Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Is New Thought Compatible with Social Activism?

 Is New Thought Compatible with Social Activism? 

by Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins (Divine Science Federation)

Nineteenth century Metaphysical practitioners began as healers who would “treat” people affordably (and provide income for women who weren’t offered a lot of professional opportunities at the time). New Thought offered “universal healthcare” from the start! In those days, medicine wasn’t nearly as advanced as it is now, and treatment through mental prayer often proved as effective or more so (and less dangerous) than the medicine of the day.  Safe, affordable healthcare available to all, often offered by women…that is a New Thought legacy.

New Thought pioneers were models for women’s rights.  Some women in early New Thought worked for women’s voting rights. 

A leading figure of the Mental Science movement was Helen Wilmans. The co-founder of Silent Unity and the Unity School of Christianity was Myrtle Fillmore. The Founders of Divine Science were women, first Malinda Cramer and secondarily, the Brooks sisters.

The “Teacher of teachers” (who instructed many New Thought pioneers) was Emma Curtis Hopkins. The founder of the Home of Truth was Annie Rix Militz. Tehilla Lichtenstein was a co-founder of Jewish Science and she ran the movement when her husband died, making her the first Jewish woman to have her own pulpit (though she was a lay leader and not an ordained rabbi). The founder of the Universal Foundation for Better Living was Johnnie Colemon (and every president in UFBL’s history so far as been a woman). 

Consider this: the United Methodist church had its first woman bishop in 1980.  The Worldwide Anglican Communion got its first woman bishop in 1989 (first woman priest in 1944). The first woman to lead a mainline denomination occurred in 2005 (Disciples of Christ). Amee Semple McPherson founded a Pentecostal church (Foursquare Gospel) in 1923; BUT…

Christian Science (a metaphysical movement founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1875), ECH’s seminary in Chicago (1886), Home of Truth (1887), Divine Science (1888), and Unity (1889), were all started (Unity co-founded) in the 1800s by women.

Today, there are prominent New Thought leaders who find that our belief in Oneness (God is the Source and Substance of all life so we are all part of God and connected to all that is) will cause us to care for those who are being treated unfairly. New Thought, then, has become a voice of social justice (as it was when New Thought feminists were working for universal suffrage). New Thought historian Mitch Horowitz tells us that Wallace Wattles (a major influence in self-help circles and is featured in The Secret) was a socialist.

Some have understood New Thought to be only a personal philosophy meant to help retailers improve their sales, athletes compete more effectively, entertainers succeed in their artistic endeavors, and the average person experience better health and financial security. And certainly, New Thought principles are empowering and encouraging as we apply them in our lives. Nevertheless, Love is one of our powerful principles, and Love (which includes empathy, compassion, kindness) doesn’t sit back with apathy or indifference when our fellow godlings are experiencing challenge or despair. 

So, yes we pray, visualize, and encourage, but we also lend a hand, and we support organized efforts to relieve suffering in the world. As our Religious Science friends have said, we must “treat and move our feet.” 

Mystic Christian healer, Agnes Sanford, who borrowed many New Thought ideas and techniques, compared spiritual principles to gardening. She said one plants a peach tree, but until it yields peaches, one goes to the market. She used that specifically as an example for healing, suggesting that one prays for healing, but if the demonstration tarries, that’s what the doctor is for. 

I would add the principle holds for any condition…pray for it, and then receiving help from “human means” may prove to be the answer to the prayer. If God is All, however our Good comes to us in godly. And sometimes, our speech and action is what brings about the miracles in life. 

Some have suggested that progressive social policies or even supporting charities other than the local worship center are incompatible with New Thought teachings, but that isn’t my view. New Thought is and always has been diverse, and it isn’t limited by liberal or conservative ideologies. New Thought really is for everyone. 

Can New Thoughters be social activists? I believe so; I mean, I can’t be the only one (and I’m not).

Friday, June 25, 2021

Communion Thoughts

A Durrell Discourse

Communion Thoughts (my own, that is):

Transubstantiation = At the Eucharist, the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into Jesus himself.

Consubstantiation = The spirit of Jesus is present with and in the elements of Holy Communion.

Memorial Feast = The Lord’s Supper is a reminder of Jesus’ ministry and death (also remembering that the Last Supper was a Passover meal).

Divine Oneness = Ritualistically sharing bread and cup together to remind us of our unity (union) with (comm) with all people, all life, and with the Source of life.

Over the last 50+ years, I have held (at different times) EACH of those sacramental views. NONE of them, in my opinion and experience, necessitates excluding anyone from the Table for their beliefs, political views, marital status, or sexual orientation.

Whether, for you, the Bread is divine, or the bread is just bread, there is nothing about the Bread that should be weaponized to control, hurt, shame or exclude others. 

Your sacramental theology is your own, and you are entitled to it, but if you are using it to hurt, shame, control, or denigrate others, you are missing the point of it (regardless of what you believe “It” is) being a symbol (or affirmation) of grace. 

Jesus said, “Whenever you do this, remember me” - 

pro-choicers, LGBTQ+ folk, divorced people, non-baptized folk,  - everyone, just as they are, can follow that simple directive. Remember the loving, compassionate, justice-seeking Jesus, who fed people spiritually and physically, no questions asked. 

—Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Senior Minister, Sunshine Cathedral 

#OpenTable #StopWeaponizingFaith

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Remembering Mother Emanuel

God of many names,

We recall the events of 6 years ago at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
During a time of bible study and prayer, eight parishioners and the pastor were slain by one they welcomed.
People who gathered to seek and serve the God of their understanding were viciously murdered in the place they held sacred.

We know, YHWH Shammah, God who was and is there, that the first voice to cry out in horror, pain, and sorrow, must have been yours.
We know, El Roi, God who sees, that you witness our violence, racism, injustices, and our failure to demand, defend, and demonstrate “liberty and justice for all.”
We know, YHWH Rapha, God who heals, that there is much pain that leads to and results from on-going violence in our world.
YHWH Shalom, you are our peace.

Give us the grace to repent of our violence and to become blessed peace-makers.
Give us hope that justice will yet “roll out like waters.”
Give us the will and show us the way to “do justice, love mercy, and live humbly.”
Give us the courage to resist racism in our society and in our hearts, and to do the work of anti-racism. 
Help us be better. 
Help us do better.
Help us rise to the level of love, compassion, and justice that you desire, El Elyon, God Most High.

On this sad anniversary, we remember, and we bless the Mother Emanuel community of faith. 
--Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Senior Minister
Sunshine Cathedral

Monday, June 07, 2021


A Durrell Discourse
For years now at Sunshine Cathedral, we have said (repeatedly, often, from pulpit and in print, in lessons and in liturgy), “You are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.”
After years of using this phrase as a sacred mantra at Sunshine Cathedral, I recently am noticing it popping up on social media. At first, I felt a bit proprietary, as if no other person might have ever thought to string those words together in that order. But then I remembered Ecclesiastes’ wise counsel, “there is nothing new under the sun.” I might have heard it or something similar years before I thought the phrase a product of my own genius. And whether it was me, Zig Ziglar, Mary Baker Eddy or Krishna himself who coined the phrase, what matters is that it is true. I now want everyone saying it, and acting as if the phrase fell from heaven (as perhaps it did).
In my theology, God is really all there is. One Source, One Power, One Presence, One Substance...God is all and in all. That doesn’t mean that we always remember our divinity or that our every act or word is godly, but when we get caught in our dramas and fictions, that doesn’t change the reality that our essence is divine, and what is really Real is what we call God, and what is real about us must be part of God. So, we aren’t mistakes, we are God expressing.
The message of the Incarnation, for me, isn’t that God became human once, but that God expresses in, through, and as all that is, including you and me. Jesus, then, is my reminder that when we are most human, we express divine love.
If I’m part of God, then I am a miracle. If God is love and I am part of God, then my love is God’s love in action. I am, you are, we are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake: That isn’t a slogan to own, but a truth to share. If you see Sunshine folk posting it, feel free to share. It’s a message that needs to be universally embraced.
No matter where you heard it first, I hope you hear it now - you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. I especially want my Queer siblings to embrace this truth. We are the Rainbow people of a Rainbow God. Our lives and our love are miracles, never a mistake. Spread the word!
(Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister, Sunshine Cathedral)


A Durrell Discourse
In the Bible Belt, in various sects and cults, in “missional” and “evangelical” traditions…many of us were told we’d suffer for eternity if we didn’t ask Jesus to rescue us and take prominence in our lives. So, having no desire for eternal damnation, we said, “Jesus! Do please come into my life and do what you do to keep me out of hell!” We were told that God created hell and created the rules that we were bound to break that would land us in hell, but “loved” us so much that “he” (sic) gave us a loophole - Jesus. We bought it. And, we honestly loved Jesus, and we thought we loved God (though that dysfunctional, threatening, transactional setup isn’t really “love”).
But then, some of us discovered that our gender identity didn’t fit neatly into an arbitrary binary, and/or that our love and attractions were bigger than a false binary as well. Then suddenly, Jesus wasn’t enough. We were back on the track to hell! Now we needed Jesus AND self-loathing and the dishonesty of pretending to be straight (or cis). No wonder many of us turned to destructive behaviors or gave up on religion or never really learned to trust our friends or wonder we remained children in our families, or found ourselves irreconcilable with our families.
We were told God was out to get us but loved us enough to give us spiritual protection from God’s own plan but that protection was cancelled if we were attracted to people who peed like us. We were left with such a crazy making religious outlook or we felt forced to give up religion for the sake of our sanity.
Screw all of that! I won’t give up the joy of baby baptisms. I won’t give up the love feast at the open table where, regardless of belief or background we share a ritual reminding us of our unity and innate goodness (Eucharist). I won’t give up the beautiful singing of hymns (though some of the hymns I love are from Lady Gaga rather than Charles Wesley).
I will give up the homophobic and human sacrifice requiring God of my terrifying childhood, but I will not give up the search for the Sacred, an experience of the Ground of being, the ubiquitous and everlasting Love that is beyond every creed, scripture, and sacrament, that not only does not and cannot condemn me for living authentically, but is fully present in my life and love.
Embrace your authentic identity and reclaim and redefine your spirituality. As we used to say in earlier days: Gay by God, Proud by choice! Works for Bi, Trans, Queer, and Questioning folk, too.
We are each God’s miracle and not God’s mistake.
(Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister, Sunshine Cathedral)

Thursday, June 03, 2021


A Durrell Discourse

June gives us Father's Day and LGBTQ+ Pride, but June (in the Roman Catholic tradition) is also the Month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus' Sacred Heart represents love, mercy, grace, and compassion. Jesus' Heart is a symbol of divine love in human experience. Devotion to the Sacred Heart reminds us that faith should be kind and caring. Those of us who are Protestant or Humanist may not have grown up with the Sacred Heart devotional tradition, but if it gives us hope or joy, then why not embrace it?

In the 18th century, Pope Clement approved the Feast of the Sacred Heart for certain locations. In the mid-19th century, Pope Pius approved the Feast for the whole Church. In 1899, Pope Leo dedicated the entire Catholic world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. During his pontificate, John Paul 2 maintained a devotion to the Heart of Jesus.

According to tradition, devotees of the Sacred Heart can expect various blessings and aid throughout life, including inner peace and strong faith.

I love that this Sacred Heart celebration shares a month with LGBTQ+ Pride. The Heart of Jesus is a heart filled with justice-love, a heart with room for all who suffer, a heart that wishes joy and healing for everyone. The Heart of Jesus as a symbol of love seems fitting during a month where people are celebrating their love over against objections and insults from the worlds of politics and religion. People who have been heartbroken by rejection and cruelty can imagine a loving Heart that will always embrace them and never turn them away.

The sacred symbol won't be a comfort for everyone, but for those who miss (or never had but would like to try on) some of the metaphors and symbols of traditional faith, the Sacred Heart may be a balm for the pain that others have inflicted in the name of religion. We are certainly entitled to reject religion, but we also can reclaim and redefine religion. Those who weaponized it do not hold the deed to faith.

Today, my reflections include imagining the Sacred Heart as a sign of love for all who need Love's healing touch, especially the Queer children of God.

(Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral)


A Durrell Discourse
I’m seeing a lot of “God loves you” talk in these early days of Pride Month. Good! But I am aware that such sentiments may be a bit hollow for those who doubt or who have rejected “God.” Of course, divinity need not be limited to an Olympian humanoid figure...God may be a power rather than a person, a presence, the source of all energy which makes up all that is, even a symbol to represent all that is good and beautiful.
I’m in the God business and have dedicated my life to the God-experience, and yet, the God of my understanding is not a person in a great beyond, but rather, the very life that I know as my life, the heartbeat of the world I see, the substance of worlds that I can scarcely imagine. God isn’t something apart from me, but Something I am a part of...forever.
Ultimate Reality is too big (even “big” is too small a way to describe It) for us in our physical state to comprehend, so we are left with the god of our understanding (our various understandings). In a sermon once, Rev. Shelley Hamilton said, “God is the search for God.” I can’t know exactly what she meant, but that phrase has stuck with me for almost 30 years, and how I understand it is that we experience God according to our consciousness (awareness, understanding, life-view). God (Life, Eternity, Reality, Existence) is bigger than anything I imagine, but I experience It as I imagine It.
Rev. David Alexander once said it this way on a podcast, “God is our relationship to the ‘Thing Itself.’” Again, Ultimate Reality, the “Ground of Being” (#Tillich) is known as we experience It, and our experience will be shaped by what we believe about It (and a belief is just a well rehearsed opinion, a crystallized thought). I believe it was Ernest Holmes who said God is personal to the degree that we personalize God...another way of saying, “god is the search for god” or “god is our relationship to the thing itself.”
My non-theistic theology (or more accurately, my monistic theology, or perhaps, Panentheistic theology) means that, for me, God is not loving but is Love itself, not good, but Goodness (All that is good is an expression of God), not powerful, but all Power, not a being, but the Source of being.
If God for you is a loving parent figure on a high mountain - then, let me join with the others who are saying, “God loves you!”
But if God (life, hope, joy, meaning, beauty, the animating spark of existence) is an experience that can’t be fully explained, a presence rather than a person, a Wholeness that includes you or high Ideal that you hold, then let me say it this way: God is Love and it exists in and is expressed through the love you share.
Don’t let religious vocabularies which are limited at best keep you from the euphoria of feeling good enough, empowered, joyful, and vibrant.
God loves you, OR, God is love and dwells richly in and shows up as your love. Either way...Happy Pride!
—Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral