Monday, June 29, 2009

Talk Isn't Always Cheap

President Obama is very eloquent. He often says what I want to hear. He comforts me. His erudition can even inspire me. But, of course, I want action. I want results. I want the economy healed, the environment repaired, women's right to choose protected, and same-gender loving people to be afforded all the rights, privileges, opportunities, and protections of other citizens. It's a tall order. It may be too tall for one person to fill, but still I hope.

Here is something that I find encouraging...the President actually talks about the issues I care about. Sometimes he is criticized for being "all talk," but even naming the issues and raising awareness about them and showing concern is a huge improvement over what we've seen from past presidents. In fact, he has already given more "lip service" to gay issues than any of his predecessors. He is at least willing to talk about us (and to us)! And talk may lead to action; silence will not.

Those who try to disguise their homophobia as religious values and their hatreds as wholesome tradition will also try to use the president's gay positive speech against him. Still, he keeps talking. And if he's willing to take that risk, perhaps we can trust him to take others. We can at least hope. And, we can acknowledge that he is at least willing to recognize that we Queer folk exist. That's something. It's not enough, but it's a very good start.

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Ft. Lauderdale

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sacred Days in June

Father's Day.
Gay Pride.
Summer Solstice.
June offers these opportunities for reflection and spiritual growth.

In neo-paganism, the summer solstice is when the masculine divine energies ("the god")are at their peak as is symbolized by the sun on the longest day of the year. Father's Day is a day observed in various countries honoring those who have been good fathers or who have been like fathers in our lives. And of course Gay Pride is a celebration of LBGT people and a recognition of LBGT contributions to society.

Each of these observances call us to be our best, to celebrate our potential, to recognize our sacred value, and to commune with divine energy.

May the sacred energy of summer bless us and fill us with hope, joy, and well-being as we continue on our spiritual path.

Blessed be!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Theocracy Is Always a Bad Idea

As we stand encouraged by the bravery demonstrated by the Iranian citizens as they protest injustice and dictatorship in their country, we should be reminded that theocracy is always a bad idea.

When those who hold secular power believe that they have a God-given right to hold that power and that when they enforce their beliefs, prejudices, and preferences they are acting for God, then the result is bound to be autocracy, and autocracy can never be just.

When people use government to privilege one religion over all others, to insist that everyone live by their religious convictions, they are in fact using religion to control, exclude, or punish people who are different from them. That isn’t democracy. That isn’t justice. That isn’t spiritual integrity.

We see the problems with theocracy when it is a “different” religion in “another” country. But I hope we remember how dangerous and distasteful theocracy really is when people in THIS country want “our” religion (whether Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or Islam) to call all the shots! When people use religion to argue for discrimination against gays, for mistrust of various other religious movements, for government control of women’s bodies, they are in fact wanting the government to uphold their understanding of God and God’s will. To see how well that works out, we need only look to Iran; and to see how satisfying that is to a people, we need only look to the Iranian public whose vote and voice have been limited by the decree of a religious leader who is the “supreme leader” of the republic. The problem isn’t that the religion in question in Iran is Islam; the problem is that religion is personal and should not married to government. We need never fool ourselves into believing that Christian theocracy would be any less oppressive or any more satisfactory.

Religious people can be motivated by their faith and religious people have the right to express their opinions. But they do not have the right to use religion as the excuse to limit the rights of others.

Theocracy is always a bad idea. Separation of religion and state remains the better way!

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Believe...

I believe in the Process of Life, the “Ground of Being,” the Web of Existence, the Field of Infinite Possibilities. I believe the spirit of Life is universal and that it is expressing in, through, and as all that is. I understand that I am part of the universal Whole and my life is one of the ways that It knows Itself. I believe the life of humanity is divine Life!

My function in the Universe is to allow the Universal Presence to express perfectly through and as me. We are always using universal laws, but we can learn to use them intentionally and consistently. I choose to use the Law for my good (and the good of others). I am learning to learn to direct my word and my thought in positive ways so that I am attracting and manifesting only what is good.

When I remember that I am one with all Life and Life is innately good, my experience of life tends to be good also. When I allow myself to know at the deepest level that the Universal Spirit is truly good and only good, and that the Law of Mind is how the Infinite operates, then I experience the healing of conditions. When I operate in the power of this Truth, my life is filled with more peace, more joy, more vitality, and more abundance. My goal is to trust these gifts more completely and to experience them continuously.

I believe in “the eternal Goodness…and eternal Givingness of Life to all,” and I am working to remove any mental blocks that might prevent me from trusting this divine Goodness or from allowing It to express fully in my life.

--Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral

(c) Durrell Watkins 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Pointless Poem

Gecko on my window ledge
You sit in deep contemplation
As if to make a heart-felt pledge
Sincere but without ostentation.

Are you in a prison cell?
Or are you sitting on a throne?
What’s the version you would tell?
Would you laugh or would you moan?

First catatonic; now you’re not!
You turn your head so swiftly
You flee as if the ledge were hot
Or perhaps you just don’t like me.

(c) Durrell Watkins 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009

Feeling Our Way to Positive Thinking

"Our feelings let us know what we're thinking." Marci Shimoff
We think about 60,000 thoughts each day. We couldn't possibly control every thought, and yet we know that positive thinking is more beneficial for us that pessimism. So if thoughts sometimes just happen, but we want the majority of our thoughts to be hopeful and confident, what can we do?

We may not even be aware of some of our thoughts, but we are always aware of how we feel. If we check in with our feelings, we'll be able to tell what our dominant thoughts have been. Are we agitated? Then our thoughts haven't been pleasant! Are we scared? That mean's we've been focusing on scary things. Are we sad? That's the result of thinking about something sad.

Our feelings let us know how our thoughts have been going. If the feeling we register is negative, that means our thought patterns have been negative. And that's when we can begin to say hopeful things to ourselves. We can notice what is good in the moment. We can see the opportunity that is at hand, or we can focus on a positive lesson we've learned. And if that seems too difficult, we can simply choose to smile. Just turn the corners of your mouth up, right now. Don't you already feel a bit lighter than you did only a second ago?

By noticing our feelings, and choosing to focus on what's good when our feelings tell us we've been too focused on what doesn't feel good, we are developing a more positive attitude. Maintaining a positive attitude will help us navigate the difficult times, appreciate the good times, and move in the direction of our Good.

{from Healing Rays: A Progressive, Positive, Practical Weekly Reflection}
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

It's All In Your Head...Sort Of

People misunderstand New Thought and Positive Thinking philosophies. They tend to think that Religious Scientists, Divine Scientists, followers of the Fillmores, and Peale-esque Positive Thinkers are just pie-in-sky, rose colored glasses types who can’t understand how rotten life can be. They accuse the positive thinking crowd of not being more careful with social analysis and not being compassionate toward those in need. I disagree with their assessment of the New Thought/Positive Thinking schools.

Those who choose optimism over pessimism, hope over despair aren’t delusional. Those who know that an “I think I can” attitude is more energizing than a “what’s the use attitude” are actually quite practical. Those who look for what is left more than at what is lost, who learn from failure rather than feel defeated by it, who dare to believe they deserve Good in their lives even when it doesn’t seem to be showing up, and who choose to believe every experience can lead to something better even if the experience itself is disappointing aren’t denying the painful moments, they simply aren’t letting those moments define them; they aren't letting the painful moments be the last word in their personal stories.

What happens in life may not be all in our heads, but in another way, maybe it is. If people’s attitudes, thoughts, and actions weren’t motivated by greed, would there be as much poverty in the world? Maybe the poor haven’t created their own poverty, but collective thoughts and attitudes have contributed to the problem of poverty. And those who see blessings in spite of their poverty - are they really poor? And the person who made a conscious decision to resist poverty, to work two or three jobs, to get an education, to save every penny possible, and to raise himself or herself out of poverty no matter how long it might take…isn’t that positive attitude more likely to help that person succeed than a defeatist acceptance of an unpleasant situation?

The same observations could be made about health, happiness, relationships, etc. Our attitudes may make us feel that things are better, or worse than others would judge our situation to be. Our attitude might help us overcome difficulties, or find encouragement and peace in spite of them. Clearly, our attitude about our circumstances is important…perhaps as important (or more) than the circumstances themselves. Positive Thinking encourages us to hold onto the thoughts that will help us feel better so that we can give our best effort and make the most of life. So, really, improvement does begin with our thoughts. That doesn’t mean we aren’t to care about others…of course we should care! Positive thinking doesn’t mean that disappointments never happen, or that people should be blamed for their suffering…but positive thinking does say that hope is what suffering people need, and suffering is more likely to be comforted with optimism than with fear.

Helping people “look for the silver lining” is actually offering them empowerment. And even if our highest hopes and best efforts don’t prove successful, didn’t hope feel better than misery? Didn’t attempting something feel better than waiting for the worst to happen? Doesn’t trying and failing feel better than not trying at all? And if we learn something useful from the failure, isn't that better still?

Positive thinking might bring forth a miracle; and even if it doesn’t, it still seems to be a better plan and giving in to fear, regret, and despair.

Today may my thoughts be positive and my attitude hopeful. May I always do my best and feel good about my efforts.

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral

Isn't Ignorance Exhausting?

Pat Robertson, proving once again that there is no cure for the common fool, has now declared that homosexuality is caused by abusive coaches and guidance counselors. I swear. I'm not making this up. It's so ridiculous you must think that I just threw it out there to see if you were paying attention; but no, that apparently is Mr. Robertson's ill-informed, unenlightened view. My guidance counselors (in Jr. High and High School)were women, and not abusive women at that. And, as I was in the marching band, my life was pretty much coach-free. Still, I wound up gay as a goose (and completely unrepentant I must say!).

The disturbing thing isn't that some southern homophobe hates queers and has a seventh grade understanding of human sexuality. The disturbing thing is that I know his name, and when I mention his name you know who I'm talking about. How can someone who chooses to be so ignorant (and yes, it is chosen ignorance...there is far too much information about this sort of thing readily available for anyone to believe that basketball and track coaches are the cause of same-gender attraction!) have such influence in the lives of so many??? I don't have an answer, but I can say that his brand of never-ending homohatred does get really tiresome.

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral

Friday, June 05, 2009

Marriage Equality in Six States

New Hampshire, Iowa, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, & Massachusetts have so far led the way to marriage equality in the U.S. Some will insist this is proof that the world is ending, and maybe they're right. Maybe the worldview that says the majority can control, oppress, or marginalize the minority is finally ending and being replaced by a genuine respect for diversity and inclusion. Maybe the world where marriage is a heterosexual privilege is coming to an end and is being replaced by one where all citizens are afforded equal rights and equal opportunity. Maybe the world where prejudice disguised as religious values is coming to an end and is being replaced by a world where spirituality is defined by affirming the sacred value of all people. Maybe the world where fears and hatreds are codified in constitutions is coming to an end and a new world where "liberty and justice for all" is no longer a mere slogan but a lived reality is being established. Yes, maybe the world of heterosexism is being threatened by a new world of tolerance and goodwill. That may be the worst fear of some, but the deepest hope of others. May the world of hope replace the world of fear soon and very soon. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Sad? Silly? Crazy? Cruel? The Pope's Attitude Is Anything But Good

According the AP, "marital fidelity and a 'moral view' of sexuality are the best strategies to stop the spread of AIDS," said Pope Benedict while welcoming Namibia's and South Africa's new ambassadors to Vatican City. “Only a strategy based on education to individual responsibility in the framework of a moral view of human sexuality, especially through conjugal fidelity, can have a real impact on the prevention of this disease,” Benedict said. Apparently the moral view, for the pope, doesn't include the use of life-saving condoms.

Maybe it's just me, but i'm a little annoyed with someone who takes a life-long vow of celibacy presenting himself as the authority on human sexuality. And I'm furious that decades into the AIDS crisis, "conjugal fidelity" is the best response a major religious leader can offer. The Pope's advice is flawed for AT LEAST three reasons:

1. Covenantal fidelity is just that...faithfulness to a covenant. The covenant two people make may exclusive..."You and me and no others will we see." But a covenant can also exist between three persons..."We three are all it will be" or even between four persons, "Us four and no more." You see, covenants are negotiated and honored by the people living with them.

I'm a little conservative about this personally, and prefer the two person model, but other relationships are built on different values and seem to do fine. Fidelity isn't about how many people make up the relationship. Fidelity is about keeping your promises. Such fidelity will provide emotional safety within a relationship, but will not magically protect one from AIDS. If the covenant allows for "extra curricular" sexual activity, or if someone within the covenantal relationship is HIV positive, fidelity to the promises made will not prove to be an anti-viral strategy.

2. That leads to the second reason this out-dated, hopelessly irrelevant papal point of view just doesn't work. Even in the most conservative, old-fashioned (by Western Christian standards), narrow way of thinking, monogamy is not a magic barrier against a virus. If there are two people in a relationship, and they choose (and I insist that it is their choice to make, not the pope's) to be monogamous, but one of them is HIV positive, monogamy will not keep the virus in one body while preventing it from spreading to the other. Condoms, by way of contrast, will.

3. Finally, I do agree that a "moral view of human sexuality" is needed. And the moral view would suggest that we should not value dogma over human lives. Condoms save lives. Let's use it as a mantra: Condoms save lives! Condoms save lives! Condoms save lives!
It's the 21st century and time to acknowledge that human sexuality is good, human-beings are capable of negotiating their own relationships and the terms of those relationships, and people shouldn't have to die because a celebate man nearing the end of his life doesn't understand that.

Now, let me be clear...celibacy is a perfectly valid life-style choice (as long as it is freely chosen and not demanded).
Monogamay is a valid choice...if that is what both parties in the relationship mutually agree to.
Open relationships can be moral, again, if the parties agree that is what they want and they are faithful to whatever rules they agree on in order to keep them emotionally safe in the relationship.
And, loving relationships that invovle more than two people (such as a three person relationship), if the relationship is mutual and life-giving, can also be healthy, moral, and holy.

Life and love and human sexuality are more complex than the pope's antiquated rule book from patriarchy's hey-day seems to allow. Yes, people in relationships should keep their promises, and we should trust them to make promises they can keep, but my relationship (or yours) is really not the pope's business. And regardless of the promises people make to each other, condoms must be available for their physical safety. I'm just not willing to risk human lives to protect the rules that give the pope his power.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Pro-Gay Dick Cheney???

Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that he supports gays being able to marry but believes states, rather than the federal government, should make the decision. I suppose this is a step in the “correct” direction (Cheney has taken enough steps in the “right” direction). But it troubles me that he wouldn’t take a stand for gay equality when he was in a position of influence and power. Speaking out in retirement seems a bit anemic as advocacy goes.

And, whereas the former Vice President allows for gay marriage where states approve, it still seems that he is saying that federalized bigotry is wrong (now that he is no longer part of the Federal Government), but state-by-state bigotry is acceptable. Again, a bit anemic as advocacy goes.

Still – he opens the door for the possibility of genuine equality, and that alone might challenge his ultra-conservative base. And, it does show at least a nod of respect to his same-gender loving daughter. Maybe this is one more crack in the wall of institutionalized homo-hatred and exclusion.

As a child, I, along with all other children in the classroom, would pledge our allegiance to a symbol (flag) of a republic that was meant to be “one nation…indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.” Historically, we have tried to pretend that meant one nation of haves with various colonies of have nots, indivisible by force of law that privileges some over others, with liberty and protected advantages for the dominant majority culture. But little by little, progress has been made.

Women have demanded equal opportunity and the right to make their own choices about their bodies. Immigrants are reminding us that we are a nation of immigrants whose rhetoric welcomes the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Differently abled citizens have demanded that they be seen and treated as the whole, contributing, dignified individuals that they are. The evil of slavery, the shame of Jim Crow, and the embarrassment of segregated schools are now behind us, though the pain they caused has not been entirely healed. A few states now have gay marriage, others are debating the issue, and now an ultra-conservative politician has publicly said that at least in some places, gays should be able to marry. Maybe Dr. King was right: “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Freedom and equality are the values that we affirm and they are, obviously, what are right and good and true. Not freedom and equality for some, or even most, but for all. Until we have that, we have not lived into our promise nor our potential. Bigotry…whether promoted by church, state, family, or village is simply wrong. If V.P. Cheney can take a step in the direction of that recognition, then perhaps there remains reason for hope.

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Murder of Dr. Tiller

It's been a few days since Dr. George Tiller was slain in his house of worship. I've spent these days thinking about it and what this tragedy means for our society. I'm tempted to blame fundamentalists whose fear based, vindictive, repressive form of religion breeds intolerance and violence; but then I realize that such religion may simply attract violent people as much as create them, and religion then becomes an excuse rather than a cause for violence.

I'm tempted, also, to blame the neo-cons on radio and television who gain fame and fortune by spewing venomous hate-speech; but then I realize that they only screech their intolerance because there is an audience for it. Do the pundits of pugnacity create the violent mobs, or do the violent mobs create the pundits?

I don't have the answers...perhaps the sociologists and psychologists among us will sort it all out.

I do know that Dr. Tiller risked his life (and ultimately lost his life) in the service of women. I do know that in a sacred space where he was worshiping with friends and family he was murdered in cold blood. Not only was his life taken, but the lives of his entire parish were traumatized by the horrific act.

Of course, Dr. Tiller performed abortions, and not everyone supports that legal procedure. But it is a legal procedure, while murder is not. I do wonder how people can be so passionate about embryonic life and so callous about the living human beings with whom they share the planet. I wonder why someone would desecrate a house of worship, traumatize a congregation, and take a man's life all as a "pro-life" demonstration.

Some of the so-called Pro-Life advocates are also against gun restrictions, in favor of almost any war that any U.S. President wants to wage, and even supportive of state murder (capital punishment). When "values" promote so much violence, perhaps those values should be re-evaluated.

The Extreme Right (not to be confused with honest conservatives or centrists) wants to control bodies...sending bodies to die on battle fields, sending bodies to die in state executions, preventing bodies from expressing love or attraction for each other if they are of the same gender, and keeping women from having the final say over their own bodies. Maybe that's what this is really all about...not religion, or media, or politics...but a pathological hatred of bodies, or a twisted craving to control bodies.

When "Pro-Life" means caring about the quality of every person's life, demanding peace and justice and equality, offering medical coverage to every person as well as trying to provide all people with adequate nutrition, shelter, and equal opportunity, then I will embrace the term myself. But as long as "Pro-Life" seems to mean pro-violence, then I'm afraid it will remain a phrase that makes me fear for the lives of those who disagree with those who call themselves "Pro-Life."

Of course, Dr. Tiller may have simply been killed by a disturbed person, making his death a senseless tragedy with no explanation; but I strongly suspect Tiller was victimized not only by a gunman, but by a social pathology that is getting worse day by day. God bless our "free" and "civilized" society.

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral