Thursday, May 17, 2018

God is here

When I don’t know “what” to pray but feel the NEED to pray, I simply whisper, “God is here.” When “God” seems like an almost arrogant or silly assumption that I know what can’t be known or understand what I in my finite human experience could not possibly understand, I replace “god” with “Hope” or “Compassion” or “Wisdom” or “Peace” or “Strength.” The Mystery beyond our naming is HERE. Somehow, that simple affirmation always comforts me. God, even God beyond God, is here. And, if God is here, God is also “there” because the infinite includes everything. So, if you are facing a struggle today, I am knowing that God (that great field of unlimited possibility to which the word “god” points) is there, with you. And so it is.

Calling People Animals: A Bible Lesson

Calling People Animals
by Durrell Watkins, DMin

“Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Matthew 15.27

When a woman from an ethnic group that Jesus' community had long held in disdain and with suspicion approached Jesus to help her suffering daughter, Jesus responded in a perplexing manner. He basically called the woman a dog, or perhaps "dog" was an ethnic slur sometimes used against people of her heritage. Tradition and certain readings of ancient texts would have justified Jesus' seeming dismissal of this woman and her pain, but she challenged Jesus. She basically says, "Even if I were a dog, you'd show me some compassion. You'd give me table scraps, scratch my head, speak to me in a gentle voice. How about you treat me as well as you would treat a dog?!" And Jesus then had a change of heart, praised her faith, and blessed her daughter.

If Donald Trump really believes hurting communities are "animals" (another of his famous and frequent insults), then that is a matter for his conscience to wrestle with and hopefully he will experience a breakthrough; but in the mean time, could he maybe show such people the kindness and generosity that we would expect people to show toward animals? We work to rescue, feed, medicate, and shelter animals. It's ugly enough to call people animals, but uglier still to treat people with less kindess than we tend to show animals.

There is so much animosity and hatred in the world right now. Let us pray for healing, and let us be the answers to our own prayers. And when anyone, no matter who he or she might be, dehumanizes an entire community, let us not be silent but rush to affirm the dignity and sacred value of all people.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

A Case for Prayer in these Difficult Days

Let us pray: 
Dear God,
may our souls be refreshed,
may our fears be relieved,
may our wounded hearts be comforted,
may our will to be agents of positive change be strengthened.
Renew our capacity for hope and let us know that better days are on the way. Give us the wisdom and the courage to help facilitate that very miracle.

Dear Friends,
It is unfortunate that the phrase “thoughts and prayers” has become almost trite in its frequent use and is often seen to give those with responsibility some cover for not doing what they are meant to do. Some people have become antagonistic toward any mention of prayer because they feel it is a substitute for action.
But I know the power of prayer. In fact, the prayers of my heart have led to very meaningful action indeed. Of course, what God does for us God must do through us. Prayer isn’t a magical incantation that will spare us personal effort, but prayer can open our hearts and minds, renew our energy, broaden our perspective, and help us maintain hope.
Abraham Heschel wisely stated: “Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, or mend a broken bridge, or rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart, and rebuild a weakened will.”
Prayer can help us change for the better, and then we can help change things for the better.
We are assaulted daily by news reports of gun violence, broken treaties, the rise of nationalism, threats of war, racist demonstrations, and a seeming increase in callousness and cruelty. Honestly, it is exhausting. Sometimes, it’s terrifying.
Still, there are things we can do: we can vote and write Congress and support causes we believe in and speak out against injustice; we can even march and protest and demonstrate if our beliefs and passions call for such action. We ought to do what we can to be good stewards of the planet, helpers of the vulnerable, and allies to targeted and marginalized populations. In fact, our prophetic traditions and gospel witness demand that we love our neighbor, treat others as we would wish to be treated, defend the “widows and orphans” (all who face peril), and that we be generous with our resources.
What we also need to remember is that our faith-action is undergirded by the practice of prayer. Prayer soothes our souls so that we can then tend to parched fields. Prayer helps our hearts heal so that we can keep trying to heal our world. Prayer can fortify our will to do and be better so that we can repair what has been harmed in and among us.
There’s a lot of work to do, and there may be more discouraging news in the days ahead, but I say that prayer is one of our best tools to help keep us focused and optimistic. Our thoughts and prayers must be more than a slogan we toss around, because, as the bible tells us: the fervent and effectual prayers of righteous (committed, justice-seeking, compassionate) people avail much!
We are people of faith, and as such, we are people of prayer. Keep praying. Our prayers will sustain us in these uncertain days. As the old song says, “When nothing else could help, love lifted me.” The Love that God is, the Love that dwells within us, is what we contact and experience in moments of sincere prayer - and It will continue to lift us up.

Hear our prayers, O God.
Grant us hope.
Grant us peace.
Grant us justice.
Grant us the courage to be the answers to our prayers.
Grant us wisdom to do what is right so that we can be healers in our world.

Lovingly shared,

Pastor Durrell

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

I’m a Minister, but By No Means a Puritan

A well meaning person (a relative actually) asked me an honest and heartfelt question on social media. He observes my sharing my life on social media (as one does) and he knows I’m a clergy person (he also knows that I’m gay but he didn’t bring that up). He wondered how it is that I, as faith leader, can swear and drink. He posted that question in response to something I shared (but did not write) that had a “four letter word” in it. Drinking was not mentioned in the post, but I suppose he has seen me posting at other times from bars, restaurants, parties, etc. A tea-totaler I am not. 

While his question struck me as having a tone of shame and blame, I nevertheless realized that my life doesn’t look austere or dour like a missionary character from an old movie. I haven’t taken a vow of celibacy, my legal spouse shares my gender identity, and I am often given the honor of being asked to make a toast at special events. My world is simply different from his, and I give him credit for asking a question. Here was my response to him:

If one begins with the assumption that spirituality is about what one is against or about what one must avoid or what one should condemn, then most clergy that I know will fall short of such Puritanical standards. But if clergy are voices for justice, builders of community, “peddlers of hope”, officiants of rites of passage, public intellectuals, and sharers of compassion in moments of need, then one won’t be to bothered by their swearing or enjoyment of cocktails or other “worldly” pleasures. In fact, it is possible that such outloud living is absolutely sacramental!

I’m an out and proud (non-celibate) gay man (a non-starter for most in the finger pointing, wrist slapping, glaring down their noses crowd). I am pro-choice, fought hard for marriage equality, am in favor of legalized marijuana, I believe war is rarely ever justified, humans are meant to be good stewards of the planet, we are to care for the poor, the sick, the refugee, and mostly, our spiritual traditions should encourage us to share joy, relieve suffering, work for justice, and empower people to live authentically.

I couldn’t care less how much one swears (as long as they do it well), who they have sex with (as long as everyone involved is a consenting adult and relationship covenants are honored), if people drink (unless they have an addiction, in which case, recovery programs are a god-send), or if they use the same vocabulary and texts and traditions that I do to discuss and honor the Sacred. The fundamentalism that was so prevalent in the world of my youth is not the tradition that I represent, but i do try to represent progressive spirituality as I understand and practice it as authentically and joyfully as possible.

Friday, April 13, 2018

US Attacks Syria: Let us pray...

Goddess/God, Spirit of Life, Universal Presence, Higher Power:
Once again a despot attacks his people.
Once again, bombs are dropped.
Once again combat is initiated.
Once again, we find ourselves hacking our way through mendacity and deception to discover what is true, what is trustworthy, what is real, what is wise.
Once again, lives are placed in danger by those who will not have to personally face such danger.
Once again, we feel overwhelmed by the chaos and uncertainty that is all around us.
Once again, we are compelled to pray but we scarcely know how to pray in such times. Do not be limited by our inadequate words but rather, be moved by our hearts’ desire for healing, for peace, for justice, for goodwill to prevail. Help us be better than we’ve been. Stir compassion and hope and kindness within us. Let healing flow to where lives are in peril, and as we constantly pray, “May peace prevail on earth.” Amen.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Chris Ladd’s Piece on the Cruelty of White Evangelicalism

Why White Evangelicalism Is So Cruel
By Chris Ladd

It was initially posted on Forbes’ site, but later removed. The author posted the article at the link above. It is a must read.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

I've Seen ( and experienced) Resurrection

Resurrection Narratives symbolize (for me) the possibility of renewal:
I’ve seen churches that were facing extinction experience a revival of passion and purpose and become thriving faith communities again.
I’ve seen people who were rejected by their families form new families of choice that were loving, functional, joyful, and life-giving.
I’ve seen people who were not the best parents get a second chance and prove themselves to be absolutely heroic grandparents.
I’ve seen old emotional wounds finally heal.
I’ve seen people who dropped out of school go back 50 years later and finish what they started.
I’ve seen people accomplish in wheelchairs more than they ever did when they had stronger bodies.
I’ve seen people face their addictions and live in freedom.
I’ve seen people outlive their prognoses by decades.
I’ve seen victims transform into survivors, and then into helpers who show others how to survive.
I’ve seen people come out and live in the powerful truth of their gender identity or their sexual orientation and realize that what they once thought of as a problem is in reality a great blessing.
I’ve seen people who had no self esteem come to believe that they are indeed God’s miracle and not God’s mistake!