mystery

The Poet and the Painter on Boundaries

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,” declares David in Psalm 16. That line boundaries in pleasant places is an odd one, especially read in a time when boundaries are readily broken and often despised. What on earth can David mean?

Yes, when babies are new, they love to be swaddled, bound up in a blanket. Babies need to be held tight and secure. They demand boundaries and find them quite pleasant.

But David was not a baby. As we grow, we unwrap ourselves, thrust for personal space. We demand freedom. Our boundaries fade or even cease to exist. It’s as if the swaddling gave us permission to push. Every frontier must fall. We need to breathe free air.

Strayy Night (12 of 10)Starry nights symbolize freedom, that boundlessness we yearn after. Yet, I find starry skies as frightening as they are inspiring. The night sky is an open gate that if God and gravity were to let go, I would be flung out into dark nothingness. When staring into the beautiful, boundless stars, wonder rises in me and becomes entangled with a shivering insecurity. The sky above me is a hole, vast and unfathomable. Under those flickering stars, it is all too easy to imagine floating alone for eternity.

What am I compared to the stars? Who am I measured against their beauty?

In Psalm 8 David wrote: “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

Starry-Night

Starry Night Vincent van Gogh

Is this the vision that propelled Vincent van Gogh to paint his masterwork Starry Night while restrained in an Asylum at Saint-Remy? His brilliant mind grasped two truths and translated their conflicting magnificence onto his canvas. For van Gogh, there seems to be no starry night without solid ground. Firm mountains frame the spinning wonder of unknowable stars. Is it that truth as well as his fabulous brush strokes that draw us to this painting?

Did van Gogh capture an internal landscape as well as an external one?

This is a paradox. Was he showing us that while we push against our boundaries and rebel against any constriction, we also revel in boundedness? At night, with the endless sky yawning above, we yearn for David’s boundaries in pleasant places, the swaddling of God’s love and care. Stars are frighteningly beautiful because from solid ground they call us to recognize something or someone hidden in that speckled dome. Like the swooping question mark in the sky of van Gogh’s Starry Night, the stars call us to question our self-sufficiency our trajectory. In our saner moments stars let us see God has indeed drawn the boundaries in pleasant places.

Strayy Night (9 of 10)

Pleasant Boundaries PC Eugene Scott

P.S. I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving, those in the U.S. anyway. Obviously, I am thankful you took your time to read this. Do you have a time when the sky–or nature–spoke to you the way it seemed to with David and van Gogh? Tell us about it.

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Categories: Art, belonging, creation, Eugene C. Scott, mystery, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 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

What Do Charles Schultz, C.S. Lewis, Bach, Beethoven, Rembrandt and You Have in Common?

By Eugene C. Scott

What do Charles Schultz, Beethoven, J.R.R. Tolkein, Johann Sebastian Bach, Rembrandt, Charles Dickens, Georg Handel, Annie DillardGraham Greene, Michelangelo and C.S. Lewis have in common? No, they are not all dearly departed. Author Annie Dillard is alive and well, thank you. They are, however, all artists: cartoonists, musicians, writers, painters and poets whose work defines their genre. They also have in common a connection with their Creator. Each of these artists loved God and expressed that love through art.

We don’t often recognize it, but many of our creators of classics were those whose faith in God drove them to discover, invent, explore, write, paint and excel at their calling. Bach scrawled “Solo Deo Gloria” on each of his compositions because he wanted all to know his music was written to bring glory to God alone. It has! Rembrandt produced more paintings depicting biblical themes (850 religious versus 500 portraits) than any other subject. Rembrandt clearly possessed a passion to illustrate the truth of God. Tolkien created an entire fantasy world out of his belief that story telling reflects the eternal Wisdom and Beauty of our Maker.

Creativity and the arts are logically and intimately connected to our Creator. Genesis 1:1 and 26 reads, “In the beginning God created

the heavens and the earth. . . Let us make man in our image, in our likeness. . . .” God is creative and part of the image of God we bear is the ability also to create. God took nothing and formed it into magpies, rainbow trout and us. We build mud into temples, sheet metal into Jaguars and with ink we invent worlds. Tolkien rightly called us “sub-creators.”

That is not to say those who make no room in their lives for a Creator are not creative. The creation account does not say God granted the divine image only to those who believe. Many who have crowned themselves their own masters have become maestros. All humans carry creation in their genes. Simply because I don’t recognize the source of a river does not mean I cannot drink deeply from it.

But in knowledge and truth lies freedom. To know God as Creator frees us to create in the highest sense of the word. Pop culture is a testimony to the downward spiral of creativity. Rare are the Paul Simons, J.K. Rowlings and Picassos; rife are the Brittany Spears, Mr. T’s and Survivors. When a crucifix suspended in a jar of urine is passed off and hotly defended as art, is when we know the connection between creativity and the Creator has been stretched to its limit if not broken.

Christianity has been one of the culprits of this disconnect. Christians marched out of the age of reason believing imagination, story telling and theater were inventions of the devil. Some ancient churches banned art. And just twenty years ago, Contemporary Christian Music was thrown into befuddlement when Phil Keaggy, a masterful guitar player, produced an instrumental album called “The Master and the Musician.” Critics said it could not be a “Christian” album because it never mentioned Jesus by name.

Yet, James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” Good art, engineering, poetry and parenting comes from God. Art need not reflect religious subjects only to be great. But we must recognize creativity flows from the One, True Artist in order for art in us to flourish. You and I were created creative. We can decorate our corner of the world by letting God’s art purl through us.

Eugene C. Scott loves creativity and is writing a novel, writes poetry, dreams up lots of crazy things but can’t cook a lick.  He is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church which is a grace-filled group of people who also love and welcome creativity.

Categories: Art, Bible, bible conversation, Books, Christianity, creation, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, Gilcrease, God, God Sightings, Jesus, Literature, Meaning, mystery, ordinary, story, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Seen Any Burning Bushes Lately?

By Eugene C. Scott

The desert had grown comfortable for Moses. After forty years of caring for Jethro’s sheep, he knew every bush and watering hole as well as he knew the seams and stitches of his old camel-hair robe. When he first arrived in Midian, a fugitive from Egypt and God, wariness was a way of life. He noticed all–the cool slant of the sun in the morning, the twitch of a conies’ ear as he approached an oasis, the heat waves drawing alluring pictures in the midday heat. His nerves jumped at each breath of wind or bleat of sheep. And always he wondered if he had run far enough from Egypt and feared he could never run far enough from God.

Today, however, Moses drowsed as he followed his flock across the desert. His sandals scuffed a rhythm on the hard, dry desert floor. Horeb, the mountain of God, towered in the distance, its long shadow touching the noses of his lead sheep. But Moses noticed not. He had grown comfortable. So it is he walked an hour or more without perceiving the bright light that flickered at the base of Horeb. In the early days Moses would have seen it afar and worried if it were the glint of an enemies’ weapon. Today he shuffled almost upon it before the fire registered. And he only looked up because his flock veered off to the right of the burning bush.

Moses stopped and planted his staff in the dirt between his feet. He sheep continued on their well-worn route. Moses rubbed his old eyes and wondered how this bush came to burn. Then slowly he realized the bush was aflame but it did not burn–no crumbling branches, no ember, no ash. “Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.’” Exodus 3:1-4

Amazing what God resorts to to get our attention. Remember the one time you knew the correct answer to your math teacher’s question and you waved your arm until your biceps muscle seized and your arm plummeted to your desk like a dead weight? And your math teacher never noticed. She called on the kid sleeping and drooling on his desk next to you. I wonder if God feels like that? He burns bushes, throws lightning bolts, and generally makes a nuisance of himself, waving his arms around like an eager fourth grader, and we never notice.

I have a friend who, when he is out in the woods, always sees a deer or elk or coyote or grouse or rabbit or something. I can hike a trail for hours and never see a blessed thing. But then Jay joins me and suddenly the hills are alive. I once asked him if he attracted all these animals by wearing a special scent or failing to shower. He simply smiled and pointed out a six point bull elk watering fifty yards off the trail. Some people are just tuned in.

Jay loves the wilderness so much he becomes a part of it. He has trained himself to notice things most of us ignore. Dead tree branches transfigure into the rack of a buck standing behind a tree, and a flickering, golden oak leaf is really a doe perking her ear at a strange noise. Jay doesn’t miss much.

I’m sure by now you get the point. Most of us are like Moses almost missing God in a burning bush. We might even be worse than Moses and walk right by the durned thing. And the tragedy is God only occasionally speaks through burning bushes. The rest of the time his subtle voice is in the flick of a leaf or the blink of an eye. We rush down the trail of life claiming it leads through a barren wilderness, while God is dropping hints of his love and presence at every turn. Stop, look, listen. God is there.

Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Contrary to popular belief that verse does not advocate blind faith. It commends “the ancients” for hearing God’s voice and seeing his hand in everyday life. They trusted God in the supernatural world because they walked with him in the natural world. We can be certain of what we do not see only if we open our eyes to what God has put before us.

“When the Lord saw that [Moses] had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’

“And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’” But of course God knew where Moses was. Moses was really saying, “I’m here; I’m listening now; speak, my God.”

Life often grows comfortable–we habituate to its wonders. We drive the same route to work. And glaze-eyed notice nothing.  What must God do to get us to say, “I’m here; I’m listening now; speak, my God.”? Usually it’s something that burns like fire.

Eugene often misses God and good things right in front of him. Fortunately God is patient with him and keeps trying. Eugene also co-pastors The Neighborhood Church.

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Harry Potter and the Church Part I

By Eugene C. Scott


Like J. K. Rowling’s wonderfully weird invention of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jelly Beans, her Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and God’s equally wonderful and weird church are both humanity flavored hope. Sometimes they’re sweet and sometimes disgusting.

The truth is Rowling gave Hogwarts the same humanity flawed quirkiness that God created the church to reflect.

In chapter six of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” a confused but expectant Harry Potter stands on platform nine and three quarters waiting for the Hogwarts Express–a magical train that will take him–for the first time–to Hogwarts, where he will be schooled in magic. Once there, Harry’s life changes dramatically.

In this magical castle filled with moving staircases, strange rooms, stranger people, talking portraits, and ghosts, Harry, among other things, will cement life-long friendships with Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley while discovering that even the best witchcraft and wizardry school is full of quirks and imperfections and–more-so–quirky and imperfect people.

As I have enjoyed J. K. Rowling’s classic stories as pure fun reading, I also have been challenged by some of her deeper themes. Did she, for instance, intend to draw parallels between the mythical castle called Hogwarts and God’s mysterious community called the church?

Intentional or not, the parallels are there.

Relationships Define the Church and Hogwarts

Contrary to popular belief, the church is not a building nor an institution. It is a community. Yes, most often the church meets in a building and–unfortunately–becomes far too institutional. Hogwarts too is a particular place and has rules–most of which Harry breaks. But this is not what defines Hogwarts.

At Hogwarts, Harry, the orphan, finds his family. Through his friendship with Ron Weasley at Hogwarts, Harry is unofficially adopted into the Weasley clan. It is at Hogwarts also that Harry meets his godfather, Sirius Black and is mentored by a father figure, Albus Dumbledore.

Like Hogwarts, the church, first and foremost, is a community. A family thrown together in a myriad of relationships. Orphans all adopted by Christ.

I grew up in what is commonly called a dysfunctional family. We weren’t completely dysfunctional, however. We did two things very well: fight and meddle in each other’s business. What we did not manage was to foster intimacy. We loved each other to the best of our ability. Still my family was a lonely, chaotic place.

Then I became a follower of Christ and was adopted into this quirky, imperfect family called the church. Like Harry, it was in this completely foreign and unexpected place that I discovered true family. I am who I am because of God speaking and working through the family members I have met in various churches. I have served in six churches over the last 32 years. In each one God has introduced me to people who have become life-long friends. We have, as the great theologian and poet Paul said, “carried one another’s burdens.” We have cried, laughed, fought, feasted (a lot), and lived life together. Rowling was brilliant in drawing Harry as a hero who needed friends to accomplish his mission. And Hogwarts as the place those relationships formed and thrived.

This too is us.

The Church and Hogwarts Are a Mix of Angels and Demons

Much to Harry’s dismay, however, Hogwarts is far from perfect. It is there, under the Sorting Hat, that he discovers his own dark side. It tells Harry, “You could be great, you know, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that.” But Ron warns him, “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.” Should Harry join the darker, more prone to evil House of Slytherin, or the more benign House of Gryffindor? Each of us, whether follower of Christ or no, face the same choices.

No wonder so many wars and wonders have been wrought in the name of God. 

In Hogwarts Harry battles his nearest enemy, Draco Malfoy. Hogwarts, like the church, contains not just angels but demons (so to speak). In the church I’ve been and met both. Like Harry, all of us who have spent more than 10 minutes in the church carry and have inflicted wounds.

Rowling invents a fictional school that rings true because it is such a real mix of sinner and saint. Just like the church.

If Harry imagined Hogwarts as utopia, he was sorely disappointed. This may be why so many of us give up on the church. We are drawn to its divinity but are driven away by its humanity. Our unrealistic expectations are as much a part of our disappointment as are the actual flaws thriving in the church. I plummet emotionally each time the church–or more correctly people, including myself, of the church–don’t live up to my lofty ideals.

Though I understand well the pain that the church can inflict (from personal experience as well as theoretically), the load that weighs heaviest on my pastor’s soul is trying to convince people that the church is both more and less than they ever imagined. More in that it is about being human and being in relationships while also being in relationship with God.  Less in that it is about being flawed humans who need each other.

And in that way the church reflects humanity and human community perfectly. Harry could have never become who he was born to be without Hogwarts and all the pain, joy, disappointment and triumph mixed together in one.

Imagine had Harry, as do so many people today in regards to church, refused to board that mysterious train bound for Hogwarts, one of the best stories written in modern times would have never come into being. So too, when any of us refuses to join that infuriating, dangerous, glorious, Christ-community God calls the church. What real story might you be missing?

Eugene C Scott is co-pastor of one of those wonderfully weird places called The Neighborhood Church.

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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

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W.W.H.P.D?: What Would Harry Potter Do?

By Eugene C. Scott

Of all the battles Harry Potter faces, one is paramount. Not his conflict with Draco Malfoy, Professor Snape, the Dementors, the sweetly evil Dolores Umbridge, not even with Him-Who Must-Not-be-Named, Lord Voldemort. Rather this battle is more personal, more realistic, more tragic. Closer to home. This struggle is the emotional core of the entire Harry Potter series. Harry never met his parents. He knows not his mother.

Suppose, like Harry, you only had the opportunity to know your mother through secondary sources. Let’s say you only knew your mother through what others said about her, a few moving pictures, and reading pieces of her journal and old letters. But you never met her, heard her sing, kissed her cheek, asked her questions, smelled her hair, knew why she died for you.

If that were your story–or mine, then, like Harry, we could not say we truly knew our mothers. Not in that deepest sense of knowing. At best we could only nod sadly and say we knew of our mothers. In that situation many of us would ache for our mothers, that touch, that intimacy. A pain made worse when someone says, “You look just like her” or “Too bad you never met her.” That desire to know–truly know–would drive our stories, our lives as desperately as Harry’s.

This is the exact non-fiction situation humanity faces in knowing God. We know of God through secondary sources: what others say about God, artists depictions, reading pieces of God’s journal and old letters (otherwise known as the Bible). But we’ve never met God, heard his voice, touched him, looked in his eyes. And it drives us insane.

This distance, this yearning for, this knowing of while not being intimate with God troubled God. A tragedy every bit as dire as Harry’s.

Study, dig, argue, theorize, reason, pray, pry, beg, try as we might, intimacy–true knowing of God–escaped us.

Into this impossible situation strode a Jewish carpenter named Jesus saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. . . . I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” John 14:1, 6-7

Today this statement strikes many as too exclusive, ludicrous, audacious.

How could Jesus claim to be the only way to come to and know God? There must be many ways to God.

Would it be exclusive, unfair, or restrictive, however, of me to say, “I am the only way to truly know me”?

You can search secondary sources to learn of me, pictures, old sermons, hearsay, rumors. But if you want to know Eugene C. Scott, you can do so only through Eugene C. Scott. My wife, the person who knows me best, can show you one piece of my puzzle. My children more pieces. My life-long friend Jay a few more. My other friends and congregation a piece here and there. But many pieces are missing unless I too reveal myself to you.

Harry wanted nothing more than to meet, face to face with his parents. The whole magical and muggle world could be damned.

This truth was the core of Jesus‘ Incarnation, God becoming flesh. God saw the tragic limits of secondary sources and bridged them. And Jesus’ life proved his claim of Being Divinity Among us true. Jesus exerted an authority over nature, demons, illness, people, arguments, and finally death that only God could hold. Jesus was God in flesh. Thus it is not audacious or restrictive for Jesus to claim to be the only way for each of us to come to or know God. It is the opposite. By so saying Jesus throws the door to intimacy with the Father wide open.

This doesn’t mean we can’t learn something about God through Buddha, the gods of the Hindus, from Islam, and even certain strains of Christianity. But they are all secondary sources and prone to misinterpretation and often downright error. Jesus’ seemingly exclusive claim then is actually inclusive. He intends to include you and me.

Back to Harry.  Suppose Lilly Potter walked back into Harry’s life. What would Harry Potter do?

Suppose Jesus walked into our world spreading his powerful, loving arms wide and saying to one and all, “Here I AM. Know ME.”

What would you do?

Categories: adventure, Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, care, Christianity, church, Community, creation, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, Excitement, Faith, friends, God, God Sightings, Jesus, loneliness, love., Meaning, miracles, murder, mystery, pain, self-doubt, story, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Solving Life’s Problems through Slogans

By Eugene C. Scott

We are enamored with slogans. If it can’t be said in three to seven words, seems it ain’t worth saying. Take for example the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” This saying is usually uttered during some disappointing or tragic event. But what does it mean? Are hard things easier if they have a reason?

Similar is “If God closes a door, God usually opens a window.” When I hear that phrase, I always check to see if I’m on the ground floor. Both phrases are rather deterministic, a kind of shrug of the shoulders at fate or God, whichever you happen to believe is master of the cosmos. It’s not as if either saying can change anything.

Another slogan that leaves me wanting is “Leave No Trace.” I understand the sentiment. I do! I am a conservationist. What the sloganeers are trying to communicate in a pithy, memorable way is not to pick flora, kill fauna, autograph trees, dig holes, throw rocks, toss trash, trash talk, cause erosion, burn down forests, start avalanches, or produce global warming while on an afternoon hike. These are good things not to do.

And placing all of the necessary restrictions on one sign would be ridiculous, unless you live in Boulder, CO where the above sentence qualifies as a slogan. But three words simply cannot adequately sum up the importance of good stewardship of our world, especially in the wild. Reducing the concept of conservation to a slogan may actually diminish the message. Another problem with the “Leave No Trace” slogan is it is impossible. Simply observing something may actually leave a trace.

The reality is, try as we might, life’s complexities can’t be summed up in a sound bite. And the more often we try to jam the mysteries of life into small spaces the more often we lose the gist of the problem we’re trying to capsulize and possibly the gist of life itself. When slogans don’t solve anything, people may simply despair trying.

For that matter the two phrases “Leave No Trace” and “Everything Happens for a Reason” contradict one another. Genetically and theologically we are built to leave a trace. Humans are consumed with finding a purpose in positive and negative events and also with leaving our mark on the world. Life would truly be meaningless if each of us left no trace.

Besides no saying can save the planet. Worse yet an easy slogan may even let us off hook for the hard, complicated, and sometimes, contradictory work God has for us in being stewards of this great planet. Further no slogan can explain the death of a child or onset of a disease. Nor can it deflect the pain.

What if what God has for us is not escaping from trouble through a small window but living in a world without doors or windows or walls that leaves us vulnerable to God’s very presence, completely understood or not? Biblical sufferer Job could have summed up his suffering by saying, “stuff happens.” Instead Job asked God hard questions and waited for even harder answers.

Neither of which could be reduced to a slogan.

Condensed life, like condensed milk, needs something added in order to make it palatable. In a culture where fast food is the norm we also want fast answers. But fast doesn’t always equal good. Life, with its recipe of trouble and triumph mixed with pain and promise, is too rich to be reduced to a slogan. In the end bumper sticker theology or philosophy fail us. God especially can’t be summed up in a slogan.

God told Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” At no time is the truth of that claim more obvious than when we are being insulted by the latest catch phrase or slogan reducing life’s mystery and problems to its least common denominator much less minimizing God’s grand creation to a sound bite.

Eugene is co-pastor of  The Neighborhood Church.

Categories: adventure, Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, care, Christianity, creation, Eugene C. Scott, fishing, friends, Fun, God, God Sightings, grace, happiness, Jesus, love., Meaning, mystery, ordinary, priorities, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

All the World’s a . . . Dance: The Trinity and You

By Eugene C. Scott

“Country road take me home. . .,” John Denver warbled from the CD player as our Jeep jolted down the lonely miles of country roads in the Canyon Lands of Utah. “. . . to a place where I belong,” John sang in complete incongruity to how out-of-place we were among the soaring rock formations and sinking canyons breaking the pastel expanse of the desert. We had not seen a home in hours and the last time we did it was a meager, wind-bitten outpost set against this glorious wilderness.

As we pounded out the miles, I wondered why more of us don’t call these wild places home? I remembered I had once dreamed of living alone in a teepee in the wilderness.  Like me, so many of us romanticize rugged individualism and the wilderness in songs, paintings, and books. And many of us yearn for the singular beauty of the desert or an isolated mountain.

Yet the majority of us sink our roots nearer to communities than canyons. Why is it only the hardy hermit or crazy coot can live out in barren places? Certainly the harshness of wilderness life plays a role. That there is no hot, running water, not to mention no Quickie Mart, may indeed be an ingredient. But there were no Quickie Marts for most of human history and even back then folks chose to gather in communities rather than brave the solitude of their vast and wild world. So ease of life cannot be the major factor in why we gather rather than scatter.

I tried variations of my lone wolf in the wilderness dream before coming to the conclusion that not only did I like people but I also needed them.

God is the cause of our need for community. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image in our likeness. . .’” (Genesis 1:26) This simple sentence contains as much information about human life as a DNA strand. For centuries theologians and philosophers have held those words under their microscopes mining them for meaning. Most have concluded being created in God’s likeness means we derive our personhood, emotions, intellect, will, etc. from God. In other words, all the attributes God shines we reflect–albeit in a severely smoky mirror. We are who we are because God is Who He is!

Thus we come to the words “us” and “our” in that ancient sentence. Here is our first introduction to God as three-in-one. Trinity may be one of the toughest concepts about God to understand. I’ve heard various attempts to describe God’s three-in-oneness. The simple chicken egg, they say, is made of three distinct parts: the shell, the whites, and the yoke, but there is only one egg. Others focus us on complex chemicals to see how God can be three-in-one. H2O can be a solid, a liquid, or a gas, and still be water. Today modern molecular biology informs us that every whole is made up of millions of other wholes. In essence models of Trinity are all around us.

An older and better metaphor for understanding God as Trinity can be seen in the Greek word perichoresis. It means to dance: peri = around and choresis = danceFor thousands of years the ancient Greek Orthodox Church pictured the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a holy and sacred dance.

Eugene H. Peterson, in his book “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places,” describes it this way: “Imagine a folk dance, a round dance, with three partners in each set. The music starts up and the partners holding hands begin moving in a circle. . . . The tempo increases, the partners move more swiftly . . . swinging and twirling, embracing and releasing. . . . But there is no confusion, every movement is cleanly coordinated in precise rhythms . . . as each person maintains his or her own identity.”

Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage.” But it may be more true that all the world’s a dance and Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the caller. There is nothing we do without “dancing” with God and others in relationship.

How are we created in God’s image? God is in relationship and we too were created to be in relationship. Our human need for community is not just an analogy of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; it is one of the attributes of God we reflect. Just like God is love and God is just, God is community. The Father exists in relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit. The great darkness and pain of God the Son on the cross was the breaking of that community for the first time in history. The great victory of the resurrection was the healing of that Holy Community and the mending of the tear in our human relationships with God and one another.

We need to live near other people and be intimate with one another because God created us in their image–the image of Community. Our need for one another is God designed. Therefore, those hermits hacking out a life in the wilds of our world are bucking God’s plan. And John Denver’s longing for home was planted in his heart by God. I love and need the solitude of a desert horizon or mountain vista. I hear God’s voice and see God’s strength in the barren places. But I feel God’s warm arms and know God’s forgiving love and healing touch best when standing among my God ordained community of family and friends.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church. More info go to tnc3.org.

Categories: adventure, Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, care, Christianity, church, Community, creation, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, friends, Fun, God, God Sightings, grace, Jesus, loneliness, mystery, together, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Postcard from the Pacific Rim: Maui, Hawaii

By Brendan Scott and Eugene C. Scott

Expectations. Most times what we expect to happen trips us up and gets in the way of seeing and experiencing the more oblique, twisted, fun, real side of life. For example on a trip to Maui one would expect a sunburn, sand between the toes, jungle waterfalls, and serious beach time. These would be good things. But when we take off our expectation colored sun glasses, it’s amazing some of the crazy, fun, real things you can experience. On a recent vacation with my family my son Brendan and I decided to record some of the unexpected things we saw and experienced in a blog. Brendan also writes a blog at guatspot.wordpress.com.

Signs from God?

Quick trip to heaven? Turn left.

Some things go without saying . . .

Shouldn't you also deploy wings?

. . . yet some people still feel the need to say them.

Sign above toilet ------>

<------Can dogs on Maui read signs?

Random Observations:

We’re staying in the same area in which actress Helen Hunt, the “Mad about You” star, lives. Yes, she is still alive and no, she didn’t disappear after “As Good As It Gets.” Consequently we have experienced dozens of Helen Hunt sightings. The only one we can confirm, however, was a week previous when Dave, our generous host, saw her being interviewed by Jay Leno on TV.

We’ve seen as many trucks with surfboard racks as tool racks. And even then many of the tool racks double for surfboards. The question seems to be surf or survive?

And don’t even get us started on convertible Ford Mustangs. Apparently car rental companies have figured out how to get them to reproduce like rabbits.

Multiplying Mustangs

Overheard:

A woman behind us on the beach: “How’d all this sand get in this?”

Dee Dee on seeing a dead mouse on the porch: “I wish I could be brave.  I just can’t.”

A young mother with her daughter climbing down–as we climbed up–to a rocky crag over-looking the vast, wild blue pacific ocean as it pounded onto volcanic rock cliffs formed eons ago. “There’s nothing up there.”

Ashley on the best places to snorkel. “Swimming with dolphins is fun but after a while it’s irritating. You just want to say, ‘Dolphins, stop being so happy!’”

Emmy on snorkeling anywhere. “I don’t need flippers to snorkel. My feet are better than flippers.”

Danger in Paradise:

Our gracious hostess, Linda, loves Maui. She knows its history ancient and modern, (did you know Hawaiian Hula dancers did not–I repeat–did not wear grass skirts), the correct pronunciation of words like humuhumunukunuku’āpua’a
, the best restaurants (Star-Noodle and The Gazeebo), beaches, and activities (Maui Ulalena). Linda is not only a Hawaii historian but a nurse. Thus she knows how and where every shark attack, drowning, broken neck from surfing, freak hiking accident and deadly food-borne illness took place.

Late each night Linda enthralled us with tales of death, danger and destruction. One such tale was of a doctor and his wife being lost at sea in their kayak and how a shark attacked and the wife lost her leg. The doctor washed up on one of the islands and the wife was never seen again. Locals suspect the doctor was the shark.

Linda told another gripping story about nine Japanese tourists standing too close to the edge of the cliff we had climbed the day before. As they stood admiring God’s handy work, a rogue wave smashed against the cliff and washed them all out to sea. Cameras and all. Tragic but there was a partially happy ending. Some Hawaiians dove in and swam over and saved several of the tourists. “Nothing to see up there” indeed.

Danger is sometimes deceptively beautiful.

Paradise in Paradise.

Expectations. We were up at 3am. on day two of our holiday in Maui driving to the 10,000 foot peak of Haleakala Volcano to watch the sunrise. Our rental Ford SUV climbed slowly up the dark, twisty road–the most elevation gain in the shortest distance anywhere on the planet. We arrived at the dormant craters‘ edge at 5am. God had scheduled the sunrise this day for 5:38am. It would be an hour-long show–like watching flowers filmed in slow motion as they bust out of the ground and blossom.

Sunrise over Haleakala Volcano

Spectacular!

Two things:

One: The road less travelled by is sometimes crowded. But still worth it. Several hundred others braved the early hour, the dark, and the cold to witness God reinventing the day.

Two: It amazed us how something so mundane and predictable as the sun rising one more time in a succession of daybreaks that has not stopped since the beginning of time could also be so extraordinary.

 Aloha.

Categories: adventure, Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, care, Christianity, Community, creation, Eugene C. Scott, Excitement, Faith, friends, Fun, God, God Sightings, happiness, Jesus, loneliness, love., Meaning, murder, mystery, ordinary, pain, story, together, TV, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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