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A Twist on Tolkien: All Who Are Lost Wander

Sassy

Sassy’s World PC Eugene C Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DogHeaven

Fb.com/ilovemydogfans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Road

Wanderlost PC Eugene C Scott

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

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

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

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

Categories: adventure, belonging, Bible, Christianity, creation, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Hitler, Mother Teresa, and Me

Lake Atitlán

The Stepping-Off Place by Brendan Scott

I have this recurring day dream where I’ve died and gone to heaven. 

I’m standing in line, in the clouds, though the footing is firm enough. My hands are sweaty. My heart is playing the kettle drum. I see the gates gleaming.* A line of people stretches out behind me horizon-like into eternity. Just ahead of me stands Adolph Hitler and just behind slumps Jeffery Dahmer.

Not good company, but maybe good placement, I think. I’m a saint compared to these guys.

Just then I hear my name.

“Eugene, Eugene C. Scott.” The angel sings my name like notes off a blues guitar and waves me forward, smiling.

“Here! Here I am!” I shout, flapping my arms, ducking out of line, and running through the gate, leaving Adolph and Jeffery behind.

Then the day dream reverses and darkens.

I’m on the same cloud, in line, heart stuttering, sweat dripping. This time I’m in line between Mother Teresa and Billy Graham. Good company, but bad placement, I think. No saint compared to these two.

I square my shoulders and stand straighter like my mom used to tell me to. But it does no good. I know I’ll never measure up.

I hear a sound like nails on a chalkboard. “Eugene, Eugene C. Scott?” The angel is pointing like the “Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.” Away from the streets of gold, I slink.

The dream comes one final time.

The gates rise in the distance. People are scattered about. There are blue patches in the clouds and through them, I see home, my last home. Not wanting to fall through, I move away and bump into someone.

“Sorry,” I mutter. He grabs me. I look. It’s a dark skinned man with a beard.

“Jesus,” I say (not like the cuss word, though, like the name). “You’re not British.”

His face crinkles into a smile.

“What are you doing out here?” I ask, peering at the gates.

Just then the blues guitar plays my name: “Eugene, Eugene C. Scott!”

Jesus pulls me under his arm.

“He’s with me!” he shouts and walks me through the gates.

 

*I realize heaven may or may not be in the clouds and that the streets of gold and gates of pearl are probably metaphors to help us see that what is valued here is building material there. But bear with me.

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

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

God Come Down: A Christmas Day Reflection

 

rmnp-7

Trouble by Eugene C Scott

 

King David was, as usual, in trouble. Somebody or something was after him. Swords, spears, poison, royal duplicity. Or doubts and devils of the internal kind. Not so different from me, or you I suspect. On any given day we need God now and in force.

“Part your heavens, Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, so that they smoke. Send forth lightning and scatter the enemy,” David prayed. (Psalm 144:5-6)

How often have you felt like that? God, come down!

Christmas is an answer to that prayer.

Sort of.

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Red Tree in White by Eugene C Scott

 

Because no matter how many flashing lights we string and drums we bang, in the birth of Christ there were no smoking mountains and lightning bolts.

That’s not to say Jesus’ birth was not marked by the monumental. There hung a star, sung an angel choir. Those, however, were mere messengers. The birth itself was the miracle.

I remember the births of my children. Each was profound and transformational. With each I stood trembling as if thunder had crashed, wondering at the miracle of being a part of God’s creation.

Thirty some-odd years later, I put the two stories together, the birth of Jesus and the birth of my children. God came down like this?

There was no thunder and lightning, outside my overwhelmed heart. They were  beautiful, red and wrinkled and pointy-headed. They looked old, as if they’d travelled from eternity. They were fragile and tiny, skin translucent, as near death as life. Vulnerable. Needy.

15433778_10154502976454823_4068332343685572051_nThere’s a modern painting of Joseph and Mary after the birth of Jesus. It is so real and earthy. Dirt and stone but no smoke and lightning. The parents slouch on the ground, leaning against a rock wall with sandaled feet forward. Their eyes are closed in tired disbelief. Mary, slumped on Joseph’s shoulder, holds Jesus, swaddled, fragile, just like my children: vulnerable, needy.

The Lord came down, answering our many prayers, but in the most unpretentious, unpredicted, unexpected way.

Why? Why not come as David prayed?

The answer, in part, is at the heart of the Incarnation.

In coming, my children did not claim my allegiance through show of force, but captured it with a smile or cry. They did not force me to kneel down to change their diapers or raspberry their bare tummies, but I knelt to serve, love, and be near them. They did not demand service and sacrifice, they needed it and I found my greatest joy in making sure they were dry and safe and well fed. I served them gladly. They did not demand love but they grew it in me and drew it from me.

This is why Jesus came not with thunder and lightning but with dimples and folds.

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Dimples and Folds by Eugene C Scott

This is why he came a mere six pounds and nineteen inches rather than six-foot four two-fifty.

 

The God who needs nothing, especially our puny selves, came down as a needy babe so we could bow down, love, serve, and draw near.

As Frederich Buechner writes, “The Word become flesh. Ultimate Mystery born with a skull you could crush one-handed. Incarnation. It is not tame. It is not touching. It is not beautiful. It is uninhabitable terror. It is unthinkable darkness riven with unbearable light. Agonized laboring led to it, vast upheavals of intergalactic space/time split apart, a wrenching and tearing of the very sinews of reality itself. You can only cover your eyes and shudder before it, before this: ‘God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God . . . who for us and for our salvation,’ as the Nicene Creed puts it, ‘came down from heaven.’”

Yes, we should cover our eyes and shudder as if lightning struck. And sometimes I do. But Omnipotence joined in impotence so that we need not run and hide. We desire nothing less than a mountain shaking miracle for all to see. But what we needed was altogether different. We needed the miracle of God come down to be with us so that as he grew so would our love for him.

And one more miracle. God did not come down only that angel announced day. He does it now and forever. “I will be with you till the end of the age.” May this Christmas be the beginning or renewal of your journey with God. After all, he came down in answer to your prayer.

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Welcome! Photo by Eugene C Scott

 

Categories: Art, Bible, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God, God Sightings, Jesus, Living Spiritually, miracles, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

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.

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

Putting a Face on God: The Most Important Face You’ll Ever See

In the Academy Award nominated movie “Nebraska” Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) is losing what little of himself is left via dementia, or via a life and a brain damaged by alcoholism. He receives a clearing house letter that convinces him he has won one million dollars. All he has to do, he believes, is get from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska to collect his prize. The trouble is he can barely walk much less drive. That and he hasn’t really won anything.

Bruce Dern as Woody Grant

Bruce Dern as Woody Grant

His youngest son, David (Will Forte), however, agrees to take him to Lincoln, if only to shut the old man up, prove to him he is not a millionaire, and—maybe—spend a little time with his mentally disappearing father.

Along the way they stop in Hawthorne, South Dakota where Woody was born and grew up. Also, along the way David learns more about who his dad really is, both a miserable failure and a man with a gigantic heart.

In one scene Woody staggers out of a bar with David following. Woody just told his long-lost friends he is going to be a millionaire.

“Did you see their faces? Did you see their faces?” Woody asks amazed.

Suddenly the almost gone Woody is alive. It’s as if Woody remained a good-for nothing-drunk until the proud looks on the faces of his friends lifted him out his wasted life and proved, finally, that Woody Grant is somebody.

We’ve all had Woody’s experience of being affirmed or destroyed by the looks on the faces of those around us. If looks could kill, as a preacher, I would have died several painful deaths. Once, while preaching, I had an 103 degree temperature and kept saying the same non-sensical thing over and over again. It’s a good thing I was too bleary-eyed to see the looks on the faces of the congregation.

Link Enjoying Summer

Link Enjoying Summer

God seems to have given us an eye, literally, that seeks approval or disapproval in the faces of others. Scientists call this facial processing. New

Addi's Fun Face

Addi’s Fun Face

born infants’ eyes track their parents’ faces in a pattern that seems to give them clues about the world they were just launched into. And within days newborns begin to mimic their parents’ expressions. Parents learn just as quickly to mask any facial response to their child’s many near death encounters, else the child actually die of hyperventilating while crying.

But do these faces we put so much stock in reflect reality?

Sometimes.

But often not. For example, single guys are perpetually and particularly bad at female facial processing. This may be why they remain single.

But we can all remember times when we misread facial clues. Sometimes these misreadings have lifelong ramifications. I remember my dad’s face being blank in response to me. And I interpreted that as lack of interest and worse lack of love. Because he died when I was eleven, it has been hard to go back and correct that misperception. So, I’ve looked for love elsewhere. Thank God, I found it.

Giving God a face maybe one of the best of the many reasons God became flesh in Jesus.

The Woman Caught in Adultery by David Hayward

The Woman Caught in Adultery by David Hayward

Remember that sad story in the Gospel of John about a woman who has been caught in the act of having sex with a man she is not married to and is dragged in front of Jesus (that kind of sex was a big deal back then and would have called for not only seriously ugly facial processing but stoning)?

Jesus nonchalantly kneels down and draws in the dirt.

“Go ahead and kill her,” he says. “If you too are without sin.”

Slowly her ugly faced accusers sneak away.

“Where are those who condemn you?” The woman doesn’t know.

“Then neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Here’s the beautiful thing I’ve seen in this story recently. The passage doesn’t say Jesus looked her in the face or that he had a kind look on his face. But I can’t imagine it any other way.

John 8

John 8

Such kind, firm, life-giving words cannot come from a mouth formed in a scowl. Nor scorching eyes or knit brow. We can all accurately imagine what her accusers’ faces looked like and how Jesus’ face contrasted their withering hate and disapproval.

She could well have said, “Did you see the look on his face?”

And maybe that, along with Jesus’ words, and, of course, his death and resurrection, are what transformed her and allowed her to become who she really was: go and get false love from sex and men’s faces no more.

Diogo Morgado as Jesus in the new “Son of God.”

Diogo Morgado as Jesus in the new “Son of God.”

The question for us is the same as the one Jesus asked this long ago prostitute. “Where are the faces of those who condemn you?” Like the woman, when we focus on his face instead of the myriad of our accusers, we see love and forgiveness, not condemnation. We see his honest omniscient, open face and hear him say, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more. Look no more at faces beside mine”

Categories: Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, Christianity, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Jesus, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

105 Years Late: A Review of G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy”

Searching for Truth or England

Searching for Truth or England

Chesterton begins his brilliant book on how he came to believe Christianity is true with a humorous parable about an English man who sets out by yacht to discover a new world and, through a slight miscalculation, lands back in England, believing he has discovered “a new island in the south seas.” Such a man we would call a fool, he insists.

Later, with a turn and honesty characteristic of the book, Chesterton writes, “I am [that] man who, with the utmost daring, discovered what had been discovered before.” Of course Chesterton is not speaking of a new world here but of old beliefs he names “Orthodoxy.” What Chesterton is getting at is that in his search for new truth, he discovered an 1800 year-old story that answered his hardest questions and deepest doubts.

Chesterton continues, “I am the fool of this story and no rebel can hurl me from my throne.”

But I beg to differ. If I cannot cast him down, I can at least stand shaking beside him. Chesterton’s story is mine. I too have acted the fool believing what I am learning has just magically appeared on my library shelf bound in first edition beauty.

For example, over the last several years I had come to believe I discovered the Trinity, God Three in One, is not best understood by metaphors using eggs that are three in one, yolks, whites, and shells, nor water which is able to be gas, solid, and liquid but rather that God in his trinitarian Being is relational, an eternal expression of community. It is not a metaphor but a reality. Being created in God’s image, humans are communitarian beings too. Why do humans only live and thrive together? Chesterton asks. Because the Trinity is “society,” not meaning high society or culture but togetherness.

 G.K. Chesterton by Mills

G.K. Chesterton by Mills

Further I was stunned and delighted to discover that long before giants such as Eugene H. Peterson, Madeline L’Engle, Donald Miller, and even midgets like myself, recently came to talk about life as story, Chesterton did so. Why does man have free will? he wonders. Because a story is not a story without a choice, the inciting incident. And every choice is in itself a story.

But Chesterton and I are not alone in this foolish re-discovery of old truth. It is the story of us all. And Chesterton tells his–of how he came to believe–in such poetic, fun, witty, honest, and challenging images, ideas, and language that many, if not all, of us can relate and join him on his yacht of discovery. Fools all.

The story of the yacht man is not just one of foolishness, however. For Chesterton it illustrates the enigma of humans yearning to set sail and return home in the same breath. One of the beautiful truths Christianity showed Chesterton is that it holds us “astonished” and “at home” all at the same time. This both/and he calls riddle/answer is the format he uses to address the questions about faith he faced. We need, he says to believe something that is at once “strange and secure,” combining an “idea of wonder and an idea of welcome.” The same rule is necessary in order for one to rebel or follow. All men are born upside-down, he says. Christianity puts us right side up with our feet on the ground. It answers these both/and questions.

But above all, I too am the fool of this story because, though professors, friends, colleagues, and even enemies have raved about this marvelous book, I have only just now discovered “Orthodoxy,” a mere 105 years after its publication. I am sorry for that.

Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy

But “Orthodoxy” did not simply let me explore old truths as if new. It inspired me as a writer. Oh, to turn a phrase as does Chesterton and see the words weeping or laughing or cajoling as they dance on the page. To write such, I might be able to say, “It is finished.”

For me reading Chesterton’s true, fearless, poetic, and rhythmic prose is like watching that rare sunset containing all the life and colors of a day drop below my beloved snow-capped Rocky Mountains. I’ve seen the words before, but not like this.

Listen to his last paragraph:

“The tremendous figure [Jesus], which fills the gospels, towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers whoever thought themselves tall.

“His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed his tears. He showed them plainly on his open face. . . .

“Yet he concealed something.

“Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained his anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the temple. . . .

“Yet he restrained something.

“I say it with reverence. There was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something he hid from all men when he went up a mountain to pray. There was something that he covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth.

“And I have sometimes fancied that it was his mirth.”

As I read that last sentence and smiled, my wife Dee Dee walked up to me.

“Enjoying yourself?”

Ironic, that at that moment, I apparently could not contain mine.

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

A Brief Excuse for Why I Disappeared from Blogging

You’ve heard it said, “Excuses are like armpits. Everyone has one and they all stink.” Except in the Navy, where I first heard that wonderful cliché, we did not use the word armpit nor the word stink.

Anyway, I know I dropped from the face of the blogging world. Thanks for your patience and understanding. I wound up serving in three wonderful and challenging ministries and have focused all of my hard-to-come-by writing on my WIP, aka: the never-ending novel. It was a very busy fall.  But I plan to be back in 2014. I hope you’ll let me back into your busy schedules. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Eugene

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 3 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Categories: Uncategorized | 7 Comments

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