March 25, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
16 Comments

Human Rights. Religious Beliefs.

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How sad it is when Human Rights are diminished in the name of Religious Beliefs. If, for example, we believe that Jesus calls people to love their neighbors as themselves, and if Jesus believed in welcoming the stranger, and if Jesus was about affirming the value of all human beings — men, women and children — and if Jesus believed in reaching out to the poor and called his followers to do the same, and if Jesus believed that, in the end, what makes us whole human beings is not personal achievement but God’s infinite goodness and grace, then why wouldn’t people of faith always (not sometimes) but always be on the leading edge of human rights? Right now in my home state of Indiana, the State Legislature and Governor are on the verge of signing into law, under the guise of “religious freedom,” a law that states (I’m summarizing) that if a person has a business, he or she does not have to transact business with a gay or lesbian person, because it could violate a person’s religious belief. From my perspective, there’s only one thing worse than discrimination, it’s discrimination in the name of God. Take a Breath today. And if you’re so inclined, say a little prayer for the Hoosier state. After all, shouldn’t religion freedom be used to accept and not reject our neighbors?

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

Going. Clear.

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I went down a dark, very dark rabbit hole this week. I went to the theater. Paid money. Yes. Real money. I watched the HBO documentary on Scientology titled Going Clear. I believe all people are God’s children. I really do. I believe that the search for meaning and value and existential validation should never be belittled. And  as for the search for God? I’m all for it. It’s my life. That said, Scientology is so utterly strange, bizarre, and in the end, abusive, that I cannot see how it can even even be called a religion. L. Ron Hubbard was a brilliant charlatan. But most of all, he created followers that refused to be honest with their own doubts and were required to put reason aside in order to validate religious devotion. The result is sad and tragic and damaging. When religion is good, it’s very good. When it’s bad, its very very bad. The best of religion encourages questions, doubts and exploration. The best of religion has nothing to fear from honest inquiry. If something is shown to be wrong, then it is wrong. But when religion is controlling, dogmatic, and based upon the quirks of human personality, then caveat emptor — let the buyer beware! Take a Breath today. And if you have a chance to see this documentary, do so. Not because you are interested in Scientology, but because it will give you an insight into religious faith, reminding you of the difference between a faith that makes sense and a senseless faith.

 

 

 

March 17, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

Irish. Connections.

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So this is how it works. I’m visiting my friends Malcolm and Judith Weintraub. Malcolm is teaching a class in film, and he happened to show me a clip from the movie The Dead. It is set in Dublin. It’s based upon a short story by James Joyce. The last scene in the movie is so devastatingly beautiful. So delicate and understated and lovely. It stars a young Angelica Huston. Her father, John Huston, directed the film. The Dead was his last film. I then went through my library last week and found my copy of Joyce’s book, The Dubliners. I read this book in college. I found old notes — marginalia — written throughout the book. I was so young. And such a bad speller. I read the short story The Dead. It made me feel so good to discover this book, and I remembered again why I loved it when I was a junior in college. Strange how life works, isn’t it? Strange and wonderful. Two friends. Dinner. A movie clip. A book discovered again. Memories. Thoughts. It’s a enough to cause a person Take a Breath. To ponder the connection of things. Yes, to Take a Breath and believe, well, to believe in the luck of the Irish.

March 16, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

13 Ways of Talking About God (With People Who Don’t Believe in God)

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1. Listen. Don’t talk. Listening to the thoughts and feelings of others is a sacred activity and says more about God than most sermons I’ve heard (and preached).

2. Respect the other person because the other person might be right. There. I said it. They might be right. Belittling someone because of their lack of faith is more damaging than not believing in God in the first place.

3. Discover what kind of God is not being believed in. (I think broke three grammatical rules in one sentence.) I find that when people tell me the kind of God they don’t believe in, I don’t believe in that God either. Not to get too nerdy about it, but you can reject theism and still believe in God.

4. De-literalize the idea of God. Most people are rejecting, not so much the concept of God, but a small caricature of the divine. (The Man Upstairs.) God is only a word we use to describe the great source / universe / meaning that we experience in life.

5. De-classify God. Consider putting to rest old classical ideas of God — All-Powerful / All-Present / All-Knowing.  Begin to think of God as energy / presence / expansive oneness. (I could give fifty other options here.)

6. Rather than trying to prove the existence of God, simply be honest about your own experience. Your experience of being accepted by something greater than yourself. Your experience of mystery and joy and meaning. Your peak experiences of unity, cohesion and love. Personal experience is everything.

7. Find common ground. I might listen to a beautiful piece of music and it brings me closer to God. Another person might listen to the same music and it brings her closer to genuine human emotion. In the end we still love the same music and the music has touched our human depths. Why not focus on the result of the experience and not quibble about the language?

8. Don’t be afraid to be honest with your own doubts. Faith is not the absence of doubt; faith is finding a way to look into the darkness of life and still move forward with the hope that there is something or someone deeply within us and forever beyond us.

9. Not everything associated with religion is good and it’s healthy to acknowledge it. Humility is always a good thing.

10. Understand religion as as journey and not a destination. We can argue all day long if we should stay in New Mexico or Arizona. But the most important thing is to figure out how we got here and where we’re going. Everyone is on a journey.

11. Quoting the Bible at someone does not help. The Bible is great for the temple or church. But quoting it in order to get people to believe in God is about as helpful as trying to put out a fire with a can of gasoline.

12. Religion doesn’t have to have all the answers. It can have some of the answers. But it doesn’t have to have all the answers.

13. Rather than focusing on beliefs and doctrines, think about focusing on notions. Notions are interesting. They point to something. For example, I’m not too concerned that a person believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. However, the notion of the Trinity suggests that at the heart of God (and life) is a communal, dialogical and dynamic reality. I like this notion.

Take a Breath today. Enjoy the conversations of your life. The one within yourself. The one with others. No conversation — sincerely offered and received — is ever a waste of time.

March 6, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
2 Comments

Better. Than. The. Original.

How strange (and wonderful) it is to hear genius magnified. Or perhaps even genius improved. I’ve been listening to a couple of different CDs lately and I’m convinced that this happens regularly. Lou Reed was a rock and roll genius. But I’ve been listening to a CD by Joseph Arthur simply titled Lou, and believe it or not, Joseph Arthur sings Lou Reed songs better than Lou Reed. I’ve also been listening to a CD of Nils Lofgren, and he sings Neil Young songs. I love Neil Young, but he sings Neil Young songs better than Neil himself. It’s genius improved. Genius reinterpreted.

(Of course there have been some colossal failures too. Dare I mention William Shatner singing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds?)

Here’s the thing about genius / creative insight / aesthetic beauty / spiritual truth — it’s never supposed to be locked-in, frozen in another time and place. You see this in the Jewish rabbinic tradition. Religious insight is constantly being re-worked, re-interpreted, magnified through the generations. I think the same goes with the Jesus tradition. The genius of Jesus is not found in locking down the original truth of Jesus himself. That is to say, the historical Jesus. The purpose of faith is not to preserve an ancient figure in the formaldehyde of religious tradition, but to live with it as a present reality of comfort and challenge and guidance for life.

Take a Breath today. As opposed to belief (which is a kind of lock-in ideology), faith is the restless, unceasing attempt to magnify ancient genius for a contemporary time. It’s about taking a walk on the wild side of of life, finding courage to live without knowing and feeling without judging. We follow through the dream light of our living, following, risking, and loving as we know we’re called to do, believing that the past is deeply present and that the future calls to us anew each day.

March 3, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
0 comments

Mixed. Bag.

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This is how it works . . . rarely is it perfectly light or completely dark. Utterly good or horribly bad. It’s a mixed bag.

I had the experience myself recently. Not one but two colleagues reached out to me in such a lovely, human, honest way. Thank you. Thank you so much. They weren’t trying to save me or fix me. They were just being friends. On the other hand, I had a phone call on that same day from a man who is dying. This is not a metaphor. He’s dying. And he’s lonely and afraid and not sure what to do next. I’m still thinking about him. It’s a mixed bag.

It’s hard, isn’t it, to decide from one minute to the next whether to praise the world or curse it? Yet, and this is the one great stretch and aspiration of the human heart, all of living becomes a gift we are called to embrace. Not some of it but all of it. Life is an opportunity to learn and grow and change. An opportunity to become stronger and more vulnerable. Yet, it’s always a mixed bag.

Take a Breath today. Sorting out the mixed bag of each day is really the adventure of faith. It’s the adventure of becoming human.

February 27, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
7 Comments

Leonard. Nimoy.

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I am NOT one of those people. One of those people who loved Star Trek and attended conventions and collected memorabilia. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. And I mean that. Really. I just want to be clear that I’m not a fan.

Yet I admired Leonard Nimoy and I’m sorry to hear of his passing. I admired him because he was more than Spock. He was a man of the theater. And he loved and wrote poetry. And he loved music and often sang in that Rod McKuen-Seasons-in-the-Sun kind of way back when I was in high school.

There is a little theater in NYC named after Leonard Nimoy. I used to have a friend who lived near there, so I would often walk pass it on my way to her apartment. I liked it that Leonard Nimoy had a theater named after him.

Recently Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times about how a college humanities professor made a difference in his life. I could ditto that article again and again and again. I love the arts, not because they entertain me, but because they deepen my humanity. Who knew? Spock was a humanities guy.

I once ran into William Shatner on Larchmont Avenue in Los Angeles. He was, well, he was like William Shatner. I also rode an elevator with with Patrick Stewart in a hotel and asked him a question that was so stupid I’m embarrassed to reveal it and so I won’t.

But Leonard Nimoy — Dr. Spock — he was so much more. He was an actor and singer and poet. A troubadour of the human spirit. If you were a fan, my condolences. If you were indifferent, sorry to waste your time with this blog. But I Take a Breath from time to time, and I especially take one when someone important has broken off from the island of my life and floats away during the night. Leonard Nimoy. Thank you.

And in keeping with his spirit I will simply say: (You knew this was coming.) Be well and prosper.

February 27, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
6 Comments

Random Post. Patterned Thought.

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Why have I not been writing on my Take a Breath blog? I don’t know. That’s the truth. I’m clueless. I have thoughts. And feelings. And ideas. But I’m distracted right now and I can’t explain it. Blogs have become a dime a dozen. Less than a dime. I’m not sure anyone gives a dime.

I thought it about Monday night. There was a car chase on the television news. Los Angeles television loves car chases. I woke up on Tuesday morning and there was a train wreck. Chases. Wrecks. Wrecks. Chases. I want to write about it, but I don’t really know what to say. I don’t even know how to feel. I want something more from life than wrecks and chases.

We had an amazing worship service last Sunday at First Worship. And we’ll do it again this Sunday at 9.00AM. It was so moving. So wonderful. I was proud of everyone that made it happen. I could write about it. I should write about it. But nothing. I have nothing. I’m not sure what to say. It was simply, splendidly, spiritually real. But I’m still thinking about it and not sure what to do with it.

Things are happening in the world. Big things. Little things. Neil Patrick Harris walked onstage in his underwear. John Travolta is getting more and more creepy. Birdman won the Oscar for best picture, and contrary to many of my friends, I liked it. I really liked it. (Birdman. Not Neil Patrick Harris in his underwear.)

My Associate Ministers, Ryan and Shanna, are leaving for new jobs in Kansas City. I’m in a funk about it. I really am. I’m trying to be positive and focused on the future and reframing it in a positive way, but the real truth is this: I’m sad. Just sad. Sad and a little scared. And my church is sad too. I know it. They know it. It’s life. But it’s sad.

I had a dream about Jerry and Diane Zehr. Old friends. Dear friends. What does it mean? Is there a message? An insight I need to pick up and understand? I think about them a lot, but over the past few nights, I’ve been dreaming about them. I don’t know why.

Sometimes I think the spiritual life is so utterly random. One thing pinging or ponging off another thing. Here’s the thing I learned a few weeks ago at a conference: Physicists now believe that what we think is random is not random at all. There are patterns in everything, including the patterns in our chaos. Most days I believe it. Rarely can I see it.

So Take a Breath today. It’s Friday. Feel what you need to feel. Be good to yourself today and another person. Pay attention to life. That’s about all I can say today. I hope it’s enough.

 

 

February 14, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

Blue. Valentine.

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First Love. Last Love.

I gave you my love and pain, but mostly my pain.

You held it in your hand like a Robin’s egg –

Small and blue and so crushable.

Thank you for being so kind.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

February 11, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
6 Comments

Brian. Williams. Bridget. Jones.

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Embellishment is so tempting. No one is immune. Including NBC News Anchor Brian Williams. But why is it so tempting? I think the answer may well lie within our human complexity, and yes, that includes our religious impulse. Every human being wants to be noticed. We want to know and feel that we matter. This need is more than a mere personality quirk; this is an existential longing found in every human being. The Christian faith, of course, offers a corresponding answer to this deep need, namely, that through Jesus Christ we are not only known by God; we are also loved and accepted by God. At times those of us who profess such faith actually believe it. We trust that we matter, and therefore have nothing to prove. On a good day we relax into our own skin, enjoy life and love our neighbor as ourselves. We even feel that we are held by something larger than ourselves. (Different religions express this truth in various ways.) But at other times we don’t trust it. And so we try to work our way, accomplish out way, spend our way, achieve our way, and in some instances, embellish our way toward significance. This is why most of us modulate between being too important (narcissism) and not feeling important enough (low self-esteem). Is misrepresentation wrong? Yes. It’s wrong. And in the case of Brian Williams, it was especially wrong because we count on journalists to give us an accurate reporting of the news. Furthermore, he claimed a valor that belonged to our troops serving in Iraq. You just can’t do that. Yet, to anchor the news today means more than being a journalist. We have turned journalists into celebrities, and they are marketed by networks, not so much as serious journalists, but as talk show hosts or reality television stars. Yet beyond the blurred lines of “infotainment,” the curtain has been pulled back and something philosophical has been revealed in the past few days, namely (and Take a Breath on this one), that we embellish because we are insecure, and we are insecure because we have not believed one of the cardinal truths of faith (and Bridget Jones Diary) — That God loves us just the way we are.

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