September 30, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
How can you explain it? You are walking on a street. There is an electrical box. Someone has used the box as a canvas. You stop and look at the art. You take a picture. You think about it for weeks. Is the Universe / God / Source / Soul / Collective / Meaning / Spirit / Something speaking a message to you? You Take a Breath. You take a picture.
September 26, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
Last Sunday in The New York Times magazine, there was a marvelous article about Donald Antrim. Donald Antrim is one of the best fiction writers in America. I don’t really get his stuff, but it’s good. I’ve met Don once or twice, but that’s not really my point.
Donald’s father was Harry Antrim (pictured above). Harry Antrim was one of my best friends when I lived in Fort Worth, Texas. We often had lunch on Fridays at the Museum of Modern Art, which might also explain why I’m such a fan of the architect Tadao Ando. Harry passed away a few years ago, but I think of him often. I miss him.
In some ways, he’s like my friend David Farrar here in Los Angeles. In fact, they even look a little bit alike. Like Harry, David is smart. Interesting. Funny. And he’s possessed with an uncanny ability to let me be who I am without any judgment, expectation or attachment.
It’s a strange thing to think about a friend who has died. They are here. They are not here. Yet they remain a presence inside you.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that their presence doesn’t diminish. You would think that it would, but it doesn’t. In some cases the presence gets stronger, like a deeply saturated color — yellow ochre or aubergine.
Anyway, last Sunday afternoon as I read The New York Times, I thought about Harry Antrim and then about death and then about friendship and then about something I’m coming to believe more and more, namely, that nothing really goes away. And that when I Take a Breath, everyone I have ever known and loved is still with me. I can only hope they know that I am with them too.
September 25, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
Tiny: A Story About Living Small is a documentary. It’s diminutive in scope yet, as they say, good things come in small packages, and that’s certainly the case with this film. I liked it. It’s the story of a young man who builds a house. A tiny house. But the house is about a dream, and anytime a young person achieves a dream, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. It’s also a movie about stuff. Or better said, how we don’t need as much stuff as we think we need. What does it mean to “downsize?” Not when we’re old, but when we’re young? It’s a small film that is neither exciting nor dramatic, but it tells a human story that is worth considering. And so next time you’re searching through Netflix and trying to figure out what to watch, consider clicking on Tiny: A Story About Living Small. And get ready to Take a Breath, because I it will make you think and feel, and who knows, you might consider shedding a little of that clutter you really could live without.
September 22, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
I’m not a pacifist. Many of my friends and colleagues are, and I respect them tremendously for their convictions. But I am not. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I just am. I think there is a time and place when military intervention can accomplish a greater good. But it’s never crystal clear.
If you think I’m being inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus, all I can say is that you may be right. Still. I think there’s a time when wrongs must be made right. Enforced by a power that holds in its heart the greater good of others. But I know. In our world there aren’t just two sides to every story. There are a hundred sides. ISIS? I barely know what it is, and frankly, I can’t assess how serious a threat it is to our nation. Of course their obscene violence is repulsive. I know that. I ache for families of innocent victims. ISIS does not represent all Muslims. Let’s be clear about that. No. They do not. Maybe the President is right to begin bombing missions.
Yet I must admit — and here’s what I don’t understand — why is ISIS more of a threat to homeland security than homeland poverty? And homeland homelessness that exists all across the city of Los Angeles? And homeland crushing student loan debt that, in my opinion, is still crippling our national economy? And homeland Wall Street greed? And homeland environmental damage? And homeland air quality? And homeland water quality? And homeland racism that tears apart communities like Ferguson, Missouri? And homeland domestic abuse and sexual abuse? And homeland elderly who can barely afford to buy groceries because of their paltry retirement? And homeland educators and teachers who are paid poorly, while the work grows and grows and grows? And homeland medical care that continues to be the greatest indicator of the “haves” and “have nots” in our society? And homeland educational institutions that barely have resources to teach the arts and humanities, the life blood of the human spirit? And homeland sexism that continues to discriminate against women? And homeland homophobia that still threatens the LGBT community? And homeland immigration issues that we clearly don’t have the moral courage or political will to address?
Maybe I’m in a mood tonight. But I’ve been around long enough to see CNN cover bombing raids like low-budget video games. Headlines. Tomahawk missiles. Scud missiles. Embedded reporters. Flashing video clips. Press conferences. And of course, the explanation for “collateral damage.” I don’t want to be an isolationist. I really don’t . But I drive past collateral damage everyday on my way to work. I see it on the streets. In my congregation. In families in my neighborhood. I see it all over this country. And so . . . I’m Taking a Breath . . . and I wonder if I will ever see in my lifetime a President, or a Congress, or an American electorate that will declare war FOR the marginalized citizens of the United States of America. I can’t help but think that sometimes the greatest threat to our society is not foreign terror; it’s homeland despair.
September 15, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
No one has done more to help us understand our passages in life than Gail Sheehy. She has written about men. About women. About couples. And throughout the many decades she has been publishing, her thesis has remained remarkably consistent: We all go through passages — sometimes uniquely so — often predictably so — and each of our passages is possessed with an opportunity to learn something new.
It’s one thing, however, to write about passages with an objective journalistic eye; it’s another to tell your own personal story. Yet, that is exactly what Sheehy has done in her most recent book — Daring. It’s a moving, honest, inspiring, insightful, interesting, engaging and deeply thought-provoking book. To read it is to experience again the cultural reality of America from the 1960s through the opening of the new millennium.
I loved this book, because it made me think of my own passages. And I’m still going through passages, because as Sheehy has pointed out, the passages of life continue to reshape us all the way to the end of our days. If you like memoirs, and if you have some natural inclination to think about who you are, what you are feeling and why you are going through what you are going through, then I think you’ll enjoy this book.
Take a Breath today. I dare you to read Daring by Gail Sheehy.
September 12, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
Someone asked me recently, “Have you been reading this summer?”
And I would recommend a book that many consider one of the best but least-known books in American literature. Stoner by John Williams. It’s beautifully written. A true pleasure to read. And sad. And depressing. And wonderful. And meaningful. And insightful. And close to the bone for everyone who ever grew up in the Midwest.
Take a Breath.
Do I recommend it?
September 10, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
For my father and grandfather it was December 7, 1941. As the President said, “A day that shall live in infamy.” And he was right. But for me the date is September 11, 2001. The shorthand is simple – 9/11.
I cannot forget nor do I want to. I watched it on television. Over and over again. I was not there, but knew people who were. And the inferno blast. And the extent of damage. And the crumbling towers. And the desperation it created. It’s still beyond words.
When old television footage appears this time of year I cannot stop myself from watching it. I somehow think the outcome will be different. That something, anything, will change. But it doesn’t change.
Years have passed. A new tower has been built. Also a museum, which I’ve yet to see. There are still thousands of families forever changed by 9/11. Parents mourn for children. Children mourn for parents. And what they all learned is that you don’t get over it. You keep living. Yes. But you never get over it.
I also remember how we came together as a country. How in New York City, especially, compassion and tenderness touched every conversation. “How are you?” became a genuinely real question. Courtesy replaced curtness. And for a few months at least, an entire nation recognized that every individual journey was intertwined with the journey of his or her neighbor.
Take a Breath today and remember what you need to remember. I will remember that 9/11 morning as a time of great vulnerability and loss, but before night fell upon our country, I will remember how love, courage and compassion stood up like I’ve never seen before or since. And as simplistic as it sounds, it taught me that love wins. Not hate. Not violence. Not terrorism. Love wins.
It’s how I try to live my life.
September 9, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
Over the past few days I’ve been reminded of something I’ve known is true for a long time, but because of various circumstances, I now know this truth in a new way. The truth is this: Women’s issues are not just for women. And by that I mean, men must be committed to the fundamental issues important to women, because women’s rights are human rights, and men advocating for women is always right.
I think of the courage of Wendy Davis, candidate for Governor in the State of Texas. She recently revealed in her new book that she and her family made the choice to end two pregnancies. In both cases the child, in all likelihood, would not have survived the pregnancy. I’m not pro-abortion. (And I’m not making a political statement for Wendy Davis.) I am, however, in favor of women and their doctors making decisions about pregnancies, and for that matter, any other issue related to a woman’s health. This is especially true in the case of women risking their own lives over a pregnancy. This is why I’ve been an avid supporter of Planned Parenthood. It is a national organization trying to provide women with good options for their health. This is not just a woman’s issue; it’s an issue about which I feel strongly even though I’m a man.
I’m also thinking about that terrible video recently released showing NFL star, Ray Rice, hitting his girlfriend (now wife) inside a Las Vegas hotel elevator. Domestic violence is wrong. Verbal. Emotional. Physical. It’s wrong. It’s always wrong. But the only way it’s ever going to be righted are when men stand up and say it’s wrong, and men teach boys that it’s wrong, and when men have zero tolerance in their (our) collective psyche and believe it is wrong. We are living more and more in the golden age of women. Women are making huge public contributions in business, philanthropy, medicine, law, theology and church, science, the military, and virtually every other area of society. But women should always be safe with men. It doesn’t matter if they’re on a date in Las Vegas or on a college campus in a dorm room or serving our military on an Army base. To be sure, women can advocate for themselves. They are smart and strong and have great moral voice. Yet the value of women in our society is not an issue for women alone; men must find a way to say “Yes” and advocate for the right things at the right time, and that is especially true when it comes to treating women with dignity and respect.
Take a Breath today. As Maya Angelou reminded us years ago: “We’re more alike than unalike, my friends, more alike than unalike.” That’s a truth women need to learn about men. And it’s a truth men need to learn (and relearn) about women.
September 5, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
I love African American culture. The music. The style. The creativity. The beauty. The intellectual depth. I love it. I’ve recently had two experiences that on the surface of things might appear that they don’t go together. But they do. In a very real way. They certainly go together.
Like so many around the country, I’ve watched the anguished protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Another death. Another black young adult. Unarmed. Killed by law enforcement. The facts aren’t out yet, but even so, the reality is this — There is a history of prejudice and injustice and the targeting of marginalized black men. And it seems like it keeps happening over and over again. Miami. Los Angeles. Ferguson. Chicago. It keeps happening. And when it happens, what you see is an anguished African American community. There is anger and hurt and outrage. Something needs to change. Anything needs to change. But what you always see in the aftermath of a tragedy is a beleaguered African American neighborhood troubled over their jagged version of the American dream.
The other experience I recently had was at the Hollywood Bowl. It was an evening celebrating music that has come from African American cinema. There have been so many amazing movies featuring the black experience, and along with these films, there are unforgettable sound tracks. Purple Rain? I know the lyrics, don’t you? Shaft? Of course! Do the Right Thing? An amazing film with amazing music. The sheer talent of actors and musicians featured at the Hollywood Bowl was breathlessly inspiring. I loved it. And it reminded me again that black culture is so beautiful and visionary when it comes to American life.
Is there a relationship between black anguish and black beauty?
There are many ways of answering that question, but what makes sense to me is this: African Americans have always known how to turn anguish into art. Whether it be spiritual hymns or singing the blues or pounding out jazz or Spike Lee creating culturally relevant films, African American artists know how to transform anguish and turn it into artistic expression. In many ways, this is one of the most profound spiritual challenges of life — How do we turn anguish into something artful? Meaningful? Even beautiful?
Take a Breath today. The anguish of life is a certainty and no one goes through life untouched by it. But there are artists, wonderful artists like Ralph Ellison and John Coltrane and Lena Horne, extraordinary black artists who teach us again and again the secret alchemy of turning the injustices of life into something good, beautiful and true. I suppose that’s why I love black culture so much. In the end, it’s all redemptive. Redemptive and hopeful.
August 26, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
I liked it. I’m talking about the movie Love is Strange, starring John Lithgow, Alfred Molina and Marisa Tomei. It’s the story of two gay men who marry, and because of the marriage, one of them loses his job as a music teacher in a Catholic school. Because of the financial strain, they lose their apartment and must now move in with their respective family members, while trying to put their lives back together. It’s a tender movie. Sweet but not sappy.
Two thoughts . . .
The film effectively “normalizes” two men who love one another, partners in every way possible, and their marriage is presented as completely natural and beautiful. I think this is important, because it’s a reminder that marriage is for two people who love one another. Sometimes straight. Sometimes gay. Sexual orientation isn’t the issue. The issue is that two people want to build a life together, and that is wonderfully portrayed by Molina and Lithgow.
The other thought is that it’s way too easy to use the “Church” as a caricature for everything that is conservative, narrow and restrictive about humanity. I know that people have been damaged by religion. No excuses. But I also know that there are churches all around the country that welcome the LGBT community, affirming their humanity, celebrating their marriages and supporting their families.
Love is Strange is a simple, quiet reflection on love and relationships and what it means to endure with another person. I liked it. You might like it too.