April 17, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
6 Comments

Meditation . . . Heart. Of. Darkness.

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I recently finished reading Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness. I’m still thinking about it. On the surface of things, the story is about a Charles Marlow, an ivory trader, and his travels up a dark river in the Congo. He becomes obsessed with a legendary man in the jungle, Kurtz, and is inexplicably drawn to him. But something has happened to Kurtz in the jungle. The jungle has changed him. Worked on his psyche. And the same begins to happen to Marlow. He faces, not just the strangeness and danger of the jungle, but it’s really a journey into his own soul. That’s the story. And a powerful one it is. I should have read it a long time ago, but better late than never.

Yet the meaning, the meaning of the story is lingering with me like early morning fog — slowly rising, heavy, shifting into the invisible energy of the sun. I think of the number of ways we can find ourselves living into our version of a heart of darkness. It can be anything. Grief that will not go away. A health challenge that forever shifts how we live and move through the world. A relationship crisis. In the heart of darkness our world is undifferentiated. There’s confusion and chaos. A lack of meaning, too, is part of the experience. What once mattered, doesn’t matter as much. And as for the future, at one time it felt bright and clear, but now it seems murky and unachievable. Little things tip us over. What used to be a minor hurt becomes a major wound. We become sensitive and calloused at the same time. Often in the heart of darkness we turn our back on the very thing we need most — community and love and forgiveness.

Conrad offers no easy answers. I don’t want to offer any either. At the same time, after reading this engaging story I find myself Taking a Breath and  contemplating what means the most to me, namely, to live each day knowing that it is a gift, to trust in the love and kindness of my friends, to know each day I am trying to make the world a better place, that there is always beauty to be discovered, and that, in the end, all that I have done and all that I did not get done is good enough, and that I am forever being welcomed home by some thing or some one greater than myself.

April 13, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
4 Comments

Holocaust. Remembrance.

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Why in the world would a Protestant church in the middle of Los Angeles hold a Yom HaShoah Service (Holocaust Remembrance) during its normal Sunday morning worship service this coming Sunday, April 19, 2015?

Isn’t that a Jewish thing? Actually, no, it’s not just a Jewish thing. The magnitude of the Shoah is such that humanity must never forget it, and with every new generation of people, the task of understanding it is never finished. 

There have been many genocides, why remember this one in a Sunday church service? First of all, to remember one thing does not diminish another thing. But in the life of the Church there is a special responsibility for Christians to understand and remember, because so much of the Holocaust was fueled by anti-Jewish ideology and Christian theology. 

Isn’t it depressing to think about the Holocaust? Actually, there is great inspiration that comes for the testimony of survivors. The other thing I would say is that there is something so transformative about remembering together, not just on our own, but together as a community of faith.

Do other churches or communities do this? Yes, in fact, they do. Not many but they do. And more churches should, because it’s a great way of reaching out to our Jewish friends and neighbors, as well as helping us to think critically about our own beliefs as Christians.

What will the service be like this Sunday? It will be moving. Inspiring. Meaningful. Jonathan Talberg has selected some lovely music. I will share a few thoughts with the congregation and then invite Rene Firestone, a Holocaust survivor, to share her story.

Let’s Take a Breath for humanity this coming Sunday. Join us at 11 AM in the beautiful sanctuary of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles for what promises to be an unforgettable hour of reflection.

  

 

April 5, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
4 Comments

Easter. Sunday.

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Let us give thanks today for the life of Jesus, who only asks . . .

That we trust that we are held by a love greater than ourselves.

That we care for one another in a real and humane way.

That we love the planet and do everything we can for its healing.

That we live with courage in the face of challenge.

That we forgive and let go, not some of the time, but all of the time.

That we take a step out of the tombs that imprison us on a daily basis.

That we do what we can to share the treasures of goodness and love.

That we stand beside the poor and hurting in the best way we know how.

That we trust that loves lives everlastingly in the heart of God.

Take a Breath and Happy Easter!

April 4, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

Liminal. Saturday.

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Yesterday was Good Friday. Tomorrow is Easter. But what is today? What does it mean to live in between? Not this. Not that. I remember so well moments of transition. The keys to the old office and house had been turned over to someone else. But the new office had not been opened and the new house was still a few days away. Everything was in between. The word for it is liminality. Liminal space means standing on the shore. Not here. Not there. You know where you’ve been. You’re not exactly sure where you’re going. On Sunday we’ll have two wonderful worship services at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. First Worship is at 9 AM and Cathedral Worship at 11 AM. Both will be excellent. But until Easter morning we wait. Sometimes when we find ourselves living in liminal space there’s only one thing to do — Take a Breath.

 

April 3, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
2 Comments

Good. Friday.

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We call it Good Friday, but it doesn’t feel all that good, does it? The idea behind it is that something “good” happened through the dying of Jesus, and depending upon your theological viewpoint, that “good” can be described in a variety of ways.

What makes more and more sense to me is this: The “good” that comes from Good Friday is that a vulnerable God was revealed to the world. A vulnerable God is a loving God. Nothing makes us more vulnerable than love. Nothing. Love opens wide the heart, and while an open heart can give and receive love, it also becomes a perfect target for hurt. (As Neil Young sings, “Only love can break your heart.”)

In the death of Jesus I see a God willing to be broken, broken upon the anguish of the world, including my anguish. Your anguish. This is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison, “Only a suffering God can help.” A suffering God is a loving God, and in the end, love is what we need.

We’ll have a Good Friday service at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles today at 12.10 pm. Our beautiful Shatto Chapel will be open afterward until 3 pm for prayer and reflection. But beyond attending any service, I’ll simply share what is important for me: it’s Good Friday, and that means it’s a perfect day to Take a Breath.

April 2, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
4 Comments

Maundy. Thursday. (Whatever That Is)

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Today is one of my favorite days in the liturgical life of the church. Tonight at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles we’ll have a service at 7 pm, but I’m well aware that only a few will show up and most people couldn’t explain Maundy Thursday if their last Communion wafer depended on it. But for many of us, myself included, everything about our faith is can be found in the meaning of this day.

The word Maundy means commandment, an allusion to that night when Jesus shared the Passover with his friends, and then during the meal began washing their road-weary feet. His humble act of service – some were even offended by it – captured the essence of this life.

He summarized the entire evening by saying: “I give you a new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you.”

To me this is faith. It’s about showing up in the world. It’s about trying to be of service to others. What that looks like or feels like depends upon the circumstances of the day. Some days are better than others. But this is it. Showing up. Being of service.

Take a Breath today. It’s Maundy Thursday. It’s a holiday that never made it into the liturgical top ten. But in many ways, dare I say it, for those of us trying to be Christian, it might just be the most important day of the year.

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.