Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Saved From Salvation

Saved From Salvation: A Journey from Fundamentalism to a Ministry of Spiritual Humanism
latest book by Rev Dr Durrell Watkins

Saved From Salvation by Durrell Watkins, DMin (2014). Saved From Salvation chronicles a journey from fundamentalism to a ministry of spiritual humanism. The book is divided into three sections: (1) "The Winding Road Between Absurd Certainty & Infinite Possibilities" (2) "Sexuality & Spirituality" and (3) "So What, Now What? A Humanistic Spirituality".
The first section shares an interreligious journey from fundamentalist Christianity through Catholicism, the arts, Pentecostalism, Buddhism, Goddess/Nature spirituality, Anglicanism, Energy Healing, and "New Thought" all leading to blended and inclusive ministry in Metropolitan Community Churches. The second section tackles homophobia and heterosexism, looks at the bible and human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular, and the spirituality of celebrating one's innate nature. The final section looks at non-theistic religion, progressive Christianity, liberating language, prayer, and the ministry that affirms the sacred value of all people and that seeks to build community rather than enforce stale, antiquated dogmas. The final pages offer a real hope, a genuine faith, a practical spirituality that can be shared by believers and skeptics, Christians and non-Christians, seekers of truth and makers of meaning of every type. 
The author affirms on the penultimate page of the final chapter, "I am so committed to the church of honest inquiry, the cathedral of fearless searching, the chapel of mind expanding ideas, the temple of indomitable hope, that I have spent my life so far believing in and building up worship communities, churches of the free spirit, churches of the open mind, churches that affirm and depend on human potential..."
Saved From Salvation is for anyone who has been through the religious wringer and still hopes to be part of a thriving, thoughtful, inclusive, spiritual community,and for all who have found such a community and wish for it to be a shining model of what shared spirituality can achieve.

Saved From Salvation 
Lulu Press 2014
Available at Amazon.com

Friday, September 19, 2014

Can We Have Different Opinions Without Being Nasty?

So when did this happen? Last year, I quoted someone in a sermon (maybe Henry Ford?), not because I thought he was Buddha or Jesus or Yogananda, but because the thing he said was wise (even if it was the only wise thing he ever said). I was verbally assaulted by someone who really didn't like the person I quoted. That was the first time I noticed it. Another time I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt (whom I very much admire), and a right leaning person got very snarky...not about the quote, but about its source. Now, I often find that if I share (on FB or anywhere really) a quote by someone I may have disagreed with a lot, but who happened to say something at least once that I liked, people who share my dislike of the figure will use the quote as an opportunity to go on a rant about how evil the human is rather than simply agreeing or disagreeing with the thing said. 

I am a democratic socialist, a spiritual humanist, a pro-choice, pro-peace, pro-marriage equality liberal. I'm a lefty, honest to Engels! And, I think Nixon and Reagan made many mistakes and that Bush II was utterly incompetant. HOWEVER, I can acknowledge that they were well educated public servants each of whom must have gotten something right a time or two. Is it possible that we can disagree with people's ideologies without assuming that they are evil to the core with no redemptive qualities whatsoever? Can a person be wrong (in our opinion) 95% of the time and still get credit for the 5% they get right????

I Strongly Oppose Corporal Punishment

"When a child hits a child, we call it aggression. When a child hits an adult we call it hostility. When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault. When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline.” Haim G. Ginott

A Queer kid in a hostile environment (homophobic bible belt), life was lonely and frightening for me (my grandmothers and a great-aunt provided much needed refuge). It got better once I knew what the rest of the world suspected (that my loafers were permanently light), because then I could embrace, own, and celebrate my truth. Self-discovery brings great courage and even joy. 

But as a child, with no one to understand my "difference", life was not easy. And, being reared in an environment where "switches" (nature's riding crops) and belts (and the not infrequent slap and occasional choke hold) were considered acceptable forms of punishment (though, the intensity of the punishment had more to do with the punisher's anger than with the so-called punishable offense), not even home ever felt safe.

Years of therapy, spiritual work, and direct dealing led to healing and to more reconciliation than I ever thought possible, but I have been a life-long opponent of hitting children. I believe that parents who hit believe they are doing what is right, that they were similarly punished as children (its the never ending cycle of violence), and that in spite of the harm they inflict on their children, they really do love them. But I know (not just from social science but from lived experience) that terrorizing children with the threat of physical abuse does a lot of harm. As a gay child where there was no safe place in the world to be, not feeling safe at home only led to intense feelings of isolation, loneliness, and despair. I would spare all children that pain if I could.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Young Vic's Streetcar...A Real Gem

Young Vic's Streetcar Named Desire...TRIUMPH. Smart, edgy, some new and bold choices. The standard lines that are normally delivered as oration rather than as contribution to real dialogue were almost underplayed, still important, but unlike many productions this show wasn't just an excuse to deliver the few famous one liners ("I shall die of eating an unwashed grape", "Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers", "Poor thing, the quinine did her no good", "I don't want realism; I want magic!", "Stella! Stella for star!", "The Tarantula Arms is where I took my victims", "Hydrotherapy they call it", "STELLAAAAAAAA!!!!!!", etc.).

The minimalist, modern staging (without changing dated lines referring to Western Union or a phone number that begins with "Magnolia") was interesting and not usually distracting, and the loud, disturbing scene change music enhanced the experience of Blanche's fragile mental state.

Gillian Anderson (Blanche) and Vanessa Kirby (Stella) gave the traditional, over the top Southern Belle accents, but as old southern aristrocrats from Mississippi, it kind of works. Ben Foster (Stanley) gave no contrived accent and Corey Johnson (a native of New Orleans) didn't over do the all too often cartoonish portrayal of a Southern dialect (without respect for specific regional particularities).

Ben Foster sometimes seemed not menacing enough (almost soft a time or two, despite his threatening rhetoric and physical bulk), but I appreciated that he relied on something other than raw and unrelenting rage to communicate his fearsomeness. His was a much more nuanced Stanley than is often presented.

But the most amazing performance was given by Gillian Anderson. No hint of Scully, no wink to the X-Files, and no repeat of other Blanches. Her Blanche was a real person who had experienced real pain and disappointment and who carried real regret and faint hope. Her descent into madness wasn't cartoonish, her alcoholism was believable, and her particular affectations and mannerisms were unique to this actor's performance of this character for this production. She was, in short, the best Blanche I've ever seen!

Blanche falls desperately in love with and marries a man who she learns is gay (and involved with an older lover), and that pain is exponentially increased when he discovers that she knows his secret and his response is to commit suicide (not an uncommon response to the life ruining experience of being outed in a time when same-sex love and attraction were not only taboo, but criminal). Beyond that, Blanche is the caregiver for a series of relatives who die leaving her no money, and she has to mortgage the family estate to care for her ill relations (and then bury them). When on a teacher's salary she can't pay her debts, she loses her family home and lives in a seedy hotel where she medicates her loneliness and supplements her income as an evening companion for men. Eventually, she seduces a high school student (a cry for help? a self-destructive symptom of depression? desperate loneliness? an attempt to recapture lost youth?) the consequence of which is the end of her teaching career. She then spends the summer with her sister who has married a brute. She stays with her only living realtive (1) to have a play to live and (2) to create a new narrative for her life in an attempt to sanitize her past. Still, her secrets are exposed and while she is crumbling under the weight of shame and fear, her plight is worsened when she is raped by her brother-in-law. Her sister can't let herself believe that her husband is a rapist, so she has her Blanche committed. And the show ends with Blanche, who for all her difficulties is "never deliberately cruel", finally receiving care and kindness, but not from a friend, lover, neighbor, or relative but from a psychiatrist (presumably from a state hospital).

Gillian Anderson played this complex character powerfully. Anderson's Blanche had a soul, an inner light, painful memories beautiful fantasies, a glimmer of hope, and fading resilience. She was, simply, marvelous!

Tennessee Williams' shows tend to deal with homosexuality by means of a tragic heroine (or anti-heroine), Southern families, mental illness, and nobility that has been tarnished or hidden by disappointment and heartbreak. His spirit was very much alive and powerfully present in this production.

When Broadway and London share their gems nationally/internationally on cinema screens, it is a great gift, and tonight's showing of Streetcar was particularly amazing. 

Books by Durrell Watkins

Books by Dr Durrell Watkins
Available from online retailers, such as Lulu.com/shop, Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com (& Nook)…

A Journey from Fundamentalism to a Ministry of Spiritual Humanism
Spirituality is both a personal and a shared experience; it is private and communal. The old religious dogmas, hierarchies, creeds, and antiquated vocabularies are increasingly irrelevant to 21st century seekers of truth; but the shared spiritual journey still has value. Can we move beyond the irrelevance of outmoded religion and still form spiritual communities, embrace life enhancing rituals, enjoy sacred stories, and ask honest questions that may not have preapproved answers? One liberal minister thinks that such spiritual communities are possible and needed and he has devoted his life to creating such communities. A humanistic spirituality can still embrace mystery and wonder, hope and peace, possibilities and wisdom, and as we offer such spirituality, a new generation may discover that houses of worship can still have meaning.

Celebrating the Queer community, affirming the sacred value of all people, blessing this world rather than making promises about the next, acknowledging the sacred in the secular, blending and transcending traditions to create a new and relevant church experience for the 21st century, Sunshine Cathedral is a "different kind of church..."

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.

Knowing that prayer is a power within you rather than a way of begging an external Power for help is a wonderful discovery. Using the power of positive prayer, we can reclaim our lives and our joy.

Old Stories, New Thoughts, & Progressive Spirituality
Can a Skeptic Enjoy the Bible? Wrestling With God Without Getting Pinned is an honest struggle to apply critical thinking and practical reason to the myths and metaphors of ancient scriptures. The author believes that creative writing can be true (and in fact can offer new truths as each reader approaches a text) without being factual. Wrestling With God....is an affirmation of truth that does not demand the literary symbols of scripture be taken literally. Rather than asking religion to redeem people, the writer is asking thinking people to redeem religion so that it can be relevant in the
21st century.

Prayers for Every Day of the Year
Using simple and inclusive language, this small book offers inspirational quotes as well as a prayer for every day of the year. Drawing on the wisdom of the Judeo-Christian scriptures as well as on other spiritual traditions of the world, and holding always a sense of optimism and gratitude, these short prayers will remind you of your unity with the one Presence and one Power that is expressing through and as your life and with which all things are possible. As we practice the affirmative way of praying offered in Optimism & Gratitude: Prayers for Every Day of the Year, we will feel empowered and we will learn to expect the best from ourselves and from Life.

Consistently throughout this small book, you will be affirmed as a person of sacred value, and you will be encouraged to affirm yourself as a gifted member of the human family, possessed of great potential. You will also be encouraged to see the Light of divinity within you AND within all people.

This is a book that will encourage leaders of progressive, inclusive spiritual communities. As the title says, the teachings are progressive, positive, and practical. This is a book meant to help liberal, open, and affirming worshipping communities thrive by encouraging their leaders.

A positive thinking, optimistic, and empowering book that teaches us to use our words intentionally to direct our thinking in ways that will create the feelings that will bring joy and wonder to our lives.

A liberal minister offers thoughts about prayer and models of prayer for people who practice spirituality on the margins, and for those who have not identified with a particular spiritual path. This isn't a typical prayer book, but it may become one of the most important ones on your shelf.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

I Remember


I, like everyone else, remember September 11th, 2001 when New York City and Washington, DC were attacked by hijacked aircraft. I remember the fear, the loss, the pain. I remember other things as well.

I remember the world extending concern, good wishes, and compassion in that moment of despair.
I remember communities coming together to raise money, clean up rubble, help wounded people, and comfort one another in a time of grief. I remember that a decade later, the master mind behind the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, was killed. I don't rejoice at any killing. I might have preferred he be captured, tried, and incarcerated. But in any case, there was a sense of closure.

A lot was lost on 9/11, but so much more was spared, and good things were stirred within us. Heroism, compassion, resilience...the best of our humanity overpowered a moment of tragedy.

I have other remembrances, today. I remember that 9/11 wasn't the first, last, or largest tragedy to impact the human family.

I remember that the US government went 7 years without officially responding to the AIDS crisis. I remember that lives were lost because we failed to summon the better angels of our nature in time to contain a pandemic. I also remember when effective medications were finally released and people started living well with HIV, having real hope for long lives.

I remember growing up in a very homophobic environment, too scared to even admit to myself that I was gay, living in shame, fear, and confusion. I remember all those feelings rushing back to mind when Matthew Shephard was brutally killed for being gay. I also remember when Vermont started offering legal civil unions to same-gender loving couples and when Massachusetts first allowed same-gender loving people to marry, and that since those initial breakthroughs marriage equality has gained a lot of momentum. 

 I remember when Don't Ask, Don't Tell was overturn and LBGT people could serve openly and proudly in the US military. I remember that we have made a lot of progress.

I remember that our nation's history includes slavery, Jim Crow, and bloody battles for civil rights. I also remember that on November 4th, 2008, the 44th president of the United States was elected and he is a person of African descent.

I remember that on December 7th, 1941, the Japanese Empire attacked Pearl Harbor. I remember that following that, Japanese Americans were unfairly imprisoned in their own nation just because of their ethnic heritage, and I remember that on August 6th, 1945 the first time any nation used a nuclear weapon in war was when the United Stated dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three days later Nagasaki also experienced nuclear devastation. Today, Japan is a democracy, a major economy, and an ally of the nation that they once attacked, a nation that retaliated with world changing force.

I remember that a prayer that we use weekly at Sunshine Cathedral is actually the gift of a witness of the atomic bombings of Japan, Masahisa Goi, who prayed (as we do each week), "May peace prevail on earth."

And today, I remember two journalists who were brutally killed in Syria and I wish their families comfort in the days and months to come.

There are many sad events in history to remember, and we should remember. But let us also remember the healing that followed, the opportunities that sadness could not take away, and the hope that remained for better days.

Today, I remember 9/11/01, but I also remember that pain was not invented that day, nor did pain win that day. Hope is always the indestructible force, and so while I remember events from the painful past, I also remember that we always have the power to hope and work for a better tomorrow. Let's do remember that we have the power of hope.


Durrell SIg
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

RIP Joan Rivers...You Always Meant A Lot to Me!

I know that I am "expected" to have an almost romantic view about death and a neurotic, unjustifiable certainty about what happens beyond death (I reject these expectations BTW). But as powerful and beautiful as a dignified end of a life well lived can be, there are times that I just need to embrace the sadness that comes from separation and finality. Two people from my past died this week and today, one of my favorite entertainers in the world died. Joan Rivers was brassy and bold and courageous and resilient and smart and super funny. We live in a very lucky time when we expect people to live a decade or almost two beyond the age of 81, so even though Joan had a full and rewarding life (by all accounts), it still seems she left us prematurely. I got to see her in concert once, I've watched her documentary several times, I've read her book, and I've seen her on TV a grillion times (LOVED Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best). I never buy anything from the home shopping channels, but would sometimes watch for 10 minutes just to see her. It's funny how some public personalities really do touch us and become part of our lives in ways they may never know. Anyway, I'm sad that Joan didn't survive her recent ordeal, I was hoping that she would. I may now immerse myself in You Tube clips of her for the entire weekend. I don't know what's beyond this life, but I know that my life had a bit more joy in it because Joan Rivers dared to live out loud. May her memory bless all who hold it!

PS - I wish her daughter and grandson comfort and strength during this time of loss.