Posts Tagged With: Eugene C. Scott

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!

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

Lent: Blinded to God in Daily Life

A list of 47 words for our photo-a-day during Lent

A list of 47 words for our photo-a-day during Lent

After Jesus performs a miracle by feeding over 4,000 people with what amounts to half a dozen Big Macs, the disciples are no closer to becoming believers. He says, “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember?” Mark 8:18

I can’t say if that describes you. But it certainly is my story. I simply fail to see all the grand and glorious grace of God in my daily life and world. Sometimes I’m distracted, sometimes angry, sometimes tired, sometimes busy, most times full of myself. I’m blinded to God in my daily life.

That is why I’ve enjoyed and been challenged by my church’s photo-a-day devotional (@the_neighborhood_church #lentgallery) on Instagram. Each day those of us participating have been challenged to take a picture somehow linked, literally or poetically, to that day’s Lenten word.

A collage of images of the word broken

A collage of images of the word broken

The project has opened my eyes! I find myself looking for God and his touch (not that I can get God to stand still long enough to pose for my camera). I am seeing life in new light. I am more aware, more thoughtful. I find myself believing that God is present and may even pull off some minor miracle to help my unbelief.

And for me that’s what Lent is about, not giving up chocolate, or TV, or radio. But rather engaging in a pursuit of the God who wants to be found. The God who loved us so desperately that he placed his Son on a cross for all to see.

It’s not to late to join us. Grab a camera, cell phone, or even simply watch what others are posting. And may God open the eyes of us all.

P.S. I know it’s been ages since I’ve posted on Living Spiritually. I hope not all of you have abandoned this blog. As you may know, I’ve been devoting all my writing time to my novel. I have finished it and now have moved into the stage of finding it a home for publication. I will keep you posted. Also I am going to post some of the #lentgallery photos here. Let me know what you think.

Categories: Art, Christianity, creation, Lent | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Go Against the Flow: The Anti-New Year Resolution

I hate trendiness, especially when I find myself the one trending. At various times in my life I have vowed to never wear a biking outfit, use a cell phone, or participate in Facebook. Fortunately the picture of me Facebooking on my iPhone while mountain biking clad in a bike outfit has yet to surface. It would ruin my well-groomed image of myself as a rebel.

That refusal to go with the flow is the reason I no longer make New Year resolutions. Everybody makes them and then nobody keeps them. There is only one New Year resolution I’ve ever made that I kept.

Several years ago I resolved to never make New Year resolutions. I’ve been faithful in my resolve until now.

As you may know, I declared 2012 to be the year of living spiritually: a year where I will daily look for the ordinary, sometimes invisible to the naked eye, soul in life. Since I don’t make resolutions and I decided to start this on December 26, 2011, I didn’t realize it was a New Year resolution.

Then a friend of mine, Deirdre Bylery, who is joining in on this journey, wrote on our Facebook page, “Seems to me New Year resolutions are all ‘me’ focused — getting me skinnier, fitter, more successful etc. Even when it comes to God, it’s ‘how is God going to use ME?’ It’s like looking through the wrong end of the binoculars. Wouldn’t it be something if in 2012 the focus was the search for God, not myself?”

Great point, Deirdre. And too true.

And I never intended this to be a year-long experiment. Or a resolution, even if it is a better resolution than usual. I want to be changed into a person who–more often than not –is seeking God rather than myself. I want this to be how I live, not just something I do.

I am not satisfied with how casually I treat God and people and my world. How often I muddle through a day without truly seeing. I don’t want to be more successful but rather more real, human, spiritual.

And that’s the trouble. Resolutions are concrete. We at least know when we’ve broken them. It’s easy to measure the weight we haven’t lost, the success we haven’t gained, and the fitness we missed. But how does one measure being more real, more human, more spiritual? Maybe that’s what this is all about: just learning how to ask the questions and look for possible answers.

Eugene C. Scott is writing these God sightings down daily in a journal and invites you to see the spiritual and join him in looking for God sightings in 2012. Also tell your stories about what it’s like. Comment here and join our “Living Spiritually” community by visiting and liking facebook.com/livingspiritually. Eugene is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Can You Find God at Walmart?

By Eugene C. Scott

My wife Dee Dee delights in sending me on difficult excursions.

“Eugene, would you please run to King Soopers and pick up a gallon of milk? Oh, and I almost forgot, and some Star Anise, Lavender, and Mace?”

Back in the olden days, say 1995, before cell phones were common, that request meant I would wander up and down the grocery aisles for eternity lost and confused. Since the advent of cell phones, I only wander up and down the aisles lost and confused until Dee Dee answers her cell phone.

“Hello. Eugene! Where are you? I was getting worried. You left hours ago. No, not Sesame Street, Sesame Seed. It’s on aisle 9.”

Not me, but could be.

I don’t know what it is about grocery stores but I never know where anything is or what I’m really looking for.

Lost and confused is also how I’ve felt these last few days while on this “The Year of Living Spiritually” excursion. In my last blog I said I was going to spend 2012 on a daily search for the God-created soul–God sightings–in daily life. Finding Star Anise was easier especially since God picks up his cell phone less than Dee Dee does.

“God, what is it exactly I’m looking for?”

The first day, December 26, I was so busy trying to figure it out that I didn’t even read my Bible or pray. As I fell asleep that night, it dawned on me that was akin to being lost in the mountains and never pulling the compass from my pocket.

On the 27th I began the day by reading and praying. The prophet Haggai warned, “Give careful thought to your ways.” That made sense. Then I stumbled on a blog that defined being spiritual mainly as reading the Bible, praying, and going to church. Hmm. I do those things, especially the church deal since I’m a pastor and people would really wonder if I didn’t show up. But I’m not sure that’s all there is to it. I want to live spiritually not just do spiritual things once in a while.

December 28 was a full day. Busy. My daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren left to return home to Tulsa. Later that night, Dee Dee and I went to a 50th birthday party. Listening to the conversations and laughter, I began to notice the fine, golden thread of love for the esteemed 50-year-old that drew us all together.

Writer, pastor Eugene H. Peterson says people are God’s creation too and we can see God in them just as we might a sunset or mountain scape. True enough.

Maybe that’s why . . . wait I’m getting ahead of myself.

On December 30 Dee Dee and I stupidly ventured into Walmart. It was a zoo. People everywhere and we got a squeaky cart.

“I can’t stand this. Let’s come back tomorrow,” I whined.

“We’re here now and the party is tomorrow.”

We split up and met back at the cashier several decades later.

A bright-eyed, smiling woman checked us out. I had a large portable table in the squeaky cart but the bar code was on the opposite side of the perky clerk. I wheeled the squeaky cart around so it faced her.

She smiled at me, blue eyes open wide, scanned the table, and said, “Thank you.” Then she said to Dee Dee, “It’s nice to know you can still find some nice guys out there.” She nodded toward me.

“Oh, I didn’t find him that way. I trained him after I married him,” Dee Dee joked. Many a truth spoken in jest, I guess.

The clerk leaned over to Dee Dee and whispered something. Dee Dee’s smile sobered. Walking out I gave Dee Dee a look that asked, “What’d she say?”

“She told me she was lucky because she didn’t have to train her husband to be nice. ‘He married me even though he knew I had slight brain damage.’”

Both of us and the cart fell silent. Suddenly I was glad we ventured into the zoo and I thought I’d go back as long as the clerk with God’s eyes and God’s smile and “slight brain damage” would be there.

This living spiritually every day is hard. But maybe just heading out into the world with a new attitude and taking the time to look at people and events with new eyes is a good start.

Eugene C. Scott is writing these God sightings down daily in a journal and invites you to see the spiritual even in Walmart and join him in looking for God sightings in 2012. Also tell your stories about what it’s like. Comment here and join our “Living Spiritually” community by visiting and liking facebook.com/livingspiritually. Eugene still gets lost while shopping and is still co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

Categories: adventure, authenticity, Bible, bible conversation, creation, Eugene C. Scott, God, God Sightings | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rejoice! It’s October

Ever notice how many “officially designated” special days there are in on the U.S. calendar? Seriously! If you wanted to, you could celebrate something every day of the year. Though you might be celebrating some very strange things like “Cephalopod Awareness Day” (Octopus Day!) or “World Wetlands Day.”

It’s as if there is some odd contest to see which month can pile up the most (weirdest) special holidays and observances, apparently each month vying for “The Best Month of the Year Award” (BMYA). But no matter how many strange observances those other months compile, there is no contest.

Is December the best month of the year, boasting as it does of Advent and shopping and Christmas? Celebrating the birth of Jesus is a pretty big deal, except Jesus may not have actually been born in December. But one would think that that one holiday would make December pre-eminent. Apparently not because someone saw the need to add, uh hm, “Take It In The Ear Day” (December 8).

January weighs in with its attempt at winning “The Best Month of the Year” with New Year’s Day. Wow! The month that gives us all a fresh start a second chance. Pretty impressive. Except many people spend the day sleeping and hung-over. Maybe that’s why January also sports “National Humiliation Day” (I wish humiliation happened to me only once a year).

February doesn’t come close to best month of the year (despite that my son and grand-daughter were born in February) because it limps onto the stage boasting of Valentines Day (often very similar to Humiliation Day, for guys at least) and Ground Hogs Day. Have you actually seen a ground-hog? They are not much to look at.

March is a good month (both of my daughters were born then). Spring, though muddy and blustery, begins somewhere near this month. But officially March commemorates St Patrick’s Day (which is a dubious holiday because, though St Patrick did some really selfless and amazing things, chasing snakes out of Ireland and drinking green beer were not among them). So someone thought they also needed to dub March “National Noodle Month.” Even many Irish don’t really care.

April claims to be “National Frog Month.” Ten year-old boys must love April. But what self-respecting month begins with a special Day for Fools (no, not my birthday). Enough said.

May marks May Day and is called National Moving Month. Sorry but running around a pole naked and packing and hauling boxes aren’t my idea of a good party.

Everybody loves June and the beginning of summer; but June also brags of being “Potty Training Awareness Month” (which may be why my grandson was born in June). Close but no cigar.

July observes Independence Day (in the U.S.) and—lucky, or not, for all those July 4 picnickers—is also “National Baked Beans Month.” What no beer?

August is just hot. Why is this even on the list?

September settles in very close to the top of the BMYA list because my wife’s birthday is September—yes, the whole month. September also celebrates “National Cable TV Month.” If only . . .

November also nestles near number one for Best Month of the Year celebrating Thanksgiving and “International Drum Month” (is this somehow connected with all those leftover Thanksgiving drum sticks?). Tryptophan!

But the obvious winner of the Best Month of the Year Award is . . . “November, drum roll please” . . . OCTOBER!

You laugh? Consider the following: October celebrates “Free Thought Month” (which gives me permission to freely think October is preeminent), “National Liver Awareness,” “Hispanic Heritage,” “Fire Prevention,” “Disability Awareness,” “National Popcorn Popping,” and “Church Library Month” (that’s a biggy).

October also features some of the best contradictory observances: “Go Hog Wild—Eat Country Ham Month” alongside “Hunger Awareness,” “Month of the Dinosaurs” beside “Clergy Appreciation” (maybe that’s not a contradiction), and “National”—get that—NATIONAL!—”Sarcastic Month” combined with “Positive Attitude Month.” And then there’s “Halloween” (which some might consider a blight on a nearly perfect month).

I’m sorry but all other months of the year pale in comparison to October. Fall is in full bloom, Pro and College football compete with baseball’s World Series. And all the best hunting seasons touch October. Plus there are some pretty amazing people who were born in the month of October. I won’t mention any names; just let it be known that October is also “Self-Promotion Month.”

Yes, October wins hands down.

So, what’s all this got to do with life, faith, and all that important, serious stuff? I’m not really sure.

Maybe . . .

  • Humans are incredibly creative and at the same time extremely silly.
  • There are way too many things to prevent, be aware of, and celebrate than is humanly possible.
  • I am just so ebullient about October I had to write something about it.
  • Or looking at the calendar we can all notice, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.”

For those lucky ones born in October–The Best Month of the Year–rejoicing and being glad may be easier than for others. Enjoy.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church and has nothing against a really good birthday party.

Categories: Eugene C. Scott, Excitement, friends, Fun, God, God Sightings, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Epitaph to a White 2001 Nissan Pathfinder

By Eugene C. Scott

Unlike some people I know, I’ve never named one of my cars. You know what I’m talking about. My wife’s family named a couple of theirs: an old gray truck they called the Gray Ghost and an 80 something Olds they called the GLC, Good Little Car, which it wasn’t really, either good or little.

To me cars have always been something to get you from point A to point B. Don’t get me wrong. I like and know the value of a nice vehicle. I’ve owned too many jalopies, especially in high school. I am intimately acquainted with tow ropes and jumper cables. No, automobiles were mere tools. You do not name tools.

So, I was surprised this last Monday when my mechanic Dean told me my eleven year old, 267,000 mile white Nissan Pathfinder’s transmission problem was “catastrophic.” (See my last post, “Life is Funny”)

Surprised for two reasons: first, this was the only time EVER in all those miles and years the Pathfinder had a serious mechanical problem. One day it was running as strong as ever and the next day it dies of the equivalent of a sudden heart attack.

Second, I was surprised by my emotional reaction to the news. I became depressed, mopey. And then I felt stupid for feeling depressed about a vehicle, one I hadn’t even named. But as I’ve thought it over maybe it’s not that silly to be depressed about my Pathfinder’s unexpected death.

After all, I had dreamed of owning a four-wheel drive since I was a skinny kid in high school. And besides being a 4×4, it was the nicest car I had ever owned. It had power windows and locks and an eight speaker Bose sound system that flat-out rocked. I loved coming down the hiking trail and seeing how far away the keyless entry button would work.

But the Pathfinder was more than a nice vehicle.

We bought the Pathfinder in February 2001 in Tulsa. A month later I loaded it with our dog Anastasia, my mountain bike, and all my clothes and drove it to my new pastoral position in Vail. The family would come later. The Pathfinder took me home to Colorado, after twelve years of yearning.

The family joined me in June and as soon as possible we loaded the Pathfinder up and went four wheeling, windows open, tires tossing rocks and logs, radio off, everyone talking about the wonder of God’s creation.

I see now we used it not just to get from point A to point B but to stay connected. We drove back to Tulsa to see our friends we had left there. And when my mom’s health declined dangerously, the Pathfinder flew up and down I70 to Denver and back racking up thousands of miles.

On one of those trips back up the mountain Emmy, youngest daughter, and I discussed the meaning of lyrics and poetry. I discovered a depth in her that day.

Finally, I wept all the way home–gripping the steering wheel, radio off again–after my mom passed.

Inside its four doors we connected with each other as well. My son Brendan and I drove together back to Tulsa for his freshman year at Tulsa University. We listened to Van Morrison and talked about literature and hunting and the future. Those 950 miles flashed by.

After my oldest daughter Katie was married in 2003, she and her husband Michael came to visit and we packed mountain bikes on the Pathfinder looking for new trails. On those rides we began to establish a new trail for our relationship too. A very good and deep one.

When my mom was healthier, we all drove to Denver and picked her up to spend Christmas with us in the mountains. She sat in the back with Emmy and sang Christmas songs along with a Jaci Velasquez CD. That’s one of my best memories of her last years of life.

My wife Dee Dee relished loading our snow shoes in the back of the Pathfinder and heading out for a wilderness trek. Those were our most treasured dates filled with laughing, praying, and wonder.

And then there are the hunting and camping trips; my time alone in its cab listening to Darrel EvansWaterdeep, or Mars Hill Audio Journal. God spoke to me in that car.

Now I know I am sad at the demise of the Pathfinder not because I am materialistic (though on other grounds I can assure you I am). It’s just that in 270,000 miles you compile some meaningful memories. The Pathfinder was just a tool. It is what we used to get here and there. But–oh–the richness of the journey and–oh–the places it took us.

If I had named the Pathfinder, maybe Faithful or White Knight would have fit. But no, that would just be corny.

Eugene C. Scott is in need of another cool car and is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

Categories: adventure, authenticity, belonging, Eugene C. Scott, friends, love., Meaning, October, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Noxious Weeds: The Real Contagion

By Eugene C. Scott

The silence settled on me like an old friendship. I let go of pieces of my worry, fear, self-doubt, and tiredness with every breath. Though I had never hunted this section of the mountain before, I was home. Not just a place I called home or felt at home, but the place God birthed me, the dirt God held in his fist and blew my life into.

“Ahhh!”

Shredded mist, gray and translucent, drifted up from the dark timber, looking like the prayers and groans of creation Saint Paul spoke of in his letter to the church in ancient Rome. I offered a prayer and groan of my own.

“Thanks, God, for this piece of almost-Eden. Oh, that I could reflect your beauty like this.”

The morning felt as if this was how God intended the world to be, how the world might have looked the day before the gate to the Garden was flung open from the inside and those two naive but no longer innocent humans stumbled out. This felt like the world in which I could be who I was originally invented to be.

As the morning slid by, however, I noticed dark stalks sticking up above the native grasses and fading wildflowers. I didn’t notice them at first because they had a dark, contrasting beauty of their own. My eyes had painted the scene with an unreal perfection. These stalks, however, represented noxious weeds. Its Latin name “carduus tenuifloris” sounds lovely but actually is an ugly, natty, thorny, invasive thistle. Weeds.

Thistles

Except thistles and other noxious weeds are not just garden variety weeds. In America, sate and federal governments use the term “noxious weed” to describe a non-native plant that will–if left unchecked–destroy native plants and wildlife. Somehow these plants have been transported into an environment not prepared to resist them. Once there, noxious weeds take over and strangle the native plants and the animals that depend on those native plants.

Because of a few small weeds that could double their footprint each year, every flower and native grass, and thus the elk I love, the hawk wheeling in the morning mist, the mouse climbing flower stalks and knocking them over for seeds, was in danger. I was thankful for organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk foundations that spends thousands of dollars and volunteer hours fighting noxious weeds.

Still an old weight and realization settled on me. This one an old unwanted friend. You see, I too am infested with non-native noxious weeds. We–all of us humans–were once pristine, unmarred, golden, perfect. Now, however, we too are being strangled by noxious weeds with beautiful sounding Latin names, “invidia, luxuria, superbia, acedia, gula, avaritia, and ira.”

If invidia (envy) or luxuria (lust) grow unchecked in my life, my beautiful wife, my fantastic children and grandchildren, my ministry, even this moment hunting this pristine meadow will be lost. Meanwhile non-native superbia (pride) will destroy my friendships and acedia (sloth) would swallow my material possessions. Gula (gluttony) will outright but sweetly kill me. Avaritia (greed) will gladly deceive me. And ira (wrath) will rot my soul.

These seven non-native noxious weeds and their thousands of sub-species have taken root in every person God ever breathed his pure, cool breath into. They invade and destroy our God-given beauty and purpose. I’ve seen some of these weeds in your life and you have seen them in mine.

It is tragic. I look closely into the faces of my two tender, gorgeous, funny, intelligent, delightful grandchildren, their eyes sparkling, hair awry, and see the dark stalks pushing up from the seeds of my unchecked noxious weeds.

But there is hope.

A woman, like you and me, over-taken by noxious weeds: prostitution, lust, self-debasement, fear, and only God knows what else, knelt and washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and long hair.

“Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus told her. Your weeds are on the endangered species list.

When Jesus died on the cross, his pure, sacrificial blood drenched her noxious weeds and began to drown them out. Just then Jesus began to restore her to her natural, pristine state. This is true for you and me too.

But killing these weeds is not about being religious, powerful, smart, right, or watching how-to TV shows, mumbling miracle mantras or whatever else we use to try to control our imperfections and sins.

Jesus’ sacrificial gift to us is about restoring creation, this nearly perfect mountain meadow surrounded by aspens turning gold, and us not-so-perfect humans as well, to its original state. No matter the state of our weedy gardens, we can be forgiven and restored. It is a gift of love.

Saint Paul again,

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Eugene C. Scott is proud to be a member of one of the finest conservation organizations around, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and a writer who has written for Bugle Magazine. When he is not hunting, he is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

Categories: adventure, Art, belonging, Bible, Eugene C. Scott, God, God Sightings, Jesus, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Is Life About the Journey or the Destination?

By Eugene C. Scott

Jack Kerouac

Is life about the journey or the destination?

According to Jack Kerouac, neither.

At least that’s what I read into Kerouac’s novel On the Road. Published in 1957 On the Road is a fictionalized account of Kerouac, “Sal Paridise,” and “mad” beat generation buddy Neal Cassidy,  “Dean Moriarty,” criss-crossing the U.S.A. in the years following WWII.

On the Road was hailed as “an authentic work of art” by the “New York Times” and brought Kerouac instant fame. It has since been named a classic that created a movement and influenced Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, Hunter S. Thompson, and many others.

Thus I picked up the fifty-five year-old literary classic expecting a story spilling over with insights and observations of a people and nation just lifting itself out of the morass of the second war to end all wars.

What I discovered instead is a crazy, stream-of-consciousness (what Kerouac called “spontaneous prose”) story that was at times well-written, inventive, funny, shocking, and beautiful but at other times corny, dated, repetitive, shallow, immoral, and non-sensical. In the end, On the Road is not a narrative of a journey across America or even how that journey ended at a physical or even meta-physical destination but rather how the road from New York City to Denver to San Francisco and back impacted Kerouac’s jazz and drug addled search for not even he knew what.

Each of Kerouac’s five trips across the country is progressively more frenetic and yet interior. In his first trip, hitchhiking, he describes the country and characters in rich detail. Early in the book I reveled in his description of Denver, my home town, in the late ‘40s.

But soon Kerouac seems to only describe people and places based on what they do–or don’t do–for Sal and Dean. The road becomes a strip they race over to get here or there.  But even the here or there don’t really matter.

Hitchhikers they pick up only provide much needed gas money, and–if Sal and Dean are lucky–drugs, sex, and a place to stay. Women are there to cook or provide sex. Kerouac spends pages deftly describing the sounds of jazz bands who have “it.” But “it” is never defined beyond how “it” makes Sal and Dean feel right then and there. Dean drags Sal into a tighter and tighter narcissistic spiral. Each time Kerouac hints at something deeper such as how a once innocent country is changing, the discussion fizzles in a rush of alcohol or Dean saying something senseless like, “Yaas, yaas, yaas.”

Yes, On the Road defined, even invented, the “beat generation” and fathered the hippie movement. Both of which were vaunted for their supposed philosophical depth and questioning of the meaning of life.

But it seems to me that an extremely narcissistic Kerouac also gave what later became the “me generation” its voice. On the Road elevated narcissism to an art. Is it possible that Kerouac unwittingly played a big part in granting an entire generation permission to ask nothing more than what’s in it for me?

I suppose every generation has struggled with living for something bigger than itself. And that is why our best stories–the true classics, works of art–usually contain a narrative describing both a journey and a destination that is about both the hero and the world he or she traverses. While stories such as Kerouac’s may be well-written, novel, artistic and even groundbreaking, they do little to challenge us to see beyond our own puny lives. They give us and our short-comings comfort. Unlike the Odyssey of Ulysses or the quest of Frodo or the pilgrimage of Harry Potter or the ultimate journey of Jesus to the cross to save us all, stories about neither journey nor destination may entertain but they fail to challenge, fail to call us, as C. S. Lewis writes in The Last Battle, “Further up and further in.”

Is life about the journey or the destination? Both! But according to On the Road that much asked much debated question doesn’t even seem to dawn on Kerouac. Too bad.

Categories: Art, Bible, bible conversation, Books, Eugene C. Scott, God, Jesus, Literature, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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.

Categories: belonging, Bible, bible conversation, Christianity, Community, creation, Eugene C. Scott, Excitement, Faith, God, God Sightings, mystery, pain, priorities, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Size Matters

By Eugene C. Scott

Size matters. Especially to 12-year-old boys. That’s the year, 1969, I began to believe bigger was better. Every Friday night my best-friend Bruce and I would walk to a mall in our neighborhood to hang out. We always hoped there would be girls there. There usually weren’t and, had there been, we would have been afraid to talk to them anyway. Bored Bruce and I would saunter over to Hodel’s Drug Store to buy a bottle of Dr Pepper each. Since we were scrawny kids, we’d buy the biggest bottle of DP available: 16 oz. Then we’d stroll around acting big and sipping our Dr Peppers.

Not my truck

To us size mattered. Bigger was better, especially where Dr Pepper was concerned. By high school, however, we needed something even bigger. Monster four-wheel drive trucks filled the bill. Most Friday nights you could find a dozen trucks with those huge tires, roll bars, and loud 8 track players parked in front of my house. My mom complained they blocked her view of the mountains.

Does size matter?

According to my high school buddies it does (not to mention the spam email industry that promises a magic pill that can enlarge a body part most high school boys value even over their trucks.).

It seems like many people in the modern world suppose bigger is better.

Though many people complain about them, mega-churches are all the rage. In the new church (church planting) world the going philosophy is, “Launch Large.”

Fast food joints offer to “super-size” already big burgers. Thus our waist lines have grown bigger.

Think too of Walmart, The Home Depot, Google, colleges, public school systems, and–please no–big government.

Since growth is usually good and a sign of life–and bigger often means cheaper prices or more services–most of us haven’t given the bigger is better mantra the scrutiny it needs.

But “big” is not a synonym for “best.”

Think of the trend in education. At one time, students learned one-on-one or in small groups led by one teacher. Then communities formed small schools that could educate all the children there. But as communities grew so did schools. As did the size of the problems. Curricula became uniform, teaching to a median rather than specific needs, leaving many kids treading water in a sea of students. Grades and over-all knowledge dropped. This, in part, developed a mind-set of information dumping rather than mentoring.

Standardized testing ignores diversity. This one-size-fits all mentality lends to a loss of individual achievement. To battle that we award students with a generic “you are special” rather than getting to know them and what they are capable of. We can’t; there are too many of them. In large schools discipline problems have exploded exponentially because there are few real, relational consequences.

Big is not synonymous with bad but is often impersonal, cumbersome, unaccountable, one-size (BIG!) fits all.

Big churches have more money for mission and programs. It’s just that they often lose touch with their people. Likewise big businesses offer better deals but few personal services.

Still big has a dangerous down side. Think of the internet. Its main flaw is its offer of anonymity and lack of accountability. But the internet is not evil. Just the aloneness and distance it fosters. Humans were created to be connected. Big strains or destroys that.

I know I sound idealistic and unrealistic. Maybe so. But I remember the problems my friends in high school and I had with those huge trucks. We each owned one (you were not cool if you didn’t) and all drove alone to the same hangouts. Soon we fought over who had the biggest and coolest truck and our friendships frayed. Then OPEC declared an oil embargo and gas prices shot through the roof. After that we all walked together down to the local park and talked and hung out. Life was good.

Whatever you think, I believe the distance this focus on big creates between us as humans is insidious and dangerous. It eventually forces us to be less than human, less than we were created to be.

God faced this same problem. God was so big we could not really connect with him. So he poured himself into a tiny baby, and lived a small life where those within several hundred miles could touch him, argue with him, love him and be loved by him.

Does size matter? God thought so.

Eugene is a recovering Dr Pepper addict, could not afford a real monster truck–so was not very cool in high school–and is not very large himself, but doesn’t have small-man syndrome. He also is co-pastor of the intentionally small but really relational The Neighborhood Church.

Categories: adventure, Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, Books, Christianity, church, Community, creation, Eugene C. Scott, Excitement, friends, Fun, God, God Sightings, happiness, Jesus, loneliness, love., Meaning, priorities, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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