October 11, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
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Not. A. Metaphor.

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The storms raged in Indonesia. The storms raged in South Carolina. The storms raged in Florida. Sometimes storms are not metaphors. Sometimes people are literally going through it. Literally hanging on by their fingernails. Literally losing loved ones and burying friends and living on the edge of life and death. People say: “I lost everything.” That is not a metaphor. It is literally true. When it comes to the Bible — I am not a literalist. The Bible must be interpreted to make sense for our age. But when it comes to life, sometimes the literal truth is the only thing that matters. Jesus once calmed the storm. I wonder if Jesus can help clean up after one? Take a Breath today. Say a prayer for the victims of these storms. Yes, literally, say a prayer.

September 25, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
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Art. Life.

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Years ago, when I had finished four straight years of graduate school, I was startled to discover that my soul was as dry as Death Valley. I knew a lot about history and theology and hermeneutics, but on the inside I was as empty as a paper sack. I started reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson. I could begin to feel something new happening inside my soul. Something started to flow again.

I was living in Indianapolis at the time, and so I flew to Boston, rented a car at the airport and drove to Amherst, Massachusetts. I visited the Dickinson home. I sat out in the garden and read her poems. I would stare at the house and imagine this amazing woman, diminutive but powerful, and I could see her writing away in her upstairs bedroom and hiding hundreds of poems in a wooden dresser, the way a prospector might hide nuggets of gold. Emily Dickinson saved my soul that summer.

But it doesn’t have to be poetry. It can be any art form. It can be film. Ask Martin Scorcese about how Italian cinema changed his life. It can be painting. Ask Picasso or Matisse or Jackson Pollock. It can be photography. Ask Edward Weston or Annie Leibovitz. It can be theater. Ask Sam Shepherd. It can be fiction. Ask Toni Morrison or Alice Walker. It can be jazz. Ask Coltrane or Dizzy or Mingus. The list goes on and on and on . . . the arts add depth to our human experience, and without them our humanity shrivels up and dies.

This coming Sunday we’ll open an art exhibition at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles titled “My Two Friends.” The work will feature Dan McCleary and David Mellon. They are extraordinary artists and it is an honor to have their work in our church. I will also feature them in our Sunday service at 11.00 AM. Come to church this Sunday. Please bring a friend. Stay for a great coffee fellowship and celebration of these two artists. I’ve been working a year on this exhibition, and not only do I think you’ll enjoy it, you might even have a peak experience!

September 19, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
2 Comments

Empathy.

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In the Jewish tradition today is Yom Kippur, a day to reflect about one’s sin and shortcomings. It’s also a day to turn toward the forgiveness of God. There’s something healthy about contemplating our mistakes. But contemplation of shortcomings should also be accompanied by empathy. I’m talking about empathy for others, but I’m also thinking about the importance of practicing empathy toward ourselves. Empathy doesn’t excuse anything. It does, however, offer a compassionate context for understanding our humanity. Take a Breath today. Yom Kippur is not a day to wallow in guilt over our sins; it’s a day to reflect on our mistakes, but always and forever in the context of gentleness, love and empathy.

September 11, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
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9/11

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I am remembering today. I am remembering and grieving and giving thanks for acts of courage and love and compassion on 9/11. I can easily date my ministry as a clergyperson — before 9/11 and after 9/11. It was that defining. That important. I know you are remembering today too. I offer my 9/11 prayer to you . . .

For families who lost loved ones, my heart still aches for you.

For brave firefighters, my heart still cherishes you. 

For police officers who served beyond the call of duty, my heart still admires you.

For ordinary people who exhibited ordinary compassion, my heart is still inspired by you.

For friends who continue to be traumatized by the events of that day, my heart still remembers you.

For religious communities who responded with understanding, my heart still believes in you.

For everyone who donated time and money to help, my heart still celebrates you.

For every politician who became a leader that day, my heart still longs for more from you.

For all the children who continue to be afraid, my heart still assures you.

And for those who had the audacity to rebuild and memorialize, my heart is still grateful for you.

Take a Breath today on 9/11. Seventeen years ago our nation came together with compassion, tenderness, and level of human caring that I had not seen before or since that day. Oh how we still need it.

September 8, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
2 Comments

Thank. You.

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This coming Sunday I will celebrate my 10th year anniversary as Senior Minister of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. All I can think about this week are the people who have made such a positive difference in my life. I think about those people who joined the church over the last ten years. They mean so much to me. I think of those leaders in the church who persevered as we made changes and tried to open the doors (and heart) of our congregation. I think of friends who cared about me — genuinely, honestly, beautifully — cared about me. I think of staff members who journeyed with me, especially Susan Leary who has been my partner every step of the way. I think of Marti Colglazier who helped me so much. I think of my kids who stayed in touch with me, even though I was living thousands of miles from them. I think of my friends, Jerry and Diane Zehr, who stayed in touch with me and loved me and helped me over the course of my ministerial career. I think of the great board chairpersons — both trustees and deacons — who helped navigate very choppy waters of change at First Church. I think of the children who brought smiles to my face each week as I watched them come up for the Children’s Sermon. I think of Jonathan Talberg, my dear friend, who brought great music to us Sunday after Sunday. I even think of those people who were critical and complained about this or that at the church, people who were wrestling more with their own demons than anything happening or not happening in the congregation. And yes, I think of old friends, friends who have known me for a long time, and their love and support has meant so much. I think of my new wife, Alexandra Paxton, and the many ways she quietly supports me and offers kindness upon kindness upon kindness. I am filled with gratitude today for people. I am humbled by the number of people who have quietly lifted me up again and again. Being a minister is not easy. I’m not saying it’s harder than other professions; I’m just saying that it’s not easy. The number of ministers who leave the church during their first five years of ministry is staggering. It’s not easy. I have made mistakes. I have tried things that didn’t work. I have often miscalculated this or that situation. I’ve written some bad blog posts and preached a few clunker sermons. Any success I’ve had, any joy and fulfillment I’ve discovered, has been made possible because of the generosity of others. I’m not talking about just the last ten years; I’m talking about a lifetime. And so, dear friends, if you are interested at all, I’m here to tell you that I’m taking a breath today, and I’m looking forward to seeing a few of you this coming Sunday, but most of all I’m taking a breath, because like all the people who have made a difference in my life, breath is a gift. You are a gift. Life is a gift. And I am grateful.

August 31, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

John. McCain.

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It’s been all John McCain all week, and deservedly so. I’ve tried so many times this past week to write something about him, but everything seems redundant and/or superfluous I’m just going to say it unfiltered — I admired John McCain.

I didn’t agree with every position he held throughout his political career, but I respected him and liked him and admired him. He was a romantic about America, and much to the chagrin of some of my friends, I am too. Our country has faults — many of them — and yet I love America enough to criticize America. There is something profoundly good about this nation, and we are important, not just to one another as citizens, but we’re important to the world. I love America for what it can be, should be, and needs to be. I think this is how John McCain saw America, too.

I want to say something else . . . I think there’s a softness of among men and women in our country today and that worries me . . . it worries me because there is a time and place for hard work and sacrifice and achieving higher goals other than personal wealth or individual pleasure. John McCain was a man. He suffered as a man. He made mistakes as a man. He survived and showed courage as a man. He loved. He was defeated. He stood up again. To me this is the measure of a man (and a woman) — to fall, to learn, and to stand up again.

McCain was a person of faith. Irascible to be sure. Often irreverent. Yet there was a fundamental belief in God and the dignity of all people. It’s one reason why he was against the use of torture. He wasn’t a politician who “played” religious. It was real to him. When I think of him as a statesman, a word we don’t often use these days, especially when compared to others serving in Congress and the White House, I am flummoxed over how far we have fallen. I remain fundamentally hopeful about our nation, but when it comes to the depth of intellectual and spiritual life inside many of our leaders these days . . . well . . . we’ve fallen so far.

I am loving reading Jon Meacham’s new book The Soul of America. I recommend it to you with great enthusiasm. But the subtitle of the book is this — “The Battle for our Better Angels.” And that’s it. That’s why I am so grateful for John McCain. In his military life, his family life, his political life, and even his life as he faced death in recent months, John McCain showed us that living out of our better angels is possible. I am taking a breath today because, whether in church or city or nation or world, we need, we need, we need to follow the lead of our better angels. That doesn’t mean we’re perfect. It simply means that we try to care about the right things.

Our nation mourns this weeks. More importantly, however, our nation remembers and I hope, resolves, to follow the better angels within us all.

August 17, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

For. The. Children.

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I want to write about Aretha Franklin today but I can’t. I loved her music. But I will not write about her today, because I have to write about the horrendous report that was released this past week regarding the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. The report chronicles a harrowing narrative of predatory priests and thousand of sexually abused children. Just when you think it could not get worse, it does get worse. I don’t know any other way of saying it than this . . . every child deserves to be in a home, church and school where he or she is safe. Sexual abuse of children is wrong at every level and does lasting damage to children. People may well survive child sexual abuse, but they will never get over it. Furthermore, protecting sexual predators is wrong, and in some ways, is more heinous than the crime itself. The Roman Catholic Church owes the world an apology for being complicit in what was nothing less than a systemic ring of child sexual abuse. In my estimation, it is time for the Roman Catholic Church to wake up to a different understanding of sexuality (and the human body altogether), especially as it relates to the priesthood. Men and women pulse with sexual energy and sexual need and sexual longing. Sexual suppression solves nothing. Nothing! It only creates reservoirs of toxic stress and aggression that eventually rupture in ways that are damaging, criminal and completely inappropriate. As much as I like Pope Francis for his loving manner, the truth is there has not been any significant reform in the Catholic Church since Vatican II in the early 1960s, and even many of those reforms have been rolled back. I have friends who are Roman Catholic, including many priests, and I have sat on committees designed to create Protestant / Catholic dialogue, but for the life of me I cannot understand how any thinking, caring, sensitive person can continue to participate in a Church that views women as second class citizens and requires celibacy of their clergy, especially when it is clearly rooted in a damaging, untenable, and repressive view of the human body. Everyone has to make their own decision, but when is enough enough? I am heartbroken today. Maybe I will listen to a little Aretha Franklin to cheer myself up tonight. I don’t know. But I do know this: If Jesus were to return to the earth today and read this document from the state of Pennsylvania regarding predatory priests and child sexual abuse, well, I think he would puke his guts out.

August 6, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

Dear LeBron . . .

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Dear LeBron:

I am a fan! I am a basketball fan, to be sure, but more specifically, I’m a LeBron James fan.

That’s never been more true than this week after hearing how you started a new school in your hometown of Akron, Ohio. To love enough, to care enough about kids to start your own school is amazing. To give back to your community is inspiring.

And now you have moved to Los Angeles and you’re going to wear the purple and gold of the Los Angeles Lakers! I want to say welcome. I want to say thank you for caring about the good things and the right things in life.

I want you to know that the doors of our church are open to you and your family. We’re a church that welcomes all people. We’re ecumenical. We’re loving and caring and accepting. We’re multi-racial and multi-cultural. We’re gay and straight and transgender and questioning. We think and feel and try to live into the beauty of the Christian faith. We’re young and old, and a little bit of everything in between.

We also try to engage the deeper conversations of faith and society. (How can we not engage the world?) In case you want to have a conversation with us, I’ll turn the pulpit over to you any Sunday. (And I don’t say that very often!) And if you insist, we would even read from the King James version of that Bible that day.

Take a Breath, LeBron, and welcome to Los Angeles!

August 2, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

Good. As. Gold.

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I never met Jonathan Gold, the Los Angeles restaurant critic who passed away a few days ago, but I liked him. He was a larger-than-life presence in our city, but I liked him for a couple of different reasons. First and foremost, he loved food — h0w it looked and tasted, what it might mean for a family or group of friends, and he liked the people who grew it, harvested it, prepared it, and then cleaned up after it had been consumed. Food is not singular. It is a universe of connection, often involving a good bit of love and sacrifice. There’s a reason why people of faith often say a prayer of thanksgiving before consuming the first bite of their dinner — the universe of food is holy.

But I liked Jonathan Gold for another reason . . . he celebrated the democracy of food. He didn’t just review the most expensive, most beautiful restaurants in Los Angeles. He did that, of course, but he would also review a hole-in-the-wall taco joint or a little mom and pop ramen restaurant. When he published his annual “Gold 101,” many in our city, including me, used it as a dining road map. He always celebrated the cultural diversity of food, and thank goodness, a diversity of price points.

Take a Breath today. One thing I feel certain about — all of us will eat something today. Do it consciously. Do it gratefully. Do it joyfully. And if you go out to eat this weekend, give thanks for the many people who make our dining possible, including a critic, worth his weight in gold, who pointed us in the right direction.