pretend ones, singing about the ultimate anti-zombie, Jesus, was beautiful and hilarious. The kids listening with rapt attention when we told our stories about how God loved all of us was pure joy.

This was mingled with the sadness of watching street boys, ages nine or ten working, shining shoes on the square, or the little Mayan girls carrying their heavy burdens on their heads to work instead of to school. Or the blind man begging, or the two gringas wobbling down the street drunk at about 4 in the afternoon. Deep. Sadness. I wanted so to be able to tell them too of the love of God for them.

Photo by Eugene Scott

I noticed something else about joy and sadness (I have seen this before but always forget). Wealth and joy were not always hand in hand, nor were sadness and poverty. There they were together, wealth and poverty, sadness and joy arm-wrestling. The wealthy do not have a market on joy nor the poor on sadness.

Hurt, pain, worry cut across all lines, as does laughter and song.

I remembered then that our problems and our hopes are deeper than dollars can dig. Maybe that is why God does not simply throw money at us when we ask for help.

The poet and prophet Isaiah told his people in a time of deep poverty and sadness that God would one day “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”

As Ben Harper sings, God wants to use our two hands locked together, along with joy and sadness, to work this miraculous exchange of beauty for ashes for all of us.

Eugene C. Scott is most moved by being with people and seeing God in them. 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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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 Not to Wear When Living Spiritually

By Eugene C. Scott

Camo clashes with blaze orange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Michael and Eugene dressed to kill.

    Is this fun? Not is this profitable?

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

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

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

And my foundational question is:

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I’m learning.

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

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