September 15, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
No one has done more to help us understand our passages in life than Gail Sheehy. She has written about men. About women. About couples. And throughout the many decades she has been publishing, her thesis has remained remarkably consistent: We all go through passages — sometimes uniquely so — often predictably so — and each of our passages is possessed with an opportunity to learn something new.
It’s one thing, however, to write about passages with an objective journalistic eye; it’s another to tell your own personal story. Yet, that is exactly what Sheehy has done in her most recent book — Daring. It’s a moving, honest, inspiring, insightful, interesting, engaging and deeply thought-provoking book. To read it is to experience again the cultural reality of America from the 1960s through the opening of the new millennium.
I loved this book, because it made me think of my own passages. And I’m still going through passages, because as Sheehy has pointed out, the passages of life continue to reshape us all the way to the end of our days. If you like memoirs, and if you have some natural inclination to think about who you are, what you are feeling and why you are going through what you are going through, then I think you’ll enjoy this book.
Take a Breath today. I dare you to read Daring by Gail Sheehy.
September 12, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
Someone asked me recently, “Have you been reading this summer?”
And I would recommend a book that many consider one of the best but least-known books in American literature. Stoner by John Williams. It’s beautifully written. A true pleasure to read. And sad. And depressing. And wonderful. And meaningful. And insightful. And close to the bone for everyone who ever grew up in the Midwest.
Take a Breath.
Do I recommend it?
September 10, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
For my father and grandfather it was December 7, 1941. As the President said, “A day that shall live in infamy.” And he was right. But for me the date is September 11, 2001. The shorthand is simple – 9/11.
I cannot forget nor do I want to. I watched it on television. Over and over again. I was not there, but knew people who were. And the inferno blast. And the extent of damage. And the crumbling towers. And the desperation it created. It’s still beyond words.
When old television footage appears this time of year I cannot stop myself from watching it. I somehow think the outcome will be different. That something, anything, will change. But it doesn’t change.
Years have passed. A new tower has been built. Also a museum, which I’ve yet to see. There are still thousands of families forever changed by 9/11. Parents mourn for children. Children mourn for parents. And what they all learned is that you don’t get over it. You keep living. Yes. But you never get over it.
I also remember how we came together as a country. How in New York City, especially, compassion and tenderness touched every conversation. “How are you?” became a genuinely real question. Courtesy replaced curtness. And for a few months at least, an entire nation recognized that every individual journey was intertwined with the journey of his or her neighbor.
Take a Breath today and remember what you need to remember. I will remember that 9/11 morning as a time of great vulnerability and loss, but before night fell upon our country, I will remember how love, courage and compassion stood up like I’ve never seen before or since. And as simplistic as it sounds, it taught me that love wins. Not hate. Not violence. Not terrorism. Love wins.
It’s how I try to live my life.
September 9, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
Over the past few days I’ve been reminded of something I’ve known is true for a long time, but because of various circumstances, I now know this truth in a new way. The truth is this: Women’s issues are not just for women. And by that I mean, men must be committed to the fundamental issues important to women, because women’s rights are human rights, and men advocating for women is always right.
I think of the courage of Wendy Davis, candidate for Governor in the State of Texas. She recently revealed in her new book that she and her family made the choice to end two pregnancies. In both cases the child, in all likelihood, would not have survived the pregnancy. I’m not pro-abortion. (And I’m not making a political statement for Wendy Davis.) I am, however, in favor of women and their doctors making decisions about pregnancies, and for that matter, any other issue related to a woman’s health. This is especially true in the case of women risking their own lives over a pregnancy. This is why I’ve been an avid supporter of Planned Parenthood. It is a national organization trying to provide women with good options for their health. This is not just a woman’s issue; it’s an issue about which I feel strongly even though I’m a man.
I’m also thinking about that terrible video recently released showing NFL star, Ray Rice, hitting his girlfriend (now wife) inside a Las Vegas hotel elevator. Domestic violence is wrong. Verbal. Emotional. Physical. It’s wrong. It’s always wrong. But the only way it’s ever going to be righted are when men stand up and say it’s wrong, and men teach boys that it’s wrong, and when men have zero tolerance in their (our) collective psyche and believe it is wrong. We are living more and more in the golden age of women. Women are making huge public contributions in business, philanthropy, medicine, law, theology and church, science, the military, and virtually every other area of society. But women should always be safe with men. It doesn’t matter if they’re on a date in Las Vegas or on a college campus in a dorm room or serving our military on an Army base. To be sure, women can advocate for themselves. They are smart and strong and have great moral voice. Yet the value of women in our society is not an issue for women alone; men must find a way to say “Yes” and advocate for the right things at the right time, and that is especially true when it comes to treating women with dignity and respect.
Take a Breath today. As Maya Angelou reminded us years ago: “We’re more alike than unalike, my friends, more alike than unalike.” That’s a truth women need to learn about men. And it’s a truth men need to learn (and relearn) about women.
September 5, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
I love African American culture. The music. The style. The creativity. The beauty. The intellectual depth. I love it. I’ve recently had two experiences that on the surface of things might appear that they don’t go together. But they do. In a very real way. They certainly go together.
Like so many around the country, I’ve watched the anguished protests in Ferguson, Missouri. Another death. Another black young adult. Unarmed. Killed by law enforcement. The facts aren’t out yet, but even so, the reality is this — There is a history of prejudice and injustice and the targeting of marginalized black men. And it seems like it keeps happening over and over again. Miami. Los Angeles. Ferguson. Chicago. It keeps happening. And when it happens, what you see is an anguished African American community. There is anger and hurt and outrage. Something needs to change. Anything needs to change. But what you always see in the aftermath of a tragedy is a beleaguered African American neighborhood troubled over their jagged version of the American dream.
The other experience I recently had was at the Hollywood Bowl. It was an evening celebrating music that has come from African American cinema. There have been so many amazing movies featuring the black experience, and along with these films, there are unforgettable sound tracks. Purple Rain? I know the lyrics, don’t you? Shaft? Of course! Do the Right Thing? An amazing film with amazing music. The sheer talent of actors and musicians featured at the Hollywood Bowl was breathlessly inspiring. I loved it. And it reminded me again that black culture is so beautiful and visionary when it comes to American life.
Is there a relationship between black anguish and black beauty?
There are many ways of answering that question, but what makes sense to me is this: African Americans have always known how to turn anguish into art. Whether it be spiritual hymns or singing the blues or pounding out jazz or Spike Lee creating culturally relevant films, African American artists know how to transform anguish and turn it into artistic expression. In many ways, this is one of the most profound spiritual challenges of life — How do we turn anguish into something artful? Meaningful? Even beautiful?
Take a Breath today. The anguish of life is a certainty and no one goes through life untouched by it. But there are artists, wonderful artists like Ralph Ellison and John Coltrane and Lena Horne, extraordinary black artists who teach us again and again the secret alchemy of turning the injustices of life into something good, beautiful and true. I suppose that’s why I love black culture so much. In the end, it’s all redemptive. Redemptive and hopeful.
August 26, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
I liked it. I’m talking about the movie Love is Strange, starring John Lithgow, Alfred Molina and Marisa Tomei. It’s the story of two gay men who marry, and because of the marriage, one of them loses his job as a music teacher in a Catholic school. Because of the financial strain, they lose their apartment and must now move in with their respective family members, while trying to put their lives back together. It’s a tender movie. Sweet but not sappy.
Two thoughts . . .
The film effectively “normalizes” two men who love one another, partners in every way possible, and their marriage is presented as completely natural and beautiful. I think this is important, because it’s a reminder that marriage is for two people who love one another. Sometimes straight. Sometimes gay. Sexual orientation isn’t the issue. The issue is that two people want to build a life together, and that is wonderfully portrayed by Molina and Lithgow.
The other thought is that it’s way too easy to use the “Church” as a caricature for everything that is conservative, narrow and restrictive about humanity. I know that people have been damaged by religion. No excuses. But I also know that there are churches all around the country that welcome the LGBT community, affirming their humanity, celebrating their marriages and supporting their families.
Love is Strange is a simple, quiet reflection on love and relationships and what it means to endure with another person. I liked it. You might like it too.
August 24, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
It seems to me we have two choices — we live trying to get what we want and need in life, focused on our needs and our needs alone, or we recognize we are in relationship with others, and thus have some responsibility / opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. That is to say, we can help.
That doesn’t mean fix. That doesn’t mean rescue. That doesn’t mean over-functioning in a dysfunctional kind of way. It simply means we can help. We. Can. Help.
Take a Breath. The week begins anew for each of us. A week from today. Seven days from today. Look back. Feel backwards. Reflect back on the week. Be able to say – I tried to help a fellow traveler on the journey. That’s all we can do. That’s all God / Universe / Source asks of us.
August 22, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
Someone has said terrible things, done terrible things, or undermined you in so many deceptive ways that it’s hardly imaginable. You are hurt. More than that, you are hurting. Yet, you’re the Senior Minister. Or the principal of the high school. Or the head of the firm. Or the director of the program. Or the editor of the paper. Or the executive director of the organization. What do you do when you are hurt? I’m not sure I have any good answers, but perhaps the following options might be helpful . . .
- If you can work it out with another person, then try to work it out. Don’t blame. Just embrace how a particular action made you feel.
- If that’s not possible, then stand up for yourself within yourself. That is to say, no one can put you down if you are standing up within yourself.
- Sometimes you have to take the high road. Be the bigger person and don’t stoop down to the malicious, gossipy, malevolent level of someone else.
- If indeed you have made a mistake, then learn what you need to learn and go forth and live. Everyone makes mistakes. The key is to learn from them.
- Perhaps it’s helpful to forgive the person, not excusing bad behavior, but letting go so you can get on with your life. Forgiveness is about letting go.
- Put it in perspective, meaning that in the larger scheme of things, we sometimes make it too big of deal. Mole hills into mountains.
- There’s a time and place to grieve, regret and replay what has happened to you. There’s also a time and place to stop grieving, regretting and replaying.
- Embrace the hurt as hurt. Don’t pretend it’s not real. Feel it. Sit with it. Talk to a friend about it. And then begin shrinking it to a manageable size.
No one goes through life without being hurt or hurting others. It’s the nature of human existence. Take a Breath today. Maybe the hurt we feel is actually an opportunity to grow and learn and change. That doesn’t mean it’s easy; it just means it’s real.
August 14, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
Day 4 . . . Siena Retreat Center . . . Racine, Wisconsin
Woke early again. Glorious sunshine. Took a prayer walk. Not for exercise. But for meditation. I thought about my family. My friends. I felt so much gratitude this morning. Goldfinch at the top of a pine tree. Two rabbits playing alongside the road. Thought about Lily and Gracie how I miss my two dogs while I’m away. (Ridiculous, I know.)
The last day of a retreat / conference like this is a little like the last day of church camp. You have insights and feelings that you think will change your life forever. Do they? Probably not. But the experience stays with you forever.
I have listened to the stories of others. It’s so sacred when someone shares their story. I’m in awe, really, of clergy and congregations doing such good work. Perfect? No. But good, genuine, honest work? Yes.
“What do I want to bring to my church?”
That was the question posed to me today. My answer . . .
- I want to bring the very best of my intellectual and creative energy.
- I want to bring love and compassion.
- I want to bring a deep sense of hope for the future.
- I want to bring authenticity to what I do.
- I want to hold creatively the tensions I feel between success and failure and between what I need personally and what my congregation needs.
- I want to hold the tension between saying yes and no and between doing one more thing and not doing one more thing
- I want to hold the reality of what I know needs to be done today and the uncertainty of what outcomes might or might not happen tomorrow.
- I want to hold within myself the tension between effectiveness and faithfulness.
So, I Take a Breath today. And now my job at hand is less lofty and idealistic — I need to finish a sermon for Sunday about The Grapes of Wrath. Yikes! It’s Thursday!
August 13, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
Day Three . . . Siena Retreat Center . . . Racine, Wisconsin
Early morning walk. No rain. Sunshine. Cool air. Coffee. Thinking about church, not just my congregation, but church as church, and wondering about what it means to be a church in the 21st century. Thoughts . . .
- What does it mean to be a member of a church? It means you show up. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. Intellectually. Financially. Prayerfully. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? Just. Show. Up. Churches do not work if people don’t show up. Of course the same could be said for being a parent. Or a grandparent. Or a spouse. Or a friend. We have to show up.
- When conflict happens in a church (or family), we’re wired to either fight or flee. Fighting is aggressive and rarely does much good. Fleeing is passive and rarely does much good. This means that day after day church leaders, including myself, must find their center. To be centered – spiritually, emotionally and intellectually – is a place of strength and goodness. From the center place can come action. From the center place can come stillness. This is life-giving tension.
Take a Breath today. Hold silence for a few minutes. Ponder anew. Whatever you call it — soul, love, source, light, insight — let it come close to you today.