Posts Tagged With: Faith

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

God Come Down: A Christmas Day Reflection

 

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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

You Are Not–And Never Will Be–In Control. But It’s Okay!

No Where to Turn

No Where to Turn

Recently a good friend took his first job as a pastor. He asked several friends and pastors for advice on how to start this exciting and important calling. Below is my response. I think you might get something from it too.

Dear Mark:

I am honored and humbled that you asked for my wisdom and advice as you move into your first pastorate. You mention you are just a “little trepidatious” about this step in your life. That’s how I feel about writing any such letter and giving advice. As you know from our long relationship, I have a stack of life and pastoral mistakes that Sir Edmund Hillary might consider too tall to climb. Then again maybe that’s why you asked. So, with trepidation and apologies I’ll take my shot.

You are not in control.

Countless are the people and things I’ve loved and believed in so deeply and held so tight in my grip that I’ve crushed them. Unfortunately those closest to me all have bruises on their souls from my attempts at control. You are probably one I’ve crushed in this way. Please forgive me.

I’ve resorted to control mainly because I’m afraid and have very little faith. The stupid thing is that the few times I’ve managed to control something has further diminished my faith. But preachers are inclined toward believing in control and are even taught–mistakenly–to believe and act this way. After all, if we are not right, peoples’ eternity hang in the balance.

But I’m not alone in this. Most humans think life is about control. Many of us, especially Christians, live as if all bad things should and can be avoided, as if life is a disaster to be prevented rather than an unexpected gift to be lived and enjoyed. Living by the illusion of control leaves us in a daily state of frustration and leads to deadly legalism, anger, fearfulness, depression, broken relationships, and disappointment*. Believing we are in control is a denial of our frail humanity and need for God. Believe me; I know from personal experience.

Therefore, my advice to you would be for you to give up the illusion of control a few years before I did, especially before you have children. Paradoxically I know, however–because of my past–you will accept this advice while at the same time making the mistake of resorting to controlling behavior.

But you are not in control and it’s okay because . . .

God is a Redeemer not a controller. 

For too long I’ve lived in regret–sometimes shame–of the mistakes I’ve made. I mean seriously where did I get the bright idea that as a frickin’ thirty-year old I could turn around a sick and wounded church, that was in decline, full of fear and hate, living in the past, and where the Senior Pastor was having serial affairs? From my own ego, that’s where. Big mistake. I moved my wife and two young children into a situation that cost us years of pain (*see the list above for the effects this had on us).

Yet, I don’t know how we would have gotten from the ugly of there to the beauty of here by another road. I met one of my best friends in the pastorate in that horrible place and your family after we moved, and then God gave us Emmy as a reminder of his redemptive grace, and Katie met Michael and now we have two amazing grand children and . . .

In the Bible God seldom, if ever, uses the word control of himself. This is especially true in the sense of how we define control: to prevent bad or painful things, or to get what we think we need or want, or to have people behave the way we think they should, including ourselves.

Rather, God calls himself Redeemer and acts accordingly. If God were controlling, the way we wish he were, he would not need to be a Redeemer. He would have prevented the fall and every human disaster thereafter. This is why the cross is the center of human/Divine history. It is the ultimate act–not of control–but redemption: raising life from death, beauty from ashes, hope from hopelessness. Redemption, however, does not mean “all things happen for a reason.” God is not passive nor reactive. Redemption means God gives all things that happen a reason.

Sage advice

Sage advice

A couple more:

You are not as important as you think nor as unimportant or inept as you feel.

Now is the only moment you have but God holds a myriad of such moments in his hands for you.

Relationships are sacred.

Love is a power not an uncontrollable feeling or abstract idea.

John Calvin, Mother Theresa, and Steve Jobs are all remarkable people. But they were human.

Somehow three is an important and sacred number.

Fun is serious. Laughing, mountain biking, making love to your wife, staring into a deep blue sky, and reading a novel are as holy as prayer.

Journal.

But that’s probably more than enough for now, except this. Enjoy the ride because God is . . . a Redeemer.

Love, Eugene

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Does Fear Build Faith?

1967 stingray bike

A bike like mine

Rumor was kids had died riding their bikes down “Suicide Hill.”  Therefore, all summer a group of us hung out on the knob sitting on our stingrays–not seriously contemplating careening down the hill–but hoping to see some other sucker bite the dust.  All elbows and asses and handlebars flying and crashing in the dirt.  To my disappointment, I’d witnessed no deaths, or even hospitalizations.  Still, I’d never seen any kid, no matter how old or cool, make it all the way down.

Suicide Hill was sheer fear, with a bump halfway down that launched anyone ballsy enough to try it into a near death experience.  At the bottom stood an elm tree stump.  Most kids bailed midair rather than become one with the tree.

Rule was no brakes, no skidding your feet.  Full speed.  I was eight or nine and I spent many a day atop Suicide Hill ginning up the courage to be the one to make it down intact.

Back then, if I thought about it at all, I thought courage was the absence of fear.

Now, close to fifty years later, now that I’ve broken bones, torn ligaments, sustained concussions, and endured prolonged hospital stays, I know fearlessness is not always the presence of courage but of stupidity.

What’s the Function of Fear?

Does fear have a purpose, God-given?

Obviously, the fight or flight response is instinctive and protective.  It is a function of the adrenal system designed to keep us alive.  You’ve heard the old adage: the best way to survive a grizzly bear attack is to outrun, not the bear, but your buddy.

However, let’s not confuse adrenaline with courage or fear with cowardice.

I once saw a cartoon by Dan Piraro of “Bizarro” fame.  It featured a heedless man walking down the street surrounded by disaster.  He was protected by guardian angels and knew it.  The angels above him were complaining how much safer life would be if he didn’t know they were flying just above his head.

Maybe that’s the role fear plays.  It’s our on-board guardian angel.  “Shields up,” it shouts, “Run!”  Something besides cowardice told me to endure the name calling of my friends rather than risk the bump and stump of Suicide Hill that summer long ago.  Conversely, several short summers later, I broke my leg braving the world’s first and worst zip-line (Click here for that story).

Fear Adds to Faith

Literal fearlessness does not require faith.  This is the same idea behind forgetfulness not equalling forgiveness.  If I can’t remember a wrong, I need not forgive.  Just so, if I don’t sense risk or danger, no true courage or faith is required.  People with the unfortunate disorder congenital analgesia, the inability to feel physical pain, have no concept of hot or cold and the danger either holds.  Rushing into a fiery building to rescue someone–knowing what it could cost–calls for courage and faith not fearlessness.

Therefore, when I call faith an antidote to fear, I am not talking of an anesthetic.  Rather faith helps us face our fears.  Faith is reality based, eyes open to the danger.

It is almost as if it is a circle.  I face my fears with faith and then my faith grows while my fear diminishes.  Until I step into entirely new territory.  Then fear starts the circle of developing faith again.  Fear rightly viewed and applied can develop faith.

Back on Top of Suicide Hill

It took me all summer to finally give Suicide Hill a shot.  And oh, how I wish I could tell you about fearlessly speeding from the top, hitting the bump half-way down, launching my sting ray into the wild blue, crossing my handle bars, the wind in my crew-cut, avoiding the stump, landing upright in a burst of dirt, and skidding to a stop just before hitting the stinky tad-pole pond.  Applause, adulation, money!

Fact is I closed my eyes, hit the brakes, and dribbled off the trail and into the weeds, falling over.  But I tried!  Years later, after I had faced other death-defying dangers, I tried Suicide Hill again and ripped down that hill on my bike reaching the bottom with no problems.  That day I sat at the bottom of Suicide Hill on my Schwinn ten-speed looking back up the hill that once dominated me.  That day I swear Suicide Hill looked more mole hill than mountain and the mighty bump and gruesome stump mere provocateurs.  I had been plenty scared.  But no more.  At least not of Suicide Hill.  God, through my fear, had produced faith with which I could face the future.

Do you have a story of fear building your faith?  Tell us about it.

Categories: adventure, Eugene C. Scott, Excitement, Faith, Fear Factor, Fun, God, God Sightings, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Antidote to Fear

Famously President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his “First Inaugural Address” on March 4, 1933, said, “. . . the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified, terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

It sounds good, but is it true?

Many may agree there is a “terror which paralyzes” but would disagree that it is “nameless, unreasoning” or “unjustified.”  The Phobia List alone names 530 different terrors which paralyze.  Some seem unjustified–and even silly–such as Caligynephobia, a fear of beautiful women, or Linonophobia, a fear of string, or Logophobia, a fear of words.

Few fears are unnamed–and for those who hold them–unreasoning.  Achluophobia, a fear of darkness (#4 on Top Ten Fears see graphic below), and Acrophobia, a fear of heights (#3) are very reasonable.  I must admit, however, that Apeirophobia, a fear of infinity, Homilophobia, a fear of sermons, and Phobophobia, a fear of phobias are simply weird.Top Ten Fears

Taken literally then, Roosevelt may be right.  Fear itself is the culprit.  Fear is so much a part of our lives it has become a figure of speech.  “I’m afraid you’re wrong,” or “I’m afraid so,” we often say.

More than that, fear, as the proliferation of phobias attests, is a foundational emotion in our daily existence.

Fear drives both sides of the raging gun-control debate.  One side owning guns to foster safety; the other banning guns to foster safety.

The base emotion behind worry is fear.  “Will I still have my job tomorrow?”  “Will she still love me, when she finds out what I’m really like?”

And fear is a mighty motivator.  Most political ads of this past poisonous political season tried to motivate us through fear of America failing.  This is the fight of the famous fight or flight response.

Fear also drives us into deep denial.  Using the same example as above, many stuck their heads in the sand in response to the elections.  The infamous flight response.

But you know, don’t you, I’m not speaking of rational fear.  The car racing toward us.  The dark alley with a person skulking.  No, I am referring to that low-grade fever many of us are shuffling around with.  Generalized, unactualized fear.  Fear of things that may never happen or that have no answer.  The “what if” fear.  What if there is no God?  What if there is?  What if I said the wrong thing?  What if I didn’t say enough?  What if I’m too skinny, fat, short, tall, ugly, beautiful, smart, stupid, white, black, rich, poor, normal, abnormal?  Need I go on?

We may only have fear to fear.  But it is a powerful foe.  And it dominates our daily landscape.

I would wager that most of us make umpteen daily decisions based on fear.  And most of them, then, are bad decisions.  As Rosevelt said fear paralyzes or shifts us into reverse.  And it certainly prevents us from living spiritually.

What is it you are afraid of?

Personally I don’t fear death (#6) or disease much at all.  They seem largely out of my control, like being a passenger on an airplane.  I may dread a crash (#1), but even if I were to push the pilot out of his seat and take control, I would not do anything but make matters worse.  So, I sit back and enjoy the ride, bumpy or not.  (This does not mean, however, I don’t pursue healthy living)

My fear?  Disappointing people (Rejection #8), especially those I love or respect.  Not only do I feel (falsely probably) that I am in control of this but am responsible for it.  And my biggest fear is disappointing God.  At least occasionally I can bluff people into believing I’m more than I know I am.  Not God.  God sees through to the core.  Decision making based on either of those fears has been disastrous for me.

In short, I’m afraid of being judged, being deemed unworthy and rejected by others and God.  But God pushes back against this fear.  My “perfect love banishes fear,” God promises.  What does this love look like?  “Forgive them for they do not know what they do,” Jesus asked the Father for those who murdered him.  It looks like Jesus.  Being open to Jesus’ unconditional, perfect love allows us to live fearlessly.

But I’m afraid I don’t believe it most times.  And there lies the antidote to fear.  Not courage.  Not bravado.  Not control.  Not safety.  Faith.

Faith is at the heart of living spiritually.  Fear then is its enemy.  In coming blogs on The Year of Living Spiritually we will explore the role fear plays in destroying living spiritually and the role faith plays in destroying fear.

Maybe the phobia most of us have is one I coined: Fidephobia, a fear of faith.

But God is working on the antidote.

Categories: authenticity, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, Fear Factor, God, God Sightings, Jesus, Living Spiritually | Tags: , , , , , , | 27 Comments

How Many Unlived Minutes Do You Have Left?

Seeing more than is there

Thanks, God, for the unlived minutes left in this day. Help me live them with faith not fear.

Categories: Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God Sightings, Jesus, Living Spiritually | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Harry Potter and the Church Part II

By Eugene C. Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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