Monday, July 21, 2014

The Sacrament of Sharing

New Resource on the spirituality of generosity

Financial gifts are needed to support good causes and churches are especially dependent on faithful, goodwill offerings. But giving is more than funding projects; it is a spiritual discipline that helps the giver grow. Generous people tend to be happier and they feel personally invested in the good work their gifts make possible. As much as churches and charities need our gifts, we need to be givers. This short book will encourage you to grow in the grace of giving and to experience the blessing that it is to be a consistent, generous giver.

The Sacrament of Sharing 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Parable of the Scattered Seeds & Story of Jacob & Esau

Gen. 25.20-34 & Matthew 13.1-9, 19-23...a Reflection
Durrell Watkins, DMin

The parable in the gospel reading comes with its own explanation.  Some of us hear a word of hope and healing, and it sounds good and we are thrilled to hear it, but we can’t really commit to it yet. It got us excited in the moment, but we haven’t had a shift in consciousness, so no real change takes place.

Some of us hear a word of hope and healing, and it is very encouraging, but we can’t really pursue it because we allow ourselves to be immediately distracted by the obstacles and challenges. We keep our focus on what is wrong rather than allowing ourselves to pursue a path of liberation.

But some of us hear a word of hope and healing and we embrace it, internalize it, own it, try to live it, begin to grow into it, and that word that sinks into our subconscious mind becomes part of us and transformation takes place.

This isn’t really three kinds of people, but most people at different stages in their lives. But we can always work toward becoming the people who are rich soil receiving the seeds of empowerment and liberation and allowing those seeds to take root.

Without going into ancient inheritance practices and the reasoning behind them, and beyond the acknowledgement that the Genesis story is a myth of origin creatively weaving a story around geo-political tensions, I think we can look at the story as symbolic for realities in our own lives.

Esau isn’t aware of what he is really worth. Sacred value is the birthright we each have inherited, but we have traded it for dogmas and creeds, biblolatry and traditions, giving away healthy self-esteem for the temporary satisfaction of being told we are morally superior to an imagined “other” or that we have reservations at the heavenly banquet hall. By not believing in our innate goodness, we settle for comforts which cannot endure and then often become angry when others have dared to search for meaning beyond our inherited paradigm.

Jacob also doesn’t realize his inherent dignity and sacred value. He believes he has to scheme, cheat, lie, or steal from someone else in order for him to have what he needs to feel good about himself. Just as Esau gives his self-esteem away too easily and then is furious that others find meaning in ways other than he has thought to pursue, Jacob believes the only way he can matter is to take away someone else’s dignity, hope, or opportunity. They both make painful mistakes because they don’t realize that just as they are they have potential and merit and their lives are full of opportunities for discovery and expression.

Later Jacob will claim the gift he conned Esau out of by disguising himself as Esau. He has to lie and hide and pretend to be something he isn’t. This closeted experience is not fulfilling. He doesn’t really get a blessing because he spends the next several years hiding and running and suffering the pain of regret. One can never be truly blessed by living a lie.

While Esau is willing to sell his value, and Jacob is so unaware of his that he is willing to steal someone else’s in order to feel valued himself, the fact remains they are twins. They share origins. They share history. They are connected. They part of a larger whole. They are equal, even while each is unique. Neither trading nor conniving is necessary … they are both threads in the sacred tapestry of life.

Isaac also suffers from “not-enough-ness.” He suffers from the delusion that he has only one blessing to give. His scarcity mentality has convinced him that he is limited in what he can share. He is rich enough to have an heir, but even at that he doesn’t realize how blessed he really is. He has two children to love, two with whom to share his best gifts. He has more to give than he knows and more people to share his gifts with than he is willing to acknowledge. Like his sons, he doesn’t get how blessed he really is, and not realizing how blessed he is, he also can’t realize how many blessings he has to share.

Rebekah, too, isn’t aware that she has more love to give than to just one son. She clearly loves Jacob. Her blessing is denied to Esau, and Isaac’s is denied to Jacob and dysfunction follows.

Maybe Rebekah preferred Jacob because Isaac preferred Esau, and she couldn’t stand for Jacob to not have a parent’s full adoration.

Of course, Isaac isn’t entirely to blame for this mess. How does he know how to be a good father? His was willing to carve him up like a Thanksgiving Turkey because he believed a blood-thirsty deity required it, and he was more devoted to his delusions about the deity than to his own child. How many parents have sacrificed their children in the name of bad religion?

This dysfunctional family, full of deceit and madness and rage and trickery and triangulation suffers a lot of pain and the cycles of dysfunction are passed down from one generation to the next. But that isn’t how it has to be.

Eventually, Jacob will not be his mother’s favorite, his father’s spare son, his brother’s enemy, or a lonely, scared little person who believes he can only be someone if he takes away someone else’s good fortune. Jacob finally wrestles with God/the better angels of his nature/his conscience/his consciousness/his ideals and he will not let the divine presence go until he gets his own blessing. And his blessing is to know who is he really is, to come to accept his sacred value.

Now, Jacob isn’t always the best husband or father, wrestling with the angel is the beginning of overcoming his demons, but there will be more work to do…healing is a process and a messy one sometimes, but the healing begins as soon as he is willing to embrace a “new thought” about himself. Maybe that’s the blessing we are all seeking and that blessing may begin to change our lives for the better.

Monday, July 07, 2014

My response to someone who insisted that his fundamentalist views were biblical and being biblical made them right...he further said his views were unquestionable b/c the bible "teaches its readers to believe it in its entirety."

The bible does not teach the reader to believe it in its entirety because the bible isn't the bible in the bible. the canon of scripture wasn't closed until LONG after the life of Jesus. the bible the people in the NT knew was the Septuagint (Hebrew Scriptures in Greek including the books that Protestants now call the Apocrypha which are part of Catholic bibles)...there is no New TEstament in the New Testament. Anyway, that bible "in its entirety" tells slaves to obey their masters, forbids tattoos, demands a kosher diet and a 7th day (Friday night to Saturday night) Sabbath and assumes the world is flat (with literal corners) and doesn't seem troubled by two contradictory creation accounts (and other contradictions). So, "biblolatry" isn't being more faithful or more devout, just less thoughtful. The doctrine of the Trinity wasn't hammered out until the 4th century (again, long after Jesus) and even if the bible did fall out of the sky fully written, it is beyond weak to say "the bible is true because it says it is."

God must be so much bigger than what ancients said about God (or what anyone says about God). God, "the ground of being" isn't a person, isn't a member of a human religion, and surely wouldn't reject anyone for any reason. Fundamentalism has made religion a weapon of oppression which has done far more damage than good.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

MCC Grads of Episcopal seminary Offer Plan for Reconciliation for a School in Conflict

Open Letter from MCC EDS Alumns to Leadership of EDS
June 30, 2014

Board of Trustees (BOT), Episcopal Divinity School
President & Dean (P/D), Episcopal Divinity School
Faculty, Episcopal Divinity School
Staff, Episcopal Divinity School

From Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) Alums of the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS)

Dear Friends,

On Tuesday, June 17, 2014 EDS alumni/ae serving Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) convened a conference call to discuss EDS. The express purpose of this gathering was to hear from MCC alumni/ae regarding the impact that the current state of the school is having since EDS is one of the primary seminaries promoted by MCC for theological education for clergy and laity.

Invoking the VISIONS guidelines for this gathering, alums expressed their concerns and frustrations with the current state of the school. Throughout the conversation, alums shared their perspectives of campus life as well as what was important to them and their learning while at EDS. Noted was what appears to be a shift away from the VISIONS model as a means to facilitate and promote transparent communication, open debate, and conflict resolution. These tools have, in the past, been critical to maintaining shared governance at EDS.

Concerns from the MCC alums also included:

~Writing to EDS officials, BOT and/or administration, and receiving no response. This lack of acknowledgement of well-considered correspondence is fueling ill will and giving the appearance of a lack of even the most basic common courtesy.

~Official emails from the administration seem to defend the President and Dean and the BOT while blaming the faculty in adversarial and accusatory language. Public responses should at least invite shared solutions. This lack of interest in diplomacy contributes to a deepening lack of trust.

~ There was expressed regret that the BOT did not agree to meet with the faculty at their request, and after repeated requests, over a year ago. Actions by the BOT after repeated refusal to meet with the faculty have exacerbated issues and contributed to a perceived lack of safe space for transparent conversation on a variety of topics. The simple act of listening might have kept a loyal and distinguished faculty from going to such great lengths to be heard.

~Perhaps most importantly many are troubled by the circumstances of changing the terms of the Church History position from tenure track to contract at the end of a nearly year-long search and after the Faculty Search Committee had voted on a final candidate. Concern was expressed that this perceived lack of ethics on the part of EDS has damaged our credibility in the academy and the church giving the impression that we are dishonest and untrustworthy. Alums also expressed that the administration seems to discount these concerns and respond as if the complaint was about tenure itself. Some feel that a public apology for making a mistake might open some space for healing. Simply saying the decision was not perfectly timed is not enough.

We are aware that organizations change and need to change. However, unilateral changes to systems by the BOT and the President and Dean without dialogue or buy-in from the larger EDS community, including staff, faculty, students, alumni/ae, and donors, is counterproductive. As Professor Christopher Duraisingh says, "dialogue is the very beginning of theology" and we believe that dialogue can be the key to resolving the tension at our beloved institution.

Some on our call expressed frustration to the degree that they have suspended their giving to EDS or are considering doing so. Some are no longer comfortable recommending EDS to those seeking theological education. Some are not willing at this time to send their own students in formation to EDS. We all look forward to the day when we are again able to fully support EDS. We are committed to dialogue, prayer, and honest efforts toward reconciliation. Healing is the hope of everyone who participated in the call.

Therefore, we as MCC Alums wish to share with you:

1. We have covenanted with one another to be in ongoing prayer for EDS.

2. We encourage you to foster relationships by insisting that all utilize the VISIONS model as a means to return to shared governance and open dialogue. EDS has invested time and financial resources to teach this model as a foundational course. We believe it only makes sense to utilize the tools being taught us as a means to end the friction. VISIONS, as we see it, is a major part of the DNA of EDS. Changes in policy should at least be respectful of the culture of EDS now decades in the making and to which many people remain thoroughly committed in their personal and professional lives.

3. We encourage all to de-escalate hostilities toward one another. We encourage all parties to deal with one another in a manner that is reflective of true integrity, religious values, transparency, and a respect for the dignity of all concerned.

4. MCC has long stood on the side of those are marginalized and oppressed. We as MCC alums recognize that there is hurt being felt in all constituencies. And we all experience both privilege and peril. In order to break this current chain of emotional violence, we recommend that two (2) representatives from each body, (selected from the bodies themselves - Board of Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Students, and Alums), meet to begin to forge a way to healing rather than blame, shame, and intimidation. Because the BOT chair and the President and Dean have become lightening rods for this conflict and because fear of reprisal by the President and Dean has been expressed, we strongly urge that both Chair Kowalski and President and Dean Ragsdale recuse themselves from this proceeding.

We believe that 10 people from these five bodies can begin a dialogue and find three common objectives to embrace and recommend to the larger faculty, the President and Dean, the entire BOT. This dialogue and recommendations will allow movement forward together so that we can begin to support some common goals and shared vision.

We sincerely and passionately ask that you hear these concerns, that you respect the time and energy that went into expressing them, that you allow yourselves to believe that they come to you in a spirit of love and hope. We pray that you honestly consider embracing the recommendations we put forward.


Rev. Dr. Robert Griffin (MDiv, ’06)

Letter Drafters:
Rev. Dr. BK Hipsher (Certificate, ’04; MDiv ’06; DMin ’12)
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (DMin '09)
Rev. Dr. James Merritt (MDiv ’08; DMin ’11)
Rev. Dr. Michael Diaz (MDiv ’07; DMin ’12)

Additional Signers:
Rev. Booth Iberg (MDiv '11)
Rev. Candy Holmes (MDiv '11)
Eli Higdon (MDiv '13)
Terry L. Fetters (MDiv candidate, 2011 DL Cohort)
Rev. Dr. Joan M. Saniuk (DMin '08)
Rev. Dr. Kharma Amos (DMin '08)
Rev. Dr. Robin Gorsline (MDiv '85)
Rev. Dr. Thomas Bohache (DMin '07)


SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) refused to hear appeal to CA's ban on gay torture (reparative therapy)...which of course is good, but on the same day they affirmed someone else's religion to be more important than one's own body and freedom to choose its care. Kind of like when they overturned DOMA (the homophobic Defense of Marriage Act) and DADT (Don't Ask, Don't Tell) but gutted the Voting Rights Act. This has to be the most inconsistent, unpredictable court in history. It seems for every act of justice they feel they must balance it out with an act of horrifying injustice. What gives???

80% Free Isn't Free Enough (More on the Hobby Lobby Court Decision)

In the fall out from the Hobby Lobby decision yesterday, some have argued that HL's insurance plans offer 16 of 20 possible contraceptive options; they only are denying plans that cover so-called abortifacients (such as the "morning after pill) because, in the view of Christianity held by the owners of Hobby Lobby, full human-life begins at conception.

But that is irrelevant. For Hobby Lobby owners to passionately hold a philosophical view is their right; it is not their right to enforce that view on anyone, not even their employees. If medical therapies are legal, then it should not be in the employer's power to make health care decisions for individuals.

The HL family is apparently evangelical in their beliefs; but if they were Christian Scientist, would they have the right to deny any insurance to anyone because they passionately disbelieved in the efficacy of "materia medica" for "true" healing? If they were Jehovah's Witnesses, who passionately and honestly oppose blood transfusions, would they be allowed to prevent employees from choosing them? If they were Scientologists who diagree with psychiatry, could they prevent people from taking medication that might control an anxiety disorder? You see, it doesn't matter if you agree with HL's view about birth control; the precedent has now been established that one's religious beliefs can trump someone else's personal freedom to choose, and that opens the door to religion being used in ways that you might later not find agreeable.

See, the issue isn't whether any of us share the HL family's faith (and as a pro-choice Christian, I do not); the issue is that as a corporation, the HL BUSINESS does not have religious liberties (though, according to the court which has established the personhood of corporations, I seem to be mistaken). Religious freedoms are afforded to individuals and to churches (or other religious bodies, e.g., temples, synagogues, etc.), and the beliefs of the HL owners are interfering with the rights of individuals to make their own health care choices. Someone who doesn't hold the HL's belief (aka opinion) should not be denied their freedom to choose for themselves.

So, the Hobby Lobbyists (a good phrase for a variety of reasons) are entitled to their beliefs, but they have now persuaded five MEN on the nation's highest court to give them the power over their female workers' bodies. They now have the ability to say of 20 options available, you may choose one of 16 regardless of what YOUR values, opinions, beliefs, or perceived needs are and regardless of what your medical practitioner believes is in your best interest. They have said 80% freedom is free enough, and I disagree.

This isn't about how devout the owners are; this is about the wage earner being denied legal choices. The worker must now sacrifice sovereignty over her own body to comply with someone else's values, and that is neither moral nor just.

Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral
Senior Minister

Pastoral Response to the SCOTUS "Hobby Lobby" Decision

"[MCC] affirms that all people are entitled to the rights and resources that equip them to make their own decisions about their bodies, their sexuality, and their well-being, including the inalienable right of women to control their bodies. We call on all levels of government and civil society to honor and respect those rights.from MCC's Statement of Faith on Women's Reproductive Health, Rights, & Justice

Companions on the spiritual journey:

As a faith leader and a parish minister, I stand in solidarity with other people of faith who are outraged by the US Supreme Court's decision on June 30th, 2014 in the "Hobby Lobby" case. The Court ruled that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception violated a federal law protecting religious freedom. This decision, in my view, privileges the religious biases of a company's owners while treading on the rights and freedoms of individuals.

As so many leaders have already stated, this decision opens the door for a series of injustices. If legal medications can be denied because of someone's religious views (other than the one taking the medication), then it is entirely possible that family owned business could refuse to offer medical coverage for blood transfusions, AIDS therapies, vaccinations, psychiatric medications, medical marijuana, or any number of medical procedures because someone other than the recipient of the legal medications objected to them for "religious" reasons. Dogma is rarely life-enhancing and in this instance may prove to be very dangerous.

As a religious progressive, I support the idea that universal health care is a right, not a privilege; and I further affirm the verity that that neither churches nor corporations nor governments own human bodies and women are the ultimate authority when it comes to their own health care and procreative choices.

LBGT people know what it is to be judged, marginalized, and vilified for their consensual, adult relationships and gender identities; in other words, the Queer community knows what it means to have their bodies and their sovereignty over them diminished. As a Queer man I object to the colonization of bodies even (and maybe especially) when it is done in the name of religion.

The consciences, needs, and values of workers were ruled to be secondary to the religious opinions of business owners in the June 30th decision. The values of the powerful and privileged were affirmed while the values of workers of modest means were dismissed, and that is not justice.

It is time that people of faith insist that patriarchy and its wayward children: heteronormativity, racism, nationalism, and misogyny cease to be elevated to the position of religious values. It is time that we speak out more passionately than ever before when we see people being punished for their class, gender identity, sexuality, or procreative choices.

Yours in the spirit of justice-love,

Durrell SIg  

Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister, Sunshine Cathedral

PS ~ Below are some powerful statement by other faith leaders:

Rev Dr Nancy Wilson, Presiding Elder & Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches: 
"The high court of the United States put all of our freedoms at risk today. Conservatives will now seek to deny a range of civil liberties and religion will be an excuse to discriminate."

A statement from The Religious Institute, led by Unitarian Universalist minister Rev Debra Haffner:
"The Religious Institute decries today's U.S. Supreme Court decision undermining true religious freedom--the right of individuals to make their own moral choices."

Unitarian Universalist president, Rev Peter Morales:
"I am deeply concerned by the growing rights granted to corporations by this decision and others of this Court and our Congress. I am also deeply concerned by the growing use of the religious freedom argument as a tool of discrimination and oppression."

Rev Harry Knox of The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice:
"The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice is dismayed by the Supreme Court's decision...which perverts our nation's historic understanding of religious liberty. As a coalition of denominations and religious organizations, RCRC is gravely concerned about the Court's notion that a for-profit corporation is able to exercise religion."

Dr Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York:
"As a Christian, I believe that God creates human beings individually, and that the mark of our individual blessedness before God is our souls. It is this soul that allows us to be bearers of rights and obligations and rational agents capable of holding religious beliefs. Hobby Lobby would have us believe that corporations, too, have souls. This is not the case. I am horrified by the thought that the owners of Hobby Lobby as Christians think their corporation has a soul, and I'm even more appalled that the Supreme Court agrees."

Bishop Gene Robinson (The Episcopal Church):
"The Jesus I follow always stood with the poor and powerless - and trust me, this struggle is about power. Whether the issue touches women or gays and lesbians, our religion should be about more love, not less; more dignity, not less."