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Hiking Through Grace

Last week I hiked up into the heart of the Pecos Wilderness with my dad and some old friends.  It had been over a decade since I’d truly backpacked, not counting my winter hunting trips.  It was great to set up the tent, cast the rod and catch some fish, and to renew old friendships.

So I don’t wander off in this blog, like my dad and I did on our trek up to Stewart Lake, I’m going to graciously trek right to the point.  Though fishing was great, hiking was breathtaking, and reforming friendships over conversations about faith and serving in our own community was refreshing, what really hit me was the weather.

Yep, I’m going to talk about the weather.  Okay, I promise that my next blog will hike back into the realm of backpacking and what a joy it is to wander, especially when discovering challenging conversations of faith and community.

I want to talk about weather, because I want to talk about grace.  As my dad and I hiked up the sun slowly baked us.  It was hot, and it stayed hot all week long.  The last time we’d been up in the Pecos Wilderness it had rained non stop.  I remember it being so wet we had a river in our tent.  Not this time.

It was weird that it didn’t rain.  I really didn’t mind the lack of rain, but it just felt weird.

As we hiked 9 miles down out of the wild it was so hot my feet started to burn.  I had to walk on my toes so my heals wouldn’t blister up.

What little water I had left at the end of the trail I dumped on my head just to cool off.  It felt amazing.  A little water can really be gracious on a hot day.

The water dripped off my bare head and shoulders onto the dry ground, evaporating immediately.

It wasn’t until we drove out of Las Vegas, NM that we felt the first drop of rain.  Or at least the Nisan Titan felt the rain.  The rain clouds looked like hands dragging their long fingers along the dry mesa tops as if they were scraping for last crumbs.

It was gorgeous.  But inside the cab I still felt parched.  We’d brought along two Dublin Dr Peppers for a celebratory drink at the end of the hike, but, as they’d been sitting in the hot truck all week, we were forced to wait until they could be cooled down with ice.   As we sep north on I-25 I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I popped open our two Dublin Dr Peppers.  They were ice cold.  As I swigged down the real sugar drink, I knew I’d just broken my sugar fast, but after the dry hike it was worth it.  Mine tasted phenomenal.  Probably as good as rain does after a long dry summer.

As we drove through Pueblo, Colorado the rain was coming down in sheets.  I was thankful we hadn’t faced this type of rain on our trip, ’cause now I was safe inside the cab of the truck with the AC blasting and no need for rain to cool me down.

Inside the cab we were listening to U2’s album All That You Can’t Leave Behind and as the rain died down the album came to a close.  Bono was singing about Grace.

Grace, she takes the blame.  She covers the shame. Removes the blame.  It could be her name.

It hit me, not like the soft rain we’d driven through in New Mexico, but like the drowning rain in Pueblo, we need grace just as we needed water on our hot hike.  I had to press repeat on my iPod so I could listen to it again.  It made me think, am I showing grace to the people around me or am I like the hot dusty trail I hiked on?

Am I a thirst quenching Dr Pepper or am I a hot pair of boots rubbing blisters?

Bono says, “Grace finds beauty in everything.  Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.”

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In our Hearts Grief and Grace often Ride Side by Side

By Eugene C. Scott

“Red Rocks is one of the finest places on the planet to perform,” James Taylor said near the end of his show last night.*

He’s right.

Towering above us ancient and unmovable were Ship Rock on the left and Creation Rock on the right. Taylor’s smooth, ageless voice filling the space between. Rock and wind and sky surrounded us while song and poetry and story filled us. The lights of Denver danced in the night sky above the back wall of the amphitheater. It was remarkable.

“There is a young cowboy, he lives on the range,” Taylor sang his famous lullaby. I closed my eyes and imagined that cowboy and sang along to myself, “deep greens and blues are the colors I choose, won’t you let me go down in my dreams?” I breathed deep.

But Taylor was painting a different picture of life than the one many Coloradans had lived out in the last four days. I opened my eyes and saw Alameda Boulevard stretched out west to east in a straight line of lights from the foothills to Aurora. There on the far horizon I imagined one of the lights was the theater. There still lurking was the pain and heart ache of twelve innocent people dying and many more being wounded physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Guilt buffeted against my peace. Should I be enjoying myself? How can this beauty, my sense of well-being, co-exist with that?

Still they seemed to. Drawing my eyes and heart back to the stage–to the here and now, to what I can be and do–Taylor sang, “Shower the people you love with love.”

And I could see, on the screen, in his now creased 64 year-old face, his alive but tired eyes, that he too has known pain. Yet he still believed what he was singing.

Maybe JT, right there on stage, without knowing it, was living out a truth: that in our hearts grief and grace often ride side by side.

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in his famous poem “Christmas Bells:”

“And in despair I bowed my head

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;

‘For hate is strong

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth good-will to men!’

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Maybe that’s the thing. Song, poetry–art in general–remind us of this dichotomy of life. In the midst of horrific pain and evil, beauty is undiminished. Grace prevails. Maybe it’s even made more beautiful. James Taylor put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in years. In a stunning setting. The clarity and sweetness of his voice matched the clarity and power of the message I heard God whisper in my heart. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

*July 23, 2012. This may be a slight paraphrase since I did not write his quote down word for word.

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The Colorado Wildfires: “I’ve seen it raining’ fire in the skies.”

By Eugene C. Scott

On the night of June 16, 1965 a police sedan drove down our flooded street, blaring a warning over a loudspeaker telling us to prepare to evacuate. At eight or nine years-old it seemed exciting. But my parents were stern and worried. The street in front of our house looked like a small river. And Bear Creek, a couple of hundred yards behind our house, carried a 12-20 foot crest coming down out of the mountains. We huddled in our living room with our most precious belongings in suitcases and stuffed in pillow cases waiting to evacuate.

From June 12 on, rain had been drenching areas of the Front Range, what we call the eastern slope of the Rockies. We had received as much as 12 inches of rain in one night. Earlier in the evening my dad, my sister, my brother, and I had driven to Ruby Hill (we sledded there in the winter) on the southwest side of Denver and watched the South Platte swell from a small river into what seemed like a raging ocean, growing to over a half mile wide.

We stood in awe, drenched by the continual rain, watching ravaged trailer homes, massive trees, and barges of debris rush down stream. This debris then caught on the bridges and eventually pushed them over into the river. Its power was unstoppable. Most of the bridges on the south side of town connecting west to east were taken out. At one point a police car, its red light flashing feebly in the gray night, raced down a road near the river as the road collapsed behind his car. We watched him as he drove out of sight hoping he could keep ahead of the river.

We were fortunate. Bear Creek never reached our house and I woke on the living room couch in the morning. The flood was abating and now all those who were not so fortunate began picking up the pieces.

The Colorado wildfires

That night came back to me as wildfires ravaged the Front Range these past few weeks. Thank God, we have had no fires near us, though we know people who lost their homes. And we keep all those suffering tragic loss in our prayers.

We do, however, live in what some call a “Red Zone”, an area where a wild-fire is likely.

“Not if there will be another fire, but when,” they say.

I’m asking myself, “If the ‘when’ comes, what will I save?”

Back in 1965 I packed my piggy bank that looked like a miniature safe and my Spiderman comics. I guess I thought those were my most precious possessions. Today I can only see them in my memory.

What would you save?

When it’s rainin’ fire in the sky, you ask what’s most important?

Today I would make sure my own family was safe. Then . . .

  • To wax practical, legal stuff, wills, etc. Yuck.
  • A couple of my hardback books: my own dissertation (just in case someday someone may read it), “Lonesome Dove,” “Peace Like a River,” “The Chronicles of Narnia.” This might be dangerous as I could burn up in my library deciding which books to take or my bag could get too heavy for me to make it out of the house.
  • My journals from the last 30 years.
  • My computer, as it holds all of my writing, and a lot of pictures, and my Bruce Cockburn and Van Morrison collection.
  • More than anything, however, I’d collect things that have people memories connected to them: such as pictures and scrapbooks, my dad’s watches and old miner’s lamp, love letters, poetry, my mom’s John Elway memorabilia. Those kinds of things.

Oh, and . . . . You begin to see the problem.

I have heard several people who lost their homes in the Waldo Canyon Fire say things like, “As long as we are safe.” Or “We can rebuild.” “It can all be replaced.”

I only hope I can be that mature and calm if the day comes.

Moth and Rust Destroy

But the truth is, though Jesus rightly warns us against “storing up treasures here on earth,” the things that have traveled life with us–books, pictures, keepsakes, a home against the storm, the place we spent Christmas and Saturdays working together in the yard–have gathered meaning like moss on the north side of our lives. Their loss is not monetary only. Our things often represent a connection to the past, present, and future. And that connection is often to people–and even sometimes–to God. Losing the small wooden cross I have had since June of 1972 would be like the God chapter being ripped from my story. Maybe Jesus is asking us to ask about the eternal value of the things around us.

Things count. But for what?

As I look around my house for what I would save in an emergency, I see my father’s miners’ lamp (possibly handed down from my grandfather) sitting useless on my bookshelf. What I really want from it is a piece of my dad. I would love to know the story behind it. His story.

Maybe then the best thing to do in these times is not gather things but stories. Talk to each other more. Turn off Facebook, the TV, and ask, “Tell me all about your life. And don’t leave out a single minute.” Then listen. Because pictures will not fill the void. And too often things are not all we lose when we see it “rainin‘ fire in the sky.”

Eugene C. Scott has too much stuff and would like to get rid of some of it. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in 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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Harry Potter and Tebowing at the Climax

By Brendan Scott

I love going to the movies.  I was that kid who stood in line to see all of the “Star Wars” movies when they were re-released back in the 90’s and when “The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of The Ring” came out ten years ago, I was the first person in line, not just for tickets, but to enter the theater.  And when theaters started releasing movies at midnight, I’m there at 10 pm.  Don’t even get me started on how early I had to get to the theater for “The Return of The King;” it was crazy.

I think the reason I love going to the movies is because I love good stories.  The atmosphere in a crowded theater on opening night is exhilarating.  When “The Sixth Sense” came the theater was packed.  With every twist and turn each of my friends began tucked their legs up on their seats.  We shared in the fear.  We pulled for Bruce Willis’s character to reconnect with his wife and for Haley Joel Osment’s character to receive the help he needed.  As the movie built toward its climax the hairs on my legs stood up and all I wanted to do was hug my knees like everyone else, but fear froze me.  The crowd made the climax of the movie completely captivating, but the well told story made the change the characters experienced even more meaningful and worth the level of fear I had to experience.

Good stories are filled with meaning.  Movie writer and teacher Robert McKee says, “If I could send a telegram to the film producers of the world, it would be these three words: ‘Meaning Produces Emotion’ Not money; not sex; not special effects; not movie stars; not lush photography.”  Meaning is what a good story is all about and the climax of a good movie will be filled with meaning.  McKee states that “The Climax of the last act is your great imaginative leap.  Without it, you have no story.  Until you have it, your characters wait like suffering patients praying for a cure.”

When I’m in a packed theater, I’m suffering along with the main character for that positive or negative turn to occur in the movie.  I want Frodo to make it to Mount Doom and drop the ring into the fires of Mordor.  I want Harry Potter to live or die, maybe both, and so I wait for that turning moment, that meaningful climax.  As an audience, we share the ups and downs of the characters story.  Without the ups and downs that lead to the climax, the climax would be meaningless.

There are people out there that flip to the end of a book before they start just so they can see if it is a good ending or not.  They pick up “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows” and flip to Harry’s battle with Voldamort.  They want to get the stories payoff without reading the entire book or, even worse, the other six books in the series.  By skipping to the end of the book they miss the reason why Harry had to do what he does.   But just like sharing a story with someone adds to the story’s meaning, the work it takes for character, as well as the reader, to make it to the climax is what makes it meaningful.

The people who want to skip to the climax of a book are the same people who sat down and watched the last episode of Lost with out watching the previous five seasons.  They didn’t want to see the story develop, to see the characters grow and change.  They wanted all of the payoff without watching the six seasons.  These are the same people who on December 5th want to fast forward to Christmas Day.  They want the meaning without any of the work.

More on Christmas in a moment.  Let’s not rush to the climax because right now we’re at the rising action of our story.  Sunday December 4th The Neighborhood Church celebrated the second Sunday of the Advent season by sharing a sit down meal during the worship service.  People met together, ate, and shared stories about Christmas’ past.  It was very meaningful.  The only problem was the service didn’t finish until 12 pm.  An hour into the Denver Broncos game against the Vikings.  Co-blogger and Co-pastor of the Neighborhood Church, Mike Klassen comforted the congregation by reminding us all that “Tebow Time” (A term here meaning going beast mode and winning against all odds) isn’t until the fourth quarter anyway.  So if we missed the first half it would be just fine.

I tevoed Tebow anyway.  As I pressed play on the DVR, I knew I wanted to share a meaningful story with my fellow Bronco fans who’d gathered around the TV with me.  We knew we could just fast forward to the end.  But we wanted to experience the entire story.  If we had just skipped to the end, the win wouldn’t have been as meaningful.  The time we shared together watching the Broncos game was splattered with theological discussions.  Why is Tebow so loud about his faith?  Incomplete pass!  What if Tebow messes up (On the field and in his faith)?  Fumble, no way the ground can’t cause a fumble! What is perseverance of the Saints (No, I’m not talking about football here)? I can’t believe it, the Broncos Win!

And as Tebow rallied the Broncos from an 8 point deficit late in the fourth quarter we were discussing how God’s Grace works in our lives.  Life is like a good movie with many turns.  In “The Return of the King,” Frodo loses hope.  He turns away from his mission and decides he will keep the ring, but Grace steps in (In the form of Sam) and saves him.  Grace does what Frodo cannot do, destroy the ring and bring him back to the Shire.  Grace creates the meaningful change in Frodo’s life.  If Tebow fails on the field or in life, Grace will be there for him too.  Grace is there for all of us, offering a chance to make a meaningful change in our lives.  A chance to Tebow (Go beast mode/let God takeover), which brings us back to Christmas.

Christmas is not about what you get or even about what you give.  It is about experiencing the season with the people you love.  It is about sharing special moments with those around you.  Most of all it’s about God sending the Incarnation of Grace down to the world as the baby Christ.  If we fast forwarded to Christmas Day it would be like reading the last page of a book, only watching the Broncos during the fourth quarter, and fast forwarding all our favorite movies to the climax: empty and meaningless.  So slow down and know that no matter how long it seems until Christmas, that God is working in your life.  Christmas is more than just the climax of Christmas day.  It is about the Grace we have been given and the work it does in our life.  Let Grace make a meaningful change in your life this season.

Brendan is an avid Bronco fan and movie enthusiast who believes in Tebowing every night because the best way to live a meaningful story is to stay connected to the author.

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No Fear. Just Pain.

By Eugene C. Scott

Not the actual truck

The Nissan truck with the No Fear off-road package sat in the drive. Big knobby tires, six-inch lift package, fancy rims, dual exhaust.“Semper Fi,” said a sticker in the back window. We had driven from Winter Park to Loveland, CO on a fabulous fall morning to look at a used truck for sale. Necessitated by the untimely demise of my old, faithfulPathfinder.

As I climbed out of our car, I put my negotiating face on. It was a cool truck.

We walked across the road and into a wall of pain. A hurt, like a bad dream that won’t let you wake up, hung over the house. The owner of the truck, an ex-Marine with tattoos covering both arms and his neck, came out and shook hands. A big silver cross hung from his neck over his New Orleans Saints football jersey.

We introduced ourselves. He stood at an oblique in the middle of the street a good distance away from the truck.

“It’s a nice truck. You’re selling it so you can refurbish your son’s Mustang?” I said trying to pierce the awkward silence that surrounded him. I had spoken to him on the phone previously.

“Yeah.” His big frame sagged and he seemed to get smaller right there in front of me. He may have even stopped breathing. “It’s what he would have wanted.”

I could see the sorrow etched into his tough face. He didn’t look at the truck.

Long, agonizing seconds later he said, “He died a couple of months ago.”

There it was. The source of the pain.

“I’m sorry.” I touched his elbow. “What happened?”

“He killed himself.” Three words, flat, declarative, harsh, like someone had hit me in the face. He spat the next three words.

“Over a girlfriend.”

There in the middle of the street our worlds became a bubble, no bright blue fall day, no truck, no air. No fear. Just pain.

I turned to him and we talked. I told him as a pastor I had worked with suicidal kids, how tragic it was that those with so much to live for despaired so deeply. He turned toward me, opened his heart just a crack. More pain poured out. Pointing to a house two doors down he said a pastor lived there and he had been spending time with him. “You gotta trust God,” he said.

I nodded. “You can’t walk through this alone.”

I was relieved he had someone of faith to talk to and that God was part of the conversation. I lived several hundred miles–a world–away. My heart ached but I could not be his pastor, his counselor, or even his friend. The silence and the pain swooped back down.

“Can I drive it?” I asked pointing to the big, gray truck.

“Keys are in it.”

My wife, Dee Dee, and I climbed in. It was the kind of truck I had dreamed of in high school. It didn’t so much drive as it ate the road. It didn’t purr but rumbled. But the cab was clean, almost sterile, no signs of anything personal. The on board computer read, “0 miles,” indicating how far we could drive before we ran out of fuel.

Who lets potential buyers drive a truck that may run out of gas? I wondered as we pulled back into his driveway.

“Nice truck. It’s almost out of gas,” I said as I handed him the key.

“I haven’t driven it in a couple of months,” he said. That’s when I began to understand. I had not seen him come close to the truck. It had something to do with his son’s death.

My heart has been broken and I’ve been praying for him and his elderly mother and father and his other son ever since.

Les Avery, senior pastor of St James Presbyterian Church in Littleton, CO, where I served as a youth pastor in the 80s, used to end almost every worship service by saying, “Wrap your arm around yourself or of someone near you because, if you scratch beneath the surface of any life, you’ll find pain.”

It’s a poignant reminder. Sometimes you don’t even need to scratch. It comes gushing out.

Once again, I’ve been reminded to look at the grumpy, harried woman in the post office with kinder eyes. The waiter, the store clerk, the high school kid walking home from school alone.

They all carry pain–at least as deep as my own–if not deeper.

I’m not going to sermonize, tell you to be nice, “Co-exist,” “give peace a chance,” or “tolerate” each other. Bumper sticker philosophy and theology is such ineffective crap.

All of us know how cruel and insensitive and self-centered we are. We all know we shouldn’t be.

Maybe what we don’t as often remember is that God does not have to scratch beneath the surface of our lives to discover the pain. He sees all and knows all. And he weeps. But his tears are not empty.

By the first century AD, the Romans had tortured and crucified nearly 2000 people. Poverty, injustice, hunger, death, disease, and pain few of us know the depth of today racked the world Jesus lived in. So, what did God do? He let his Son be killed on the cruelest torture device yet known and had Jesus experience all the pain known to man.

Think of it. By having Jesus die on a device designed to induce maximum pain, God gave us a way to transform our pain into hope. God not only knows our pain. He redeems it.

The silver cross around that ex-Marine’s neck was not mere jewelry. It was his sign of hope for life, a reminder of how much God loves him and his son. Of how God had indeed wrapped his arms around us in the ultimate act of love.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. He did not buy the No Fear truck, not because of the tragedy it represented, and certainly not because he was too old or not cool enough for it, but because his wife said it was not very practical.

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How Did 9.11 Impact You?

By Eugene C. Scott

Drawing of 8-year-old Kevin Wang

Vail Mountain rose behind us unmoved. I, however, was trembling. I stood at its base on the ski slope holding a microphone. Beside me stood a friend, an Episcopalian priest. I felt out of place there wearing dress shoes, a dark tie, and a suit. Not the typical dress for a ski resort, even in the fall. But this was not a normal day. It was the afternoon of September 11, 2001.

Vail Resorts had arranged for the clergy of the Vail Interfaith Chapel to hold a prayer service. And word had spread. Below me in the fading grass and dying high mountain wild flowers sat hundreds of people from the world over. Many didn’t even speak English. How would what I had to say make a difference in the face of such evil, such fear and pain? I looked at their upturned faces. Many were tear-stained. All where expectant.

I’m a man of words. As a pastor, I have spoken hundreds of thousands of words preaching and teaching and praying several times a week–almost every week–for the past thirty years in the hope that words would help change the world. As a writer too, I believe words make a difference. Even a picture can’t touch a soul the way a few well spoken or written words can.

But against this? Here I was hoping my words could make a dent against the picture of two towers–filled with thousands of people–smoking and finally disintegrating into a pile of rubble and death. Good luck!

I don’t remember why I was the one chosen from among the outstanding pastors and leaders in the Interfaith Community to speak at this service. I felt empty. I had no words, besides foul, fearful ones.

Yet I knew God spoke the universe, us, into existence. Jesus was born into a broken world to heal it as the living Word. And I knew God just might speak through me. So, I let fly. I don’t remember word for word what I said. I can’t find my notes. I read a Psalm. I know I was honest, saying I had no ultimate answers; but that I believed God had not told anyone to do this; that I had no idea why God allowed such things; that if we stood arm in arm, unified in love, that that would be the more powerful act.

Still I felt as if my words were mere shadows, mountain Chick-a-dees flitting and twittering  among the near-by pines.

After I spoke, my friend led us in prayer. We poured our anguish, fear, hope, anger, silence out to God. The blue, thin airplaneless sky above us seemed to absorb our cries.

A young man from Ireland came up after and thanked us. He had grown up in a terrorist-torn country. He was sad that kind of violence had now visited the US. No one, no country deserved this, he said. Others too, from Spain, Australia, many from New York City stood and talked, listened, cried. Several had friends or family who lived and worked in downtown Manhattan. It turned out several lost loved ones. We hugged, cried some more, prayed again. Thousands of miles from Ground Zero, nestled in the pristine Rockies, an act of unspeakable evil seared us.

But God’s words also steeled us. Hope sprouted and began to grow again even on that evil day. We all went back into our corners of the universe changed. Today I see people, pain, hope, words, life differently. Today, if I look carefully, I still see that change, hear it in words–yes, like small birds–darting around me. I know better now that even small things put in the hands of God can make huge difference. God’s words spoken in truth and love are more powerful than bombs. God did not prevent the evil of 9.11. But I believe, even ten years later, God is still redeeming it, turning it in to something healing and powerful for those of us who let it and then tell the story of that redemption.

So, I will keep speaking words and writing words in the hope that God will take them and make them bigger than they seem. And maybe use them in your life.

How did 9.11 impact or change you and your world? Take a moment and a few small words and let us know.

Eugene is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. This coming Sunday–on the ten-year anniversary of 9.11–The Neighborhood Church will hold a service remembering those who died, not just that day, but also the One who died on the cross 2000 years ago, and rededicating ourselves to being different because of those deaths.

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Harry Potter and the Church Part II

By Eugene C. Scott

It’s true, like the old bumper sticker said, that “God Doesn’t Make Junk.” But after 50 plus years of watching the people around me and daily looking in the mirror, it’s plain God certainly created his share of peculiar, screwy, and eccentric people.

I think that’s one of the reasons I liked J. K Rowling’s main setting for the Harry Potter stories, “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” I felt right at home. Rowling peopled and staffed her school with bizarre and broken people.

Outwardly handsome and cool but secretly unsure of himself, Gilderoy Lockhart, one of the many Defense Against the Dark Arts professors, was a fraud.

And let’s not forget half-giant game keeper and failed wizard Hagrid or the sadistic janitor Argus Filch.

Many of the students too are screwy. Luna Lovegood is loony, marching to a drum that may not even exist. Even the trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron are a bit odd.

These people are largely dismissed by the “main stream” wizarding community but not by their Head Master equally strange Albus Dumbledore.

In this Hogwarts reminds me of the church. After 30 some years involvement in the church, it occurs to me God too has peopled his community with peculiar, screwy, unconventional and downright broken people, myself not being the exception.

Luna Lovegood would not have been friendless in most churches I’ve served.

Dr. Bob was a retired PhD in one church I pastored who truly believed he had evidence of extraterrestrials having come to earth. During a Sunday school class I taught, a man asked to do an announcement advocating adopting orphaned baby Chinese girls. He proceeded to put on a Chinese Queue and sing the Elvis song “My Little Teddy Bear.”

I won’t name the broken, bleeding, angry, confused and disillusioned.

Rowling lends humor to her increasingly dark stories through fleshing out these eccentric characters. God, however, seems to attract them. As popular as Jesus is today, he hung out with a pretty unpopular, scraggly group back in the First Century.

I feel at home, just like when I read Harry Potter, then when I read of these early peculiar, broken students in Christ’s school of life, or look around me in today’s church. You’ve met them too–or are one.

The wonderful thing is God created such eccentrics and loves us despite our brokenness and he wants them/us to people his spiritual community called the church.

This is where I find the pervasive philosophy in the modern church focusing on bright-shiny people false. Years ago I had a college professor who taught that because we were followers of Christ, we should be the best of the best, with the whitest smiles, nicest clothes, best grades. “God,” he said quoting the bumper sticker, “doesn’t make junk.” I bought it until I looked in the Bible or in the mirror again.

Not that I equate, as he seemed to, offbeat, broken people with junk. God made no one expendable. Jesus died for every Lockhart and Lovegood among us.

But, somehow, despite the church’s ability to be filled with outcasts and Jesus’ willingness to embrace them, this is not the demographic the church focuses on nor the image we portray. To our shame.

When was the last time you saw a pastor preach or teach from a wheel chair? Or have any kind of visible disability? I recently attended a huge church planter’s conference where all of the speakers I heard were cool looking and pastored mega-churches. There was not a halting, unsure Harry Potter among them.

Or closer to home, when was the last time you shied away from the Luna Lovegood or Gilderoy Lockhart in your life or church?

You see, what I believe Rowling knows is that we’re all Lovegoods and Lockharts. We just don’t want anyone else to know it. So, we think surrounding ourselves with the cool and the smart and the successful will make it so for us too. What we often don’t see is that they too are not really bright-shiny either.

But God knows our fears and failures and forgives them. God knows too our eccentricities and revels in them.

This is where Hogwarts reminds me more of the church than the church does sometimes.

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