Monday, February 19, 2018

I Can Say Something Good About Most Presidents, but Not Trump

Today I reflect on President Ford trying to bring healing and normalcy after Watergate. 
I recall President Carter as one of the most moral and decent presidents in U.S. history. 
I remember President Reagan appointing the first woman to the Supreme Court. 
I remember President Bush organizing (with James Baker) a global coalition that quickly and decisively liberated Kuwait from Iraq. I also remember him signing the Americans with Disabilities Act. 
I remember the charm and erudition of President Clinton (and the strong economy he presided over).
I remember the 2nd President Bush appointing the first African American Secretary of State and the first woman National Security Advisor (who later became the first Black woman Secretary of State). 
I remember President Obama being an orator, a diplomat, and a constitutional scholar as well as the first African American president, appointing the most diverse cabinet ever, appointing the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, and overseeing the most gains for LGBTQ Americans in US history. 
I recall Hillary Clinton being the first FLOTUS to hold elected office and being the first woman to  head a major party presidential ticket (and making history by winning the poplar vote in that election - “the people’s president”). 

I can say at least one good thing about every president in my lifetime (I was too young to remember Johnson, who did increase the safety net making life better for may Americans, and I barely remember Nixon); from Ford on, there was something admirable about each president. Until now. 
Without being partisan or petty or intentionally mean, I honestly cannot say one good thing about the current president’s skill, intellect, character, motives, or achievements. 

On this President’s Day I celebrate the good that was done by all the presidents of my lifetime (choosing to not focus on mistakes or philosophies and policies I might have disagreed with)...except the current one. And that, truly, makes me sad (and more than a little nervous). Nevertheless, may our nation find healing and reclaim its potential and promise.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Pastoral Response to ANOTHER Mass Shooting


A Pastoral Response to ANOTHER Mass Shooting
By Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister, Sunshine Cathedral
Fort Lauderdale, FL

A high school in Broward County has been attacked. Another mass shooting. More victims. More traumatized children. More devastated families.

There have been almost 30 mass shootings in the US just in the last 45 days. Let that sink in. No other developed nation has such an incomprehensible mass shooting epidemic.

I used to say, “that’s not who we are.” I acted as if each outrageous mass assault was an appalling exception to who we are as a nation. And, of course, the attackers are few in comparison to the larger population. But I can no longer say it isn’t who we are. It continues to happen and we do very little to prevent it from happening again.

Oh, some of us cry, or pray, or yell  into the ether that someone should do something. But how many of us demand that our government leaders do something? How many of us use our vote to bring about positive change? How many of us can’t be bothered to vote in any case? Our inaction, apathy, or acceptance of this on-going soul sickness of our nation is showing who we are. I don’t like it any more than you do. In fact, it breaks my heart to say it. But the evidence is clear: As of this moment, this IS who are. We are a nation that allows our children to be sprayed with bullets.

This time, the tragedy is in my county. This time, the violence is on my local news broadcast. This time, the senseless brutality has struck near me. But, of course, it was naive to ever imagine it wouldn’t be my community next.

Aurora showed that this could happen anywhere.
Sandy Hook Elementary School showed that this could happen anywhere.
The Washington Navy yard showed that this could happen anywhere.
San Bernardino showed that this could happen anywhere.
Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston showed that this could happen anywhere.
The First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX showed that this could happen anywhere.
The Pulse nightclub in Orlando showed that this could happen anywhere.
Las Vegas showed that this could happen anywhere.
And now, Douglas High School in Broward County.

God forgive me for not expecting it. God forgive me for not shouting from the rooftops many mass shooting ago, “We’re infected with an apathy toward violence and it’s time to repent.”

It’s time for prophetic voices to call for us to beat our swords into plough shares.

This is not a political issue where many sides have merit. This is a nation that calls itself good, democratic, and evolved that has allowed mass violence to happen so routinely that multiple deaths no longer stun us or even remain in our thoughts for long beyond the initial news of the event.

Today, on this Ash Wednesday, on this day of repentance, that is, on a day that calls for a change of heart and attitude, I do lift my voice to call my congregation, my community, my family, and my nation to repentance. Bullets are raining down on us like a biblical plague. Children are dying. We talk and sing and preach about peace when there is no peace. Toxic attitudes come to kill, steal and destroy. And it is time for people of faith, and leaders of communities of faith, to speak up and say, “Enough!”

Let us pray for the victims of today’s violence. But let us not take too much comfort in our prayers, especially if those prayers are not leading us to speak up and to do what we can to change a culture where mass murder is normalized. Let us pray, and then let us be the answer to our prayers.

Who we are is a country infected with out of control violence and too little righteous indignation about that. But, just maybe, we are also a country that remembers the moral victories of the Civil Rights movement, the Women’s Rights movement, the Marriage Equality movement, and maybe, please God let it be so, we are the kinds of people who are determined to work for what is right again, and to not settle for anything less than the healing our country so desperately needs.

For our country and our culture, I pray the words of a hymn which is also my favorite prayer of repentance:
“Dear Mother-Father of us all, forgive our foolish ways. Reclothe us in our rightful minds, in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise.” Amen.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

It Took Trump to Make Me Appreciate Other GOP Presidents

When the U.S. invaded Lebannon I called the 40th POTUS a maniacal bastard in a sociology class. After presiding over 100 or so AIDS funerals, I called the same POTUS a murderer (blaming his silence and his reluctance to address the AIDS crisis or provide funding for research and care on helping the epidemic take more lives than it needed to). Today, I look back and while still disagreeing with his philosophies, policies, and inaction regarding a health crisis, I now see a decent if flawed human who was sincere in his beliefs even if I did not share them and who conducted himself with diginty and decorum. You shouldn't get bonus points for not being a total A-hole, but these days that seems like a really big PLUS.

Poppy Bush never really embarrassed me (except when he puked on the Japanese PM, but hey, people get sick...what can you do?). He built a world coalition to save Kuwait from Iraqi agreesion (or, James Baker did, but he was smart enough to have JB). Of course, he also chose an idiot for his VP and that was a little scary. Still, over all, he was a pretty good president (although we now know he may have gotten a little handsy now and then...SMH).

When Bill Clinton (who I very much admired) signed DOMA and allowed DADT turn into a witch hunt, i was disappointed. I know he believed in government and to govern is to make sacrifices and compromises, but nevertheless, I felt a little betrayed. And then when he had an affair with an intern (I didn't care about his sex life nor did I presume to know the covenant that he had made with his wife, but I was very much disappointed in the abuse of power - the most powerful man in the world seducing or allowing himself to be seduced by a virtually powerless intern - the breech of ethics was astounding), my only defense of him was that being a bad husband didn't make him a bad leader. In hind sight, taking advantage of an intern is almost unforgivable and I should have been more outraged. Still, his charm, his oratory skills, his intellect...those I miss to this day.

When W. invaded the wrong country for the wrong reason and lied about WMD, and when he "won" his first term ever so barely (damn Nader), I was certain he was the worst president in history. But, I think he really cared about most people, never intended to be cruel, thought of himself as a public servant, and while I bemoaned every minute of his presidency (he was certainly no advocate of LBGTQ rights), I'd trade the one we have now for him in a minute (but not his satanic vice president...what is it with the Bush boys and their veeps?).

President Obama was pretty close to perfect. Historic private sector job growth, marriage equality, protections for Trans people, elogquent speeches, optimistic rhetoric, a brilliant mind, a kind and generous demeanor, a way of connecting with people that was almost magical, a constitutional scholar, someone who took more abuse than anyone should with more grace than almost anyone could, recovery from the Great Recession...but even he, though close to perfect was not perfect. I was very disappointed with his use of drones and with his not fighting harder to get his legimitate SCOTUS choice to have a Senate hearing.

I'm a left of center kind of guy on most issues and my candidate doesn't always win, but I was never humiliated by any of the presidents. I was a kid for Johnson/Nixon/Ford/Carter and my views of them are shaped by what the grown folk were saying and by historical accounts (though I really like me some Jimmy Carter...he may be the best "person" to occupy the WH in my lifetime with BHO tying or coming in a razor thin second...I'm talking character, not skill, though both had plenty of that as well), but I have lived through Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush/Obama as an adult and in the end, they were all decent people...not always right in my view, but never evil, never insane, never cruel or infantile or a danger to the planet.

I don't think I will look back on 45 with the grace I have discovered for his predecessors. I hope we survive 45. But even the worst circumstances reveal a blessing. It took 45 to make me appreciate 40 and 43. The GOP platform is just too radically different from my values for me to vote for their candidates, but hopefully I will not in the future demonize candidates simply for having different views. Good people can disagree. Now, I will remain vehement and adamant when it comes to human rights - whether its LGBTQ people or immigrants or refugees or Muslims or whoever...justice and equality shouldn't be negotiable...but I believe that there are Republicans who share that view.

45 IS the worst ever (the data is pretty conclusive), and he is the most mendacious ever (a neat trick in the world of politics which lends itself to spin, exaggeration, and lies of omission), and he may be the most dangerous ever. He is the least decent and least moral. I find nothing good or commendable about him, except that his ineptitude and viciousness forced me to rethink some of his predecessors and see their good qualities. So, thanks for the lesson 45...Now, if only a house would fall on you and some chick with a dog from the midwestwould throw a bucket of water on Pence...

Monday, January 15, 2018

MLK Holiday Thoughts & Prayers

MLK Holiday Thoughts & Prayers
Jan. 15, 2018
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prophet of justice, a minister of grace, an orator, a scholar, and a defender of human dignity. He stood up to the evils of segregation. He resisted an unjust war. He advocated for those who worked hard and were paid too little. He stirred the conscience of a nation. He challenged a government as boldly as the Prophet Amos. He comforted the hurting as compassionately as the Prophet Isaiah. He offered healthy ways of expressing righteous indignation in the manner of Jesus. And he envisioned a new, loving, fair world where evil was forever defeated as vividly as John did on Patmos. And, like the prophets and disciples before him, King gave his life for the divinely inspired vision he offered the world. 
Inspired by such a noble example of human charisma, courage, and conviction, let us speak truth today and seek healing where it is needed in our society and in our souls.
On this Martin Luther King Memorial Holiday it would be wrong to ignore or deny the rise of fear, hatred, and unrepentant bigotry that often dominate our public discourse.
We who seek to follow Jesus must surely be heartbroken when we hear of proposed "Muslim bans" or hear entire nations (whose populations are largely non-white) disparaged by people in our national leadership. We must be all the more disturbed when we hear such reprehensible speech defended by pugnacious preachers of pernicious piety.
We who have been instructed to love our neighbors as ourselves must surely feel sickened when our Transgender neighbors (and friends and family members) are demonized and dehumanized.
We who rejoice in the words of Jesus, "Come unto me all who labor and are heavy burdened and I will refresh you" must be overwhelmed with regret when we hear women time after time tell about their experiences of being threatened, mistreated, and assaulted. We must feel something close to outrage when their credible stories are dismissed and their assailants are rewarded with power and privilege.

We who pray weekly (if not daily), "Thy will be done" must surely wish for more to be done to help the inhabitants of St. Thomas and Puerto Rico who still struggle following the seasonal hurricanes.
And we who venerate the Prince of Peace must gasp in horror when threats of nuclear disaster become part of daily conversation.
So much healing is needed, and today is a good day to ask for God's grace and guidance. In the name of Martin, and in the name of Jesus whose way and witness inspired him, let us acknowledge the forces of oppression, pray for healing, and vow to resist injustice as Jesus the Christ did, as Martin the Apostle of Civil Rights did.
Let us pray:
Dear God,
     We acknowledge the sin of racism today. Lord have mercy.
     We admit that we have done too little to heal the wounds of xenophobia. Lord have mercy.
     We confess that we have not done enough to end poverty and to care for those who are poor. Lord have mercy.
     We acknowledge that we have not insisted strongly enough that women's sovereignty over their own bodies be respected. Lord have mercy.
     We admit that we have not done all that needs to be done to protect the rights of LGBTQ people. Lord have mercy.
     We confess that we must do more to defend the dignity of the aging. Lord have mercy.
     We acknowledge that we have not always been good stewards of the earth. Lord have mercy.
     We admit that we have rushed too often to war and have done too little to promote peaceful coexistence. Lord have mercy.
     We confess that love of money, power, privilege, or the comfort of the status quo has lulled us into acceptance of possible tyranny, especially when we thought we might not be the victims of it. Lord have mercy.
     God heal our brokenness.
     May love and hope unite us.
     May peace attend us.
     May we remember our divine inheritance and our sacred mission, and may we live more faithfully into our calling to live as if we were ONE (as in Truth, we are).

Yours in shared mission and ministry,
Durrell SIg 
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister 

 "Let justice roll on like a river, 
righteousness like a never-failing stream!" 
Amos 5.25 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Biblical Traditional Marriage? As if...

I grow weary of preachers defending discrimination against LGBTQ people. One right wing evangelist who enjoys some notoriety (mostly because of a famous relative) posted on social media today that businesses have a right to refuse service to LGBTQ people if they claim their discrimination is based on their belief in “biblical traditional marriage.” That of course spurred literally thousands to chime in to call same-gender love and attraction sinful and to cheer those who refuse to serve gay customers. I, as you will below, disagreed.

“Biblical traditional marriage? Would that include Abraham selling Sarah to a king’s harem, or him taking Hagar as a lover? Would that include David’s 8 or so wives (and love affair with Jonathan)? Would that include Solomon’s thousand spouses?  Would that include Adam and Eve who never had a wedding ceremony (who would have conducted it?). Would it include Cain and Abel and their wives (where did they come from?). Would it include Lot’s daughters who were engaged when he offered them to a rape gang? Does biblical marriage include Lot who not only offered his daughters to a rape gang but then had incest with them in a cave? And does traditional biblical marriage mean not serving single parents? Does it mean not serving remarried divorcees? Using “biblical” marriage as an excuse to discriminate against gays is mendacious and disingenuous. You’re entitled to your prejudices, but stop blaming them on God.” (dw)

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Californians Facing the Fires Are in My Thoughts

I’m thinking of that old hymn, “Showers of Blessings.” I’m wishing for showers of blessings to fall upon the people who are frightened or injured or dislocated by the fires in California. May the people find the comfort they need. And God bless the first responders!

God Save Us

God deliver us from an imperial president. God bless the dreamers. God comfort and heal Jerusalem and all who call Her holy. God save us from the ravages and rage of fundamentalism no matter which religion it may infect. God restore us to sanity. God keep our hope alive. Amen.