October 5, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott

Unknown. Week.


It’s early Monday morning. I woke after a vivid dream. I was in a high rise building. The inside of the building was open, like the Guggenheim Museum in New York. An older gentleman was there. He was wobbly. Like he was inebriated. He wobbled back and forth by the railing. I was trying to help him. I turned my head for a moment. I saw him tumble over the railing, falling several stories to his death. I looked down and someone was bent over his body, looking up, trying to figure out what happened. I was distraught that I could not help the man. I’m not sure what this means but that’s how I woke up this morning.

I’m beginning my Monday morning with this thought: Every week is unknown. Every week is full of possibility and peril. I had a friend pass away suddenly last week. Not a close friend but a friend. I had an acquaintance, not so much a friend, but we knew one another, and she was killed in an automobile accident in Europe last Friday. Every week is full of possibility. Possibility and peril. And then that terrible shooting incident in Oregon. Yet again. Yet again. Yet again. Possibility. Peril.

This blog is a prayer for the unknown week. Which is this week. Which is every week . . .

Be safe. Be kind. No falling over the railing. No automobile accidents. No sudden collapses. As much as possible be at peace within yourself. Bring peace to others. Find calm. Reflect on something beautiful for a few minutes. Touch something with your fingers, like the bark of a tree or a leaf in your hand or the petal of a flower. Touch the face of another person. (I would suggest you first ask for permission.) Marvel at the miracle of skin. Hold a book in your hand. Feel its weight and beauty. Read a poem. Listen to a CD. Say a prayer. Go for a walk.

Take a Breath. Take a Breath at the beginning of an unknown week. I’ll take one too.

October 1, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott

In. Perspective.


For two days I had been writing a blog post about Pope Francis and how I felt so disappointed that he met with that County Clerk from Kentucky, Kim Davis, and consequently sent yet another message to the LGBTQ community that you are not welcome, that something is wrong with you, and that God disapproves of your sexual orientation.

And then another campus shooting happened in Oregon today, and rather than being disappointed, I found myself horrified yet again over another senseless mass shooting. Today is a lesson in perspective. I was disappointed yesterday. I am horrified today. Horrified trumps disappointment.

I’m trying to Take a Breath today. I hope you will take one too. I’m sending a breath of compassion to all those who are reeling over feeling marginalized yet again by the Church. And to those who are grieving over the inexplicable loss in Oregon, my thoughts of love and comfort go out to you. God weeps tonight. I do too. (And I’m not being metaphoric.)



September 24, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

Lincoln. King. Day. Merton.

Today, in a joint-session of Congress, Pope Francis mentioned four great Americans. Not celebrities. Not reality television stars. Not handsome or beautiful people. Not wealthy people. Four people of substance and strength and courage. Four people of faith. Four people that should resonate within the consciousness of all Americans. Enjoy the photos. Contemplate the quotes on this historic day. What a joyful, meaningful, important day for our nation.


“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Abraham Lincoln.


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  





“The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?” Dorothy Day. 


“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” Thomas Merton.

Take a Breath, dear friends. Take a  Breath and let’s celebrate this historic day in America. Take a Breath and become the person you know you can become. Be gentle with yourself today. Love your neighbor. Do something kind for another human being today. Care about the right things. The important things. And may the first breath you take in the morning and the last breath you exhale at night before you fall asleep, let it be the breath of divine love.

September 22, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott

History. Hope.


Is there anything more transforming than when history meets hope? I’m thinking about that this week, because Dr. Kevin Kruse, Princeton University, is coming to First Congregational Church of Los Angeles to discuss his new book — One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. It is a fascinating book and I look forward to having this fine scholar in our church on Sunday.

In his new book, Dr. Kruse offers a bruising critique of the longtime Senior Minister of our church, Dr. James Fifield, and in some ways, First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. Dr. Fifield, caught up in nothing short of an American revival during the Eisenhower years, exerted enormous influence around the country. He was part of a spiritual mobilization movement that trumpeted freedom, and freedom often meant free enterprise, American capitalism, and the right of every business to prosper. This was often over against labor movements and the working poor. At its best this movement emphasized individual enterprise and creativity. At its worse it exploited all kinds of fears, including the attempt to “Christianize” America.

The very last thing I want to do is diminish James Fifield. He was who he was, and he was doing his very best to be faithful to his understanding of God and church. Furthermore, he was a dynamic leader and did many many good things for this congregation. Frankly, I’m more interested in understanding the relationship of God and country. Is America a Christian nation? Is it a religious nation? What role should faith have in the public square?

Kruse sheds an enormous light on what was happening in the middle of the 20th century, including the attempt of some to write “Jesus Christ” language into the Constitution of the United States. America is still struggling with this tension. In the last week we’ve seen a Country Clerk in Kentucky go to jail, claiming she is under “God’s authority” and not the authority of the government. Presidential candidate, Ben Carson, said on Meet the Press this past Sunday that the United States “should not have a Muslim President.” What kind of claim is this making about America?

When I was in seminary another kind of spiritual mobilization took place in America and it was led by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. The so-called “Moral Majority,” an organization that, in my opinion, was neither all that moral and certainly not the majority, exerted a great deal of influence upon the country in the 1980s. In some ways, the Republican party is still struggling over its love-hate relationship with the social issues of American evangelicalism. Dr. Kruse has provided a look into the past, but his book is profoundly hopeful, because he helps us see that many of these same dynamics keeping constellating themselves again and again, and the way forward must include an understanding of them.

Take a Breath. And I’ll take one too. I don’t really know what will happen in our church this Sunday, but I know it will be interesting, engaging and helpful. At a variety of levels, history and hope will be meeting at First Church this week. And that means it’s always exciting. (And a little bit tricky too.) I love it that we have a church willing to explore and learn and grow. I love it that we have a church willing to take risks. Join us this Sunday at 11 AM.

September 20, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott

Pope. Francis.


Pope Francis is coming to the United States. I like his alignment with Jesus. That is to say, he seems to possess a kind of humility, an awareness that the church is an extension of Jesus, and that means we should be about the business of helping all God’s children, especially the weak and poor and broken. But caring for God’s children is not mere charity for this Pope. He brings to the United States a prophetic critique of the ruthlessness of capitalism. There’s a time and place for individual achievement, and certainly that is possible in America and should be celebrated, but there’s also a time and place to nurture the common good, and that means sharing and addressing economic injustices.

I also like the fact that he seems to place doctrinal differences within a larger context of human understanding. Asked about gay priests, he simply shrugged and said, “Who am I to judge?” He also seems to be making overtures of compassion toward those Catholics who have gone through the pain of divorce, expressing a willingness to relax procedures for annulment. Even to those women who have chosen to terminate a pregnancy, the Pope has encouraged them to trust in the grace of God and get on with their lives. This is not the same as changing official Church doctrine. Yet, what Francis seems to be offering is a more humane practice of religion.

There’s something else suggestive about Pope Francis, and it’s that he is changing the tone of the Catholic faith. If tone can be changed, then that means, in a fundamental way, the doctrines and practices of the church can change too. In this sense, Pope Francis may well be the first Protestant Pope. (I mean that as a compliment.) If tone can change, then why not a priesthood that includes women? Why not a church that embraces the sexual rights of all God’s children? We may well look back on this papacy and say that Pope Francis helped the Catholic Church move toward a more open, dynamic, and humane experience of the Christian faith. Surely this would be a good thing.

Take a Breath this week. Pope Francis is coming to the United States of America. I celebrate anyone and everyone who helps us understand the Christian faith in a deeper, broader and more beautiful way.

September 18, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott

Friday. God. Thoughts.


A few weeks ago someone asked me a question: “Do you think of God as personal?” It’s such a good question, and I can tell that it’s good because I can’t quit thinking about it. To be sure, I grew up with a personal God. God was friend, parent and companion. I had the feeling that God was watching over me and helping me in life. My prayers were certainly personal. (And still are.) Prayer was talking to God. Talking to a person.

Over the years, however, I began to think of God more and more as presence / energy / being / beauty / meaning / source / universe. Is the universe personal? Is source personal? It’s a puzzle to be sure, and one that I have not completely resolved within myself. This means that I waffle back and forth. Intellectually I think of God as source / universe / energy, but in my heart of hearts I still practice a faith that is focused on a personal God.

Perhaps, as Parker Palmer often suggests, these two realities are not trying to tear me apart but open me up. Open to the vastness of God (universe). Open to the nearness of God (personal). And depending upon the moment, I tend to gravitate one way or another. When I feel terrible need within myself, I tend to personalize God. “Dear God, help me. Dear God, I’m sorry. Dear God, I’m a mess.” When I feel plugged into something larger, like great music or great landscape or great art, I tend to absorb the energy of God that is above me, beyond me and within me.

Take a Breath today. It’s Friday. Rest into this truth . . . just thinking about God . . . is an act of faith . . . and it’s never a waste of energy.

September 8, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott

Congratulations. Shanna. Steitz.


This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching the Installation Sermon for Rev. Shanna Steitz at Community Christian Church in Kansas City. I’m happy to report that it was a wonderful morning, and that Ryan, Shanna and the kids are doing great. Ryan is working now in public education and doing very well. Shanna is up to her neck in church and loving it. And the kids are as sweet as ever. It was a great weekend of family and fun and celebration. I thought you might enjoy reading my sermon. Take a Breath. Blessings to all of you.

Calling (God, I Hate that Word!)

So, let me just say that I know the word calling is an important word in the Christian vocabulary, and I know, as my mother used to tell me, that I really shouldn’t use the word hate, and I know that my sermon title gets close to using the Lord’s name in vain. But other than that . . . how am I doing so far?

Well, despite the rocky start with my sermon title, I do want you to know what an honor it is for me to be with you this morning, to celebrate the ministry of Rev. Shanna Steitz, my dear friend and colleague, and also to celebrate her husband Ryan, also my friend and colleague, and their two wonderful children, Jacob and Audrey.

I feel a little bit like that minister who probably revealed more about the sermon than what he realized when he said one Sunday morning, “Before I begin preaching, I would like to say something.” (You have to think about that for a minute.) Well, I want to say something now and also something in my sermon, and what I want to say now is this: I love this family. They were and are so loved and respected at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, and you are blessed to have them and they are blessed to have you, too. And if you don’t love them yet, trust me, you will, and for those of you who might be a little slow on the love side of things, you’ll always respect them, and sometimes respect is even better than love. Your new minister may make a few mistakes. I used to tease Shanna and told her that her motto for life was this: “Often wrong but never in doubt!” But trust me, even her mistakes will come from a good place inside her heart, and because that’s who she is. She cares. She loves. She tries. And she’ll put the church first. You cannot ask for anything more than that. And so this is truly a great day of celebration.

Now, back to this ridiculous sermon title. I suppose one reason why I dislike the word calling is because it sounds so solitary. Over and over again people ask ministers, “When were you called into ministry?” As if it happened once. Like getting vaccinated for the chicken pox. And even though not many clergy like to talk about it, the truth is, it’s a baffling question, because being called by God is an activity that has an ongoing life. I’ve been a minister of many years now, but I’m still trying to understand this sense of calling. I wasn’t called into ministry. I’m still being called into ministry. Calling is a present tense journey with yourself and God, and it’s also true for a congregation.

Several years ago I was on a flight to North Carolina, heading to a Methodist Church for a speaking opportunity, but seated right across the aisle from me was a young African American. He looked young. Maybe high school age. Perhaps college. I was minding my business, trying to get a little work done, but then I noticed something about him. On his right wrist, on the underside of his wrist, he had a word tattooed to his skin. Four letters. The word was SOLO. S.O.L.O. Solo.

I still think about that young man. Why would a teenager tattoo that word onto his wrist? Solo. Was it an act of defiance? A sign of strength? Was it his way of saying that I have to stand up and take responsibility for my life? Or was it a word of resignation? Despair. Was it his way of saying that I have no one who cares about me or believes in, and like thousands of other black men, I’ve been forgotten by society and my life is expendable in America? Solo. I’m not sure what he was feeling.

But what I do know is that calling is never solo. Ministry is never solo. Church is never solo. Just as the idea of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity points us to the communal nature of God, and I would say even the communal nature of the universe, so we know that at the heart of calling is this interplay of my journey, your journey, God’s journey, our journey, and the journey of a new minister.

I’m out of town today, so I think I’ll make a little confession. Good for the soul, right? For too many years I wore the tattoo of solo on the skin of my ministerial life. I didn’t think I needed any colleagues. I thought I was strong enough, smart enough and talented enough to do it all by myself. And more than that, I had this misguided idea that it was my job. That’s what they pay me to do. To figure it out. Solve problems. Lead the way. I was flying solo!

And it’s a terrible way of doing ministry.

First of all, you burn out like a piece of toast. Secondly, you lose touch with that divine presence that works in you and around you and through you. And third, you miss connecting with all kinds of wonderful people who love you and who want to help. Today, we’re shining the spotlight on Shanna. (And it’s delicious, isn’t it kid?) But I’m saying to all of you, including this immensely talented young woman, don’t tattoo the word solo on her ministry. God’s calling all of us today.

But I want to say one more thing, and I think it relates to this idea of calling, and it’s that I believe human beings are hard-wired for a spiritual journey. To be human is a calling. In this sense, I believe every human being is religious. We might not acknowledge it. We might turn away from it. We might use different language to describe it. But embedded inside every human being is a capacity for spiritual awareness. As Bill Coffin used to say, “We might argue over our preference of bread, but we can’t argue that we’re all hungry!”

There is something within every human being that wants to transcend our biological structure. We want to know that what we feel, what we think, and what we do has some kind of significance in this world. And we want to live. Not just survive but live. Life is more than an empty existential experience between two oblivions of before birth and after death.

On top of that, most of us have had experiences that reinforce the presence of our spiritual capacity. It might be unspeakable joy. Remember the first time you saw the Grand Canyon? It could be wonderful grace. Remember the time someone reached out to you with kindness and brought a green bean casserole by the house because you just had a death in your family? And perhaps it’s nothing less than an interaction with the mystical dimensions of the universe, otherwise known as God. Remember when you fell in love? That’s God. These thoughts and experiences are real, and they point us to that depth-reality within every person.

This means that one of the most important things we can ever do as a church is to understand that everyone who comes through our doors on a Sunday morning is on a spiritual journey. The people you know. The people you don’t know. And the people you have yet to meet. And they will come here because they are trying to make sense of their calling as human beings.

They come here because of the art, and because of the architecture, and because of the music, and because of the community, and because the Christian faith supplies language and ritual and history to help people understand their human calling. They come here because they are interested in Jesus. In the historical Jesus, some of his ideas and insights, but they’re also interested in the resurrected Christ, that is to say, the presence of Jesus that lives inside human consciousness like a spiritual companion. That’s why people come to a church.

And so part of the calling of a congregation is to embrace this human calling pulsating within the lives of others, and to do it in a way that is authentic, real and transformative. I want to say this as clearly as I know how this morning: The goal of a church is not to get more people to support the church. In fact, let me tell you how to kill a church. You kill a church anytime you make the mission of the church to get more people, so you can get more money, so the church can pay its bills. If that’s the mission of the church, then God help us, because nothing will kill a church faster than that.

Let me say it a different way: The purpose of the church is not to perpetuate the church. The object of the Christian faith is not the church itself. The object of faith is the living God / the living Christ / the mystery of the Spirit that moves in us and through us and above us, that divine presence that animates our living and moves us toward our neighbor and our calling as human beings. That’s faith.

Now, do I hope you will support the church? Of course. And before she gets too nervous, Rev. Shanna Steitz, do you want people to support the church? Of course you do. There is no church without financial generosity, without personal participation, without love and commitment and hope that we bring to our church. But this church, Community Christian Church, is here to help people on their spiritual journey, and you do it because you believe that every human being is grappling with his or her calling.

That means the church is in the spiritual transformation business. That means the church is in the learning-how-to-be-a-better-human being business. That means the church is in the trying to humanize-the-world-with-love-compassion-and-justice-one-person-at-a-time business. And the minute we lose sight of that, whether in Los Angeles or Kansas City, we’re no longer a church. I mean, honestly, I don’t know what that would make us, but I know enough to know that we’re certainly no longer a church, because the calling of a church is always a calling to move more deeply into the transformation of the human family.

I heard a joke not long ago that might be helpful at this point. There was an elderly gentleman walking down a sidewalk one day and he sees a talking frog. He picks the frog up and the frog says to him: “If you just give me a kiss, I’ll turn into a beautiful woman and will love you forever.” The man put the frog in his pocket and just kept walking. Pretty soon the frog piped up again and said: “Hey, aren’t you going to turn me into a beautiful woman?” The old man looked the frog and said, “I think at this point in my life . . . a talking frog is more valuable.” Pretty bad, right? I know, I almost croaked when I heard it, too.

Let me be clear: There’s nothing more valuable than calling, a calling every human being longs to engage, and a calling shared between minister and congregation. There’s no solo to it. There’s no she’s up there and we’re out here. Calling is that mystical double helix of your work and her work, of God’s work and my work, of caring for people in the church and opening doors for people outside the church. That’s really what this day is about. It’s about embracing calling. And it belongs to all of us. And to be honest with you, the more I’ve thought about that word calling, the more I’ve come to like it. I hope you’ll come to like it, too. Amen.




September 4, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

Inner Thoughts. New Year. (What Minister’s Are Really Thinking This Week.)


If you are a minister, or you know a minister serving a congregation, then you know the beginning of the new church year is right around the corner. It begins the week after Labor Day. The second Sunday of September means school is back, families are returning to routines, summer travel is more or less over, and it’s time to kick off a new year of activities for the congregation.What does your minister want to say to you — the congregation — at the beginning of a new year? After nearly 25 years of fall beginnings, I think I can safely say the following . . .

1. Your minister wants to ask you to attend church. He or she is getting ready. Feeling enthused. Planning programs and sermons and activities. Your minister wants you to be invested in the church at the beginning of a new year.

2. Your minister would like to feel your positive energy. Energy is contagious, and you can feel it in a handshake or embrace or in how you sing a hymn or recite a prayer. There is nothing that transforms a church community more than positive energy. Bring it on!

3. Your minister would like for you to invite friends to church. Sure, some churches still take out newspaper ads. And social media is all the rage. (And important, by the way.) But in the end, there is nothing better for a church than when members invite others to attend.

4. Your minister wants you to know that, if you’ve been negligent in attending church, that it’s okay and no one will say to you on your first Sunday back, “Where have YOU been?” Where you’ve been is none of our business. This is our business: We’re glad you’re here today. The beginning of a new program year is a perfect time to come back to church.

5. Your minister wants you to know that he or she believes in the church, and knows that just about anything is possible if people will work together. At the beginning of a new year your minister wants to work together. That’s true all of the time, of course. But it’s especially true at the beginning of the fall.

6. Your minister wants you to know that something good and beautiful can happen every Sunday. Not some Sundays but every Sunday. It’s probably true that miracles tend to happen for those people who expect them. A friend of mine signs every email: “Be a miracle.” I like it. Most clergy feel this every Sunday.

7. Your minister wants you to know that the beginning of a new program year is a great time to put aside the hurts that have accumulated over the past year. Feelings get hurt over this and that in congregational life. Fine. It’s life. But let’s get on with it. New beginnings are possible.

8. Your minister wants you to know that the faith development of children is important. It’s at least as important as soccer and baseball and the many other activities that beg for our attention. Churches have Sunday School Programs and Youth Groups and various other activities for kids, but none of it works without parental support. Get the kids to church!

9. Your minister wants you to know that during the fall an annual stewardship campaign will be engaged, and that most ministers detest talking about money. We care about the whole person. We care about the feelings of others. But giving is part of the life of faith, and so we’ll do our best to talk about it in a positive way. But let’s get real: Couldn’t most of us give a little more this next year? Grace is free; church costs something.

10 Your minister wants you to know how much he or she appreciates all that you do for the church as lay leaders. It inspires us. It feels good to work together. It’s why we entered the ministry in the first place. And so thank you. In the end, the church doesn’t belong to the minister. It belongs to all of us.

This week ministers all over the country are Taking a Breath. And well they should, because the beginning of a new year commences after Labor Day weekend. Blessings to all my ministerial colleagues. Blessings on all their churches. Blessings and Happy New Year. Church members, staff and clergy — Let’s do this!

September 2, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott

Spectacle. Of. Joy.


I’ve performed a lot of weddings over the course of my career. Some of have been stiffly formal. Others, casual and simple. But this past weekend I had the privilege of sharing in a wedding ceremony in Central Park. The setting was perfect. The weather, though a bit toasty, was just fine. The groom was a little nervous, but such a nice guy. The bride was stunningly beautiful. I’ve known her for many years now. She is pure delight. But the memory I take with me was what happened after the ceremony. I pronounced the couple “Husband and Wife.” A kiss ensued. We walked up Cherry Hill to the sidewalk. And waiting to escort the entire wedding party, including guests, was a Dixieland Jazz Band. They were fabulous. And fun. And full of energy. We marched through Central Park, everyone laughing and talking and celebrating. The band played and we followed. But then I noticed a strange and wonderful thing — Every step of the way spectators were filming us, taking photographs, applauding, and in some cases singing too. It’s as if the entire Park stopped for a moment to recognize joy. Joy is that powerful. That inspiring. The whole glorious episode has become a reminder — When joy marches past me, I’m going to stop and notice it. More than notice it, I’m going to soak it in. And if possible, I’m going to participate in it. Recognizing joy goes to the heart of living itself. Perhaps you might consider Taking a Breath and doing the same. A spectacle of joy should not be missed. When it comes to weddings, most of the time I’m there to bring something to the couple. This one was a little different. The couple actually gave something to me — a recessional of joy I will not soon forget.

August 31, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott

Oliver. Sacks.


Oliver Sacks passed away this weekend, and even though I didn’t personally know him, I mourn his passing and I’m so grateful for his influence on my life. Like so many people, I loved his writing and bought just about every book he ever published. (If you’re not familiar with him, Robin Williams portrayed him in the movie Awakenings.) But in the last few months, I’ve felt especially close to him as he revealed through a series of articles in The New York Times that he was dying of cancer. He approached the end of his life with great candor and courage. I found it all deeply moving and so humane. I also read this past summer his new memoir: On the Move. It was especially insightful as he told his story about coming to terms with his sexuality and all the struggles related to it. Dr. Sacks was indeed a polymath. He was a neurologist. A writer. A musician. A world traveler. A motorcyclist. (And former body builder!) His curiosity about life was insatiable, and surely curiosity is related to the experience of faith. Every now and then someone passes and it’s hard to imagine the world without that person in it. That’s how I feel this morning about Oliver Sacks. He was a bright star streaking across the sky. I will never forget his light. Take a Breath today. Let’s give thanks for those special people who bring so much life to our word and who, in ways great and small, teach us the possibilities of living.