Art

Hitler, Mother Teresa, and Me

Lake Atitlán

The Stepping-Off Place by Brendan Scott

I have this recurring day dream where I’ve died and gone to heaven. 

I’m standing in line, in the clouds, though the footing is firm enough. My hands are sweaty. My heart is playing the kettle drum. I see the gates gleaming.* A line of people stretches out behind me horizon-like into eternity. Just ahead of me stands Adolph Hitler and just behind slumps Jeffery Dahmer.

Not good company, but maybe good placement, I think. I’m a saint compared to these guys.

Just then I hear my name.

“Eugene, Eugene C. Scott.” The angel sings my name like notes off a blues guitar and waves me forward, smiling.

“Here! Here I am!” I shout, flapping my arms, ducking out of line, and running through the gate, leaving Adolph and Jeffery behind.

Then the day dream reverses and darkens.

I’m on the same cloud, in line, heart stuttering, sweat dripping. This time I’m in line between Mother Teresa and Billy Graham. Good company, but bad placement, I think. No saint compared to these two.

I square my shoulders and stand straighter like my mom used to tell me to. But it does no good. I know I’ll never measure up.

I hear a sound like nails on a chalkboard. “Eugene, Eugene C. Scott?” The angel is pointing like the “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.” Away from the streets of gold, I slink.

The dream comes one final time.

The gates rise in the distance. People are scattered about. There are blue patches in the clouds and through them, I see home, my last home. Not wanting to fall through, I move away and bump into someone.

“Sorry,” I mutter. He grabs me. I look. It’s a dark skinned man with a beard.

“Jesus,” I say (not like the cuss word, though, like the name). “You’re not British.”

His face crinkles into a smile.

“What are you doing out here?” I ask, peering at the gates.

Just then the blues guitar plays my name: “Eugene, Eugene C. Scott!”

Jesus pulls me under his arm.

“He’s with me!” he shouts and walks me through the gates.

 

*I realize heaven may or may not be in the clouds and that the streets of gold and gates of pearl are probably metaphors to help us see that what is valued here is building material there. But bear with me.

Categories: Art, belonging, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, grace, Jesus, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 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

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

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

Fathers’ Day Remembered and Redeemed.

Memorial Day 2013On June 17, 1968, we buried my father in Fort Logan National Cemetery. Fathers’ Day after that became only a painful reminder of loss and fatherlessness. But God, the Father, is a Redeemer even of loss so deep.Harold C Scott

In June of 1972 God invited me into his family by offering to be my Father who would not leave or forsake me. Then on March 1, 1982 God made me a father with the birth of Katie. Next came Brendan in February of 1984 and then Emmy in March of 1993. Each of them have shown me who God is as a Father by loving me as their father.

But God was not finished. He brought Addi and Linc along and I became a grandfather. Redemption indeed.

I still miss my dad today, forty-five years after his death. But because God can turn even ashes to beauty, Fathers’ Day is no longer a painful reminder of loss and fatherlessness but a day filled with meaning and love and hope.Redemption

Categories: Art, belonging, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The Promise: Easter as You’ve Never Imagined It

After a year or more of pursuing this vague idea of  living spiritually, God has been calling me into wonder. And not just wondering why or how things are, though that too. I mean an awe, an apprehension and living within mystery. A living out of the Albert Einstein quote, “He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.”

And so as Easter approached, it occurred to me that living spiritually and Easter especially is about wonder, mystery. God, so often doing and being just beyond our ability to fully grasp. Even if we know and believe the facts of Jesus’ resurrection, there is much we cannot explain or understand.

Neal Armstrong said, “Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.” There is mystery and wonder in a once occupied tomb now empty. But the heart of Easter is that we cannot completely understand. And the call of the empty tomb and Jesus alive again is to lean into that mystery and wonder, not control and contain it with anemic explanations, either expressions of faith or unbelief.

The Promise began in this pursuit of wonder and led to a conversation about the hidden wonder of Easter and the question, “Why an empty tomb?” By the end of the conversation, we were wondering what the world would be like if the women returning to Jesus’ tomb had found his body still there.

Thus I rewrote Luke 24:1-12 (If this is sin, God forgive me) to reflect Jesus not fulfilling his promise to rise again. Then I gave the storyboard to a gifted young film-maker, Drew Byerly, who filmed and directed our heresy.

Take a moment to reflect. How would I be different? How would you be different? Assuredly we would not be who we are, we would not be changed. Then listen to Neal Browne read what Luke actually wrote. And then spend a few minutes with me in my Easter sermon exploring the question: “Why an Empty Tomb?”

P.S. I am taking a short Sabbatical and taking time to listen, read, learn, pray, walk, and write (though not for public consumption). I will return to blogging in a couple of weeks.

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

The Perfect Picture of Easter

On a day when we are exposed to pictures of tombs and bloody scenes of the crucifixion while munching Easter eggs, chocolate bunnies, and jelly beans, many of us may experience a serious diseqaulibrium. What is this day really about?

Piney Lake, CO 2012

This picture from my daughter Emmy’s baptism last summer at Piney Lake, CO says it all for me. She was lost and Jesus found her. And I had the honor of baptizing her. She is now more who God made her than ever before. This picture tells the story of us all.

Categories: adventure, Art, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, Excitement, God, God Sightings, happiness, Jesus, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Grey Saturday: Waiting for Communion

Good Friday in downtown Littleton by Eugene C. Scott

Waiting for Communion

The house is silent

Like the hearts of those

Who saw Him hung

And the stone rolled over

In gray morning light

 I remember the last night

We gathered round

A table piled high

With bread and wine

And hope

I sit and wait

For life to stir

His voice to fill the room

And touch my fearful heart

By Eugene C. Scott

A Celtic Prayer of Waiting

Though I am poor…
though I am weak…
though anxious of heart…
tried as I am…
though [the way] may be hidden…
though the night is here…
though you be silent now…

Categories: Art, Christianity, Community, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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