Tuesday, December 20, 2011

I'm Not Twisting Your Magic Book

OMG, the hate mail that we at Sunshine Cathedral get from "Christians" telling us that our message affirming the sacred value of all people and the legitimacy of mutual, shared, adult affection (regardless of the genders of the people sharing it) is somehow "twisting the word of God" to suit our own purposes is staggering.

Not only is such hate mail pretty voluminous, it is also completely ridiculous. And here's why. Whereas we will encourage people to think critically about the bible, and while we will place texts in their historical/linguistic/cultural contexts, and while we unashamedly bring all of who we are to the reading of the texts and try to be attentive to the voices that were ignored or silenced in the writing of texts, we do all of that to liberate the bible - not to justify our opinions.

Let me be brutally frank - I don't care what an anonymous ancient writer who thought the world was flat believed about women, samge-gender attraction, child-rearing, the ethics of warfare, or the possibility of certain foods being abominable (I'm mostly annoyed that mushrooms didn't make the list). Ancient writers, compilers, editors, translators, and interpreters had their own agendas, opinions, cultural biases, prejudices, blind spots, preferences, etc. Whatever their's were need not dictate what mine are. I can believe what makes sense to me without needing to find someone who died a few millennia before I was born to agree with me.

So, no writers of hate mail, I am not twisting a magic book to justify my "lifestyle"...because, for me, the book isn't magic and furthermore, I'm not looking up my experiences, opinions, values, needs, or longings in any book to justify them. I have never assumed that my views, beliefs, and opinions needed justification.

Now, I love reading. I love literature. I love history, I love mythology. I love poetry. I love drama. I love biographies. I love historical fiction. So, guess what...I LOVE the bible! But loving it, reading it, commiting large portions of it to memory, thinking about it, wrestling with it, arguing with it, sharing the parts that I find life-giving with others is not the same as "twisting" it. Now, using isolated proof-texts to justify your own hatreds and prejudices, that's pretty twisted, but let's not play biblical tit-for-tat.

I love the bible. I enjoy the bible. I even teach the bible. But I do not WORSHIP the bible. In fact, I freely and vehemently disagree with sections of it (the entire book of Philemon should line bird cages!).

Here's the thing, those who prefer to thump their bibles than to read them carefully:
I don't need the bible to justify my existence, my thoughts, my opinions, my love, my sexuality, or any part of life. And being free from biblical tyranny allows me to enjoy and love the bible all the more. I highly recommend such biblical liberation.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christians Are Not an Oppressed Group in this Country (and I don't care what the President's religion might be)

According to some right wing whack job extremist group called "Defend Christians", there are 10 "irrefutable proofs" that our president isn't a Christian.

Before we thumb noses at their every ridiculous claim, let me first say that President Obama's religious affiliation is completely irrelevant. He doesn't need to be Christian or even religious to lead our secular nation. Should he ever decide to pastor a Christian church, being a baptized, confirmed, and ordained Christian minister might be reasonable requirements. To be president, I couldn't care less what his religious views are. I expecet him to be ethical, reasonable, intelligent, courageous, and wise; but whether he worships Allah, Isis, Apollo, or the Tooth Fairy doesn't interest me in the least.

That having been said, the "irrefutable" truth is that he is a Protestant Christian. This doesn't impress me, but it is the truth. He isn't a fundamentalist (to my great relief), but he is at very least culturally Christian.

Finally, let me say how extremely bored I am with the claims that Christians in this country are under attack and need defense. There are places in the world where one might be savagely beaten, imprisoned, or brutally killed for embracing the Christian faith. The US is not generally such a place. In this country, Christians vote, run for public office, and have houses of worship in every town, village, city, and unincorporated rural patch of grass within our borders. In this country, Christians bash gays and claim to be victims if gays respond defensively. In this country, Christians (and anyone for that matter) can utter the prayer "god bless america" at any public event they so desire. In this country, God (presumably the Judeo-Christian god) is named in our country's pledge and on our currency (although that wasn't always the case). This country has a national cathedral. This country has a Senate Chaplain. This country has a chaplain corps in the brances of the military. This country has official diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and people run for office and sit on judicial benches proudly proclaiming their personal religious beliefs as being their motivation for public actions. The idea that Christians are somehow an oppressed group in THIS nation is beyond ridiculous. Now, Christians as the persectuors, that is something else, but we'll save that for future missives.

Now, for the moronic claims of "Defend Christians" that Pres. Obama isn't Christian:

1.) Economics: Obama advocates for failed Marxist/​socialist economic schemes that are based on envy and class warfare that divides the country and uses the government to steal from one group to give it to another.

Response: Capitalist schemes also have a disturbing record of failure. Whether socialism or capitalism is the better economic system is a matter for debate, but has NOTHING to do with faith or devotion. Moreover, "Christian Socialism" was a very strong movement a century ago. - dw

2.) Marriage: Obama abdicated his sworn presidential duty to defend the laws of the United States by refusing to defend the Defense of Marriage Act and even actively worked to undermine the law.

Response: Hello? Really?! We make and change laws. The president defends the constitution, not the moronic notion that laws can never change. Otherwise, we would have had no emancipation proclamation, women's suffrage, or civil rights act...though I'm guessing this group doesn't find those progressive changes to be very impressive either. And in any case, even if he were to break a law (when has a president EVER done that?!), that still doesn't prove anything about his spiritual life. - dw

3.) Religious Liberty: Obama signed “Hate Crimes” legislation that can result in prosecution for speaking against homosexuality. Even pastors who preach the biblical view of sexuality could face prosecution in certain situations.

Response: The biblical view? Would that be the biblical view that rich powerful men can have multiple wives? Would that be the biblical view that only bishops are required to be monogamous? Would that be the biblical view that fathers can give their daughters away like property? Would that be the biblical view that if a widow is left childless she must marry her late husband's nearest male relative? Which biblical view of sexuality should we be preaching? And, free speach isn't a hate crime...in your church, sell all the hate people will buy, but when people listen to that hate speech and use it as an excuse to harm, threaten, or publicly slander LBGT people, yes, a crime against human dignity has been committed. Christianity isn't a pass to abuse people you don't like. It's really time to make peace with that fact. - dw

4.) Abortion: Obama’s policies have caused taxpayer funded abortions in other nations and fund of embryonic stem cell research that kills human embryos. He gave $50 million to UN population agency for promoting abortion and working with China’s murderous “one child” policy. He eliminated federal funding for abstinence-​only education and overturned the ban on funding abortions within Washington, D.C. During the 2011 budget debates, Obama refused to end funding for Planned Parenthood, almost causing the government to shut down.

Response: Excuse me?!?! Abortion is legal! And earlier, disagreeing with laws amounted to, in your argument, high treason. If abortion is legal, and legal is the definition of "Christian," then suck it up cupcake. The president is just supporting the law. And still, there are pro-choice Christians. Supporting a woman's sovereignty over her own body does not disqualify one from Christianity. - dw

5.) Homosexuality: Obama signed a bill repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy which opened the door to open homosexuality in the military. Now military chaplains will be pressured to perform homosexual unions. Obama had militant homosexuals as part of his inaugural events and even hosted a reception in the White House celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the homosexual rights movement.

Response: Sorry, once again, hating Queers isn't a core Christian requirement. There are Christian homophobes, but heterosexism isn't a requirement for the faith. - dw
6.) Liberal /​Marxist Liberation Theology: Obama sat under a radical, Marxist minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, for 20 years and has adopted all of his Marxist ideology. Obama denies Christ’s atonement and mocks the Bible and rarely attends church, yet we are supposed to believe he’s Christian. Many believe he’s really a Muslim, and for some good reasons.

Response: You don't like his Christian pastor, so that means he's not a Christian? You can name his former pastor; can you name his former Imam? No. And, again, we have freedom of religion; he gets to be Muslim if he chooses. And liberation theology is, well, you know, theology! It's a Christian framework for thinking and talking about God. And, newsflash, there are multiple views of atonement theology (including a rejection of it). Within the larger Christian tradition there is a lot of diversity of thought. - dw

7.) National Christian Heritage: In a speech given in Turkey, Obama said, “we do NOT consider ourselves a Christian nation.” Obama intentionally misquotes the Declaration of Independence omitting “our Creator” as the source of our unalienable rights.

Response: One need not be a Christian to believe in a "creator." And, we do NOT have a state religion. Christians may be the majority in our nation, but that doesn't make us a Christian nation. In this nation, we are still free to belong to any religion or no religion. If you want a Christian nation, go to Italy or England. If you want unrestricted freedom of and from religion, welcome to the US. - dw

8.) Supreme Court Appointments: Justice Elena Kagan is a hardcore liberal on abortion, gun rights and homosexual marriage and is suspected to be a lesbian. Kagan wrote a brief supporting Clinton’s veto of a ban on partial birth abortion. While a Dean at Harvard, Kagan banned military recruiters from the campus. Kagan also opposed the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. Justice Sonia Sotomayor is a liberal and activist judge who believes courts should make policy not just interpret the constitution. Sotomayor argued for unlimited abortions for any reason throughout pregnancy and for taxpayer funding of abortions.

Response: You don't like their social views, their politics, or their scholarly understanding of the law. You failed to mention what they "beleive" about metaphysics, philosophy, religion, devotion, or spirituality. Neither liberal nor intellectual means "non-Christian"...and even non-Christian doesn't mean anti-Christian. - dw
9.) Obama-​care: Your tax dollars will pay for abortions and the older you get your life will be considered a liability and expendable. Some bureaucrat on a “DEATH PANEL” will ultimately decide if YOUR life is worth saving or not.

Response: Healing the sick...really, this is your evidence of non-Christian behavior? And guess what, we already have death panels, they are the insurance execs who deside what procedures they will cover and which meds they will approve. Since someone will be deciding the quality of the care I get, why not let it be someone who doesn't personally profit from declining health?! There is no Big Brother Death Panel, but as long as medical coverage is less than universal, there are many people who will die needlessly. Offering care is a matter humanitarian ethics. Offering or denying care is not the definition of Christianity. - dw
10.) Radical Czars: Kevin Jennings, Obama’s Safe School “czar,” is a militant, homosexual activist from Massachusetts. Radical pro-​abortion advocate Kathleen Sebelius is Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. She took a quarter of a million dollars from George Tiller, the notorious late term abortionist. Chai Feldblum, a lesbian law professor was appointed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Feldblum said in any conflict that might arise between religious liberty and homosexual “rights,” she would have a hard time coming up with any case in which religious liberty should win.

Response: Religious liberty doesn't mean denying liberty to those your religion tries to dehumanize. You are free to worship the God of your understanding; you are not free to deny others their equality because you say the god of your understanding hates everyone you hate. You have shown that the President doesn't discriminate against gays and lesbians; you have not shown that he is or isn't Christian. - dw
If you like the president, support him. If you don't like him, vote for someone else next year. But the witchhunt to decide if he's Christian is irrelevant to the political process. And, frankly, if Christianity was as limited and limiting as the presentation by "Defend Christians" would suggest, then surely Christians would soon number fewer than those who believe they have abducted and anal probed by space travelers. Christians need no defense, but Chrisitanity should be protected from those who claim they do.

For the article about the "Defend" group, visit http://thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/

Friday, December 09, 2011

How I Lost 22 Pounds in 4 Years! (Sigh)

OK, in spite of an injured shoulder (yes...rib, knees, shoulder...its been that kind of a year...i'm told this is called fitness!?!?!), i'm very happy with today's weigh-in and workout...Weighed in at the lowest i've been since 2005...still have another 8 pounds to go, but to be within single digits of the goal, FINALLY, feels great. Also, did 160# leg extensions and 500# leg press (5th set, all 12 reps) today, which were new records for me. In spite of the joint crakiness, I'm very pleased with the results. It's been slow, arduous, and not exactly fun, but still very rewarding. I'm glad i didn't give up too soon this time. Yes, it took me 4 years to lose 22#, & there are 8 more of the 30 still to go, but the BP, cholesterol, and lost inches make the story a bit more optimistic. Pretty great early Xmas gift i think...

Rick Perry: Not Really About Religion

Let's be clear: 1. Rick Perry isn't defending "religion"...he's defending a very narrow, antagonistic, and ahistoric wing of the Christian religion. He isn't concerned with Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, Ethical Humanists, or even liberal Christians. 2. He's running for president, not for an ecclesiastical office. 3. If religion needed his defense, it would be so irrelevant as to be too broken ...to fix...it wouldn't need a defense; it would need a eulogy. And finally, 4. what he is defending isn't religion, but heterosexual, white, male privilege. His crusade against diversity and equality is not religious; it is him playing to the worst impulses of his constituency in an attempt to gain more power and privilege for himself. What is wrong with this country has nothing to do with Christmas, prayer in schools, or gays in the military; what is wrong is that people like Perry can dehumanize Queer people & non-Christians without penalty.

Relatively Speaking

Nov. 30 - Wed. Matinee
The final show of my 3 day entertainment marathon was so good (but honestly, not any better than The Devil's Music).

Relatively Speaking is at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre which is a lovely space on West 47th Street.
I was 3rd row orchestra (not first...why be greedy all the time?!), but still close enough to see everyone spit.

RS is made up of three one-act comedies: Talking Cure, George is Dead, and Honeymoon Motel.

Each has its own playwright and its own cast (though three or four actors wind up in two of the plays).

The entire show was directed by John Turturro (actor in such films as Jungle Fever, Do the Right Thing, Quiz Show, etc.) but is also a very accomplished film and theatre director. He's currently acting in The Cherry Orchard with Dianne Wiest (downtown, eastside).

RS is star studded (as Broadway has to be these days), but let me regale you with one one-act at a time.

Talking Cure:
A guy on lock down in a mental hospital is being treated by a psychiatrist. the patient, a postal worker (I know, right?!), apparently snapped one day when an elderly woman complained about the condition in which her package arrived. Mr Postal Worker responds by beating her down with a tape dispenser.
Most of this play takes place in a "cage" (which, those not very therapeutic, is where the therapy sessions are taking place...i suppose it was meant to show how "trapped" the patient felt not only in the hospital but also in life).

At the end of the play, we are given a flashback to the man's beginning...the day his mother goes into labor with him. His parents apparently loathe each other and are in a heated argument when she goes into labor. The dysfunctional family hostilities are meant to show us how the patient started life without much hope of sanity.

Predictably, the therapy sessions swing from rage to hilarity and back again. and while there is a breakthrough when the patient admits he has self-image/self-esteem and anger management problems, and why (the parents, of course), we never get to see the broken fragments of psyche reintegrated.

The patient, doctor, attendant (walk on part), mother and father are all the characters.
The patient was played by Danny Hoch....Danny is a playwright and an actor (not the playwright of this show, that would be Ethan Coen...he's done a million things, but is probably best known for his screen plays - Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and for his adaptations of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men and Charles Portis' True Grit).

Hoch gives a caricature more than a character. He is so preoccupied with clownish facial expressions, exaggerated hand movements, and perfecting a stereotypical Brooklyn Italian accent that there isn't much space left for developing a three dimensional human being for us to care about. Still, his gimmicks were funny enough and the writing was so good that it was still a worthwhile venture.

The mother, played by katherine Borowitz seemed familiar, but her career has consisted mostly of theatre (regional and off-broadway), and I don't think i've seen any of her films (Illuminata, Men of Respect, Internal Affairs, A Serious Man)...but maybe i've seen her in ads or previews for the flicks. Anyway, she was good, though her character isn't given a lot of time to show who she really is. the entire scene with the parents are the two of them arguing at dinner over petty annoyances (which have them at the point of violence) and then her going into labor. So all we see of her or her husband is a comical, petty bickering session.

Meanwhile, its Broadway Cares collection time again, and she was the actor who accepted my contribution at the door :-)

The doctor may be the most famous of the cast: Jason Kravits (you've seen him as an ADA on the Practice, a guest spot on everything, including the fabulous Grey's Anatomy, the final episode of friends, and various films. He not only was the biggest name for the opening act, but he was also the strongest actor with what seems to have been the best written part.

It was cute, funny, enjoyable...but no masterpiece.

George Is Dead:
This was the jewel of the show and should have been the final/anchor piece.
It was written by Elaine May, probably best known for her screen writing, (True Colors, Heaven Can Wait - for which she was nominated for an Oscar, and The Birdcage).

It starred Broadway biggie Lisa Emery, Grant Shaud (the cute producer, Miles, on Murphy Brown...PS - he's fat now), and super brilliant stage goddess Marlo Thomas. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE HER! If you only know her from That Girl (which was funny btw) and St Jude Hospital pitches, and her recurring role as an attorney on Law/Order:SVU (which she is fine in, but of course any capable actor could provide plausible cameo appearances as an attorney)...you might not know that she is GENIUS.
OMG, she was comedic like Bea Arthur and Carol Burnette and Phyllis Diller and Toti Fields and Betty White all rolled into one human...but she didn't camp it up or throw it away...she took her comedy very seriously and played a shallow, wealthy, and apparently friendless woman who receives a phone call in the middle of the night that her husband has died in a skiing accident.

She turns to the daughter (Doreen, a woman she hasn't seen in decades) of her childhood Nanny for comfort. Doreen takes her in and provides her support even while her own marriage is disintegrating in front of her. The old nanny eventually comes in to save the day, which is sweet and painful...sweet b/c she still cares about the child she raised professionally...painful b/c she never seemed to care that much about her own daughter.

There is pathos, and grief, and silliness, and intelligent humor, and amazing timing, and unhealed wounds, and helplessness, and strength all in the space of less than half an hour!
The men provide good support for the women (a funeral director, his assistant, and Doreen's unsympathetic husband played by Grant Shaud), but Marlo Thomas, Lisa Emery (Doreen), and Patricia O'Connell (the nanny/mother) make the show. It would almost have been as good if the men weren't ever seen (in fact, i think it would have worked just as well). and the giant of the cast was Marlo Thomas. The very next thing she does, I hope to see!

Honeymoon Motel:
Written by Woody Allen (and the real reason I went to the show)...best known for his quirky and smart comedic films, this was actually his fourth play to be produced. As far as laughs, it was a knee slapper. Lots of schtik, and good schtik, lots of "insider" Jewish and NYC jokes (very Allen), and a plot that was uncomfortably close to his real life (A woman leaves her fiancee at the altar and runs away with his still married to his mother step-dad)...funny and a little yucky too (but maybe less yucky if you didn't know Allen's T).

This had the largest cast with the most "names" -
Steve Guttenberg (remember super cute Steve Guttenberg? Well, he's aged badly and bears little resemblance to the 80s actor we couldn't wait to see shirtless); he's funny, but plays for laughs which makes his character seem a little less real and a little less likable.

His almost daughter-in-law turned paramour played by Ari Graynor (from Veronica Mars and The Sopranos) is very pretty and sexy and plays the pretty, sexy, husband steeling vamp as well as anyone could.

Grant Shaud is in this one act also, as a more likable character than in George Is Dead. But he's just the friend who supplies straight lines for Guttenberg and throws in a few obvious laugh lines himself.

Caroline Aaron, playing Guttenberg's wife, is a striking woman with a powerful presence and she's very funny (not Guttenberg, "look at me i used to be cute and i still try to exude boyish charm so please laugh at my silliness and tell me i matter" kind of funny, but really, strong, good comic timing, has a sense that the person she's playing is a person even if the emotions she is sharing are contrived for comic effect). You'd know her if you saw her - she's done everything...Sleepless in Seattle, Primary Colors, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Edward Scissorhands, etc. She was one of two great performers in the piece.

The other great performer was Julie Kavner (Marge Simpson, Rhoda's sister...THAT Julie Kavner) who was hilarious! Julie and Caroline should put together a two woman show and take it on the road! Julie played Graynor's mother.

There was a rabbi (Richard Libertini), and Danny Hock played the pizza boy (though his character was indistinguishable from the patient in Talk Therapy), and Jason Kravitz played a psychiatrist (not the same psychiatrist he played an hour earlier), and Mark Linn-Baker (Perfect STrangers) was Kavner's husband.

The tart who dumps her man for her man's step dad, the step dad, his buddy, his wife, the tart's parents (Kravner we learn has had two affairs during the course of their marriage...one with her boss, and one with the marriage counselor they were seeing because of it...funny b/c it is so preposterously unethical, and Linn-Baker retaliated by sleeping with her sister), the rabbi who was performing the ceremony, Guttenberg's therapist (?!), the step-son/dumped groom, and a pizza guy (Graynor is hungry for pizza and orders delivery) all wind up in a cheap motel room where Guttenberg and Graynor have taken refuge for their night of post-wedding disaster love-making. In the end, everyone leaves, relatively OK with life, and Guttenberg and Graynor kiss as the lights go down.

Allen, Turturro, Guttenberg, Shaud, Kavner, Graynor, Linn-Baker, Libertini...You'd think, wouldn't you? I mean, this has got to be 4th of July kind of fabulous. It was more like Presidents Day kind of acceptable. Big laughs. A couple of comic diva geniuses. But at no point did i ever care what happened to any of them, and was actually a little deflated when Graynor and Guttenberg wind up together in the end without any remorse for the lives and families they've destroyed. The pizza boy gives some home spun wisdom about a morally neutral universe (or, in his words, "there are no rules") and there are some very brief ponderings about metaphysics in general...but mostly, its "let's laugh at a lot of one liners, question the existence of a higher power as Allen so famously does, and, thumb our noses at any sense of caring for the feelings of others...break as many hearts as you can as long as you end up happy, or at least relatively pleased"...a decent sit-com for TV, but not especially good theatre.

If the decent first play (though one of its two prime characters was played in my opinion by a weak actor) was followed by the Allen amorality farce and then the Marlo Thomas piece had ended the show...it would have gone from strength to strength and would have made for a better theatrical experience. Almost any time spent in any NY theatre is worth the experiment, and this play as a whole has value for the laughs (however cheap some of them may be), but the bread slices that surrounded the Marlo Thomas meat were jsut that...something to hold up the tasty thing you really want to consume. Marlo's performance and the entire cast/performance/writing of "George is Dead" made what would have been an acceptable theatre outing into a true joy. But honestly, if they had simply done the one act with Marlo in some Off-broadway venue, it would have been a far better venture.

here endeth this NY excursion...


The Devil's Music

Nov. 29-"The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith"
Best musical review EVER!

It was at the St Luke's Theatre (basement of St Luke Lutheran Church on 46th Street (between 8th & 9th Aves, closer to 8th). Even though it is off-broadway, it's just three blocks or so from Broadway theatres also on 46th. So, being all up in the theatre district but still having an off beat, slightly bohemian feel makes it a really good venue.
Not as glam as the Lortel...after all, it is subterranean (while LL is a stand alone building with the playwrights walk of fame in front)...St Luke's theatre only has about 100 seats (and while there isn't a bad seat in the house, i had the BEST seat in the house...front row center - i know, right, two nights in a row!).

Devil's Music is sort of one a woman show, but really there are 4 characters. Three are men who make up her band, and they are actually musicians (piano/bass/sax...sax player also plays clarinet for one number). One of the three guys has a few lines (and a character name, "Pickle"), but really, it's all about Bessie.

The title character is played by Miche Braden. I hadn't seen her before, but i hope to see her again. She sang her face off! The bluesy quality of her voice and the way she embodied the message of every song was in itself performance art.The show starts with a voice describing Bessie's funeral, then suddenly we fly backward in time 9 days to her last concert, and at that concert, she weaves her life-story around great old blues classics.

The audience learns so much about Bessie Smith...her being orphaned as a child, being married to someone who died shortly thereafter, and then being married again to an abusive ne'er do well, her active bisexuality, her adopting a son (and having that son taken away from her by the courts when her second husband reported her for being "unfit" - and what primarily made her "unfit" was her "carnal relations with women"), her sadness as Blues starts to be replaced by Swing in popularity, her success in spite of racism and the Great Depression.

We see (as she drinks almost every minute on stage) that she probably is a problem drinker if not an alcoholic, and while the play is intentionally very accurate about the details of Bessie's life, the playwright does add one bit of foreshadowing by having Bessie get a cold chill every time she mentions death.Finally, the show ends the way Bessie's life did...with a car accident (at only 43). Then, as an encore, the resurrected Bessie comes out and reprises the song she opened the show with.

In addition to her amazing singing voice, and the way Bessie's life is told by way of Bessie herself giving her last concert, there are two other things that really struck me about this play.1. Miche Braden, at least as Bessie Smith, is super sexy! Not beautiful. Not even pretty really. But so embodied, so alive, so confident and strong and still willing to risk vulnerability, so light on her feet (though in reality, about 200# are supported by those feet), so comfortable talking and singing about sex/uality...she was just very sexy.
2. Unlike charles busch, Miche B. does not resort to imitation/impersonation to create her character. She uses her voice (which is risky since BS was a recording artist and her voice is so well known); but much as Charles B. so thoroughly imagines himself to be the lady he is portraying that his/her femininity is the one thing the audience never questions, Miche B. so thoroughly WAS Bessie Smith, so completely believed that she was the incarnation of Bessie Smith, that she didn't need to imitate...she believed she was Bessie, and so we did too. He could have sounded like Kermit the Frog and looked like Lady Gaga, and i think we would have left saying, "that was the Bessie down to the last detail!"
side note - (isn't that what make believe is...when we make ourselves believe that the pretense is true?, and when we believe it, we make others believe it too...).

Where was I? Oh, yes...Devil's Music is FABULOUS!

What a treat it was to find this off-broadway treasure. Money and time very well spent!
Tomorrow (Wednesday matinee) - "Relatively Speaking."I'll tell you about it tomorrow (after I've worshiped once again in the Temple of Dionysus).


PS - to see all this NY theatre only one month after seeing Follies on Broadway is an embarrassment of riches. meanwhile, i'm happy as a pig in shit!

Saw Tea at Five in NYC

Monday, Nov. 28 -
Tea at Five...a staged reading at Lucille Lortel theatre on Christopher St.
LL is a great small theatre...about 200 seats on the floor and another 20 or so in the balcony.
The stage is about as deep as ours at Sunshine Cathedral, and about half the width.
Of course, Charles Busch was fabulous.

You know he has a theatre degree from Northwestern...he really is a good playwright and actor. But of course Tea at Five wasn't written by him...it was originally done on Broadway with kate Mulgrew.

Charles looked like KH (he's known for the best wigs in the world) and he had her mannerisms and voice down...he's made a career of imitating the screen legends of the days of yore, or their screen personas anyway (though usually as composite characters of his own creation). he is such a good female impersonator that it's never a distraction that he is actually male (in fact, he so believes that he is an actress/diva on the stage, that the audience soon believes it too).
It was a one night only production/benefit for an LBGT shelter in NYC.

I've seen CB's play "Tales of the Allergist's Wife" on Broadway, Psycho Beach Party (regional theatre/Dallas), and the film versions of PBP and Die Mommy Die (with Charles in them), and the documentary film about him, "The Lady in Question." I also saw his film, "A Very Serious Person."
In January I got to see him in his play, "The Divine Sister" at the SoHo Playhouse. And now this staged reading of "Tea of Five."

A few years ago he played Auntie Mame (in the play, "Auntie Mame" in a summer stock production in Maine), but sadly, I missed it :-(

I'm a huge Charles Busch fan, and last night's performance did NOT disappoint. AND, PS, I was front row center. thank you very much.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Follies 2011 - FABULOUS

Once a decade a person should see Sondheim’s Follies. Some call the book “dark” and others say it is poorly written; but no one disputes that the music is haunting, beautiful, compelling, and evocative. And, when the show is well directed and well choreographed, the story seems to tighten up a bit too.

I’ve heard multiple cast recordings of Follies and have seen scenes and heard songs performed from it dozens of times, but in 2001 I finally got to see it on Broadway. I was enchanted. First of all, there are some complex (if habitually unhappy) characters and there are amazing songs. And the 2001 cast was star studded: Treat Williams (still gorgeous at the time), Gregory Harrison (also easy on the eyes), Blythe Danner, Judith Ivy, Betty Garrett, and Polly Bergen were all on the same stage for the same show! Sondheim’s music performed by superstars of stage, film and television all on the Broadway stage was a ShoMo’s wet dream! Betty Garrett soft sold (but very effectively) “Broadway Baby”, Polly Bergen gave dramatic gravitas to a song that is often just an excuse to show off a singer’s “pipes” and Treat Williams, much to my surprise, was a really good singer! Judith Ivy and Blythe Danner might have been odd choices for Sally and Phyllis, but even if their singing voices didn’t quite measure up to Broadway musical theatre standards, their acting more than compensated for it (I’ve always said I prefer to hear actors sing than see singers act). So, even though the costumes, lighting, and sets were over all uninspiring, I was all the same thrilled with the production and very happy to have experienced it in person.

But THEN there was the 2011 Broadway production. OMG! I saw it tonight and would gladly (at full price) see it again tomorrow!

Danny Burstein was maybe the most sympathetic, likable “Buddy” in Follies history. He’s no Treat Williams in the looks department, but his physical grace (he must have been a dancer at one point in his life), his musical talent, and the gentleness he brought the character were nothing short of genius!

Ron Raines, for me, was the worst of the best. He was adequate and his acting was believable but he just didn’t sell it like the others did. Honestly, I think Gregory Harrison was better ten years ago in the role.

Jan Maxwell played Phyllis and if she is not nominated for a Tony there is NO justice in the universe. The woman’s power (not aggression, but merely presence) completely overshadowed Bernadette Peters (who received top billing, but it should be given to Maxwell at once). Her singing, her dancing, her acting, her energy, her physical presence, her facial expressions were all flawless. She wasn’t scene stealing; she never broke character or any way dismissed the importance of anyone in the ensemble cast, and yet, her radiance almost hid the lesser beings on stage entirely from view! Surely, SHE is exactly what Sondheim had in mind 40 years ago. Finally, the REAL Phyllis emerges from the shadows!

Bernadette Peters’ squeaky voice was cute and predictable. She played the frail, delusional Sally very traditionally and adequately. The one time that she really lived into her diva image was when she sang “Loosing My Mind.” It was a dramatic masterpiece, and yet she had so underperformed by then, the audience didn’t seem to appreciate (or even notice really) how good that one moment of her performance was. The audience’s judgment was repeated during the curtain call. Maxwell was the penultimate cast member to come out and was greeted with thunderous applause, shouts, cat calls, and riotous enthusiasm. Then finally, Bernadette came out and while she was greeted warmly, the response felt lack-luster in comparison to the ovation Jan Maxwell received.

Mary Beth Peil’s “Solange” was acceptable, but I seem to remember Jane White’s performance of that character in 2001 being much stronger.

Terri White’s performance as Stella was a triumph! I used to go to Rose’s Turn in the Village to hear Terri sing. She released a CD which I had her sign. Her deep, smoky, bluesy alto voice could unseat Zeus himself, rendering his thunderbolts useless. I read a couple of years ago that Terri had fallen on difficult times but had made a comeback and it was thrilling to see her in this show. She looked better than ever, sounded as good as ever, was funny, and commanded the stage with her tap and jazz moves (I don’t remember Carol Woods’ Stella in 2001 moving much at all, or even being able to in her cumbersome costume).
(On a side note – Joane Worley performed the role, I believe, in 2007. I didn’t see her performance, but so wish I had. She undoubtedly brought some comedic skill to the part, but it would be nearly impossible to outshine Terri White as Stella).

Jayne Houdyshell is a long time theatre veteran, though maybe not as well known as the others I’ve mentioned. But her lack of celebrity status is in no way because she is anything less than brilliant on the boards! I never expected to see “Broadway Baby” performed in a way that I liked as well as Betty Garrett’s performance in 2001, but Ms. Houdyshell won me over instantly. She lacked the glamour or grace of the other women, but rather than allowing that to be a hindrance she used it to her full advantage. She was comedic without being clownish, moved with more confidence and purpose than her body shape suggested possible, and sang as powerfully and masterfully as any of the other creative geniuses in the cast.

Elaine Paige as Carlotta was another high point. She played the aging sex kitten perfectly and performed “I’m Still Here” as well as anyone I’ve ever heard. Still, as good as she was, I seem to recall Polly Bergen being at least as good or maybe better. And for me, though not nearly the singer Paige is, the quintessential Carlotta will always be Yvonne De Carlo. When Carlotta sings, “First you’re another doe-eyed vamp, then someone’s mother, then you’re camp”…that line will never sound as powerful as it sounded from an actor who had been a B-movie vixen and then Lillie Munster before accepting the role of a diva whose star was fading in Follies. Yvonne WAS Carlotta! Still, Polly in 2001 was amazing and Elaine in 2011 was a very close runner up. I guess Polly was a better actor and Elaine was a better singer…the actor sang well and the singer actor well, but I’ve already disclosed by personal bias.

Florence Lacy had a small role (“Sandra”), but I was excited because I just saw her 10 months ago in Sunset Blvd (in the leading role) at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA. So in my geekiest fashion I was all, “Hey, it’s HER…we just saw her in something else a few months ago.”

Finally, I must praise the 81 year old Rosalind Elias (“Heidi”). Ms. Elias studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and then continued her studies in Italy, and has had an impressive opera career. In her 50+ year career she has received Grammy awards and has performed in every major opera house in the world, but she now proves that there are always new goals to reach as she makes her Broadway debut with Follies! And not for nothing, but her mezzo-soprano voice is still rich and wonderful. She’s still got it.

The 2001 production had bigger “stars”…but the 2011 production had better choreography, sets, lighting, costumes, and direction. And rather than a collection of stars sharing a stage, this production was a true ensemble cast working together to make magic. I loved it 10 years ago, and I loved it 100 times more tonight. I hope I get to see an even better production of Follies in 2021 (though I wonder how that could be possible).

---Durrell Watkins
Oct. 19, 2011

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Gay By God

Gay By God

Progressive Theological Discussions on You Tube

Can We Follow Jesus Without Worshiping Him?

What Does It Mean To Be Christian?

Do Progressive Christians Believe in Jesus?

God Within: What Do We Mean?

Could We Ever Be Lost?

A Gay Friendly Jesus

Can We Agree to Disagree About Same Gender Love?

The Danger of the Closet

Is Jesus Relevant for LBGT People?

Does God Like Gay People?

God Is Not a Bully!

Queering the Trinity

Queer Bible Study

Integration of Sexuality & Spirituality

The Danger of Biblolatry

For more topics, visit www.youtube.com/sunshinecathedral

Monday, August 29, 2011

sermon: "Peace Beyond Pain, Hope Beyond Horror"


"Peace Beyond Pain, Hope Beyond Horror"
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Using affirmations in our personal spiritual practice

sermon: "Who Are You?"


"Who Are You?"
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

The power of focused attention

Sermon: "I Am ___ (& I Get to Fill in the Blank)"


"I Am ___ (& I Get to Fill in the Blank)"
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

The power of I Am statements and how to use them effectively

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Magic & Miracles

Daily Wisdom from Spirit & Truth
Saturday, August 27

Magic & Miracles

If you and I were the ones to discover the way life functions in the quantum, we would say it is, by definition, magic. It’s the stuff of fairy tales.” Natalie Reid

Magic. Power. Infinite Potential. Miracles. Energy. Indomitable Hope. Determination. Choice. Are these words so different in their meaning and application? Once we one-pointedly focus on something, we tend to gravitate toward it or attract it to us. Of course, there can be unintended consequences. If we focus on discontent, then we tend to get stuck in unhappiness. If we focus on feeling victimized, we tend to feel powerless and alone. But if we focus on hope, joy, love, and generosity, then those blessings tend to manifest for us. What we think about habitually we manifest eventually. It may or may not be magic, but it is most certainly true.

Prayer Treatment
Today I choose to focus on hope, health, and happiness and I expect these blessings to be manifest in my experience. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Spirit & Truth is a daily devotional magazine published by Sunshine Cathedral

Prayer For Those Facing Hurricane Irene

Prayer For Those Facing Hurricane Irene

We know that it is in God that we live and move and have our being. All life is within and part of the one universal Life. And so as storms and winds and heavy rains continue, we trust that Life is expressing for the highest good of all. We affirm strength and courage for those waiting out the storm and we know that order and healing quickly follow everywhere the storm passes. May we live in harmony with Nature and may we know that ultimately, all is well. Amen.

- Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Friday, August 19, 2011

New Thought Friends of MCC on Facebook

Search for
New Thought Friends of MCC
on Facebook

New Thought Friends of MCC is a forum to allow inquirers (people just beginning to explore New Thought) to ask questions, as well as give more seasoned practitioners a place to share resources (book titles, curricula, movie reviews, articles, conference dates, websites, etc.), and of course, prayer requests can be made on the site as well.

I hope this can be an encouraging resource for New Thought practitioners in and on the edges of MCC.

I have been in MCC for 20 years, in MCC ministry for 18 years, and fully ordained as an MCC minister for 14 years (after completing course work from The Samaritan Institute for Religious Studies). However, the first sermon i ever preached was in the late 80s in a small Unity church. And while I did "traditional seminary" after ordination (Union Theological Seminary and Episcopal Divinity School, respectively) I have also in the last 20-something years been part of (and led) A Course in Miracles groups, have taken a Science of Mind course, earned a Certificate from the College of Divine Metaphysics, and received ordination credentials from United Divine Science. I've been active in the International New Thought Alliance for about 5 years now. I am fascinated by New Thought history (and that its beginnings are very feminist) and the moments in my life where I have received the most healing was as a result of practicing New Thought principles. What i have discovered is that there are many people in MCC (and other non-New Thought churches) whose stories are similar to mine. So, why not form a group?!

The group description is as follows:

"This group is for members, ministers, and friends of Metropolitan Community Churches whose spiritual practices include New Thought/Ancient Wisdom traditions. Anyone who is part of MCC or who loves someone who is part of MCC and who also has benefited from or is interested in New Thought philosophy is encouraged to become part of this group. Any MCCer or MCC ally who includes Reiki, A Course in Miracles, the teachings of Louise Hay or Emma Curtis Hopkins, Divine Science, Religious Science/Science of Mind, Fillmorean Theology (Unity or Universal Foundation for Better Living), the teachings of Rev. Ike, The Power of Positive Thinking, Kriya Yoga, positive psychology, or other metaphysical systems in their spiritual life will likely find this group to be a source of encouragement and community. Welcome to New Thought Friends of MCC. MCC is a progressive and inclusive spiritual movement founded in 1968 as a welcoming and affirming home for LBGT people and their allies."

Feel free to join the group, or to recommend it to anyone you think might enjoy it. Thanks and many blessings!

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister, Sunshine Cathedral

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Three Spiritual Principles

‎"My only religion is Compassion. My only god is Love. My spiritual path is the path of service; and because of these three principles, I celebrate the diverse expressions of that Love in the many traditions of the world." Dharmacharya Gududas Sunyatananda

New Thought, Ancient Wisdom...What I've Learned

What I've learned from great thinkers: God is omnipresent, indeed is Omnipresence (Malinda Cramer); We are part of God (Ralph Waldo Emerson); God works through us (Thomas Troward); There is a connection between our thoughts/attitudes and our health (Phineas Parkhust Quimby); The purpose of spiritual living is to become God-Realized and Self-Realized (Paramahansa Yogananda); & Almost anything in life can be improved if we are willing to do the spiritual and mental work (Louise Hay).

A Prayer by Yogananda

"[God], let me feel that I am thy child. Save me from beggary! Let all good things, including health, prosperity, and wisdom seek me instead of my pursuing them." Paramahansa Yogananda

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August Spirit & Truth


Click on the link above to read Sunshine Cathedral's daily devotional magazine, "Spirit & Truth"

Peace Beyond Pain, Hope Beyond Horror

Peace Beyond Pain, Hope Beyond Horror
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Sunshine Cathedral
Aug. 14th, 2011
Genesis 43.1-11, 13, 15; Matthew 15.22-28

Beyond our progressive, positive, and practical spiritual community I have friends who don’t understand our relentlessly optimistic approach to life. I think they hear and read our positive affirmations and then remember that old Saturday Night Live character, Stuart Smalley, who was a little nerdy, a little awkward, and a little smug with his lispy affirmations for self-esteem.

Of course, Al Franken was making a caricature of a self-help spiritual seeker and he based the character on people he knew who were involved in Twelve Step programs.

But the truth is, many people in Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and Overeaters Anonymous and Adult Children of Alcoholics , Codependents Anonymous, Al-Anon and other Twelve Step programs have greatly benefited from the optimism, the support, the accountability, and the positive self-talk that they discovered in the program.

Other helping disciplines have adopted these same practices, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and positive psychology for example.

As a child I heard over and over the story of the Little Engine Who Could. When faced with a daunting task, the little engine encouraged himself with self-talk…I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…and he learned that he could and he did.

The movie “The Help” (based on the book by the same name) has domestic workers in segregated Mississippi tell their stories of what it is like to live under such oppressive conditions. The main character is a housekeeper and nanny who repeatedly tells the little girl she cares for positive things. She tells her throughout the film, “You is kind. You is smart. And you is important.” And she has the child repeat those words after her each time.

The practice of using self-talk to develop positive attitudes has long been embraced and promoted among athletes and sales people. After all, St. Paul said, “faith comes by hearing” and the one sure way to make certain we hear positive messages is to say them to ourselves.

We see this practice in the bible.
“God is my shepherd, my provider; I want for nothing. God makes me to lie down in beautiful green pastures and God leads me beside the calm waters of tranquility. God restores my peace of mind and leads me in the paths of right thinking and right action…Even if mortal danger approaches, I will fear no evil for God is with me. God’s tools are present to comfort me. God has abundance for me that my so-called enemies cannot take away. I am anointed and satisfied. Surely, goodness and mercy will be with me throughout my life and I will dwell in God’s presence forever.” The 23rd Psalm may be the most famous positive affirmation in the world!

This kind of positive self-talk isn’t limited to the Psalter. The anonymous writer whom we have named John affirmed, “Greater is the power within me than the power people believe is in the world.” 1 John 4.4

The Apostle Paul was a believer in affirmations.
“I can do all things through the Christ which strengthens me” (Philippians 4.13). He also said, “We are more than conquerors” (Romans 8.37). Paul went on to affirm, “I am convinced that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God.”

In the first half of the 20th century there was a Divine Science minister named Emmet Fox who was a popular speaker in New York City, drawing enormous crowds every week. He also wrote books and his teachings were popular in the early days of the AA movement. Emmet Fox also influenced a Methodist minister who transferred his credentials to the Reformed Church in America so that he could answer a call to pastor the Marble Collegiate Church in New York…that famous Protestant minister who was influenced by Emmet Fox was of course Norman Vincent Peale who introduced The Power of Positive Thinking into the mainstream of Christianity and into the vocabulary of people all along the spiritual spectrum.

Dr. Peale said, “Plant seeds of expectation in your mind; cultivate thoughts that anticipate achievement. Believe in yourself as being capable of overcoming all obstacles and weaknesses.”

That’s good advice, but how do we do it? We encourage ourselves, we affirm what is true of us even when circumstances don’t seem to verify that truth. We affirm what is spiritually true of us as children of God. “I am kind. I am smart. I am important.” We affirm that good things are possible for us and that we even deserve them. We even affirm that God wants us to be blessed! New Thought teacher Emma Curtis Hopkins had two powerful prayer statements that I use in my own prayer life. She said, “There is good for me and I ought to have it!” And she would also say, “There is no mixture of evil with my good.” Plant positive seeds in your mind; cultivate those positive thoughts. That’s Peale’s advice, and it’s modeled for us in scripture.

Dr. Peale also said, “You become a worrier by practicing worry. You become free of worry by practicing the opposite…” Positive affirmations, optimistic self-talk is the practice of moving beyond fear and worry, it is the bold attempt to develop the habit of going to peace instead of to pieces, of summoning hope rather than fear, of imagining what good is possible rather than what disaster is probable.

No, our affirmations aren’t a silly game, nor are they a diversion from the harsh realities of the world. They are the way we instill hope in our hearts and that we remain focused on the possibilities of life. And that method of positive prayer often yields remarkable results.

That same kind of progressive, positive, and practical spirituality is present in both of our scripture lessons today.

In the book of Genesis, Joseph was his father’s favorite child. Joseph was not only daddy’s little baby, but he was given a special gift…a coat of many colors. And his brothers were annoyed by this. Now, traditionally we have been taught that what frosted their cupcakes about that coat is that only Joseph got one and they felt left out. But bible scholar Mona West tells us that such vibrant, multi-colored cloaks were often worn by young women. If this is true, then Joseph’s brothers aren’t mad that he got a gift and they didn’t; they’re mad that he’s cross-dressing in public! And their father encourages it, he even gave him the darn dress, er, coat of many colors. There’s quite a bit of drag in the bible, but that’s another sermon.

In an unimaginably reprehensible act, Joseph’s brothers abduct him, sell him into slavery, and tell their parents that Joseph was killed. Joseph grows up a slave in a foreign nation, and later he winds up in prison on a false charge. But somehow through all of this, Joseph finds reasons to celebrate life. He shares the gifts he has with others. He’s very good at analyzing dreams, and so he does so freely for whoever asks. His optimistic and generous attitude serves him well and he eventually not only is freed from prison but is elevated to a high government position. He has gone from slave to prisoner to national leader! Even when things look bleak, he is able to see God at work in his life and he trusts that good can come from apparent chaos. When his family comes to his adopted country looking for aid, Joseph is in a position to help them and again, he gladly gives what he can even to people who hurt him. He will tell his brothers down the line, “What you meant for evil, God used for good.” That is the positive faith that we are trying to develop with positive affirmations.

We see positive spirituality at work in the Gospel story as well. Jesus at first doesn’t want to be bothered by this Canaanite woman who is asking him for help. And, a literalist reading of scripture would not condemn him. Deuteronomy 20.17 says, “You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, & Jubusites…” If we are meant to take the bible literally, Jesus should have stabbed this woman on the spot! But instead, he simply ignores and insults her; but she won’t take that. Thank God we take the bible seriously rather than literally, and Matthew would say, “well done!”

The Canaanite woman affirms her sacred value, her human dignity. No matter what any scripture says, no matter what any religious person says, in spite of cultural prejudices, she insists that she and her daughter deserve to have the healing opportunities in their lives. She says, “Could you be bothered to show us the kindness or compassion that you would show to a little dog?” And because she affirmed her own sacred value, not only did she get the miracle she was seeking, but she helped Jesus grow and heal too.

Homiletics professor Barbara Lunblad says of this passage, “Jesus was converted that day to a larger vision of the Commonwealth of God.” Isn’t that what we all want?

By affirming God’s presence, by affirming God’s love, by affirming our sacred value, by affirming that possibilities exist beyond what we’ve experienced so far, we can develop the attitude that lets us see miracles riding on the waves of disappointment, healing following heartache, and blessings rising from the ashes of despair. One bad moment may lead to a new possibility and the painful moment then becomes part of a larger narrative that tells of our ultimate healing, success, and joy. But to get there, we have to practice relentless optimism, and we do that with our positive affirmations.

I can’t promise that every problem will be easily solved and I can’t promise that every heartache will be instantly healed, but I can promise that the possibility of peace beyond pain and hope beyond horror is very real, especially as we train ourselves to be more and more optimistic. And we build optimism just the way we established all of our attitudes, by consistent practice. What we think habitually we’ll experience eventually. And we can choose to think optimistically by developing the habit of affirming divine possibilities. And this is the good news! Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2011

I am kind.
I am smart.
I am important.
I am a magnet for miracles.
There is good for me and I ought to have it!
And there is no evil mixed with my good.
Thank you God!
And so it is.

“Affirm your divine selfhood; look the world in the face and fear nothing.” Emmet Fox

To watch the streaming video of this sermon, go to http://sermons.sunshinecathedral.org


Thursday, May 26, 2011

A Review of a Progressive Christian Easter Service

by Elayne Clift
{written for the Keene (NH) Sentinel}

As a Jew, I'm not accustomed to attending church. (A secular Jew, I don't even go to synagogue very often.) Most of my experience with churches has occurred in relation to weddings, funerals, and Christmas Eve caroling. But a recent experience bears sharing not only because it was unique and wonderful, but because it just might give us all something to think about in a time of growing polemics, political extremism and murky church-state relations.

In Florida over Easter, my (Christian) husband and I attended services with our son who goes to the "Sunshine Cathedral" in Fort Lauderdale. My husband, who had attended services there before, told me it was a special place of worship but I had to experience it to really see what he was talking about. I got it the minute the service began. My first clue was that the second service of the day was packed with people who were all smiling and greeting each other. They ranged from aging bikers of the Harley-Davidson variety to a Caribbean family with two little girls decked out in white dresses and Mary Jane shoes; from gay and lesbian couples in shorts and T-shirts to proverbial "little old ladies" in flowered dresses.

My second clue was that the two lead ministers, both men, approached the front of the sanctuary wearing ab-fab Easter bonnets while the ushers sported bunny ears. The choirmaster, a woman, wore a long white backless gown such as you might see at a prom. Clearly, this church had a sense of humor and loved a good party!

And yet the service, the music, the homily were so moving and so meaningful that I could barely get through it without sobbing.

Sunshine Cathedral is a Metropolitan Community Church (MCC). Part of an international movement now active in nearly two dozen countries, it was founded in California in 1968 by Troy Perry, a Pentecostal minister who was defrocked because he was gay. Its core values are inclusion, community, spiritual transformation, and social action. Each of those values was clear and present in the Easter service, not only in how the minister interpreted the Easter story but in how he asked his congregants to "apply what you believe to your own personal resurrection." It was clear in his message to "go forward rather than dwelling in the past," and in his reminder that Sunshine Cathedral focuses on the "progressive, the positive, and the practical." It was present in his emphasis on the universality of "hope, acceptance, joy, and possibility."

With music ranging from jazz and gospel to Beethoven's "Hallelujah," inspirational quotations from sources as varied as the Bengali poet Tagore to Winston Churchill, spiritual heroes that include Catherine of Sienna and Oskar Schindler, large-screen visuals of seascapes or clips from Walt Disney's animated film "Cinderella", and the closing admonition, "[Our worship has] ended; Let our service begin," this is a church like no other, it seems to me. Irreverently reverent, humorously relevant, wonderfully welcoming, it manages to be magically meaningful in very mixed up and troubling times.

In a way, it explains why many Jews have chosen to identify with Universalist Unitarians ("UUs") because of their emphasis on social activism, their genuine inclusivity, and their message of hope and humanity. Others are working toward "Jewish Renewal", an attempt to make Judaism more meaningful and socially conscious in a 21st century world.

Whatever one's religious affiliation, what was clear to me on an Easter morning in the Sunshine Cathedral, where the word "sin" was never uttered, is that despite our various diversities, the universe is full of people striving to find their place in the world - on common ground -- without judgment, and free of simplistic polemics, meaningless rituals, and "thou shalt nots."

To that end, I am glad to have stood among bunnies and bonnets, listening to Beethoven, hoping for, and believing in, a better, more generous and genuine world.

# # #

Elayne Clift writes about politics, social issues, and contemporary life from Saxtons River, Vt. (www.elayneclift.com)

The Jesus Way

The Jesus Way
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Ps 33.1-5; 1 Pt 2.2-3, 9-10; Jn 14.1-12

Preached May 22, 2011 at Sunshine Cathedral’s 10:30 AM service, the day after “Judgment Day”, so called by evangelical broadcaster Harold Camping. Camping predicted “the Rapture” would occur on May 22; he was apparently mistaken.

Well, I see I’m not the only one who got left behind. I hate to seem selfish, but I have to admit feeling a sense of relief yesterday that the pilot flying our plane wasn’t beamed to Glory in mid-flight. They can tell you about oxygen masks and life jackets, but mostly in the case of a crash, you’re just hosed.

Of course it’s easy to make fun of the doomsday predictions, especially since they are always wrong; but there is also a sadness to them. One wonders what pathology is at work to make people long for an apocalypse, and to have such delusions of grandeur that they think they can both predict and escape it.

I suspect that what gives life to these apocalyptic fantasies is the fear of change. Fear of losing privilege, fear of losing dominance. As gay marriage gains steam, as immigration changes the demographics of our communities, as Islam grows at a faster pace than Christianity, as women now hold high office in church and state, and in a country that has often been torn apart by racism an African American president now sits in the White House. I suspect that for many people they aren’t really hoping for the end of the world, they are just mourning that the world where they felt they were in charge has already ended, and so they want the new world to be punished, and they want to be whisked away to a place where they will once again be part of the ruling class. Rather than embracing change and celebrating progress, they mourn the loss of power and privilege and they dream of magical ways they might be restored to an elite status.

Well, the world has ended many times…the world that was thought to be flat, the world where Christians thought they could hold slaves, the world where flight and organ transplants and space travel were only the wild ideas of the most creative of imaginations…yes, the world has retired and given way to new worlds many times, and will many more times. So, let’s not ever get too upset about the misguided prophets of doom; let’s just do what we can to make our world the best that it can be now and always.

Psalm 33 tells us that Justice and Love are what God is about.

The psalmist also mentions the harp and lyre…stringed instruments that are to be accompanied by shouts of joy.

Working for justice, sharing love, and celebrating our lives with great enthusiasm is the divine way, or path.

The writer of 1 Peter, quoting two verses from Exodus 19, tells us that we have sacred value and enormous potential.

And the gospel shows us the way to acknowledge and embrace our sacred value, to celebrate and share the divine power within us.

In the gospel lesson, the writer imagines Jesus saying, “Where I Am, there YOU MAY BE ALSO!” Thomas needs some kind of GPS system. He says, “How can we know the way?” And Jesus answers, “I AM the way!”

I think what John is having Jesus say to us is: Where I AM in my understanding of God you can be also, and you can have that by following the way I have followed, the way of fearless exploration, trust, hope, and intimacy with the divine.

First of all, remember that Jesus is executed in the year 29; John is being written about the year 96, almost 70 years later. This is being written long after Jesus ever said anything. Also, this passage saying, “I Am the way” only occurs in this late gospel. An isolated verse in a late gospel has been given far too much weight in the way it has been used to exclude and insult people of other faith traditions. God forgive us.

We must remember “the way” doesn’t mean a belief; the way is a path, and a path is traveled on during a journey. The Way isn’t a narrow, myopic, self-serving dogma; the Way is an on-going path of exploration and discovery. It isn’t exclusive, it is infinitely inclusive. And before the words “the Way” are the powerful sacred words, “I AM.”

In Exodus 3.14 the story says that Moses comes to understand God in a new way. Moses’ new discovery is that God is “I AM.” Yahweh is more a verb than a noun, more precisely a “to be” verb.

The divine name means “I Am” or “I Am Who I Will Be” or “I Will Be What I will be” or “ I Am the One that causes things to be”…in any case, God is Pure Being and the source and substance of all being and becoming. “This is what you are to tell the people” (Moses hears), “I AM has sent me to you.”

I AM sends…The Infinite To Be Verb sets in motion Action Verbs…Theologian Paul Tillich called God “the Ground of Being”…This Ground or Substance of All Being calls us To Be our best and sends us out to do our best…I AM calls us to action, to movement, to journeys…the path, the way is one of forward movement, not freezing time nor going back, not even of all pretending to believe the same things, but daring to move forward.

I AM the way…The name of God is a path we follow, a path of exploration and growth and evolution and change. This way is the life-giving truth: the way, the truth and the life.

Notice that there are in John, 7 “I Am” statements attributed to Jesus: I Am Bread of Life (Jn 6), I Am Light (Jn 8 & 9), I Am the Gate (Jn 10), I Am the good shepherd (Jn 10), I Am Resurrection & Life (Jn 11), I Am the Way, Truth, and Life (Jn 14), and I Am the true vine (Jn 15).

I AM is always used in a positive way. To say I Am is to invoke God’s name, and to follow God’s name with something positive is the word of truth, the word of hope, the word of healing, while to follow God’s name with something negative is to take God’s name in vain. John isn’t having Jesus arrogantly sing his own praises; he’s showing that Jesus so related to the God of the universe that he felt at one with God, and he affirmed that unity. And as followers of Jesus, we too are to recognize our unity with the divine and affirm the truth of that unity in our speech, in our prayers, and in our daily living.

Even if we don’t feel that those statements accurately portray what we know of ourselves so far, we can at least trust that those statements are true of God. And so when we say I AM something good, we are affirming the Goodness of God, and as we trust that goodness more and more we will trust our relationship to and with God more and more and those I AM statements will become increasingly accurate portrayals of how we know ourselves to be in this world. John’s Jesus is showing us the power of a positive I AM statement held in mind and repeated with conviction.

I don’t have to fear the future, I don’t have to fear change if I know that I AM something good, something divine, someone of eternal significance. The person who can say, I AM something good can say with complete integrity, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” In God, all is well.

John intended his audience to identify with Jesus. John’s community is meant to do what Jesus does, follow in his footsteps, say what he says, and be in the world what he had been in the world. So, when Jesus says, “I Am”, each member of John’s community was meant to say, “And I Am too.”

That hypothesis is in agreement with what we notice by comparing Jesus’ statement in John’s Gospel, “I AM the light of the world” with Jesus’ statement in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew’s gospel, saying, “You are the light of the world.” Matthew has Jesus say, “you are.” John has Jesus say, “I am.” They are both saying the same thing. They are saying Jesus is divine light, and so are we.

We see in Jesus a person so filled with the presence and power of God that people felt closer to God because of their encounter with him. But then we remember that God breathed the breath of life into ‘adam, the earth-being; that God has breathed Her spirit into all human-beings. We are all God-filled persons; Jesus isn’t the only one. Jesus is the model, the example reminding us what is most deeply true about each of us, about all people.

So, what is the way of Jesus that is true and life-giving, the path that is the way we can best experience the power and presence of God in our lives? Well, rather than literalizing a statement that is made only in John’s gospel some 67 years after Jesus’ lifetime, let’s look at the way Jesus demonstrated time and again throughout scripture:

We see Jesus engaging with respect the Samaritan Woman at the well…The Way of Equality (Jn 4).

We see Jesus responding kindly when the rebel being crucified with him said, “Remember me”…The Way of Compassion (Lk 23).

We see Jesus telling his followers to get to work, saying the harvest is ready but the workers are too few…The Way of Challenge (Mk 9).

We see Jesus saying that the greatest commandments are simply to love God and love people (Matt 22), in fact, we see him saying that to treat others the way you’d like to be treated is the whole message of scripture (Matt 7)…The Way of Love.

We see Jesus praising the poor widow who gives her best gift. She gives absolutely all she can. Others give more, but this woman gives her all and does so not to get anything in return but simply for the joy of doing all she can…the Widow’s Mite remains the ideal image of faithful stewardship and spiritual commitment…The Way of Generosity (Mk 12).

We see Jesus praying in a very affirmative way at Lazarus’ tomb: Abba I thank you for hearing me, I know that you always hear me!...The Way of Affirmation and Positive Thinking (Jn 11).

The way of Jesus isn’t to make him into an idol, or an afterlife insurance policy, or a bouncer to keep people out whose faith experiences have led them in a variety of directions. After all, in God’s house there are many rooms…we are each bound to find the one that is right for us.

The way of Jesus is the way of living in relationship with God, of trusting God’s presence within us, of sharing hope and goodwill with others, of learning to love more, of forgiving ourselves and others when we have failed to love deeply enough, of allowing ourselves to experience and express more and more light as we grow and learn and move forward on our journeys of faith. This is the way of Jesus, the truth he demonstrated, the life he lived, this is the way that will help us live truly in communion with God. Few of us are there yet, but we can grow toward the goal, empowered by grace every step of the way…the way, the truth and the life of constantly growing and evolving faith. And this is the good news. Amen.

© Durrell Watkins 2011

"The Way is not in the sky; the Way is in the heart.” Buddha

I Am a child of God.
I Am a person of conscience and character.
I Am a person of generosity and goodwill.
I Am a person of peace and purpose.
I Am a miracle worker.
I Am God’s Word made flesh.

Judgment Day

Q&A with Pastor Durrell

Question: I hate to admit it but the recent hoopla about May 21 being "Judgment Day" has really unnerved me. Do you believe that May 21 is Judgment Day? - N.F.

Answer: Life is filled with uncertainty, surprises, and unanswered questions. Part of being sentient beings is to wrestle with the complexities and ambiguities of life. However, some individuals (as well as some political, social, and religious organizations) lack the emotional and spiritual maturity to accept these simple realities. And so they pretend to have answers that can't be known in an attempt to feel more in control than they ever could be. This is one of the symptoms of the pathology known as "fundamentalism."

The problem with treating life as if it were so easily and completely predictable is at least twofold: (1) Such a view is delusional, and; (2) such a view is incredibly selfish. It suggests that in all the vastness of the universe, our sense of power, control, or importance is what matters most. Such a view could hardly help us live into our potential nor could it improve the condition of our world.

I honestly haven't paid much attention to the "Judgment Day" propaganda, but I do know that history is full of doomsday predictions that never came to pass. And I must admit having less than positive regard for ideologies that suggest a special class of people can escape the trials and difficulties of life by being beamed to another world mere hours, days, weeks, or months before the rest of creation is destroyed by some horrific force attributed to divine wrath. I think a more realistic understanding of life could probably be found at any given comic book convention.

Now, we certainly have the capacity to do great harm to our planet. Weapons of mass destruction, environmental neglect, even random natural disasters could possibly cripple our earth home, but none of that is inevitable, nor is any of that predictable. The bible isn't a crystal ball, religion isn't a substitute for living life, and whatever else God is, God must be more than a safety net for those who belong to the "right" club.

So, I fully expect that May 21 will be full of opportunities, challenges, rewards and disappointments much like every other day is for most people. And even if I am wrong, that still doesn't change how I would live my life. There is a legendary story about someone approaching St. Francis while he was gardening. The person asked St. Francis what he would do if he knew the world would end in an hour. St. Francis said, "I would finish my gardening." That is the example of mature faith.

I have no idea what will happen on any given day in the future, but I trust that whatever happens, God is with us and hope and joy will always be available to us no matter what else may be happening. And if you are reading this after May 21, then, well, case closed.

This was from the May 22nd "Sun Burst", the weekly newsletter of the Sunshine Cathedral. The online version of the Sunday newsletter is emailed out on the previous Thursday each week.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday 13th Reflection

Friday 13th Reflection
by Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

There is apparently no written evidence for a Friday 13th superstition before the 19th century.

Friday 13th may have developed its bad reputation by two older traditions, Friday being an unlucky day and 13 being an unlucky number, getting mixed together.

Friday has been associated with back luck because it was the day of Jesus’ execution. Stock market crashes and various disasters have also happened on Friday (but of course, difficult occurrences have happened on every day of the week as well).

13 may have been considered unlucky because 12 was considered good. 12 was the number that
suggested completeness/wholeness/perfection. We see 12 being used to suggest goodness or completion by there being 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles, 12 Olympian gods, 12 hours on the clock, 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, etc. Additionally, in numerology, when there is a double digit number, one adds the two digits together to come up with a single digit. When we add 1 + 2, we get 3 which ancient Greeks thought was a divine number representing completeness (beginning, middle, and end).

So, if 12 was the number of completion, then the number beyond 12 would disrupt the completion/perfection that 12 represented. Of course the number beyond perfection couldn’t be good (or so the reasoning may have gone)!

Now all this symbolism is fun and can probably be used toward positive ends, but in Reality, there are no unlucky numbers and no unlucky days. The Greek poet Epimenides believed that we were always “in God” and in Acts 17.28, Luke shows us St. Paul quoting that very belief. God, representing ultimate and infinite goodness, could not contain bad luck. Choices have consequences, and habits are bound to yield results (good habits, good results; bad habits, well, you get it…), so we do experience back “luck” from time to time, but we need not blame it on the calendar.

When we add 1+3 we get 4, which is the number of our gospels (“Good News”), which when multiplied by 3 gives us 12 (see above), which represented the four “corners” of the earth when the earth was thought to be flat (and therefore, 4 would have suggested wholeness and completion!). And Friday is when the fun or restful weekend begins for most people. Furthermore, May 13, 2011 reduces to 13 (so if we decide that 13 is lucky, then today is extra lucky!). Also, today is the only Friday 13th in this entire year (how special is that?!).

On this Friday 13th, let’s seize control of our destinies by making this one of the best days we’ve experienced in a long time!

Let’s spend today counting our blessings.
Let’s spend today expressing hope.
Let’s spend today recognizing what is beautiful in our lives.
Let’s spend today choosing to be generous.
Let’s spend today repeating this affirmation: “I Am blessed!”

I wish you a very happy Friday 13th! And if you are in the Ft. Lauderdale area on Sunday, May 15th, I hope to see you at Sunshine Cathedral.



Monday, May 09, 2011

Save Ugandan Lives

Dear Friends,

I just signed a petition demanding that Ugandan President Musevini veto the "Kill The Gays" bill should it be passed in Parliament.

We just learned the "kill the gays" bill - a death sentence for LGBT people in Uganda - could come up for a vote in the next 72 hours if we don't act now.

Conservative leaders are trying hard to push the bill forward before the millions like us who oppose it have a chance to speak out. If we can create a massive international outcry, there's a chance to stop this bill from becoming law.

This hateful bill appears to be a political diversion, a way to distract from the legitimate grievances of pro-democracy activists, who have been beaten, teargassed, jailed, and even killed in recent weeks.

There are only days left to make sure your voice is heard. Will you join me in demanding the Ugandan President Musevini veto the "Kill The Gays" bill should it be passed in Parliament? Sign and share this urgent petition (click the link below): .


Rev. Durrell Watkins, M.A., M.Div., D.Min.
Senior Pastor, Sunshine Cathedral

Monday, May 02, 2011

Prayer Responding to Death of Osama Bin Laden

Prayer in Response to the Killing of Osama Bin Laden
by Durrell Watkins, MA, MDiv, DMin

Dear God who places within our hearts a reverence for all life as well as a passion for justice: The teachers and preachers, sages and saints whom you have raised up to help raise us up have all taught the power of forgiveness, the divinity of love, and the possibility of redemption.

And so we find ourselves this week conflicted.

We have called Bin Laden our enemy; we have remembered with pain and anger the lives lost because of his terrorism. We may have wanted him to be captured to stand trial in a court of law, but that was not to be.

Perhaps his killing was a sad inevitability; and we, at least in some moments, have felt a desire to rejoice even while knowing that our higher Selves would require better of us. We wonder if we can prevail over our enemies without celebrating their downfall. We struggle to remember that even those we hate are loved by you.

We now give our complex and competing emotions to you, trusting that your grace will balance and heal them.

And as the rush of feelings begins to calm within us, draw us together as one human family to work together for peace in our time and for all time; for the sake of your goodness. Amen.

Progressive Religious Discussions

What Does It Mean to be Christian?

Could We Ever Be Lost?

Gay Friendly Jesus

Letting God Be Bigger Than Our Prejudices

A Rabbi Responds to Bin Laden's Death

Bin Laden & Beyond
by Arthur Waskow on Monday, May 2, 2011 at 10:26am.How might we appropriately address the death of a mass murderer?

The Torah describes Moses and Miriam leading the ancient People Israel in a celebratory song after the tyrannical Pharaoh and his Army have been overwhelmed by the waters of the Red Sea. Later, the Rabbis gave a new overtone to the story: “The angels,” they said, “ began to dance and sing as well, but God rebuked them: ‘These also are the work of My hands. We must not rejoice at their deaths!’ “

Notice the complexity of the teaching: Human beings go unrebuked when they celebrate the downfall and death of a tyrant; but the Rabbis are addressing our higher selves, trying to move us into a higher place. (The legend is certainly not aimed at “angels.”) Similarly, we are taught that at the Passover Seder, when we recite the plagues that fell upon the Egyptians, we must drip out the wine from our cups as we mention each plague, lest we drink that wine to celebrate these disasters that befell our oppressors.

I myself would have been a lot happier to see Bin Laden arrested to stand trial, but assuming the report that he violently resisted arrest is true, I have no objection to his having been killed.

Yet I was dismayed by the quasi-sports-victory tone of the celebrations that arose around the country -- chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A," for instance.

What I myself felt was more like "Sad necessity" -- and I would have preferred a mournful remembrance of the innocent dead of the Twin Towers and of Iraq and Afghanistan -- a thoughtful reexamination of how easy it is to turn abominable violence against us into a justification for indiscriminate violence by us.

Can we now say, “Enough, enough!” -- refuse to drink the intoxicating triumphalist wine of celebration, and turn our attention and commitment to end these wars that take on a deadly “life” of their own?

With blessings of shalom, salaam, peace --

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director
The Shalom Center http://www.theshalomcenter.org/

What Does It Mean to Be Christian


Response to the Death of Bin Laden

I received a New York Times news alert saying that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. Within minutes, parishioners were emailing me to confess some pleasure in learning of Bin Laden's death, asking if it was wrong to be glad, and further asking how we should pray in response to this situation.

Here is my response:

The psalmist wrote, "With a complete hatred I do hate them. They have become to me real enemies" (Ps. 139.22). I don't think the Psalmist is speaking as an ethicist, a behavioral scientist, or even necessarily as a religious leader; rather, he is simply acknowledging, without judgment, how he is feeling in a particular moment. Some feelings simply show up for us and the first task in dealing with them is to acknowledge them. I think that is what the Psalmist shows us.

Of course, we aspire to be people of love, forgiveness, goodwill, and compassion, and yet we are complex beings with a wide range of emotions. Bin Laden orchestrated an act of terrorism in our country a decade ago that killed over 3,000 and wounded and terrified countless more. He has been accused of being the architect of many other acts of violence. Regardless of what we believe about violence or vengeance, we are entitled to our initial flood of emotions and we need not be too harsh with ourselves for experiencing some sense of closure at hearing the news of his demise.

Bin Laden may have been the face of organized Terrorism in recent years, and we may feel relieved that his involvement in terrorism is now over, and we may have concerns that more violence could follow. But we should be very clear that Bin Laden did NOT represent Islam. Bin Laden did NOT represent any nation or region. Whatever we feel about Bin Laden, we must be very careful to not transfer those feelings onto any group of people or religion. We must never use our feelings toward Bin Laden the individual to justify feelings of bigotry toward others.

So, how should we pray? Pray with gratitude that no Americans were killed in the operation. Pray with gratitude that special care was taken to not harm civilians. Pray to bless those who operated couragously from the White House to the battle field.

Pray also for healing in the human family. Pray for violence to be reduced in our world. Pray for the divine Presence to be made manifest in our midst: "Thy kin-dom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." And pray as we do every Sunday, "May peace prevail on earth."

Rev. Durrell Watkins, M.A., M.Div., D.Min.
Senior Pastor
Sunshine Cathedral

Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Easter

It's interesting that Earth Day falls on Good Friday this year.
With our greed (Judas/30 pieces of silver) and our state of denial that our lifestyles are harming Gaia (Peter denying Christ) we are contributing to the crucifixion of the planet; but the Power of Life is still able to express and Resurrection/Restoration is possible.
Let's endeavor to have an Earth Easter and contribute to quality living for the generations still to come!

Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Good Friday/Earth Day 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

Queer Spirituality Discussions

Gay Friendly Jesus

Letting God Be Bigger Than Our Prejudices

Bullying & Gay Teen Suicides

God is Not a Bully

Is There a Chance That Jesus Was Gay?

Does God Like Gay People?

Why Talk About Sexuality?

Is Jesus Relevant for LBGT People?

Do Progressive Christians Believe in Jesus?

The Danger of the Closet

Can We Agree to Disagree About Same-gender Love?

Hate the Sin...Love the Sinner?

Gay & Christianhttp://www.youtube.com/sunshinecathedral#p/u/5/jOesUDnJp7o
Affirming Gay Outreach

Queer Bible Study

Gay Images of God

Integration of Sexuality & Spirituality

Can Gays Pray?

Why Healthy Religion Must Confront Heterosexism?

Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?