Posts Tagged With: freedom

The Poet and the Painter on Boundaries

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starry-Night

Starry Night Vincent van Gogh

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

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

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

Strayy Night (9 of 10)

Pleasant Boundaries PC Eugene Scott

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

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

I’m Free: Reminiscing on Veteran’s Day

1972 Bruce and Eugene Flower Children

1972 Bruce and Eugene Flower Children

In 1975, I was stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. My friend “Toast” was a short-timer and couldn’t wait to be discharged and get back to Wisconsin. Toast played the guitar (sort of) and dreamed of buying an electric guitar, a pig-nose amp, and playing “I’m Free” by The Who as he marched down the gangplank on the day of his discharge. All of us sailors thought it was a fantastic idea.

Yesterday I heard a radio station play “I’m Free” as a tribute to Veterans. I’ve heard the song before and remembered Toast. But yesterday it caught me off guard. Back in ’75 we thought of the song and Toast’s crazy dream in terms of our personal freedom, freedom from the man, the Navy. The military and service people were hated after Viet Nam. Heck, we didn’t even appreciate ourselves. Few of us thought of freedom as something we provided for our friends, family, and country through our service. But we did. Thanks, fellow Vets. I appreciate you and freedom better now.

June 1974 Boot Camp

June 1974 Boot Camp

Editors note: I posted this on my Facebook page and received such a strong response I thought I might share it with you all as well.

Categories: authenticity, belonging, friends, Veteran | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

True Olympic Competition: Freedom Versus Control

The first competitive event of the 2012 Olympic Games in London was the Opening Ceremony. London versus Beijing. It was no contest. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games Opening Ceremony stomped the 2012 London Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.

2008 Beijing

The Beijing ceremony, directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, cost over $100 million using 22,000 performers, including 2,008 precision drummers, 1,800 marshall arts specialists, 900 men under boxes to simulate keys of movable type, and countless children. China also used technology to prevent rainfall on their 43,000 piece computer enhanced fireworks show.

“With all the technical complexities involved, the opening ceremony was 100 times more difficult than making a movie, he [Yimou] said, adding that such a performance was unprecedented in the world,” wrote Zhu Yin for the news agency Xinhua.

Most people agree with Yimou, saying the 2008 opening was the most spectacular ever, and maybe, ever to be. Even Danny Boyle, the director of the 2012 ceremony said he would not try to compete with them.

2012 London

This year the Opening Ceremony cost only $42 million using 15,000 performers including 12 horses, a village cricket team, some sheep dogs roaming around, 70 sheep, 10 chickens, 2 goats, 3 cows, and 10 ducks. Oh yeah, they used real clouds above the stadium and Mr. Bean was there. The show looked disorganized and scattered, on purpose. One blog reported, “So disappointingly for anyone looking for rows, there haven’t been any.”

Perfection versus Imperfection

China wanted to prove something to the world. Uniformity and technology were the Beijing watchwords. China achieved this precision and uniformity by having performers practice their movements for up to 15 hours a day wearing diapers because they were not allowed to take breaks. Even the children practiced for that long. The final rehearsal was 51 hours long with few breaks and only two meals and no shelter from the rain.

In 2008 perfection came at the cost of freedom and with a great deal of coercion and manipulation. After the 2008 games, Yimou told the press that no other country, except possibly communist North Korea, could do a better opening ceremony.

Why? Because they could. In the West, Yimou said, no one would put up with how China treated its performers.

In Britain, however, the opening ceremony told stories, stories by and about imperfect people. Shakespeare, Harry Potter, Mary Poppins, James Bond, Queen Elizabeth, even Mr. Bean.

Kid’s wiggled, people missed cues, the whole thing played out slow and uneven. We were “trying to make you feel like you’re watching a live film being made,” said Boyle.

And the Winner Is

For me the London Opening Ceremony was the better. But the competition was not between Opening Ceremonies but rather between two opposite philosophies. Freedom versus control, machine versus human, uniformity versus individuality. I took a course in drama and theater in college. The professor assigned us to go and view both a movie and a live theater play. He asked us then to evaluate and discuss them in class. He pointed out that in a movie every shot, every word, every move was directed and choreographed. Movies, though well-done and exciting, are farther away from reality than a live show. The excitement, tension, and drama in the live play came, in part, from the possibility of someone missing a line or ad-libbing. The play was more real in its imperfection.

Living Spiritually Demands Freedom

Still I delude myself in my desire for predictability, order, and control in my life. I yell, “Why?” at God when things beyond explanation befall me. I want God to do away with disease and discomfort. And if God won’t, then I hope technology or government will.

The comparison between these two ceremonies reminded me of how we so often look for formulas and systems to help us get our lives under control. To help our lives make sense, have order. But by definition life cannot be controlled and still be life. It becomes something else, an automaton.

Spiritual life more so. No matter what any pastor (me included) or book has told you, there are not seven steps, five keys, or ten secrets to a fulfilling spiritual life.

Living spiritually is living in the freedom of loving God and being loved by God. It is leaning into the mystery of what the next breath of life holds. It is embracing the imperfection of human life while pursuing a perfectly loving God. In short, it is “watching a live film being made.”

Categories: 2008, authenticity, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Exercise your Right to Freedom . . . and to Suffer

Oppression is chameleon. Throughout human history it has changed its color and adapted itself to every age and every need or right we humans must have. And it’s disguise is always—at first—beautiful, promising. This chameleon usually first promises us safety in a dangerous world, then maybe protection of beloved values, or true peace, or more food, or better wages, and even—paradoxically—freedom. Then somehow, slowly—maybe even unintentionally at times—it changes its color. The trap slams shut and we are caught.

The ancient Israelites came begging Egypt for safety from a famine and wound up enslaved for over 400 years. That was one expensive meal.

Satirical cartoon from England lampooning the excesses of the Revolution as symbolized through the guillotine: between 18,000 and 40,000 people were executed during the Reign of Terror

In 1789 the French Revolutionaries began an overthrow of a corrupt and absolute monarchy. Freedom, they cried. They wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Then only four years later the Committee of Public Safety began what is now called the Reign of Terror. Up to 40,00 people were killed. The dictator Napoleon followed.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 turned out worse, with an estimated 30 million killed by Stalin’s government. Communist China and North Korea, so-called democratic nations in Africa, and the theocracies of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran have followed suite. To name a few more recent oppressive chameleons. Even the theological American ideal of “manifest destiny” turned murderous.

What is the common denominator in all this oppression? Some today say religion. Others corporations. Some governments. And these are all elements to be sure. But religions, corporations, and governments are made up of people. You and me. Humans are the root of all this oppression.

We are each capable of wreaking it on others or releasing it in the name of getting something we think we need. When I visited that horrific reminder of human oppression, The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, I realized it was not Nazis or Germans who killed six million Jews. Yes, the murderers wore Nazi uniforms and were mainly German. But beneath those uniforms they wore human skin. This the Bible calls sin. And on this level it is hard to deny.

The good news is we are also capable of resisting oppression. Freedom also comes in many different varieties. Though true freedom is never deceptive nor makes promises of mere safety. Some varieties of freedom come harder than others. With a cost.

Political, economic, religious, personal freedom are the most common freedoms we cry out for. But maybe the most precious freedom is one we avoid at almost all cost: The freedom to not be safe, to cry, to struggle, to suffer. This is the freedom Jesus chose as an expression of his love for us. He freely gave his life for you and me.

Note the difference? Oppression promises to give but really takes. And leaves us no choice in the matter. Only God gives expecting nothing in return. Because God needs nothing.

If anyone ever could become a demanding dictator it is God. Often our cries to God for safety, mere happiness, contentment, a cessation of pain and worry are just that, invitations for God to declare universal marshall law in the name of public safety. But how much more would God’s mighty fist crush us if mere humans such as Pharaoh, Napoleon, Stalin, and Hitler did such thorough work?

So God continually grants us the freedom to suffer. Knowing this then gives us the freedom to love and live as creatures of love.

The ancient Israelites were mud and brick, hard labor, economic slaves in Egypt for over 400 years. But when God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go,’” their freedom is not escaping human oppression. God goes on to say, “Let my people go . . . so that they may worship me.” Worship is an expression of love. Soon enough, faced with a barren and dangerous desert, however, the people are crying out for the safety of Egypt. Give us the leeks and onions of Egypt they tell Moses.

Finally, as these people then stand on the edge of the “promised land” which contains not only “milk and honey” but suffering too, Joshua says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Those gods, like our gods of protective governments and human systems only take because they cannot give us what we truly need. The freedom to receive and give love.

This freedom is costly. But not as costly as choosing safety and other chameleon promises.

Eugene C. Scott is enjoying the freedom he has and is thankful for both the joy and the suffering it brings. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

Categories: Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, happiness, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Categories: adventure, Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, Books, Christianity, church, Community, creation, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, Excitement, Faith, friends, Fun, God, God Sightings, happiness, Jesus, Literature, loneliness, love., Meaning, mystery, pain, story, together, Uncategorized, values | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

Solving Life’s Problems through Slogans

By Eugene C. Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither of which could be reduced to a slogan.

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

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

Eugene is co-pastor of  The Neighborhood Church.

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

Is God a Control Freak?

By Eugene C. Scott

There have been times when life has been completely out of control. And there seemed nothing anyone could do to change it, fix it, or stop it.

Even God.

It was as if my life were a passenger jet first wobbling, then looping and finally plummeting out of control. But before it hits the ground I bust into the cockpit only to discover God chatting it up with the co-pilot (and no, contrary the popular bumper-sticker, I am not God’s co-pilot and neither are you), while He is also texting and updating His status on Facebook. In the meantime my life is heading down nose first.

“Who’s in control here?” I shout. “Don’t You know You’re not supposed to text and drive? Grab the wheel. Get a grip!” God simply smiles and shrugs and goes back to texting.

People who believe in God love to talk about God being in control. By this we usually mean that we believe God can and should keep most–if not all–evil, bad, or even slightly uncomfortable situations from befalling us.

Given life’s raft of tornadoes, cancers, marriage break-ups and daily disappointments, it doesn’t seem that God has the same agenda. Is God is in control of this wildly tilting planet of ours? This discontinuity between believing in a loving God and living in an unpredictable world is the genesis of the question “how could a loving God allow (insert painful, devastating life circumstance here)?”

Most of us–even those who don’t really believe in God–understand that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Being should be able to prevent the personal and global problems of the world.

Yet life does not reflect any such controlling God. Not mine anyway. To me God seems to be anything but in control. But it’s not just me–or you. Even the Bible seems confused on the issue of God being in control. God did not stop the first two of us from making a bad choice. Then–like dominoes–character after biblical hero stumbles and falls: Abraham, Jacob, Saul, David, Judas, Peter and Paul to name the biggies.

Consider the story of Joseph. God gives him a big dream and then lets his brothers nearly murder him and finally sell him. Israel ends up in slavery for four hundred years. Moses tries defending some poor Hebrew slave and is cast into the desert for another forty years. Yes, Moses eventually sets his people free. But couldn’t God have prevented those tragedies? Wasn’t there a better way? Not according to God.

Or on a smaller scale, couldn’t God have kept my father or mother in this world just a little longer? In Navy terms, God doesn’t run a very tight ship. This pain and struggle that often permeates our lives leaves us a choice. We must believe God is in control and we have done something for which God has removed his controlling hand and let us swing in the wind, as Job’s friends claimed. Or to cease to believe in God, as C.S Lewis once did and so many others have.

Or to rethink how God and control interact.

Love requires freedom. Control kills love’s response. I have complete power over a toy remote control car. Not so a kitten. I can make the car turn left, right, back up, stop. But I can never win love from it. A kitten, however, listens to me not. It runs free and ignores anything I say or do except the opening of a can of cat food. But I can win love from that . . . well maybe using a cat was a bad example but you get what I mean.

A world in which love exists, much less thrives, must favor love and danger over control and safety. Therefore, God, unlike us, seems to eschew control.

If God is not in control, who is? Or is God simply a wimp?

God is no wimp. And God is indeed sovereign. Surprisingly so. In God’s surprising sovereignty prevention of pain gives way to redemption of pain.

In 1990 I was offered my first ordained pastoral position, associate pastor to families in a large church in Bloomington, IL. Dee Dee, my wife, and I prayed, sought advice, studied, debated and decided to accept the position. We moved, lock stock and two young children. A mere two years later spiritually, physically and emotionally broken I was ready to give up this dream of serving God in the pastorate and strap on my carpenter’s tool belt again. The church we went to serve was a broken, dying place. The senior pastor was on his umpteenth affair and the congregation took its pain and confusion out on anyone new and vulnerable: The Scott family.

What was God thinking? We asked for wisdom. God could have prevented the whole thing.

Instead God redeemed it.

In the middle of this came a phone call out of the blue. “I hear from a mutual friend you’re in a difficult church,” the pastor I had met at a wedding in Denver years ago said. For some reason I told this virtual stranger my story.

“Our senior pastor went through something very similar here as an associate pastor. Can he call you and talk to you about our need for an associate pastor to families?”

Almost two years to the day after we moved to Bloomington, we were on our way to Tulsa, OK. We spent almost nine years serving at Kirk of the Hills. Some with equal pain to Bloomington.

But Dee Dee and I return to Tulsa often. Our youngest daughter, Emmy, was born there.  Our oldest daughter, Katie, son-in-law, Michael and two beautiful grandchildren still live there. You see Katie married Michael, a boy who came to love Jesus and my daughter in the Kirk of the Hills youth group.

Redemption indeed. God could have prevented the pain of Bloomington. But he chose a better story! A story of taking our pain and turning it into something more beautiful than any Van Gough, Remington, sunset or seascape.

God is no control freak. I love Him for that.

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How to Know if You’re a Control Freak

By Eugene C. Scott

Several thousand years ago dung beetles enjoyed god-like status. They earned this high honor by toiling day-long collecting balls of dung between their tiny horns and rolling them across the hot desert floor. Some observant Egyptian noticed this little rolling ball of dung resembled the sun’s movement. Soon the belief was born that the sun was moved across the desert sky by a huge, invisible dung beetle.

The Egyptians–and most other ancient peoples–considered the powerful, life-giving forces, such as the sun, water, fire, fertility, in nature gods–or, at least, directly controlled by a god such as a dung beetle. Thus they developed religious and sacrificial systems that they hoped would please these capricious gods. In Egypt essential crops flourished or failed based on the Nile River.  If the gods were angry it might flood and wash all their food away. Or dry up. If the gods were pleased, the Nile might over-flow its banks just enough to water even the most distant fields.

These ancient religious systems became what people turned to when life got difficult.

But it did little good. Unfortunately, still children died, crops still failed, life–like the Nile–still ebbed and flowed seemingly without respect to religious sacrifices.

Today scientists laugh at such superstitious beliefs. We know the sun is not the god Re but a star, not pushed across the sky, but a point earth orbits. Science replaced superstition. We watch the weather patterns explained and pin-pointed on the nightly news. Science has given us cloud seeding, en-vitro fertilization, the cure for polio, and brilliant inventions and technologies by the thousands. When life gets hard we have doctors, pharmaceuticals, technologies, and governments we can turn to.

A phrase from my childhood embodies this faith in science most of our world holds. “If they can put a man on the moon, they ought to be able to __________(fill in the blank).”

Unfortunately, children still die, crops still fail, tornadoes devastate, new diseases spring to life and confound and kill us while paying little homage to our scientific advancements and prowess.

Christians call such total dependence on science foolish. Christians believe there is one God who created all these things science has discovered and mastered. In line with this belief we have designed sophisticated worship liturgies that give people access to deeper meaning and connection with God. Theologians have developed systematic theologies that attempt to answer the big questions about life and God. Gifted preachers lay out the five keys to life with purpose. The promise is that when life gets hard these liturgies, systems and practices including prayer and other spiritual disciplines bring Christians healing and wholeness.

Unfortunately children still die, crops fail . . . .

Depending on your perspective and belief system you may read the three world views above and sing that sweet song from the children’s show “Sesame Street,” “One of These Things is Not Like the Other?” And each–superstitious, scientific, or spiritual–is a very different way to understand and live in the world.

But they also each have a foundational similarity. Control. Or more accurately a desire to control. The ancient Egyptians lived in a dangerous, unpredictable world. Any thing that promised even a modicum of control over that world was welcome. And their superstitious practices fit the rhythm of the seasons of life just often enough to hold out the promise of control over the mighty Nile like a carrot on a stick.

Science too, especially in its naive early days, flat-out promised to wrest control from nature and lay it in our hands. And the promise has often been fulfilled. At least tentatively. Antibiotics, heat and air-conditioning, cell-phones, air travel all put us above and beyond nature. But just as often, or more so, science has not fulfilled its promise of control. We did put a man on the moon but we often cannot fill in the blank that would give us the cure to this or that disease or the answer to so many questions. Never-the-less, most of us believed and still may.

Christian spirituality also often degenerates into attempts to control God and his world. Systematic theology unwittingly promises that if we understand God we may know how to get him to do our bidding, purpose driven lives are lives we can likewise understand and control, prayers of Jabez seem to bind God to expand our borders, and five keys to a happy life, word of faith theology, pocketbooks of God’s promises, frenzied scripture memory programs all–even, like science, though they contain some truth–appeal to our deep desire to live in a world we can keep under control.

The truth is from ancient Egypt to modern science to today’s  Christian spirituality we are control freaks.

But superstitious behavior nor mighty dams nor words of faith will tame the Nile much less God.

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,” wrote King Solomon. By this the great king did not mean that the pursuit of knowledge scientific or spiritual is vanity. But trying to use that information to gain control over things, people, and especially God is foolish.

Fear grows in neat garden rows fertilized with the promise of control. What if I lose control? is the weedy question that grows here. And it strangles faith. Because faith flourishes in the open fields littered with rocks and pot holes and dung. In this field faith is not the thing we use to control God and life but the thing we use to believe God is good and loves us in a life that sometimes is not under control and is not going the way we expected.

How do you know if you’re a control freak. Pinch yourself. Are you human?

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