A Funeral, a Wedding, and a Life and Death Lesson in Easter

A few months after my dad’s funeral my mom took us to her dying cousin’s wedding. I was eleven and I remember this particular family event because of its shroud of death. My dad had died of a heart attack. And the cousin, though she was only in her twenties, had been diagnosed with a terminal disease. That was the reason for the wedding. They wanted to spend what little time she had left together, married.

I don’t remember the wedding ceremony only the reception. She was tall and pretty; he was rough looking. Strong. They wore smiles like creases on their faces. I stood on the edge of the dance floor looking at him in his ill-fitting suit and feeling the loss of my father and wondering why anyone would choose to marry a dying person.

The lighting was dim, like in a Disney movie right before the denouement. The doomed couple danced together and people waded onto the dance floor and pinned money on her white dress. For the honeymoon. I ducked in and out of the adults with the other cousins. Everyone whispered about how brave and strange and sad this was. I agreed.

I knew what death was. Since June 13, it had been a suffocating weight. A long road lined with naked trees with no crossroads and no end. It was sleep that never gave rest, food that failed to fill, words that never reached the heart, laughter that brought no joy. It went everywhere I went. Even to a wedding.

Even at eleven, I realized death is not only what happens to the person who is lost. Everyone dies a little—or a lot—with the person who is lost. I could not have articulated all that then.

A fog smothered me as I rode in the back seat of one of my older cousin’s cars. They must have sent us kids home early while the strange party continued. We stopped at a drive-in burger joint. It’s funny I remember the silver handle of the car door. I opened my paper sack. Burger and fries. Vapor escaped. How can I remember those details and not exactly who I was with? Because I was not with the living but the dead, my dad and my soon to pass cousin.

In the dark, cavernous back seat, I wondered what death was like on the other side. It couldn’t be worse than my life right then. I pulled the plastic knife that came with my burger across my wrist. It left a red mark.

But somehow I knew the plastic knife would not do the job. And maybe I did not really want to find out what death was like. Still, I kept the knife with me that night. Took it to bed. In the morning, like the angel that passed over Egypt in that Easter movie about Moses, the pall had passed. I threw the knife away. But I carried unremitting grief with me.

How would the presence of someone who believed in God, believed in Easter, made a difference back then? Someone who held hope that the road of grief and sorrow was not endless, that the Word could come alive in my heart. That joy in the face of loss was possible. That I might see my father again and more. But no one—that I knew—testified to such.

It seems to me now, that Easter makes all the difference in the world.

Broadmoor LR (5 of 60)A few years later, several months after I had had a life and death changing encounter with Jesus Christ, I sat on the cold wooden seats at Red Rocks Amphitheater west of Denver, watching an Easter sunrise. I had never been to an Easter service before, had seldom ever been to church. I was with my girlfriend. Otherwise, again, I don’t remember many details. Except that the leader said something about Easter and Spring being hopeful metaphors for the circle of life, a promise that every dark cracks open with a dawn.

But needed more than a metaphor! And I knew my mom, my sisters and brother, my sorely missed father, my briefly married cousin—and her widow—needed more than a metaphor, more than a clichéd promise of the sunrise I was then watching ripen red over Denver.

Either this story of Jesus conquering death had to be true, real, or it was worse than a fairytale. At least fairytales have a moral you can try to live up to. What good does a story about a guy coming back to life do all of us who have lost loved ones and are still facing death ourselves? We have no power to overcome death.

In his “Seven Stanzas at Easter,” John Updike writes,

“Make no mistake: if He rose at all

It was as His body . . .”

It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes

The same valved heart

That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered

Out of enduring Might

New strength to enclose.”

Jesus’ resurrection can be no metaphor. It is all or nothing. The day my father died, that day of my cousin’s wedding, I needed more than an image of my father’s moldering body bringing new life to other living things. A flower blooming fresh after winter snow.

No. I needed Jesus walking from the dark of death and holding his pierced hands of hope out to me.

ChristfootDeath is not the original order of things. It is the disordered result of taking our lives out of God’s loving and capable hands. We need Jesus to actually conquer death. To set things back to rights.

And He did. Knowing this the Apostle Paul could ask, “Death where is your sting?”

This hope in Jesus’ resurrection does not magically erase grief; rather it layers it with tangible hope.

“And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.” The Message 1 Thessalonians 4:13

In 2003 at my mother’s memorial service, I knew her grave would not speak the last word. Jesus’ love for her–and reciprocated by her–rescued her life and death. I cried for our loss. I often still miss her, as if I’m missing a limb. But I am not suffocating on an endless road of despair. Because of Christ, I know I will see my mother again and I know she is healed and whole. And I too will be someday. Indeed Death, where is your sting?

And now—now that I look back, now that I’ve lived a little with God—maybe God was present too at my cousin’s wedding, an unseen guest. Now I see that their marriage in the face of death as an act of hope. Their wedding was not just a last ditch effort, but a living picture God painted of a future wedding party.

The New Testament draws such pictures of wedding feasts over and over. And it ends with an invitation to one.

In the Revelation of John he writes, “The Angel said to me, ‘Write this: ‘Blessed are those invited to the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.’” The Message Revelation 19:9BowSeason 16 LR (3 of 84)

Categories: Eugene C. Scott, grief, healing, Jesus, John Updike, Marriage, pain, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

God Come Down: A Christmas Day Reflection

 

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Trouble by Eugene C Scott

 

King David was, as usual, in trouble. Somebody or something was after him. Swords, spears, poison, royal duplicity. Or doubts and devils of the internal kind. Not so different from me, or you I suspect. On any given day we need God now and in force.

“Part your heavens, Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, so that they smoke. Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy,” David prayed. (Psalm 144:5-6)

How often have you felt like that? God, come down!

Christmas is an answer to that prayer.

Sort of.

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Red Tree in White by Eugene C Scott

 

Because no matter how many flashing lights we string and drums we bang, in the birth of Christ there were no smoking mountains and lightning bolts.

That’s not to say Jesus’ birth was not marked by the monumental. There hung a star, sung an angel choir. Those, however, were mere messengers. The birth itself was the miracle.

I remember the births of my children. Each was profound and transformational. With each I stood trembling as if thunder had crashed, wondering at the miracle of being a part of God’s creation.

Thirty some-odd years later, I put the two stories together, the birth of Jesus and the birth of my children. God came down like this?

There was no thunder and lightning, outside my overwhelmed heart. They were  beautiful, red and wrinkled and pointy-headed. They looked old, as if they’d travelled from eternity. They were fragile and tiny, skin translucent, as near death as life. Vulnerable. Needy.

15433778_10154502976454823_4068332343685572051_nThere’s a modern painting of Joseph and Mary after the birth of Jesus. It is so real and earthy. Dirt and stone but no smoke and lightning. The parents slouch on the ground, leaning against a rock wall with sandaled feet forward. Their eyes are closed in tired disbelief. Mary, slumped on Joseph’s shoulder, holds Jesus, swaddled, fragile, just like my children: vulnerable, needy.

The Lord came down, answering our many prayers, but in the most unpretentious, unpredicted, unexpected way.

Why? Why not come as David prayed?

The answer, in part, is at the heart of the Incarnation.

In coming, my children did not claim my allegiance through show of force, but captured it with a smile or cry. They did not force me to kneel down to change their diapers or raspberry their bare tummies, but I knelt to serve, love, and be near them. They did not demand service and sacrifice, they needed it and I found my greatest joy in making sure they were dry and safe and well fed. I served them gladly. They did not demand love but they grew it in me and drew it from me.

This is why Jesus came not with thunder and lightning but with dimples and folds.

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Dimples and Folds by Eugene C Scott

This is why he came a mere six pounds and nineteen inches rather than six-foot four two-fifty.

 

The God who needs nothing, especially our puny selves, came down as a needy babe so we could bow down, love, serve, and draw near.

As Frederich Buechner writes, “The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: ‘God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation,’ as the Nicene Creed puts it, ‘came down from heaven.’”

Yes, we should cover our eyes and shudder as if lightning struck. And sometimes I do. But Omnipotence joined in impotence so that we need not run and hide. We desire nothing less than a mountain shaking miracle for all to see. But what we needed was altogether different. We needed the miracle of God come down to be with us so that as he grew so would our love for him.

And one more miracle. God did not come down only that angel announced day. He does it now and forever. “I will be with you till the end of the age.” May this Christmas be the beginning or renewal of your journey with God. After all, he came down in answer to your prayer.

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Welcome! Photo by Eugene C Scott

 

Categories: Art, Bible, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God, God Sightings, Jesus, Living Spiritually, miracles, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Seven Christmas Gift Wrapping Ideas For Multi-Thumbed Men

As I was wrapping the Christmas gifts I carefully picked out for my wife today, it dawned on me that many of us men are gift-wrapping impaired. And there is no support group for that.

I’m not the only one though. Many of us have had the Christmas Eve experience of buying the perfect gift for our wives or girl-friends (not that you should have more than one) only to take a sledge hammer to it out of frustration. Or at least it looks like we wrapped it with a sledge hammer. So, after I pulled the errant tape from various parts of my body and placed Band-Aids over my scissor wounds, I decided to offer some hard earned advice on making gift wrapping easier.lexus-es-350-red-bow

  1. Buy a car or some other huge, outrageously expensive object that will dazzle her and that any reasonable human would realize could not be wrapped. By the way, car dealerships are open on Christmas Eve. Though, unfortunately, I’ve discovered finding those huge bows they show on television are as hard to find as it is to wrap—say a diamond.
  2. Buy a diamond. They are really small and the store should wrap it for you for the prices they charge.unknown
  3. Have the store or one of those worthy charities wrap it. Or your daughter. The trouble with this is, then others will know you can’t afford a car or a diamond.
  4. Don’t wrap it! I mean you spent hours—or at least minutes—picking it out. Why cover it up? Plus she might like the wrapping paper more than the gift.
  5. Give your gift to her naked. That should distract her, especially if you can’t afford a car or a diamond. Though this could be awkward at a family gathering.crazy-funny-old-man-01-www-funnypica-com_-140x140
  6. Give her cash. It slips easily into one of those cash cards with a sweet message already written on. Then say, “I know your love language is really quality time. This is so we can go shopping together.”
  7. Don’t give her a gift. The holiday is about giving. God gave us Jesus. But Christmas has become far too commercial, as Charlie Brown said. And all the worry about wrapping gifts obscures the reason for the season.

I hope these gift wrapping suggestions were helpful. Now get out there and get shopping, you’ve only got a few hours until it’s Christmas Day. Merry Christmas.

Categories: Fun, God, Jesus, Marriage, TV | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

My Heart Attack, the Barr Brothers, and Prayer

IMG_1227The poetry of the Barr Brothers’ song Beggar in the Morning brought me to my knees. It resonates like a rueful modern psalm. The music is a prayer too, pulsing and ringing behind the words like a crippled but hopeful heartbeat crying out to God. Or maybe I hear the whisper of a prayer in Beggar in the Morning because God insisted 2016 be for me a year of prayer (Probably something to do with my heart attack on December 28).

Listen.

I take my medicine on my knee

Twice a day but lately three

Keeps the devil from my door

And it makes me rich and it makes me poor

I’m a beggar in the morning,

I’m a king at night,

My belt is loose,

But my trigger is tight

May come without warning,

At the speed of the light

Make it shine so pretty

Make it shine so bright

I think I’ve come a long, long way

To stand before you here today

They’re yours alone, the songs I play,

To take with you or throw away

Oh, I want an angel to wipe my tears,

Know my dreams, my hopes, desires and fears

We may capsize, but we won’t drown

Hold each other as the sun goes down

I’m a beggar in the morning,

I’m a king at night,

My belt is loose, and

My trigger is tight.

Prayer is as much an attitude as an act. My stance? Too often I want to take my medicine standing upright and with my own hands. Instead, healing and help often comes through weakness, on my knees begging, once, twice, thrice or more a day.

But when I need help, I want it on my terms.

This is exactly how it was on December 28. My need for God  came “without warning.” A blocked artery, the “widow-maker,” was strangling my heart and body. An aura of pain suffocated me, constricting like a plastic bag with the life sucked from it.

“He’s having a heart attack,” Mary, the nurse, said not quite calm.

“Oh, God,” moaned my wife from a chair in the corner of the tiny room. “Lord Jesus,” she prayed. Voicelessly, breathlessly, helplessly I prayed with her.

Despite the pain and panic, I knew precisely what was going on. I can still feel the ache, hear the beeps and clicks, voices, smell the odors, see the colors as if they are being replayed on a virtual video screen. I was dying. I had no capacity to save myself. I could not dig deep into some hidden, inner strength like a character in a Disney movie. Three nurses, a doctor, and some paramedics scurried to save my life while I lay prone like a beggar.

All I had was a prayer.

Bumping into the ambulance, if I had then known the words, I would have prayed, “God, I’ve come a long way to stand before you today. This life of mine is yours alone to take with you or throw away.”

As it was, I offered only mute supplication, groans to deep for words.

IMG_1207God heard. Hours later I opened my eyes to a crucifix on the wall above the door of my ICU room. I had survived. “Thank you, Jesus,” was all I could say.

My wife found me in the gleaming hospital room. Exultant, still in shock, she bent down and wiped my tears, mingling our dreams, hopes, desires, and fears. We capsized but didn’t drown. We held each other as the sun went down.

As the Barr Brothers hint, prayer is poverty and riches.

A few days ago I was walking with a friend in downtown Denver. I saw a piece of folded green fallen on the sidewalk. I snatched up a twenty-dollar bill. Dreaming about what I would do with such a gift, I approached a wheelchair bound man with a cardboard sign reading, “Smile. It’s not that bad.”

I didn’t deserve the twenty. I didn’t deserve to survive my heart attack. I dropped the twenty in the beggar’s hand and my life in God’s. That’s the way God answers prayer when we’re beggars in the morning.

March 16 (41 of 72)P.S. By God’s grace and the wonder of medical technology, my heart suffered minimal damage. I’ve been given permission by my cardiologist to participate in an active life with one exception. I cannot compete in the Leadville One Hundred. Dang!

Categories: healing, Living Spiritually, miracles, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Poet and the Painter on Boundaries

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,” declares David in Psalm 16. That line boundaries in pleasant places is an odd one, especially read in a time when boundaries are readily broken and often despised. What on earth can David mean?

Yes, when babies are new, they love to be swaddled, bound up in a blanket. Babies need to be held tight and secure. They demand boundaries and find them quite pleasant.

But David was not a baby. As we grow, we unwrap ourselves, thrust for personal space. We demand freedom. Our boundaries fade or even cease to exist. It’s as if the swaddling gave us permission to push. Every frontier must fall. We need to breathe free air.

Strayy Night (12 of 10)Starry nights symbolize freedom, that boundlessness we yearn after. Yet, I find starry skies as frightening as they are inspiring. The night sky is an open gate that if God and gravity were to let go, I would be flung out into dark nothingness. When staring into the beautiful, boundless stars, wonder rises in me and becomes entangled with a shivering insecurity. The sky above me is a hole, vast and unfathomable. Under those flickering stars, it is all too easy to imagine floating alone for eternity.

What am I compared to the stars? Who am I measured against their beauty?

In Psalm 8 David wrote: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

Starry-Night

Starry Night Vincent van Gogh

Is this the vision that propelled Vincent van Gogh to paint his masterwork Starry Night while restrained in an Asylum at Saint-Remy? His brilliant mind grasped two truths and translated their conflicting magnificence onto his canvas. For van Gogh, there seems to be no starry night without solid ground. Firm mountains frame the spinning wonder of unknowable stars. Is it that truth as well as his fabulous brush strokes that draw us to this painting?

Did van Gogh capture an internal landscape as well as an external one?

This is a paradox. Was he showing us that while we push against our boundaries and rebel against any constriction, we also revel in boundedness? At night, with the endless sky yawning above, we yearn for David’s boundaries in pleasant places, the swaddling of God’s love and care. Stars are frighteningly beautiful because from solid ground they call us to recognize something or someone hidden in that speckled dome. Like the swooping question mark in the sky of van Gogh’s Starry Night, the stars call us to question our self-sufficiency our trajectory. In our saner moments stars let us see God has indeed drawn the boundaries in pleasant places.

Strayy Night (9 of 10)

Pleasant Boundaries PC Eugene Scott

P.S. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, those in the U.S. anyway. Obviously, I am thankful you took your time to read this. Do you have a time when the sky–or nature–spoke to you the way it seemed to with David and van Gogh? Tell us about it.

Categories: Art, belonging, creation, Eugene C. Scott, mystery, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

I’m Free: Reminiscing on Veteran’s Day

1972 Bruce and Eugene Flower Children

1972 Bruce and Eugene Flower Children

In 1975, I was stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. My friend “Toast” was a short-timer and couldn’t wait to be discharged and get back to Wisconsin. Toast played the guitar (sort of) and dreamed of buying an electric guitar, a pig-nose amp, and playing “I’m Free” by The Who as he marched down the gangplank on the day of his discharge. All of us sailors thought it was a fantastic idea.

Yesterday I heard a radio station play “I’m Free” as a tribute to Veterans. I’ve heard the song before and remembered Toast. But yesterday it caught me off guard. Back in ’75 we thought of the song and Toast’s crazy dream in terms of our personal freedom, freedom from the man, the Navy. The military and service people were hated after Viet Nam. Heck, we didn’t even appreciate ourselves. Few of us thought of freedom as something we provided for our friends, family, and country through our service. But we did. Thanks, fellow Vets. I appreciate you and freedom better now.

June 1974 Boot Camp

June 1974 Boot Camp

Editors note: I posted this on my Facebook page and received such a strong response I thought I might share it with you all as well.

Categories: authenticity, belonging, friends, Veteran | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Epic Wedding or Thirty-five Years of Better and Worse

Wedding on Vail Mountain

Wedding on Vail Mountain

Being a pastor who has officiated over 400 weddings, I know weddings have grown into epic events, sometimes costing tens of thousands of dollars. Remember “Franc” in Father of the Bride? A caricature for sure, but I’ve met her (the wedding coordinator) and that wedding was cheap compared to a couple I’ve been ignored during.

In these epic weddings, “the day of” is sometimes fretted over more than a thousand days of marriage. I feel a sermon coming so . . . let’s move on.

This was not so for Dee Dee and me. Our wedding day was—um—shall I say—far from epic. Unless a comedy of errors counts as epic. And unless epic can be had for around five hundred bucks. And unless epic can be defined by—well—see for yourself:

Dee Dee Dressed to Kill

Dee Dee Dressed to Kill

  • Our pre-marital counselor told me I was too immature and he was going to recommend the pastor not marry us. I almost punched him but that would prove his point.
  • Maybe this is why the pastor wandered in late and forgot the words to The Lord’s Prayer.
  • It snowed the night before. We were having an outdoor reception.
  • I looked like a Bee Gee wanna be in my tux (see the pic).
  • Our “photographer” was a “family friend.”
  • Dee Dee’s mom’s oven broke while preparing the food for the reception.
  • People showed up at Dee Dee’s mom and dad’s house before we were done taking pictures and began drinking punch concentrate. And there was no food.
  • Eugene Dressed to Stay Alive

    Eugene Dressed to Stay Alive

    According to a family tradition I knew nothing about, my Croatian uncle kidnapped Dee Dee to raise money for our honeymoon. Uncle Pete kept Dee Dee until many people left the reception and she missed most of it. And he only raised $50.

  • During the time Dee Dee was gone, my groomsmen decided to console me by giving me “the good punch” and I lost track of time, so to speak.
  • I’ve not seen those groomsmen since my wedding day.
  • Almost everyone was gone when we finally cut the cake.
  • We missed all the food Dee Dee and her sister and mother  prepared and arrived at our honeymoon hotel starving. Room service was closed and so we had our first meal as a married couple at Denny’s (Dee Dee’s favorite restaurant, not) surrounded by drunks.
  • My only vehicle was a vintage (read rusty, dog-tracking, oil-sucking, smoke-belching) ’64 GMC pick-up.
  • I had to borrow my father-in-law’s Pontiac for the get away car. Our friends used shaving cream to decorate the car and it ate the paint off, leaving “just married” etched on the hood.

    The Ride

    The Ride

But none of the above is Dee Dee’s fault. She tried to avoid the whole thing. She rejected my proposals twice before finally seeing the light.

Still it’s been one of our favorite stories. And as imperfect as our wedding day was, our marriage has been—not perfect, but an adventure neither one of us would have missed for the world. Never-the-less we decided it was about time to hold a do-over. Last June we renewed our marriage vows 35 years after our epic wedding experience.

Renewing Our Vows Kathleen Peachey Photography

Renewing Our Vows Kathleen Peachey Photography

We asked friends and family who have walked with us through our 35 year adventure to celebrate with us. It was epic. And beautiful. And without nearly as many faux pas.

As a matter of fact, it taught me what marriage is really about. As Dee Dee repeated her vows, the gravity of her words and the God-given depth of her love bore into my heart. I realized she has embodied those words. For better or worse.

You see, she has not only put up with me dreaming and moving and running and stumbling and messing up, she has loved me.

It’s ironic how you don’t see how true some things are until you see them in the light of time. I was too young—and immature—to know the meaning of our vows back then.

35 Years of Growing Together Kathleen Peachey Photography

35 Years of Growing Together
Kathleen Peachey Photography

But this last summer I learned that God’s love can always make our worse better, our poorer richer, and our less than epic wedding into a marriage adventure of a life-time.

P.S. This post came out of reflections on the word “love” in our daily photo-a-day Lent project @the_neighborhood_church #lentgallery on Instagram. Check it out at and join us.

Categories: belonging, Christianity, Community, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, God, Marriage | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Lent: Blinded to God in Daily Life

A list of 47 words for our photo-a-day during Lent

A list of 47 words for our photo-a-day during Lent

After Jesus performs a miracle by feeding over 4,000 people with what amounts to half a dozen Big Macs, the disciples are no closer to becoming believers. He says, “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” Mark 8:18

I can’t say if that describes you. But it certainly is my story. I simply fail to see all the grand and glorious grace of God in my daily life and world. Sometimes I’m distracted, sometimes angry, sometimes tired, sometimes busy, most times full of myself. I’m blinded to God in my daily life.

That is why I’ve enjoyed and been challenged by my church’s photo-a-day devotional (@the_neighborhood_church #lentgallery) on Instagram. Each day those of us participating have been challenged to take a picture somehow linked, literally or poetically, to that day’s Lenten word.

A collage of images of the word broken

A collage of images of the word broken

The project has opened my eyes! I find myself looking for God and his touch (not that I can get God to stand still long enough to pose for my camera). I am seeing life in new light. I am more aware, more thoughtful. I find myself believing that God is present and may even pull off some minor miracle to help my unbelief.

And for me that’s what Lent is about, not giving up chocolate, or TV, or radio. But rather engaging in a pursuit of the God who wants to be found. The God who loved us so desperately that he placed his Son on a cross for all to see.

It’s not to late to join us. Grab a camera, cell phone, or even simply watch what others are posting. And may God open the eyes of us all.

P.S. I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted on Living Spiritually. I hope not all of you have abandoned this blog. As you may know, I’ve been devoting all my writing time to my novel. I have finished it and now have moved into the stage of finding it a home for publication. I will keep you posted. Also I am going to post some of the #lentgallery photos here. Let me know what you think.

Categories: Art, Christianity, creation, Lent | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Putting a Face on God: The Most Important Face You’ll Ever See

In the Academy Award nominated movie “Nebraska” Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is losing what little of himself is left via dementia, or via a life and a brain damaged by alcoholism. He receives a clearing house letter that convinces him he has won one million dollars. All he has to do, he believes, is get from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his prize. The trouble is he can barely walk much less drive. That and he hasn’t really won anything.

Bruce Dern as Woody Grant

Bruce Dern as Woody Grant

His youngest son, David (Will Forte), however, agrees to take him to Lincoln, if only to shut the old man up, prove to him he is not a millionaire, and—maybe—spend a little time with his mentally disappearing father.

Along the way they stop in Hawthorne, South Dakota where Woody was born and grew up. Also, along the way David learns more about who his dad really is, both a miserable failure and a man with a gigantic heart.

In one scene Woody staggers out of a bar with David following. Woody just told his long-lost friends he is going to be a millionaire.

“Did you see their faces? Did you see their faces?” Woody asks amazed.

Suddenly the almost gone Woody is alive. It’s as if Woody remained a good-for nothing-drunk until the proud looks on the faces of his friends lifted him out his wasted life and proved, finally, that Woody Grant is somebody.

We’ve all had Woody’s experience of being affirmed or destroyed by the looks on the faces of those around us. If looks could kill, as a preacher, I would have died several painful deaths. Once, while preaching, I had an 103 degree temperature and kept saying the same non-sensical thing over and over again. It’s a good thing I was too bleary-eyed to see the looks on the faces of the congregation.

Link Enjoying Summer

Link Enjoying Summer

God seems to have given us an eye, literally, that seeks approval or disapproval in the faces of others. Scientists call this facial processing. New

Addi's Fun Face

Addi’s Fun Face

born infants’ eyes track their parents’ faces in a pattern that seems to give them clues about the world they were just launched into. And within days newborns begin to mimic their parents’ expressions. Parents learn just as quickly to mask any facial response to their child’s many near death encounters, else the child actually die of hyperventilating while crying.

But do these faces we put so much stock in reflect reality?

Sometimes.

But often not. For example, single guys are perpetually and particularly bad at female facial processing. This may be why they remain single.

But we can all remember times when we misread facial clues. Sometimes these misreadings have lifelong ramifications. I remember my dad’s face being blank in response to me. And I interpreted that as lack of interest and worse lack of love. Because he died when I was eleven, it has been hard to go back and correct that misperception. So, I’ve looked for love elsewhere. Thank God, I found it.

Giving God a face maybe one of the best of the many reasons God became flesh in Jesus.

The Woman Caught in Adultery by David Hayward

The Woman Caught in Adultery by David Hayward

Remember that sad story in the Gospel of John about a woman who has been caught in the act of having sex with a man she is not married to and is dragged in front of Jesus (that kind of sex was a big deal back then and would have called for not only seriously ugly facial processing but stoning)?

Jesus nonchalantly kneels down and draws in the dirt.

“Go ahead and kill her,” he says. “If you too are without sin.”

Slowly her ugly faced accusers sneak away.

“Where are those who condemn you?” The woman doesn’t know.

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Here’s the beautiful thing I’ve seen in this story recently. The passage doesn’t say Jesus looked her in the face or that he had a kind look on his face. But I can’t imagine it any other way.

John 8

John 8

Such kind, firm, life-giving words cannot come from a mouth formed in a scowl. Nor scorching eyes or knit brow. We can all accurately imagine what her accusers’ faces looked like and how Jesus’ face contrasted their withering hate and disapproval.

She could well have said, “Did you see the look on his face?”

And maybe that, along with Jesus’ words, and, of course, his death and resurrection, are what transformed her and allowed her to become who she really was: go and get false love from sex and men’s faces no more.

Diogo Morgado as Jesus in the new “Son of God.”

Diogo Morgado as Jesus in the new “Son of God.”

The question for us is the same as the one Jesus asked this long ago prostitute. “Where are the faces of those who condemn you?” Like the woman, when we focus on his face instead of the myriad of our accusers, we see love and forgiveness, not condemnation. We see his honest omniscient, open face and hear him say, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. Look no more at faces beside mine”

Categories: Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Jesus, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

105 Years Late: A Review of G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”

Searching for Truth or England

Searching for Truth or England

Chesterton begins his brilliant book on how he came to believe Christianity is true with a humorous parable about an English man who sets out by yacht to discover a new world and, through a slight miscalculation, lands back in England, believing he has discovered “a new island in the south seas.” Such a man we would call a fool, he insists.

Later, with a turn and honesty characteristic of the book, Chesterton writes, “I am [that] man who, with the utmost daring, discovered what had been discovered before.” Of course Chesterton is not speaking of a new world here but of old beliefs he names “Orthodoxy.” What Chesterton is getting at is that in his search for new truth, he discovered an 1800 year-old story that answered his hardest questions and deepest doubts.

Chesterton continues, “I am the fool of this story and no rebel can hurl me from my throne.”

But I beg to differ. If I cannot cast him down, I can at least stand shaking beside him. Chesterton’s story is mine. I too have acted the fool believing what I am learning has just magically appeared on my library shelf bound in first edition beauty.

For example, over the last several years I had come to believe I discovered the Trinity, God Three in One, is not best understood by metaphors using eggs that are three in one, yolks, whites, and shells, nor water which is able to be gas, solid, and liquid but rather that God in his trinitarian Being is relational, an eternal expression of community. It is not a metaphor but a reality. Being created in God’s image, humans are communitarian beings too. Why do humans only live and thrive together? Chesterton asks. Because the Trinity is “society,” not meaning high society or culture but togetherness.

 G.K. Chesterton by Mills

G.K. Chesterton by Mills

Further I was stunned and delighted to discover that long before giants such as Eugene H. Peterson, Madeline L’Engle, Donald Miller, and even midgets like myself, recently came to talk about life as story, Chesterton did so. Why does man have free will? he wonders. Because a story is not a story without a choice, the inciting incident. And every choice is in itself a story.

But Chesterton and I are not alone in this foolish re-discovery of old truth. It is the story of us all. And Chesterton tells his–of how he came to believe–in such poetic, fun, witty, honest, and challenging images, ideas, and language that many, if not all, of us can relate and join him on his yacht of discovery. Fools all.

The story of the yacht man is not just one of foolishness, however. For Chesterton it illustrates the enigma of humans yearning to set sail and return home in the same breath. One of the beautiful truths Christianity showed Chesterton is that it holds us “astonished” and “at home” all at the same time. This both/and he calls riddle/answer is the format he uses to address the questions about faith he faced. We need, he says to believe something that is at once “strange and secure,” combining an “idea of wonder and an idea of welcome.” The same rule is necessary in order for one to rebel or follow. All men are born upside-down, he says. Christianity puts us right side up with our feet on the ground. It answers these both/and questions.

But above all, I too am the fool of this story because, though professors, friends, colleagues, and even enemies have raved about this marvelous book, I have only just now discovered “Orthodoxy,” a mere 105 years after its publication. I am sorry for that.

Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy

But “Orthodoxy” did not simply let me explore old truths as if new. It inspired me as a writer. Oh, to turn a phrase as does Chesterton and see the words weeping or laughing or cajoling as they dance on the page. To write such, I might be able to say, “It is finished.”

For me reading Chesterton’s true, fearless, poetic, and rhythmic prose is like watching that rare sunset containing all the life and colors of a day drop below my beloved snow-capped Rocky Mountains. I’ve seen the words before, but not like this.

Listen to his last paragraph:

“The tremendous figure [Jesus], which fills the gospels, towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers whoever thought themselves tall.

“His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed his tears. He showed them plainly on his open face. . . .

“Yet he concealed something.

“Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained his anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the temple. . . .

“Yet he restrained something.

“I say it with reverence. There was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something he hid from all men when he went up a mountain to pray. There was something that he covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth.

“And I have sometimes fancied that it was his mirth.”

As I read that last sentence and smiled, my wife Dee Dee walked up to me.

“Enjoying yourself?”

Ironic, that at that moment, I apparently could not contain mine.

Categories: Art, Books, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Literature, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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