August 31, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
0 comments

Oliver. Sacks.

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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.

August 25, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
8 Comments

Poem. Written. Over. Several. Days.

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Poem Written Over Several Days

1.

At night I think about the day.

The brush with heartache.

The way hair falls upon her shoulders.

An unexpected phone call of kindness.

And how we (really) know things will not work out.

 

2.

A rabbit runs across a country road.

Each day, not some days, but every day is perilous.

We run anyway.

What is it that draws us to the other side?

God? Love? A wound that refuses our compassion?

 

3.

Perhaps they will say: “He could have written more books.”

Yes. You are right. I could have written more books.

But I wanted to live and go to the beach and sit

With the girl strung out on grief, each word

Leeching out of her like watercolor on linen.

 

4.

There are two ways to end the day. Remorse or gratitude.

We know the better pathway, of course, but that doesn’t mean

Choices are easy. Old voices rise up. Mother. Father. Priest.

We turn from them as best we can, but still, but still . . .

Truth lingers. Like smoke. Like incense.

 

5.

Pondering mortality is unacceptable these days. Yet

There is a hummingbird that appears from time to time

On my patio. It is here and gone. Oh the accumulation

Of all those people ghosting through my life. Like every one,

I thought it would last forever.

 

6.

Last night I had a dream.

My daughter-in-law was driving on a road next to the beach.

The water was coming over the road, and I was

Afraid. We barely made it through the water,

And then a bear appeared alongside the car.

 

7.

Years ago a friend gave me a name “Bear of the Storm.”

I’m not saying it’s true. I’m saying it’s the name

He gave me. And so I think about that bear, and how the ocean

Almost swallowed us up in the car like Jonah, and how dreams

Have a way of sneaking up on us.

 

 

 

 

 

August 19, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
9 Comments

I. Am. Heartbroken.

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I am heartbroken. Heartbroken over a person I never knew. Heartbroken over a senseless death. ISIS has killed the chief archeologist of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria. Khalid al-Asaad. For decades he cared for the ancient ruins and amazing art of that city. He was a caretaker of history that reaches back thousands of years. He knew ISIS, a militant Islamic force, was closing in on the city. (Why? Your guess is as good as mine.) Friends warned him to leave. But he would not leave. He would not leave his life work and priceless art. He was beheaded this week. His bloodied body strung up on a traffic light. Khalid al-Asaad gave his life for beauty. Emily Dickinson once wrote — I died for beauty. It’s a poem about how death silences everyone, including those who die for truth and beauty. And yes, death has silenced Khalid al-Asaad, and it will eventually silence every single one of his murderers. Yet I cannot stop thinking of beauty tonight. How much I love it. How I have built my life around it. How I cannot image life without the beauty of art and music, the beauty of women and men, the beauty of literature and poetry. I cannot imagine a world without tulips or flowering pear trees or oranges. A world without sacred ruins and modern paintings. I cannot have God without beauty, and my pathway to God has been again and again the experiential transcendence of beauty. Yesterday a man I did not know died for beauty. Literally. He died for beauty. I am humbled. I am heartbroken. I’m Taking a Breath. When you think about it, even a breath is beautiful.

 

 

August 18, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

First. Day. Of. School.

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I have great feeling for the beginning of school. New shirts. New shoes. New bluejeans. (The kind that were heavy and hot and stiff as cardboard.) I remember taking my children to school on the first day. The photo op in front of the house with their new school clothes and backpacks. Even now, when the summer heat begins to subside and the fall air kisses my face, I think of college, walking across campus and going to classes. I loved the beginning of school. School of course is very different today. Technology has changed everything. Yet, in some ways, the dynamic of education remains the same: You take a step. You open your mind. You learn something new. Take a Breath today. Join me in saying a prayer for all the teachers and administrators, parents and grandparents, and of course, all the students around the world. And no matter what you’re age, in honor of the beginning of school, take a step yourself this fall to learn something new. Read a book. Attend a lecture. Go to a museum. See a play. It’s never too late to learn. Never to late, in one way or another, to go back to school.

August 12, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
11 Comments

President. Carter. Our Prayers Are With You.

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Jimmy Carter has cancer. And it’s serious. Yes, he’s 90 years old and has lived a full life, and so I’m not saying it’s tragic. But now that he’s come face to face with his mortality, I cannot help but think of the many ways he has inspired me. This is not political blog, so don’t even think about trying to take it down that road. This is about Jimmy Carter the man. A good son and father, a good grandfather and friend to so many. He was a naval officer and served this country with distinction. He was also President of the United States of America. And some would say that he’s the best “former” President our country has ever had. (I would not argue with this assertion.) He was also a carpenter, a man who built homes for the poor through Habitat for Humanity. He taught Sunday School for years. Established the Carter Center in Atlanta and became a tireless advocate for human rights. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. And while some presidents (and presidential candidates) use religious language in order to pander to certain voting constituencies, Jimmy Carter was and is a true man of faith. He attended church, for starters, and studied the Bible more than most clergy. He understood that the world was his neighbor and tried to treat all people as sons and daughters of God. I’m thinking of Jimmy Carter tonight. And I’m Taking a Breath for him and I hope you will too. Whatever you think of God and however you imagine the universe, say a little prayer tonight for the man from Plains, Georgia. I think he needs us.

August 10, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
0 comments

Simple. Monday. Thought.

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I’m reading a collection of poems by Fernando Pessoa. He’s a new poet for me, and I thank my friend Malcolm Weintraub for the recommendation. In the introduction, Pessoa offers a simple explanation for his work as an artist. He said, “I noticed the universe.” Take a Breath today and consider following Pessoa’s advice. “Notice the universe!” Open your eyes. Open your heart. Be vulnerable to surprise and joy. Pay attention to ordinary things. That’s where God is found. Pessoa says in one of his poems: “My gaze is clear like a sunflower. It is my custom to walk the roads / Looking right and left / And sometimes looking behind me, / And what I see at each moment / Is what I never saw before, / And I’m very good at noticing things. / I’m capable of feeling the same wonder / A newborn child would feel / If he’d notice that he’d really and truly been born. / I feel at each moment that I’ve just been born / Into a completely new world.”

August 8, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

A. Saturday. Today. (in case you are interested and if not just skip it)

Up at 5.30 am.

Walked and fed the dogs.

Coffee and juice.

Emails and putzing.

Dogs walked me for three miles.

Freds 62 with Marti Colglazier.

1:00 pm. Office and sermon triage.

Wedding at 4.00 pm. Sweet couple. Two gay men. Interracial. Lovely.

More office.

Home at 6.00 pm.

Dinner. Slice and salad.

Watching a movie. Memento. Very strange. Trying to get into it but not into it.

Thinking about Sunday. Tomorrow.

Going to be a good day.

That’s it.

Tonight.

 

 

August 4, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
16 Comments

Planned. Parenthood.

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Good people can see things differently. I understand that. I make room for that in my life and I certainly make room for that in my church. At the same time, I have grown more and more uncomfortable with the assault Planned Parenthood is taking and I think it’s time for it to stop. I cannot speak about the veracity of the viral videos making their rounds on social media these days, and in some ways, it doesn’t matter. Planned Parenthood is about women’s health. It’s about supporting women with medical care, choices regarding contraception and pregnancy, and it’s about preventing women’s health from retreating to the dangerous back alleys of our cities and towns. I respect people who believe that abortion is wrong. I really do. But I also respect a woman’s right to choose what to do with her health and well being. If there is one thing I take from Jesus, it is surely this: People need to be loved and respected, and all ethical choices are difficult, often pitting the good and not so good, as opposed to good versus evil. Jesus himself seemed to say that if given the choice between following the letter of the law versus caring for a human being, then the well being of an individual should always come first. And let’s be honest about things: There continues to be an attack on the experience of women in our society. Women are not weak. I want to make that clear. They are not weak. At the same time, women are often the ones bearing the brunt of poverty around the globe, they carry the responsibility of children, face limited financial prospects, and experience an alarming amount of trauma because of domestic violence. Personally, and no one has to agree with me, but I appreciate the work of Planned Parenthood and I think they deserve our prayers and support. Take a Breath today. It’s been a week of heated rhetoric regarding Planned Parenthood, and given that we are beginning to enter an election cycle, the heat is about to get hotter. But sometimes issues aren’t merely issues. Sometimes it’s about how to assist your daughter or granddaughter, your wife or girlfriend, a teenager in the youth group or a college student facing difficult choices. As far as I’m concerned, Planned Parenthood finds a way of opening doors for women, and they do it precisely at the moment when everyone else seems to be shutting them.

July 28, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
4 Comments

Art. Of. Faith.

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Oh how we need artists! They help us see the world differently. See ourselves differently. They stop us in our tracks. Remind us that the world is still beautiful. Or meaningful. Or that the world is broken. And while I love literature and books and poetry, sometimes I just want an image. No words. Just the image. The art itself. The possibility that something can be said without directly saying it. Said without words. Insight often enters through the side door of our consciousness. This week my office is a staging area for art, because six stunning photographs have been donated to First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. Photographs by Rick Nahmias and Andy Romanoff. They will be part of the Chapel Art Collection, permanently displayed at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. The art will be hung this week. Both photographers will be in our worship service this coming Sunday and everyone can talk to them afterward as their work is unveiled. Sometimes at church we say words. A lot of words. And sometimes we skip the words, and simply turn to images, images that stay with us long after the sermon is forgotten and the readings have passed. Take a Breath today. And if you can, Take a Breath this Sunday at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.

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July 17, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
9 Comments

The Evolution of Art. (And Why I’m Not Going to Read the New Harper Lee Novel.)

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I’m not a curmudgeon. I’m really not. Plus, I’m on vacation this week and I’m in a pretty good mood. But I’ve decided that I’m not going to read the new Harper Lee novel – Go Set a Watchman. At least I’m not going to read it as a “new” novel from the famed author of To Kill a Mockingbird. As best I can piece together, this “new” novel was actually an early manuscript of To Kill a Mockingbird. Yet, as often is the case with art, the book evolved. Artists make choices all the time. They change directions. Polish. Perfect. Tear down and start again. With the help of a strong editor, Harper Lee’s manuscript underwent a significant two year evolution before it was published. The story that started out with a bigoted Atticus Finch, became a story of a just and humane lawyer. The story that started out with a young adult Scout railing against her racist family, ended up as a story told by the young girl Scout, innocent but aware. It’s the way art works. It changes and evolves. And as far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to let anything dim To Kill a Mockingbird. Not even a so-called new novel by Harper Lee titled Go Set a Watchman. I’m not going to read it. (Well, not unless a copy mysteriously winds up on my desk.) But if you read it, I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, Take a Breath today. I’ll take one too. Maybe more than one. After all, I’m on vacation.