May 20, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
5 Comments

Thank You, Dave.

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I’m not sure there’s anything especially theological about the last David Letterman show, but I have thoughts. I remember when Johnny said good-bye to America in 1992. Bette Midler sang a lovely tribute. Johnny linked me to my father, because he would often watch the Tonight Show, and on Friday nights when I was a boy, I would stay up with him and watch. We would fix Chef Boyrdee pizza from a box and watch Johnny. Johnny was so urbane. And smart. A Nebraska kid, to be sure, but he was New York too, and after he moved to California he portrayed the Hollywood / Malibu vibe perfectly. Tan. Relaxed. He was California.

Dave, on the other hand, did his show in New York City. Yet through and through he was a Hoosier. A little goofy. A little self-effacing. A little uncomfortable in his own skin. Yes, he really did attend Ball State University. Next to Jane Pauley and John Wooden, well, he may be the most famous Hoosier ever. When he made fun of people, he was never mean about it. Pointed at times, yes, but never mean.

I look at Johnny’s good-bye, and Dave’s too, and it represents, not merely the end of of a show, but the closing of a chapter. Mad Men? Okay, it’s fine. But it’s not Dave. Dave’s retirement is a reminder of one of the big ontological / existential issues plaguing every human being who has ever walked the earth, namely, that it ends. It ends too soon. It ends too late. But it ends. In the midst of endings we are reminded of the transitory nature of life.

Which of of course brings us to the heart of religion, because religion is about making sense of two stubborn facts: We are here and it’s going to end. But let’s face it, that religious question can rattle your brain and feel like a riddle wrapped in a conundrum. This doesn’t mean we give up on the religious quest. No. Never.

But it’s a reminder that, in addition to faith and philosophy and spiritual exploration, we still need things like, well, things like Stupid Pet Tricks and Camping with Barry White and Top Ten Lists and Larry Bud Melman. Thank you, Dave. I liked you. I’ll miss you. And only now do I realize that I actually needed you too.

May 13, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
12 Comments

To Give Up. Or Not to Give Up. That is the Church Question.

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The Pew Research Center recently released their startling, dramatic, (and highly predictable) findings this week — Christianity is on the decline in America and non-affiliated people are on the rise.

They’re just now noticing this? Spend a day with me in Los Angeles.

Beyond all stats and trends, let me tell you what I see . . . and this is a personal point of view, anecdotal, and does not apply to any other situation . . . I see First Congregational Church of Los Angeles . . .

A church that a few years ago was down and defeated, broken and mired in the past, with little focus on the future and barely able to take a breath in the present . . . I see a church that is in the midst of a spiritual renaissance, a community that is positive and optimistic, people who learn together and laugh together and enjoy one another, people who are hearing again the good news that God is still doing something in this world . . . I see a church that is progressive, not necessarily liberal but progressive, progressive in the sense that questions are celebrated, and insights, wherever they might come from, are appreciated . . . I see a place where cultural diversity is not merely tolerated but lifted up and enjoyed . . . a place where human dignity is honored, and women and men and children, gay and straight, rich and poor, black and white and brown, are welcomed and honored as children of God . . . I see a place that knows that the essence of faith is love for God and love for neighbor, and anything else, everything else, while interesting, is always in second place . . . I see a community of Christians that welcomes the believer and unbeliever, the doubter and agnostic . . . and I see a church that is making a difference in the lives of young adults and middle adults and older adults — Why? — because something real happens every Sunday, not every now and then, but every Sunday something real is transacted in the dynamic stew that is liturgy and music and prayer. And so I say . . . let the Pew Research Center come to some real pews . . . pews at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, and many other places around the country, a place where last week we held a baptism and the week before we welcomed a Rabbi to our pulpit and the week before we honored Holocaust victims and the week before that we explored extraordinary photography by Andy Romanoff . . . and so it goes.

To my colleagues and friends who grew up, attended, and still attend and preach in Mainline Christian congregations . . . don’t give up.

God is like yeast, quietly, wonderfully, deliciously working. God is like a seed — How does it grow? — we don’t really know. But it does. And God is like a star that has been shining for thousands  and thousands of years, but the light is just now making its way to our planet. I might be wrong. I know. I might be very wrong. But I happen to think that faith in America is poised for a renaissance. That something is on the verge of kissing the earth. Because in the end, we can work and play and have kids and grandkids and contribute to IRAs and go out to dinner and buy tickets to Disney World and wash the car and fix hamburgers on the grill and have flat tires while driving to work on a Monday morning. . . but in the end . . . we want life to mean something . . . and life meaning something goes to the heart of the religious quest. As long as human beings ask why, faith will always have a reason to rise up and respond.

So Take a Breath, dear friends, one and all. Screw up the courage. Take heart. Put on your big boy and big girl pants. We are living in changing times, but exciting times, and every change is an opportunity for insight and every defeat an opportunity for resurrection.

May 7, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
4 Comments

This is for you. You know who you are.

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Oh, the harsh critic that lives within . . . Demanding more, criticizing everything from how we look to how much money we make (or don’t make) . . . The relentless judge that is never satisfied with what we have, what we do, and what we feel . . . The never-satisfied hunger that hums like an old refrigerator inside our souls . . . The ever-disappointed emoji that flashes on and off like a broken street lamp . . . The tightly wound perfectionist that bullies us without hope of reprieve . . . This is for you . You know who you are. A quote by Leonard Cohen . . . Take a Breath and repeat often . . . “Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

April 29, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

Where is God?

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The world is fractured this week. Baltimore is burning. Nepal is digging out.

I’ve invited Rabbi Bradley Artson to join me at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles this coming Sunday to explore what is surely the most important question of religion: Where is God? 

If God is good. And if God is all-powerful. Then why do earthquakes happen that kill innocent people? And why does a young black man have his neck broken while in police custody, later dying, and leaving yet another American city in turmoil?

These are not theoretical questions. This is real faith facing the real world.

I am heartbroken for Nepal. I am horrified by Baltimore. And once again I’m trying to Take a Breath, turning to my faith for understanding and direction. Perhaps that’s where you are this week, too. Join me this Sunday, May 3, for what promises to be a meaningful conversation of faith during the 11 am worship service at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.

April 22, 2015
by Dr. R. Scott
4 Comments

Boston. What’s Next?

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The trial is over. Dzhokhar Tsarnev was found guilty. Even though it appears as if his older brother was the primary mastermind behind the Boston bombing, this young man is still guilty. He participated in a heinous crime. People were killed. People were injured. The great city of Boston will never be the same. Only one question remains: Life imprisonment or the death penalty? I know people have strong feelings about this issue. I respect people on both sides. Certainly the people of Boston are entitled to their thoughts and feelings. I’m not telling anyone how to feel. At the same time, I hope the jury opts for life in prison and not the death penalty, and I’ll tell you why . . .

The Boston tragedy is yet another example of senseless violence. Executing Tsarnev will not bring anyone back. It will not heal any amputated limb. And even the human spirit that longs and deserves emotional closure will not find it by killing this young man. The empty spot will still be empty and the raging grief will still be grief. The sad truth is this: Killing a killer diminishes those of us left behind. When evil things happen we have to make choices. We can either stoop down or we can stand and rise above it. To me, and I can only speak my own truth here, executing a criminal feels like stooping down and not standing up. I understand the impulse toward execution. I really do. But when I Take a Breath and center myself within a deeper vision of life, I’m convinced that the death penalty cannot solve violence.

 

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.