Something to Sing About

On June 18, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

Something to Sing About Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins 2nd Sunday After Pentecost 2017 A movie that had a huge impact on my life is the 1933 Mae West film, “I’m No Angel.” It’s about a carnival performer…a woman from the wrong side of the tracks. She’s popular with men, but her career places her only […]

Something to Sing About
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
2nd Sunday After Pentecost 2017

A movie that had a huge impact on my life is the 1933 Mae West film, “I’m No Angel.” It’s about a carnival performer…a woman from the wrong side of the tracks. She’s popular with men, but her career places her only slightly above outcast. One of her good friends is a pickpocket. But she’s got a good heart. She’s generous. When she makes it big as a lion tamer she hires 4 housekeepers…that must have been an incredible thing to imagine during the Depression. And she treats her housekeepers as confidantes…they aren’t just people doing chores, they are friends. And at one point in the movie, she breaks out into song with her housekeeper friends:

“I’ve always loved to be in bright lights
My streets are paved gold
But now i have a new kind of man, he’s one to have and hold. I’m in my glory when he’s around, showed me a new way to go town. I’m high; I’m low. I take a good man to make me, no man can shake me until i let him go…”

Wrong side of the tracks. Not the most respected career. But she is generous and hardworking and has love to give. She has joy in her heart so much so that she’ll just break out into song.

She falls in love with a guy who dumps her b/c he’s been led to believe that she’s cheating on him. They were engaged and he breaks off the engagement so she sues for breach of contract, and wins. When he comes to her luxury apartment to give her the settlement she’s won, she tears the check up in front of him. She’s a person of integrity. He sees now that he’s made a mistake and they reconcile and presumably live happily ever after.

As the credits roll, we hear Mae West singing:

“Aw, come on, let me cling on to ya like a vine
Make that lowdown music trickle off your spine
Baby, I can warm ya with this love of mine
I’m no angel…”

No angel, but a good person. Judged by others, but she is industrious, kind, generous, loving, fair. Not an angel according to the wrist slippers and name callers and finger pointers of the world, but a really good person.

The first time I saw that movie I was 6 years old. I’ve seen it 20 times so far. It’s part of my personal canon of sacred texts. It shows that one’s sacred value is not always recognized by those with power or privilege or authority or influence, but we can recognize our own sacred value, affirm it, celebrate it, and that is something to sing about.

Little Baby Queer Durrell intuited that message early. Mae West was singing to me. Mae West was talking to me. She was telling me that not everyone would recognize my innate goodness, but that was their issue, not mine. And deep in my spirit, in her human words, God’s voice was heard.

At some point, I made a conscious decision that I would do whatever I could to make sure people would hear in the sacred assembly, in the house of worship, that they were God’s miracle and not God’s mistake. I didn’t hear that in church…I heard that from pre-Hayes code Depression era movies, from musical theatre, from songs and poems and books. I heard it from Bugs Bunny in drag, and Charles Nelson Reilly flaming up the Match Game, and Mae West dancing and singing and cooing on screen insisting that she was something special, and if no one else knew it, she was going to know it. That’s the gospel…you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake, and that’s something to sing about. That’s what I so want people to hear all their lives.

The Psalmist, even without the brilliance of Mae West, got the message. And so we hear from Psalm 100 and Psalm 116 today:

“Sing to the LORD, all the world! (Creation itself with all its diversity)
Worship the LORD with joy; come before [God] with happy songs!
…[God] made us (to be who we are), and we belong to [God]; we are [God’s] people, we are [god’s] flock.
Enter the (the house of worship) with thanksgiving; go into its (sanctuary) with praise. Give thanks…and praise [to God].
The LORD is good; [God’s] love is eternal and [God’s] faithfulness lasts forever.
I love the LORD [who always] hears me; [God] listens to my prayers.
[God] listens to me every time I call…”

Elaine Stritch sang in her last Broadway show: “I need a long time daddy, whose ready every time that i call.”

I’m not sure I should much more of it in mixed company, but we need a long time deity who answers every time that we call…and we have one. A loving presence who hears the cries of our hearts and who responds with gentle kindness every single time.

The psalmist goes on to say that he will show gratitude by worshiping, by participating in the sacred assembly, and being generous with offerings…but that is in response to the feeling of God’s goodness, a love that is omnipresent, everlasting, and all-inclusive. To know ourselves forever loved is to be grateful and joyful, and that requires a response…not bargaining for the afterlife, but showing gratitude for unfathomable goodness!

When we let ourselves experience God as the psalmist did, as an unconditional, all-inclusive, everlasting Love that will never and can never let us go…we will look for ways to show gratitude. We’ll be in church every time we can, we’ll be generous, compassionate, we’ll work for peace and justice and we’ll be concerned for the welfare of others…We won’t have to be threatened to worship…in fact, when we experience God as infinite goodness, there’s no threat that can keep us from worshiping. And that’s something to sing about.

Sing to the Lord. Come before God with happy songs. The Lord is good. We belong to God. We are God’s people. We are God’s flock.
So, let’s sing an old childhood song…it’s simple, but according to the Psalmist, it’s true.

You know the words:
“God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, God’s so good to me.
God answers prayer, God answers prayer, God answers prayer, God’s so good to me.”

And this is the good news. Amen.

(C) Durrell Watkins 2017

I trust in God’s goodness.
God will never let me go.
And so it is that my heart sings.
Alleluia!
Amen.

 

All is One; One is All

On June 11, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

All is One; One is All Trinity Sunday Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen. Traditionally, the Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. It’s tricky, though, […]

All is One; One is All
Trinity Sunday
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression.
And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.

Traditionally, the Sunday after Pentecost is Trinity Sunday. It’s tricky, though, because for many people, talk of an incomprehensible Trinity is more of a stumbling block than a stepping stone to faith.

The difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity is not a biblical one. Even if you think you see the shadow of the Trinity in scripture you will never find a doctrine of the Trinity, a clear teaching, or even a clumsy teaching about it in the bible. It just isn’t there.

Those who object to the doctrine of the Trinity note that Jesus never taught about it, and, for that matter, the bible was written by Jewish people, and there is no Trinity in Judaism. The doctrine of the Trinity was codified about 3 centuries after Jesus’ time.

There is definitely room in Christianity for those who do not identify as Trinitarian. Most Christians for the first couple of hundred years of our faith were not Trinitarian. But what about those who wish to cling to the symbol of the Trinity? It is how they were introduced to God, and it remains appealing to them. Well, for those, I also have good news.

I was taught as a child that there was one God in three persons. But “persons” is a misunderstanding. The Latin word used was persona, which was a theatrical mask. The personas of the Trinity were the way people experienced and talked about God. Like all symbols, the personas of the Trinity were for human aid. God can be experienced, but not explained. Still we try to explain our experiences, and then insist that people literalize and worship our explanations. The Trinity could no more explain God than any other symbol. It’s a vocabulary to help us talk about what cannot be described.

God is like a Parent, giving life to all that is…that’s one of the roles or masks of God.
God is like a friend who encourages us and affirms us, or we could say, redeems us…that’s one of the masks of God.
And God is a sustaining power that never lets us go, an indefatigable Helper…that’s another one of the masks of God.

Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer;
Parent, Friend, Helper;
Father, Son, holy Spirit:
those words don’t define God, they just help us express some of the ways we’ve experienced God.

There’s an African myth about a god who was walking down a road one day. The god wore a big, ostentatious hat. The right side of the hat was red. The left side of the hat was blue. After the god had walked by, people on the right side of the road said, “Did you see that god in the amazing red hat?” People on the left side of the road said, “We saw the god, but the hat was blue.” Red hat, blue hat, red hat, blue hat…and the people got in a big bloody fight over which color the hat was.

The joke was they were all right. The people who saw the hat as red really did see it that way, and the people who saw it as blue really did see it that way.

Doctrinal and dogmatic disputes usually amount to fighting over a hat…each side is honestly describing their experience, and neither experience in any way limits the god under the hat nor diminishes the different experience of the other seekers.

It’s not surprising that Christians would eventually come to speak about God as a triad…much older religions had been doing so for a very long time. And, Christianity is a syncretic religion…borrowing and adapting traditions from Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Paganism, and, of course, adding their own insights and revelations.

Buddhism has its 3 Jewels: The Buddha, his message, and the spiritual community.

Taoism has yin, yang, and the Tao…the blessed light, the sacred dark, and the way of the universe…all things flowing into and out from one another, all life being connected.

The oldest organized religion on the planet is Hinduism and they have a deity called a Trimurti…three deities sharing the godhead…Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva…that is, the creator, the preserver, and the destroyer…symbols for the life cycle…birth, maturation, and decline.

The ancient Egyptians had three chief deities that shared the top role, they were a family: husband, wife, and child (Osiris, Isis, and Horus).

The Greek goddess Hecate was a triple goddess, a deity known in three phases.

The ancient Greeks had goddesses called the 3 charities; the Romans called them graces. They were Splendor, Joy, and Goodwill.

For Greek philosophers “three” represented fullness or completion…past, present and future; beginning, middle, and end, the whole of life. Aristotle wrote, “All things are three, and three is all; let us use this number in the worship of the gods.”

Some aboriginal cultures talked about the divine as Sky Father, Earth Mother, and Great Spirit.

In the middle ages, Christian mystic Julian of Norwich thought of God as Truth, Christ as Wisdom, and the Spirit as infinite goodness. She said Truth is our Father, Wisdom is our Mother, and infinite Goodness is our Lord.

Most of us have heard that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. One God, understood in three ways: power, knowledge, presence.

Charles Fillmore, co-founder of the Unity Church, understood the Trinity to symbolize Mind, Idea, Expression.

Ernest Holmes, who wrote the Science of Mind, said he believed in Eternal Goodness, Eternal Loving Kindness, and Eternal Givingness. Holmes seemed to have a threefold understanding of the divine nature.

And Scotty McLennan, a Unitarian Christian minister, has written that even as a Unitarian he can appreciate Trinitarian symbolism. He says for him, God is Ultimate Concern, the Face of Compassion, and the Breath of the world: three ways of understanding one God.

We may experience water as liquid, gas, and ice. We even talk about ourselves as mind, body, and spirit…a whole person, but more than any one expression. And we are made in the divine image.

The Sufi poet Hafiz often wrote of God as an intimate partner. He said, “Cloak yourself in a thousand ways, still I shall know you, my Beloved…you are the breathing of the world.”
We may not have the patience to think of God wearing a thousand cloaks, but maybe we can play with three masks.

All is one; one is all. That’s what the great teachers tell us; that’s what the Trinity suggests as well. Maybe for Pride Month the symbol of the Trinity can represent for us a diverse and yet unified community. Gay, bi, or straight. Cisgender or Transgender or gender non-conforming: All is one; one is all. We are many; we are one. For Pride Month the Trinity could be described as: Love is Love is Love!

“Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one!” I believe that God is one, but our needs are many and God’s grace meets us where, when, and how we need it. We, though many, are one; and God, though one, shows up in many ways to remind us of that.

If your experience of God is that she wears a blue hat or a red one, or three masks, or a thousand cloaks, what is most important to me is that you dare to believe that you are a person of sacred value, held by a divine love that is all-inclusive, unconditional and everlasting. Maybe that’s my Trinity: All-inclusive Love, Unconditional Love, Everlasting Love. Don’t waste time arguing or worrying about the Trinity, just let yourself experience the love that it is meant to represent.

One last story: Countless ages ago, the Trinity was having a play day. The Trinity, being pure Love, started dancing…sort of a divine Tea Dance. That dance generated so much joy that finally it produced an explosion of pure delight! The fallout from that big bang is creation.

Our world, our universe, our lives were created from an explosion of immeasurable love. We are made from divine love and the love we share honors the Love that created us. Do what you will with the symbol of the Trinity, but embrace the idea that you are forever loved. This is the good news! Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2017

Glory to God:
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer -
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.
Amen.

A Second Wind

On June 5, 2017, in Sunshine Cathedral, by Rev.Dr. Robert

A Second Wind Pentecost Sunday Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins {Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.} When I was a child I was enthralled with the story of Sleeping Beauty. […]

A Second Wind
Pentecost Sunday
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins

{Let there be peace among us and let us not be instruments of our own or others’ oppression. And now, may God’s word be spoken, may only God’s word be heard. Amen.}

When I was a child I was enthralled with the story of Sleeping Beauty. Disney’s version is the one that I knew. Princess Aurora was the sleeping beauty, but the real movers and shakers in the story were some fairies: Flora, Fauna, and Meriwether. The villainess of the story was the diabolical fairy, Maleficent. The story shows that most fairies are good, but every now and then there may be one that’s a real pain.

When the Princess Aurora was born, the good fairies bless her with magical gifts.
Flora affirms that the princess will grow up to be beautiful.
Fauna decrees that she will be musically gifted.
Just as Meriwether is about to give her blessing, mean ol’ Maleficent crashes the party and lays a curse on the infant. On her 16th birthday, Maleficent predicts, the princess will prick her finger on a spinning wheel’s needle and drop dead (mwahaha). Nefarious Maleficent, content that she has ruined everything, leaves in a maniacal huff.

Flora and Fauna then tell Meriwether that it is up to her to undo Maleficent’s mischief. So Meriwether waves her wand to block the hex; she takes a deep breath and then decrees that if the princess should injure herself with a tainted needle she will only seem dead; she will, however, only be in a deep sleep and true love’s kiss will have the power to wake her. There is a chance that the princess will get a second wind, and a second chance.

Aurora is sent away to be raised in seclusion under the protection of the good fairies, but once she sneaks out, bumps into a handsome young fellow, it’s love at first sight, but the love is unrequited as Aurora has to return to her safe haven.

Sure enough, on her 16th birthday, Maleficent finds her, lures her to a spinning wheel that has a poisoned needle attached, and Aurora pricks her finger and falls into a death like slumber.

Of course, in the end, the handsome young fellow from her earlier chance encounter finds the princess, kisses her, and she returns to full and vibrant life. Maleficent then gets her comeuppance and Aurora and her beau live happily ever after.

I am 50 years old and that story is still with me. It still speaks to me. It reminds me of the power of hope. It reminds me of the power we have to offer blessings. It reminds me of the power of love. It reminds me of the possibility that not matter how terrible things seem to be, they can get better. It reminds me that even a few old fairies can change the world. And the story reminds me that fear can be defeated.

Maleficent is the powers of greed, hatred, bigotry, and selfishness.
She tries to destroy a baby, which represents the vulnerable.
But the good fairies aren’t taking that lying down. They are determined to get a second wind. Oh, weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning…a second wind is on the way!

Second wind stories are found throughout our scriptures.

The prophet Ezekiel dreams about his community being depressed, defeated, exhausted, lifeless. But in his dream he speaks to the winds and asks them to come into the dry bones of his community, to renew and resurrect his community, and the winds do. His people get a second wind.

The prophet Elijah is taken into the heavens by a whirlwind. A wind takes him, and as he ascends his spirit, his energy, his enthusiasm, falls on his disciple Elisha, given him more wind in his ministry sails, giving him the power to continue in Elijah’s footsteps. The prophetic ministry will continue thanks to a second wind.

The Psalmist prayed (Psalm 51.10): …God, renew a steadfast spirit within me.
In other words, help me get my second wind.

Jesus said (Luke 11.13): If you know how to give good gifts to the ones you love, how much more will God give the holy Spirit to those who ask for it?
In other words, no matter how rough things might seem, we can ask God for a second wind.

That’s what the Pentecost story in Acts is today: it is the story of a group of frightened people getting a second wind.

Jesus has been executed. Followers of Jesus are being targeted for imprisonment, enslavement, and execution. The Roman Empire is the only super power in the world and its idea of peace is to dominate every group and country and community and bend them to the Roman imperial will.

Life is hard and scary and often dangerous. People are terrified. They feel powerless. John writes about the empire in Revelation by comparing Caesar to a beast and his army to a dragon. The Beast and his dragon are against the community of Christ, that is, they are anti-Christ.

To be in the Christ community, to be in the business of hope, healing, peace, inclusion, and the affirmation of the sacred value of all people is to be a target of the empire.

The Jesus way lifts people up but empire can only function if a bunch of people are knocked down and kept out.
The Christ community, where the first are last and the last are first, where the unlovable are loved and the untouchable are embraced and those who feel broken are told you are God’s miracle and not God’s mistake…the authentic Christ community is at odds with the empire, but the empire has all the power (or so they say).

We are seemingly powerless. Our hero was executed and we call him the lamb of God. How can we stand up to a beast and his dragon when all we have is slain lamb? Things look bleak and they feel worse.

But Pentecost says: we’ve been here before.
Remember Ezekiel. His people got a second wind, and they came back to life.
Remember Elijah. He was carried away by a wind and the power that carried him away empowered the next generation of prophetic work.

The powers and principalities of domination may seem to have the upper hand today, but we’re about to get a second wind.

And so, on the day of Pentecost, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were. And they got fired up. And they were all filled with the Breath of wholeness, the holy spirit, and began to speak in new ways, communicating to people who hadn’t heard a word of hope in a long time, they started speaking words of hope as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The Jesus Movement wasn’t born on the day of Pentecost, but it did get its second wind.

At Pentecost, the church remembers that they have a prophetic mission; they have a spiritual calling and spiritual gifts to keep that mission active. And so, they get their second wind and can now affirm with the prophet Isaiah (61.1): The Spirit of the Lord is on [us], anointing [us] to proclaim good news to the poor, to comfort the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for prisoners.

Is Maleficent doing her worst? Is Rome, the beast and its dragon that is against all that the Christ Community is meant to stand for, is Rome wreaking havoc? Is there a war on the poor? Is xenophobia out of control? Are transgender people being dehumanized? Are same-gender loving people having their dignity assaulted? Is the earth herself in danger? Perhaps. And maybe all we’ve got right now is a slain lamb. But if history is any indication, that and a second wind is all we need to unleash mighty currents of hope and healing in the world. And this is the good news. Amen!

© Durrell Watkins 2017

Breath of Hope,
Wind of Empowerment,
Gale of Possibilities:
Blow into our lives today.
Alleluia!
Amen.

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