Thursday, October 30, 2008

Finally, Can the Mudslinging Stop

I really hope the name calling, guilt by association, fear mongering, politics of division will soon be a thing of the past, considered too distasteful to ever resurrect. I also hope those who desperately employ such tactics rather than presenting a positive message of hope, inclusion, and action experience defeat this election year. I'm ready for two (or even MORE) parties that truly want liberty and justice for ALL. Let them honestly differ about how to achieve it, but caring for ALL Americans (regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, or ethnicity) and providing equal opportunity and equal protection really must become a shared goal of all our government leaders.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Seicho-No-Ie founder, Dr. Masaharu Taniguchi wrote, "Praise yourself the same way you would praise others… [and thus] bring out the God who dwells within you."

Within the Christian tradition there are examples of scripture being used to uphold class privilege, keep races divided, subjugate women, justify the brutality of war, demonize same-gender loving people, and insist that only people who agree with certain constructed religious beliefs are acceptable to God. These examples have contributed to violence, pain, and suffering in our world.

I believe the reason we have used religion to condemn, control, exclude, or vilify others is because we have not learned to affirm, accept, and celebrate ourselves. When we feel small, wounded, or separate from the Whole, then we become afraid and even desperate. To feel less insignificant, we look for an "Other" to judge harshly so that in comparison we will feel better. And if we can persuade ourselves that judging the "Other" is actually being true to a divine plan, then we are less likely to be bothered by the emotional violence we're committing. We convince ourselves that we are doing God's will by opposing, rejecting, or trying to assimilate the "Other." We now not only feel superior to the Other, we also have the added pride of doing so for the sake of a Higher Power!

Obviously, such an attitude will create resistance and resentment. There has to be a better way!

The better way is to accept our own sacred value and innate dignity. If we can truly accept who we are, then we have no need to condemn, belittle, or reject others. Religion then ceases to be an "insurance" card protecting us from after life torments, and it stops being a status symbol to be used against those who are non-religious or who are differently religious. Religion is one of the ways that we find community, express hope, and celebrate life; and we're free to allow others to find community, express hope, and celebrate life in whatever way is meaningful to them.

The salvation (wholeness, sense of security, feeling truly "OK") we are looking for isn't to be found in being "right" (while believing everyone who disagrees with us is "wrong"). Salvation is trusting our sacred value. Once we can see the innate holiness within ourselves, the divine presence some might say, then we can see that same holiness in others…in ALL others. Our job isn't to convert others, but to awaken to our own divine potential. When we truly trust our divine potential, we are far more likely to trust the divine potential in others. This is how we can love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22.39; Leviticus 19.18).

Rev. Durrell Watkins, M.A., M.Div.
Sunshine Cathedral

Monday, October 20, 2008

Socialism Is Not a Dirty Word

I'm tired of Socialism being used as a threat and as an insult. Yes, Communism and Fascism are two forms of Socialism, and they are totalitarian and that is what makes them objectionable. But Democratic Socialism thrives in Scandinavia and (perhaps to a slightly lesser degree) in Canada. These countries benefit from BOTH the protection of civil liberties AND the guarantee of all citizens being served by universal access to health care and education.

Secondly, Capitalism isn't the economic savior of the world. It is a sin that in this, the richest and most powerful country on earth, there are people without access to health care and who's education depends more on their ability to pay than on their scholarship. Apparently, no system is perfect.

Finally, if you receive (or hope to receive) Social Security, Medicare, government run health care (if you are in the military), or if your large company has benefited from a government bailout, then guess what? You aren't opposed to Socialism when it benefits you! So, why not be honest and say that there are ways that Democratic Socialism can help. And let us not forget the Christian Socialist movement of the early 20th century which included Evangelicals at the time!

So, Capitalism is an economic approach that one can argue over other economic systems, but it isn't perfect, it isn't the same as democracy or religion, and to make it work, socialistic adjustments are often made it!

Socialism is not anti-democracy, nor is Capitalism the same as Christian (the early Christians, in fact, lived a true socialist lifestyle of providing for everyone in the community). I'm tired of Democrats and Republicans bashing Socialism while also employing it in their own lives! Let's stop using words ("Muslim," "Marriage," "Gay," "Arab," "Socialist") as slurs to scare people into blind compliance. Be a Capitalist; be a Socialist, or be a blend of the two (you probably already are). But please stop reducing complex issues to buzz words meant to end conversation which only serves to protect the power and privilege of those who currently have them and who use them against those who don't.

Here endeth my rant.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Regarding Using Ethnic & Religious Slurs Against Sen. Obama

1. He is a Protestant Christian. He's a member of a United Church of Christ congregation. You can't bash him for his fiery former (Christian) pastor AND call him a Muslim.

But, 2. What if he were Muslim? In a country that prides itself on Freedom of Religion, being Muslim (or Mormon or Jewish or Catholic or Atheist or Hindu, whatever) shouldn't disqualify one from public service.

I'm no huge fan of any patriarchal/heterosexist/conservative tradition (and am critical of my own!), but I am very disturbed that being a member of any religious tradition (or none) can be used so openly against someone. So, yes, we should know the facts - he's not Muslim. But I think we need to address the issue that it's not OK to use "Muslim" as an insult or as an accusation of unfitness.

Finally, ENOUGH with the blatant racism. If he were a person of Arab descent, what would it matter? He's a native born citizen of this country, and his ethnic heritage, whatever it is, is something he can celebrate. In the 21st century, in a "free" country, ethnic identities like Irish, Polish, Latino/a, or ARAB can not be used as insults!

Sen. Obama is a highly educated, highly intelligent, highly accomplished, highly articulate leader. Either agree or disagree with his politics, but stop using ethnicity and religion as excuses for opposing him. Yes, the people who do so are wrong about his ethnicty and religion, but that it would matter at all is very problematic.

Here endeth my rant.


I speak only for myself today. I am not representing my family, my neighborhood, my parish, or my denomination. Today I write to you not as the pastor of the Sunshine Cathedral, but as a member of the Temple of Democracy. The spirit that inspires me today is the spirit of justice and the sacrament that I hold up is the grace-filled act of making a choice and voting one’s convictions. The creed that fills my heart today comes not from ancient councils, but from the American motto, “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, One).

With that uncharacteristically patriotic introduction, let me now add that I hope that every American plans to vote in November’s presidential election. And I hope that all people will consider the important issues and vote for the common good, for “liberty and justice for ALL.”

We shouldn’t vote for the most dynamic individual (Obama might come out ahead if that were the test).

We shouldn’t vote for the person who has spent the most time in politics (that would favor McCain).

We shouldn’t vote for the person with the most impressive education (Obama would win that contest).

We shouldn’t vote for the person who has survived the ravages of war (McCain would be the winner in that case).

We shouldn’t vote for the person who is the best orator (Obama would be the clear winner there).

We shouldn’t vote for someone just for being a person of faith (Obama, Biden, and Palin each share that claim…I’m less familiar with McCain’s spirituality).

We shouldn’t vote for someone just for facing the challenges of racism (as Obama has), nor should we vote for someone just for facing the challenges of sexism (as Palin has).

We shouldn’t vote for someone just for achieving personal success (both tickets feature very successful candidates).

We shouldn’t vote for someone for having the most attractive spouse (that would result in a tie).

We shouldn’t vote for someone for having “family values” (they all love their families).

All candidates this year have impressive credentials and have overcome some amazing odds. As individuals, we might admire any or all of them. What we are left to vote for is vision, commitment, and a plan of action to insure equal opportunity, equal rights, and equal protection under the law. So…

We SHOULD vote for the person who we believe will lead this country in the ways of peace and prosperity.

We SHOULD vote for the person who will promote freedom OF and FROM religion, and the separation of religion and state.

We SHOULD vote for the person who stands for equality for ALL citizens.

We SHOULD vote for the person who will care for our environment.

We SHOULD vote for the person who will try to provide quality care to children, elderly, and all who need medical care.

We SHOULD vote for the person who will try to make education through college accessible to the greatest number of people.

We SHOULD vote for the person will protect us from enemies while also protecting our civil liberties.

We SHOULD vote for the person who we believe best understands how to stimulate the economy without overlooking the neediest among us.

And we SHOULD always work to end homophobia in both parties and among all candidates.

In the past, both parties have offered good ideas and good leaders who have been a blessing to this country. So, we aren’t called to party loyalty or to the personality that we feel most drawn to; we are challenged in this election with weighing the ideas, the promises, and the plans of each candidate and making an informed and responsible choice for the good of our nation and our world.

Whoever you support, encourage them to keep the discourse respectful in these final campaign weeks. Let’s insist that these candidates discuss ideas and issues and not personally attack each other. We don’t want the person who can deliver the nastiest zinger; we want the person who will help our country be as good as it can be for as many people as possible.

Finally, if you believe in prayer, please pray for the candidates this year. Three Senators and a Governor are trying to balance their own health, the well-being of their families, the responsibilities of the current offices they hold, and the demands of the campaign trail. And whoever wins will inherit a sluggish economy and a war, and hopefully, whoever wins will try to bring unity and civility to a nation that is deeply divided on many issues. These candidates need our prayerful support as they run, and the winner will need extra wisdom and energy after winning. So, hold these candidates in prayer.

I can’t tell you who to vote for, but I am asking that you consider the issues very carefully and on Election Day, prayerfully cast your vote. If everyone does that, we’re all bound to win.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Centering Prayer

"Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

When times are uncertain or when difficulties are present, people will often complain to me that their prayers feel hollow or that they aren't sure their prayers are being "heard" or that they don't know what to "say" in prayer. In these moments, I usually offer a form of prayer that is very new to many people in our culture (though it is an ancient practice in many religions, including Christianity).

We are so unaccustomed to silence in our lives. We eat with the television on. We drive with the radio on. We never turn our cell phones off. Noise and distraction fill every minute of the day. When do we take the Psalmist's advice to "be still and know that I am God"?

Our lives probably have enough talking, enough noise, enough frenzy without making our prayers be more of the same. Rather than figuring out what to say in prayer, or trying to discern if what we say is "heard", we may benefit from a practice of simply getting quiet, turning off the interior chatter (or at least turning it down), and becoming fully present to a given moment, becoming aware that we are actually breathing, and learning to notice a moment without making judgment or commentary. We may need to simply "be still and know…"

There will be plenty of opportunities for our affirmations (every declarative statement is in fact an affirmation). There will be time for reciting the poetic prayers from a treasured book. We can always turn to incense or candles or anything that helps us connect with our Higher Power. But in addition to these "doings," let's learn to add simply "being." Call it Centering Prayer. Call it Meditation. Don't bother to call it anything. But in a day full of doing, spend a few moments of being…being quiet, being aware, being connected to All-That-Is.

On a park bench, on the sand at the beach, in a comfortable chair, or on a cushion on the floor, simply sit and notice your breath. In. Out. In. Out. There's a thought…don't engage it. Just notice it, and back to the breath. In. Out. In. Out. Another thought…don't judge it; don't follow it. Just notice it and return to the breath. In. Out. In. Out.

If your mind is too busy, jumping around, refusing to settle, don't get discouraged. Focus on a word or phrase. Shalom. Relax. Jesus. All is well. I am in the universe/The universe is in me. I am here now.

Any word. Any phrase. Breathe in: "I am." Breathe out: "here now." Breathe in: "Peace." Breathe out: "Relax." Breathe in: "All is well." Breathe out: "All is well."

Use any simple word or phrase and connect it to your breathing. See how the discursive thinking calms down? See how rich the serene moment is? Suddenly, there is no anxiety about being heard, or saying the right thing. Suddenly, there is only now, and right now, there is this Breath of Life, this calm experience, this perfect moment. Indeed, all is well!

We make enough noise. What we may need is a few moments of intentional Silence. In the midst of all the doing, let's become aware of simply being. Breathe in. Breathe out. You are in the presence of All That Is, unified with It. There is no doubt that such centering prayer is accomplishing exactly what it should. Amen.

Sunshine Cathedral
Durrell Watkins, M.A., M.Div. – Senior Pastor

Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Reflection by Rev. Durrell Watkins

“Test everything! Keep what is good.” St. Paul, 1 Thessalonians 5.21

Last week I saw Bill Maher’s new documentary film, “Religilous.” It was actually a very well done film that intelligently challenges religious people’s inherited assumptions and preconceived ideas. Maher especially shows how dogmatic certainty and intolerance can lead to violence and suffering in our world.

It may seem odd that I, someone who is PROFESSIONALLY religious, would enjoy this of all movies! But my religion isn’t threatened by science, humor, critical thinking, or questions. Maher may be doing religion a very good service by showing us how we have too often allowed religion to become irrelevant or even toxic.

Where Bill Maher and I disagree is that I believe religion has great potential. I love the myth and poetry of religion. I love the people who are in my life because religion brought us together. I love the sacred texts that remind me that our ancestors struggled with many of the same questions that I have. They sometimes came to different conclusions than I might, but they stand with me (in my imagination) as I attempt to face the questions as courageously as they did.

Religion, at its best, reminds me that I have enormous potential and that at the center of my being I may be infinitely better than I’ve ever realized. Religion reminds me that I am part of the Web of Existence, an integral part of the vast Universe, an expression of infinite Life. Philosophy, art, transpersonal psychology, or quantum physics might offer me a very similar message, but religion is the discipline that communicated the message to me first. I tend to dance with the one who brought me!

So, yes, I may be “religilous,” but I think that’s good. Someone needs to offer religion in a way that allows (and even expects) progressive attitudes, new learning, critical thinking, and expanded understanding. I don’t believe the world was created in a week a few thousand years ago! I don’t believe that my religion is God’s favorite and all others are at best wrong and at worst evil. I don’t believe religion should be used as an excuse to justify homophobia. I don’t claim to know anything about the afterlife, and I know that our scriptures are full of human opinion, imagination, prejudice, error, and norms from cultures different from my own. Religion is not, in my mind, the enemy of science, and for me, myths, parables, idioms and symbols can be philosophically or psychologically true without being historically factual or accurate.

I’m not religious to keep me out of afterlife prison, nor am I religious to get wishes granted or to feel superior to the non-religious. I’m religious because I’ve experienced religion as a liberating, encouraging, comforting source of optimism and I want to share that with others who may need it. I especially want to offer a generous, liberating, joyous alternative to those who have been excluded or harmed by the misuse of religion.

As a religious person, I consider myself an ally of people like Bill Maher who use their voices to challenge religion when it becomes superstitious, narrow-minded, or oppressive. So, as a religious person, I encourage people to go see “Religilous.” Laugh when it’s funny. Feel free to disagree with whatever you don’t find persuasive. And allow it to show you where religion needs improvement. As religious people, we may discover that we are the ones to offer the healing religion needs.

Rev. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral