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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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Is the Devil in the Details? Or is it Someone Else?

“I’m wondering why your truck is sitting here in the left turn lane idling all locked up.” The fresh-faced state patrolman didn’t smile when he said this. Lights flashed from the top of his patrol car as if pointing out my stupidity. I had hopped out of “my truck” (in reality my co-pastor Mike’s) to hang a sign directing people to our churches’ worship gathering and had locked myself out.

“It’s blocking the lane,” he said still not smiling.

I looked at the puffing truck then back at him. Yep. At least it was Sunday morning and the truck was not hindering the hordes from getting to church.

“We’ve called Triple A,” I answered.

So I stood in the median feeling foolish, thinking–for some unknowable reason–of that arcane quote: “For want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe the horse was lost, for want of a horse the rider was lost.”

Little things make a big difference. Too often when I am doing several things at once and am in a hurry, I don’t pay close enough attention to the little things. Such as the little button that pictured “lock” instead of “unlock.” Such as where I last placed my keys, or wallet, or glasses, or wedding ring, or wife and children. Then I spend eons looking for them.

Since the cop wasn’t very talkative, I asked myself what life would look like if I spent those eons paying attention before instead of after.

Here’s what I heard.

Living spiritually is about paying attention. This is not only stopping to smell the roses. What about the parts of life not so fragrant or obvious? There was a message for me in this day’s foolish frustration. Small things loom large. It may not be the devil who is in the details but rather the very opposite: God’s whisper.

Living spiritually is also about learning what not to give credence to. I locked myself out of Mike’s truck because I gave credence to that voice inside me that said, “hurry, faster.” Most lost relationships, items, or moments in my life are the fruit of listening to false voices that call my attention elsewhere.

Inattentiveness is costly. More than wasting precious time, however, inattentiveness often wastes our very lives. Philosopher and theologian Simone Weil once said, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Paying attention to people and events, small and large, to life and God, is a gift of ourselves, and sometimes is a gift to ourselves.

AAA rescued Eugene C. Scott from his inattentiveness and the experience actually helped him pay better attention in worship. Not only that but his congregation got a good, well-deserved laugh. Join him in attending to God sightings and telling your stories here and on “Living Spiritually” at facebook.com/livingspiritually. Eugene is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Seen Any Burning Bushes Lately?

By Eugene C. Scott

The desert had grown comfortable for Moses. After forty years of caring for Jethro’s sheep, he knew every bush and watering hole as well as he knew the seams and stitches of his old camel-hair robe. When he first arrived in Midian, a fugitive from Egypt and God, wariness was a way of life. He noticed all–the cool slant of the sun in the morning, the twitch of a conies’ ear as he approached an oasis, the heat waves drawing alluring pictures in the midday heat. His nerves jumped at each breath of wind or bleat of sheep. And always he wondered if he had run far enough from Egypt and feared he could never run far enough from God.

Today, however, Moses drowsed as he followed his flock across the desert. His sandals scuffed a rhythm on the hard, dry desert floor. Horeb, the mountain of God, towered in the distance, its long shadow touching the noses of his lead sheep. But Moses noticed not. He had grown comfortable. So it is he walked an hour or more without perceiving the bright light that flickered at the base of Horeb. In the early days Moses would have seen it afar and worried if it were the glint of an enemies’ weapon. Today he shuffled almost upon it before the fire registered. And he only looked up because his flock veered off to the right of the burning bush.

Moses stopped and planted his staff in the dirt between his feet. He sheep continued ontheir well-worn route. Moses rubbed his old eyes and wondered how this bush came to burn. Then slowly he realized the bush was aflame but it did not burn–no crumbling branches, no ember, no ash. “Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.’” Exodus 3:1-4

Amazing what God resorts to to get our attention. Remember the one time you knew the correct answer to your math teacher’s question and you waved your arm until your biceps muscle seized and your arm plummeted to your desk like a dead weight? And your math teacher never noticed. She called on the kid sleeping and drooling on his desk next to you. I wonder if God feels like that? He burns bushes, throws lightning bolts, and generally makes a nuisance of himself, waving his arms around like an eager fourth grader, and we never notice.

I have a friend who, when he is out in the woods, always sees a deer or elk or coyote or grouse or rabbit or something. I can hike a trail for hours and never see a blessed thing. But then Jay joins me and suddenly the hills are alive. I once asked him if he attracted all these animals by wearing a special scent or failing to shower. He simply smiled and pointed out a six point bull elk watering fifty yards off the trail. Some people are just tuned in.

Jay loves the wilderness so much he becomes a part of it. He has trained himself to notice things most of us ignore. Dead tree branches transfigure into the rack of a buck standing behind a tree, and a flickering, golden oak leaf is really a doe perking her ear at a strange noise. Jay doesn’t miss much.

I’m sure by now you get the point. Most of us are like Moses almost missing God in a burning bush. We might even be worse than Moses and walk right by the durned thing. And the tragedy is God only occasionally speaks through burning bushes. The rest of the time his subtle voice is in the flick of a leaf or the blink of an eye. We rush down the trail of life claiming it leads through a barren wilderness, while God is dropping hints of his love and presence at every turn. Stop, look, listen. God is there.

Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Contrary to popular belief that verse does not advocate blind faith. It commends “the ancients” for hearing God’s voice and seeing his hand in everyday life. They trusted God in the supernatural world because they walked with him in the natural world. We can be certain of what we do not see only if we open our eyes to what God has put before us.

“When the Lord saw that [Moses] had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’

“And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’” But of course God knew where Moses was. Moses was really saying, “I’m here; I’m listening now; speak, my God.”

Life often grows comfortable–we habituate to its wonders. We drive the same route to work. And glaze-eyed notice nothing.  What must God do to get us to say, “I’m here; I’m listening now; speak, my God.”? Usually it’s something that burns like fire.

Eugene often misses God and good things right in front of him. Fortunately God is patient with him and keeps trying. Eugene also co-pastors The Neighborhood Church.

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Harry Potter and the Church Part I

By Eugene C. Scott


Like J. K. Rowling’s wonderfully weird invention of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jelly Beans, her Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and God’s equally wonderful and weird church are both humanity flavored hope. Sometimes they’re sweet and sometimes disgusting.

The truth is Rowling gave Hogwarts the same humanity flawed quirkiness that God created the church to reflect.

In chapter six of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” a confused but expectant Harry Potter stands on platform nine and three quarters waiting for the Hogwarts Express–a magical train that will take him–for the first time–to Hogwarts, where he will be schooled in magic. Once there, Harry’s life changes dramatically.

In this magical castle filled with moving staircases, strange rooms, stranger people, talking portraits, and ghosts, Harry, among other things, will cement life-long friendships with Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley while discovering that even the best witchcraft and wizardry school is full of quirks and imperfections and–more-so–quirky and imperfect people.

As I have enjoyed J. K. Rowling’s classic stories as pure fun reading, I also have been challenged by some of her deeper themes. Did she, for instance, intend to draw parallels between the mythical castle called Hogwarts and God’s mysterious community called the church?

Intentional or not, the parallels are there.

Relationships Define the Church and Hogwarts

Contrary to popular belief, the church is not a building nor an institution. It is a community. Yes, most often the church meets in a building and–unfortunately–becomes far too institutional. Hogwarts too is a particular place and has rules–most of which Harry breaks. But this is not what defines Hogwarts.

At Hogwarts, Harry, the orphan, finds his family. Through his friendship with Ron Weasley at Hogwarts, Harry is unofficially adopted into the Weasley clan. It is at Hogwarts also that Harry meets his godfather, Sirius Black and is mentored by a father figure, Albus Dumbledore.

Like Hogwarts, the church, first and foremost, is a community. A family thrown together in a myriad of relationships. Orphans all adopted by Christ.

I grew up in what is commonly called a dysfunctional family. We weren’t completely dysfunctional, however. We did two things very well: fight and meddle in each other’s business. What we did not manage was to foster intimacy. We loved each other to the best of our ability. Still my family was a lonely, chaotic place.

Then I became a follower of Christ and was adopted into this quirky, imperfect family called the church. Like Harry, it was in this completely foreign and unexpected place that I discovered true family. I am who I am because of God speaking and working through the family members I have met in various churches. I have served in six churches over the last 32 years. In each one God has introduced me to people who have become life-long friends. We have, as the great theologian and poet Paul said, “carried one another’s burdens.” We have cried, laughed, fought, feasted (a lot), and lived life together. Rowling was brilliant in drawing Harry as a hero who needed friends to accomplish his mission. And Hogwarts as the place those relationships formed and thrived.

This too is us.

The Church and Hogwarts Are a Mix of Angels and Demons

Much to Harry’s dismay, however, Hogwarts is far from perfect. It is there, under the Sorting Hat, that he discovers his own dark side. It tells Harry, “You could be great, you know, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that.” But Ron warns him, “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.” Should Harry join the darker, more prone to evil House of Slytherin, or the more benign House of Gryffindor? Each of us, whether follower of Christ or no, face the same choices.

No wonder so many wars and wonders have been wrought in the name of God. 

In Hogwarts Harry battles his nearest enemy, Draco Malfoy. Hogwarts, like the church, contains not just angels but demons (so to speak). In the church I’ve been and met both. Like Harry, all of us who have spent more than 10 minutes in the church carry and have inflicted wounds.

Rowling invents a fictional school that rings true because it is such a real mix of sinner and saint. Just like the church.

If Harry imagined Hogwarts as utopia, he was sorely disappointed. This may be why so many of us give up on the church. We are drawn to its divinity but are driven away by its humanity. Our unrealistic expectations are as much a part of our disappointment as are the actual flaws thriving in the church. I plummet emotionally each time the church–or more correctly people, including myself, of the church–don’t live up to my lofty ideals.

Though I understand well the pain that the church can inflict (from personal experience as well as theoretically), the load that weighs heaviest on my pastor’s soul is trying to convince people that the church is both more and less than they ever imagined. More in that it is about being human and being in relationships while also being in relationship with God.  Less in that it is about being flawed humans who need each other.

And in that way the church reflects humanity and human community perfectly. Harry could have never become who he was born to be without Hogwarts and all the pain, joy, disappointment and triumph mixed together in one.

Imagine had Harry, as do so many people today in regards to church, refused to board that mysterious train bound for Hogwarts, one of the best stories written in modern times would have never come into being. So too, when any of us refuses to join that infuriating, dangerous, glorious, Christ-community God calls the church. What real story might you be missing?

Eugene C Scott is co-pastor of one of those wonderfully weird places called The Neighborhood Church.

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What If “The Hunger Games” Were True? A Book Review

By Eugene C. Scott

What if?

“What if” is frequently the central question submerged in good fiction. C.S. Lewis asked, what if a Christ figure came into a completely different world from the one we know? In answer to his question, Lewis invented Aslan the Lion and Narnia. J.K. Rowling seemed to ask what if there were an invisible, magical world existing alongside ours and in that world of wonderful, powerful magic, love was the most powerful force of all? Hogwarts and Harry Potter sprang to life.

Suzanne Collins, author of the New York Times best sellers, The Hunger Games Trilogy, asked an age-old science-fiction question: what if the world as we know it was destroyed, leaving only a remnant of human life.

Collins’ trilogy tells the sad, violent story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year-old girl living in the dystopian world of Panem–all that is left of the United States after a nuclear war–with her emotionally broken mother and her 12 year-old sister, Prim. Panem is divided into 12 districts ruled from the Capitol by a malignant government. The outlying districts function as slave labor. The ultimate tyranny of the Capitol is that once a year two children, ages 12-18, are chosen from each district to compete to the death in The Hunger Games. The chosen children must murder each other with only one walking out scarred but alive.

Collins is a good writer and an even better story-teller; her best talent being pacing. Her prose is nearly invisible and sparse, which fits the story. But the books do contain literary elements. Collins lays in many bigger themes worth mining for, if one chooses to do so.

Katniss is as conflicted and as complicated as this type of story can bear. Her complacency with and repulsion to the evil in her world is realistic. Her search for love and for her purpose is obvious but well told.

Also to Collins‘ credit, the high level of violence fits the story, if not the YA label the book carries. Like Rowling, she is not afraid to kill off several main characters.

These books deserve the stir they have caused and are not only worth reading but are worth discussing.

Especially meriting conversation is one “what if” Collins may not have placed in the books intentionally.

What if God did not exist? Nowhere in the three books is there any hint of a belief in a higher power. It’s as if religion were the main target of the bombs. No character uses spiritual language, even in non-technical, slang ways. When one character close to Katniss dies, Katniss almost pictures an after life, but not quite. No one cries out against God for the evil God is allowing nor does anyone cry out to God for help. Rather a song Katniss’ father taught her, that she remembers in her toughest times, seems to reflect a belief that in the world of Panem, this difficult, unpredictable, unfair, unjust world is all we get.

Near the end of the last book, one character comforts Katniss by telling her humans may yet evolve away from senseless evil and into love. Maybe, maybe not.

This is not a criticism of Collins or the books. The books do contain humor, love, and insight. And Collins may have built her dystopian world this way on purpose. There are two books of the Bible where God is never mentioned. God’s absence there is as powerful of a message as being there. Sometimes a need is best pointed out by its absence.

What would the world look like without God? Unfortunately, because of our refusal to grab God’s outstretched hand, there is violence and ugliness worse than in The Hunger Games. The difference being that without God there is no real reason to believe we can learn and change. Evolution promises no such advances.

Fortunately, God’s presence gives real hope and tangible help. Looking at history the only cultures to seriously slow the march of evil have been those directly impacted by the intervention of God and the Incarnation of Christ. And even those cultures have been flawed. Imagine where we could be without Christ coming? Unintentionally or intentionally The Hunger Games imagines that world.

For my part, this is what I liked about these stories. They left me with questions.

Too much story-telling in the Christian world seems afraid to let God narrate to the reader out of the story and therefore, the human narrator provides pat answers and unrealistic solutions. I believe God can and does speak even through stories that contain no overt mention of God.

It could also be true that Collins may actually believe there is no such Person as God. Thus a fictional world that contains only the slightest thread of human hope may actually exist for her and for many others. I don’t know. Our continual propensity toward evil makes such a belief more plausible.

This, along with a story well told, is what brought tears to my eyes at the end of The Hunger Games Trilogy. I was crying for Katniss as an archetype of the modern person.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church

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How to Know if You’re a Control Freak

By Eugene C. Scott

Several thousand years ago dung beetles enjoyed god-like status. They earned this high honor by toiling day-long collecting balls of dung between their tiny horns and rolling them across the hot desert floor. Some observant Egyptian noticed this little rolling ball of dung resembled the sun’s movement. Soon the belief was born that the sun was moved across the desert sky by a huge, invisible dung beetle.

The Egyptians–and most other ancient peoples–considered the powerful, life-giving forces, such as the sun, water, fire, fertility, in nature gods–or, at least, directly controlled by a god such as a dung beetle. Thus they developed religious and sacrificial systems that they hoped would please these capricious gods. In Egypt essential crops flourished or failed based on the Nile River.  If the gods were angry it might flood and wash all their food away. Or dry up. If the gods were pleased, the Nile might over-flow its banks just enough to water even the most distant fields.

These ancient religious systems became what people turned to when life got difficult.

But it did little good. Unfortunately, still children died, crops still failed, life–like the Nile–still ebbed and flowed seemingly without respect to religious sacrifices.

Today scientists laugh at such superstitious beliefs. We know the sun is not the god Re but a star, not pushed across the sky, but a point earth orbits. Science replaced superstition. We watch the weather patterns explained and pin-pointed on the nightly news. Science has given us cloud seeding, en-vitro fertilization, the cure for polio, and brilliant inventions and technologies by the thousands. When life gets hard we have doctors, pharmaceuticals, technologies, and governments we can turn to.

A phrase from my childhood embodies this faith in science most of our world holds. “If they can put a man on the moon, they ought to be able to __________(fill in the blank).”

Unfortunately, children still die, crops still fail, tornadoes devastate, new diseases spring to life and confound and kill us while paying little homage to our scientific advancements and prowess.

Christians call such total dependence on science foolish. Christians believe there is one God who created all these things science has discovered and mastered. In line with this belief we have designed sophisticated worship liturgies that give people access to deeper meaning and connection with God. Theologians have developed systematic theologies that attempt to answer the big questions about life and God. Gifted preachers lay out the five keys to life with purpose. The promise is that when life gets hard these liturgies, systems and practices including prayer and other spiritual disciplines bring Christians healing and wholeness.

Unfortunately children still die, crops fail . . . .

Depending on your perspective and belief system you may read the three world views above and sing that sweet song from the children’s show “Sesame Street,” “One of These Things is Not Like the Other?” And each–superstitious, scientific, or spiritual–is a very different way to understand and live in the world.

But they also each have a foundational similarity. Control. Or more accurately a desire to control. The ancient Egyptians lived in a dangerous, unpredictable world. Any thing that promised even a modicum of control over that world was welcome. And their superstitious practices fit the rhythm of the seasons of life just often enough to hold out the promise of control over the mighty Nile like a carrot on a stick.

Science too, especially in its naive early days, flat-out promised to wrest control from nature and lay it in our hands. And the promise has often been fulfilled. At least tentatively. Antibiotics, heat and air-conditioning, cell-phones, air travel all put us above and beyond nature. But just as often, or more so, science has not fulfilled its promise of control. We did put a man on the moon but we often cannot fill in the blank that would give us the cure to this or that disease or the answer to so many questions. Never-the-less, most of us believed and still may.

Christian spirituality also often degenerates into attempts to control God and his world. Systematic theology unwittingly promises that if we understand God we may know how to get him to do our bidding, purpose driven lives are lives we can likewise understand and control, prayers of Jabez seem to bind God to expand our borders, and five keys to a happy life, word of faith theology, pocketbooks of God’s promises, frenzied scripture memory programs all–even, like science, though they contain some truth–appeal to our deep desire to live in a world we can keep under control.

The truth is from ancient Egypt to modern science to today’s  Christian spirituality we are control freaks.

But superstitious behavior nor mighty dams nor words of faith will tame the Nile much less God.

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,” wrote King Solomon. By this the great king did not mean that the pursuit of knowledge scientific or spiritual is vanity. But trying to use that information to gain control over things, people, and especially God is foolish.

Fear grows in neat garden rows fertilized with the promise of control. What if I lose control? is the weedy question that grows here. And it strangles faith. Because faith flourishes in the open fields littered with rocks and pot holes and dung. In this field faith is not the thing we use to control God and life but the thing we use to believe God is good and loves us in a life that sometimes is not under control and is not going the way we expected.

How do you know if you’re a control freak. Pinch yourself. Are you human?

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