Dear Son

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Dear Son,

We can’t wait to meet you!

They say you could come at any moment.  I’m not sure we’re totally ready, but at the same time, you sort-of feel overdue.  Life is full of paradoxes like that.

Seriously, we can’t wait to meet you.  You have an older brother who’s been pointing to your mom’s belly whenever we say “baby brother”.  He also kisses you sometimes.

Your mother is amazing.  Like, you should be sure to thank her at some point.  She’s beautiful, caring, hard working, faithful, hilarious, loving, and true.  She had to take off work early because you seemed to want to come out way before your due date.  I’m glad we have medicine to keep you growing in there.  You’re really blessed to have her as a mom, trust me, I’ve watched her over the past couple years.

And then there is our dog Sonny.  He’s been a good doggy brother to Elliott.  Elliott is your older brothers name.  We haven’t picked your name quite yet.

We’ve got a room for you and a home that I really love.  Though we’re hoping you’ll share with your brother… We moved here last year knowing you might be joining our family some time in the future.  I guess that’s now! There is a small backyard, a great view, and tons of trails nearby.  I’m really looking forward to taking you on lots of jogs and for our daily “bye bye sun” moment.  Elliott’s got a ton of toys to show you too.

There is so much to see in life!   Over the years I’ve come to see that it’s all a gift.  Highs, lows, and everything in between.  Your existence is a gift and you’ve got a family full of love awaiting you.

I can’t wait to see how you and Elliott get along.  I can already picture the two of you running around giggling.

I can’t wait for you to taste ice cream.

I can’t wait to hear your voice- especially you say “Mama”, “Dada”, or “Elliott”.  Oh and “Sonny” too.

I can’t wait to take you to the zoo and to ride with you on the sky-choo-choo.

I can’t wait to take you to an A’s game.  As I said with your older brother, we’ll support you in life no matter what- as long as you’re an A’s fan.  The same is true for you.  Family rule.

Seriously though, life is great.  It’s not boring.  And even the hard stuff has beauty in it.

As we’ve been waiting for you, we’ve been praying for you.  Prayer is a concept we’ll talk about at some point. It’s sort of a hopeful trust in, surrender to, and communication with the ultimate benevolence of reality.  It comes from a part of our world that is a big part of my life, faith.  Faith and the things we’ve created around faith reflect the best and sometimes the worst of us. I actually think we’re all people of faith and for me, my faith is in Love. Which is another big topic. We’ll get there. There are some pretty amazing stories that will help.

Anyways, we’ve got lots of time to talk about this stuff.  Until then, keep growing healthy and strong.  We can’t wait to meet you.

Here we go!

I love you already,

Your Dad

On the future

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Recently, I’ve thought more about the future than I ever ever have before.  As I do my best to bumble through life as tactfully as I can, I’ve noticed, with an increased frequency, the subtle bubbling up existential speculation within my thoughts and conversations.  An increase in these thoughts might come across as somewhat surprising considering that you could say that the focus of my chosen career is itself “existential speculation”.  Nonetheless, I’ve found myself reading more and more articles about climate change or economic forecasts with a sense of urgency in the same way I used to read analysis of the A’s prospects for the upcoming season.   Admittedly, and maybe somewhat obviously, the catalyst for most of these internal colloquies is likely the a consequence of becoming a father and the imminent arrival of our second child – it’s not just me anymore.  There are now in my life little humans, whom I care immeasurably about, and who’s own lives will extend far beyond mine.

So the future, what do we do with it?

In some ways we have absolutely no control of the future.
In other ways, how we live now and the decisions we make directly affect the future.

In many ways the future has tremendous potential to offer a better life for those who inherit it.
In many other ways the future looks more complicated, challenging, and potentially disastrous for those who come after us.

See, there is this perception that the future should always be brighter than the past.  And while I generally consider myself an optimist, there are many historical instances that prove this perception wrong.  Entire societies have achieved high levels of living standards only to be brought back to the stone ages by war, disaster, or mismanagement a generation later.

So what world will my children inherit?
What world will their children inherit?
Will we keep wrestling with systemic issues like poverty and environmental destruction?
Or will the arc of history continue to bend towards justice?

As I’ve considered these conversations I’ve started to observe how we tend to practically engage with their ramifications.  It appears that we mostly head in one of two directions: panic or avoidance.  If you survey the digital universe (blogs, web-zines, social media), you’ll most assuredly find this to be true.   We as a species tend to respond to the things that are beyond our control by either running from them, or obsessing over them.  For evidence of the obsessive response, just google Harold Camping, or one of the countless religious groups who’s birth is a direct result of apocalyptic predictions.  For evidence of the avoidance response, ask pretty much any dentist the percentage of people who floss regularly even after being told that flossing could spare them future discomfort.  And of these two tendencies, it’s my opinion that most of us choose the later, we mostly ignore the future.  Brunch, Netflix, and mouth-wash are just easier.

For me, at this moment, I can’t really ignore the future.  I also can’t get too worked up about it.   The reality is that our species will likely find a way to keep on going, and that many of the cosmic problems we worry about are beyond my personal control.  While doomsday predictions capture the headlines, their claims don’t help me love my family or set workout goals.  And while most major existential threats are beyond my control, I do have some agency over my life and its effects on those around me.

Like many of humanity’s philosophical binaries, I think the most honest and helpful approach to the problem of the future is not in an either or framework, but in a both and.  As much as it might go against our natural tendency, which prefers to choose one response over another, I wonder if we should approach the future with a healthy dose of reasonable panic tied together with a sense of wonder and adventure.   Let me unpack what I mean for a moment.

Reasonable Panic, Wonder, & Adventure
The problem of the future is a real one.  We have limited control over what tomorrow may or may not bring.  To deny this would be a denial of what life is actually like.  While I understand that most of us are just trying to get through the day, I don’t think we need to do so by pretending that our world is not chaotic and filled with challenges.  We should instead be real about life’s unpredictability in a way that acknowledges our individual finite-ness and specific responsibilities.  Yes life is crazy, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we’re each able to have a positive impact on a limited number of things like ourselves, our work, and our communities.  And when we’re reasonable about what we might take responsibility for, it may help us to focus our panic towards the areas where we have capacity to impact, and do so positively.

But it’s not just about refining our focus to the things within our control to affect.  I’ve noticed that if we approach life with a sober sense of reasonable panic it may allow us to enjoy the gifts of each moment. When we acknowledge the messiness of our world, but focus on the things that we can actually have an impact on, I actually think potential is created not only to bring about positive change, but also, and maybe more importantly, to make us more appreciative and present to the good things in life.  It’s true, there are wars being raged around the world and our health might take a turn for the worse at any moment, but these truths, if we allow them, can teach us to receive the good in life as precious.

This is where the sense of wonder and adventure come in.  When we allow life’s craziness to point to life’s miraculousness, we have an increased capacity to delight in the taste of our favorite meal, notice the twinkle in the eyes of our loved ones, or enjoy the gift of a sunset with deeper urgency and gratitude.  Behind each smell, color, sound, or encounter is a story, a soul, or an adventure.  These experiences, framed by the uncertainty of tomorrow, become eternal moments of of possibility and potential, ultimately towards some sort of glimpse of what the the poets, mystics, storytellers and philosophers have called love.

My hunch is that this is the Thing under the things of life.  The potential to experience, notice, give, or encounter love is the grandest journey.  Here is the rub though- our ability to receive life as a gift worth beholding seems to be based on choice.  It’s up to each of us whether we’ll choose to coast through life avoiding its complexity, to become overwhelmed with things we cannot control, OR allow reality’s turmoil to awaken us to its utter improbability.

I do not know what my children’s life will look like.  I have no idea what catastrophes will come, which social norms will be disrupted, or how many World Series titles the A’s will win.  What I do know is that the miracle of consciousness can be an invitation to experience and behold love.  That’s enough.

It’s been so long


It’s been so long
Since I was right
In my heart

These habits formed
Like glaciers
On granite

A thousand years
A deeper wound
A hidden scar

No warmth inside
The river’s dry
The valley’s dark
——
When will we see
When will you hear
Fiercest fatigue
Roaring in me

I don’t know how
I don’t know if
I’ll make it out
Or if I’ll be ok
————

Where were you
The day I fell on
The threshing floor?

Before their gaze
Between their words
My breath was held

The fire burned
The tide swept
The hymn has wrung

And all that’s left
Is ashes
Of what was

———

When will we see
When will you hear
Fiercest fatigue
Roaring in me

I don’t know how
I don’t know if
I’ll make it out
Or if I’ll be ok

—–
It’s been so long
Since the dream
Of what could be

And I have have
And all that’s left
I can’t hold

Collections of
Their stories
So holy

It’s been so long
Where’d you go?

2019 Book List

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A few years back I set the goal of reading at least the same amount of books as I had read the year beforeAfter having a child in 2018, I wasn’t able to keep up the pace last year (for really good reason).  This year I’ve found a rhythm with my literary exploits again.  We’ll see how long it lasts…

I’ve noted my favorite books of the year with these ***.  Also, I’ve included an amazon link and a brief sentence or two recap for some context.  This list is only includes books I’ve finished and does not include the many, many books I’ve referenced or utilized in part for personal or professional purposes.  For an explanation of my process here is my introduction from 2016.

—–
2019 Book List

Activist Theology, Robyn Henderson-Espinoza
I had the chance to meet and hear from Dr. Henderson-Espinoza at a recent conference and found their journey and perspective super engaging, challenging, and inspiring.

Talking to Strangers, Malcom Gladwell
Classic Gladwell.  This book is basically about why we don’t understand one another.  Lots of sad stories, but overall an important contribution to pop-discourse.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Lori Gottieb
Super fun read that exposes the audience to what it’s like to be a therapist.  Lots of helpful nuggets, and as a pastor, I can relate to a lot of her experience.

The Moment of Lift: How empowering women changes the world, Melinda Gates
I’m a fan of her work and her perspective, but this felt like a knock off of Half the Sky. Again, I’m 100% in support of the work, just skeptical of billionaries doing good and becoming cultural heroes for what should be the expected lifestyle if you have that much $$$

The Religion of Tomorrow, Ken Wilbur
Long and academic overview of where Religion has come from and where it’s going.  I agree with like 45% of his predictions/prescriptions.

There There, Tommy Orange ***
Awesome storytelling which portrays the experience of Native Americans in contemporary times.  Also a plus: it takes place here in the Bay.

Monk of Mohka, Dave Eggars
True story of a Yemeni-American who discovers his cultures rich history with the coffee.  This one also takes place in the Bay Area, at least in part.

Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody, James Cone***
A memior from the man often known as “the father of Black Theology”.  This is a must read for folks doing ministry today.

Learning to Speak God from Scratch, Jonathan Merritt
Easy to read and engaging theological reconstruction.  This paired with a series we did at Oak Life called Big Words where we chose different faith-words and unpacked them.

Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, Mirabai Starr
An engaging and thought-provoking read that explores the divine feminine and mystical voices from various religious traditions including Christianity.  I like both of those.

Holy Envy:Finding God in the Faith of Others, Barbary Brown Taylor***
I always enjoy Taylor.  This was a really strong contribution to the conversation around ecumenism.  Maybe one of the better books on this subject.

Utopia for Realists, Rutger Bregman
Bregman caused a stir at Davos recently and that’s what perked my fancy.  This book is a great exploration of Univeresal Basic Income and other society-shifting ideas that are worth considering.  Andrew Yang and Bregman must be buds.

The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr***
So good.  This is Rohr’s attempt to create a more expansive, all inclusive Christianity.  He put words to what many of us have been sensing for a long time.  Def worth picking up.

How the Bible Actually Works, Peter Enns
An extremely well done work on the nature of the Bible including discussions on historical context, proper ways to interpret, etc.  Everyone who teaches the Bible should read this.

Shameless, Nadia Bolz Webber
Nadia’s attempt to create a broader sexual ethic within Christianity.  While I really enjoyed this book I felt it lacking in convincing arguments even though it had great stories.

Journey of The Universe, Brian Thomas Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker
Super fun and simple read which tells the story of how everything came to be, at least to the best of our current scientific understanding.  I found a  lot of the language really beautiful.

Dare to Lead, Brene Brown
Classic Brene Brown.  This is essentially a pop-leadership book with lots of useful interpersonal wisdom.

Twain’s Feast, Nick Offerman
Super fun book on Mark Twain’s culinary escapades.  Super fun.  Like really fun.  And you should eat white listening…

The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton, Thomas Merton
As a journaler, a frequent traveler to Asia, a Christian, and a fan of Merton, I found this one super interesting.  Essentially it’s Mertons personal journals from his final few months in Asia before he suddenly passed.  Reading his dreams, and the subsequent internet rabbit trail I found myself on, actually convinced me that his death wasn’t accidental.

The Art of Travel, Alain De Botton
Very enjoyable and creative philosophical musings about travel- how to do it well, and what it does to us.

A Brief History of Thought, Luc Ferry
Easy to read overview of all Western thought/philosophy including religious.  While I enjoyed it, I found his take on Christianity a bit reductive.

Failure of Nerve, Edwin Friedman
A mentor/friend gave this to me.  It’s basically a therapists take on relationship systems.  While I was skeptical at first, I actually got a lot out of it.

Science and the Spiritual Practices, Rupert Sheldrake****
So fun!!! Dr. Sheldrake is a bit out there to some, but I found his integration of science and spirituality to be really imaginative, practical, and helpful.

Invitation to Love, Thomas Keating
Classic Keating.  Lots of contemplative musings about love and it’s beauty.

Imitation of Christ, Thomas a’ Kempis
I had never read this classic Christian devotional.  I started my mornings off with it and found it really enriching.

The Beatitudes, George Hunsinger
This was a fun and fresh take on the Beatitudes which was really helpful when our church did a series on them called “Blessings on Blesssings”

Healing Spiritual Wounds, Carol Howard Merritt
An important resources for anyone who’s been hurt by the church or religious institutions.  Our church has a “spiritual trauma support group” and I know first hand how deep these wounds can run.

Love, Henri, Henri Nowen
A collection of letters between Henri and his readers.  Really fun, inspiring, sincere, and encouraging.

Almost Everything, Anne Lamott
Classic Anne Lamott but this time she writes about hope.  One of my most favorite descriptions of Anne is “a feminist C.S. Lewis”.  Rock on Anne.

Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross
I know I’ve used the word “classic” a lot, but this is the profound and timeless classic by the Spanish Mystic.  Should be core curriculum for any theology sojourner.

An Open Letter to Fuller Theological Seminary

Dear Fuller Seminary,

I am grieved to read the recent LA Times article which describes the expulsion of a Fuller student because of their same sex marriage.  As an alumni I’ve consistently looked back at my time at Fuller with gratitude and appreciation for the ways I was shaped,  the opportunities that have been opened, and the many deep relationships that were formed.  Fuller was a place of theological diversity, rich academic learning, and sincere commitment to the ways of Jesus.  At Fuller I learned to deepen my relationship to the Bible and appreciate the range of theological perspectives within the global church- always balancing sound exegesis with a hermenuitic of God’s love in context.  Since my graduation I have only grown in my appreciation for my time at Fuller as I currently find myself deep in the work of local pastoral ministry in Oakland, California.

So why am I writing to you?

Because I can’t not.

If there was anything Fuller taught me it’s that the work of theology, study, ministry, and faith is not always black and white.  Over the centuries Christians have debated various issues and changed their “position” many times.  Even within Fuller’s own history this narrative is played out.  When Fuller was first founded in 1947 women were not allowed to receive theological degrees, something that I might add has a stronger biblical precedent than LGBT+ exclusion.  By 1968 (almost 20 years later!?) Fuller thankfully changed its position and opened up all its degree programs to women.   I wonder how Fuller can have a nuanced and inclusive approach to women in ministry, or divorce for that matter, but not LGBT+ inclusion?  This is tragic and to the determent of not only LGBT+ folks, but to the broader church, as we are cutting off a part of our body.

I believe the rigidity in which Fuller is currently responding to non-traditional (from a culturally American perspective) forms of relationship goes against everything Fuller stands for AND is deeply harmful to the witness of the church to the world.  Furthermore, I know first hand that there are many LGBT+ people who’ve attended Fuller and I believe there are numerous faculty and staff that believe inclusion is a more loving, ethical, and theologically sound approach.

One of the details within the LA times article that grieved me the most was that it was Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson who sent the letter of expulsion.  How sadly ironic.  I have tremendous respect for Dr. Thompson as both a professor and as a female leader in space that has not always been open to women.   I’ll always remember sitting with other students on the steps of the to the Old City Jerusalem as she shared about the history and reality of Jesus’ subversive time on earth.  Multiple times on our trip Dr Thompson corrected bad history and shared about the various nuances and diverse interpretations that we were encountering all around us through tour guides and biased sources.

It’s with these experiences in my heart that I’m writing to you.  I’m not sure as to why Fuller can’t see, that at the very least, diversity of perspective is needed on this issue.  Though I myself strongly believe in the “affirming” position, I understand that not everyone is there.  But why take such an extreme and harmful position?

Maybe there are wealthy donors who don’t understand the experience of our LGBT+ brothers and sisters and who will pull their financial support from Fuller if it becomes more inclusive.  Maybe some of the board or the faculty haven’t done the work or heard the stories of how exclusion has harmed so many and how inclusion reflects God’s love so beautifully.  If that’s the case, please, please, please reconsider.  For many people these policies are life and death issues.  At our church, an affirming and deeply Christ-centered community, I’ve seen over and over the healing, redemptive, and just work of God as we welcome all to the table, and as we elevate the ways of love above exegetical rigidity.

To faculty and staff who might be playing it safe in the “tension” while Fuller expels and excludes people, please step out on their behalf.

To students and alumni, it’s our time to speak out and share the ways God is creating a global church where all are welcome as guests and participants.

I’ve always spoken very highly of Fuller and pointed many friends your way.  I believe our world needs Fuller more than ever, but only if Fuller can continue to step into the diversity of thought and faith as it has in the past.  Hopefully it won’t take a painful lawsuit to bring about inclusive change.

Sincerely,

Chris Scott, MDiv
Oak Life Church / Pastor

Ohlone

Before the gold rush and silicon booms

Before the bridges and spires

Before the panthers and angels

Before the hippies and hyphy

Before the vineyards and slow food

Before the jazz bars and punk clubs

Before the missionaries and gentrifiers

There was a people and culture

A history of connection to creation

Dance houses, tule boats, and shell mounds

A Costanoan cosmos of sacred souls

Ohlone

http://www.muwekma.org

You are what you eat

A table holding God in grain

In a room of broken stories

Wounded by the supposed sacred

Some questioning, allergic, intolerant

But still sorrowfully hungry

Longing for the love underneath it all

Grape juice made holy nectar

Dripping spirits, blood of Christ

Making broken bread soggy

Our brokenness finding home in the divine

Wearing down our defenses

Sanctifying our souls

Nourishing our systems

Fueling our resistance

As we learn to be loved

It’s a new way

Love in food

Love embodied

God consumed

God tasted

You are what you eat

Love of enemy

Agape deaths

Grace on grace on grace

Mercy made flesh

We are what we eat

Or at least becoming what we eat

A proclamation of opposites

Upside downs and reversals

Shit to glory

Death to fresh babies wails

Horror to heaven

Grief to gift

Abomination to masterpiece

This bread and this cup

Are more

More than grain and grape

They are a sign that we are not alone

That God is love

That Love will win

Every time we eat

With each sip we drink

Love wins