healing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Make no mistake: if He rose at all

It was as His body . . .”

It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes

The same valved heart

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

Out of enduring Might

New strength to enclose.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Eugene C. Scott, grief, healing, Jesus, John Updike, Marriage, pain, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments

My Heart Attack, the Barr Brothers, and Prayer

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

Listen.

I take my medicine on my knee

Twice a day but lately three

Keeps the devil from my door

And it makes me rich and it makes me poor

I’m a beggar in the morning,

I’m a king at night,

My belt is loose,

But my trigger is tight

May come without warning,

At the speed of the light

Make it shine so pretty

Make it shine so bright

I think I’ve come a long, long way

To stand before you here today

They’re yours alone, the songs I play,

To take with you or throw away

Oh, I want an angel to wipe my tears,

Know my dreams, my hopes, desires and fears

We may capsize, but we won’t drown

Hold each other as the sun goes down

I’m a beggar in the morning,

I’m a king at night,

My belt is loose, and

My trigger is tight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

All I had was a prayer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Reasons Blogs With Numbers in the Titles Won’t Change Your Life

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. Frank said they had 12 children because "there were cheaper by the dozen."

Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. Frank said they had 12 children because “they were cheaper by the dozen.”

You may not realize it, but it’s likely Frank Gilbreth, Sr. impacted your life. Don’t recognize his name? In the early 1900s, as a bricklayer, Gilbreth developed a more efficient, simple way to lay bricks. Soon the ambitious, creative Gilbreth and his wife Lillian became famous for pioneering what today is called “the efficiency movement.” Their “time-and-motion” studies standardized work and eventually thousands of businesses—GE and General Motors among them—bought in to their “scientific standardization” methods. The Gilbreths believed there is “one best way” to accomplish any job or task, whether at work, school, or home. The discovery of that “one best way” in any field was the supposed key to success. Ironically at home their research led them to begat twelve children.

What do the Gilbreths have to do with numerical blog titles? Just this. The current epidemic of blogs focusing on “five steps, twelve ideas, three keys,” or any number of better-living philosophies featuring numbers in their titles can be traced back, at least in part, to the Gilbreth idea that a better life is born from breaking complex tasks (life) down into small, simple steps. Frank called these “therbligs” (his last name backwards with an s).

This philosophy is now foundational to our modern lives. We search for one pill, one system, one idea, one breakthrough that will fix our troubles. Thus the proliferation of (over) simplified numerical solutions to our complex and—sometimes troubled—lives. It is obvious we believe (or desperately hope) that life, not just work, can be boiled down to one, two, three—or however many—simplified “therbligs.”

But can it?

I don’t believe so.  And here are my four [sic] reasons why:

Nothing in life is that simple. You may be able to delineate “12 Quick Steps to Search Google Like an Expert”, but philosophers, scientists, theologians, artists, and politicians have been searching for the keys to understanding human life for centuries. Psychologists believe it resides in the mind. Theologians argue for the soul. Artists assert that the heart contains what truly makes us human. Modern science proposes it’s the genome. Yet even the variety of answers to the question, points to complexity. By nature life is complex and unique.

In his letter to his friends in Ephesus the Apostle Paul calls us God’s workmanship or more literally, poetry. This means we are works of art to be wondered over rather than machines to be tinkered with and perfected through time and motion methods.

As helpful as these lists can be, there are not five mechanisms to make your marriage amazing, or 12 tricks to finally get men to like church, or 10 steps to the top of Mount Everest.

Da Vinci Vitruve Luc ViatourBreaking life into pieces kills it. The brilliant and inquisitive Leonardo da Vinci dissected live animals to discover how their organs worked. What he also discovered is that unfortunately this killed them.

Likewise our modern quest to dissect life into steps reaps the same result. But this death comes in that we no longer see life as whole and mysterious and wonderful, but rather as segmented, disconnected, and, often, meaningless. And an article on Seven Practices to Bring Meaning to Your Life will not resuscitate it.

In Subversive Spirituality Eugene H. Peterson argues that, according to poet Czeslaw Milosz, “. . . the minds of Americans have been dangerously diluted by the rationalism of explanation.” In other words, we think there is an easy explanation for everything. This intellectual vivisection leaves dead on the operating table imagination, which is essential to life. Peterson writes, “Imagination is the capacity to make connections between the visible and invisible, between heaven and earth, between present and past, between present and future.” Wonder and imagination, not narrow understanding bring life.

These lists do not effect the changes we so desire. These list-blogs may or may not be well written. And they may or may not make sense. Though they may get the most hits. But they do not effect the change we are all looking for. Paul Zak, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University, in a several year study, found that stories shape the brain and stimulate active responses to the issue portrayed more than a mere mention of the issue.

Imagine Victor Hugo’s masterpiece Les Miserables about justice, the law, and grace written and titled The Three Mistakes Every Human Being Makes or Elie Wiesel’s heartbreaking work, Night, about the holocaust retitled Two Things that Could Have Stopped Hitler and Saved Six Million Lives. In so doing, the world would have missed two beautiful, important, penetrating works of art. Works of art that drove their message far deeper into our hearts and minds than any mere list.

The late Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini said, “I don’t like the idea of ‘understanding’ a film. I don’t believe that rational understanding is an essential element in the reception of any work of art. Either a film has something to say to you or it hasn’t. If you are moved by it, you don’t need it explained to you. If not, no explanation can make you moved by it.”

Paul Zak concludes his article, “So, go see a movie and laugh and cry. It’s good for your brain, and just might motivate you to make positive changes in your life and in others’ lives as well.”

These blogs are dumbing us down. This point is a result of the above. The more we read only bullet point pieces on important issues such as marriage, church attendance, and parenting, the less able we may be to read deeper, harder works. Also, simplistic approaches to complex issues gives us false hopes that we can answer all questions and solve all problems easily. This is the same effect 30 minute television sitcoms have had on us. Online news service SocialTimes reported on a study that found social media may have reduced the average attention span from 12 minutes to five. Personally I know the more I am on-line the more I flit from one thing to another, like a butterfly lost in a field of dry weeds.

Reading is so much more than gathering information. These numbered outlines are to reading what paint by numbers are to art. When I shut down the Net I dig deep, and can read for hours and am transported and transformed.

But many of us are losing the ability to think deeply and struggle over deeper concepts and ideas, especially if there are no easy answers offered.

MereChristianityC.S. Lewis gave Mere Christianity as talks on the BBC between 1942 and 1944. He said they were for the common man. Today many people start the book version and quickly give up because they lack the staying power. Lewis has not changed, we have.

But I read mainly to be transported and transformed. Information is handy but secondary.

I’m currently reading Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal. The journal contains no new information on prayer. But on page one the then 20 year-old college student and future celebrated novelist and short story writer writes/prays, “Dear God, . . . You are the crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.”

I’ve read that prayer several times and it is beginning to sink in. But I may or may not have skimmed a blog titled, The Two Ways Self Blocks Your View of God, but I certainly would not have savored it and been moved by the truth, poetry, and complexity of it. And I would not—probably—have been moved to pray that very prayer for myself.

Categories: Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, happiness, healing, Jesus, Living Spiritually, Meaning, mystery, story, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

How Helplessness is Good

The Good Friday Cross, photo by Eugene C Scott

Spending time in a hospital is torture. People are always coming to visit and nurses and doctors are always bothering you with thermometers, needles, medicine, and bedpans. They think they are trying to help. Why can’t they leave a poor sick guy alone? When I get sick, I lock myself in my room alone until the fever, vomiting, or worse passes. This is mainly because I don’t like people to see me in that way, in my weakness.

In 1992 I had to have a laminectomy. After years of maltreatment, my back went out when I was at work in a church in Illinois. Unable to stand and unwilling to ask for help, I crawled down the back stairs from my second story office, out the back door, and down–more stairs–to my car (I am not exaggerating). I spent weeks lying on the floor of our house refusing to let anyone but my family see me in such a degrading, helpless state. Finally I had to admit my need for help. After the successful laminectomy (thank God), I was in varying stages of helplessness for months. I was being healed but getting there was humiliating.

What’s all that have to do with Easter? Just this. The whole Jesus story is about our human helplessness. And our unwillingness to ask for help. The cross is a constant reminder that I cannot save myself . Nor can you. No matter how many self-help books I read, goals I set, lists I make, verses I memorize, years I live I cannot–by myself–overcome my deepest faults or fiercest fears. I am weak and helpless.

As singer, songwriter Bruce Cockburn puts it in his song “Dweller By A Dark Stream,”

“It could have been me put the thorns in your crown
Rooted as I am in a violent ground
How many times have I turned your promise down . . .”

But I don’t want you or God to see me in my helplessness. No matter how much I need it, I don’t want help. So I deny it, hiding, pretending, obfuscating. Yet true transformation, true victory over faults and fears, comes only in looking up, reaching up, to those hands stretched out on the cross. Every year, like a lamb, Easter slips back into our lives showing us two things: our need for God’s help and God never tiring of offering it.

Cockburn continues,

“. . . Still you pour out your love
Pour out your love”

This Easter is no exception.

P.S. If you have no place to celebrate Easter, consider joining me at The Neighborhood Church. Click here for more info.

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

Was 12.12.12 Really Worth Noticing?

12.12.12

Old and new mix photo by Eugene C. Scott

On my way to a meet a friend for coffee in downtown Littleton yesterday morning light crept over the eastern horizon, refracting through scant moisture in the air, turning the sky gray, then purple, then pink, then finally Colorado blue, giving birth to a day that some say will be remembered for its numerical uniqueness, 12.12.12.  On 12.12.12 as I drive, I realize much more of  passing significance might happen this day.  That this will be a day filled with moments: people, sights, sounds, emotions, hopes, disappointments, surprises, and flavors I will not experience in just this way ever again.  Here, in honor of 12.12.12 are 12 of them.

  1. Driving east I see the street lights, red and green (Christmas colors), a flash of yellow, glow as if they too know what time of year it is.  I feel a strange peace.  These traffic lights, awash in the light of a new day, will not appear this soft, this festive five minutes from now.  Can there be beauty even in things we mere humans create?  It seems so.
  2. I’m surrounded by silence pregnant with . . . Don’t fill it, you’ll kill it, I warn.  So, I let it sit, weigh on me, entice me with its promise, realizing what I hear or don’t hear won’t be spoken again.
  3. The parking lot is full.  On another day, in a more narcissistic mood, a parking lot full of cars already at 6:30am. would have left me impatient, worried about being late.  Instead I stroll a street I’ve never walked and commiserate with those already off to work and notice the contrast between new and old buildings like walking in and out of shadows from the past coloring the future.
  4. The smell of coffee and history mixes inside Littleton Train Depot, now called Romancing the Bean.  This place ended its service as a railroad depot on December 31, 1981 long before anyone dreamed up trendy, flavored coffees.  But, as with so many things thought dead, the depot has sprung to new life and purpose.Littleton Depot
  5. My friend and I drink coffee and share pieces of a cinnamon roll.  I’ve not eaten a cinnamon roll in a year and won’t again for another year.  It’s sweet.  Gummy.  One bite is enough.  Suddenly we’re talking of how, if we are living in God, we, like God, are living in the past and present.  We don’t simply forget the past.  It is still here being healed and transformed in us.

    Brian R

    Photo by Eugene C. Scott

  6. As I leave Romancing the Bean, I see something I haven’t seen in a long time.  A copy of the Rocky Mountain News.  The last from February 27, 2009.  I grew up reading the Rocky every afternoon, mainly the comics and sports.  Then later real news.  I don’t read any newspaper any more.  Ironic how on a day recognized for something that will never happen again, there sat a voice now silent.
  7. I retrace my steps back to my truck but all has changed.  It’s busier, the light harsher.  I have to hurry.  I’m beginning to forget to hold on to these moments.  My next meeting is not close by.
  8. I’m late, self conscious, thinking of my apology.  Living already in the future.
  9. As I enter, the laughter of my friends and colleagues fills what would be, without them there, a sterile meeting-room environment.  Forgettable, meaningless.  I’m convinced there will not be committee meetings in heaven.  But the people who call meetings–even this sin forgivable–will be.  As I walk out the door, I feel glad to be among them today.
  10. I make it to the food bank barely on time.  The look on a young mother’s face gathering food is furtive.  She wears a practical and thankful and firm and full-of-business mask.  But her eyes let me in, ask me to see her for who she is and say, “I’m more than this.”  Then she turns away.
  11.   Finally at home, later, after losing too many moments I meant to hold on to, writing this, I hear, “Yohoo.”  The cheerful inflection in the red-head’s voice as she trails in the door after wrangling five-year olds all day brings me back to attention.  We talk; we eat.  The day of uniqueness almost over.  Have I seen anything?

    Clock Tower

    Photo by Eugene C. Scott

  12. The sky is dark indigo.  There are stars up there, somewhere.  Not as many as when I would lie in my back yard in summer and try to invent my own constellations.  But those moments are past.  Now there’s too much ground light and my eyes are older.  And I’m busy.  But also I ask, which stars are dead already and only shimmering in death, moments long past that I am only now noticing?

Mundane day, I know.  So 12.12.12, amounting to a mere 1,440 seconds, a day like millions of others before, a day containing a myriad of events, people, and impressions that will never happen just this way again, flicked by.  I know I missed something.  But I put up a net and caught a few moments of passing significance.  And tomorrow maybe I’ll catch more.

What did you see?

Categories: Eugene C. Scott, God, God Sightings, happiness, healing, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Understanding Miracles

A Daily Miracle: Sunset by Eugene C. Scott

I looked up from my computer into their wonder-filled eyes, saucer round and big.

“The light went off,” reported the six-year-old girl.

“All by itself,” her five-year-old brother chimed in–breathless.

They were over with their parents, who were downstairs participating in a Bible study.  The two children had been playing quietly in the living room while I was beating against a wall of blogger’s block in the family room.  Their choice of words and the frightened looks on their faces revealed they believed something more than a light bulb burning out had occurred.  They followed me cautiously back into the living room.

I made a beeline through the dark living room for the offending lamp.  It has a timer that turns it on and off.  The recent time change had discombobulated it.  I simply turned it back on.  Relief and disappointment mingled on their faces.  They were hoping for more.  A miracle?  Or at least a profound mystery.

So it is with us adults too.  We encounter things we don’t quite understand–a coincidental happening, an answer to prayer, a remission the doctors can’t account for, a book or blog or friend delivering just the words of encouragement we needed, or something more.  And in our hearts mingle fear and wonder as we step into the dark room of mystery.

We want an explanation and we don’t.  We’re afraid understanding the mechanism of a miracle will unmake it.  But miracles and mysteries are not made or unmade by our understanding them.

That God used doctors and medicine to heal me of my childhood seizures is no less miraculous than if they simply ceased one day through the administration of prayer.  I am still healed.  Natural and logical events manipulated by the hand of God are no less wonderful than those we would call supernatural.

Miracles that seem to have no natural source are not better than others.  This is fallacy.

This may come from another fallacious belief: that understanding equals control.  We may understand the miracle of the earth rotating around the sun and the sun providing warmth and life to us.  But we will never control it.  Understanding such things only gives us a better trail to their source.  God!

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

In his best-selling novel, Peace Like a River, Leif Enger plays with the idea of miracles.  Reuben, the narrator, is in need of one but is struggling to believe in them.

“My sister, Swede,” says Reuben, “who often sees to the nub, offered this: People fear miracles because they fear being changed–though ignoring them will change you also. Swede said another thing, too, and it rang in me like a bell: No miracle happens without a witness. Someone to declare, Here’s what I saw. Here’s how it went. Make of it what you will.”

I like this.  Miracles are to be witnessed, told, whether they are dissected or not.  And most of all miracles are a change agent of God.

In the story of Jesus healing the man of a demon named Legion, Jesus tells the fearful and wonder-filled man, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

Jesus does not tell him to explain it, understand it, or make more of it than it is.  He is simply to tell about it.

Living spiritually has at its core a call to see life as miraculous.  To see and tell what the Lord has done for you.  From the eggs on your breakfast plate to the disappearance of a tumor.

Leif Enger using Reuben Land’s voice again: “We see a newborn moth unwrapping itself and announce, Look, children, a miracle!  But let an irreversible wound be knit back to seamlessness?  We won’t even see it, though we look at it every day.”

What miracle are you looking at today?

Categories: adventure, Bible, bible conversation, Books, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God Sightings, healing, Jesus, Literature, Living Spiritually | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 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

In our Hearts Grief and Grace often Ride Side by Side

Not the James Taylor Show

“Red Rocks is one of the finest places on the planet to perform,” James Taylor said near the end of his show last night.*

He’s right.

Towering above us ancient and unmovable were Ship Rock on the left and Creation Rock on the right. Taylor’s smooth, ageless voice filling the space between. Rock and wind and sky surrounded us while song and poetry and story filled us. The lights of Denver danced in the night sky above the back wall of the amphitheater. It was remarkable.

“There is a young cowboy, he lives on the range,” Taylor sang his famous lullaby. I closed my eyes and imagined that cowboy and sang along to myself, “deep greens and blues are the colors I choose, won’t you let me go down in my dreams?” I breathed deep.

But Taylor was painting a different picture of life than the one many Coloradans had lived out in the last four days. I opened my eyes and saw Alameda Boulevard stretched out west to east in a straight line of lights from the foothills to Aurora. There on the far horizon I imagined one of the lights was the theater. There still lurking was the pain and heart ache of twelve innocent people dying and many more being wounded physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

The light of JT and the lights of Denver

Guilt buffeted against my peace. Should I be enjoying myself? How can this beauty, my sense of well-being, co-exist with that?

Still they seemed to. Drawing my eyes and heart back to the stage–to the here and now, to what I can be and do–Taylor sang, “Shower the people you love with love.”

And I could see, on the screen, in his now creased 64 year-old face, his alive but tired eyes, that he too has known pain. Yet he still believed what he was singing.

Maybe JT, right there on stage, without knowing it, was living out a truth: that in our hearts grief and grace often ride side by side.

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in his famous poem “Christmas Bells:”

“And in despair I bowed my head

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;

‘For hate is strong

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth good-will to men!’

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

    The Wrong shall fail,

    The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Maybe that’s the thing. Song, poetry–art in general–remind us of this dichotomy of life. In the midst of horrific pain and evil, beauty is undiminished. Grace prevails. Maybe it’s even made more beautiful. James Taylor put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in years. In a stunning setting. The clarity and sweetness of his voice matched the clarity and power of the message I heard God whisper in my heart. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

*July 23, 2012. This may be a slight paraphrase since I did not write his quote down word for word.

Categories: Art, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, healing, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Moby Dick and How I am Forgiving the Church

I set yesterday, Monday, aside for practicing forgiveness. Believe me, I need all the practice I can get. Regardless, my thought was that during Holy Week, like Jesus, I would forgive something Big. So, I rummaged around in my past and touched on a particularly putrid wound I had so far bandaged over as “just a flesh wound.” Wiser people call it denial.

Ignorantly I pulled this memory out and laid it on the table. I could’t believe it. This grievance was not that big when I stowed it away for safe keeping, I thought.

But there it lay–a virtual Moby Dick.

I’m supposed to be good at spiritual stuff like forgiveness. I am a pastor, after all. But maybe I should have started this during-Holy-Week-do-one-thing-a-day-that-Jesus-did experiment with something easy like walking on water.

Gaping, I wondered if I could hide Moby away again. But it was too late. I had even told my congregation I was going to work on forgiving something Big on Monday.

“I’m going to forgive the Church,” I said naively.

But it was difficult knowing where to start.

Like many of you, I’ve had several painful experiences in the church.* And yes, I said several. That means I’m like the guy who gets sick from the all-you-can-eat salad bar but keeps going back for more. And I’m not talking a little food poisoning here. I’m talking hemorrhagic colitis or E. coli O157:H7 infection.

But seriously, these three situations crippled me, hurt my family, and if not for God’s tender, firm hand and a few very good friends and counselors, I would have left the pastorate–and the church–and maybe the faith.

Never-the-less, all day Monday, as I went through my work day, I studied my wounds, and prayed, and grieved anew. This new pain piled on old is why we are reluctant to forgive. Mid-day, however, I remembered reading a book on forgiveness by Lewis Smedes. Smedes wrote you have to specifically name the wrong done to you before you can forgive.

I realized it was not mere denial blocking me from forgiving theses churches and moving on in a more free life. Low-grade bitterness stemming from vague forgiveness was keeping me emotionally bedridden. I had told others this truth but never applied it to these wounds of mine. Yes, I knew they hurt me. Yes, I was wronged. But how exactly? I was surprised after the years of moaning and groaning I’d done about this, I could not state the cause of my pain in anything but vague, general terms.

Unlike Aspirin, forgiveness cannot be applied as a general anesthetic.

Monday night I broke out my journals and began pouring over them to find clues as to what the real issues were. First, I recognized I was not hurt by “the church.” But rather I had experienced three separate battle field traumas in churches. Some were inflicted by individuals, some by systems, some by whole groups, some–in part–self-inflicted.

Second, I saw the wrongs ranged from a lack of acceptance resulting in judgement and subsequent isolation to emotional and spiritual manipulation leading to abuse or what is called clergy mobbing.

Suddenly the whale began to break into smaller pieces, pieces I could work on. Something in me floated free. Forgiveness began to feel real and attainable.

Attainable not in one day, however. As I ended Monday writing my newest journal entries on an old story, I adjusted my Holy Week goals. I would still work on my daily list. But forgiving something Big would not be a sprint but rather a marathon.

The next step? I’m not sure. But, as they say in running, I’m just going to put one foot in front of the other. And I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Eugene C. Scott is not a runner but likes to use running metaphors. Metaphors are not nearly as strenuous. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following his blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

*In saying this I am not claiming to be a victim or innocent. Though I was wronged, I realize my faults and sins added to these situations. **Clergy mobbing is a term researchers have begun using to apply to the abuse of clergy.

Categories: belonging, Bible, bible conversation, Christianity, church, Community, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, healing, Jesus, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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