Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Blessed are those who mourn...

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
Jesus (Sermon on the Mount)  
In Good Times & Bad, Keep Praying...
by Rev Dr Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister

Many people have been in my thoughts and prayers lately. There are those who are on our prayer list (where they stay for four weeks at a time) as well as those in our congregation whose circumstances are known to me. I've been very mindful of some who are looking for work. I've been thinking of some who have been recovering from (or preparing to have) medical procedures. There have been injuries. There has been grief over the death of cherished loved ones (friends, relatives, even pets). Over and over my thoughts are filled with the words, "God bless him" or "May she soon discover joy again" or "I affirm blessings for them, trusting that divine Love holds them and will not let them go."

Sometimes the prayers seem to contribute to miracles. Sometimes, the prayers seem to offer comfort. And sometimes the prayers seem to do little other than to help the one praying feel as if loving concern prayerfully expressed might somehow make a bit of difference that cannot yet be felt or seen. Still, in prayer I remember that "there's not a spot where God is not."

When we remember our unity with God, we are much more likely to experience hope, joy, and fulfillment; and even when outcomes disappoint, there remains the divine gift of inner peace and self-worth which were not given to us by life's circumstances nor can they be taken away by life's circumstances. As the Apostle Paul said, "If we live we live for the Lord; if we die we die with the Lord. So, whether we live or die we are the Lord's!" In more contemporary verbiage we might say, "I am never separate from divine Life. No matter what happens in life, I am Eternity expressing in time; I am an individuation of perfect, universal Wholeness."

Today I have been praying for one of our deacons and his life-partner. I heard this morning that John was suddenly very ill. Updates throughout the day were consistently discouraging. Finally, this evening, I received a call saying that John made his transition from this experience of life to the next. His partner, Deacon Ed, is one of our faithful diaconal care-givers who provide pastoral care and comfort to congregants when they are in need. Today, my heart is heavy for Deacon Ed and I continue to pray for his comfort, for his strength, for his pain to soften over time into beautiful memories, for his grief to become a healing process that leads him gently back to abundant joy.

Perhaps you have been blessed by Ed reading the gospel or praying for our various intentions in worship. Perhaps you have been encouraged by him or have known about his ministry to seniors. So, I am asking you to hold Deacon Ed in your heart in the days ahead, and bless him with your love.
Dear God, the light that we knew as 
John shines throughout eternity, forever blessed by the Love that you are. And so we give thanks even as we ask you to hold 
Deacon Ed in your tender care and keeping and offer him the comfort he needs in the days to come. Amen. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

On-going Leadership Success

On-going Leadership Success
by Rev Dr Durrell Watkins 
Those who led an organization into crisis or decline are unlikely to be the ones to lead them out of it without a radical change in attitude and a willingness to learn and try new things. When the organization exists to protect the comfort and preferences of a few, or the privilege of even fewer, or to serve the "leader(s)" who are supposed to be serving/leading the organization, then turning around the organization is unlikely. In fact, if the ones charged with casting a vision and/or implementing the policies and procedures will not admit that a turn around is even needed, then continued decline, increasing irrelevance, and eventual extinction is all but certain.
Leaders who succeed beyond a season seem to be those who are continually learning, who are keeping up with trends as they are (rather than trying to recreate a past that is forever gone), who are willing to constantly assess the health of the organization (based on verifiable metrics) and make course corrections as needed, who are training, equipping, raising up, and attracting new leaders, who are outwardly focused and service minded, who are making the most of technological advances, who are optimistic without depending on magical fixes, and who are transparent (without becoming defeatist) about both successes and challenges, plans and setbacks, victories and disappointments.
If a leader can cast and continually articulate a compelling vision, continually train and equip other and new leaders, constantly learn and adapt and even reinvent herself/himself as needed, and deal with the difficult facts while also holding to a higher and more promising truth, then that leader is less likely to burn out and will be more likely to remain effective for a very long time.
Leaders who are unwilling to do these things will be cease to be leaders and will become place holders until they become monuments to the past, until they become mourners who are missing the movement or organization they once led before it gasped its last breath.
I learned long ago, that all newcomers to a church need "a friend and job." If people are not invited into relationship and given meaningful work to do (which will employ their skills and talents and personalities, which will add to a vibrant, flexible, changing and growing community), they will not stay, or if they stay they will not fully engage, and they certainly won't be part of inviting others to give the community a try. Growth requires new people, and new people have to be welcome and valued and allowed to be part of a viable future rather that simply honoring a past which is not part of their experience.
Growth means change.
Growth means newness.
Growth means learning.
And growth depends on effective leadership. As leadership experts have said over and over, everything rises and falls on leadership, and leadership is influence, and influence is part of relationship.
If leaders are not leading forward, they are not leading at all, which means they aren't really leaders (they are managers, and probably micromanagers, and what they are managing is or will soon enough be in decline).
If a message is life-giving, you'll want more people to hear it. To get more people to hear it, the organization will have to become healthier, and the health of organizations depend on healthy leadership; and healthy leadership will attract new leaders even as the "old guard" are constantly learning and growing themselves.
"Behold, I make all things new!" Revelation 21.5
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland." Isaiah 43.18-19
"As congregations shrink, the members who would be the most help turning them around often are among the first to go: the energetic, outward-focused people with an urgent sense of purpose and good skills for group decision-making." Dan Hotchkiss

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Confessions of a Progressive Christian ~ 2014

I have friends who have been so hurt by fundamentalist Christianity that they can't even imagine that there is any other way to be Christian; and because the Christianity they have experienced is so myopic, narrow, petty, anti-intellectual, self-serving, and mean-spirited, they not only reject it, they run from any mention of the bible, Jesus, sacraments, worship, or prayer.

Now, many of them do believe in God, and even those who say they don't believe in God nevertheless believe in love, beauty, hope, compassion, possibilities, life (and its deep mysteries)...which is what I mean when I say "God" either they aren't complete atheists, or I am one (and either way, it's OK).

Moreover, I'm not invested in making these dear friends have a fondness for Jesus, or scripture, or prayer, or worship; but it does somehow bother me that some of these things (at least some of the time) can be so empowering or healing for me, and yet they dismiss them as being at best irrelevant relics of a superstitious past, or at worst, dangerous weapons meant to actually diminish human value and creativity.

Atheists, I bless you as you are!

Non-Christian religious people (Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, Sikhs, etc.), I bless you as you are!

Spiritual but not religious (those who ponder the deep questions and who explore the endless mysteries of life without the need for ritual, hymns, saintly heroes, or holy days), I bless you as you are!

But do consider that some of us who call ourselves Christians (or post-Christians or Progressive Christians or Metaphysical Christians or followers of Jesus) may be as different from the Christianity you reject as you are (in fact, we probably, in whole or in part, have rejected the very same version of Christianity that you have!).

When I speak of God, I am speaking of a universal presence, a non-discriminating power, the best in life, the source of life, the invisible but honestly experienced energy of love and hope and compassion and grace.

When I speak of Jesus I am speaking of a symbol.
Jesus wrote nothing (and we have no proof he could even read).
His ministry/career lasted less than three years (and probably only one).
We don't know what he looked like, sounded like, or what his sexual orientation was (though, whichever orientation you guess, there are just enough hints to suggest you are right...mine is a thoroughly Queer Jesus).

What we do know is that he helped people who had felt broken experience a sense of wholeness, so we imagine him to be a healer.
We know that he appealed to women and children, that he spoke to Samaritans and at least one Canaanite, that he may have had (at least) one "beloved" male companion, that he touched the untouchables, that he confronted injustice, that he cared about the poor, and that he was tortured to death by the horrifically cruel Roman practice of crucifixion.

Jesus cared about those who suffered, and he suffered himself, so in our sufferings he can be a symbol of compassion (passion = suffer, com = with....Jesus then symbolizes one who understands our suffering and in some way shares them).
Jesus spent his life giving people their dignity back, and when he was executed his friends, followers, and admirers returned the favor, insisting that he didn't stay dead and could still be felt, experienced, loved, and depended on in some way. And those stories of unconquerable dignity we call "Resurrection."

When I speak of the bible I am speaking of a collection of books,entirely human in origin, but from the human words a divine message of hope and healing can often be gleaned (sadly, a message of horror and oppression can also be gleaned, because in the final analysis readers make meaning...what we say the bible says has much more to do with us than the bible itself).

When I speak of prayer, I'm speaking of an inward attempt to feel connected to All That Is, an effort to summon hope, courage, or comfort, an experience of mental or spiritaul energy, an effort to imagine and embrace possibilities. Prayer is not, for me, an attempt to persuade a deity to do what It otherwise would not do without my begging. In fact, prayer is powerful in and of itself and need not be offered "to" anything or anyone.

When I speak of heaven or hell (and I so RARELY do), I'm speaking of states of consciousness. Joy or peace is heaven; fear or misery is hell. Neither is a reward or punishment for opinions we hold (sometimes called beliefs). And I don't know what is after this experience of life, but if there is something more, it is for all of us and it can be good for all of us. If God punished people for not being in the right club or for not affirming a certain belief or even for some depravity resulting from mental illness or internalized pain from abuse or oppression, then such a god would be either evil or demented, and such a tyrant, divine or not, must be resisted at all costs!
But I don't believe that God (hope, love, beauty, compassion, peace, energy) is evil, so I don't believe in everlasting damnation for any person for any reason.

When I speak of miracles I am not suggesting that a deity beyond us grants favors to some while ignoring or denying others, nor am I suggesting that the laws of the universe are sometimes suspended (though there may be laws we don't yet fully understand or know how to employ just yet...flight, space travel, organ transplants, and instant messaging aren't breaking Nature's laws, they are understanding and cooperating with them in ways we once couldn't imagine); but rather, a miracle for me is a change of perception. When I see what I could not see before, when my perspective broadens or my hope is renewed or I embrace possibilities that weren't previously obvious to me, that is a miracle. I don't expect virgins to conceive, prophets to walk on water, or reluctant missionaries to set up housekeeping in the belly of a fish (but those mythic tales do show how we can each have a change of perception and therefor experience something differently than we did before).

When I speak of church I am speaking of a community of seekers who want to be in relationship with other seekers and with Something beyond (and still very much a part of) themselves.

And when I speak of sacraments I am speaking of human rituals that are meant to affirm our sacred value and remind us of the great potential (Christ, Buddha nature, Inward Light, Goddess, Higher Power, guardian angel, whatever image/name we choose) that is within each of us.

My Christianity is as valid (and I would argue as ancient) as Billy Graham's or the pope's.
You don't have to adopt my faith, but please don't confuse it for others that may share the name or some of the symbols (however differently interpreted) of Christianity. And don't dismiss it as being silly or crazy. There may be more to it than you have let yourself so far imagine. I bless you as you are. I seek your blessing as well.

That's the reality of my faith (riddled with doubts as it may be). It may not appeal to you, but do realize that it has done quite a lot of good for me. Whatever you embrace as Truth, I hope it proves to be a constant blessing in your life.

Durrell Watkins, DMin
Progressive Christian, Universalist, Spiritual Humanist (and some other stuff)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Progressive Epiphany

A Progressive Epiphany
Epiphany 2014 sermon
Universalist message
Progressive Christianity

Immersed in God

Immersed in God
a sermon exploring spiritual baptism, an experience beyond water ritual

Words of Wisdom

Words of Wisdom

"The more we hold to divine perfection, in thought & feeling, the better is the creation that we see in the outer." Helen Zagat

"I accept my good; I accept abundant supply even though I cannot see the way in the outer. Now is the time. My declaration brings it forth. I give thanks. I give thanks." Helen Zagat

"Since there is but one Spirit and this Spirit is in you and in everything, then everywhere you go you will meet this Spirit. You meet this Spirit in people, in places and in things. There is a Divine Essence permeating everything, flowing through everything, becoming all things."  Ernest Holmes

"We grow into the things that fill our thoughts..." Emmet Fox

"Jesus...constantly made a point of his at-one-ness with God...We separate ourselves from God when we pray to God afar off, as it were, instead of realizing that God dwells in us & we in God." 
Emmet Fox

"You are individualized Spirit..." Thomas Troward

"Buried in every one of us is God." Neville Goddard

"Everything is alive with the Divine Life." HB Jeffery

"To be a progressive Christian involves affirming 'God in all things and all things in God.'”  
Bruce Epperly 

"There is no power adverse to God." Daisy M Baum

“Omnipresence! The many in the One and the One in the many; the All-Knowing, All Powerful One. All forms and forces are the expressions of Omnipresent, Intelligent Substance.” Nona Brooks

"Since there is but one Substance, one Mind, one Life, I must be in eternal unity with that One that is All in all." Fannie B James

"There is but One Presence in the universe, and I am one with that Presence." 
John Randolph Price