Posts Tagged With: hope

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

A Ride from Death to Life

Last week I peddled my mountain bike up a chert strewn, sandy trail into mountains that resembled barren mounds some demon had impaled with burnt toothpicks.  It was the first time I had ventured into the area know as the Hayman Burn, which, in 2002, was the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, turning the mountains southwest of Denver and northwest of Colorado Springs into smoke and ash.

Eerie does not describe the feeling that settled on me as I wended my way through both standing and fallen charred pines.  Not one left living.  The silence fearful.  The seared landscape marred the Colorado blue sky as they met above the burnt tree-tops in an ashy gray blend.  My breath came hard and dry as I pushed through the dust.

I mourned.

These were the mountains I had roamed and fished and explored as a child and young man.  Dee Dee’s parents owned a cabin near there that burned in a 1965 fire but was spared, barely, in this fire.  My novel is set in these mountains.  The fire blistered not just 215 miles of forest and 135 homes, but also memories and possibilities, each charred acre holding stories of the past and lost hopes for the future.

Now all ash.

Then I noticed something.  Splashes of gold.  Along the almost invisible creek, trickling life through death, and in odd places off in the distance, young groves of aspen–the replacement forest–had sprung up.  Made up of only a dozen or fewer trees in each grove and only standing head high, they shouted hope.

The Hayman Fire was set by a troubled woman who, it seems, was trying to torch her own demons and instead released them on the people and wildlife of the Front Range.

This seems to be the way life is.  Most, if not all, tragedy has a human source.  “We have met the enemy.  And he us,” said Walt Kelly in his “Pogo” comic strip.

And it’s not just the landscape or our enemies we scorch.  In his brilliant short-story Every Little Hurricane, Sherman Alexie describes a fight between two American Indian brothers “slugging each other with such force that they had to be in love.  Strangers would never want to hurt each other that badly.”

So it is.  Human history is littered with pain, hate, hurt.  A ride through this landscape is drear.

Then I noticed something.

Splashes of golden grace.  Along the way, life trickling through death, and in odd places off in the distance, someone forgives a grievance, another delivers a kiss, a baby laughs, an old woman closes her eyes to begin the journey home, a young couple turn their love into a vow, a man tosses a dollar to another holding a cardboard sign, a Democrat eats with a Republican, friends weep together, enemies call a cease-fire, a parent thanks a teacher, two children laugh and squeal as they trundle down the slide together, a teenager holds the door for a stranger, brothers lower their fists.

These little things shout hope also.  These little things are the seeds of salvation.  Because mere humans cannot destroy forever what God has eternally created.  Just as those aspens are rooted in God’s ever-life-producing soil, though burnt, we too, when rooted in God and his gift of grace in Christ, can spring back to life from the soil of charred lives.

I zipped back down the trail on my bike breathing easier and filled with a melancholy hope.  In the midst of this scarred landscape is a golden place called grace, where heaven, blue and clear and  descending meets the burnt tree-tops of our lives.  Look up!

Categories: adventure, Christianity, creation, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, grace, healing, Jesus, Living Spiritually, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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

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

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

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

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?

Categories: adventure, Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, Christianity, Community, creation, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, Excitement, Faith, Fear Factor, God, God Sightings, happiness, healing, Jesus, love., Meaning, miracles, mystery, pain, self-doubt, Uncategorized, values, worship | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Harry Potter and the Kingdom of God

By Eugene C. Scott

Poor Harry. His parents were mysteriously murdered; now he lives in a nondescript time and place in England with the Dursleys, his dreary, selfish, muggle (non-magic) aunt and uncle and piggish cousin; he is confined–most of the time–to his bedroom, the closet under the stairs; and he doesn’t know who he really is, that he can do magic or that he is the most anticipated, celebrated wizard in all of wizarding history. Such is Harry Potter’s small life and world. In literary terms this is the setting, the mileu where certain things can and cannot happen, for Harry’s story.

Worse Harry has no notion such a wonderful place as Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, such a powerful, compassionate man as Albus Dumbledore even exist. Harry’s never played Quidditch; never flown on a broom and never met Hermione or Ron. He has no idea who he is.

But then Harry boards a train bound for Hogwarts and his world expands, both his problems and potential deepen.

Poor us. Though the settings for our stories may be less novel and romantic, more realistic than Harry’s, they are often no less tragic. We live in a mysteriously broken world within the confines of our own broom closets. Our jobs appear dreary; our marriages, families, and friendships imperfect. Just like Harry cannot practice magic much less grow into who he was born to be living at Number 4, Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey, UK, we seem unable to grow into who we were born to be in our earth-bound addresses. We too seem to not realize who we really are–the delight of God’s heart, created in his image–or that a wonderful place called heaven on earth or that a powerful, compassionate God even exist. This we believe to be the setting for our stories.

This dusty enslaving setting is just the one Jesus first strode into.  Bruce Cockburn wrote a song about what that day could have been like.

“The only sign you gave of who you were

When you first came walking down the road,

Was the way the dust motes danced around

Your feet in a cloud of gold

But everything you see’s not the way it seems —

Tears can sing and joy shed tears.

You can take the wisdom of this world

And give it to the ones who think it all ends here.”

“Change your lives. The kingdom of God is here,” Jesus said.

It’s as if he said, Get aboard the Hogwarts Express. There is more to this world than you can see or know. I am here to show you you are loved beyond your wildest imaginations.

You can live by faith not fear.

Live as if heaven is here and now, not just a place to go after you die.

Wholeness and healing too can begin here.

Forgiveness, purpose, truth, and life are in My hand. Take them. Live them.

In My world–My kingdom–your problems and pain will serve a purpose–My transformation of this drear world.  Your potential is as deep and wide and long as My love.

Cockburn calls this kind of life “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws.”

Yet we sit in our room beneath the stairs and wish.

The thing we love about Harry Potter is he is immature, unsure of himself, a boy of little faith, so to speak. Again, like us. This does not stop him, however, from reaching out and recklessly grasping for the richer life that is offered him. No matter how impossible it seems. It need not stop us either.

The difference is that what Jesus offers is not magic or a sweet piece of fiction. It is the way the truth and the life. The setting for our stories is more, better than we think. It is a vivid life lived with God beginning here and now.

“Change your lives. The kingdom of God is here.”

Categories: adventure, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, Christianity, creation, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God, God Sightings, grace, happiness, healing, loneliness, love., Meaning, miracles, mystery, pain, story, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Isolation Kills and Intimacy Gives Life

By Eugene C. Scott

Isolation

The Illinois sky was painful, gray, close, oppressive. The few of us standing on the hill in the cemetery were all tucked into our coats and scarves against the winter wind. He, the man we were gathered around, was tucked against that same wind–against life–into a nondescript coffin.

I was a young associate pastor in a large Presbyterian church and had been asked to preside at the man’s funeral. I hadn’t known the man. He was homeless and had been hit and killed by a train. The few others at the graveside, dark suited men from the mortuary, a newspaper reporter wishing he were elsewhere, the policemen who had found the man’s body, workers from the homeless shelter, and the grieving train engineer, didn’t know the man either. Nor did anyone know if the man had stepped in front of the train accidentally or on purpose. It mattered to the engineer.

Funerals are always heart  breaking. I remember each one I’ve officiated. But I’ve carried that particular  funeral and that man in my heart for twenty years.

At all of the other funerals there was always someone who could speak for and about the person who had passed. Even the very old, who have outlived their friends and family, often have a doctor or nurse who witnessed their last moments. Presiding over these memories is painful but beautiful too.

This day I read the man’s bare-bones obituary, recited the 23 Psalm, offered a prayer, stood in cold silence for a moment, grieved in a strange, disconnected way and then turned and left the man in the hands of God and the gravediggers.

No one should be that unknown.

Yet many of us in modern culture, especially in America, , and not just the homeless, live isolated lives, unknown to ourselves and others. I recently heard someone say we Americans are people of the box. We live in boxes, travel in boxes, and work or learn in boxes within a bigger box. Shared knowledge and experiences are rare. Each of us has his or her own earbuds plugged into a personalized playlist. And it’s costing us.

In 2003 thirty-three researchers from various fields published a report called “Hardwired to Connect” in which they wrote, “We are witnessing high and rising rates of depression, anxiety, attention deficit, conduct disorders, thoughts of suicide, and other serious mental, emotional, and behavioral problems among U.S. children and adolescents.” Further the report states, “In large measure, what’s causing this crisis of American childhood is a lack of connectedness. We mean two kinds of connectedness — close connections to other people, and deep connections to moral and spiritual meaning.” Hardwired to Connect is not merely opinion but a combination of various empirical studies that show how and why humans need to know and be known by others.

Science aside, most of us intuitively know we need each other. Starbucks has not taken over the coffee shop world because they serve the best coffee. Starbucks’ genius was offering Americans a place to connect, if only briefly and outwardly. Mark Zuckerberg too made a mint providing people with a way to connect. Yet we need deeper connections than these two famous entrepreneurs capitalized on.

I was recently interviewed as a character witness for a long-time friend. A few minutes into the interview, I realized the FBI agent was professionally sprinkling into the conversation questions that would confirm whether I truly knew my friend.

“What do his children do?” he asked as if he didn’t already know.

“Has he ever travelled out of the country?”

Each question drew up a different memory from our thirty-four years of friendship. Pictures of being at each others’ weddings, of ski trips, fights, the births of our children, tragedies, successes, meals, illnesses, vacations, funerals, you name it, they flooded into my head.

Finally the FBI agent asked, “Is he patriotic? Does he love his country?”

More memories. To my chagrin tears rose to my eyes and my chin quivered. I was crying in front of a FBI agent.

Patriotic? My friend has served in the military all the time I’ve known him. Love his country? He volunteered to serve in Iraq for a year despite the fact his age would have kept him from having to do so. His son fought in Bagdad as a Marine. Patriotic? Are you kidding me?

But those memories aren’t the ones that brought on the embarrassing tears.

After my mother passed away in 2003, I inherited the United States flag that had draped my father’s coffin years before. That year, for Christmas, my wife Dee Dee gave me a wooden triangular case to display the flag in. One night we had a group of friends over, including my patriotic friend and his wife and son. They noticed my father’s flag was folded improperly and asked my permission to refold it. My friend and his son stood apart–the flag between them–and using sharp, precise military moves refolded the flag, handed it to me, and saluted. I wept that day too.

This was not playing army. This was father and son honoring a son and a lost father. This was an intimate gift coming from a long friendship. My friend knew me.

Sitting across from that FBI agent I cried because in a world of isolation I knew my friend well enough to pass the test and he knew me that well too. And neither of us would face life or death unknown like that unfortunate homeless man.

Eugene C. Scott writes the GodSighings blog.  Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO.

Categories: authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, care, Community, Eugene C. Scott, friends, God, God Sightings, happiness, Jesus, loneliness, love., priorities, together, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

This Day in History: God Breaks a Heart of Stone

By Eugene C. Scott

What if the place Jesus spent his last days could tell its story? The story of how God broke a heart of stone.

Granite to the core–a heart of stone, they said. And they were right. That the death and destruction, tragedy and violence I’ve witnessed in my 6,000 plus years on this earth would have crushed anything less than stone is true.  But even a heart of stone, they claimed, should have turned to dust, and like grains of sand been scattered in the desert wind.

In my long life I was smashed and left desolate by Canaan, Egypt, Philistia, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. Only to rise up again. Why? How?

I can’t say. Knowing such things does not always come with age. I can say this. At one time I was the proudest of my kind. I weathered siege after siege because I was proud and strong. They all desired me. My temple was unrivaled. They say gods walked my streets. Though–again–I can’t say. I did not pay much attention to such things, until . . . .

. . . . until the week of the Jewish Passover in the days when Rome thought she owned me. A desert flea of a Jew, lauded as a king by a few hundred peasants, rode a scrawny colt through my east gate. I paid little mind. My walls were full of Jewish pilgrims, crawling through my alleys like ants. I blinked and forgot him. Then onYom Reeve, the fourth day of the week, counted in the Jewish fashion–sundown to sundown–and the day before the Passover, this Jew tickled my ribs and woke me from my slumber.

“Do you see all these things?” this man with only one ratty robe asked, pointing to the temple shining like a moon on my highest hill. Those with him nodded recognizing my magnificence.

“I tell you the truth,” he said, “not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be torn down.”

I laughed. The Babylonians had torn down my temple, but it rose from the dust; Alexander the Great had considered turning the temple to ruble but wisely reconsidered; Antiochus Epiphanies had desecrated her; he later paid dearly. And today she towered still. Each time my temple was sacked she rose again more magnificent than before. Not one stone left on another! Who did this man think he was? God?

I was not sure why what this man said mattered at all. Why I cared. I was one of the greatest cities of stone ever raised up on a desert hill. He was dust.

It may be because seventy years later his prediction came true. Rome tore me stone from stone and my temple still lies in its grave.

It may also be because of what he said to me, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

This man saw me for what I was, a stone facade. My name “The City of Peace” has never been true. And it never will be, until he returns to walk my streets again. A city cannot bring peace, not the kind her people need. But can a city have a heart, stone or otherwise, you may ask? I can only speak for myself. Two days after he predicted my ruin–on a hill that looked like a skull–the last Jewish prophet to enter my gates wet my dirt with his innocent blood. I watched him breathe his last. I shuddered and that night my heart of stone broke.

Today, 2,000 years later I long to feel his sandals on my stone. I will say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

If Jesus saw the art in me, a hard, proud city of stone, think of what he can see in you.

Read Matthew 23:37-24:1-51, Matthew 26:3-5, Mark 13:1-37, Mark 14:1-2, Luke 22:1-2.

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Also, go to tnc3.org for info on how The Neighborhood Church is remembering this week in history.

Two thousand years ago this week one man turned history upside down. I would give anything to have been there, seen him, heard his voice. Instead we can only use our imaginations to re-enter ancient history. Each day this week, called Holy Week, we are going look at this day in ancient history through the eyes of a fictional character who witnessed part of that day as Jesus lived it. Join us as we believe a better story: the greatest, truest story ever told.

Categories: Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, Christianity, church, Community, creation, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God, God Sightings, grace | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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