October 3, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
2 Comments

Now. The. Stories.

la-1506989829-nx7xe713mu-snap-image

Yes, it was a “mass” shooting in Las Vegas, but the truth is there is no “mass” in what happened this week. Individuals were shot and killed and wounded. Each person had a story. A past, present and future. Each person had a distinctive laugh. Each person had shed tears over something in his or her life — the loss of a parent, a terrible break up, the family pet that died. Some were in love. Others were hoping to fall in love. They liked music and friends. Each person had a favorite meal they enjoyed. A particular brand of shampoo they used each morning. Each person lived in a house or apartment, and decorated a home in a style he or she enjoyed. And each person was looking forward to doing something on Monday morning. Monday morning never arrived.

171002-vegas-shooting-victim-sonny-melton-se-353p_f246d59a9f7c5765284d48e956fa0110.nbcnews-ux-600-480

At least for a few days . . . I will try to keep it going for longer . . . but at least for a few days . . . I want to pay attention to my neighbor and know that every person on the face of the earth has a story. I don’t need to judge their story. I don’t need to feel superior to their story. I don’t need to point out the flaws of their story. I simply want to follow the lead of Jesus and love people for who they are and understand their story better. That’s it. That’s all. I’ve had to turn the television off this morning. I cannot bear the grief of hearing the specifics of these stories. Wives. Husbands. Golfers. Friends. Police officers. Musicians. Students. Medics. Cooks. Moms. Dads. Athletes. Artists. Their stories overwhelm me.

171002165541-las-vegas-shooting-victim-jenny-parks-exlarge-169

So I will do what I can today — I will love my neighbor as myself; I will try to honor the story that lives inside every human being; and I will try to share as much love, compassion and kindness as I know how to do. Take a Breath today. I’m trying to take one too. We need one another, which is why we’ll remember the stories of these victims in our worship service this Sunday at First Church. We never live in “mass,” nor do we really die in “mass.” We are individuals. We are human beings. We carry within our bodies the stories of our lives. I want to remember that every single day of my life. I especially want to remember it today.

October 2, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
0 comments

Living. With. Heart.

las-vegas-shooting

To live with heart means we live with courage. We live in an imperfect world. A frightening world. A world in which floods and earthquakes and shootings happen frequently. Too frequently. We live in a world of madness, where gun violence is decried, but nothing is done about controlling access to guns. I’m not talking about sportsman weapons, but automatic and semi-automatic assault weapons designed for one thing and one thing only — killing.

And so we can either shelter in place — doing nothing, enjoying nothing, reaching out toward nothing — or we can live with heart, knowing that every day is riddled with danger and risk, and yet, and yet, and yet . . . children will still play today, and fall leaves will turn gold and yellow, and poems will be read, and books will be written, and someone will fall in love, and songs will be sung, and art will still inspire and . . . and . . . and . . .

I am mourning this morning the single largest mass shooting in American history. I am praying for those who lost loved ones — over 50 killed. I am thinking of those who were wounded — more than 400 people. I cannot change what happened last night. And so today I plan to do the only thing I know to do — live with heart. Love my neighbor. Treat people more gently. Find beauty in unexpected places. Share the beauty I know and love with others. I’m Taking a Breath today. I know it’s not enough. But it’s the only thing I know to do.

 

September 25, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

Charles. Bradley.

1506216392725

An amazing singer, writer and musician has passed away . . . and I’m guessing most of you have never heard of him . . . Mr. Charles Bradley. He had soul. He sang soul. In his words, “He was a brother who came from the hard licks of life.”

When I heard of his passing today, I thought of his CD — Changes. Buy it. I think you’ll like it. His voice moved me. It might move you too.

Our nation is deeply divided right now, and we have forces at work in the world that are diminishing people of color and trying to reassert a culture of white supremacy. It has to stop. It must stop. It runs counter to everything I believe to be true about the vision of Jesus Christ, moreover, it runs counter to everything I believe to be true about humanity.

Have our better angels gone into hiding?

If only the whole country could listen to Charles Bradley for a few minutes today . . . it might just change us all. Take a Breath today. But don’t just take a breath . . . give thanks for Charles Bradley . . . musician, writer, and performer. Live with some soul this week. Oh how the world needs more soul!

September 21, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
0 comments

Un. Scheduled. Stop.

3-481x225

I had not planned to stop by the Sanctuary of First Congregational Church this morning. I need to get to my office and write a sermon for Sunday. But the news this morning, the reports coming from Mexico City and Puerto Rico, have pushed me here. (Yes, I’m writing this from an empty church and an empty pew on a Thursday morning.)

It feels like the whole world is digging out today. Digging out from another hurricane. Digging out from earthquakes. Even as I write, there are children still alive under tons and tons of concrete. They are desperately digging to save those children. I am praying today. I am holding these people in my heart this morning. I am feeling their anguish. One person from Mexico City cried out two days ago, “I think God is angry with us.” I don’t need to correct his theology; it’s just heartbreaking.

Will you join me today and say a prayer for everyone in the world who is digging out?

They’re still digging out in Texas and Florida. They’re digging out on islands like Puerto Rico. They’re digging out after two earthquakes in Mexico. Will you pray for those in the world trying to dig out of poverty, trying to dig out of despair and hopelessness? Will you say a prayer for those digging out of an addiction? Will you say a prayer for a world needing to dig out from the terror of nuclear weapons?

I am sitting here and feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders today — not because of me — but because the world just seems heavy this week. I am taking in some peace right now. It is so quiet today at the church. Pilgrim School is off today because of Rosh Hashanah — the Jewish New Year. It seems like the whole world needs a Rosh Hashanah right now.

I am breathing in gratitude. I am breathing out love for all the diggers of the world, which is a few of us all the time and all of us some of the time.

I am thankful today for an unscheduled stop.

September 20, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
0 comments

All. Creatures. Great. And. Small.

IMG_0680

Last week someone came up to me after church and asked, “You mean we can really bring our animals to church this week? For real?” Yes, my friend, you can really bring your cats and dogs and birds and turtles and goldfish and hamsters and hermit crabs and on and on and on it goes . . . because this Sunday at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles we will celebrate the Blessing of the Animals . . . our service will be held outside on the Forecourt of the church . . . and you’ll love the music and you’ll love the friendship and good will among all God’s creatures . . . and you might even like the sermon.

To inspire us, I offer these words from St. Francis of Assisi . . . 

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

Take a Breath today. Live today believing that the whole world wishes to bless you. Receive it with awe and humility. Pass it along to others with grace and kindness.

September 19, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

This and That.

MCACA_glory-shot1200x450

A few cultural odds and ends for your week . . .

I watched a movie recently titled – The Lunchbox. It’s set in India. I loved it. It’s a reminder that life (and love) consists of a thousand small human gestures and overtures. It’s a lovely film.

I watched a documentary titled – Robert Bly: A Thousand Years of Joy. So many thoughts came flooding back to me, as I used to know Robert and I’m still a fan of his poetry. It reminded me that art pushes us more deeply into the world. Art is not escape. Art is engagement.

I’ve started the Ken Burns’ series on the Vietnam War. So far, so powerful. Burns always brings a fresh and intelligent look at the world. I’m an unabashed PBS / NPR fan!

I finished reading A Passage to India by E.M. Forrester. It’s old school, to be sure, but I love his writing. I also love the Merchant / Ivory film versions!

I finished reading Hillary Clinton’s new book — What Happened. It was like sitting in on someone else’s therapy session. What happened? I don’t think anyone knows yet, including Hillary.

And for fun, I read a book by Andrew Sean Greer titled — Less. And also a book by Alexander McCall Smith titled My Italian Bulldozer. If reading about a journalist who drives a bulldozer around Tuscany tickles your fancy, then this book is for you!

In terms of music, I’ve been listening to the new Bruce Cockburn CD — Bone on Bone. I like it. Plus — A Social Call — by Jazzmeia Horn.

And since I’m on a cultural bent, to all my friends in NYC, please go see Scott Carter’s play — The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord. It opens at the Cherry Lane Theater this week in New York. You’ll love it!

Take a Breath today. Do something this week that stimulates your mind, stretches your heart, and / or that something that is good for your body. This is the day the Lord has made . . . rejoice and be glad in it!

September 5, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

9.10.2017

First_Congregational_Church_(Los_Angeles)_(1)

September 10, 2017 . . . a Fall Kick-Off Sunday at First Church. A celebration of First Church and Pilgrim School. An introduction of a new Head of School at Pilgrim . . . Paul Barsky. A new Director of Music . . . David Harris. A new beginning for our Chancel Choir. And yes, I’m back in the pulpit at First Church after three — yes, count’em — three Sundays away! My sermon for this Sunday is titled: “A Year of Jubilee!”

I’m tan, rested and ready, jazzed and inspired as I look forward to this Sunday and a new fall season at the church. I’m also looking forward to beginning my tenth year as the Senior Minister of this congregation. I know organized religion can get some pretty bad reviews these days, but let me just say it . . . this community of faith, First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, is home to some of the most interesting, engaging, intelligent, kind, funny, joyful, loving, generous, and compassionate people you can ever hope to meet!

So much this summer has reminded me of why our city needs a community like First Church. A place of real openness. A place to share and learn and grow. A place where the issues of our world can be explored with the resources of our faith. And when fires rage, our church is there. And when floods rise, our church is there. And when our democracy teeters, our church is there. And when the least of these, such as immigrants and dreamers are pushed aside, our church is there. And when the gay community is persecuted yet again in the name of God, our church is there.

We are now beginning our 151st year as a congregation, and now more than ever do I see the need for our church in this world. We have a purpose! God is calling us to be a place that is open, loving, progressive, engaged, and most of all a community of faith that tries to embody the presence of Jesus in the world. My love for this church is not theoretical; I have discovered first-hand how good and beautiful and supportive First Church can be when one goes through a rough patch.

And so friends . . . all our friends and members and visitors of First Church . . . we will open the doors of our church as wide as the heart of God this Sunday . . . join us at 11 AM . . . let’s come back together after a summer of travel and vacations. Let’s celebrate together. Let’s make worship a priority together. And then let’s Take a Breath this coming Sunday morning as we seek the love of God and justice and mercy for one another!

September 2, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
0 comments

2. Cents. Worth.

Two-cents

Perhaps some of you have read the recent “Nashville Statement” that was signed and promoted by some of the most well-known evangelical church leaders in America. I’m including the link for your own reading (https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement/), but suffice it to say that the statement argues for traditional marriage between one man and one woman, that all gay or lesbian persons are condemned because of their sexual orientation, moreover, the statement reasserts an old guilt-ridden, body-punishing view of human sexuality, namely, that any sexual experience outside the boundaries of a marriage relationship is morally wrong.

I would like to offer an affirmation of my own . . . one that is progressive, optimistic, grounded theologically and open to the ongoing evolution of the Christian faith . . .

  • All lesbian, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender, and questioning human beings are children of God. Children. Of. God. Consequently, all of these children of God are welcome in the church and should be able to celebrate their faith in a context of Christian community. People are people and love is love.
  • Furthermore, sexual orientation isn’t merely a choice, but is primarily driven by who we are genetically wired to be from birth.
  • Marriage is for people who love one another and who want to give their lives to one another. The sexual orientation of the marriage partners is not nearly as important as their love, devotion and willingness to care for the other person. In this day and age, anytime someone wants to undertake the adventure of marriage, they should be encouraged and supported by church leaders, not ridiculed or condemned.
  • References in the Bible that condemn homosexuality should be understood as a by-product of that ancient time and not an enduring moral structure for human experience. (The same can be said for other issues noted in the Bible such as the role of women in society, the role of slavery in society, the role of medicine in society, to name just a few.)
  • The trouble with the “Nashville Statement” is that it locks into an ancient time and perspective, and then tries to take historically conditioned realities and turn them into everlasting moral norms. While on the surface the statement might seem to be biblical, in fact, it is bad biblical interpretation and progressive churches around the country should continue advocating for an open, loving, inclusive way of understanding the Christian faith.
  • Finally, from an experiential perspective, I will say this: Love is love is love is love is love. I have performed many same-sex marriages. I have performed many traditional marriages. Joy is joy. Love is love. Celebration is celebration. And people are people. I ground this viewpoint in the life of Jesus, the very Jesus who teaches me again and again to love my neighbor as myself.

So, Take a Breath, dear friends, and given the wide circulation of the “Nashville Statement,” I ask you to help me — if you feel as I do — that my affirmation deserves to be heard in a wider circle — Share it. Like it. Copy it. Past it. Print it. Quote it. Use it in a sermon. Read it at a church board meeting. Talk about it in a Sunday School class. Do whatever you want with it, because it belongs to you. What is at stake? Nothing less than the dignity and happiness of thousands and thousands of people, people who want to love God and also be themselves. This is my 2. Cents. Worth.

 

September 1, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

O Texas. O Texas. O God.

sub-buzz-19796-1504029939-2

O Texas . . . O Texas . . . O God . . .

The world has been watching you – watching over you – for several days now and the heartbreak we are feeling is enormous. Floods happen. They happen in Houston. They happen in New Orleans. And they happen in India and Asia and in so many places around the world. Floods devastate the smallest of towns and villages, changing lives forever, and every now and then they bring entire cities to their knees. Floods happen because weather is wild and unpredictable. But some of us are wondering . . . is more and more flooding happening (and other intense weather swings around the world) because of climate change?

Floods don’t happen because God is angry with Muslims or Christians or Planned Parenthood or AIDS victims or Republicans or Democrats or any other group we might be inclined to marginalize and blame. God doesn’t use floods to make points and teach lessons to an already fragile and broken world. God wants to put people back together; not shatter them even more. When will we ever learn that God is in the construction business; not the destruction business?

When floods happen God is present. God is present with first responders trying to help. And God is present with people opening up their homes to strangers or volunteers working in shelters. And God is present with doctors and nurses evacuating patients. And God is present with people delivering groceries or medications or bottles of water. And God is present when a neighbor rescues a frightened, shivering dog. And God is present when people like you or me give to Church World Services or the American Red Cross or some other relief agency.

When floods happen God is present with people as they rebuild their lives, saying to them in one way or another, ‘This is so hard and so unfair, but I will help you rebuild and you can start your life again and together we can find a way forward.” And God says things like, “It’s okay to be discouraged and overcome with anger. It’s okay to be broken and sad and paralyzed with chaos. I’m here. I love you. We can do this together.” God says things like, “I know you’re afraid. But it’s okay, because I will be with you — NO. MATER. WHAT.” These are the things that God says to the people of Houston . . . our fellow citizens . . . our sisters and brothers of the one human family.

Oh Texas . . . O Texas . . . O God . . . the world is Taking a Breath today and tomorrow and for as long as you need us to breathe with you.

 

 

August 19, 2017
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

Alignment.

wide-corona-eclipse

When something aligns, it is true. It is real. It is the deepest truth of our existence. Alignment can be anything. It can mean resonance with work. Or you find yourself energetically creative about a project or idea. Or you feel a connection with another human being. You can’t quite explain it. It’s just right. It’s alignment. Friendship is alignment. You might have a hard time explaining why your friends with this person or that person, but you are, and the reason is simple — something aligns. Someone told me the other day, speaking about First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, that, “I’m not sure why I love this church so much, but I do!” When alignment happens we have to go with it. We should go with it. In a few days we will experience a total solar eclipse. It is rare. Rare and wonderful. The alignment of the moon and sun will be perfectly executed. Some people are traveling to special destinations in order to experience the eclipse in all its darkened glory. Alignment is a rare thing. A wonderful thing. Pay attention to alignment when it happens. Honor it. Alignment with friends or work or God is similar to a peak moment of experience. We feel ourselves at one with the universe. Connected to all that is. Another the word for it is synchronicity — it’s when everything comes together in a remarkably beautiful way. Take a Breath today. When alignment happens, be ready to give thanks for it . . . and for goodness sake . . . go with it!