Friday, June 08, 2018

Lots of Feels as EDS’ St. John’s Chapel is Deconsecrated Today

The Philadelphia Divinity School and the Episcopal Theological School merged in the 1970s to become the Episcopal Divinity School. EDS had diverse faculty (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Jewish, Asian, African American, Caucasian, men, women, gays, lesbians, lay, ordained) and a diverse student body (Episcopal, Catholic, Lutheran, UCC, Unitarian Universalist, MCC, Seventh Day Adventist, Baptist, Anglicans from Kenya, Uganda, Jamaica, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, etc), and it was part of a world class consortium (The Boston Theological Institute) which included Boston College, Boston University, and Harvard.

EDS was a special place dedicated to anti-oppression work, to an inclusive gospel, to sharing the all-inclusive and unconditional love of God.

And, more than a school, it was a community. One never really was graduated from EDS. One was degreed, but never felt the need to “leave.” One to three times a year, every year since I earned my DMin there, I would go “home” to EDS.

EDS lives on in the ministry of the church I pastor and in parishes, Cathedrals, Chaplaincies, service organizations, the diaconate, classrooms, and hearts all over the world.

Last year, EDS was closed down (unnecessarily, in my view, and in ways that many of us resisted). EDS’ name and money still exist as EDS@Union (basically the Anglican house of studies at Union Theological Seminary in NYC, my other beloved theological alma mater). If the merger had been done more transparently and honestly (by EDS trustees), and if EDS could have retained a degree program (MATS or DMin maybe), I think it would have been something I could have celebrated (two great schools joining forces), and/or if they had kept one or two EDS faculty (they sacked them all) that would have been at least kind (and bridge building). Instead, the merger feels more like loss and has caused grief for many.

These thoughts are with me as St John’s Chapel on the campus of what was EDS in Cambridge, MA is deconsecrated today. God bless the EDS diaspora and the EDS energy that still flows through so many ministries.

Pardon My Overshares

Pardon My Overshares
When I came out to myself, I came out to the world (and btw world, in case you forgot, I’m still gay!). And it was such a liberating and life-giving experience that it taught me to live my life openly, gladly, and as much as possible without shame or fear (or at least in spite of fears).

And so, I may “overshare” on occasion. I share my doubts, my challenges, my victories, my hopes, my joys. I share about my battles with (and various victories over) depression. I shared about my detached retina, long healing process, and the joy of finally having better vision than before the incident. I shared when loved ones passed from this life experience to whatever is next. I share about my long, complicated, and often dysfunctional relationship with the scaleI share about coming of age in the world of AIDS and living well as a long term survivor. Recently I’ve shared about a fairly brief experience of Bell’s Palsy (and the exciting and rapid improvement that followed).

I am not looking for sympathy (well, not from the masses...I have my personal sympathy providers and I’ll call them when I need them). I’m not looking for anything, actually. What I want to do is share that living a life of faith is not necessarily a life of constant ease, but it can be a life of constant hope and joy that is frequently renewed. I want to show that faith can help us find and employ tools that will enable us to conquer, survive, learn from, or reinterpret the challenges in life. Faith can even give us the power to laugh and laughter, as it turns out, is healing.

I simply want to be a credible witness to the truth that while experiences come and go, we always have the power to hope, to love, to laugh, to keep moving forward. We can demonstrate blessings in the middle of uncertainty, and we can experience love, peace, gratitude, and optimism regardless of the circumstances at hand.

I don’t always do it as well as I’d like. I can feel defeated or overwhelmed or afraid like everyone else, but I do try to remind myself that I don’t have to stay stuck in those feelings forever. And when I change my attitude about something, I almost always, to some degree, also change my experience of it. And I hope that is encouraging to others who may be facing difficulties.

So, forgive me for the overshares, but I offer them as gifts, and like all gifts, if they don’t appeal to you, “accidentally” leave them in the car and forget about them (possibly regift them later). But if they do encourage you, I am so glad and that alone makes it a blessing for me.

—Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral
Ft. Lauderdale

Monday, June 04, 2018

PASTORAL RESPONSE TO “MASTERPIECE” SCOTUS DECISION

PASTORAL RESPONSE TO TODAY’S SCOTUS DECISION
(Re: Colorado Baker refusing to make same-gender loving wedding cake)

Dear Friends,

Same-gender loving and gender non-conforming people have been bullied on playgrounds, harassed in classrooms, physically attacked in parking lots, preached against in pulpits, abandoned by their families, mocked in entertainment, and had their rights to full citizenship debated, voted on, and fought over in courts. The ongoing demonization and dehumanization of LGBTQ people is demoralizing to us.

And so, today’s SCOTUS ruling in favor of a Colorado baker who refused to make a gay themed wedding cake for a same-sex couple is troubling to us, but it is too soon to let ourselves be overly discouraged.

The ruling, apparently, was specific to the one case and does not settle the debate about religion giving one the right to deny service to same-gender loving couples. That conversation will continue for a while and will probably be very hurtful at times to those of us who remain a topic of debate.

But here is what I know:
+ALL people have sacred value.

+Religion has too often been weaponized; however, many of us have discovered that a life of faith can offer hope, joy, compassion, courage, and peace and we are committed to offering a counter-narrative to weaponized religion.

+No court ruling at any time will determine (or limit) our dignity.

+We are each a child of God. No matter who uses God’s name in vain to deny that truth, we will always boldly proclaim that we ARE the beloved children of God.

+Sunshine Cathedral remains committed to celebrating, blessing, and affirming the Rainbow community. LGBTQIA+ have always been lifted up at Sunshine Cathedral as God’s miracles and not God mistakes, and that will continue no matter what.

Today’s SCOTUS decision may have been disappointing to many of us, but remember, it was a “narrow” ruling and hasn’t settled other issues. And, as Jesus said, the kin-dom (the non-kingdom, the anti-empire, the commonwealth, the beloved community) that we belong to is not limited to this world’s systems.

The kin-dom of God is an idea that Jesus held, preached, and died for...a vision of a world of justice, peace, generosity, hope, compassion, goodwill, and equality. We continue to hold the vision of the Kin-dom of God, and we will continue to work to make that vision a reality. “Thy kin-dom come!” Amen.

There is more work to do. We are the laborers to do it. And I affirm that God’s blessing is upon us today and always.


Yours in shared service,


Durrell Watkins, MA, MDiv, DMin

Senior Minister, Sunshine Cathedral
SunshineCathedral.org 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Reclaiming Jesus: A Pastoral Letter


Dear Friends,

I was born and reared in the MidSouth where church was central to social life. Between Sunday school and youth groups, church camps and church sing-alongs, camp meetings/revivals/spiritual renewals, bible colleges and religious radio stations, billboards and bumper stickers, cemetery decoration picnics with prayer services (it’s a thing)…religion was ubiquitous. And while there were some progressive Christian and non-Christian religious communities, the overwhelming feel of the world I grew up in was conservative (and often fundamentalist) Christian.

I have always been drawn to faith and I have never experienced a day where Jesus, God, and scripture didn’t pop up in some manner, and most days (perhaps it’s an occupational hazard), those topics dominate my thoughts!

Early in life I jettisoned the strict, narrow, condemning, fearful, proselytizing brand of Christianity that seemed so normative in my childhood. The God of my experience and understanding is pure love and isn’t partial to Christians or to certain brands of Christians, but responds with grace to anyone searching for Truth and meaning regardless of the symbols and vocabularies that one chooses for the search. My fondness for Jesus and for God as I’ve experienced God through Jesus is genuine and not mere “fire insurance” for the next life. The God to which I have devoted my life and work is bigger than false binaries, bigger than either/or limitations, bigger than our fears and prejudices and self-imposed restrictions and conditions. The God I know and worship and preach is all-inclusive, unconditional, everlasting Love.

But you know what? That doesn’t mean the conservative faith that introduced me to religious living was all wrong. I remember those revivals, those meetings, those renewal services, and I see the wisdom of them. Faith, like anything we take for granted, can become routine, lax, even a bit lifeless. We need to reenergize now and again; we need to renew our commitment, revive our passion, and remember why we chose a life of religious devotion in the first place (or did it choose us?).

Last week, Robert and I were in DC for the Festival of Homiletics and then we participated in the Reclaiming Jesus prayer vigil. A week of preaching, teaching, prayer, and then a vigil of affirmations, reflections, an intentional reclaiming of the healing, compassionate, justice seeking, inclusive ministry and good news of Jesus (followed by a silent procession to the White House) was reviving! In fact, one minister from the Progressive National Baptist Church said, “This feels like a revival.”

This summer, let us have a revival of faith, a revival of progressive values, a revival of commitment. Let us reclaim the message and mission of Jesus and let us faithfully support that message and mission.

Sunshine Cathedral, as always, I am asking you to support the work of this church with your time, talent, and treasure. Pray daily for the church and for its leaders. Make worship a priority and when events are offered to bring us together, support them. Invite people to play and pray with you at Sunshine Cathedral. And if you are away, take faith and commitment with you.

When I travel I almost always visit a church. My only requirement is that it seem to offer a welcoming and inclusive ministry where I can share with others the experience of worship and reflection. I love church. I need it. And even when I can’t be at the one I love the most, I still find myself somewhere worshiping in community. I wish for all of us to so love church that we crave it, that we commit to being part of it no matter where we are. Current trends suggest that such devotion isn’t as common as it once was, but faith has never depended on trends. We can know the joy of devotion. We need it. We deserve it.

23 Christian leaders, men and women, Black and white, Catholic and Protestant, liberal and conservative, evangelical and mainline came together as a council of elders to draft the Reclaiming Jesus affirmation of faith. The entire (and powerful) statement can be read at ReclaimingJesus.org. It includes the following affirmations and denials:

1.     We believe each person is made in God’s image. Therefore, we reject white nationalism and racism.
2.     We believe we are one body. In Christ, there is to be no oppression based on race, gender, identity, or class. Therefore, we reject misogyny…We confess sexism as a sin, requiring repentance and resistance.
3.     We believe how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick and the prisoner is how we treat Christ. Therefore, we reject language and policies [that] would debase and abandon the most vulnerable children of God.
4.     We believe truth is morally central to our personal and public lives. Therefore, we reject practices and patterns of lying that are invading our political and civil life.
5.     We believe Christ’s way of leadership is servanthood, not domination. Therefore, we reject any move towards autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule.
      We believe our churches and our nations are an international community whose interests always surpass national boundaries. The most well-known verse in the New Testament starts with “For God so loved the world”…We, in turn, should love and serve the world and all its inhabitants, rather than seek first narrow, nationalistic prerogatives. Therefore, we reject “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ. While we share a patriotic love for our country, we reject xenophobic or ethnic nationalism…

The elders state: WE ARE DEEPLY CONCERNED for the soul of our nation, but also for our churches and the integrity of our faith. The present crisis calls us to go deeper—deeper into our relationship to God; deeper into our relationships with each other, especially across racial, ethnic, and national lines; deeper into our relationships with the most vulnerable, who are at greatest risk.”


Reclaiming Jesus is nothing less than a call for renewal, revival, recommitment. Jesus has been weaponized to cause shame and fear and to marginalize many in society; we who believe in the inclusive gospel message must reclaim it, support it, and share it. May God bless us as we do so.

At Sunshine Cathedral, our food sharing programs (Brown Bag Lunch program and collections for food banks), our housing dozens of 12 step groups, our support of the Global Justice Institute, our participating in BOLD-Justice (Broward Organized Leaders Doing Justice), our civil rights history tours, our efforts to help the people of Puerto Rico after the hurricane, to raise funds for Mother Emanuel AME after the shooting at their church, to encourage people in Jamaica and Cuba, our work for marriage equality (and to protect it), our support of transgender services, our efforts to raise money for local HIV/AIDS services and for Heifer International, and our various other programs are all important and are in the spirit of Jesus, but let us also be very clear about who Jesus was and who we who follow his light are meant to be. Reclaiming Jesus is central to everything we do.

As the Reclaiming Jesus elders affirm: “Our urgent need, in a time of moral and political crisis, is to recover the power of confessing our faith. Lament, repent, and then repair. If Jesus is Lord, there is always space for grace. We believe it is time to speak and to act in faith and conscience, not because of politics, but because we are disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Amen!


Bright blessings,

Durrell Watkins, MA, MDiv, DMin
Senior Minister, Sunshine Cathedral
www.sunshinecathedral.net 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Right is Wrong

Christians are not being persecuted in the U.S. Christian fundamentalist domination is being resisted (and rightly so!).
White people are not being persecuted for their whiteness. Their (our) unearned white privilege is being named and challenged (and rightly so!).
Patriots are not being persecuted. The many who love the values of integrity, generosity, compassion, justice, equality, and opportunity which our nation has always claimed (even if it has not always lived up to and into those values) will not let such patriotism be replaced by petty, bigoted, angry nationalism.
The cruelty, fear, tribalism, and violence that has been presented as religion and politics is being challenged, but that is because ultimately, the Good must prevail. This is an anxious time, but anxious times are times for hope, and hope leads to better days. The Good will prevail.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Memorial Day and Summoning our Better Angels

Memorial Day Weekend: a time to remember & honor those who gave their lives defending a nation that promises life, liberty & pursuit of happiness, that pledges justice for all, that guarantees freedoms of peaceful assembly, of press and political speech, of (& from) religion. To honor their sacrifices let’s not allow the values and hopes they died defending be trampled on. It’s so truly time to summon those better angels that Lincoln mentioned.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Thieves (The Far Right)

“The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy...” - Jesus (as imagined by the writer of John’s Gospel, Holy Bible)

The “Far Right” (religious fundamentalists, nationalists, would be oligarchs, etc.) have stolen so much. They’ve stolen hope from people who need it most. They have stolen religion. They have taken the name of Jesus and weaponized it. They have seized the flag. They have tried to remove honorable patriotism and replace it with selfish, fearful, exclusionary nationalism. I don’t like calling them conservatives. Conservative doesn’t have to mean cruel, or hateful, or violent. I think it’s unfair to compassionate, decent, caring, generous people who just happen to be conservative on a few issues to lump them in with the bigots, warmongers, and science deniers who have even stolen the world “conservative.”

No, the Right isn’t any more entitled to the “conservative” label than they are to the “religious”, “patriotic,” “Christian,” or “values voters” labels. They have stolen those words and swung them like medieval maces against those they would dehumanize and marginalize. So I won’t call the Extreme Right “conservative.” They are thieves who cause unwarranted suffering to far too many people. 


I am not very conservative on many issues, but I have known good people who are more conservative than I am, and they don’t deserve to be counted among those who make up the terrifying religious and political Far Right.