June 14, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
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Pride. Sunday.

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Join us this Sunday, June 17, 2018 for Pride Sunday! Worship at 11.00 AM. My sermon is titled – “As Wide as the Heart of God!” It’s going to be a spectacular Sunday, including inspiring music from the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. If you believe in an open, inclusive, welcoming, joyful, hospitable church, then show up this Sunday and make your presence known. Reach out and invite a friend this week, especially friends in the LGBTQ community. We’ll also offer an affirming nod to all our fathers and grandfathers, given that it is Father’s Day. I am so looking forward to celebrating with all of you. Take a Breath today and remember . . . First Congregational Church — Deeper Conversations, Community and Actions!

June 11, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

Thoughts — For a Friend.

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A friend reached out to me yesterday, because she was friends with the chef and writer Anthony Bourdain. She reached out because she wanted to share some thoughts with her friends who were (and are) grieving over Anthony’s recent suicide. This is what I shared in a middle-of-the-night email with her . . . When someone takes his life it is shocking to us. It’s especially shocking when that person — at least on the outside — seems successful, happy and creative. It’s a sobering reminder that we know people, but we don’t really know people. At least we don’t know the depth of a person’s anguish or pain or brokenness. Creative people are often tortured people. That’s not always the case, but it is true for many. (I’ve felt some of this torture myself.) Anthony was such a bright light of talent, but every now and then the adage is true — the brighter the light, the darker the shadow. He was carrying some dark shadows inside his soul. I often think that people take their own lives because they know and feel that there is something they want to change, but they don’t know how to change it. They can’t figure out a pathway forward, and so they make an irrevocable decision by taking their lives. I also believe that if a person reaches an anguished point of suicide, the only one who can ultimately show compassion is God. I know that not everyone believes in God, but my understanding is that God is infinite love / compassion / understanding. I know that Anthony Bourdain, regardless of what was happening inside the depths of his mind, whether it was depression, anxiety or some combination thereof, I really believe he was surrounded by the love of God. I also believe that sometimes people transcend a rational decision in the moment, and that they take their lives, not so much out of a reasoned choice, but out of a physiological impulse. They can hardly be held accountable for their actions, because their actions transcend rational functionality. This is why suicide leaves behind a trail of questions. We don’t know. Sometimes we will never know. There are terrible ideas associated with suicide, such as people who commit suicide are selfish. This is not true. Selfishness has nothing to do with it. That people who commit suicide are guilty of murdering themselves and will live forever in hell. Again, this is not true. If a person’s anguish is that intense, then surely God and God alone can offer love and understanding. I don’t know what was going on in Anthony’s life, but I refuse to allow the ending of his life to define the goodness and creativity he shared for over sixty years. He was a blazing comet of irreverent creativity. So talented. So interesting. So engaged with life. He was a father. He had a life partner. He had friends. I will remember him for his skillful writing and the way he brought food and people together. Sometimes those of us left behind wonder: “Could I have done something? Did I miss something?” The answer is no. People who have decided to take their lives will take their lives. People who take their lives impulsively can rarely be stopped. Of course, seeing a therapist and working through some of our psychological challenges is important. But in the end, even a good therapist cannot stop such a tragedy. I’m so sorry for this terrible loss with Anthony Bourdain. I hope some of these thoughts are helpful to you. Most of all, remember him with compassion and gratitude. Encourage your friends to live as fully and as deeply as possible. And as often as you can, help people remember that there is always help, always hope, and that reaching out is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. I send you and your friends so much love today. I will Take a Breath for Anthony Bourdain, and for you, and for the many people around the world who need our help.
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June 1, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
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Proclamation vs. Conversation

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Early on in my ministry, I had the idea that the Christian faith needed to be proclaimed. I was wrong! I’m convinced that proclaiming religion hurts religion.

I now understand the journey of faith as a conversation. Ideas are presented. People are free to think about them. Most of all, people are free to ask questions!

That will happen in a very real way this coming Sunday, June 3. I have asked the graduating seniors of Pilgrim School, a college preparatory school on our campus, to ask me questions instead of me presenting a sermon. My challenge to them was simple: ASK ME ANYTHING!

I have not seen any of the questions. My responses will be completely extemporaneous. If you’re in the city this weekend — join me at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. It’s going to be a special Sunday.

Take a Breath today and I’ll take one too. I’ll especially take one on Sunday morning! Let’s have a conversation this week.

May 30, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

Beliefs. Matters.

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After reading and re-reading the racist tweet from Roseanne Barr yesterday, and after watching an amazing program on “Everyday Racism” last night on television, and after meeting my daughter’s wonderful boyfriend (who happens to be black) over the weekend, and after contemplating the bold step by Starbucks to do cultural bias training for all their employees, and after watching ABC cancel the Roseanne show because of her disgusting tweet, and after hearing our President use the word “animals” to refer to human beings in a speech last night . . .

It strikes me that a core belief within my faith might be worth contemplating this morning . . . namely . . .

That every human being is created in the image of God, and bears within herself or himself the imprint of God, and that people have value, not because of their wealth, not because of the color of their skin, not because of their gender, not because of their religion, not because of their sexual orientation, not because of their education . . . but because they are human beings created in God’s image . . . and this means that all the ways we “other” people, all the ways we de-humanize one another and ostracize others should be resisted, protested and condemned.

I’m Taking a Breath today. I hope you will take one too. When I see another human being, I am seeing a child of God. For me at least that’s a belief, and it’s a belief that matters now more than ever.

May 16, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
5 Comments

Friend.

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I lost a dear friend yesterday. Donald Battjes. He was my friend. We had been friends for ten years. Losing a friend, a real friend, is like a small fissure opening up inside your soul. And then it grows larger. And deeper. Pretty soon you feel the best part of yourself falling into a Grand Canyon of sadness.

Don lived in Los Angeles and Provence. He had struggled with some health issues over the past few years, and so he was diminished, at least bodily, but his spirit remained intact. Intact and strong. He was so happy to be in Provence this spring. I talked to him last week. He was happy. Alive with love and friendship and curiosity about life. He was enjoying his house, a house he had worked hard to restore and bring to life.

He was here and now he is gone. There is nothing sentimental about death. Nothing. The finality of it is sobering. Some people are comforted by the assurance of an afterlife, as if our absence from one another is only a temporary inconvenience. Maybe that is the case. I’m not sure. I want to believe that I will see my friend Don Battjes again, and that we will sit on a heavenly patio overlooking a heavenly field of lavender and drinking a heavenly glass of French rosé. If it is so, then it is so. Any discussion of an afterlife, in the end, is speculation. Yet, I’m acutely aware today that there is love after death, and love in the midst of loss, and friendship endures, not in the physical body, but in our spiritual consciousness.

I am feeling so much loss today. Loss and gratitude, gratitude for someone who loved me, listened to me, laughed with me, and on occasion, cried with me. I went through a divorce a few years ago and I lost friends. I don’t know any other other way of saying it. People I thought would always care for me disappeared. Maybe I deserved their scorn. I don’t know. But what I do know is this — there were a few people who held onto me and would not let go and who checked on me everyday and who could be happy when I was happy and sad when I was sad. That was a handful of people. One of them was Don Battjes.

Don and I talked a couple of times each week. When he was in Los Angeles, we got together once a week for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee or lunch in Pasadena. He was a friend. Doesn’t that word say everything? Friend. He was in my home. I was in his home. I visited him in France last year and had such a nice time. I made dinner one night for him and his friend Trinka . . . roasted salmon and shrimp on a bed of roasted vegetables. I started with a potato soup. Ended with cheese and baguette. It was a perfect evening. I had such fun shopping and cooking that day.

I’m not talking about Don in order for you to think about Don. Or for that matter, it’s not about thinking of me. I’m asking that you to think of people you love and people who love you. Cherish them. Give thanks for them. And if there is some blip between you and your friend, forget about it. Let it go. Forgive. Or receive forgiveness. Don’t wait. A real friend is so rare . . . like a perfect rose in a garden of roses . . . and if you have been blessed with a friend, count yourself lucky.

Take a Breath today. Remember a friend. Give thanks for a friend. Write a friend. Call a friend. Helen Keller once wrote, “Better to walk in the dark with a friend than in the light all by yourself.” It’s true. Every now and then we get both — walking in the light and walking with a friend. That’s what I had with my friend — Donald Battjes.

 

 

May 15, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
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Holy. Spirit.

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The Holy Spirit is energy! Flowing / Moving / Creating / Transforming / Beautifying / Mystifying / Redeeming / Forgiving / Inspiring / Enlightening / Judging / Lifting / Celebrating / Unifying / Cleansing / Burning / Flying / Floating / Engaging / Inciting / Indwelling / Satisfying . . . Energy! This Sunday at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, along with churches around the world, we will celebrate Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost Sunday is that annual day in the liturgical life of churches when Christians celebrate the power of God’s Spirit to transform human life. Take a Breath today — and get yourself to church this week! It’s Pentecost Sunday. William Blake once wrote, “Energy is eternal delight!” Couldn’t you use a little more energy?

May 13, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
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Mother. Sister.

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When I think of my mother on Mother’s Day, I think of my sister, and always with profound joy and gratitude. My mother was such a good mom when I was growing up. A little boy could not have asked for anything better. But then she went through a difficult time. Significant mental illness. A divorce. Several years of loneliness. My mother eventually moved into my sister’s home, and suddenly she had a new life. She helped my sister and my sister helped her. My mother helped bring up my niece. My mother was happy again, but her happiness would not have happened had it not been for my sister (and infinitely patient brother-in-law.) Like so many around the country today, I’m thinking of my mother. She’s been gone for several years now. She died of pancreatic cancer. Her name was Joyce. But my sister is alive and well, living in Indianapolis, and I am forever grateful that her kindness gave my mother a new lease on life. Take a Breath today. It’s Mother’s Day. If you had or have a good mom, give thanks to God. If you didn’t, then know that a mothering God always holds you close. If you mother is still living, give her a call today. As for me, I’ll give thanks today too, not only for my mother, but for a sister named Nancy, the best sister a brother could ever have.

April 26, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

My. Day.

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This is just to say that it was a day. I started early in the morning and made a pot of black-eyed peas. Does anyone even know what a black-eyed pea is these days? Onion. Some peppers. Some ham seasoning. A little tomato. A little of this and that. And then working on a sermon for Sunday. Three poems. Laughter. Crying. Loving. Is there anything else we need in life other than laughter and crying and loving? And then at noon I went to Home Depot. And back home. And I tried to fix my crazy patio fountain. And then more sermon. And then Bill Cosby was convicted for more crimes than what I have black-eyed peas in my pot. And then a document for our fall stewardship campaign. And then a document for me and the Head of Pilgrim School. And then I went for a walk. And then a glass of wine. And then dinner. And then a meltdown with my stepson. I never use the word stepson, because it sounds so cold and removed, but I’m using it today. And then remorse over the meltdown. And then trouble in paradise. And then talking. And then apologies. And then rethinking this and that. And then the Cubs beat the Brewers, which might be the highlight of my day. Life is day after day after day. Some good days. Some not so good. But this is life. This is my life. I hang onto the truth, the belief, to the idea that God is not finished with me. It’s not over until the fat lady sings. At least that’s what I’ve heard my whole life. I could hear her warming up off-stage today, but she’s not finished singing and I’m not finished trying. Take a Breath today. Maybe your day has been like my day. One of those days. It’s okay. Even when we’re in the middle of one of those days, there is something that holds onto us. Could I be wrong that? Yes, I could be wrong. But I could be right, too. There is something in the universe that is faithful to me. And tomorrow is another day. For me. For you. Another day for all God’s children.

April 20, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
0 comments

Earth. Day. 2018.

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As I prepare for a wonderful Earth Day Sunday at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, I offer this poem for your reflection by the great poet W.S. Merwin. I love this poem. I love Merwin’s poetry. Just to see. To see a tree is a gift. A moment of Spirit. I hope you enjoy it as much as I, and if you’re in Los Angeles this Sunday, I hope you will join me for what promises to be a spectacular Sunday. Take a Breath. Love God. Notice a tree.

Trees

I am looking at trees
they may be one of the things I will miss
most from the earth
though many of the ones I have seen
already I cannot remember
and though I seldom embrace the ones I see
and have never been able to speak
with one
I listen to them tenderly
their names have never touched them
they have stood round my sleep
and when it was forbidden to climb them
they have carried me in their branches

April 18, 2018
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

Barbara. Bush.

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I was a fan. A real fan of Barbara Bush. First Lady. Mother. Grandmother. Wife. Friend to many. Matriarch of a family. Philanthropist. Person of faith. I’m Taking a Breath today and thinking of the many reasons why I admired her so much . . . maybe you can Take a Breath in her memory today too . . .

  1. She loved her family and was fiercely loyal to them.
  2. She was a person of principle but not a political ideologue.
  3. She cared about her community and country.
  4. She spoke her mind, always feisty, but without being mean spirited.
  5. She was a person of faith and loved her church.
  6. She treated friends and strangers alike with dignity and respect.
  7. She maintained her personal dignity in the public arena.
  8. She cared about literacy and education for young people.
  9. She had an amazing wit and a mischievous sense of humor.
  10. And finally, she rocked gray hair and wore a strand of pearls like nobody’s business!