Tag Archives: God

Why God Likes Vacations

 By Eugene C. Scott

Where do you go for rest and relaxation?

Is it twelve miles from nowhere up a mountain in the Pecos Wilderness? I’m willing to bet most people don’t consider strapping on a 50 pound backpack and hauling it into the wilds a restful idea.

I mean seriously.

Rest? You have to walk the whole way. There’s no escalator.

Relaxation? There are bears and mountain lions and mosquitos. And dirt. And you eat out of the same pot you cook with and wipe your spoon on your pants when you’re done. And you sleep on the ground in a tent and poop in the woods.

And there’s no Facebook or Twitter.

Still that is exactly what I’m going to be doing over the next few days.

And I will love every inconvenient, dirty, grueling, quiet, slow, peaceful, real minute of it.

A lightness of soul

Why? Mainly because there is a moment after hiking for miles that you shed your heavy backpack and feel a physical lightness that makes you want to grab onto something for fear you might float away. Then later, before crawling into your tent, that physical lightness turns into a lightness of soul as billions of stars salt the night sky. With those stars comes a lightness–a freedom, as if my soul has taken flight and is soaring and breathing again for the first time. To see the vastness of God’s creation–of God himself–is to be reminded I am not in fact the center of the universe. Hunkering down below those mighty peaks and brilliant stars I remember I do not determine the course of world events, or often, even of my own life just as I don’t direct the stars.

Being busy does not equal being important

Up there I know I am not responsible for who becomes president, poverty in Haiti, global warming, or your happiness. That is not to say I do not play a role in these things. I do and so do you. But wilderness tells me in no uncertain terms, you are not all that. 

I believe this is why so many of us have a difficult time unplugging and truly taking time off. We are comfortable in our delusion that we are all that.

“How are you?” we ask one another.

“Busy!” we exclaim. “OMG, you would not believe all the things I have to do.”

But here is what we’re really saying:

“How are you?” we ask one another.

“Important!” we exclaim. “OMG, if I stopped doing what I’m doing for just one second, the entire world (at least the one that revolves around me) would collapse.”

The truth is, however, that our worlds do not collapse when we rest.

God likes vacations

Years ago–at the beginning of human time–God created rest saying, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work . . . .” Sabbath–taking one day or more off–is God’s gift to us so that we can feel that lightness of soul. So we know that God, not us, is All That.

Modern science is finally catching up with God on this concept. Elizabeth Lombardo, a clinical psychologist who wrote a book titled A Happy You, says, “Taking a break . . . affords you an opportunity to step back, put life into perspective, and remember what’s really important. It helps get your priorities straight.”

And all this time we thought God was trying to be unreasonable and bossy. And the funny–meaning ironic–thing is that Christians are the ones most guilty of believing being busy equals being important. And pastors may be the worst of the worst at unplugging and resting.

Cat Stevens’ (now Yusaf Islam) old song “Miles from Nowhere” speaks of unplugging and getting our priorities straight:

“Miles from nowhere

I guess I’ll take my time

Oh yeah, to reach there

Look up at the mountain

I have to climb

Oh yeah, to reach there.

Lord my body has been a good friend

But I won’t need it when I reach the end.

Miles from nowhere.

Not a soul in sight.

Oh yeah, But it’s alright.”

Eugene and Stasia

For me the beautiful thing about being miles from nowhere and falling asleep under the stars, and marking time based on hunger pains not calendar appointments, and spending several days with a fly rod rather than a key board in my hands is knowing that the world is in God’s hands and not mine. Under that vast dome of stars, I realize true importance comes not from busyness but rather from the fact that the God who created those billion stars and that towering mountain knows my name and has written my story in his book. And this is true whether I am resting or working.

When I return, and you ask me how I am, I hope I answer, “I’m not all that. But it’s alright.”

Eugene C. Scott also believes God likes us to take vacations because it gives God time to clean up the messes we’ve made. 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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Freedom with a Twist

By Eugene C. Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eugene C. Scott is enjoying the freedom he has and is thankful for both the joy and the suffering it brings. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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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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Time Management According to Michael J. Fox, William Shatner, and Twelfth Century Monks

Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathleen Turner, Michael J. Fox, and William Shatner have all done it in movies. Though not with each other. In hot tubs, space ships, funky machines, and DeLoreans, among others.

No, I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about time travel. Time travel stories are an extremely successful movie and book genre.

Mark Twain wrote one, “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” is a classic children’s book. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote a time travel story that is a classic novel, no matter the genre: “Slaughterhouse-Five.” And Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” was a New York Times bestseller.

Time is a Trap

Apparently I’m not alone in feeling time is a trap that must be escaped, warped, changed, or messed with. Ominous clocks tick down the minutes, seconds, and now, nano-seconds of our lives. They flash at us red and angry from contraptions in every room of our houses. They demand we not be a minute late and hold fearsome deadlines against us. And, as from all bullies, we yearn for release.

The Gift of Kairos

Once upon a time, however, most people viewed the passing of time from day to night and night to day as a logical, good rhythm to live by. A gift. Sleep and waking, planting and harvest, birth and death flowed as a smooth river through every person’s life. Some called this “kairos,” “the appointed time in the purpose of God.” Life was seen as a whole not an ugly patchwork of disembodied seconds, minutes, and hours. It was created this way.

Chronos: A Tyrant is Born

Until some German monks in the middle ages invented mechanical clocks designed to mark the passing of an hour.

But mechanical clocks were not intended to be the digitized oppressors they’ve become. Rather, these 12th century monks invented “glockes,” a bell that rang out regularly, to remind the monks to seek God through prayer, stillness, and meditation. Originally glockes marked kairos. The bells drew attention to the ever-present God in whom we live and move and breathe. The glocke was intended to remind us of the rhythm of life: eat, pray, work, pray, eat, make love, pray, work, read, sleep, pray, eat, watch, pray, play, work, sleep. Time was seen as something to live within–not to escape–and, more so, to live spiritually within, according to a spiritual rhythm.

Unfortunately that time is long past. Oh, to enter one of those fictional time machines and travel back to natural time keepers such as sun and shadows, and growth and death. These marked time with a huge sweep of the hand. Now we are ruled by chronos, the segmenting of time. As the Greek myth reads, Chronos then wrapped its serpentine tail around the world and split it apart.

7 Minutes with Who?

Even in our spiritual lives chronos has become our god by dividing and conquering. We worship one day a week for an hour, sharp. If that. A popular book of the chronos age called “7 Minutes With God: Daily Devotions for a Deeper Relationship” advocates a precise, agenda driven appointment with God. Imagine saying to someone you love, “Hurry. We’ve got seven minutes.”

Can God fit in an hour much less 7 minutes? Since living spiritually is about deepening our relationships with God, be warned. It will take longer than 7 minutes.

Need I say it? Time, as marked by inhuman and unforgiving glockes, has become our master, our god. And not a god of mercy or grace.

Jesus, King of Kairos

Yet, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Today Jesus might say it this way, “Time was made for people, not people made for time.” Jesus never consulted a clock. And Jesus proved time need not be a tyrant, that oppressors, even inanimate ones, can and should be thrown off.

Living spiritually, it seems to me, calls us to travel back in time when we walked in the fulness of the gift of kairos. Free. But we don’t need any crazy machines to get there. We can simply–once again–grab time by the tail and use it to call our attention away from the finite and toward a timeless infinite God.

Kairos lives!

Eugene C. Scott loves watches and clocks. His two watches of his father’s are his favorites. But ticking clocks drive him crazy. He also hates to be late, though it does happen. 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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Coming Up Roses

I’ve been doing  yard work again.  I don’t have much of a green thumb, more like a brown thumb.  I tend to pull more weeds than plant bushes.  Despite my lack of talent in the field of botany something really cool happened this last week.

To explain what happened I need to back up my story a little bit.

You’ve Got Mail, wait, no you don’t.

For the last couple of years a nasty weed has been growing near the mailbox.  Oh, you guys know what a mailbox is, you know the box at the end of your driveway that magically receives junk and the occasional birthday card from your grandma that always has the two dollar bill tucked inside.

Anyway, this “weed” never really looked like a weed.  Last summer it bloomed a beautiful white flower, but it also took over wherever it grew.  (It also made it hard to back out of our driveway)  So I decided to transplant this “weed”, still thinking it was a normal plant, to a more advantageous location.  But when I started to dig it up I realized the job wouldn’t be worth it.  What I thought was one plant was five or six different weeds.  This monster was growing crazy and choking out everything around it.

After talking to my dad, we decided to rip this weed out.  We dug and dug, for about ten minutes, making no progress.  Then my dad had a brilliant idea.  “Why don’t we rip the roots out with my truck,” he said.  “Heck yes!” I replied.  Two hours later, after a lot of grunting and other man stuff, we’d pulled the monster out.  The roots looked more like alien tentacles.

That’s the kind of weeding I like to do.  Honestly I didn’t expect anything good to come from it.  But then yesterday I went over to the mailbox for the first time in a couple weeks, really I only check my mail on my computer, and was shocked at what I saw.  The bush, which had been growing resolutely between the monster weed, had always been deprived of its nutrients because of the weed.  But now everything had changed.  A perfect yellow rose had bloomed.

Because I took out the weed the rose bush is now blossoming amazingly!

It made me think about how God works in our lives.  Sometimes he takes things away from us.  Sometimes those things are bad like weeds.  Sometimes those weeds even look good, but in fact they are choking out something that God wants to nurture in our lives.

So I have a question, what do you think God wants you to give up or get rid of so that you can experience an amazing blossom?

As we live spiritually we need to trust God.  He has a plan for us, even if that means letting go of things we think we need.  Let God help you produce roses, let him work in your life.

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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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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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