Monday, March 26, 2012

Divine Unity

The omnipresent spirit of life is described in the vocabularies and myths appropriate to each culture, but we all experience the Sacred and in essence we are all sacred. How or if we personify the Sacred and what we call it and what stories we imagine about it are not as important as the universal experience of hope, the power of love, and the search for deep meaning.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Prayer in Response to the Killing of Trayvon Martin

Prayer in Response to the Killing of Trayvon Martin

We all know from news reports what happened to 17 year old Trayvon Martin. The unarmed teenager was killed by a neighborhood watch captain with a history of violent behavior. The neighborhood watch captain noticed Trayvon walking home from the local 7-11 with iced tea and candy and called 911 to report that the youth looked "suspicious." The dispatcher responded by telling the watch captain to NOT pursue the young man and that police officers would look into it. Nevertheless, the neighborhood watch volunteer did pursue Mr. Martin, confronted him, and in the end, fatally wounded him.

I mentioned the tragic event in last week's sermon and we all continue to hold Trayvon Martin's family in our hearts as they deal with their grief.
In times of loss, fear, or overwhelming disappointment, we sometimes feel helpless and yet we are still compelled to do "something." One thing that people of faith can do during such times is pray. Please join me once again in the spirit of prayer:

Spirit of Indomitable Hope,

The tragic killing of an unarmed teenager continues to weigh heavy on our hearts.
Our outrage in response to senseless violence feels stuck in our throats.
Our disappointment that racism continues to plague our society leaves us with a sick feeling in our stomachs.
The pain that Trayvon Martin's family must feel fills us with overwhelming sadness.
And so in the healing practice of prayer, we name our emotions.

We bless the memory of one who died far too young and far too needlessly.
We send compassion to Trayvon's loved ones and wish them healing and the satisfaction of real justice.
And as we pray every Sunday at Sunshine Cathedral, we pray again in this moment: May peace prevail on earth!Peace in our hearts. Peace in our communities. Peace among nations. Peace for those who suffer. Peace for those who long for healing. Peace for those whose inner discord causes them to act violently in the spaces we all must share. Peace for those who have been victimized by violence. That peace that passes understanding; may peace prevail on earth.

We pray for peace, justice, and healing today. Not only with our words but with our thoughts, our attitudes, our emotions, and our actions, we pray continually for peace, justice, and healing; in the name of all that is good and holy and in the name of all noble helpers of humanity, we pray for peace, justice, and healing. Amen.

Sunshine Cathedral Worship:
Sunday, Mar. 25: 9 am & 10:30 am
Wednesday, Mar. 28: 7 pm
Palm Sunday, Apr. 1: 9 am & 10:30
Wednesday of Holy Week, Apr. 4: 7 pm
Maundy Thursday, Apr. 5: Labyrinth Meditation 7 pm
GOOD FRIDAY, Apr. 6: Musical Tenebrae 7:30 pm
Easter Sunday, Apr. 8: 8 am, 9:30 am, & 11 am

1480 SW Ninth Ave, Ft Lauderdale, FL

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Loved Sandra Bernhard's "I Love Being Me, Don't You?"

I’m in San Diego this week for the MCC Men’s Conference and I’ve managed to work in some play time as well. The day before the conference began we (Robert and I with friends) went to the old Spanish Mission at San Juan Capistrano (our second time in 12 years to visit the historic site) and to Disneyland in Anaheim. We’ve dug up good restaurants and participated in the day to day activities of the conference in addition to taking the trip to the mission and to Anaheim. Souvenirs were purchased as well. So, what could make our little work with stolen moments of play get away any better? A show at the famous La Jolla Playhouse!

Tonight I was delighted by Sandra Bernhard’s one woman show, “I Love Being Me, Don’t You?” I had never seen Bernard live and didn’t have a great passion to see her now, but I did want to see “something” at the La Jolla Playhouse, and she was what they were offering and a few seats were still available. So, bending to the will of the Fates, we got the tickets and went to the show.

I have a special interest in solo performance (standup comedy, performance art, homiletics, one character plays, drag performance, etc.) and so I thought, “Even if the show isn’t that good, I’ll have something to reflect on for my on-going study of solo performance.” I was mistaken to underestimate the genius of Sandra Bernhard.

Her simple set did not distract from her presence and energy. It was tasteful, functional, but not at all garish. In fact, it was mostly the instruments for the musicians, a few microphone stands, and special lighting providing simple elegance that allowed her to shine on her own (which she did).

She came out singing, and her voice was brash and her dancing jerky and I didn’t know if she was a bad singer or if she was being comedic. It was an uncomfortable moment, but that moment was soon followed by almost two hours of a hilarious stream of consciousness that left me wanting more.

The show consisted of storytelling, riffing, improvisation, satire and music. One thing flowed, usually without any transition, into the next. She sang a few more songs throughout the show, and the songs were all performed much better than the first. Was the first just a little off, or was it a gag? I still don’t know.

Some of the songs were done seriously as any singer might perform, and one or two were done playfully as much for comedic effect as for musicality. Within a song her voice could go from soothing and sweet to steamroller powerful without warning.

But there was one song (accompanied by a personal story) that was particularly powerful because she made it seem personal to her. She talked about having always desired to be a musical theatre actor. She recently made a television appearance with a well known musical theatre actor who encouraged her to take a risk and sing songs from musical theatre in her act. She also recalled seeing Carol Channing on tour when she was a child. So, taking the advice to bring musical theatre to her cabaret act, Sandra sang “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello Dolly! (the show for which Channing is most famous).

Bernhard really sold it! She sang the Jerry Herman number as if she was on the Broadway stage and Carol Channing, Pearl Bailey, and Ethel Merman (each of whom had played Dolly) miraculously entered the space (in my imagination anyway) to join her in singing the song. It was a delightful and powerful moment that seemed to communicate something spiritually true as much as something entertaining.

Speaking of spirituality, Bernard spoke of her Jewish tradition, her daughter’s interest in Wicca, her daughter’s enrollment in a Waldorf School (which promotes the philosophy of Anthroposophy), and the difference, in her view, between “good Christians” and “sneaky Christians.” And she launched an all out comedy assault on the “Rapture” teachings of certain fundamentalist Christians.

She also spoke openly about her lesbian relationship and her support of President Obama. She was confrontational with audience members who wanted to join in the act, and for all her talk of religion, politics, sexuality, and for her rough handling of those who dared to interrupt her monologue (she said, “This isn’t an invitation for a conversation”), she still never alienated the audience and from the laughter and applause (and one person shouting, “I love you”), the audience seemed to be 100% on her side throughout.

The final part of her act, after a quick a costume change, was singing a mash-up (the blending of a rock classic and a vintage R&B “one hit wonder”) with her three person (fabulous) band. The songs were fun, the blending of them brilliant, her voice was adequate, and her dancing enthusiastic, and while the musical aspect of the final number might not be Grammy worthy, the energy and pure joy of the performance was infectious.

The show had moments that challenged the audience to think, and more moments that dared the audience to laugh without being filtered by any notion of political correctness. But mostly, it was just high energy, super fun, originality and a great example of what solo performance can (and maybe should) be.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Lenten Message from Pastor Durrell

Lent is a "penitential" season, that is, it's a time to reflect on what needs healing in our lives and to make the changes ("repentance") necessary to achieve that healing (or growth, or improvement, etc.).

Of course, we need not limit our efforts to improve our lives to the Lenten Season. And, we don't need to confuse self-evaluation with guilt, shame, or self-hatred. At Sunshine Cathedral you don't hear a lot of talk about sin. Sin is "missing the mark" and we don't "hit" the mark by focusing on mistakes, failures, and regrets. What we focus on we drift toward and what we believe in we are likely to experience, so why would we ever call ourselves sinners or spend too much energy focusing on sin?

I've said over and over (as Bishop John S. Spong has said for decades) that we never fell from perfection; we are still evolving toward it. Lent isn't for me a time to focus on sinfulness but on our innate goodness. We don't need to be saved from ourselves; we need to grow into our divine potential.

I don't understand the divine to be punishing, harsh, demanding atonement, or keeping a record of rights and wrongs.

The divine Presence, in my understanding and experience, is that universal power of Love which spins worlds into being, which connects and flows through all life, and that is best honored by our joy, our compassion, and our goodwill (not by our shame, guilt, and fear).

For a couple of years now I have been working on my attitudes toward food and exercise, my belief in my physical goodness, and my divine right to feel good in and about my body. It's been a slow process, but I have lost 27 pounds, I've lost 3.5 inches in the middle, 2 inches in the neck, and I've gained inches in my chest, shoulders, biceps, calves, and thighs (lean tissue, not fat). In the process, my overall health has also improved (better cholesterol, better sleep, more energy, etc.). I made changes (I "repented") in my attitudes and habits, and I didn't give up when progress was slow, and as a result, things started to improve.

What I am achieving in my body we can all achieve - not just with our waistlines or blood pressure, but with our relationships, our finances, our mental health, our spiritual growth...whatever needs healing or improvement, if we will dare to examine it and make healthy changes, we can make a positive difference in our lives and in the lives of others.

Improvement can be done without guilt, shame, fear, or cowering before a tyrannical image of a cosmic Being. This is a season, not of guilt and self-flagellation, but of hope, encouragement, positive thinking, and healing. The repentance (change) can be positive, nurturing, and joyous.

I invite you to allow Lent to be a time of growth and healing. Worship, study, pray, give...not to appease an angry God, but to allow the Love we call God to flourish in our life and to bless us abundantly. And may our shared Lenten journey bring us all to Easter joy! Amen.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Amuse Me, Delight Me, Shock Me – By God!

What is worship? I mean, the gathering together of people to sing hymns, say prayers, hear the thoughts of a hopefully learned speaker, read texts (sacred or otherwise), and share rituals (whether as simple as the candle lighting ritual of the UUs or the shard silence of the Quakers, or as elaborate as the symbolic love feast that many Christians call the Eucharist or Holy Communion) – what is really the purpose of all that?

Is it to help us be moral or “good”? Not really. We learned some sense of right and wrong from our families and the code of conduct of our schools. There are laws to dissuade us from hurting one another, stealing from one another, damaging property, and so on. And anyway, most of us could figure out that unrestrained selfishness can have negative consequences so some standard of behavior would find its way into our lives. Besides, how many bigots, homophobes, misogynists, tax evaders, perpetrators of violence, slanderers, gossips, child abusers, unfit pet caregivers, and general scoundrels go to church every Sunday?! No, clearly we don’t need to go to church to be good, nor does going to church assure us that we will be well behaved.

Is worship, at the church, synagogue, mosque, sangha, or coven, if not to make us “good” then really to help us find God/dess (Spirit, Higher Power, insert meaningful symbol of ultimate reality here)? Maybe on some level for some of us, but why do we keep going once we find It? Cannot the spirit of life and hope and community be accessed in nature, in relationships, in private times of personal reflection, in 12 Step meetings, and so on? And anyway, if we believe in God, don’t we have some sense that It is a ubiquitous presence? How could we ever be separated from what is divine?

Is worship then an intellectual exercise? I mean, there are texts to reflect on, and a homily/sermon/message/lecture/lesson given in most cases. There are religious education classes and spiritual literature/brochures/booklets distributed. Maybe we just like learning. That would be true of the more curious among us, but libraries, universities, public lectures, public broadcasting, and book stores are also good venues for learning. Even without religion, we would find ways to engage our minds if we desired such stimulation.

Maybe worship leads to service and service leads to significance. In worship we are often encouraged to give charitably, to work for justice, to volunteer our time and talent, do something that might ease someone’s burdens in life. Service is valuable, but again, there are those who aren’t particularly religious but who give to charity, who volunteer time, who try to be a good friend to someone in need or who always seek to be a helpful neighbor.

Perhaps worship, then, is social. Maybe we just like to be around people. Maybe it feels good to sing together, to visit at the coffee hour, to shake hands (or hold hands if the liturgy allows), to make personal connections and to express care and concern when fellow worshipers are ill or otherwise struggling in their lives (and, similarly, it may feel good to be cared about during our difficult times). Celebrations of joy (weddings, baptisms) and cathartic/healing rituals (memorials/funerals) also bring us together to share our joys and concerns. Maybe religion is just a really good way to make friends and build community.

And of all the reasons explored so far, this is the one that may hold the most (holy) water! Religion (along with government, family, economy, and education) is one of the five basic social institutions. Maybe religion is very important for society, or for most of human history for our evolutionary good (religion brings us together, and together we are more likely to help one another, to not be as alone, and therefore to be better able to survive some of life’s hardships).

Yes, religion as a social institution and evolutionary aid (helping protect the species by bringing us together) is pretty important. But in a world of dating services, bowling leagues, book clubs, hospitals, nursing homes, support groups, and even the internet, maybe religion is now just one of several ways that we come together to help one another. For worship to be truly meaningful, it must be more than even socialization (which is, however, a good product of religion).

Remember, theatre came out of religious festivals. And people go to the theatre (and presumably the movies, the opera, concerts, pep rallies, etc.), according to playwright/director/social critic David Mamet, “to be delighted, amused, and shocked. To be brought to life, in short.”

That’s it! People come to worship for the same reason they go to worship’s love child – the theatre! People share the worship experience in hopes of experiencing both joy and scandal. People worship to be more fully alive!

Worship isn’t fire insurance to save us from an after-life booby trap.
Worship isn’t the road map to a God forever playing Hide-n-Seek.
Worship isn’t just an inexpensive way to learn myths, histories, rituals, and ancient opinions.
Worship isn’t something that makes us good.
Worship isn’t even primarily to inspire us to do good work (though it can, and that is wonderful).
Worship, in the end, must even be more than a social enterprise (though it is at least that).

No, worship is a shared attempt to live more abundantly.

Whether the music is from an organ, a guitar, or a capella singers, whether the homilist’s jokes are dry or a little naughty, whether the ritual is simple or complex, whether the story-telling is extemporaneous or read from a book, people come together for worship to share an experience of being delighted and shocked.

It’s shocking to hear about a virgin conceiving, and for those who literalize the story, it can be shocking to hear that it may be a story rather than a historical/biological fact.

On Good Friday, it is shocking to bring to mind the horrors of the torture called crucifixion, and to the humanist, it is shocking to hear that some people believe that God wanted such torture for Jesus; for fundamentalists, it might be shocking to hear Presbyterian theologian Delores Williams declare, “there is nothing of God in the blood of the cross.”

And to those who know that same-gender love and attraction are normal, have always existed in every society in every age, and that homosexuality exists in hundreds of species will be shocked to learn that some people hide behind religion to justify their homophobia; while those who always heard that God shared their prejudice against gays and lesbians will be shocked to hear that divine love does not exclude Queer people but indeed, being gay can be considered a special blessing from God!

Oh yes, we come to be delighted, to be amused, and to be shocked. And the more we get what we came for, the more we’ll return and spread the word to others that they need to try this experience.

At Sunshine Cathedral, we show film clips, we tell stories, we share rituals, we sing, we dance, we entertain (we know that’s one of the reasons people come to church, just as it is why they go to the movies, the cabaret, or a play). And, we don’t shy away from thoughts that might be shocking. We challenge oppressive theologies, and to challenge a theology one has held dear for decades can seem shocking, and liberating, and healing, and thrilling. We may be better, God may be bigger, and life may be open to more investigation than we were ever before led to believe. How thrilling that is to discover!

There may be many reasons to worship, but chiefly among them are the desires to be amused, delighted, and shocked. I honestly hope that at Sunshine Cathedral, we meet those needs in abundance week after week!