Faith

A Twist on Tolkien: All Who Are Lost Wander

Sassy

Sassy’s World PC Eugene C Scott

Of all the dogs I’ve owned, I loved the one I lost most. She was a black and white Springer Spaniel we named Sasson, Hebrew for joy. I know, I know. We were young and so spiritual and didn’t have kids yet.

We bought her in our first year of marriage. Dee Dee chose her, dark puppy eyes saying, “Pick me, pick me.”

We called her Sassy. And she was. She was arrow quick, sweet, and easy. I’d return home from my construction job and she’d run around my legs and shake with excitement. She learned to sit, heal, come, stay, and all manner of dog tricks so quickly she convinced me I was a dog whisperer.

We took her everywhere. She loved to ride on the wheel well of my white Toyota pickup, catching the wind.

In the summer of 1980, we took her backpacking in the Holy Cross Wilderness. While I reeled in brookies, she stood on the rock next to me trembiling to see what was on the end of the line. She slept in our tent with us.

At the end of the weekend, as we drove down the long dirt road out of the mountains, she perched on her wheel well. Dee Dee and I planned our next trip and were captivated by a world exploding with wildflowers. We stopped for gas in Eagle. That’s when I noticed Sassy was gone. Instantly I knew what had happened. She had fallen out on the twisty, bumpy dirt road. We raced back and searched the entire route. Desperate, we stopped cars and asked if they had seen a black and white Springer.

“Yes,” one driver said. “Right back up there.”

Our hearts soared. We drove along praying, slowly searching the road and the woods. Another car approached and I got out to stop it and ask. They ignored me and drove by. We drove up and down the road growing more frantic and despondent each moment.

Finally, we returned home, silent, guilty. We burst into tears entering our tiny living room with her dog toys scattered about. We placed ads in the Eagle County papers. We waited. We hoped the people in the car that didn’t stop had her. But we never saw Sassy again. Even thirty-seven years later, I miss her and feel guilty for letting her ride the wheel well, for not watching, for losing her.

DogHeaven

Fb.com/ilovemydogfans

This memory came back sharp because of the Facebook meme: “Heaven is a place where all the dogs you’ve ever loved run to greet you.” That thought gave me hope. Heaven will be a place to be reunited. And with more than lost dogs. My mom. My brother.

But it also gave me pause. If I were lost, who would search for me?

I picture myself standing along that dirt road, watching the truck tires throwing dust. I raise my hand but the truck heedlessly turns the corner. I shiver with shock and thrust my hands in my pockets. Soon the dusk rises cold and dim from around my feet. A fading sliver of light clings to the tips of the dark pines. I glance up and down the empty road. I wait. They’ll come back. The silence and aloneness beat together as an ache in my heart. I’m lost.

Life is often like that. More metaphorically than literally, we’re lost.

And we always believe we’ll find ourselves just over the next rise, or in the next relationship, or job, self-help book, or birthday. I turned thirty, forty, and fifty thinking with each birthday: surely now I’ll know who I am and what I’m about. Finally, I’ve arrived!

Arrived where? Now in my sixth decade, I’ve learned that without a fixed point, a north star, there is no finding yourself. In “Meditations in Wall Street,” Henry S. Haskins wrote, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

As inspiring as this oft-misattributed quote may be, God did not design us with an infallible inner compass. It’s as if our inner-Siri tells us to turn north on Main Street, but we don’t know north from a hole in the ground. Even if we deny it, all internal drives find themselves following external maps. Too many of these lead nowhere, at least nowhere good. This is why each new generation sets out to find itself and comes up empty. Self is not something we find, but rather something created and pointed out by God.

John Newton had it right in “Amazing Grace.” “I once was lost, but now am found.” The passive voice in those lyrics speaks volumes. Newton’s internal sense of lostness left him searching until it was confirmed and answered by God. God is the ultimate North.

Thus the Bible describes humans as lost. And worse lost sheep. Jesus especially uses this metaphor. He is the shepherd searching for the one lost sheep. If I were lost, who would search for me? For you?

Though God was not careening down a mountain road and carelessly tossed us out. Rather we jumped. Still, Jesus walks that dusty, lonely dirt road calling our names. Jesus placed a lost and found ad in our newspaper. He weeps for our loss. He has marked your soul with his breath and that lonely heartache you and I feel is for him. He is home. He is North. He is found.

If heaven is the place to be reunited with loved ones, maybe even dogs, then earth is the place Jesus traveled to reunite us with heaven.

Road

Wanderlost PC Eugene C Scott

Tolkien may be right that “Not all those who wander are lost.” But it is just as true that all who are lost wander. And wonder. Where the hell am I? Who am I? Why am I here?

The answer is not within, except when from inside we cry out.

“My God, why have you forsaken me?” Even Jesus felt that lostness.

And God the Father answered. “I Am!” I am with you. Even in death on the cross, even in suffering, even in daily life and periodic drudgery. I am with you. Reach out your hand and take Mine.

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Categories: adventure, belonging, Bible, Christianity, creation, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, 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

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.

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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 of Lent

Good Friday Art Walk, photo by Eugene C Scott

This year I couldn’t wait for Lent.  So I started early.  February 4 to be exact.  I know that sounds akin to being excited about getting fired or wearing shoes two sizes too small.  But last year during Lent I added a measure of silence to my life by fasting from television and radio.

It was delicious.  It was like an extended beach vacation where I basked in time for thinking, reading, praying, hiking, listening, watching, writing poetry and my novel (and this blog), photography, and talking with friends and my family.  And doing nothing.  It was rich.  The richest part was the freedom I gained.

There was no talking head or disembodied radio voice telling me what to buy or which current crisis to worry over.  I was free to think my own thoughts, listen to my own music, invent my own stories.  Little do we know how much ambient thought control we submit ourselves to (but that’s another blog on another day).

I didn’t go back until August when the Denver Broncos once again took the field.  Around seven months.  Even then I watched mainly football.  I mean a guy has priorities.  Fitting it was then that I again took up my mass media fast the day after the Super Bowl.

I couldn’t wait for Lent.  Why wait for a good thing?

It’s been two weeks and I’ve been surprised how easy it’s been.  The first day or two I reached reflexively for the knob on the dash.  And I’ve not even thought of television.  And that’s a little disappointing.  Last year the wrestling match in my mind was brutal.  The skinny guy won but the thought of giving up had me in a half-nelson a couple of times.

And out of that struggle came the insights, the learning.  Now I find myself falling into other patterns.  My mind has chained itself to new salve owners.  Mainly thoughtlessness.  Routine.  Low expectations.

Therein rests the new challenge.

This feast of silence will not be one of being caught by surprise.  I hope to be caught by surprise on purpose.

Photo by Eugene C Scott

I’m going to use the silence to renew wonder in my life.  In “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places,” Eugene H. Peterson writes that as children we “lived in a world of wonders” but that “wonder gets squeezed out of us.”   He goes on to say, “wonder is deep and eternal, that we are part of a creation that is ‘very good.’”

At this point, however, I’m not sure what wonder is.  Do you know?  Let’s look together.  I’ll let you know what I’m seeing and what I’m hearing.  Maybe we can wonder together.

Categories: Art, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God Sightings, Jesus, Lent, Living Spiritually | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Does Fear Build Faith?

1967 stingray bike

A bike like mine

Rumor was kids had died riding their bikes down “Suicide Hill.”  Therefore, all summer a group of us hung out on the knob sitting on our stingrays–not seriously contemplating careening down the hill–but hoping to see some other sucker bite the dust.  All elbows and asses and handlebars flying and crashing in the dirt.  To my disappointment, I’d witnessed no deaths, or even hospitalizations.  Still, I’d never seen any kid, no matter how old or cool, make it all the way down.

Suicide Hill was sheer fear, with a bump halfway down that launched anyone ballsy enough to try it into a near death experience.  At the bottom stood an elm tree stump.  Most kids bailed midair rather than become one with the tree.

Rule was no brakes, no skidding your feet.  Full speed.  I was eight or nine and I spent many a day atop Suicide Hill ginning up the courage to be the one to make it down intact.

Back then, if I thought about it at all, I thought courage was the absence of fear.

Now, close to fifty years later, now that I’ve broken bones, torn ligaments, sustained concussions, and endured prolonged hospital stays, I know fearlessness is not always the presence of courage but of stupidity.

What’s the Function of Fear?

Does fear have a purpose, God-given?

Obviously, the fight or flight response is instinctive and protective.  It is a function of the adrenal system designed to keep us alive.  You’ve heard the old adage: the best way to survive a grizzly bear attack is to outrun, not the bear, but your buddy.

However, let’s not confuse adrenaline with courage or fear with cowardice.

I once saw a cartoon by Dan Piraro of “Bizarro” fame.  It featured a heedless man walking down the street surrounded by disaster.  He was protected by guardian angels and knew it.  The angels above him were complaining how much safer life would be if he didn’t know they were flying just above his head.

Maybe that’s the role fear plays.  It’s our on-board guardian angel.  “Shields up,” it shouts, “Run!”  Something besides cowardice told me to endure the name calling of my friends rather than risk the bump and stump of Suicide Hill that summer long ago.  Conversely, several short summers later, I broke my leg braving the world’s first and worst zip-line (Click here for that story).

Fear Adds to Faith

Literal fearlessness does not require faith.  This is the same idea behind forgetfulness not equalling forgiveness.  If I can’t remember a wrong, I need not forgive.  Just so, if I don’t sense risk or danger, no true courage or faith is required.  People with the unfortunate disorder congenital analgesia, the inability to feel physical pain, have no concept of hot or cold and the danger either holds.  Rushing into a fiery building to rescue someone–knowing what it could cost–calls for courage and faith not fearlessness.

Therefore, when I call faith an antidote to fear, I am not talking of an anesthetic.  Rather faith helps us face our fears.  Faith is reality based, eyes open to the danger.

It is almost as if it is a circle.  I face my fears with faith and then my faith grows while my fear diminishes.  Until I step into entirely new territory.  Then fear starts the circle of developing faith again.  Fear rightly viewed and applied can develop faith.

Back on Top of Suicide Hill

It took me all summer to finally give Suicide Hill a shot.  And oh, how I wish I could tell you about fearlessly speeding from the top, hitting the bump half-way down, launching my sting ray into the wild blue, crossing my handle bars, the wind in my crew-cut, avoiding the stump, landing upright in a burst of dirt, and skidding to a stop just before hitting the stinky tad-pole pond.  Applause, adulation, money!

Fact is I closed my eyes, hit the brakes, and dribbled off the trail and into the weeds, falling over.  But I tried!  Years later, after I had faced other death-defying dangers, I tried Suicide Hill again and ripped down that hill on my bike reaching the bottom with no problems.  That day I sat at the bottom of Suicide Hill on my Schwinn ten-speed looking back up the hill that once dominated me.  That day I swear Suicide Hill looked more mole hill than mountain and the mighty bump and gruesome stump mere provocateurs.  I had been plenty scared.  But no more.  At least not of Suicide Hill.  God, through my fear, had produced faith with which I could face the future.

Do you have a story of fear building your faith?  Tell us about it.

Categories: adventure, Eugene C. Scott, Excitement, Faith, Fear Factor, Fun, God, God Sightings, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 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

The Top Spiritual Events of 2012

Comet Hale-Bopp Over Val Parola Pass

Comet Hale-Bopp Over Val Parola Pass by A. Dimai

What were the top spiritual events of 2012?  Audacious question, I know.  I’m not a “New York Times” writer, I’m not Oprah, or even your local journalist.  Who am I to try to answer it?  Nobody.

Maybe that’s the point.  Spiritual things often come in strange, unexpected packages.  Many say I fill that bill.  So, here are my three top spiritual events of 2012.

Proliferation of YouVersion

Johannes Gutenberg must be dancing on a cloud.  YouVersion is a Bible app with possibly the same impact on our world as Gutenberg’s 1440 invention of the movable type printing press followed by his printing of the Gutenberg Bible in 1452.  This single act stole the Bible from the hands of only the rich, powerful, and educated and placed it in the hands of almost anyone.  YouVersion, created in 2007 through LifeChurch.tv by Bobby Gruenewald and Terry Starchy, is now placing the world’s most influential book back in the hands of everyman.YouVersion

As of this writing, with more than 74,000,000 installs around the world, and Bible verses shared on Twitter and Facebook at “21 times per minute,” YouVersion is one of the fastest growing apps in the world.  But what made me consider YouVersion for this list is not just its explosive growth.  Rather it’s that its founders, shunning the potential to become the next e-billionaires, seem more concerned about you and your spiritual growth rather than making a buck or billion.  YouVersion is truly free, no commercials breaking in, no sharing your info, no catch.  LifeChurch.tv and 50 some partners simply give what they believe is the most valuable gift they can give: the Bible.

The U.S. Presidential Election:

The YouVersion is getting people reading.  This election got people praying.  At times for opposing outcomes, but praying none-the-less.  But seeing something so base as a Presidential election as a spiritual event goes deeper than people bending their knees in order to bend God’s arm.  Or how it will change the U.S. and maybe the world.

In early October a group of friends from our church gathered for a meal, some wine, and a conversation.  It was a delightful night, until someone brought up the election.  Or that’s what conventional thinking would have us believe.  It was a delightful evening, in part, because we discussed the coming election.  Though all from the same church, we were not of the same mind or political party.  Contrary to popular wisdom–never discuss politics and religion–we had a calm, though passionate, deep, nuanced, diverse, broadening conversation.

By the end of the night we were all still friends–and maybe even closer.  More over each of us pulled our heads out of our ostrich holes and saw that good, godly, intelligent, caring people held views contrary to our own.  And we didn’t have to call names and slap labels to be listened to.

Though I have no empirical proof, I believe this kind of thing happened more often than the power, money hungry media that depend on division, would have us believe.

What’s the spiritual impact?  People learning to talk while disagreeing and being divided.  Shallow conventional wisdom would have us believe it’s more spiritual to “just get along.”

No!  True soul work calls for living together, sharing a meal, and also our contrary ideas and beliefs.

Sandy Hook Tragedy 

Everyone I asked what they thought was the most spiritual event of 2012 mentioned this, or a similar tragedy.  How can that be?

Because, as C. S. Lewis wrote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (The Problem of Pain, 1940).  Not that God inflicts pain that we will listen up.  But God is too loving and wise waste our pain, even self-inflicted.

As Sandy Hook unfolded on our television screens–or closer–we looked inside ourselves terrified and glimpsed how needy we are.  How vulnerable, how thin our skin, literally and figuratively.  How much we need God.

Members of the Sandy Hook Elementary community ring the field prior to the start of the Giants-Eagles game on Sunday. Reuters / December 30, 2012

Jesus shocks us saying, “Blessed are they who are poor in spirit and blessed are they who grieve.”  What? we shout.  “For they will see God,” Jesus finishes.  These become blessings when we seek our Creator, the one who loves us despite how cruel we are to one another.

On December 14 we saw how poor in spirit we are and how deep our grief can be.

Sandy Hook, and tragedies like it, force us to look beyond the material and ask for help.  That is when we reach out, even asking God in anger, “Why?”

“Why” is a spiritual question and cannot be answered by the age-old easy answers offered by psychologists, pastors, pundits, or politicians.  And especially by blamers.  “You who are without sin cast the first stone,” Jesus challenged the blamers.

But we prefer easy answers more than mystery, especially painful, soul sifting mystery.  We know easy answers don’t solve anything.  Sadly, however, they allow us to go back into hiding.  Until another tragedy calls us out.

In 2012 these were the things that drew back the skin of every day life, revealing the soul pulsing beneath.  They made me look deep into the eyes of God.  They helped me see life is more than it appears.  You, however, may debate the spirituality of these events or even deny them.  And you may be right.  If so, be my guest, name your own.

P.S. Thank you for reading and traveling this spiritual path with me in 2012.  It has been an honor to be even a small part of your reading, blogging life.  Thank you.  May 2013 be filled with mystery and truth and fun and creativity and God.

Categories: Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God, God Sightings, Living Spiritually, Meaning, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 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

When Christmas Reality Exceeds Your Christmas Expectaions

Steve FossettA few years ago, just before Christmas, Dee Dee and I had the honor of sharing a table at a fundraiser for the Beaver Creek Religious Foundation with Steve Fossett and his wife.  Price of admission for Dee Dee and I: praying the blessing for the meal.

I had recently read “The Spirit of St. Louis,” Charles Lindbergh’s account detailing his 1927 solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic.  Fossett had recently completed his own record-breaking, solo, unmotorized balloon circumnavigation of the globe.  It was an invitation of a lifetime.  I was champing at the bit to hear his story.  Fossett was only too willing to comply.

Finally, near the end of the dinner, Fossett came in for a landing and I asked, “Did you encounter God in any way while you were up there alone?”

Fossett’s face went blank.  He stammered something about the flight being just a record for him.  Like the many Boy Scout badges he had earned in younger years.  I was embarrassed to have asked and disappointed in how un-romantically he viewed his accomplishment.

Another Invitation

On the night Jesus was born the angels came to a group of shepherds with an invitation of a lifetime.  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ [the One you have been waiting for] the Lord. . . . You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

What?  A baby in a horse trough?  What’s so great about that?  I wonder if they experienced similar disappointment to mine?  The Messiah was foretold to be the ultimate king, born of David, Israel’s greatest king.  The solution to all their problems.  They were soon to learn Jesus was much more than their expectations.

And so it is.  Somehow God mingles our meager Christmas expectations with much greater heaven-hope.  In “The Weight of Glory” C. S. Lewis wrote, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Christmas is so much more than ribbons, bows, eggnog, Santa, and mistletoe.  It’s an open, down-to-earth invitation of a lifetime.  What will we settle for this Christmas? A tie and slippers?  While God sings, Come celebrate, experience, worship Immanuel, I Am with you.

May this Christmas be nothing you ever hoped or imagined.

Eugene

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

Before I die . . . Caution This Blog May Disrupt Your Bucket List

Before I die, I want to . . . .

Before I die I want to . . . Picture by Eugene C. Scott

Before I die I want to . . .
Picture by Eugene C. Scott

How would you finish that sentence?  I know how I wouldn’t.

Wild-eyed risk-taker and adventurer I’m not.  Never have I wanted to jump from an airplane, become a human bungee, climb Mt Everest (there aren’t any elk or trout that high), or swim with sharks.  Yet those are the types of activities populating many bucket lists.

That’s why I’ve not given much thought to making, much less fulfilling, my own.

Until the other day.  That’s when, while driving in downtown Denver, I was confronted by artist Candy Chang’s unique and interactive piece of art titled “Before I Die . . . .”

Chang’s public, artistic bucket list gave me pause.  What do I absolutely need to do before I die?  Tough question.  But as I thought about it, I realized I’ve checked a few things off of an unspoken bucket list.  Not all fun or positive.

I want to get involved picture by Eugene C. Scott

I want to get involved picture by Eugene C. Scott

So, with apologies and in no particular order here’s

My Bucket List

I’ve . . .

Flown in a helicopter and gotten vertigo

Camped out in the snow, several times

Dropped out of high school–not an aspiration but an act of desperation

Joined the U.S. Navy

Dee Dee, Eugene, Emmy, Brendan, and Katie

Dee Dee, Eugene, Emmy, Brendan, and Katie

Earned Masters and Doctoral degrees

Almost drowned while snorkeling off the wild shark inhabited side of an island in Subic Bay, Philippines

Snorkeled in Belize without almost drowning

Lived for a summer near Telluride in a wheelless sheepherder’s wagon called “The Lunch Box”

Been thrown in the brig (that’s a Navy jail)

Grande?

Grande?

Had several careers: Carpenter, sailor, miner, salesman, barista, and pastor

Been homeless

Our honeymoon in Mazatlan

Our honeymoon in Mazatlan

Married a beautiful red-head

Raised three awesome children (see above)

A winter adventure

A winter hunting adventure

Hunted elk in the Colorado Rockies

Started a church

Sandbox fun

Sandbox fun

Become a grandfather

Outlived my father

Morning on Haleakala Volcano

Morning on Haleakala Volcano

Watched the sunrise from atop Haleakala Volcano on Maui

Floated in the Dead Sea

Trembled at a loaded pistol pointed at my face

Learned how to live with Type 2 Diabetes

Canoed up the rapids of the Bumbungan River to Pagsanjan Falls in the Philippines

Published a short story in Bugle Magazine

Visited Israel and survived

Been robbed and given a dozen parking tickets in Vancouver, BC

Jumping into Lake Atitlan

Jumping into Lake Atitlan

Jumped from a towering rock into Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

Written for the Vail Daily

Almost been arrested performing a baptism at a public lake

Visited a cloud forest in Costa Rica

Gotten stuck half way down the rock face rappelling

Built houses for people in need in Mexico and Costa Rica

Backpacked to Cathedral Lake at 11,000 ft

Been fired, a couple of times

Rafted the Green River to the confluence of the Colorado

Also Brown’s Canyon on the Arkansas River

Spoken to a crowd of 8,000 people

Taken a bull elk

Skinny dipped, no picture, thank, God

Done several illegal things I’m not proud of

A tough trail

A tough trail

At age 55 mountainbiked the Colorado Trail for 25 miles

Co-written a song

Invented the zip line, sort of

Finished a first draft of my novel

Snowmobiled 100 miles in Yellowstone National Park

Broken the same leg three times

Survived my crazy family of origin and my own insanity, thank, God–literally

A Different Kind of Bucket List

My bucket list surprised me.  But I must confess many of those things happened to me; I did not happen to them.  I’m glad for them anyway–even some of the hair-brained ones–because I learned from them and through all experienced God’s redemption.  Maybe even an unintentional bucket list counts.

Still that question, “Before I die, I want to . . .” hangs there.  It’s haunting.

Death is no abstract concept for me.  One summer evening in 1966 my dad dropped us off at my older sister’s house.  The next time we saw him he was in a coffin.  Both of my parents are gone now, and my wife’s parents too, and several beloved friends.  My brother-in-law passed away on my birthday this year.

Being a pastor, I’ve had the terrible honor of spending time with many people in their last stages of life, even until their final breath.  I’ve performed too many funerals: babies, children, teens, mothers, fathers, those who lived well and those who did not.

Facing death this way either cauterizes your heart or opens it to what really counts in life.  Or both.

A One Item Bucket List

Bonnie Ware, a palliative care nurse, discovered a different kind of bucket list and wrote about it in her book titled “Top Five Regrets of the Dying.”

But what are the regrets of those of us left here?  What counts in life?  What must we do before we die?

I can only speak for myself.

If I’m honest, though I yearn to publish my novel–and write more–and take an elk with a bow and arrow, and teach my grandkids to love God and the outdoors, and retire, and read hundreds more books, and travel with my wife, and meet Leif Enger, the top item on my bucket list is. . .

Saying what needs to be said to those I love.  Daily.  Repeatedly.  In case they don’t hear or mishear.

My father died from a heart attack.  I didn’t get to say goodbye.  Nor he.  I’ve regretted that every waking day since.  Many tough years later, my mother died of emphysema.  We talked for hours before she passed, saying everything needed and more.  What peace those times with her brought then and now.  Sometimes I dream of talking to Jim, my father-in-law, one last time.  “You were a second father to me and taught me how to be a man.  Thank you,” I say to him in my dream as he casts his blue eyes down because he was uncomfortable with emotion.  Today I’d say it even if it made him squirm.

But it’s hard.  I stood before Candy Chang’s board and chickened out.  Instead of writing “Before I die I want to ‘say what needs to be said to those I love,’” I wrote “write a novel.”

I’m going to go back downtown and change my answer.

My addition to the board

My addition to the board

Categories: adventure, Art, authenticity, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, Excitement, Faith, Fun, God, God Sightings, happiness, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

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