September 25, 2016
by Dr. R. Scott
If you don’t know Los Angeles, then this might not mean much to you, but today is a big day for our city and Dodger fans in particular. Vin Sully, the longtime Dodger baseball announcer, will call his last game tonight. His career lasted a mere 66 years. And in ways great and small his voice brought joy and fun and drama to Dodger fans all over the world. As most of you know, I’m a Cubs fan and still cherish memories of the great Cubs announcer Harry Carey. But when it comes to Vin Scully, let’s face it, he is in a league of his own. Calm. Smart. Articulate. Understated. Poetic. There are so many ways to build community. We need teachers and principals. We need politicians and public servants. There are people who work on the front lines of justice and poverty and environmental issues. We need all of them and more. But sometimes communities are held together by voices of love, kindness and insight. That’s Vin Scully. Take a Breath today. And if you’re a baseball fan, tip your hat to the Dodger legend.
September 23, 2016
by Dr. R. Scott
How strange it is to live in a thriving city like Los Angeles, demanding, over-wrought with traffic and stress and busyness, and then to be startled by something profoundly personal, like a little message from the Universe / God / Source. I found two in one day this week. Looking for signs and messages is my version of Pokemon Go. I believe every moment is brimming over with soul. Ripe for insight and awareness.
I saw the first sign walking over to a Starbucks near the church. In pink spray paint it says: I love you. Who wrote it? What’s behind it? What if the message just magically appeared? What if the Universe was saying to me or any other passerby: I love you? Or what if someone wrote it as a declaration about life itself — that love is life and life is love? I’m not sure, but I like it. It’s a reminder that the essence of life is measured by how much we love and how much we are loved. It’s that simple.
The second message was at a gas station. Someone used white spray paint and scrawled the message on a trash bin near the gas pump: I Miss You Dad. Who did this? It’s graffiti, I suppose, but it’s more personal than most graffiti. It’s not a social message, but a message of personal longing and feeling. A message that is sad and sweet at the same time. I started thinking of the people I miss. And now that my dad is suffering severe memory loss and living in a nursing home, it especially made me miss my dad. Yes, I miss my dad too.
Oh these messages that come to us in unusual ways. They become a soft knock on the door or a bonk on the head. What do they mean? How do we interpret them? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I’m trying to pay attention these days and I know I need them. I’m guessing a few of you could use a message too. Take a Breath today and find you messages. If something speaks to you, be ready to listen. If something appears, be ready to see it. Oh, how the universe quivers and overflows with meaning.
September 20, 2016
by Dr. R. Scott
I’ve been helping a family over the past few days. Two grown daughters lost their mother in a car accident last week. The more we’ve talked, the more it’s become clear that they are trying to move past how their mother died in order to embrace the breadth and goodness of their mother’s life. They are looking for a new lens through which they can see their mother’s life. In many ways, it’s a question of definition.
Sometimes we allow endings to define beginnings and middles, and that does everyone a disservice. It would be a mistake, for example, to define the life of Robin Williams by his suicide, as opposed to defining his life by creative genius and laughter and extraordinary performances. The same for Phillip Seymour Hoffman, one of the great actors of our time. He died of a drug overdose. But that should not define his legacy. Instead, I choose to look at some of his great movies like Scent of a Woman and The Big Lebowski and Charlie Wilson’s War.
Frankly, I think a lot of Christians make this same mistake with Jesus. They put so much emphasis on his death on a cross that his ending eclipses the extraordinary beauty of his life. I define Jesus by the courage of his journey, the love that he gave this world, and his insightful teaching on how to be a human being. It’s his life that endures. Yes his death was important. But the genius of Jesus is found in the definition of his life. That’s the lens I use to see him.
All of us at one time or another have to decide how we will define others. We can either see people through their mistakes and failures or we can discover a larger narrative of goodness in their lives. I suppose the same is true for ourselves. Why define ourselves in terms of the job we lost or the class we failed, as opposed to the many successes we’ve accumulated over the course of a lifetime? In the end it’s not just about what a person has done or not done; it’s about the lens through which we choose to see them.
Take a Breath today. Consider doing some redefining. A change of lens is good for the soul! It can make all the difference.
September 16, 2016
by Dr. R. Scott
I’ve been immersing myself in the work of Thomas Merton this week. I’m leading a spiritual life retreat at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles on Merton tomorrow. And then on Sunday at 10 AM I’m leading our first Sunday Forum in Shatto Chapel on Merton and Politics. (The retreat is at capacity. Sorry. But the Sunday Forum is open to everyone.) I’ve been so impressed this week (yet again) at how quotable Thomas Merton is. Enjoy a few samples . . .
“You cannot be a person of faith unless you know how to doubt. You cannot believe in God unless you are capable of questioning the authority of prejudice, even though that prejudice may seem to be religious. Faith is not blind conformity . . . ”
Or again . . .
“We do not go to the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them; we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good . . . The one end that includes all others is the love of God.”
And one more . . .
“There should be at least a room, or some corner where no one will find you and disturb you or notice you. You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, losing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of others.”
I mean it this time. One more . . .
“It is in our loneliness that our deepest activities begin.”
Take a Breath on this Friday. Relax and be yourself this weekend. Enjoy some quiet. Give thanks for the gift of life. Know that you are loved. Love another. Be at peace.
September 13, 2016
by Dr. R. Scott
Thank you to Myrna Katz for her new sculpture that was installed in the Shatto Chapel of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles this past week. It is titled Heart Center. I love it. I think it will be a source of solace, reflection and beauty for many years to come. The journey of the heart is everything. There is no finding God without moving more deeply into our hearts. If you have not seen it, stop by and enjoy it. Take a Breath today and enjoy the photograph and my little poem that it inspired.
Tumbling light and Japanese paper
Pour out of an ancient wall,
Out of glass and death and old stories,
Signaling the possibility
That something beautiful
Is still possible in this ravaged world.
Oh how we are tired, somedays, like plastic bags.
Nevertheless, light calls to us
In and out of our many folds and contorted lives.
Wounds become openings.
We see again what we thought had been lost.
September 2, 2016
by Dr. R. Scott
Yes, I am alive. And most days I am well. It’s been so long since I shared a blog post. I’ve been on Sabbatical for the past three months from my work at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. Think of it as a long “Take a Breath.” I return to the pulpit on Sunday, September 11, and I am looking forward to sharing my sermon — “As I Was Saying . . . ” If you are in Los Angeles, I hope you will be in church that day. If not, I hope you will listen online a few days later.
It’s been an important summer for me. Lots of reading. Lots of writing. Lots of thinking. It’s also been an important summer for personal decisions. In ways great and small, I’ve come to appreciate friends, especially those friends who have shown up over the summer with kindness, compassion and love. I will never take friends for granted again.
I also know I’m ready to throw myself back into my work at First Church. This has been a traumatic summer for America. Violence. Death. Racial division Political rhetoric and hatred. Our world, and yes, Los Angeles, needs a church like First Church. Open. Loving. Progressive. I am ready to give myself to it again. Fully. Completely. Joyfully.
I am looking forward to seeing you on Sunday morning, September 11. It is going to be a fantastic Sunday! Your presence on Sunday morning will mean everything to me. I try not to ask for too much, but to you see you in church on that Sunday . . . well . . . yes . . . it would mean everything to me.
As we move into the Labor Day weekend, I wish you all a safe time and relaxing time. Good work, work that matters, is so important to our lives. Give thanks for those people who work to make your life better. The checkout person at the grocery store. The taxi driver. The nurse at the hospital. The person who repairs your washer or dryer. The kitchen worker preparing dinner or washing dishes. The list goes on and on. Give thanks and have a great weekend.
And don’t forget to Take a Breath. And know that I love you all.
May 26, 2016
by Dr. R. Scott
I begin a summer sabbatical today. The send off I received from First Church last week was amazing. I will never forget that Sunday for as long as I live. Beautiful flowers from Susan Leary. Music from Jonathan Talberg and Christoph Bull. The performance of “The Alan Watts Blues.” Our never-ceases-to-amaze-me choir. Liturgy from Laura Fregin. Kaleidoscopes for the children. Eloquent comments from Tom Strickler. A great turnout of people. An outstanding reception after church. The day was perfect. I don’t think of myself as deserving any of it, but I am deeply grateful for all of it. And today my friend and facilities manager, Leo Lopez, put together a fabulous lunch for me and the staff. I recognize today that the journey is everything. I once thought life was about being someone or getting somewhere. I am only now beginning to understand that it’s the journey toward those things that matters most. As for God, well, for me at least, God has become the ultimate question. Not the final answer. As I said in my sermon last week, “Journeys are supposed to be unknown. That’s why they require faith and courage and receptivity to the many gifts and challenges life presents.” I’ll do my best to pay attention this summer. To listen more deeply. To laugh when I want to laugh. To cry when I need to grieve my life. To love more passionately. To enjoy the gifts of art and music and poetry and literature and travel. And quiet. Copious amounts of quiet. To open my eyes wider to beauty. And suffering. To feel and think, bringing my heart and mind together to form a union within myself. I hope you’ll find a few moments of sabbath yourself this summer. Listen to the deeper voices of your soul. Enjoy your life. And First Church members — Attend Church Every Sunday! I love you all.
May 17, 2016
by Dr. R. Scott
This coming Sunday, May 22, will be my last Sunday at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles before beginning my summer sabbatical.
To those of you who are friends and members of First Church, it would be so good to see you on Sunday. (Our service begins at 11 AM.) You are part of my life. I am part of your life too. Let’s come together this week. It would mean so much to me.
Also, my friend Tom Strickler is furnishing an amazing reception after church. Delicious! Plus, where else can you hear a rendition of Van Morrison’s song — “The Alan Watts Blues?” It’s going to be a special Sunday.
I have so many thoughts as I approach the summer, but the primary one is gratitude, gratitude for the people who care for me, believe in what I’m trying to do at the church, and especially gratitude toward so many who work alongside me each week. I feel gratitude toward those who will make this sabbatical possible. I know it will be a burden to the staff, but I will try to repay it on down the line.
People have been asking me: “What are you looking forward to the most?” The answer is simple — I’m looking forward to time. Time to think. Time to read. Time to feel. Time to clear my head, to look back on my life and look ahead to my life. Most of all, I look forward to the freedom of waking up and deciding what I want to do on any given day.
I’m also looking forward to writing. Really writing what I want to write. I’ve found it all but impossible to work on a writing project outside my weekly church responsibilities. I hope I’ll get into the routine of writing every day this summer. If I’m lucky, I’ll get into a creative zone and actually make some progress on a book. If I don’t make any progress, I plan to lower my standards and not worry about it.
And so friends, I end every sermon by saying “I love you all, let’s love one another.” I think that’s how I’ll end this blog post today too. Take a Breath. I love you all. If you can be in church this week, I look forward to seeing you. I’ll be taking a break from social media this summer. My work email will be shut down. I know First Church is in good hands. Hold me in you heart this summer. I need it more than you know.
May 10, 2016
by Dr. R. Scott
How simple it all would be if we could just get it together. But getting it together is an elusive thing for many of us. Myself included.
I’m sitting at my desk, looking out the window, and I see so many signs of construction.
The finials on the front of our church are being repaired. Down below children from our school are playing in the courtyard, and they are in the intense process of constructing their young lives.
The fact that they are playing there at all is a result of a construction project on our campus — a new parking garage and soccer field.
Beyond the church the Los Angeles skyline is dynamic. Cranes and construction projects are visible from my office in three different places.
All of it reminds me of where I am inside my soul: I’m done with the most futile project of my life, namely, getting it all together.
I was under construction yesterday. I am today. And I’m going to be under construction tomorrow. I think the whole human experience can be best summarized with two words: Under. Construction.
Some days it’s exciting. Other days terrifying. But embracing the unknown means that life is open. Living with openness and courage is the essence of everything I know to be true about faith.
So Take a Breath today. Are you under construction? Fantastic. Embrace it. Love it. Befriend it. It means you’re still alive and part of the human family. I would even say that it’s a sign God is not finished with you (or me) yet.
April 27, 2016
by Dr. R. Scott
Longing begins like a small seed inside your soul. It is dormant for weeks. Maybe years. And then the right amount of rain and sunlight begins to awaken it. (That’s a metaphor. I’m talking about life circumstances, events or feelings.) It germinates quietly. No one notices it. You don’t even notice it yourself. Until one day you feel a slender vine growing up inside your heart, tickling your lungs, and up through your throat, and soon it reaches out through your ears and nose and mouth. You think: “What is happening to me? What’s wrong with me? Why is this growing inside me?” But nothing is wrong. It is longing. Once it begins growing there’s no stopping it. You either acknowledge it or you don’t. It’s inconvenient, to be sure, and utterly annoying. Some days it is painful. (That’s the price of longing.) Longing is about coming to life. The Buddha teaches that we suffer because we long too much. And thats true, but only to a point. Because to live without longing means we live without intensity or beauty or passion. Some days we make a choice: No longing and no pain or longing and the possibility of pain. That’s a choice worth Taking a Breath over.