authenticity

Finding and Forgiving Dad

DSC_0038This year I’ve lived forty-nine years beyond my dad’s death. Ironic. He would have turned forty-nine the year he died. Dad passed several days before Father’s Day, 1968. I’ve missed him. Whether I wanted to or not. But he’s been with me every day since, in one way or another. Sometimes a ghost, sometimes a presence, sometimes an ache.

Right after his heart attack, he stayed with us mostly as a ghost. Our mangy dog Pug, carried Dad’s slipper around until it disintegrated. Slept with it in his dog bed. My mom sat at the dining room table, smoking, drinking coffee, in her robe, a ghost herself.

I’d wake in the morning and Dad would have haunted my dreams. Maybe I’d have dreamed about us stringing a barbed wire fence at the horse pasture on property owned by the company he worked for that was then called Martin Marietta. He built Titan rockets.

“Watch where you’re walkin’. You’re so skinny you’ll fall in one of those groundhog holes and I’ll never find you. Or a rattlesnake will bite you.”

I still walk looking at the ground.

Or we were in the garage fixing a car. Dad’d be bent under the hood, knuckles bloodied, droplight glaring on his wrench. I’d be sitting on the concrete floor with an oil pan full of gasoline between my legs, wire brushing bolts or casings.

“Why do I need to clean them?” I’d whine holding my greasy, burning hands out primly.

“You can’t put them back on dirty,” he’d say. “You’re going to grow up and sit behind a desk.”

I did just that. I didn’t realize he was teaching me how to work. He probably didn’t either.

After these dreams, I’d jump out of bed hoping his heart attack had been a nightmare. That he’d be upstairs smoking his Winstons and drinking Folgers. He never was.

But his ghost wafted everywhere. The garage was scattered with his mechanic’s tools, at least the ones my uncles hadn’t permanently borrowed. His rodeo belt buckles hung in the closet. His horseman trophies perched on the dresser. In secret, I’d dig through a cardboard box fingering his Social Security Card, his bolo ties, broken watches, and coal miner lanterns. I still have some of them.

But as a family, we rarely talked about him or his death. My mom sold his Chevy truck and the camper, and worst of all, our Quarter horse, Ginger. She had to. Dad died without life insurance. Still, it was as if to say, “We’re done. We’re moving on.”

We weren’t and we didn’t.

Because our strategy for grief—if you can call it that—was to ignore his death and then when that didn’t deaden the pain, pretend we were better off without him. I was never very good at either of those strategies. But I tried.

Dad was a man of his time, tough. Lord of the house. He disciplined with his belt. And maybe worse with my older sister. So there was reason to speak ill of the dead. Possibly we wouldn’t miss him so much if we painted him with dark colors. When we mentioned him, it was as if he’d run off with another woman rather than died of a massive heart attack.

HCScottHCSCOTT (1 of 8)HCSCOTT (3 of 8)HCSCOTT (8 of 8)I remember when I was about fourteen, brushing my long hippie hair behind my ears, smoking a Camel. “It’s a good thing my dad’s not here. He’d hate my hair,” I said, as if “letting my freak flag fly” was reason to not miss your dead father. Then I’d tell the story about my dad and his friend, the owner of a local Standard filling station, standing in the door of the garage making fun of a hippie walking past on the street.

“Lazy, cowardly hippies,” I remember him saying with his Winston hanging from his clean-shaven lip. Dad served in the Army Air Corp in WWII. But I didn’t remember that then.

This cloaked grief wore me out. When I was sixteen, I drove alone over to his grave in Fort Logan National Cemetery. I stared down at his headstone, sobbing. Slowly, I mastered myself and told him, “These are the last tears. I’m done. You left me. I’m leaving you and I’m not coming back.”

I believed my new-found relationship with Jesus fixed my brokenness and banished Dad’s ghost. Released from the past, I tucked my grief in a different dark pocket, climbed in my truck, and drove away.

The trouble with denial and hiding from pain is it works just well enough. Even though I now belonged to the One who conquered death, loss rumbled inside me like molten rock. I became an emotional volcano.

Jesus did give me a future, though. I married Dee Dee and got busy building a life. Dee Dee opened doors to a life I never dreamed of. We bought a house. We made life-long friends. We decided I should go to college. We had kids. I didn’t know yet that that future included Jesus healing my past.

That retroactive healing began when my dad returned, not as a ghost but as a presence. I was kneeling in the bathroom, getting our toddlers ready for a bath before bed.

“Skin the rabbit,” I said, pulling the shirt up and over the head and off one of their tiny bodies.

Where’d that come from? I thought. Tears burned my eyes. I remembered. It was a hunting idiom and my dad had said it every time he prepared me for a bath and bed. What? He gave me baths and not just belts. A man in the 1950s and 60s who took care of his kids? That didn’t fit my narrative of a cold hard loveless father. I wiped the tears away. Pushed it back down.

But the gate had opened.

“Pull my finger,” I teased my kids just as I remembered Dad teased me.

The memories of the times building fences, wrangling horses, straightening nails, cleaning car parts, sweeping the garage, mowing the lawn—and even being put to bed—erupted and became more than molten nightmares. They became memories of an imperfect father passing on his life and love the only way he knew how.

At age thirty, on Memorial Day, I went back to Fort Logan, believing forgiveness can stretch into the past and beyond the grave. Slowly I had become not only a father but now a son.

A few years later, after I’d become a pastor and “sat behind a desk” as Dad predicted, I was walking back to the office after lunch. I was dressed in a white shirt, dark slacks, and a tie. It was in Illinois and hot. I rolled my shirtsleeves up to mid forearm. As I walked by a storefront window, I noticed my reflection. It stole my breath and the remainder of my false dad narrative away.

I saw my dad walking there beside me. Right before his death, he had been promoted from a missile mechanic to a supervisor at Martin Marietta and often wore what I was wearing that day, sleeves rolled up and all.

I had become my dad. And I was glad.

Years later, for Father’s Day, my youngest daughter had me listen to a rap song by Sean Daley (Slug of Atmosphere) about his dad: “Yesterday.”

“Yesterday, was that you

Looked just like you

Strange things my imagination might do

Take a breath reflect on what we’ve been through

Or am I just going crazy cause I miss you?”

Dad’s presence now permeated my life. And through my grief, once God cracked open the vault, I learned how to reinterpret my life story. Through the loss of my dad, I found my Father. And through becoming the father of my children, I found my dad.

I miss Dad more than ever now that I know the truth about him a bit better.

“You got your love of rivers from your dad,” my mom told me by way of apology the year before she died. Forty-nine years after his death, I’ve learned something else. Jesus most often heals by telling us the truth, even when it is a hard truth. Even when it hurts.CCI13062014

Categories: authenticity, belonging, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, grief, Living Spiritually | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 11 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

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

What C. S. Lewis Might Say About the Trayvon Martin Coverage

Why has the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman ruling grabbed America by the throat and not let go?

  • Because a young black man lost his life.
  • Because a young hispanic man has had his nearly destroyed.
  • Because the media need to manufacture crises to make money.
  • Because it shows prejudice (on both sides) is still alive and well and needs to be addressed, continually.
  • Because it is a tragic story filled with grief.
  • Because depending on your opinion, it may or may not represent a miscarriage of justice.
  • Because we have a great human ability to care about tragedy and suffering.

Yes, and . . .CS Lewis

  • Because we too often prefer to express our concern about tragedy and suffering from a distance.

C.S. Lewis makes this last point after attempting to answer the theological question, “What about the people in Africa who may never hear about Jesus?” Though a valid question, Lewis wonders how often we pose it to move the debate away from our own hearts and lives.

In other words, it’s safe to be passionate and outraged (on both sides) about the Martin/Zimmerman tragedy because we don’t really have to do anything about it. We don’t have to look our actual neighbors in the eye and care or stop judging.

This distance is an old and common dodge. A slick young lawyer tried it when Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.

“Who’s my neighbor?” the lawyer deflects, putting that safe distance between him and his guilt and the needy.

“You are,” Jesus answers. To whomever is near you.

P.S. Whenever I write about a current hot topic or name drop in my blog, I feel sleazy and cheap. So, please, my friends, Jesus, and the late Mr. Lewis, forgive the piling on and name dropping.

Categories: authenticity, Bible, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, grace, Jesus, Living Spiritually, TV | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Good News of Les Mis

The Grace Board

The Grace Board by Eugene and Dee Dee Scott. Photo by Eugene C Scott

A few months ago I saw a thought-provoking work of art called “Before I die I want to.”  It’s an artistic bucket-list.  As it was designed to, it made me rethink what is important to me.  I wound up thinking about who I want to spend time with–not what I want to do–before I die.  I wrote a blog about it you can read by clicking here.  As art and an image conveying an idea, it stuck in my head and heart like a splinter.  I’m glad for that.

But it also made me realize very little of what we accomplish in life provides a real, lasting feeling or knowledge of worth that so many of us long for.  To paraphrase that old folk tune “My Bucket List’s Got a Hole in It.”  We check off item after item after item after item endlessly adding new items hoping that the next one will fulfill.  But still we just don’t feel right or good or worthy.  Like puppets, we live with strings attached, pulling or being pulled by our desire to be loved unconditionally.

“I love you,” we say, hoping for a like response.

“I’ll help,” we offer, dying for someone to recognize how important we are.

“Look at what I did,” we shout like a child on a swing for the first time.

How different could our bucket-lists be if we knew we were loved, important, watched over by a God who does love us unconditionally, who loves us whether we deserve it, earn it, want it, or even love back?

In Victor Hugo’s novel “Les Misérables” Jean Valjean receives this kind of gift, a gift of grace.  Caught stealing the Bishop’s silver and facing, once again, life in a tortuous prison, Jean Valjean is “dejected” and “overwhelmed.”

Then the Bishop gives him a second chance.  “Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs.”

Thus freed Jean Valjean cannot believe, because he has done nothing to deserve this.  Then the Bishop says, “Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man.”

Jean Valjean had made no such promise.  But the truth that Hugo proclaims here is that when we receive unconditional love and grace it changes us.  It frees us.  Cuts the strings.  And we must be different.  We can be different!

Because of the Bishop’s grace, Jean Valjean is able to become a new person, start a new life, live under difficult circumstance, run a factory, adopt an orphan, and inspire heroism.  That’s quite a bucket-list.  What are you able to do because of God’s grace?

Imagine then, who each of us could be and what we each of us could do if we received and believed in God’s grace the way Jean Valjean receives and believes in the Bishop’s.  It would matter not that the bucket’s got a hole because God has an endless supply.  And maybe the hole is part of the point.  We let God’s grace and love and forgiveness and eternity out our holes and into the lives of others while God fills us back up.

Oh, that is how I want to live.

So, inspired by “Before I die,” “Les Misérables,” and mostly by the grace of God I have received, I made “The Grace Board.” We set it up in church and wrote what all of us are now able to do because of the grace of God.

The Grace Board

The Grace Board by Eugene and Dee Dee Scott. Photo by Eugene C Scott

Now it’s your turn.  In the comment section finish the sentence “Because of the grace of God, I am able to . . .”

Categories: Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

God Never Wastes Pain

Scott Family circa 1960

June 13, 1968 was one of those summer nights both forgettable and unforgettable.  The only reason I remember the actual date is because it’s on the death certificate.  That evening I do remember driving over to my oldest sister’s apartment in our turquoise Ford Galaxy.  We looked like a typical 1960s family.  My dad behind the wheel and wearing close-cut hair and those dark rimmed glasses that are now back in style.  Mom sat shotgun, though I would not have called it that then.  My other sister, older too, and my younger brother and I rode unbuckled in the back seat.  We probably fought over who had to ride the hump.  There was one of those funny, gimmicky songs on the AM radio.  We sang along.

My dad dropped us off.  I don’t remember saying anything to him.  He drove off to his best friend Clyde’s house to work on cars.  I never saw dad again, save several days later at his funeral.

My father’s sudden death from a heart attack pulled the world out from under me and left me hanging in a dark, starless void of emotional space that–still today–colors who I am.

1964_Ford_Galaxie500-2Door_Hardtop-oct3c

Not our Galaxy

During Lent we are exploring how God is made strong in our weaknesses.  The main problem with this concept, finding God’s strength in human weakness, is that one then has to first face ones weakness.  Me?  I have many, mostly stemming from June 13.

Weakness:

As I wrote in my blog “Jennifer Aniston and Eugene Scott Reflect on the Fatherlessness Epidemic,” I’ve lived many of the statistics on what growing up without a father does to boys.  I’ve wrestled with abandonment, trust, self-worth, failure, co-dependency, and more.

Strength:

Can God fill such weakness with strength?  God is an expert at such things.  In my frenzied search for belonging and love, I dared call out to the God I knew nothing about and barely believed in.

The funny thing is God answered.  “I will be a Father who will never leave you,” he promised.  God has kept that promise.  And based on God’s faithfulness, I was eventually able to leap into being a father myself.  A flawed one, but one who is learning to trust God and pass that faith on to his own children.

God also turned fatherlessness and broken past into an aching desire to help others.  You might call it a redeemed co-dependency.

I remember being at a training meeting for youth workers.  The speaker asked each of us to stand  if anything from a list he was going to read pertained to us.  “Past drug addiction,” he said.   I stood with many others.  “Divorced parents.”  More stood.  “Lost a parent.”  A tear pooled in my eye.  “High school drop out.”  I was already standing.  “Abuse.”

He continued listing off areas of brokenness and loss.  “Look around you,” he said at the end of his list.  Nearly all 1500 of us were standing.

“Do you think it’s a coincidence that most of us here have painful backgrounds and lives?   No!”  Then he listed the statistics of how many kids were just like us.  “God used your pain to call you into youth work,” he continued.  “That is why you care so much for those kids no one else seems to.  And why they relate to you so well.”

A collective shiver went through us.  We had seen redemption.

Henri Nouwen calls this serving with a limp, from the story of Jacob having his hip broken while wrestling with God.

Years later, when I was going through another period of wrestling with God, a friend wrote and told me, “God never wastes pain.”

And it’s true.  Now when I remember June 13, 1968, there is still sadness and grief.  I miss my dad.  He would love my children.  And he would laugh that I did, as he predicted, wind up behind a desk.  But that weakness, that pain, has not been wasted.  God has filled it with his strength.

And for that I am grateful.

P.S. This blog was also published at tnc3.org/pascha-blog/

Categories: authenticity, belonging, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God Sightings, healing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

The Wonder in Weakness

Aspen Tree Art photo by Eugene C Scott

“Wrap your arms around yourself or someone you love today,” Pastor Les Avery used to say at the end of every St. James Presbyterian worship service, “because you never know what kind of pain lies just beneath the surface in each of us.”

This last week that phrase came to mind over and again as I (along with a dozen others) delved deep into the lives of 13 couples who were considering becoming church planters.  This assessment went beyond determining preaching skill and church leadership.  These couples tentatively allowed us to explore their lives, see their weaknesses.

What I saw humbled and hurt.  Each had a story of crushing pain.  As I read their dossiers and listened to their stories, I ached.  They told of serious struggles,doubts, and pain.  On the surface each looked shiny as a new penny.  Called by God and gifted.  But pain simmered underneath.

During this time, I read from Eugene H. Peterson’s challenging book, “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places.”  “Wonder is natural and spontaneous to us all,” he writes.  “When we were children we were in a constant state of wonder–the world was new, tumbling in on us in profusion.  We staggered through each day fondling, looking, tasting.”

I gasped.  I wanted, needed that kind of wonder.  How was I going to find wonder locked inside a commercial grade hotel listening to the tarnished hopes and dreams of extremely ordinary people?  Doesn’t wonder only come in burning sunsets, roaring tides, priceless artwork, and tender newborns?

Then I saw it.  The wonder of it all.  Wonder comes in people too, especially broken people.

First of all, here were these people, like me, with every reason to give it up and become grave-diggers.  Dealing in death not life.  But they had walked out of the cemetery and were still dreaming, still asking God for something more.  It was incredible, their hope.  It was wonderful.

Picture by Brendan Scott

Second, I saw myself in them.  I realized my tarnished dossier looks very much like theirs.  And worse.  Loss, fear, failure, trauma, health problems.  If their pain made them unfit, mine did too.  Yet, I’ve logged 30 plus years in this stuff called ministry.  And 56 in life.  And I’m even a church planter.

The wonder of it all is that I should not be who I am, have done what I have done, be in the wonderful place I’m in.

Yet, I am.  How?  Through my pain and weakness.  That’s what I saw in those couples.  I was once there with too much against me, with too many flaws, too many weaknesses and failures to add up to any good.  Still am.  Yet God continues to use me.  How was it that I was assessing and assuring them?  By God’s grace.

The wonder in weakness is this: “But he [Jesus] said to me [Paul], ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

And with that reminder, Christ himself wrapped his arms around me because he knows my pain and flaws and his grace is enough.

Categories: Art, authenticity, Church Planting, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, grace, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Antidote to Fear

Famously President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his “First Inaugural Address” on March 4, 1933, said, “. . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It sounds good, but is it true?

Many may agree there is a “terror which paralyzes” but would disagree that it is “nameless, unreasoning” or “unjustified.”  The Phobia List alone names 530 different terrors which paralyze.  Some seem unjustified–and even silly–such as Caligynephobia, a fear of beautiful women, or Linonophobia, a fear of string, or Logophobia, a fear of words.

Few fears are unnamed–and for those who hold them–unreasoning.  Achluophobia, a fear of darkness (#4 on Top Ten Fears see graphic below), and Acrophobia, a fear of heights (#3) are very reasonable.  I must admit, however, that Apeirophobia, a fear of infinity, Homilophobia, a fear of sermons, and Phobophobia, a fear of phobias are simply weird.Top Ten Fears

Taken literally then, Roosevelt may be right.  Fear itself is the culprit.  Fear is so much a part of our lives it has become a figure of speech.  “I’m afraid you’re wrong,” or “I’m afraid so,” we often say.

More than that, fear, as the proliferation of phobias attests, is a foundational emotion in our daily existence.

Fear drives both sides of the raging gun-control debate.  One side owning guns to foster safety; the other banning guns to foster safety.

The base emotion behind worry is fear.  “Will I still have my job tomorrow?”  “Will she still love me, when she finds out what I’m really like?”

And fear is a mighty motivator.  Most political ads of this past poisonous political season tried to motivate us through fear of America failing.  This is the fight of the famous fight or flight response.

Fear also drives us into deep denial.  Using the same example as above, many stuck their heads in the sand in response to the elections.  The infamous flight response.

But you know, don’t you, I’m not speaking of rational fear.  The car racing toward us.  The dark alley with a person skulking.  No, I am referring to that low-grade fever many of us are shuffling around with.  Generalized, unactualized fear.  Fear of things that may never happen or that have no answer.  The “what if” fear.  What if there is no God?  What if there is?  What if I said the wrong thing?  What if I didn’t say enough?  What if I’m too skinny, fat, short, tall, ugly, beautiful, smart, stupid, white, black, rich, poor, normal, abnormal?  Need I go on?

We may only have fear to fear.  But it is a powerful foe.  And it dominates our daily landscape.

I would wager that most of us make umpteen daily decisions based on fear.  And most of them, then, are bad decisions.  As Rosevelt said fear paralyzes or shifts us into reverse.  And it certainly prevents us from living spiritually.

What is it you are afraid of?

Personally I don’t fear death (#6) or disease much at all.  They seem largely out of my control, like being a passenger on an airplane.  I may dread a crash (#1), but even if I were to push the pilot out of his seat and take control, I would not do anything but make matters worse.  So, I sit back and enjoy the ride, bumpy or not.  (This does not mean, however, I don’t pursue healthy living)

My fear?  Disappointing people (Rejection #8), especially those I love or respect.  Not only do I feel (falsely probably) that I am in control of this but am responsible for it.  And my biggest fear is disappointing God.  At least occasionally I can bluff people into believing I’m more than I know I am.  Not God.  God sees through to the core.  Decision making based on either of those fears has been disastrous for me.

In short, I’m afraid of being judged, being deemed unworthy and rejected by others and God.  But God pushes back against this fear.  My “perfect love banishes fear,” God promises.  What does this love look like?  “Forgive them for they do not know what they do,” Jesus asked the Father for those who murdered him.  It looks like Jesus.  Being open to Jesus’ unconditional, perfect love allows us to live fearlessly.

But I’m afraid I don’t believe it most times.  And there lies the antidote to fear.  Not courage.  Not bravado.  Not control.  Not safety.  Faith.

Faith is at the heart of living spiritually.  Fear then is its enemy.  In coming blogs on The Year of Living Spiritually we will explore the role fear plays in destroying living spiritually and the role faith plays in destroying fear.

Maybe the phobia most of us have is one I coined: Fidephobia, a fear of faith.

But God is working on the antidote.

Categories: authenticity, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, Fear Factor, God, God Sightings, Jesus, Living Spiritually | Tags: , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Looking Back on the Year of Living Spiritually

Life is like a mountain

Life is like a mountain

The rugged 12,556 foot peak of New York Mountain sported a long cornice of snow still hanging from its barren ridge.  I was alone and miles from nowhere, as the old Cat Stevens song goes.  If I fell . . . I didn’t finish the thought.  I needed to climb over the peak and hike down the other side to reach my truck.  Part way back from a brief backpacking trip to New York Lake in White River National Forest, I had reached an impasse.  The trail disappeared before me about halfway up the face.  I thought this is where I descended a couple of days before.  But now it looked different, much steeper.  Impossible.  I searched the face, looking for something familiar, safer.  There was only one cut through the cornice.  My knees were screaming from pounding across several miles of a trackless scree field.  If that was the trail, I was not sure I could climb it, especially with my full pack.

I searched north and south along the peak coming up empty.  I started to scramble up where I thought I remembered coming down.

They say one way to avoid getting lost on a wilderness trail is to turn around–often–and look from whence you’ve come.  I had.  But it’s amazing how different your back-trail looks.  It gives you context.  Establishes bearings.  This is true especially on high, unmarked tundra trails that peter out.  And in life.

For the Year of Living Spiritually it’s time for taking bearings, for context, for looking back.  About a year ago we set out together (some have joined as we traveled) to daily look for the God-created soul in people, places, things, and life in general.  Looking back, what is it we saw?  I can only speak for myself.

People

While expecting God to show up only in flaming sunsets, if not burning bushes, I noticed God in people.  As I wrote in my January 3, 2012 post, “Writer, pastor Eugene H. Peterson says people are God’s creation too and we can see God in them just as we might a sunset or mountain scape. True enough.”  But I found myself falling back to default and looking for God in obvious places.  With 6 billion people on the planet, looking for God in people ups the possibility for daily God sightings.  Plus, seeing God’s image in others helped me judge less and love more.  Funny how that works.

Silence

Instead of giving up some meaningless food product last Lent, I fasted from noise.  I intended to turn off the radio and television for the six weeks of Lent but ended up feasting on this beautiful silence until August.  Football season.  This silence granted me awareness of life flowing around me that exploded my creativity and prayer life.  Listening to the blues, I began to hear biblical themes in that sad, gritty music.  I read more.  I heard God and sometimes listened.

Friendship

My chemical engineer friend Steve and I hiked miles and mountain biked more.  On the hikes especially we discussed politics, diabetes (he’s type 1 and I’m type 2), God and the space-time continuum, movies, apologetics, the best bike pedals, writing, our marriages, story, the ontological argument for the existence of God, the books we are writing, retirement, and sex.  Someone once said we can often see God in the space between us.  I agree, especially when we narrow the space.

May 12, 1979

May 12, 1979

Marriage

Marriage is much maligned.  In certain ways it deserves it.  As a pastor, I’ve observed and called ambulances on many a wrecked marriage.  Dee Dee and I have been steering ours between the lines for 33 years.  We’ve gone off the road a few times.  Still I never imagined how love, friendship, partnership, trust, comfort, and intimacy could grow and change.  Especially through the hard times.  Back then–in 1979–I thought our love was as big and rich as it ever would be.  The Apostle Paul writes, “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”  In my marriage I have experienced this love that surpasses knowledge.

Sacred Space

One cold day I met with a young pastor and an Eastern Orthodox priest in the sanctuary of the Father’s church.  No, this isn’t a joke.  We sat side-by-side, equal but different, on a hard pew surrounded by icons and reminders of how faith is real.  The conversation we had was holy (meaning different from the average conversation) because of where we were.  I’ve had the same good conversation in a brew pub.  In that sacred space, however, I was pushed closer to those men and saw that, while the noisy, relentless gears of culture grind on, often determining the futures of millions, a small conversation with-in a sacred space brings heaven to earth.  I–we–need sacred spaces to shut out the false voices of fear and worry.  We need sanctuary.

The space between is often where God dwells

The space between is often where God dwells

There were more God sightings.

But in looking back, I see, as in my New York Mountain story, that I’ve not finished.  Have you?  Living spiritually takes more than a year.  And seeing where we’ve gone gives hints about where we need to go.  So, whether hanging on the face of a 12,000 foot peak or standing flat-footed, we will go on.

But before we do, turn around a take a look at your back trail.  Get your bearings.  Drop a note here and tell us where you’ve seen God.  Then we’ll move on.

Categories: adventure, authenticity, belonging, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God, God Sightings, Jesus, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Advent: What Are You Waiting For?

Advent Reflection

Christmas Lights Reflected in Water and Moss by Eugene C. Scott

Advent is the word that describes an attitude of anticipation and waiting, recognizing two seemingly competing truths.

Advent is the beginning of a period of time: the four weeks and Sundays before the Christ Mass.  Christians have celebrated Advent for multiply centuries to celebrate that Jesus, a baby born in a manger, brought salvation and heaven down to earth.  The Kingdom is here now.

Advent is also a recognition that, just as we wait to open presents and feast on Christmas Day, we also still wait for the reality of Jesus’ salvation and Kingdom to come fully.

My friend Chloe Hawker wrote a poem, more like a modern prayer, expressing this idea.  Enjoy!

Late December Morning

“Portrait of a late December morning
etched in glass and ice
the air so still that your breath hangs in a frozen fog
suspended until the ringing of the cathedral bells shatter it
and it falls to the ground tinkling like crystals
a December morning so cold
that your nose loses feeling before you even have a chance to cross your threshold
the wind glitters in the trees
collecting crushed leaves like forgotten memories and swirling them around in the
still freeze that wraps itself around the old churches
time stops here
waiting
breath suspended
for the next moment that the world starts to turn again
and breaks itself out of this
December eternity
this December moment
in the late morning
when frost covers the earth in a thin layer of incredulity
and reality forgets itself
as it watches the stars spin about
and the impossible become slowly possible
in the thinning of the veil between worlds that December always brings
you never know what you’ll see this time of year
what you’ll hear
nothing is certain
December whispers that it’s the month of death
but it lies
December is month of waiting
hanging
suspended
outstretched millimeters from touching flesh
mouth open
breathing into what could be a kiss
in one interminable moment
of silence
as the world refuses to turn
refuses to advance to that next moment when
eternity will break into this dimension
shattering all our illusions so instead
the world
waits”

Photo by John Moyer

Photo by John Moyer

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

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