April 14, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

How. It. Works. 2

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This is how church works . . . and I’m just going to say it . . . and I’m going to say it for my colleagues out there in church world doing their best and giving their best and trying their best . . . it’s not about you. It’s not about what you want. It’s not about the color of carpet you prefer. It’s not about which staff person you like or don’t like, the choir’s anthem you love or despise, and it’s not about what the minister said or didn’t say last week in his or her sermon.

Church is bigger than you. It transcends your personal taste. It goes beyond personal preference. Church is about a bigger cause, a bigger unity, and a bigger purpose than any one person. It’s about caring for all God’s children. It’s about making room for the stranger at the table of God. It’s about enlarging the beloved community so that all God’s children, young and old, straight, gay or confused, black, brown or white, male, female, transgendered, rich and poor, educated and uneducated can find their place. Church is the idea / belief / hope / feeling / aspiration / practice that makes sure everyone counts. And that means it’s always bigger than any one person, even though every person matters and the individual conscience should be honored.

This means that church only works when people learn to listen to one another, make decisions together, and are guided by something bigger, higher, deeper than their personal needs or wants. What is that bigger, higher, deeper thing? Well, that thing is God. God is the resonating energy of idealism that lives inside the human heart, an energy of love that calls us to affirm the humanity of all God’s children, and beyond that, to affirm the beauty and essential integrity of all creation.

So, what do we learn in church? We learn to love. And listen. And accept. We also learn to challenge one another to reach higher, think more clearly, feel more deeply, and when the time comes to pull together for a common good, a great good that transcends personal preference, then we do it. Why? Because we’re a church. A group of individuals who believe that religion is deeply personal, but which is always, always, always shared with others.

April 9, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
6 Comments

How. Church. Works.

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This is how church works . . . offered on behalf of my ministerial colleagues around the country . . . first of all you have to attend. Yes, showing up is 90% of church. You show up. Not every now and then. Not once in a while. Not when the mood hits you. You get up on a Sunday morning, do a few things to keep your household going, and then hop in the shower, get dressed, and head off to church.

Showing up is everything.

Some people can’t show up. Their physical challenges are too great. But if you can show up, you need to show up. If you don’t show up, church doesn’t work. It’s that simple. You may think you don’t make that much difference. But you do. Showing up is essential.

It also helps if you are excited about church. Excited? About church? Yes! Positive energy is everything. You feel it in the singing. The greeting of one another. The praying is better when you bring positive energy to it. That doesn’t mean you have to be happy. You can be sad and come to church. You can be down and come to church. Just bring an open heart. God will take care of the rest of it.

Showing up also opens the door to getting to know other people. Some people come to church and never talk to anyone. And that’s fine, I suppose. But the truth is, church works best when you share it with other people. Say hi. Say good morning. Say the peace of Christ be with you. Whatever you do, don’t say you’re sitting in my pew.

This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. In my church, at least, that means it’s going to be a spectacular, joyful, and inspiring extravaganza of a Sunday. And then there is Easter Sunday. What can I say? We’ll have enough lilies in our sanctuary to choke a rhinoceros, and the music will be amazing, and the coffee fellowship after church will have some real food worth eating, and the children will have fun with an Easter Egg Hunt. What more could you want? And then the last Sunday of April, we’re going to celebrate Earth Day with a worship / musical presentation featuring Vox Femina and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. It will be an Un. For. Get. Able. Morning.

But none of it works. Not one note. Not one sermon. Not one candle. Not one amen. None of it works unless . . . get ready now . . . Take a Breath . . . unless someone . . . like you . . . shows up.

April 6, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
9 Comments

7 Days. Of. Family.

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Over the course of the past seven days I saw all three of my children, two daughters-in-law, one grandchild, my dad, my sister, brother-in-law and niece. Attention must be paid . . .

1. I’m grateful for my children. They are all, in their own right, exceptional human beings and I’m grateful for each of them.

2. They are busy with their lives. This is the way I hoped they would turn out, but it’s no longer theoretical. They’re active, busy, have friends and are doing things to push the world onward. They used to wait for me. I now wait for them.

3. They all do and say things that puzzle me. It’s not that I disapprove; it’s that I don’t always understand their perspectives and ideas. This is not a problem. Just an observation.

4. I no longer feel an inordinate investment nor a weighty responsibility for what they will eventually do with their lives. I care, of course. But I’ve quit worrying about what they will do or not do, and most importantly, I no longer feel a need to guide what might unfold for them. This, no doubt, is good news for me and better news for them.

5. My sons have married smart, wonderful, beautiful women. I adore them. My daughter has a partner in life, and he’s a great guy and treats her very well. It’s not always this way.

6. My granddaughter, of course, is a genius and will no doubt do great and wonderful things in the world. Supreme Court Justice. Governor of Indiana. President of the United States of America. Sometimes her three year-old sincerity really gets to me. I took her to Steak and Shake for lunch one day, and as we were driving up to the restaurant I said, “Caroline, maybe you and I could share some french fries.” She said — and this is an exact quote — “Actually, Pop-Pop, I think that is a very good idea.” Enough said.

7. As my dad grows older, I cherish every conversation and interaction. He’s older now, but I still see the same caring, loving and witty man inside his body. He’s still the same guy who would work all day and then come home and play pitch-and-catch with me in the back yard. How could I feel anything but gratitude?

8. My sister and brother-in-law take care of my dad. He lives in their home, and as best I can tell, it’s good for him, and I think he might even be good for them. My niece just moved into her own house. How can this be? I remember when she was born.

Take a Breath. And then another. And then one more. Feel . . . believe . . . know . . . that time circles the world at the speed of light and that every day is a gift of God. As for our families, unlike our friends, we don’t get to choose them nor do they get to choose us. But every now and then we have a stretch of days that makes us feel grateful that we still have one another.

April 1, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
6 Comments

Day. For. Fools.

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Here’s to the great fools of the world on this April Fool’s Day and to those of us who still believe . . .

That love is stronger than hate.

That forgiveness is still possible.

That loved ones remain inside our hearts.

That gratitude makes life better.

That kindness is never wasted.

That justice for the poor is still important.

That friends, new and old, are sparkling gems in a dreary world.

That learning something new is always possible.

That God lives in the heart of every human being.

That every day is a unique gift.

That creative energy is beautiful.

Take a Breath today, my fellow fools, and dare to believe that what appears to be foolishness is actually wisdom, the kind of wisdom that makes life worth living. (And that’s no joke.)

March 25, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

Le Week-End

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If you’re wanting to see a wonderfully romantic, sweet and lovely movie about an older couple in Paris — don’t go to this movie.

However, I’m glad I saw it, because it opened up several insights . . .

Older adults still have hopes. Just like young adults, they dream about taking a big gulp of fresh air and doing something different in their lives. They imagine quitting their jobs and running off to France or Italy. They still think about writing a novel, living in New York City, and spending time with interesting people. They think about retiring in a completely new and exotic place. Age changes many things, but it doesn’t diminish imagination inside the mature heart.

Older adults still like sex. Yes. It’s true. They think about it. They have desires. They want to touch and be touched, and so that erotic dimension of life that burns so brightly in the young . . . well . . . it might not burn as brightly in older adults, but it still sparks with passion.

Regarding relationships, one of the most painful (and insightful) dimensions of the movie is how love and hate, attraction and disgust, kindness and cruelty can exist so close together in a relationship. Perhaps you have to be married for a while to figure this out, but sometimes, in a matter of minutes, you can find yourself drawn to and repelled by the very same person. It’s a difficult and delicate dance but it’s true.

Finally, what I found most engaging is how long-term relationships need adventure. While it’s true that routines can be comforting, couples have to find ways of shaking it up, finding adventure in life, and while I would never recommend recklessness, I highly endorse taking a few risks that push us beyond the normal routines of life.

I don’t think Le Week-End is a great movie, but it’s a good one. Jim Broadbent. Lindsey Duncan. Jeff Goldblum. Definitely in the category of “worth seeing.” Take a Breath today. We’re never too old to learn. Never too old to take an adventure. As long as there is breath, there is life, and life is about opening ourselves up to an array of experiences.

March 18, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
4 Comments

You. Have. To. Play. The. Game.

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Since last Sunday night, everyone and his brother (and sister) has had an opinion about the NCAA basketball pairings. Bracketology has become a new branch of science.

“This team should not have been a 4th seed but a 5th seed.” “That team doesn’t deserve to be a 1 seed.” “The committee really overlooked a good team.” Opinions abound!

It strikes me, however, that once the tournament starts, it doesn’t matter if you’re a 1 seed or a 16 seed. At a certain point, the ranking and seeding and location of a regional final doesn’t matter. What matters is that every team has to play the game.

You have to play the game.

How we got to where we are in life is not unimportant. But in the end, how we got to where we are is not nearly as important as what we will do with the NOW in which we find ourselves living. Or said differently . . . you have to play the game.

And so we try. And we do our best. We squeeze as much juice as we can out of each day. The circumstances might not be perfect. We might wish we had a different pairing or a better seeding in the bracketology called life. But at a certain point it doesn’t matter. What matters now is that you have to play the game.

Take a Breath. Don’t focus on where you thought you would be today. Or where you deserve to be today. Focus on one thing — What will I do with the precious NOW of my life.

March 13, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
4 Comments

Plant. Something. Anything.

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Is there anything more hopeful, more mysterious given that it makes a profound connection with the earth, more beautiful than planting something? It takes so little. A clay pot. A little soil. A plant. Perhaps basil. Or a tomato plant. Or maybe a flower. The what and where is not nearly as important as taking a few minutes and planting something. Dirt under your nails is a beautiful thing. And don’t forget, humility is related to humus — the soil of life. For those of you in the east, Spring is almost here. For those in the west, Spring as sprung. Take a Breath. Do something good for yourself (and Mother Earth). Plant. Something. Anything.

March 10, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
6 Comments

No. Throw. Away. Days.

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Thank God for little lessons that turn into big lessons because learning lessons is what life is all about! At least that’s how I’m feeling today, because I thought yesterday, Sunday, was going to be a throw away day. Everyone I talked to last week told me they were going to be out of town and wouldn’t be in church. And then the time change — springing forward — always hurts church attendance. And then the Los Angeles Marathon cuts our city in half, meaning that if you live north of Hollywood Boulevard — forget  about trying to get to First Church!

I made it to church. We had a ton of children in the service. I saw a couple of families I’ve missed terribly the past few weeks. A family that moved away last year was back visiting in Los Angeles. The choir, directed by the immensely talented Jonathan Talberg, was nothing short of amazing. Christoph Bull, our extraordinary Organist in Residence, rocked the house. Attendance was excellent. Energy was high. We did a new member orientation after church that was splendid. We did an Organ Crawl in the afternoon and it sold out.

May I just say . . . every now and then . . . I . . . you . . . we . . . need to learn the lesson again — THERE ARE NO THROW AWAY DAYS WITH GOD!

It’s Monday. Take a Breath. I’ve taken one today. And I’m here to remind you that this is a day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it, and love in it, and work in it and celebrate in it. NO. THROW. AWAY. DAYS.

March 1, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
9 Comments

You. Decide.

Is religion stupid?

Or . . .

Is there stupid religion?

I’ve had it. Really. Had it. I’ve had it with half-baked intellectuals trying to make the case that all religion is stupid.

I once got food poisoning in the culinary capital of the world — Paris. Yes, food poisoning. I thought I was going to die, and may well have been closer to it than what I care to acknowledge. Bad food. Food poisoning. But that does not mean food is bad. Food is good. Really good.

In America today more than 50% of all marriages end in divorce. It’s a statistical fact. But a bad marriage (or even a lot of bad marriages) does not mean that marriage is bad. Some marriages, in fact, can be good. Very good.

It’s Friday night. I just heard a talk show host say — “All religion is stupid.” I’m ticked. I’m angry. I’m offended. And I disagree.

To say all religion is stupid would be like saying all talk show hosts are stupid. Not all talk show hosts are stupid. Some aren’t the brightest crayon in the box, but not all of them are stupid. So bring it on my friend. I beg to differ with your big fat sweeping conclusion that doubles as a premise.

Not all religious people think gay people are going to hell. Not all religious people take the Bible literally. Not all religious people support crazy, dangerous right wing (or left wing) ideology. Not all religious people think they are the only people “right” in the eyes of God. Not all religious people are trying to rewrite scientific text books. Not all religious people are handling snakes and pretending to perform modern-day miracles. Get real. There are smart, thoughtful, intelligent people who honor faith in their lives, and the faith they honor is nothing like the caricatures presented in the media. Or for that matter, on a talk show.

Take a Breath. I’ll try to take one too. It’s one thing to ultimately decide that “I don’t believe.” Fair enough. Yet, my experience has been this — when someone says to me — “I don’t believe in God!” — I ask them to tell me the kind of God they don’t believe in. And always, always, always, I find myself explaining, “I don’t believe in that kind of God either.”

I have a bad cold. I’m hopped up on medicine. My wife, a very good wife, by the way, but that doesn’t mean all wives are good, won’t let me post this blog until Saturday, nevertheless, I think I’m saying something right and true and important.

You. Decide.

 

February 24, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
2 Comments

Now. That’s. Funny.

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Now that’s funny. I found myself saying that time and time again after watching a movie by the late Harold Ramis. Ghostbusters? Of course. Caddyshack? Even better. Stripes? Well, that’s the fact Jack. Groundhog Day? I could watch it over and over again.

Harold Ramis — writer, director, actor — was capital F funny, and I’m sorry to hear of his passing. His movies were even funnier when you watched them with other people. Like any good disease worth its salt, his movie were contagiously hilarious. I don’t mean at the theater with strangers. I mean on New Year’s Eve when the kids were small and you rented a cabin at an Indiana State Park and you were there with other families like Chris and Lisa Fultz and Jim and Nina Eads and you ate copious amounts of nachos and bean dip and slugged down a few golden soda pops after the kids went to bed and you put Stripes in the VCR (yes, video) and you watched the movie and laughed and ate more nachos than what anyone should consume in a year let alone a single night.

I have no idea what kind of guy Harold Ramis was but what I do know is this — If they gave a Nobel Prize for humor, this guy would have been a recipient! Yet even better than a Nobel Prize, Harold Ramis made people laugh. World peace is great, and God knows we could use a little more of it, but making people laugh is one of the most spiritual things we can ever do. Did I say spiritual? Yes. Spiritual.

Laughter heals the soul. It makes the world a better place, and if not better, at least more tolerable. Jesus isn’t known much for his humor, but in fact he seemed to find a way with wit, irony and a good bit of absurdity to make his many important religious points and entertain his audience at the same time. (Is it really easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to make it into heaven?) Jesus, that’s funny.

Let’s face it, church services can be a bit tedious and serious, but when punctuated with a laughter and levity and a few sincere smiles, well, everyone takes a deep breath and feels alive again.

This is why I’m thinking of Harold Ramis today. I’m sorry he’s gone and my prayers go out to his family. But he made us laugh, and you can’t laugh without taking a breath, and as some people remind us from time to time, taking a breath is everything.