grace

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.

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

A Ride from Death to Life

Last week I peddled my mountain bike up a chert strewn, sandy trail into mountains that resembled barren mounds some demon had impaled with burnt toothpicks.  It was the first time I had ventured into the area know as the Hayman Burn, which, in 2002, was the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, turning the mountains southwest of Denver and northwest of Colorado Springs into smoke and ash.

Eerie does not describe the feeling that settled on me as I wended my way through both standing and fallen charred pines.  Not one left living.  The silence fearful.  The seared landscape marred the Colorado blue sky as they met above the burnt tree-tops in an ashy gray blend.  My breath came hard and dry as I pushed through the dust.

I mourned.

These were the mountains I had roamed and fished and explored as a child and young man.  Dee Dee’s parents owned a cabin near there that burned in a 1965 fire but was spared, barely, in this fire.  My novel is set in these mountains.  The fire blistered not just 215 miles of forest and 135 homes, but also memories and possibilities, each charred acre holding stories of the past and lost hopes for the future.

Now all ash.

Then I noticed something.  Splashes of gold.  Along the almost invisible creek, trickling life through death, and in odd places off in the distance, young groves of aspen–the replacement forest–had sprung up.  Made up of only a dozen or fewer trees in each grove and only standing head high, they shouted hope.

The Hayman Fire was set by a troubled woman who, it seems, was trying to torch her own demons and instead released them on the people and wildlife of the Front Range.

This seems to be the way life is.  Most, if not all, tragedy has a human source.  “We have met the enemy.  And he us,” said Walt Kelly in his “Pogo” comic strip.

And it’s not just the landscape or our enemies we scorch.  In his brilliant short-story Every Little Hurricane, Sherman Alexie describes a fight between two American Indian brothers “slugging each other with such force that they had to be in love.  Strangers would never want to hurt each other that badly.”

So it is.  Human history is littered with pain, hate, hurt.  A ride through this landscape is drear.

Then I noticed something.

Splashes of golden grace.  Along the way, life trickling through death, and in odd places off in the distance, someone forgives a grievance, another delivers a kiss, a baby laughs, an old woman closes her eyes to begin the journey home, a young couple turn their love into a vow, a man tosses a dollar to another holding a cardboard sign, a Democrat eats with a Republican, friends weep together, enemies call a cease-fire, a parent thanks a teacher, two children laugh and squeal as they trundle down the slide together, a teenager holds the door for a stranger, brothers lower their fists.

These little things shout hope also.  These little things are the seeds of salvation.  Because mere humans cannot destroy forever what God has eternally created.  Just as those aspens are rooted in God’s ever-life-producing soil, though burnt, we too, when rooted in God and his gift of grace in Christ, can spring back to life from the soil of charred lives.

I zipped back down the trail on my bike breathing easier and filled with a melancholy hope.  In the midst of this scarred landscape is a golden place called grace, where heaven, blue and clear and  descending meets the burnt tree-tops of our lives.  Look up!

Categories: adventure, Christianity, creation, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, grace, healing, Jesus, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

What Does a Spiritual Life Look Like?

How close to perfection is close enough?

What does a spiritual life look like? That’s been the question nagging me since I started this living spiritual experiment.

Some, especially those of monkish makeup, strive to live spiritually by denying the importance of the material world. They deny the flesh. The body is a shell for the more beautiful and important soul. And if that hunk of meat messes up, pulverize it. As I wrote in my last blog, perfection through discipline is the goal.

Most of us know, however, that we run out of steam and muscle long before we reach a perfect spiritual life.

Others strive for a melding of body and soul in some fluid dance where every action has a bigger purpose. Where body and soul mesh and live at peace, sipping coffee and sharing deep insights together. Though I don’t dance, much to my wife’s chagrin, this would be me.

The trouble is my body keeps stepping on my soul’s toes. Or to use the other metaphor, since I’ve mixed them already, I know, darn sure, my body is ready to get some work done and quit sitting around talking.  Coffee or no coffee.  “Get a travel cup and let’s get moving.”

There is no perfection here either.

Both of these paths are flawed. Because they both hold as their goal perfection.  And they both miss the mark.

They don’t take into account an ancient and unpleasant concept: sin.

Sin is not anyone’s favorite word. We all want to deny its existence, especially personally. Though it’s pretty easy to call out and name in others. At least for me it is. Deny it or not, sin still catches each of us in a half-Nelson and throws us to the mat.

When we hear the word sin we automatically jump to pictures of Hitler and serial killers and TV preachers. And to be sure all are sinners. Me too.

But sin is not only the horrific or personally abhorrent. It is the inability to reach that perfection we all strive for. It is not being able to love enough, not forgiving even when we want to. Sin is, no matter how much I practice, no matter how carefully I aim, no matter how close to the target I stand, missing dead center. Anywhere from a few inches low and to the left to missing the whole damned thing. It’s all the same when striving for perfection. Close, they say, only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Oh yeah, and in government work.

Close does not much count in matters of the soul.

So, what does a spiritual life look like? Not perfection. And not a solo act either. Spiritual living is admitting I can’t achieve perfection and that I need God’s help in even living a meaningful life. It is agreeing with God that I have not and cannot make it on my own.

An electrical box painted like an archery target

A spiritual life, then, is one that revels in God’s mercy and the ability to live each day hitting close enough, because God alone is responsible for perfection.

Categories: adventure, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, God, God Sightings, grace, Jesus, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Colorado Wildfires: “I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky.”

On the night of June 16, 1965 a police sedan drove down our flooded street, blaring a warning over a loudspeaker telling us to prepare to evacuate. At eight or nine years-old it seemed exciting. But my parents were stern and worried. The street in front of our house looked like a small river. And Bear Creek, a couple of hundred yards behind our house, carried a 12-20 foot crest coming down out of the mountains. We huddled in our living room with our most precious belongings in suitcases and stuffed in pillow cases waiting to evacuate.

From June 12 on, rain had been drenching areas of the Front Range, what we call the eastern slope of the Rockies. We had received as much as 12 inches of rain in one night. Earlier in the evening my dad, my sister, my brother, and I had driven to Ruby Hill (we sledded there in the winter) on the southwest side of Denver and watched the South Platte swell from a small river into what seemed like a raging ocean, growing to over a half mile wide.

We stood in awe, drenched by the continual rain, watching ravaged trailer homes, massive trees, and barges of debris rush down stream. This debris then caught on the bridges and eventually pushed them over into the river. Its power was unstoppable. Most of the bridges on the south side of town connecting west to east were taken out. At one point a police car, its red light flashing feebly in the gray night, raced down a road near the river as the road collapsed behind his car. We watched him as he drove out of sight hoping he could keep ahead of the river.

We were fortunate. Bear Creek never reached our house and I woke on the living room couch in the morning. The flood was abating and now all those who were not so fortunate began picking up the pieces.

The Colorado wildfires

That night came back to me as wildfires ravaged the Front Range these past few weeks. Thank God, we have had no fires near us, though we know people who lost their homes. And we keep all those suffering tragic loss in our prayers.

We do, however, live in what some call a “Red Zone”, an area where a wild-fire is likely.

“Not if there will be another fire, but when,” they say.

I’m asking myself, “If the ‘when’ comes, what will I save?”

Back in 1965 I packed my piggy bank that looked like a miniature safe and my Spiderman comics. I guess I thought those were my most precious possessions. Today I can only see them in my memory.

What would you save?

When it’s rainin’ fire in the sky, you ask what’s most important?

Today I would make sure my own family was safe. Then . . .

  • To wax practical, legal stuff, wills, etc. Yuck.
  • A couple of my hardback books: my own dissertation (just in case someday someone may read it), “Lonesome Dove,” “Peace Like a River,” “The Chronicles of Narnia.” This might be dangerous as I could burn up in my library deciding which books to take or my bag could get too heavy for me to make it out of the house.
  • My journals from the last 30 years.
  • My computer, as it holds all of my writing, and a lot of pictures, and my Bruce Cockburn and Van Morrison collection.
  • More than anything, however, I’d collect things that have people memories connected to them: such as pictures and scrapbooks, my dad’s watches and old miner’s lamp, love letters, poetry, my mom’s John Elway memorabilia. Those kinds of things.

Oh, and . . . . You begin to see the problem.

I have heard several people who lost their homes in the Waldo Canyon Fire say things like, “As long as we are safe.” Or “We can rebuild.” “It can all be replaced.”

I only hope I can be that mature and calm if the day comes.

Moth and Rust Destroy

But the truth is, though Jesus rightly warns us against “storing up treasures here on earth,” the things that have traveled life with us–books, pictures, keepsakes, a home against the storm, the place we spent Christmas and Saturdays working together in the yard–have gathered meaning like moss on the north side of our lives. Their loss is not monetary only. Our things often represent a connection to the past, present, and future. And that connection is often to people–and even sometimes–to God. Losing the small wooden cross I have had since June of 1972 would be like the God chapter being ripped from my story. Maybe Jesus is asking us to ask about the eternal value of the things around us.

Things count. But for what?

As I look around my house for what I would save in an emergency, I see my father’s miners’ lamp (possibly handed down from my grandfather) sitting useless on my bookshelf. What I really want from it is a piece of my dad. I would love to know the story behind it. His story.

Maybe then the best thing to do in these times is not gather things but stories. Talk to each other more. Turn off Facebook, the TV, and ask, “Tell me all about your life. And don’t leave out a single minute.” Then listen. Because pictures will not fill the void. And too often things are not all we lose when we see it “rainin‘ fire in the sky.”

Eugene C. Scott has too much stuff and would like to get rid of some of it. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

Categories: Books, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, grace, Living Spiritually, pain, priorities, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

No Fear, Just Pain

By Eugene C. Scott

Not the actual truck

The Nissan truck with the No Fear off-road package sat in the drive. Big knobby tires, six-inch lift package, fancy rims, dual exhaust.“Semper Fi,” said a sticker in the back window. We had driven from Winter Park to Loveland, CO on a fabulous fall morning to look at a used truck for sale. Necessitated by the untimely demise of my old, faithfulPathfinder.

As I climbed out of our car, I put my negotiating face on. It was a cool truck.

We walked across the road and into a wall of pain. A hurt, like a bad dream that won’t let you wake up, hung over the house. The owner of the truck, an ex-Marine with tattoos covering both arms and his neck, came out and shook hands. A big silver cross hung from his neck over his New Orleans Saints football jersey.

We introduced ourselves. He stood at an oblique in the middle of the street a good distance away from the truck.

“It’s a nice truck. You’re selling it so you can refurbish your son’s Mustang?” I said trying to pierce the awkward silence that surrounded him. I had spoken to him on the phone previously.

“Yeah.” His big frame sagged and he seemed to get smaller right there in front of me. He may have even stopped breathing. “It’s what he would have wanted.”

I could see the sorrow etched into his tough face. He didn’t look at the truck.

Long, agonizing seconds later he said, “He died a couple of months ago.”

There it was. The source of the pain.

“I’m sorry.” I touched his elbow. “What happened?”

“He killed himself.” Three words, flat, declarative, harsh, like someone had hit me in the face. He spat the next three words.

“Over a girlfriend.”

There in the middle of the street our worlds became a bubble, no bright blue fall day, no truck, no air. No fear. Just pain.

I turned to him and we talked. I told him as a pastor I had worked with suicidal kids, how tragic it was that those with so much to live for despaired so deeply. He turned toward me, opened his heart just a crack. More pain poured out. Pointing to a house two doors down he said a pastor lived there and he had been spending time with him. “You gotta trust God,” he said.

I nodded. “You can’t walk through this alone.”

I was relieved he had someone of faith to talk to and that God was part of the conversation. I lived several hundred miles–a world–away. My heart ached but I could not be his pastor, his counselor, or even his friend. The silence and the pain swooped back down.

“Can I drive it?” I asked pointing to the big, gray truck.

“Keys are in it.”

My wife, Dee Dee, and I climbed in. It was the kind of truck I had dreamed of in high school. It didn’t so much drive as it ate the road. It didn’t purr but rumbled. But the cab was clean, almost sterile, no signs of anything personal. The on board computer read, “0 miles,” indicating how far we could drive before we ran out of fuel.

Who lets potential buyers drive a truck that may run out of gas? I wondered as we pulled back into his driveway.

“Nice truck. It’s almost out of gas,” I said as I handed him the key.

“I haven’t driven it in a couple of months,” he said. That’s when I began to understand. I had not seen him come close to the truck. It had something to do with his son’s death.

My heart has been broken and I’ve been praying for him and his elderly mother and father and his other son ever since.

Les Avery, senior pastor of St James Presbyterian Church in Littleton, CO, where I served as a youth pastor in the 80s, used to end almost every worship service by saying, “Wrap your arm around yourself or of someone near you because, if you scratch beneath the surface of any life, you’ll find pain.”

It’s a poignant reminder. Sometimes you don’t even need to scratch. It comes gushing out.

Once again, I’ve been reminded to look at the grumpy, harried woman in the post office with kinder eyes. The waiter, the store clerk, the high school kid walking home from school alone.

They all carry pain–at least as deep as my own–if not deeper.

I’m not going to sermonize, tell you to be nice, “Co-exist,” “give peace a chance,” or “tolerate” each other. Bumper sticker philosophy and theology is such ineffective crap.

All of us know how cruel and insensitive and self-centered we are. We all know we shouldn’t be.

Maybe what we don’t as often remember is that God does not have to scratch beneath the surface of our lives to discover the pain. He sees all and knows all. And he weeps. But his tears are not empty.

By the first century AD, the Romans had tortured and crucified nearly 2000 people. Poverty, injustice, hunger, death, disease, and pain few of us know the depth of today racked the world Jesus lived in. So, what did God do? He let his Son be killed on the cruelest torture device yet known and had Jesus experience all the pain known to man.

Think of it. By having Jesus die on a device designed to induce maximum pain, God gave us a way to transform our pain into hope. God not only knows our pain. He redeems it.

The silver cross around that ex-Marine’s neck was not mere jewelry. It was his sign of hope for life, a reminder of how much God loves him and his son. Of how God had indeed wrapped his arms around us in the ultimate act of love.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. He did not buy the No Fear truck, not because of the tragedy it represented, and certainly not because he was too old or not cool enough for it, but because his wife said it was not very practical.

Categories: authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, care, Christianity, Community, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, Fear Factor, friends, God, God Sightings, grace, healing, Jesus, love., Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Did 9.11 Impact You?

By Eugene C. Scott

Drawing from 8-year-old Kevin Wang

Vail Mountain rose behind us unmoved. I, however, was trembling. I stood at its base on the ski slope holding a microphone. Beside me stood a friend, an Episcopalian priest. I felt out of place there wearing dress shoes, a dark tie, and a suit. Not the typical dress for a ski resort, even in the fall. But this was not a normal day. It was the afternoon of September 11, 2001.

Vail Resorts had arranged for the clergy of the Vail Interfaith Chapel to hold a prayer service. And word had spread. Below me in the fading grass and dying high mountain wild flowers sat hundreds of people from the world over. Many didn’t even speak English. How would what I had to say make a difference in the face of such evil, such fear and pain? I looked at their upturned faces. Many were tear-stained. All where expectant.

I’m a man of words. As a pastor, I have spoken hundreds of thousands of words preaching and teaching and praying several times a week–almost every week–for the past thirty years in the hope that words would help change the world. As a writer too, I believe words make a difference. Even a picture can’t touch a soul the way a few well spoken or written words can.

But against this? Here I was hoping my words could make a dent against the picture of two towers–filled with thousands of people–smoking and finally disintegrating into a pile of rubble and death. Good luck!

I don’t remember why I was the one chosen from among the outstanding pastors and leaders in the Interfaith Community to speak at this service. I felt empty. I had no words, besides foul, fearful ones.

Yet I knew God spoke the universe, us, into existence. Jesus was born into a broken world to heal it as the living Word. And I knew God just might speak through me. So, I let fly. I don’t remember word for word what I said. I can’t find my notes. I read a Psalm. I know I was honest, saying I had no ultimate answers; but that I believed God had not told anyone to do this; that I had no idea why God allowed such things; that if we stood arm in arm, unified in love, that that would be the more powerful act.

Still I felt as if my words were mere shadows, mountain Chick-a-dees flitting and twittering  among the near-by pines.

After I spoke, my friend led us in prayer. We poured our anguish, fear, hope, anger, silence out to God. The blue, thin airplaneless sky above us seemed to absorb our cries.

A young man from Ireland came up after and thanked us. He had grown up in a terrorist-torn country. He was sad that kind of violence had now visited the US. No one, no country deserved this, he said. Others too, from Spain, Australia, many from New York City stood and talked, listened, cried. Several had friends or family who lived and worked in downtown Manhattan. It turned out several lost loved ones. We hugged, cried some more, prayed again. Thousands of miles from Ground Zero, nestled in the pristine Rockies, an act of unspeakable evil seared us.

But God’s words also steeled us. Hope sprouted and began to grow again even on that evil day. We all went back into our corners of the universe changed. Today I see people, pain, hope, words, life differently. Today, if I look carefully, I still see that change, hear it in words–yes, like small birds–darting around me. I know better now that even small things put in the hands of God can make huge difference. God’s words spoken in truth and love are more powerful than bombs. God did not prevent the evil of 9.11. But I believe, even ten years later, God is still redeeming it, turning it in to something healing and powerful for those of us who let it and then tell the story of that redemption.

So, I will keep speaking words and writing words in the hope that God will take them and make them bigger than they seem. And maybe use them in your life.

How did 9.11 impact or change you and your world? Take a moment and a few small words and let us know.

Eugene is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. This coming Sunday–on the ten-year anniversary of 9.11–The Neighborhood Church will hold a service remembering those who died, not just that day, but also the One who died on the cross 2000 years ago, and rededicating ourselves to being different because of those deaths.

Categories: authenticity, Bible, bible conversation, church, Community, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, friends, God, God Sightings, grace, healing, Jesus, love., miracles, murder, story, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Harry Potter and the Church Part II

By Eugene C. Scott

It’s true, like the old bumper sticker said, that “God Doesn’t Make Junk.” But after 50 plus years of watching the people around me and daily looking in the mirror, it’s plain God certainly created his share of peculiar, screwy, and eccentric people.

I think that’s one of the reasons I liked J. K Rowling’s main setting for the Harry Potter stories, “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” I felt right at home. Rowling peopled and staffed her school with bizarre and broken people.

Outwardly handsome and cool but secretly unsure of himself, Gilderoy Lockhart, one of the many Defense Against the Dark Arts professors, was a fraud.

And let’s not forget half-giant game keeper and failed wizard Hagrid or the sadistic janitor Argus Filch.

Many of the students too are screwy. Luna Lovegood is loony, marching to a drum that may not even exist. Even the trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron are a bit odd.

These people are largely dismissed by the “main stream” wizarding community but not by their Head Master equally strange Albus Dumbledore.

In this Hogwarts reminds me of the church. After 30 some years involvement in the church, it occurs to me God too has peopled his community with peculiar, screwy, unconventional and downright broken people, myself not being the exception.

Luna Lovegood would not have been friendless in most churches I’ve served.

Dr. Bob was a retired PhD in one church I pastored who truly believed he had evidence of extraterrestrials having come to earth. During a Sunday school class I taught, a man asked to do an announcement advocating adopting orphaned baby Chinese girls. He proceeded to put on a Chinese Queue and sing the Elvis song “My Little Teddy Bear.”

I won’t name the broken, bleeding, angry, confused and disillusioned.

Rowling lends humor to her increasingly dark stories through fleshing out these eccentric characters. God, however, seems to attract them. As popular as Jesus is today, he hung out with a pretty unpopular, scraggly group back in the First Century.

I feel at home, just like when I read Harry Potter, then when I read of these early peculiar, broken students in Christ’s school of life, or look around me in today’s church. You’ve met them too–or are one.

The wonderful thing is God created such eccentrics and loves us despite our brokenness and he wants them/us to people his spiritual community called the church.

This is where I find the pervasive philosophy in the modern church focusing on bright-shiny people false. Years ago I had a college professor who taught that because we were followers of Christ, we should be the best of the best, with the whitest smiles, nicest clothes, best grades. “God,” he said quoting the bumper sticker, “doesn’t make junk.” I bought it until I looked in the Bible or in the mirror again.

Not that I equate, as he seemed to, offbeat, broken people with junk. God made no one expendable. Jesus died for every Lockhart and Lovegood among us.

But, somehow, despite the church’s ability to be filled with outcasts and Jesus’ willingness to embrace them, this is not the demographic the church focuses on nor the image we portray. To our shame.

When was the last time you saw a pastor preach or teach from a wheel chair? Or have any kind of visible disability? I recently attended a huge church planter’s conference where all of the speakers I heard were cool looking and pastored mega-churches. There was not a halting, unsure Harry Potter among them.

Or closer to home, when was the last time you shied away from the Luna Lovegood or Gilderoy Lockhart in your life or church?

You see, what I believe Rowling knows is that we’re all Lovegoods and Lockharts. We just don’t want anyone else to know it. So, we think surrounding ourselves with the cool and the smart and the successful will make it so for us too. What we often don’t see is that they too are not really bright-shiny either.

But God knows our fears and failures and forgives them. God knows too our eccentricities and revels in them.

This is where Hogwarts reminds me more of the church than the church does sometimes.

Categories: adventure, Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, Books, care, Christianity, church, Community, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, friends, God, God Sightings, grace, happiness, healing, Jesus, Literature, love., Meaning, ordinary, pain, story, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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

By Eugene C. Scott

What if?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: adventure, Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, Books, care, Christianity, church, Community, creation, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, Excitement, Faith, friends, God, God Sightings, grace, happiness, healing, Jesus, Literature, loneliness, love., Meaning, murder, mystery, pain, story, Uncategorized, values | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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