Thy Kin-dom Come Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sunshine Cathedral, Sept. 23, 2012 We pray every week, “Thy kin-dom come.” The kin-dom of God is an anti-Empire, a non-kingdom, a Blessed Community of sharing and cooperation and equality. Unlike a kingdom, the divine kin-dom requires engagement, participation. We pray “thy kin-dom” come, but it may be […]
Thy Kin-dom Come
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sunshine Cathedral, Sept. 23, 2012
We pray every week, “Thy kin-dom come.” The kin-dom of God is an anti-Empire, a non-kingdom, a Blessed Community of sharing and cooperation and equality. Unlike a kingdom, the divine kin-dom requires engagement, participation. We pray “thy kin-dom” come, but it may be time for us to become the answer to our own prayer!
In the gospel this morning we hear Jesus taking a child and saying, “Whoever welcomes a child…welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me…welcomes the One that sent me.”
It’s not just about the child. It’s about the weak, the marginalized, the forgotten, the vilified, those who are denied justice and opportunity so that others can maintain power and privilege. And Jesus takes someone utterly without status in his culture, a child, and says, “When you affirm someone like this, you are affirming me and the God in whom I believe.”
We hear a very similar message in the Psalter today. The Psalmist says, “The Eternal watches over the steps of those who do justice.”
So the scriptural message today is clear: When we care for the so-called least and lowly we are honoring the Divine Essence of Life, because that divine Essence shows no partiality (Acts 10.34) and is equally present to every human-being.
This shouldn’t come as news to church people. Our scriptures tell us:
“Whatever you do for the least of these my sisters and brothers you are doing for me.” Matthew 25.40
“Those who oppress the poor show contempt for their Maker…” Proverbs 14.31
“Those who are kind to the poor are actually lending to God!” Proverbs 19.17
“God is not unjust; God will not forget your good work and the love you have shown God by helping and continuing to help God’s people.” Hebrews 6.10
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6.31
We know the story of the widow’s mite where a poor woman, as little as she has, still wants to share whatever she has. Jesus said she gave the most because what she gave actually cost her something (Mark 12.41-44). She gave from her generosity, not from her privilege or her surplus, but from her heart. And if someone that poor can be generous, shouldn’t all people want to do something to make a difference?
The scriptures make it clear…we are to give to God that which is God’s and to Caesar that which is Caesar’s (Luke 20.25) and hopefully, between religion and government and non-profits and individuals helping one another, most of the needs will get met.
I am so inspired by Roman Catholic nun Sister Simone Campbell, widely known now for her “nuns on the bus” tour, who without being partisan is willing to be prophetic and speak out against proposed congressional budgets that ignore or add hardship to those already suffering in our society.
She reminds us that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and “we the people” must care about the hurting and not just expect charities that we may or may not support to do all the work. The problem is too big for that, and our hearts need to be bigger than that.
I believe that religion at its best calls us to challenge homophobia and heterosexism, calls us to name and resist misogyny, calls us to be aware of and committed to diminishing racism, calls us to care about the earth more than we are willing to argue about how it evolved or got created. I believe religion at its best calls us to work for peace instead of rushing to war, calls us to care for those who face the horrors of war on our behalf, calls us to care for the poor.
People who give a dollar or two to the church each week, or nothing, will often say, “let the church take care of the poor.” We collect food (and this church is very generous in its efforts to feed people). We also refer people to appropriate agencies, we give money when we can to struggling churches in poor places, and we often share monies from fundraisers with local organizations. We do quite a bit actually. And I suspect that people who don’t support the church financially don’t really expect a local church of a few hundred people to solve the problem of poverty, not even locally.
But we do what we can and we always will. We’ll keep collecting food and helping people find the best agency for their need, but there is more to do than one church or even all churches can do. We can’t expect the voluntary donations of local churches to fund administration, upkeep, outreach, education, justice work, and charity and do it all with excellence and do it all so well that all the problems of the world just disappear.
Someone will say, “I know someone who is struggling but it’s because she or he is lazy. They didn’t get laid off, they got the boot for not doing a good job and they haven’t really looked for another one since.”
And? Because you know one person, or even a few who may be struggling with depression or low self esteem or a lack of skills or addiction or even a physical illness that keeps them from showing up and doing a good job, because you know a few people that you judge to be lazy (even though you probably don’t know their whole story), the vast majority of people who need some help should be forgotten?
Don’t use the isolated case as an excuse to write off the many who need compassion rather than condemnation. Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you,” (Matt. 26.11) but he didn’t say that those of us who are little luckier in the moment get to gloat about it!
Now I believe in prayer, and I know people, myself included, who have beat the odds with prayer, positive thinking, and a little help from seen and unseen sources. But before I developed a self-help consciousness, I needed other kinds of help. And honestly, I don’t know anyone who has done much of anything great entirely alone!
Yes, we can manifest greatness in our lives, once we learn to do so, and even then we need a tune up sometimes. But we can’t just expect everyone to pray up miracles because we say they should be able to. Consciousness building takes time, and even spiritual giants have hard times. So, while we are learning to empower ourselves, let us also generously offer a hand up to those who need some help; or at very least, let’s not try to prevent people from getting help.
The problem of poverty can’t be solved with a few donations. We have to confront poverty not only with charitable giving but also with how we spend our money, and with how we engage society. And part of being a fully engaged citizen means voting.
We may disagree about what will actually help the poor, but we can agree that we are called to care. We should want to not only relieve the poor but help people climb out of poverty, help them to help themselves but give them some relief in the meantime also. There are conservative means and liberal means of addressing the issues, but ignoring the issues is beneath the goodness of those who call ourselves religious.
So yes, I believe that in a democratic society where one has the power of the vote, one is responsible to use that power. People have died for the right to vote. Women fought for the vote. The civil rights movement fought to make more voices heard. Even now, people are fighting to make sure voting isn’t hindered in any way. How dare we devalue their sacrifices by not spending a few moments to register and then stand in line for a few minutes to cast a vote? Even if it were a waste of time, can we not give up some time to honor those who gave up their lives so we could vote?
I have ideas about what government should do to ease the burden of the poor, to promote the general welfare, to insure liberty and justice for ALL. And I know there are people of conscience and character who disagree with me about how to best accomplish those worthy goals. But we all want the problems addressed. So, let us all go into the voting booth and the let the most persuasive ideas win the day. But if we don’t bother to vote, we haven’t even tried to be part of the solution. And we need everyone, as they say, with some skin in the game to help solve some of the most difficult challenges we’ve faced since the Great Depression and to protect the civil rights gains of the last 50 years. But we are people of hope, so let’s take our hope into the voting booth and unleash it.
Yes, give to the church, so that we can build community, and offer inspiring messages, and share the power of hope with people who need it most. And give to charities that will help the homeless, the abused, the elderly, people living with the physical challenges and social stigma of HIV. Give to organizations that will work for marriage equality and women’s health and environmental protection.
I give over 10% of my income to this church and I give to 7 other charitable organizations as well, and to political causes, and I pay my taxes and I don’t like everything that tax dollars fund but I don’t mind at all any money that is taken from my paycheck that may help people eat or get an education or have decent medical care or live more comfortably in their retirement. I believe in giving and I practice it and I love it. And like the widows in scripture who gave even when they needed help themselves, I believe that almost all of us have something to give.
And I hope you are becoming a cheerful financial giver (“God delights in a cheerful giver” 2 Corinthians 9.7). But I want you to give something to your country this year as well. I want you to give your vote. Vote for one party or the other or even a third party…who you vote for is nobody’s business. Vote for the conservative candidates or the liberal candidates or the moderate candidates or the candidates who seem most passionate about the issue you care most about. Your vote is your business, but for it to matter it must be cast. And to cast it, you must be registered, and in Florida you have just about two weeks left to do that.
This isn’t an endorsement of a candidate or a party. This isn’t trying to make the government be religious, I don’t want a religious government. I think sometimes the Church is too religious. It needs to be more spiritual and less religious and the government needs to govern and not pander to any religion. The government shouldn’t be enforcing the prejudices of the Religious Right; it should be protecting and creating opportunities for all of its citizens. But whatever kind of government you want should be supported with your vote. Put your ballot where your mouth is!
We can sing God Bless America, but we know that what God does for us God does through us, so I’m asking YOU to bless America by giving thought to the issues and casting your vote. And if you will, then this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
I see and seize opportunities today.
I am full of hope.
I know that I matter.
I give lovingly and I receive gratefully.
Life is good and getting better.
“The problems we face today, violent conflicts, destruction of nature, poverty, hunger and so on, are human-created problems which can be resolved through human effort…We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share.” The Dalai Lama
Who Do You Say That You Are? Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sept. 16, 2012 Sunshine Cathedral September 14th, just two days ago, was the 27th anniversary of the television debut of the Golden Girls. We loved the show because those ladies showed that women in their 50s, 60s, and even 80s could be vibrant, fun, […]
Who Do You Say That You Are?
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sept. 16, 2012
September 14th, just two days ago, was the 27th anniversary of the television debut of the Golden Girls.
We loved the show because those ladies showed that women in their 50s, 60s, and even 80s could be vibrant, fun, and even sexy. And, we loved the show because it was hilarious. And, we loved the show because it challenged us to push ourselves beyond our prejudices…Dorothy’s son married a woman much older than he was…Rose dated a doctor who was vertically challenged…this was a sticking point for Rose, but by the time she came to terms with it he dumped her because she wasn’t Jewish!
Rose had to be tested once for HIV, Blanche had a mid-life pregnancy scare which turned out to be the onset of menopause, Sophia had a cross dressing son, Dorothy had a lesbian friend who developed a crush on Rose and Blanche had an out and proud gay brother. They had to get past hang ups to learn that all people have sacred value, and they learned and they grew and they thrived.
The women were also generous, always working for charity trying to save an old tree or an endangered species or an historic light house, or just delivering meals on wheels. They learned, as A Course in Miracles teaches, that giving and receiving are one in truth.
The 4 Golden Girls each demonstrated the ability to claim their place in the world, to accept their own uniqueness, and to embrace the possibility of joy no matter what happened. They each experienced loss, setbacks, heartbreaks, and disappointments but they each also found out they were resilient, could always return to joy, could find support when they needed it, and deserved to fully engage their lives at every stage of life.
The show was funny, smart, and it showed that life is meant to be lived for as long as we are alive, that we all have gifts to share, and we actually grow and become better when we push past our inherited prejudices. It was a great show.
The 27th anniversary of The Golden Girls reminds me of Jesus’ question in the Gospel today: Who do you say that I am?
When Jesus asked his disciples how they perceived him, they first answered by saying what others had said about him. He was a prophet in the tradition of Elijah, or an apocalyptic figure like John the Baptizer. And Jesus didn’t say those opinions of him were flawed. He didn’t say they were stupid or evil or ridiculous or even wrong. He just said, “What about you? What do you think about me?”
Peter jumps in there and says, “You are God’s anointed!” that is, the messiah.
All priests and kings in Judaic ancient history had been anointed with oil by recognized prophets. The anointed leader, the messianic figure, was supposed to be someone of courage and wisdom. The messianic figure would lead the community through perilous times to a place of safety, well-being. And Peter imagines Jesus to be such a figure. Like the warrior kings of old, Jesus must be anointed, chosen to lead us out of oppression and into peace and security…salvation from our enemies is what the messiah was meant to offer. Not privilege, justice. Not domination, equality. Not arrogance, well-being.
Jesus doesn’t confirm or deny Peter’s opinion, just as he didn’t confirm or deny the other opinions. Is he a prophet like Elijah, a rabble rouser like John the Baptizer, or a chosen warrior who was meant to raise up a resistance movement to stand up to the brutal empire? Jesus doesn’t say which of these opinions is the closest to being correct; he just asks, “what do you think?” Thinking Jesus encouraging independent thinking…I like that.
For more on the passage, I ask you to read my piece in the Sun Burst. A deeper reflection on the weekly bible readings is there every week now.
But I remain struck by the clear implication that each must decide who Jesus is for them, and each must decide if and why Jesus is important to them. It’s also clear that following Jesus’ example was more important to the writer of today’s Gospel than any particular opinion about Jesus.
So, good. We get to decide what Jesus is to us; obviously, we get to pick our friends and heroes and the reasons we choose them are our own and are usually good enough. But if we get to decide who Jesus is, don’t we get to decide what we believe about ourselves as well?
Don’t let Vatican City or Salt Lake City or preachers or politicians or televangelists or telemarketers tell you that you are a mistake rather than a miracle. You will make mistakes but you are not one, you will have regrets but there will also be times that you let your light shine brightly, and you will stumble and fall now and again but you have the power to get back up and have new and amazing experiences! Any message to the contrary you have ability and the right to reject totally.
British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, “Nurture great thoughts, for you will never go higher than your thoughts.”
Who do you say that you are? You are unlikely to rise much higher than the answer you give yourself to that question.
Myrtle Fillmore taught, “The Light of God revealed to us…that life is of God, and we are inseparably one with the Source…”
Who do you say that you are? Are you willing to affirm that divine Life is expressing as your life? Are you willing to believe that you are part of the divine Wholeness that is eternal and omnipresent?
Alice Walker in her great book The Color Purple, “Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.”
Who do you say that you are? Are you a child of God filled with the spirit of God? Is your purpose to share the love that God is by how you live your life? Are you the hands, voice, and manifestation of divine Power? I say that you are, and when you say that you are it will be even more evident in your life!
And Frank Richelieu taught, “We have to decide to talk and think success instead of problems and failures.”
Who do you say you are? Do you tell yourself you have problems that you will never overcome? Do you tell yourself that you are weak and washed up? Do you call yourself a sinner? Do you say you are “only” human or like the Psalmist do you marvel that as a human you are on par with the angels! Do you belittle yourself, and when we insult other religions, cultures, races, or mutually beneficial adult love regardless of the genders that make up a relationship, we do belittle ourselves because we are actually saying that our value depends on someone else not having any.
Do you belittle yourself or do you tell yourself that you are equal to every challenge, you are blessed with grace equal to every need, you are bigger than your previous mistakes, you have something special to share with the world, and you are better than the judgments others have made about you?
Who do you say you are? Because whatever you say, good or bad, if you say it until you believe it, you will most certainly experience it in your life. So be careful about who you say you are, because you get to experience the answer you give.
Marilyn Monroe once said, “Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”
Someone once came to me for spiritual guidance and he said, “I’ve been practicing my affirmations, but they don’t work. I have affirmed over and over than I am straight, but I’m still gay.” And I said, “Oh, I think they are working. Affirmations are more than words; they are feelings, intentions, and mental pictures. Affirmations are statements of what we accept as true. When you say, “I am straight,” what you are also saying, and maybe saying mostly, is that being gay isn’t good enough and you want to be something you aren’t. Your affirmation is actually that you aren’t good enough as the person Life created you to be! What you are affirm”ing is that you aren’t good enough, and that is exactly what you are feeling and the feeling grows stronger each day. See, it does work!”
Then I told him to change his affirmation, and to say this 100 times a day, “My sexual orientation is perfect for me. I love myself the way I am. And I deserve to be happy as the person I’m meant to be.” He agreed to try it. Two weeks later he had a new boyfriend, a new outlook on life, and he was only too happy to tell me, “It really does work!” And, borrowing from the wisdom of Twelve Step programs, I responded, “Well, it works if you work it.”
Who do you say that YOU are? Benedict 16th may not agree with your answer, your mother’s political party, or your sister or cousin or boss may not agree with you, but that’s their business and their opportunity for healing.
Who do YOU say that you are? Make the answer beautiful, empowering, uplifting and joyous. Because that is what is really true of you, and you deserve the blessing of knowing that truth. And you can. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
I say I am a person of sacred value!
I say I deserve the best in life!
I say that blessings are mine today!
I say that life is good and getting better.
And so it is.
“We cannot outperform our level of self-esteem. We cannot draw to ourselves more than we think we are worth.”
Compassion Rev. Elder Dr. Mona West Sept. 9, 2012 – Sunshine Cathedral If you were granted one wish for a better world what would it be? What if someone gave you $100,000 to help your wish come true? How would you spend it? Well that is exactly what happened to religious scholar and writer Karen […]
Rev. Elder Dr. Mona West
Sept. 9, 2012 – Sunshine Cathedral
If you were granted one wish for a better world what would it be?
What if someone gave you $100,000 to help your wish come true? How would you spend it?
Well that is exactly what happened to religious scholar and writer Karen Armstrong. Each year a private nonprofit organization known as TED (an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design) awards a $100,000 prize to an individual they believe has made a difference and grants them a wish for a better world. Recipients have included former US president Bill Clinton and the British chef Jamie Oliver.
So this is what Karen Armstrong wished for when she spoke at the 2008 TED award ceremony…(TED clip)
Armstrong asked TED “to help create, launch, and propagate a Charter for Compassion that would be written by leading thinkers from a variety of major faiths and would restore compassion to the heart of religious and moral life based on the Golden Rule.”
Her wish sounds a lot like our passage from James today: “You are acting rightly if you fulfill the scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” The writer of James is repeating what Jesus earlier identified as the greatest commandment from the Hebrew scriptures. Armstrong, as well as other scholars, note that some version of this great commandment or Golden Rule exists in all the major religious traditions: Love your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Or ‘do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you.’
This longing for a more compassionate world has existed throughout time, in all cultures and religions. It is a longing that the prophet Isaiah promised would become a reality. It is a longing that is central to the kindom of God that Jesus preached and practiced.
And that is the kicker right there: Our faith is meant to be put into action. Earlier the writer of James admonishes “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers…religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress….”
But what has happened since the 17th century is that ‘religion’ has gotten highjacked. Religion has become the source of violence in the world rather than the wellspring of compassion. Religion has become more about correct belief rather than correct action. Originally the word ‘belief’ had a much broader meaning—‘to love, to prize, to hold dear.’ Since the Protestant Reformation belief has become more narrowly defined. Now adays we spend more time arguing over what we believe about Jesus rather than following his example.
There are a whole group of modern day prophets like Karen Armstrong, Diana Butler Bass, Richard Rohr, and Brian McLaren, who are calling us back to the priority of behaving over believing. They claim our practice of Christianity will result in an experiential faith we can truly believe in.
I have to confess in the last few weeks I have undergone my own transformation about spiritual practices. What I am discovering is that not only am I shaped by my spiritual practices, but the world is shaped by them too. My experience of spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation and working with a spiritual director have been profoundly important in my life. They have opened the Divine in me. But I have to confess that my primary motivation for doing these practices has been to maintain a sense of calm and balance in my life, and of course that spills over into the work I do and the relationships I have. But reading people like Armstrong, Bass, and the Buddhist monk Pema Chodron have made me realize that my practices also need to be for the benefit of others. Take the practice of compassion for example. If I practice compassion toward another because I hope to feel good about myself, I usually wind up failing. But I have noticed that when I practice compassion for the sake of the other feeling good about themselves, success or failure do not even come into the equation.
From its Latin and Greek derivatives the word compassion literally means ‘to endure something with another person.’ In Buddhism compassion is defined as a determination to liberate others from their grief. Like Jesus, our practice of compassion puts us in contact with the spit and grit of people’s lives. Compassion is juicy, earthy. It opens us out beyond ourselves.
So where do we start with the practice of compassion? ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Compassion begins with self knowledge. Did you know that our feelings of aggression, fear, jealousy and rage actually come from the ‘reptillian brain’ located in our hypothalmus that we inherited from our ancestors? Those emotions were important for survival when we were developing as homo sapiens. But as we became more civilized as a species we had the time to develop our inner awareness and that included the development of the neocortex of our brains and the capacity for compassion. So when we find ourselves having emotions of fear, rage, aggression, rather than identifying with those emotions, or beating ourselves up for having them, we can recognize they are a part of our genetic make up–which doesn’t mean we should act on them! Instead we have compassion toward ourselves realizing that through our spiritual practices we can cultivate a mindfulness that will help us not get hooked by those negative emotions. The more compassionate we are with ourselves, the more we are able to be with our humanity without judging it, the better we will be able to be with others in their humanity without judging them.
Karen Armstrong got her wish. Thousands of people from all over the world logged on to a multilingual website to contribute their ideas for a ‘charter of compassion’. A Council of Conscience was formed of religious thinkers from Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. They met in Switzerland in 2009 to complete the final draft. Since that time there have been 90,000 people, organizations and cittimeframe all over the world who have logged on to the website to sign the charter. Here is what they are committing to…..(clip)
I invite us to do the same as we say together:
We call upon all men and women
~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion
~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate
~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures
~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity
~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.
Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity.
I bless my life with love today.
I let others bless my life with love today.
I bless the people in my life with love today.
I bless my world with love today.
The healing power of love is working miracles now.
And so it is!
“Whether one believes in a religion or not, there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.” The Dalai Lama
Praise the Lord Anyway! Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Sept. 2, 2012, Sunshine Cathedral “Power flows to the focus of attention” Dr. Frederick Bailes tells us in our first reading this morning. Dr. Bailes was a medical doctor. He lived from 1889 to 1970. He was born in New Zealand and trained to be a medical […]
Praise the Lord Anyway!
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Sept. 2, 2012, Sunshine Cathedral
“Power flows to the focus of attention” Dr. Frederick Bailes tells us in our first reading this morning.
Dr. Bailes was a medical doctor. He lived from 1889 to 1970. He was born in New Zealand and trained to be a medical missionary. But while he was in school, tragedy struck, or at least, what would have been thought of as a tragedy at the time occurred.
While he was completing his medical training, he was diagnosed with an incurable disease – Diabetes. Now, today people see their diabetes go into complete remission sometimes when they lose weight, and even when it doesn’t go into remission it can often be controlled with various therapies, including insulin injections. But these medical miracles are from our time. In the very early 20th century, diabetes was not thought to be manageable, and certainly little hope was ever offered that it might go into remission.
But just about the time that he received his diagnosis, he found the writings of Thomas Troward, a judge in British ruled India who also wrote about practical spirituality. Troward believed in the positive use of the forces of the mind to produce positive results in one’s life.
Just as Bailes was diagnosed, he found some writings by Troward. Isn’t it amazing how when we are open to possibilities amazing things just show up for us? A Course in Miracles teaches that a little willingness is all that is needed for a miracle to take place. That is, we can see what we had previously overlooked, we can discern possibilities that we had not before considered, we can learn what we had not known before once we express a little willingness to at least be open to these discoveries.
Well, Dr. Bailes combined the optimism and power of clear intention that he learned about from Troward and he used these mental, emotional, and spiritual techniques in his own life and his diabetes went into remission. Remember, this happened at a time when there were no effective medical treatments for the condition. So, his renewed health was considered remarkable.
Later, working in a London hospital, Dr. Bailes started observing how patients’ mental attitudes affected the healing process. And he noticed than when a patient held certain attitudes they often experienced more desirable results. Dr. Bailes’ reputation as a healer grew quickly because he could not only apply the medical knowledge of his day to help people regain their health, but he could teach them how to stimulate their own mental forces which could also lead to healing, sometimes making medicine work better or faster, and sometimes even doing what medicine could not yet do, as was his own experience.
Dr. Bailes eventually left medicine to become a New Thought minister, but he always considered himself a healer, and many of his spiritual students were helped just as his patients has been helped before.
No wonder Dr. Bailes tells us, “Power flows to the focus of attention.” He experienced it in his own life. He helped others experience that truth in medical clinics. And then he helped them experience it in lecture halls and classrooms. Over and over he experienced and observed the truth that “Power flows to the focus of attention.”
Or as the gospel writer suggested today, It’s not what’s on the outside that is the most determinative for us; it’s what is on the inside: not the economy, not the past, not the lab report…what will most determine how we experience life is our habitual thought patterns and attitudes. Remember from a few weeks ago the powerful phrase for which the Rev. Dr. Johnnie Colemon is known, “I am the thinker that thinks the thought that makes the thing!”
I once worked with a woman who was always happy. I thought maybe it was an act; I mean, how can someone be in a good mood all the time? God knows I’ve not mastered it yet – I’m better than I used to be and I’m still working on it! But I’ll get there because I’ve seen how it works. You see, one day I noticed what her secret was. She got some bad news and it stunned her, you could tell. Her smile faded, not into a frown, but the beaming joy she was known for seemed to dim. And after about 6 or 7 seconds of silence, her smile returned and she just blurted out, “Oh well, praise the Lord anyway!” And then she was back to her normal self!
What?! Praise the Lord anyway?!
Now, that isn’t my religious tradition or preferred vocabulary, but even so, the message couldn’t be clearer. She could focus on the disappointment or on the good that the disappointment could not diminish. She could focus more on what was left than on what she had lost, more on what was possible than on what seemed like a problem, more on what was wonderful than on what had wounded. She didn’t deny the difficulty. She didn’t lie and say she appreciated or enjoyed the difficulty. She just said, in her own way, that the difficulty couldn’t take her joy without her permission, and permission to destroy her peace of mind, her optimism, and her love of life was something she just wasn’t willing to give.
Praise the Lord anyway, indeed!
Dr. Bailes had his own “praise the Lord anyway” prayer. It was in the form of denial and affirmation. He once wrote a pretty lengthy prayer, but it included these words:
“Nothing negative can find a foothold in me this day. No doubt or fear can attach itself to me…I walk in a path of right action, both when I am thinking of it and when I am not. I release myself and all my affairs this day to the perfect working of that Perfect Law, which turns these thoughts into things.”
Praise the Lord anyway! I am the thinker that thinks the thought that makes the thing!
Well, Dr. Bailes was a religious person. He had trained for medical missions and later took up the practice of metaphysics, but the wisdom that guided his life can be found everywhere we might choose to look. Such as the dear lady who taught me the powerful phrase, “praise the Lord anyway!”
But there are other wise souls throughout history sharing the same message with us:
Marcus Aurelius, the last of the five so-called “Good Roman Emperors”, in addition to being a politician was also a philosopher, and he said, “To live happily is an inward power of the soul.” In other words, happiness isn’t about what happens “out there” but about what we cultivate “in here.”
Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein knew that we could choose our focus and thereby choose how we would experience and interpret life. He said, “Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”
Unitarian minister and Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Though we travel the world to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”
The author of Little Women, Louisa May Alcott knew that fear can be overcome and difficulties navigated by the power of intention and positive thinking. She said, “I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” Even if we haven’t mastered the techniques yet, we are learning. We are getting better. And so we can release a bit more fear, a bit more regret, a bit more pessimism. We are learning and growing and healing and better days will be ours!
When difficulties happen, we have a choice. We can go peace instead of to pieces. We can say, “so what, now what?” We can look for the lesson that can be learned, celebrate the fact that we survived the ordeal, and summon the courage to try again or move forward. We can interpret even the painful moments of life as opportunities, or as potential blessings, or at very least as something that didn’t have the last word in our lives.
Vince Lombardi, a coach of some renown in the field of some athletic endeavor, field hockey or water polo, I forget, but anyway, on one of the rare occasions that his Green Bay Packers didn’t make a great showing on the Tennis Court or Bowling Alley, Lombardi famously said, “We didn’t lose the game; we just ran out of time.” Praise the Lord anyway!
Even when things don’t go well, that’s not the end of the story. That’s not the end of our significance. That’s not the last chance we have to do well or experience joy or achievement. A Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, get up eight!” That’s resurrection!
And that well known American revolutionary Thomas Paine said, “I love those who can smile in trouble…gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.” Paine would have never said it this way, but he is sharing the same principle as, “Praise the Lord anyway!”
Do you need encouragement, hope, peace, strength, or renewal today? Then find the seeds of what you need within you and nurture them until they are made manifest in your world of experience. Don’t focus on the negative; bless that mess and let it go. And instead focus on the good, the possible, and on what you truly desire and deserve. Remember, power flows to the focus of attention. So, you know, Praise the Lord anyway! And this is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2012
Praise the divine life within me!
Praise the goodness that I Am!
Praise the Field of Infinite Possibilities.
Where attention goes, energy flows!
“Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” Harriet Tubman