July 27, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

Life. Itself.

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It’s a small film and small films are often overlooked. No car crashes. No explosions. No sex scenes. Just a human story about a real man and his wife. The man’s name? Roger Ebert. And the film is titled Life Itself. Many of us remember that dynamic duo of film criticism — Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. Thumbs up. Thumbs down. Both worked in Chicago. Both were writers. And both were strongly opinionated men. The documentary highlights their tumultuous relationship, but more importantly, it offers the tender story of Roger Ebert and the many changes he experienced over the course of his life. I found the film inspiring. Deeply moving. At times I caught myself laughing out loud. At other times I was on the verge of tears. It’s also a story of a marriage, Ebert’s late-in-life marriage to Chaz and the wonderful care she gave him during his last years. Take a Breath this week, and if you have a chance, go and see Life Itself. It’s a small film, but I think you’ll like it.

July 26, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
16 Comments

Say. The. Name.

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I’ve been reading a book by Meghan O’Rourke titled The Long Goodbye. It’s a good book. A very good book. She recounts the experience of her mother dying of cancer and the ensuing grief she experienced after her mother passed away. Grief is pervasive. No one is exempt. She points out that one of the most difficult experiences of grief is facing the feeling that the person who has died will be forgotten. Forgotten forever.

In particular she notes that after her mother died many of her friends never mentioned her mother’s name again. They were afraid they would offend. Or make her feel worse. Or that by mentioning her mother’s name, they would somehow cast Meghan back into a vortex of grief and sadness. Nevertheless, this sensitive daughter points out that one of her worst fears was that her mother would simply vanish. Be forgotten as if she was never here.

I think about that a lot because I think of friends and associate them with the person he or she has lost. I want to tell Don that I think of Mike. I want to tell George that I think of Kathryn. I want to tell Carol Jane that I think of Ken. I want to tell Don that I think of Maxine. Years have past, yes, but I still think of the person who has died. I find more and more that I like to say my mother’s name. “Joyce.” Her name was Joyce. Just saying her name means something to me. “Joyce.”

All of this is a way of saying that, not only is it all right to mention the name of  the person who has passed away, but that it actually comforts a person, because it says that “He or she was here. He or she was real. He or she was important.”

Take a Breath. Speak to a friend. Look them in the eyes. And when the moment is right, it’s okay, it really is okay to say to them, “I want you to know that I think about so and so . . . and they meant so much to me . . . and I know they meant so much to you too  . . . and I just wanted you to know.”

Let’s stop the silence of grief.

Say. The. Name.

July 21, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
5 Comments

Questions.

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This coming Sunday at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, I’ll be doing a very different kind of sermon. I’m planning a dialogue sermon with questions. Ask an honest question. Get an honest answer. The answer may not be perfect or polished, but it will be a real response to a real question. And it’s going to be fun, too!

Rainer Marie Rilke once encouraged a young poet to “love the questions.” Loving the questions is a way of loving God, as well as respecting ourselves and others. Jesus himself often taught with questions. The Buddha posed teaching stories that more often than not ended with questions. In the Jewish tradition, rabbis probe the inner meaning of spiritual truth by asking questions.

Do you have a burning question you would like to ask about God, Bible, Church, Faith, Religion? I’m inviting you to begin posting them here on my blog and I’ll address as many as I can, while also taking questions live Sunday morning at 11:00 am. It should be a great Sunday at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.

Take a Breath. And don’t forget to love the questions of our time!

July 18, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
11 Comments

Immigration. Children.

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John Steinbeck would be surprised in this 75th anniversary year of his magisterial novel The Grapes of Wrath, that his vivid descriptions of the plight of migrants would still ring true in America today.

Our nation is facing a border crisis. And a humanitarian crisis as thousands of children are now being detained in border states like California, Arizona and Texas. But of even greater concern is that our nation appears to be in the middle of a compassion crisis.

While I would never encourage illegal entry into the country, what we’re now seeing is nothing less than parental desperation, mothers and fathers willing to do anything — risk everything — in order to give their children a chance for a good and safe life.

In light of such desperation, it’s unconscionable to me that some Americans have been protesting the care of these children and demanding that they not be integrated, even temporarily, into their communities. Furthermore, these children continue to be housed / detained in what amounts to wire cages, appropriate only for the most dangerous of criminals.

This is not the America I know and believe in; it’s certainly not the America I believe God is calling us to become.

I recently finished re-reading Steinbeck’s great novel, and I’m planning an August sermon series on the book. I offer the following as an example of Steinbeck’s insight  . . .

In the West there was panic when the migrants multiplied on the highways. Men of property were terrified for their property. Men who had never been hungry saw the eyes of the hungry. Men who had never wanted anything very much saw the flare of want in the eyes of the migrants. And the men of the towns and soft suburban country gathered to defend themselves; and they reassured themselves that they were good and the invaders bad, as a man might do before he fights. They said these (gd) Okies are dirty and ignorant. They’re degenerate, sexual maniacs. These (gd) Okies are thieves. They’ll steal anything. They’ve got no sense of property rights. And the latter was true, for how can a man without property know the ache of ownership? And the defending people said, They bring disease, they’re filthy. We can’t have them in the schools. They’re strangers. How’d you like to have your sister go out with one of ‘em. The local people whipped themselves into a mold of crueltyJohn Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath.

Here’s what I know today . . . Congress and the President have failed to pass comprehensive immigration reform. This needs to be done yesterday. We’ve been in a crisis and the crisis is only getting worse. Yet, what we’re now facing is not merely a political issue; this is a humanitarian issue, one that involves thousands and thousands of children.

I’ve had the privilege of serving several fine churches throughout my career and I think any of them — all of them — including First Congregational Church of Los Angeles — would be willing to step forward to help these children. Perhaps Mayor Garcetti or Governor Brown will call on us. We’re here. We can help. We’ll open our doors. Many of us still believe in a Jesus who would never turn a child away.

And if there’s nothing for us to do in a practical way, then surely each of us can find a way of dialing back the rhetoric of cruelty. The cruelty of speech. The cruelty of action. The cruelty of attitude. People are people, and making room for one more goes to the heart of the Christian faith, and if what I learned in my 8th Grade Civics Class is still true, it also goes to the heart of what it means to be the United States of America.

July 9, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
4 Comments

Living. Architecture.

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I love architecture. The way buildings inspire. Create mood. Provide function and beauty. Architecture nurtures the soul, even when we don’t know it is being nurtured. It can be something as simple as a cabin in the woods or as elaborator as a Gothic Cathedral. Architecture helps us pay attention to life without screaming “Pay Attention to Life!” Paying attention to life is always a pathway to God.

I recently had a chance to meet Mickey Muenning, an architect who has lived in Big Sur, California for many years and who has designed some of the most thoughtful buildings I’ve ever seen. Muenning, unlike many architects, does not try to impose a building upon a landscape, but instead asks the landscape what it wants and needs and deserves by way of a building. A building that works in one place may not work in another place. Context must be honored.

Take a Breath today. Notice buildings. How they work. (And don’t work.) How they open you up, make you feel, inspire your thought. Sometimes there are angels in architecture and design, even when there is nothing specifically religious about the building. And in case you’re interested, you might enjoy Mickey Muenning’s new book titled Dreams and Realizations for a Living Architecture. It’s wonderful.

 

June 30, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
34 Comments

Humble Thoughts. Supreme Court.

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I did not go to law school. I am not an attorney. I am not a politician nor do I have plans to become one. I am a minister. I am a theologian. I am an artist. And I am also a citizen of the United States of America.

I respect religious belief. I respect religious belief different from my own. I respect people who hold no religious belief. I have spent most of my career as a clergyman arguing for tolerance and respect.

But here’s what I know and feel and believe  today . . .

Health care, and the exercising of choice in health care, is a human right. The human rights of a nation supersede the personal religious convictions of individual citizens. Human rights transcend ethnicity and cultural perspective. Just as respect and dignity for people of different ethnicity or sexual orientation is a human right, so the right to health care, including choices about reproduction, is essential to our life in America.

What a person believes in the privacy of his or her own living room (or personal chapel) is up to the individual. I respect that. But to participate in a nation that respects all citizens means that private religious viewpoints cannot not be imposed upon the general population of a nation.

From my perspective, the Supreme Court has opened the door to turning back virtually every important human right / civil right advancement I have known in my lifetime, advancements that have been courageously forged by men and women who have gone before me.

There will always be someone willing to claim a “religious objection” over every human right. Slavery? (Yes, some ministers argued for it.) Women voting and participating in public life? (Yes, some churches wanted to silence women as the weaker sex.) Black people voting? (Believe it or not, some segregationists attended church every Sunday.) And reproductive choice? (People still threaten Planned Parenthood Centers in the name of God and religious belief.)

God is easily invoked in matters of public faith. Perhaps too easily. Yet, at least from my perspective, people of faith must be willing to forge a personal faith in a larger context of human experience.

This means, for example, as Senior Minister and CEO of a non-profit organization, I will do everything I can to provide health care for my employees. But never. Never will I try to dictate employee choices regarding their health, including reproductive choices of women. I may agree with some choices. I may disagree with some choices. That is my personal, religious prerogative. Nevertheless, I will argue that men and women have a right to make their choices regarding health, even as I would argue that men and women have a right to love whom they love and marry whom they wish to marry.

Take a Breath today. Religious freedom is a precious right in our country. I will continue to defend it, even as I have defended the separation between church and state, primarily because it is good for religion and good for the state. But public human rights are more important than private religious conviction. And while I’m not an attorney, nor would I pretend to be, I think the Supreme Court took a mighty swing today, and in the parlance of baseball, I still feel the wind of this big, legal whiff.

June 20, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
6 Comments

God and Soccer.

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The field is huge. Like the consciousness of human kind. Running. Running. Running. Everything is in motion. In process. Every footstep becomes another. The past becomes the present and the present becomes the past with every tick of the clock. The universe changes. Over and over and over again it changes. The intensity of play is startling. Almost disconcerting. The NBA waits until the last two minutes of the game. The NFL, well, it’s run a play and then wait. Run a play and then wait.

But World Cup Soccer . . . the intensity is sustained. And when a goal is scored . . . forget about it . . . it’s the most beautiful exhibition of exuberance that one could ever witness. Tears. Shouts. Hugs. Dances. It’s joy beyond all imagining. And the joy isn’t just for the striker or the team or even those fans in the stands. Joy ripples across a nation. Bars and living rooms and outdoor television venues explode in celebration.

“Exuberance is beauty,” said Blake, but what he should have said is that it’s contagious. Because it’s true. Exuberance is beautiful and contagious.

The soccer ball is beautiful, by the way, aesthetically pleasing in every way. An abstract painting of the universe. The desire to kick it into the net is a desperate human attempt to be at one with the world. Let’s face it. That’s what we all want. Every goal is a religious experience, because to be at one with the world, is the ultimate human dream. (Just ask Abraham Maslow.)

Yes, getting there can be tedious. I can read a book and watch soccer. I can cook and watch soccer. And write a blog too. Scores like 1-0, or God forbid, a tie, seem boring, but the truth is there’s action happening even when you’re tempted to think it’s boring. A bird on a wire flutters and beats wildly within its chest.

Yet the best part of soccer is the unity that it creates. Forget about those English hooligans for a minute and just focus on the people in the stands. You can feel the stadium move like a tug-of-war match at a 4th of July picnic. Back and forth. Back and forth. Pulling. Pushing. Pulling. Pushing. People are united even when competing against one another. It’s wonderful.

I didn’t play soccer growing up. Little League. Basketball. Football. That was it. But I love World Cup Soccer. I don’t always understand it. I can’t explain the rules of the game. But the amazing, wondrous, exotic nature of the competition makes me think about a lot of things . . . and yes, Take a Breath . . . it even makes me think about God.

June 17, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
1 Comment

Beauty. Of. Erosion.

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It’s the week after Father’s Day and I’m struck by the number of people I met over the weekend missing their fathers. Time reaps its harvest. And if not time, then disease. Or accidents. Or simply the unfortunate collision of circumstances. Life changes. We grow older. What once felt so secure now feels vulnerable. Certainty is replaced with doubt. And if doubt is too strong of word it, then at least an acknowledgement that our living is radically and ruthlessly contingent.

Everyday the work of erosion happens, and by that I mean, things happen that erode false premises and viewpoints, even false selves that once served us so well but no longer do what they used to do. When life erodes us we begin to see that we are vulnerable. That these bodies do not last forever. Erosion reveals that we’re no better or worse than others. We are simply men and women seeking a happy life. The erosion of time reminds us that, at our core, there is something good and beautiful within us all. Some call it the presence of God. Others the Spirit. Still others the True Self. Regardless, something deep within us begins to shine when other things are washed away.

Viewed in a certain way, erosion doesn’t so much destroy as it reveals. Sometimes soil and mud and rocks are washed away in a great storm, but what is revealed is a granite hillside gleaming in the afternoon sun. Take a Breath today. And then another. And then another after that. Perhaps something essential is being revealed in you and through today.

June 14, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
3 Comments

Images. That. Transform.

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I recently read a quote by one of my favorite spiritual teachers, Richard Rohr, and it goes like this: “Spiritual transformation almost always happens in the presence of an image.” 

This is why art and faith are so wondrously connected. The power of an elongated moment with an image changes consciousness. How we think. How we feel. How we see the world.

Sometimes an image is a painting or photograph. But sometimes it’s a film or story or even a conversation with a friend. Life offers us image after image, and they become touchstones, altars of spiritual transformation, and to pause before them is to open ourselves up to nothing less than the mystery of life.

Take a Breath today. Open your eyes. Let an image speak to you. Pause. Stretch it out like salt water taffy. Let it cast its spell over you and do its magic. To be in the presence of a powerful image is to open your heart to the wonder of life itself.

 

June 6, 2014
by Dr. R. Scott
2 Comments

Chef.

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I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a movie as much as I enjoyed Chef. Of course it’s about food, and probably not as good as Big Night, a film that remains the best food movie of all time, but Chef is certainly about much more than culinary ecstasy. It’s about what it means to reinvent a life. The theological word for it is redemption, and all of us need redemption from time to time. A new beginning. It’s a movie about what it means to have passion for something. Integrity. And it’s also a movie about friendship and hard work. But the centerpiece of the film is about a father and son. It’s a wonderfully entertaining reminder that fathers and sons bond by doing things together. It’s not about advising or telling or dropping by every now and then for a fun activity. Fathers and sons need time together, and if some of that time is spent working together, then all the better. It’s a terrific cast featuring Jon Favreau, who, by the way, wrote and directed this lively film. If you like food. If you like a human story. And if you’re willing to take a road trip from Miami to New Orleans to Austin and then Los Angeles, then get yourself to a theater in the next few days and see Chef. I recommend it without any reservation but be warned — you better have a reservation at a restaurant after you see it — because you’re going to be hungry! Take a Breath. Enjoy.