Posts Tagged With: Truth

Hitler, Mother Teresa, and Me

Lake Atitlán

The Stepping-Off Place by Brendan Scott

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

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

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

Just then I hear my name.

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

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

Then the day dream reverses and darkens.

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

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

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

The dream comes one final time.

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

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

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

His face crinkles into a smile.

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

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

Jesus pulls me under his arm.

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

 

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

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

2012: The Year of Living Spiritually

By Eugene C. Scott

Fly fishing at about 11,000 ft

I’ve spent many brilliant mornings fly fishing. Why I remember that early summer morning on the Blue River, I’m not sure. I don’t remember catching any fish. But I can still see the rising sun clipping the tops of the Gore Range. The water was cold. Soon the river glittered where the sun touched it. I wore only a shirt, shorts, and old tennis shoes. I missed a couple of Brown trout, then climbed out of the river, my legs and feet frozen.

The sun had clawed its way up into the bare blue sky and I lay in the grass and let it warm me. Though silent, the air seemed filled with words. The very molecules popped. “Look. Over here. And behind you. See. God spoke all this into being. Like poetry.”

It was a transformational moment. I was in my 20s and still had much transforming to do. I had seen God in creation before but this was different. God seemed active not passive, pushing, aware of me and wanting me to be aware of him. Maybe that was the day I woke–at least partially–to the idea that life is as much spiritual as material.

Some people would call that day on the river a spiritual moment. And so it was. But isn’t there more to being spiritual than watching captivating sunsets and mountain vistas? Otherwise being spiritual depends more on mood and circumstance than something we cultivate. As much as I would want to fly fish everyday–hoping to hook another God sighting–it’s not realistic or practical. And spirituality has to be realistic and practical.

And there’s the rub. Most of us struggle even defining what it means to be spiritual much less daily living it. What does it mean to be spiritual?

I think it means to connect with the God-created soul of things. A spiritual reading of Scripture means you hear God’s voice in the story rather than just gather God-information. When taking a walk in your neighborhood do you see homes in which people laugh, cry, hurt, are born and die or just houses? So too with sunsets, music, parties, people. They become spiritual when we see or hear that fourth God-dimension. Being aware of God sightings.

But even if that is a good starting definition, how does one connect with the soul of things? Harder yet, how do we do it daily?

Not my journal.

For Christmas this year my son, Brendan, gave each of us six adults in our family a journal and asked that we daily write down one or more things: a blessing, something we are thankful for, or how we have experienced the Presence of God that day. As I wrote in my journal the first day, an interview I had read with A.J. Jacobs kept coming to mind. Jacobs wrote “The Year of Living Biblically,” where he chronicles his attempt to spend a year following “every single rule in the Bible–as literally as possible.”

It occurred to me that what Brendan was asking us to do was spend a year living spiritually. To look at life as if the spiritual is just as real and important as the physical. To see a relationship with God and the world he created as more than obeying rules. To try to peer beyond the obvious and see–as often as possible–that fourth dimension.

If imitation, then, is the sincerest form of flattery, I intend to flatter Jacobs and launch my own experiment: The Year of Living Spiritually: My attempt to live as if there is more to this world than we see.

Each week in 2012 I will record my quest in my blog: the stumblings, successes, questions, and answers (I hope) I discover as I put on my 4D Glasses and venture out into the world.

But I don’t like to travel alone. Here’s my question for you: would you join me? Will you not only read along, but will you go along? Share your insights? Invite friends? Will you too spend a year living spiritually?

Let me know.

Eugene C. Scott has pestered his friends about God sightings for years. He most recently spotted God in his 2–almost 3-year-old grand daughter who said, “Papa, Papa, watch me.” Then she drank a glass of water making a funny gurgling sound. When she finished, she looked at him as if she had just climbed Mount Everest. It dawned on Eugene that God gets delight out of us seeing him too in the mundane ordinary things. Eugene also co-pastors The Neighborhood Church and likes to write fiction.

Categories: adventure, Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, Christianity, Community, creation, Eugene C. Scott, God Sightings, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

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

Are Books About to Become Extinct?

By Eugene C. Scott

I have thousands of good friends. Friends not just acquaintances. People who have spoken into my deepest fears and hopes, people I have shared untold hours with. They have asked and answered questions, frustrated me, left me yearning for more, angered me, comforted me, challenged, and have always been only an arms length away. None of these unusual friends have ever met me, however, nor I them. Still they have walked with me down every path of my life.

I’m not talking about my covey of life-long friends, who are thicker than blood, who also fit the above description. And no, I’m not referring to my Facebook friend count nor people in church, though they are friends too. These are friends some would not count or–possibly–even notice in their own lives. But they are there. And they have so much to say.

One of these friends, one of my best gave me great pleasure–and insight into my own family of origin–by telling me a story about a 1960s tragedy—a murder—that rocked a Minnesota family and brought one brother to his knees and the other to an understanding about the true nature of faith. Through that story, I was transported back to my childhood and warm memories of my family, before it was broken, and how my own loss started me on a journey of faith.

Another less poetic friend shared theology with me that challenged (oh how I prefer avoiding challenges to my beliefs) me and gave me a refreshed relationship with Jesus and a new view of heaven and earth.

An older friend mesmerized me with a series of jokes, puns, and one-liners retelling his life story. I laughed so hard my cheeks hurt and I found myself wishing I didn’t take life so seriously; and for a moment I didn’t.

I also had a young friend who shared with me his struggles and victories while growing up without a father. I saw my own struggle in his–my father died when I was eleven. He too had fantasy father figures. His were Bill Cosby from “The Cosby Show” and an older hippy kid who befriended him. Mine was my older sister’s boyfriend. We arrived at a school father/son event in his souped-up GTO. I knew I was the coolest kid there until I realized this guy was not my dad no matter how hard I wished he was. My friend’s story defined my story. Though many men could influence, help, mentor, and love us fatherless kids, no one could replace our real fathers, except maybe God.

There are many more of these friends I could share with you. Strangely none I have seen face to face, however.

As you may have guessed, these friends are all books. The Minnesota family is Leif Enger’s invention in his outstanding novel, Peace Like a River. Enger’s storytelling and prose were so simple and beautiful I have read this novel half a dozen times.

Dallas Willard wrote one of the freshest, most challenging, accessible theologies called The Divine Conspiracy. It describes God’s desire, God’s conspiracy to let us know him and to live life beyond our human constraints. I go back to it again and again and discover new layers each time.

The next friend mentioned above is I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This! an autobiography by my favorite comedian, Bob Newhart. I read it in two days and still retell his jokes to whoever will listen.

Next Donald Miller’s delightful books are each funny and light, true, and flawed, real, yet able to slip under the skin and pierce one’s heart. Miller’s fourth book To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father is a slim book—197 pages—each page of which showed me my past and future vistas through viewing Miller’s life.

Some suggest my friends, books, should be placed on the endangered species list. Reading is declining, ebooks may bury books with bindings. Movies and TV have also dug the grave deeper. These good friends of mine are on life support. Or are they?

I look at my library of friends, lined neatly on the shelves, or not, so diverse and beautiful, and full of life and wisdom–and even foolishness–and I grieve. Their loss, if it comes, will be great. To me people who do not read books (or God forbid, cannot!) are like people who have seldom or never tasted chocolate or ice cream. They are missing something delicious.

Or more accurately they are missing a rich interaction no other medium can offer, daily conversations with people from all over the world and all through time that will comfort and challenge while also delivering them on great flights of fancy. I have read a piece of one book or another daily, missing only a few under duress, for nearly twenty-eight years. I can’t imagine life without books.

In 1953 Ray Bradbury wrote a science fiction titled Fahrenheit 451 in which the government begins to burn books because they deem them dangerous. But like most other beautiful, important things in our lives, nothing so drastic or romantic will spell the demise of books. If books die it will be while we are not looking. Their loss will come at the hands of inattention.

There is hope. Brabury’s novel recounts a secret society that covenants to save their favorite books. Each person participates by memorizing a book and in essence becoming the book. The book through its host, so to speak, comes to life. Bradbury’s idea is not far-fetched because story–factual or fictional–is the life blood we readers share with books. Story is a part of most–if not all–of our lives. Our very lives are stories, unbound, living books. Therefore, the soul of a book, story will live on, as it did before books and as it will after.

And I for one–no matter whether others read or what technology comes–will not easily let go of my many friends.

Categories: Art, authenticity, belonging, bible conversation, Community, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, friends, God, God Sightings, happiness, Meaning, mystery, TV, Uncategorized, values | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

The Sixth Most Important Day in History

By Eugene C. Scott

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.

“Little David, you need to go to Jerusalem. Maybe there will be something for you there,” my friend Baruch told me.

Baruch was right. One swipe with my blade–it made a small sound, snick–and the fat pouch dropped into my hand. Then I was off to the next contributor. They paid me no mind, a dirty, hungry run-away. Looking at me meant touching me, caring.

Besides they were listening to the Rabbi with death on his face. He was teaching from under a leafy fig tree. The Rabbi gestured toward the tree. Snick, and the next pouch was mine. It was just like shearing sheep. I tucked the money inside my robe and eyed another contributor who had more than he needed.

“Ohhhh,” the crowd moaned. Someone pressed against my back.

I’m caught, I thought.

Then I saw it. The fig tree. It’s leaves were suddenly brown, withered, trembling. One leaf dropped to the ground, lifeless like the sparrow I once hit mid-flight with a stone.

“He killed it with only words,” an old woman in front of me said.

The Rabbi lifted his voice, his eyes grabbed mine, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for . . . . . . in prayer.”

I pulled my robe tighter over my stolen money. It felt heavy against my thigh. I slipped behind the old woman. The Rabbi strode away from the dead tree and away from Jerusalem. The mummer of hundreds of Jews singing Psalms rose with the dust from their feet. He–they called him Yeshua–walked with dangerous determination. Enough to finally change things.

Those brave, or foolish enough to follow him, would see him hung on a Roman cross. I was one of the foolish ones. That day the pouches under my robe became even heavier. I took them to the temple and left them. Baruch was right. There was something for me in Jerusalem.

In Hebrew this day is called Yom shenee, the second day. We call it Monday, the first day. In whatever language you speak, on this day some two thousand years ago Jesus was terminal. He had five days to live. He made choices that propelled him toward the cross rather than run away from it. Thus, this is the sixth most important day in history.

If you, like my fictional David, had been there what would you have seen? Would you have followed? What decisions would you have made? What would Yeshua have seen in you?

Read more about this day in history in Matthew 21:12-19, Mark 11:11-19 and Luke 19:45-46.

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

Categories: adventure, Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, Christianity, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God, God Sightings, grace, healing, Jesus, love., Meaning, miracles, mystery, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Imagination: God’s Greatest Gift

By Eugene C. Scott

My mom was proof that, though humans were cast out and barred from the Garden, we took a piece of Eden with us, like dirt lodged under our fingernails. For nearly twenty-five years my mother lived in an ugly two-story brick apartment building in a part of the city that no longer had much going for it. No parks, few trees–buggy elms–and only the constant rush of cars going elsewhere surrounded her. Surely no garden.

Yet mom transformed that place. She had a wonderful imagination, an artist specializing in raising rose bushes. Every summer on the canvas of dirt between the apartments and where the cars nosed in to park she created a masterpiece of color and beauty. By mid July, red, yellow, white, burgundy, pink, and multicolored roses splashed their colors against the pale brick and rusted iron railing of that old building. Summer after summer people from all over the neighborhood streamed by to see what mom’s horticultural imagination had wrought.

When mom passed away in 2003, the whole neighborhood groaned in grief. For comfort, my family and I imagined mom, now healed of her emphysema, planting a rose garden in heaven, taking God’s best and giving it her own unique twist. Between tears we laughed and smiled at that picture.

Then at the memorial service, mom’s well-meaning and beloved pastor decided it was time to dispel that notion. We don’t know that there is gardening–or are even roses–in heaven, he said. He read a passage about heaven (I don’t remember which one) and told us heaven is not about continuing what we loved doing here but about being forgiven of our sins. He continued, Only what is true, not what is imagined can bring you comfort.

On one level he was right, of course. Even what we imagine heaven or God–or anything really wonderful–to be like will pale in light of God’s reality. My mom may well have gladly chucked her spade upon entering the Pearly Gates.

But . . .

Imagination is one of God’s greatest gifts. Imagine what life would be like without it (sorry).

Just think. Robert Adler imagined not having to get up from the couch to change the television channel. Viola, the remote control.

But seriously, you name it. If it exists, someone imagined it. Leif Enger’s surprising, glorious novel, “Peace Like a River,” “Star Wars,” the Internet, the artificial heart, my mom’s rose garden in the middle of a concrete jungle.

Imagination is also what infuses faith. As a matter of fact, faith would not be possible without God’s gift of imagination. By imagination I don’t mean only dreaming up Easter Bunnies. That’s only the starting place. I mean seeing something real that is not yet there–or is not there on the surface of things.

For example, some see the cross only as so much misused lumber or–today–mere jewelry. But Jesus imagined it as the ultimate instrument of healing. His death and resurrection made it so. Our God-given imaginations then let us see into the past as Jesus hung on that cross and at the same time gaze into the future as Jesus welcomes us back to the Garden.

This is the kind of imagination that thrilled atheist C. S. Lewis and made him see that “Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.” He read books, like George MacDonald’s fantasy, “Phantastes,” and found faith and Christ buried in the poetry and prose. His imagination was the tool God used to dig out those truths. Later, moving from atheism to belief in Christ, Lewis said his new faith came from having his imagination baptized. We know the end of that story. Lewis then used his baptized imagination to write stories that helped thousands believe in a God who came down into a weedy, overgrown garden to bring it back to its original state. Without an imagination Lewis, and you and I, would never believe.

Traditionally Lent is about fasting, giving up for a time what we think we have to help us yearn for and realize what we don’t yet believe we really do have. This Lent let God baptize your imagination. As Crystal Lewis sings, let God give you “beauty for ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, peace for despair.”

God can and will show you the truth that he has planted beautiful roses even among the harsh, concrete reality of day-to-day life. As Paul said, God can do far more than we can hope or imagine.

So, what was that piece of the Garden, stuck under our fingernails, we took with us from Eden that day? Our ability to imagine what it once was and what it one day will be. And no matter what my mom’s pastor said, I can still imagine mom in the Garden–sleeves rolled up, dirt smeared face, smile a mile wide, pruning back a red rose. One day I’ll join her, I imagine.

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

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church.  During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See tnc3.org for worship times.

Categories: Art, authenticity, belonging, Bible, bible conversation, care, Christianity, creation, dreams, Eugene C. Scott, Faith, God Sightings, Jesus, TV, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.