Neighbor-Helping-Neighbor: Now More Than Ever!

September 14, 2021

Stephen Henderson is a food and travel journalist, and his articles have appeared in Food & Wine magazine and Gourmet.

Stephen was on assignment in India, where there is still much poverty, and he discovered a soup kitchen that was open 24/7. Men, women, and children were let in, 600 at a time, around the clock for vegetarian meals at this haven. Stephen was so blown away by this soup kitchen and what it was doing that he volunteered to cook at the place for a week.

This experience led him to volunteer at numerous soup kitchens worldwide, including in Israel, South Korea, Iran, and other places in India. He has also volunteered at food kitchens in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Austin. In fact, Stephen has written a book entitled The 24-Hour Soup Kitchen: Soul-Stirring Lessons in Gastrophilanthropy.

“It changed my life and gave me the courage to attempt mass cookery in other charitable settings around the world,” he says. Stephen hopes that his book can help inspire others to volunteer to nourish those in need.

I bring up Stephen’s experience because hunger – real hunger – has been a significant challenge in the Roanoke Valley during the pandemic, and it remains a serious problem. It particularly impacts the young and the old, and it is a reality for households of all races and ethnic origins.

This past Sunday, I spoke about the importance of Neighbor Helping Neighbor. (Missed the service? Click here to watch it.) I do not believe that Neighbor Helping Neighbor is a peripheral issue to spirituality. The apostle James said that “the essence of real religion is to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” And he also commented that “faith without works is dead.”
Jesus said that “to whom much has been given, much is required.” He also told us that what we do “to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did to me.”

I noted that the Unity movement had not been that strong in the area of Neighbor Helping Neighbor in the past. But in recent years, this has changed. Unity Worldwide Ministries and many Unity congregations have strived for “a world that works for all.” Unity’s recent track record in environmental and LBGTQ+ issues has been quite good.

Unity of Roanoke Valley has shown a real interest in Neighbor Helping Neighbor. In the midst of the pandemic, URV has started – and sustained – The Giving Room, where people can make donations of food and clothing. The Giving Room in the URV annex building is open 24/7. Besides donations, it is also a great place to pray and meditate.

URV has a good history of leadership in Neighbor Helping Neighbor. After Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of Louisiana, URV helped organize and was part of a major interfaith effort among Roanoke congregations to help rebuild New Orleans. Longtime URV members Diane Strickland and Skip Brown shared with me their wonderful memories of all that URV people – and other Roanoke faith communities – did in this rebuilding effort.

Several people have asked me if URV can expand its activities in terms of Neighbor Helping Neighbor. I want to do this, and I agree with the apostle James that these efforts are central to genuine spirituality. But instead of the minister creating “giving and volunteering” opportunities, I believe it would be better for this to happen in a community-based way where ideas “bubble up.”

So I ask you to please do the following:

~ First, ask yourself: “Where does my heart break in terms of community and social issues?” Is it the environment, the rise in inequality, violence, discrimination, or any other number of key areas?

~ Second, I ask you to write down your top three issues or areas (forms are available in the foyer at URV).

~ Third, I ask you to please email your top three issues or areas to me. Send your email to HP4360@gmail.com and put Neighbor Helping Neighbor in the subject line. Remember to include your name, email address, and phone number.

We will set up Zoom meetings or conference phone calls for people with similar top concerns to discuss ways to organize and work on that concern. We hope to facilitate ideas “bubbling up” and actions we can take as a spiritual community to help in these areas.

Thank you in advance for your emails, concerns, and suggestions. My primary reason for exploring Neighbor Helping Neighbor is because I believe that this is a central part of genuine spiritual growth. It is such a powerful part of all of the world’s great religions.

But there is also another reason to do this. When I was the Senior Minister at Unity Center of Tulsa, I saw that as we became more active in Neighbor Helping Neighbor activities through things such as partnerships with the Eastern Oklahoma Community Food Bank, the number of members significantly grew. Many of these new members were Gen Xers and Millennials who had children. Word got out about what Unity Center of Tulsa was doing.

There is also a third reason to move more in this direction. This year our Youth and Family Ministry program will have a curriculum based around two areas. Our children will study the 12 Powers, starting with Faith. They will also look at Neighbor Helping Neighbor. Wouldn’t it be great if the children had a strong and positive example from the Unity of Roanoke Valley adults? Wouldn’t it be great to see URV children and adults working together in these areas?

Again, thank you in advance for taking some time to think about the above and sending in your suggestions.

Many blessings,
Rev. Rick

The Code Breaker: or Editing DNA

September 7, 2021

I have been reading a highly thought-provoking book that raises more questions than it answers.

The book’s title is The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race. The book’s author is the very talented writer Walter Isaacson, the author of the New York Times bestsellers on Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci. Isaacson is a professor of history at Tulane University, the former CEO of the Aspen Institute, former chair of CNN, and former editor of Time magazine

Jennifer Doudna is a Nobel prize winner who has done pioneering research in CRISPR gene editing and made fundamental contributions to biochemistry. In her University of California, Berkeley lab, she developed a method of gene editing. One can’t overstate the importance of these developments since they now give us the power to rewrite the very code of life – to change DNA as we see fit. It means that Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is becoming less science fiction and more actual reality.

CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. Now before you stop reading this blog/column, let me get to the bottom line. Viruses and bacteria have been at war since the early days when life appeared on this planet. Way back when some bacteria evolved to a point where they had CRISPRs inside of them. This gave the bacteria the power to cut up attacking viruses and add some of the virus’ DNA to the bacteria’s DNA. It told future generations of this bacteria in plain English: Whenever you see some DNA that looks like this, destroy it.

This worked until the virus mutated. But the bacteria countered by using CRISPR on the new virus mutation. It sounds almost like the nuclear arms race during the Cold War. But Doudna and other scientists realized that humans could use CRISPR to edit DNA code. The technique to do this has been perfected, and there are numerous ways scientists could apply this new technology.

Isaacson sees this knowledge as leading to the next great innovation revolution. For the last fifty years or so, we have been in a digital revolution with everything from microchips, computers, the internet to Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Zoom, etc. Now we are entering the life-sciences revolution. Digital coding will be joined in importance and interest with the coding of life. Both forms of coding will alter our economy, politics, culture, and values.

Doudna’s story raises so many important issues ranging from her initial interest in DNA to the position of women in science. Isaacson does an excellent job covering these issues and more, such as: How scientific discoveries come about in our modern and complex society; What are the new symbiotic relationships between universities, corporations, and governments in the scientific race?; Who decides when and how the code of life is changed?

What is so fascinating about Doudna’s story is that she is not just an excellent scientist in the biochemistry lab but has also become a leading advocate for responsible ways to use this new technology. This side of her CRISPR research started in a most interesting way. One night she had a dream that she was in the presence of Adolf Hitler, who had the face of a pig. Hitler started asking her all about CRISPR. “We are very interested in your advances,” Hitler said in the dream. Doudna woke up in terror.

But beyond dreams, Doudna already has had to face the reality that several CRISPR babies have been created and born in China. Interestingly, the CRISPR gene edits in China were botched, so at least one of those babies is carrying some significantly different genes from a typical human. The world’s scientific community has roundly criticized the Chinese researcher who carried out having CRISPR-edited human babies. Chinese authorities have severely punished him. Nevertheless, this researcher has shown us that gene editing in humans is actually possible. For better or for worse, the genie is out of the bottle.

The topics covered in The Code Breaker are too important to be left to scientists, politicians, and talking heads. All of us need to be involved. I believe that our Unity perspective gives us a wonderful vantage point from which to contribute to the debate. Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of the Unity movement, was a lover of both science and spirituality. He felt that they should support each other in the search for truth. He thought there was no reason for them to be at war with each other.

Isaacson does an excellent job describing some of the choices that we face in the near future concerning this gene-editing technology. For example, where do we draw the line on editing the code of life? First, consider Huntington’s disease. It is a horrible inherited illness in which nerve cells in the brain break down over time. The singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie died a cruel death because of this genetic defect. Woody Guthrie’s son, Arlo Guthrie (a wonderful singer-songwriter in his own right), spent many years in agony, not knowing if he had inherited Huntington’s disease from his father (So far, it looks like Arlo hasn’t inherited the disease). Isaacson argues that most researchers and medical ethicists would support doing a gene edit if it could stop death from Huntington’s disease.

Given that my wife, Debbie, was a type 1 diabetic – where the body produces no insulin whatsoever – I would support a gene edit to eradicate this horrible inherited disease. But let’s move down that slippery slope. What about gene edits to enhance muscle strength or to increase your children’s height? What about gene edits to raise a person’s IQ or to change skin color? What about gene edits to choose the sex of your baby?

Who should make these decisions? Should it be individual parents or the state? Also, who should pay for these gene edits? If you say the state, then how should the state finance these expensive procedures? If you say individual parents should pay, are you then increasing inequality and making it even more rigid because of genetic “haves and have nots?”

Would we be genetically editing out a wide range of diversity from the human family, and what would be the consequences? Vincent van Gogh was not “normal” in psychological terms. Suppose you could gene edit the van Goghs of the world into the so-called “normal” range. Would you also be losing a good deal of their art and/or other unique contributions to the world?

Genes may be a potent factor in the mix that creates what we are but is it wise to consider our genetic background the only variable? For example, consider two twins who might both have the same genetic makeup that points to alcoholism. One twin becomes a raging alcoholic. The other twin goes to Alcoholics Anonymous, develops a spiritual life, and has just celebrated his 20th anniversary of sobriety. Genetics is not the whole ball of wax in this case.

I admire Jennifer Doudna because she realizes that these complex ethical, philosophical, and spiritual issues related to CRISPR are as important as her laboratory work – and often more important than the lab work. I appreciate her understanding that the future reality probably does not include a total ban on CRISPR or a CRISPR “Wild West” where anything goes. She is seeking a sane “middle ground or middle way.”

As I said above, I believe the debate around this subject is one we should all be involved in. It does touch deeply spiritual areas. The Code Breaker is a good way to get started.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

But I Really Want It: And Other Metaphysical Matters

August 31, 2021

There is a saying among ministers that we often preach or write blogs/columns about things we are going through.

But then we make it sound like we have been practicing these truths for ages and have a black belt in various spiritual disciplines. However, the reality is that we just got our spiritual white belts a few months ago.

My advisor at Unity Institute and Seminary told me, “Rick, it is good to show the congregation some of your foibles. But don’t show them too many of your foibles. You want them to be leaving the sanctuary with some hope.”

So here comes the truth in packaging: I want something, and I want it really badly. Let’s call this something X. There is no need to go into details about what X is. Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt anxious, moody, forlorn, and almost despairing because X is not in your life? And you are starting to doubt that X will ever be in your life?

Then you start thinking X is in everybody else’s life. Why isn’t it in my life? It is so unfair. So let’s start the pity party. To quote the late Leslie Gore: “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to …You’d cry too if it happened to you.” Or to quote the contemporary TikTok star, Olivia Rodrigo, “God, it’s brutal out here!”

I am thinking of Abraham from the Bible. Abraham and Sarah wanted children. God has told Abraham that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Yet here is an older Abraham, who is still without children. Abraham made a covenant with God, and Abraham has lived up to his side of the bargain. The question is: When will God live up to His side of the deal?

One day some mysterious strangers show up at Abraham and Sarah‘s tent. Abraham is a gracious host and provides these visitors with warm hospitality. Then the men (or are they Angels?) tell Abraham that Sarah will soon have a child. Sarah laughs when she hears this. Because of her age, how could such a thing happen? Of course, Sarah then gives birth to Isaac, and the name Isaac in Hebrew is connected to the Hebrew word for laughter. Abraham goes on to be the father of three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Abraham’s spiritual descendants are numerous as the stars. I think his spiritual children have added a great deal of light and heat to the world.

I am also thinking about the Jewish exiles carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon after the Babylonians destroyed Solomon’s temple and captured the holy land.

These exiles sang, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalm 137:1). It was a bitter time. And yet, their freedom – their return to Jerusalem – was not that far around the corner. It happened when Persia defeated Babylon, and a second temple (the temple that Jesus knew) was built.

The “still, small voice” inside of me says, “Rick, now wait a minute. Do you think you might be getting a bit grandiose and melodramatic in comparing your situation to Abraham and the Babylonian exile? In your case, we are talking about X.”

“Okay,” I say, “But in the Bible, you say the following about X … All I am asking is for this to be true for me about X.”

Sometimes for me, the “still, small voice” can be very chatty: “So now you are quoting Scripture like a pentecostal minister. Is it the case that when the Bible says what you want to hear, you start upholding the literal inerrancy of the Bible?”

“All right,” I respond, “I see your point. But this X-related stuff really hurts. Please show me how to deal with it.”

As Scripture says, “Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened.” A few days later, I was teaching an online class on The Lord’s Prayer. In this class, we looked at what New Thought thinkers, like Emmet Fox and Eric Butterworth, have said about The Lord’s Prayer. I asked a person in the class to read something Emmet Fox wrote about the “Thy will be done” and “Give us this day our daily bread” parts of the prayer. As they read Fox’s observations, I was struck that these were the words and advice I was seeking. Fox wrote:

“If only you will find out the thing God intends you to do, and will do it, you will find that all doors will open to you … It is the will of God that we should all be healthy, happy, and full of joyful experiences … But in order to obtain these things, we have to claim them, not necessarily in detail, but we have to claim them, and we have to recognize that God and God alone is the source and the fountainhead of all our good … God being the Source, the number of channels is infinite. The Source is one.”

Emmet says that when we realize the above in our heart of hearts, we can feel real peace and joy despite external appearances.

My six-year-old, Therese, would like for me to buy her an iPhone 12. I realize she has much to learn before I buy her even a simple track phone. I believe Spirit has sometimes taken a similar approach with me. Before X comes into my life, I often have to learn that I can be happy, joyous, and free without X. Idolatry may not be a fashionable word in the 21st-century, but I have seen how I can be capable of making a false God out of an X.

Meanwhile, I have also seen how many of my long-run problems started as my brilliant short-run solutions. That is why I pray, “This or something better.” And if X is not here, it might be because something better is on its way.

Augustine, in his prayers to God, put it so well: “There is no rest until we rest in you.” When we follow Augustine’s advice, our X-problem looms far less large in our lives, and we can start to enjoy “the peace that passes all understanding” – even if we don’t have X.

Can I pick up my white belt now?

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Summer of Soul: Gone but at Last, not Forgotten

August 24, 2021

Almost everybody has heard of the Woodstock Festival that was held on a farm in rural upstate New York.

It was a hippie extravaganza of drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll. It was a top news story, the main event, and it was the subject of numerous movies, tv shows, books, and record albums. The cartoonist for the Peanuts series, Charles Schultz even named a “new” character in his comic strip after the festival. It was a little yellow bird that often flew around Snoopy – Woodstock.

But during the summer of 1969, when Woodstock was held, there was another festival going on. This second festival also attracted large crowds, and it also included artists who in many ways made as important musical and cultural contributions as the ones at Woodstock. In fact, one could argue that many of the artists at this second festival have made more important and lasting contributions than many of the people who played at Woodstock.

However, while Woodstock is still famous and legendary, the second festival is “little noted nor long remember(ed)” (to borrow a phrase from Abraham Lincoln). Next to nothing has been written about it. Up to now, there have been no movies about it. Ironically, around 54 hours of videotape were recorded at the second festival. But for roughly 50 years, this incredible footage has literally remained “in the can” in somebody’s basement. Yes, there were several attempts to make a film from the tapes, but it always fell through for one reason or another.

The second festival held during the summer of 1969 was called the Harlem Cultural Festival. It ran for six weeks in Mount Morris Park (now renamed Marcus Garvey Park). Let me tell you some of the people and groups that appeared at the Harlem Festival: Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, B.B. King, Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, The 5th Dimension, The Staple Singers, Gladys Knight and the Pips – the list goes on and on.

The performances were fantastic and have stood the test of time. How could this footage have sat “in the can” for roughly half a century? How could the Harlem Cultural Festival not be right up there with Woodstock? I think the answer to these questions gets at a tragic side of the American story.

But fortunately, there is now a film that I think will start to set the record straight. The movie is called Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised). It is playing in local theaters, and Hulu is streaming it. The British newspaper, The Guardian, has called Summer of Soul “the best concert documentary ever made.”

The film’s director is Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the drummer and frontman for Roots, the house band for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Questlove has done a fantastic job of editing down the footage. He has also included many interviews with surviving performers and people who attended the festival in 1969 (You see these attendees as they looked then and how they look now). He also has been able to include the social, cultural, and political ingredients from the time. Interestingly, Questlove was born in 1971 – after the festival was held. The film premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and won several awards. The reviews of the film have tended to be quite good. I think there are several key takeaways from all of this, including:

  • When you see the quality of the performances, who performed, the size of the crowds, etc., it is a very “teachable moment.” How many other events and things have been left out of our cultural, social, political, and economic history because they happened on the “wrong side of the tracks”? As the former senior minister of Unity Center of Tulsa, I find it incomprehensible that so little is known about the Tulsa race massacre of 1921. It was perhaps the worst race massacre in our nation’s history. It is 2021, and the “powers that be” are just now getting around to finding the massive communal graves in Tulsa where many non-whites were “dumped” following this tragic event.

I remind you that Jesus’ crucifixion also occurred on the “wrong side of the tracks” in a backwater province of the empire. Jesus said, “What you did to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did to me” (Matthew 25:40). It is still true today!

  • Questlove made some very valid points during a recent interview. He reminded us of all of the “things” that went on at Woodstock. Yet at the Harlem Cultural Festival, there was none of that – no trouble. “Could you imagine what would have happened if one-tenth of the stuff that went on at Woodstock had gone on at the Harlem festival?” he asked.

In light of Questlove’s valid point, I think it is high time for all of us to step back and reconsider our cultural/racial/and ethnic stereotypes.

  • So many of the performances at the Harlem Cultural Festival had a deeply spiritual dimension to them. The performance of Menalia Jackson singing “Precious Lord” is worth double the price you pay for your theater ticket or monthly fee to stream Hulu. It was one of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s favorite songs. Nina Simone’s singing of “To Be Young Gifted and Black” reminds everyone of their inner worth in the eyes of God. The Staple Singers remind us all to look beyond daily appearances. When we do, things can really start to happen.

  • Even some of the more seemingly secular performers had great messages. For example, Sly and the Family Stone sang, “I am everyday people … We got to learn to live together … Different strokes for different folks.” And Stevie Wonder – singing, playing on drums and keyboard – looked like an angel flying through the sky.

The multi-cultural aspect of the film is fascinating.

  • The festival audience was predominantly African-American, but there were many Latinos there. Several great bands played Latin-fusion heat music. Also, interviews with Lin-Manuel Miranda – of Hamilton fame – explained the mix of Latin and Soul music influences.

I believe that Summer of Soul is an important movie not only because of all of the great performances but because of the many “teachable moments” that it presents. I saw it with my 17-year-old daughter, Rachel. On the way home, she brought up Sly and The Family Stone’s greatest hits in the car. “They are really good. I never heard them before,” she said. I would say a good time was had by all.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Catching Fireflies at the Star, and Other Matters

August 17, 2021

During a recent Sunday message, I talked about a young poet, Jacquelyn Suskin, who believes that there is a poet/artist inside all of us. (To listen to this message, click here)

Jacquelyn’s book, Every Day is a Poem, details how we can get in touch with this internal poet/artist. When we do this, we come more into direct contact with the Divine Spark inside us that is our real essence. We in Unity call it the Christ within, but it has been called by many different names down through the ages.

The poetry that flows from connecting with our internal poet/artist might not look like a formal written poem. It may be a real change in our consciousness.

But how do you get in touch with this poet/artist? Well, Jacquelyn suggests that we do several things. First, she suggests we do an awe check. Have we lost that sense of awe in our lives, and how can we rekindle it if we have? I talked about being north of Duluth, Minnesota, and asking an entrepreneur from that part of the world if they got the four seasons up there. He responded by saying, “No, we only get two seasons up here – winter and construction.” I suggested that if you are only getting “winter and construction” in your life, it is time to increase the quantity and quality of awe you are experiencing.

I have found that a good way of doing this is remembering what it is like being a child. I think most of us have a great deal of awe inside of us as children until it gets beaten/drilled/drummed out of us. I had a recent experience that really boosted my awe quotient.

My six-year-old daughter, Therese, 17-year-old daughter, Rachel, and I recently returned to Mill Mountain in Roanoke to visit the Star. It was a beautiful warm summer night, and the sun was setting behind the mountains in the west. Lights were coming on in the valley below. We walked out to the observation deck and really enjoyed the view.

But then Therese said to me, “Come on Daddy, let’s go and look at the fireflies. We walked down a path toward a darkened part of the mountain woods. “You know, where I lived when I was growing up, we called them lightning bugs,” I told Therese.

We rounded a turn, and there they were: hundreds, perhaps thousands of fireflies in the sky.

All of us were in such awe. Therese caught a few of them in her hand. Their lights went on and off. Then she let them fly away.

Finally, we walked back to the observation deck, and I heard a man say to his young son, “I have been all over the world. You’ll be hard-pressed to find something more beautiful than this area.” I felt such awe and gratitude for my new home. It is easy to take many things for granted. I love the saying, “You can’t fail to be in Heaven. You can only fail to recognize it.”

But I have also recently come across several other examples where children and childlike awe have rekindled a key Ingredient needed to find that internal poet/artist. For example, Katie Brown, the mother of several young daughters, comes from Petoskey, Michigan. The town is right on Lake Michigan. In fact, as you drive around Petoskey, you will always have this big body of water on one side of your car.

So one day, Katie had to run many errands. She piled her girls into the car and felt more like “winter and construction” than in awe of the wonders of her neck of the woods. All of a sudden, one of Katie’s daughters asked, “Mom, who poured it?”

Katie felt like responding, “Who poured what?” But then she got the question: Who poured that incredible Lake Michigan? Right there in the car, she felt overwhelmed with awe and gratitude for the lake – and her many blessings. She said to her daughter, “God did, darling.” She also said that she “silently gave thanks for the reminder to slow down and take in the wonders all around me – from the Great Lake to my growing girls.”

Let me give one more example of that awe and gratitude. Susan Minegar Luna lives in Santa Ana, California. She found it very difficult meeting the 39 different families on her street. It can be that way these days. We don’t really know our neighbors. Susan noticed that her grandchildren liked building fairy gardens and houses. So Susan got the idea to build a fairy garden and house outside her house, near the street.

Not only was it beautiful and magical, but it was a big hit with many of the people living on her street. Neighbors came up to her and asked Susan about fairy gardens and houses. This led to a growing number of friendships. Eventually, Susan felt Spirit saying to her: “Build a fairy garden and house for all 39 of your neighbors. Make certain every fairy house and garden represents something unique about each of your neighbors.” Susan really tapped into her internal poet/artist. One fairy garden and house was a small football field and stadium, while another was a fairy fiesta.

One last example: In the 1960s, Walt Disney hired Robert and Richard Sherman to create the songs for the movie Mary Poppins. Walt was trying to convince Julie Andrews to play the quirky English nanny, so he invited Andrew’s to come to the studio to hear the Sherman brother’s songs.

Julie Andrews loved all of the songs except for one. The Sherman brothers felt that this particular song was destined to become the big hit from the movie. However, Walt told the Sherman brothers, in no uncertain terms, to can that song and write another one. But the Sherman brothers felt drained and dejected. They couldn’t think of anything else.

That night, a sad Richard Sherman asked his son how school went. His son said that he got a polio vaccination in school. Richard wanted to know if it hurt. His son said, “No. It was a liquid, and they put it on a sugar cube.”

Well, Richard had a real moment of awe and a solution to his problem. From this discussion with his son came the hit song “A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down.”

The Star and fireflies, Lake Michigan, fairy houses and gardens, and Mary Poppins: Don’t live in just “winter and construction.” Make certain you are in touch with that awe and your internal poet/artist. Children do it all the time, and so can you!

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

In The Heights: Who Could Ask for More?

August 10, 2021

Rachel, my 17-year-old daughter, and I are huge Lin-Manuel Miranda fans!

So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that we just loved his new movie, In The Heights. Our advice is to run – don’t walk – to see it either in local movie theaters or streaming on HBO MAX. We saw it at The Grandin Theatre, and we also fell in love with the place. We have lived in Roanoke for over a year, but because of the pandemic, we are just now beginning to explore the fantastic places of Roanoke! In Tulsa, the wonderful arts movie theater is called “Circle Cinema.” On leaving The Grandin Theatre, Rachel leaned over to me and said, “This place is like the Circle.” She couldn’t have paid The Grandin a higher compliment.

I believe In The Heights is a deeply spiritual movie about our modern society. Of course, you might say that a minister would even see a phone book – if they still existed – and declare that reading it is a deeply spiritual experience. Be that as it may, I would gladly go to a show or musical film written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, even if it was about a phone book. (You know, I think he has the talent to turn a story about a phone book into a Tony and Academy Award project.)

Miranda became famous for creating the Broadway show Hamilton, which is about America’s first Secretary of the Treasury. It would be easier to tell you about the few awards Hamilton did not win than to list all of the awards that Hamilton did win. Miranda also recently starred in the Disney movie Mary Poppins Returns.

The release of In The Heights was delayed because of the pandemic. It was filmed in New York City, and you will see many wonderful parts of NYC that out-of-towners don’t often visit. Of course, the “heights” in this movie is Washington Heights, which is a section on Manhattan’s upper west side near the George Washington Bridge (which goes over the Hudson River to New Jersey).

When Henry Kissinger‘s family escaped Nazi Europe, they came to America and lived in Washington Heights. Now Washington Heights is the home for many Latinos living in NYC. Through excellent music, choreography, and cinematography, the movie captures the flavor of this thriving community.

The central character, Usnavi de la Vega, is an immigrant from the Dominican Republic who now owns a small bodega. Through the many customers and employees of the bodega, we learn about this community. We meet the salon ladies who know all the latest news, gossip, and beauty trends. We meet small-time vandals, graffiti artists, and the owner of a little cab company. We meet the shaved ice pushcart man and many others. We also meet Abuela Claudia, who is the entire neighborhood’s unofficial grandmother.

Miranda skillfully shows us through songs and stories that all of these Washington Heights residents have dreams – many of them very big dreams. But then, in every case, these wonderful dreams run into some challenging realities. For example, a young woman who has a real talent for fashion design runs into racial and ethnic discrimination blocking her path. A young man, who is a “Dreamer” and has spent almost all of his life in the United States, can’t get into college because he is an undocumented alien. Even the graffiti artist who is incredibly talented can’t develop his career.

Elderly Abuela Claudia faces what seems to be the toughest roadblock of all – the Angel of Death. This scene was filmed in a subway station, subway car, and tunnel, and I have never seen a near-death experience filmed and depicted better.

The spiritual glory of this film is how the characters face these difficult roadblocks of their dreams. These roadblocks crush some, and it is sad. But others find a divine spark inside of themselves that helps them grow through the challenges and overcome the obstacles.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for you. But let me tell you some more about one of the sub-stories in the film. Nina is a smart and beautiful young woman who arrives home from her first year as an undergraduate at Stanford University. Nina is seen as the shining example of somebody who will break out of the barrio and be a senior executive at some Fortune 500 corporation. However, Nina wants to drop out of Stanford. Her education is costing her father an arm-and-a-leg that he can’t afford. Also, Nina has faced some very unpleasant situations at Stanford with no support from the university or other students.

But through her experiences back in Washington Heights and seeing what is happening to others in her community, Nina develops a strong passion for becoming a lawyer to help Dreamers and others. She will return to Stanford with a new determination to overcome and not take guff from anybody – even the university!

This is a key point in so many of the sub-plots. We may start with individual dreams, but these dreams will often face very tall obstacles. The way to climb these obstacles is not just an individual effort. Yes, it often takes a village working together to get over these walls. In the process, what started as an individual dream often takes on a community aspect of love and service.

I promise you that Miranda gets all of this across in a heartfelt way that is not didactic! Even engaging animation and special effects are employed. One scene shot in an outdoor New York City public pool has water ballet shots that rival the great Busby Berkeley films of the 1930s.

My six-year-old daughter, Therese, was with us watching In The Heights. Therese speaks very favorably of The Grandin Theatre’s popcorn, candy, and soda. Also, we saw the film on a rainy night, and we were able to get a parking space right in front of the theater. I mean, who could ask for more?

Blessings abound,

Rev. Rick

Love Letters to Our Children: And Other Bombs

August 3, 2021

My daughters (Rachel and Therese) and I recently visited Austin, Texas, to be with my oldest son, Josh, and my daughter-in-law, Cari.

All six of my children were there, along with their partners. We gathered in Austin to celebrate my second grandson’s (Levi’s) Bris (circumcision). Josh and Cari are conservative Jews and very active in their synagogue.

Joey, my one-year-old grandson, was there, and he has been growing up a storm. I also got a chance to meet my oldest daughter’s (Catherine’s) partner for the first time – and I really liked Zack. (I promise there will not be a test on all of these names at the end of this blog).

So it is a beautiful Summer’s day by a river, and I was thinking how blessed and fortunate I am. I am very proud of my children and all the different roads they have taken. I also really love my children’s partners/wife.

Therese will enter first grade after summer vacation, and she doesn’t have a partner yet. But she has told me in great detail how she will conduct her wedding at Unity of Roanoke Valley.

Meanwhile, I have told Rachel (who is 17) that I look forward to loving her future partner, and I will do this even if her future partner is a Boston Red Sox fan. (I am a lifelong Yankees fan, and oh how this season hurts so far!) I will even tell Rachel’s future partner that their immortal soul will not rot away in some cosmic dilapidated hell hole like Fenway Park.

At last Sunday’s service, I spoke about the importance of sending thank you and gratitude letters. Watch the service here. Well, I thought of writing a thank you and gratitude email to my children. But then I started thinking about the mistakes I made in parenting them and the times I was less than the father I believe my Higher Power wanted – and wants – me to be. Yes, I feel forgiven, but I was thinking about some things in the past.

Right then, I saw an incredible email from one of you. Isn’t synchronicity so interesting and wonderful? In part, this email read as follows:

(Before you read this letter, let me add a note of caution. There is a strong controversy over whether or not the following is a genuine letter from Albert Einstein. I have some strong doubts that it is a genuine letter from the great scientist. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful letter. It is for that reason that we are reprinting it here. I might add that there are serious questions about whether all of the letters in the New Testament attributed to the apostle Paul were actually written by him. Some of them might not have been authored by Paul, but they also are beautiful letters that deserve to be reprinted and read.)

When I proposed the theory of relativity, very few understood me, and what I will reveal now to transmit to mankind will also collide with the misunderstanding and prejudice in the world.
I ask you to guard the letters as long as necessary, years, decades until society is advanced enough to accept what I will explain below.

There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us. This universal force is LOVE.

When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe, they forgot the most powerful unseen force. Love is Light that enlightens those who give and receive it.

Love is gravity because it makes some people feel attracted to others. Love is power because it multiplies the best we have and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals. For love, we live and die. Love is God, and God is Love.

This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.

To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation.

If instead of E = mc2, we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is because it has no limits.

After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy…

If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.

Perhaps we are not yet ready to make a bomb of love, a device powerful enough to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness, and greed that devastate the planet.
However, each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of love whose energy is waiting to be released.

When we learn to give and receive this universal energy, dear Lieserl, we will have affirmed that love conquers all, is able to transcend everything and anything because love is the quintessence of life.

I deeply regret not having been able to express what is in my heart, which has quietly beaten for you all my life. Maybe it’s too late to apologize, but as time is relative, I need to tell you that I love you, and thanks to you, I have reached the ultimate answer!

Your father, Albert Einstein

The congregant who sent this email to me said that she really was taken by the image of the ‘love bomb.’ I am too: And they shall beat their swords into love bombs.

I find it so much easier to forgive when I remember how much I have been forgiven. Also, now as part of the “senior generation,” I have a great deal of faith and respect for the generations that come after the “baby boomers.”

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

A Bris, a Christening, and a Funeral

July 27, 2021

Do you like romantic comedies? I do. But in recent years, this genre has faced some cinematic slim pickings.

One leading critic (Wesley Morris) recently wrote in The New York Times that for romantic comedies, we are now getting “decoys and substitutions.” Instead of “rom-coms,” we are getting “fizzy soap operas … teen movies, funny dramas, and Teen Tinder.” He contends that both the current quantity and quality can’t hold a candle (either lit or unlit) to the Meg Ryan and Sleepless In Seattle era.

What do you think? I don’t know if I totally agree with Morris. But it got me to thinking about rom coms I really liked and why I enjoyed them.

One example that came to mind was the British movie from a few years back, Four Weddings And A Funeral. Starring Hugh Grant, the film follows a group of friends as they become involved in romantic relationships, social functions, weddings, and finally, a funeral.

The movie was an unexpected hit. It was made in only six weeks and cost under $6 million to make. It grossed close to $250 million at the box office and was nominated for several key Academy Awards, and Grant won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.

When this movie was in theaters (remember when once upon a time, we went to theaters that showed movies and served big tubs of hot buttered popcorn?), my mother was really into obituary columns. Forget the front page and the news from Washington D.C. My mother would first scan the paper to see how the funeral homes were doing.

As I grow older I have come to better appreciate the way my mother read the newspaper. But at the time a cousin of mine commented, “You know Rick if your mother filmed that Hugh Grant movie it would have been renamed: Four Funerals And Only One Wedding.”

Hugh Grant and this movie come to mind for another reason. Recently as a minister, as a father, and as a grandfather, I have been involved in several different spiritual rites of birth, and a very early childhood death. Maybe the title of my movie would be “A Bris, a Christening, and a Funeral.”

The Bris

As I have mentioned, I was adopted when I was six months old by a Jewish family. In many ways, my parents were more culturally Jewish than spiritually Jewish. I went to a religious school as a kid. But when my parents faced rocky times financially, they left the temple to save money.

When I was 24, I became intensely interested in religion and spirituality. I went back to a Jewish temple and became very active. I learned a great deal, and I still view Judaism as a key spiritual river that has nurtured many different fields.

That may be why I am delighted that my oldest son, Joshua, and my daughter-in-law Cari are practicing Conservative Jews. They are active in their temple in Austin, Texas. A few weeks ago, Cari gave birth to my second grandson, Levi.

An ancient commandment in the Torah is the rite of circumcision. The Torah prescribes when the rite is to be performed and how the ritual is to be done. My son and daughter-in-law tried to change one thing, but they decided not to fight 4,000 years of tradition in the end.

I was also struck by the security surrounding the temple. The congregation is one Jewish institution among several on a campus surrounded by fencing and security guards. I felt sad that such measures are viewed as necessary in our country. I would be disheartened if Unity of Roanoke Valley needed such fencing and security guards.

The Bris, or Circumcision service, was very moving, and I felt so blessed to have a second grandson. I also felt grateful to be linked to a long tradition – even if minor changes could not be made.

The Christening

Debbi and I adopted our daughter, Therese when she was one day old. However, it took three different court hearings, in front of three different judges, before our adoption of Therese was finalized.

Maybe we should have gone ahead with Therese’s christening no matter what the legal system of Virginia said. But we waited.

When the adoption was finalized, I was a ministerial student at Unity Village. Several of my professors suggested that I perform the christening of Therese.

So there we were in the Fillmore Chapel at Unity Village. The Fillmore Chapel is the only existing place at Unity Village where both Charles and Myrtle Fillmore actually preached and conducted services. It is my favorite chapel in all of Unity’s headquarters – and there are many fantastic sanctuaries at Unity Village.

Many people attended Therese’s christening, including the president of Unity Worldwide Ministries. However, by the time the christening was held, Therese could walk. Truth be known, Therese could run. It would have been easier to christen her with a squirt gun than to catch up to her.

When I felt all was lost, little Therese turned around and came running to me, and she gave me a big warm hug. Mission accomplished!

The Funeral

Several years ago, Josh and Cari went for a routine sonogram appointment. Cari was many months pregnant. But when the equipment was attached to Cari, the medical people could not find a heartbeat.

It turned out that the little one’s umbilical cord was wrapped twice around his throat. The result was fatal. My son and daughter-in-law – and all of the family – were devastated.

Josh said that he knew there would be other children in their lives down the road, but there would always be a hole or missing piece.

The Good News

I know several people my age who have become very bitter for various reasons, or they have looked at current events and concluded that the world is going downhill and to the dogs (I don’t mean to be unfair to the dogs). I don’t see it that way at all.

When you look at Millennials and Gen Zers, I see a very different picture. Consider all that we know about their values and interests. They have been dealt much harder blows than Baby Boomers (like me). Yet their attitudes, goals, and desires, in many ways, are much better than Baby Boomers, I believe.

Yes, the next generations probably will make more than their share of mistakes. It most likely won’t be one big rom-com for them. But I believe the evidence gives us reasons to be optimistic. It may be three steps forward and two steps back – but I believe it will be a net gain.

So go to a christening, and go to a bris if you can. Even go to a funeral of a person who died way too young. Laugh, and cry. But remember that your faith, hope, and love are justified no matter what you see on cable news or social media.

As they say in Judaism, Mazel tov (i.e., congratulations and good luck)!

Blessings,

Rev. Rick

The Wings and the Globe – A Symbol Dear to Many Hearts!

July 20, 2021

After the Beatles broke up, Paul McCartney, and his wife Linda, formed an interesting band named Wings.

Recently I asked a Gen Zer what he thought of Paul McCartney. He answered, “You mean that lead singer of Wings?”

Wings had some great hits like “Band on the Run,” “Silly Love Song,” and “Live and Let Die.” But my two favorite Wings’ songs have an almost Lewis Carol – Alice In Wonderland – quality to them. They are Uncle Albert (“We’re so sorry, Uncle Albert,
But we haven’t done a bloody thing all day”), and Monkberry Moon Delight (“So I sat in the attic, a piano up my nose, And the wind played a dreadful cantata”).

Wings – the symbol – also means a great deal to the Unity movement. When I first came to Unity back in the 1980s, I had a real sense of coming home. I know many others have felt this way. For several years, I went to a Pentecostal church, and there were many things I loved about it – and still admire to this day! There was no order to the service. The service just flowed. It was also the most integrated environment I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of. There were many different races, different backgrounds, and social classes there. It was as if the apostle Paul‘s words had come true (“In Christ, there is no Jew or Greek.”) We had multi-millionaires, and we had street people. There were people from Yale, and there were people from jail. But there was also a downside to this spiritual community. Darwin and science were dirty words. In terms of many social issues, they were very, very reactionary.

I left that church, and I found a spiritual community that was very progressive in terms of the social Gospel. They were wonderful people. But it seemed to me that when they were praying, they were praying “To Whom It May Concern.” It was a lot of head and not a lot of heart.

So when I found Unity, I was amazed to find in one spiritual community a group that had so many of the things I admired in the Pentecostal church, and yet it also had so many of the things I loved in the progressive church. I really felt the love at that Unity church. As I said, I felt that I had come home, and I have never left.

Back in the 1980s, the main symbol used by this Unity church and so many others was a dove flying free in the sky. “What a great symbol and logo for the Unity movement,“ I thought. When I was ordained as a Unity minister, I was given a beautiful prayer shawl with this Unity dove flying above the clouds. I felt lifted on the wings of prayer.

But there are even older symbols with wings – older in terms of them being used by humanity and specifically used by the Unity movement. Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, co-founders of Unity, printed a symbol/logo of a Winged Globe in the early editions of the Unity magazine. They said that the combination of the wings and globe symbolizes “the mind consciousness of … (our) spiritual origin and power.” In the Chaldean and Egyptian cultures, where this symbol originated, it meant the “perfect soul.”

Charles and Myrtle said that it “symbolized a soul in its flight back to the Supreme – it’s original source in the bosom of Absolute Love and Wisdom.” In 1923, Charles said that the winged globe is “a symbol of the earth and its soul.” He noted that as people develop “spiritual consciousness” they attain the “realization of the soul as the wings of the body.”

Long time editor of the Daily Word, Martha Smock, added that wings “have always been a symbol of freedom, of the ability to soar above the globe.” Interestingly, the Fillmore‘s were more concerned about the symbol’s message and less concerned about the exact configuration of the logo. That is why it has appeared in many different forms over the years.

When I was the minister of Unity Center of Tulsa, there was a Winged Globe right over the center of the sanctuary platform. I loved it! In Tulsa, the globe was not the globe of the earth. It was just a golden yellow globe. I would think of this globe as being a ball of matter and energy. Maybe the glowing globe of substance led to the explosion of the Big Bang and our universe. The goal is for all of us to use our wings to raise consciousness and spiritualize this matter/energy as best we can.

This might sound like a daunting and impossible task. As Jesus noted, even getting a camel through the eye of a needle is impossible without Spirit. But with Spirit, “All things are possible.”

I remember hearing a medical worker for one of our leading charities speak about the frightful conditions in a war zone rife with disease and famine. When he was in this disaster zone, he felt totally overwhelmed. But he prayed for an answer from God. He believed that what Spirit told him was, “Keep working with the people and situations right before you. Keep doing the next right thing.” If we can help raise the consciousness of the matter/energy right before us (and keep doing the next right thing), I think that we will be living in beautiful and blessed harmony with that wonderful symbol of a Winged Globe.”

Maybe we should start by giving Uncle Albert some Monkberry Moon delight.

Blessings abound,

Rev. Rick

Summer is Here, and the Time is Right for Some Shadow Work!

July 13, 2021

Who remembers Martha & The Vandellas and “Dancing In The Streets”? I can almost hear it blaring out from a metaphysical boombox:

Callin’ out around the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat
Summer’s here and the time is right
For dancing in the street

I am amazed that my 17-year-old daughter, Rachel, is a Nat King Cole fan, and her Spotify playlist includes:

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer
Those days of soda and pretzels and beer …

She has one of those free Spotify accounts, so she gets advertisements. She is amazed at some of the ads Spotify pumps out to her. “Dad, I told them I am a teenager,” Rachel said.

“Yes, dear, but with some of the songs you’ve put on your playlist, the Spotify algorithm has concluded that you are really in your 40s, driving a minivan, with three kids in the backseat,” I added.

I love “summertime, and the livin’ is easy” music. As I listened to a Beach Boys playlist, I decided to read a blog by Father Richard Rohr. He is a Franciscan priest who has had a major impact on many in the New Thought movement. Besides being the author of many wonderful books and articles, he also is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico. Outside of Christian sources, Father Richard has been highly influenced by Buddhism, Hinduism, Gandhi, Carl Jung, Spiral Dynamics, Ken Wilber, and Integral Theory.

So here I was listening to “California Girls,” and Father Rohr, in his blog, is writing about doing “shadow work” this summer. All I could think was can’t we have “fun, fun, fun ‘till …daddy takes the T-Bird away”? I mean, the time to do “shadow work” is in the Fall around Halloween. But then I started thinking that Father Richard is on to something, and “summer is here and the time is right” to do some shadow work!

The concept of the shadow comes from the Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung. He believed that we soon figure out what is acceptable and wanted from our parents, family, and society as we mature. Our egos start to develop a persona, or mask, that we really begin to believe is us. I sometimes call it our press release. From my days in Washington DC, I heard the following saying: “Politicians get in the worst trouble when they start believing in their own press releases.”

But, of course, we are so much more than our ego concocted masks and press releases. But facts and realities – both good and bad – that are too difficult for us to accept are often shoved into our shadow. One way of dealing with shadow material is to project it out on other people, places, or things. The irony is that, try as we might, much of this shadow material will not stay suppressed, and it often pops out – despite our best efforts – at the most inappropriate times and in the most inappropriate ways.

When we can make unconscious shadow material conscious, we can often outgrow what has been holding us back from what we can realistically become. Father Richard writes: “Usually everybody else can see our shadow, so it is crucial that we learn what everybody else knows about us – except us! … It is much easier to see things as all good or all bad, rather than both crucified and resurrected at the same time.”

He asks us to remember that God loves us as we are – shadow, masks, ego, light, dark, and all. Ram Das’ Guru was a Hindu saint and mystic by the name of Neem Karoli Baba. One day while at Neem Karoli Baba’s Ashram, Ram Das realized at a gut level that his Guru saw through all of his masks and knew all of his shadow material – and his Guru profoundly loved Ram Das. At that moment, Ram Das knew at a soul level that his real essence was the Divine Spark inside us all.

Summer is a great time to do some shadow work. Let me make a few suggestions on how this can be accomplished:

  • Get an inexpensive notebook. Be ready to jot down dream content, fantasies, nagging fears, etc. What common themes are emerging?
  • Be willing to look beyond your press releases. This can be hard, but it is well worth the effort.
  • When dealing with a person, place, or thing, and even if you think that they are 90 percent in the wrong, really look at that remaining 10 percent. The chances are quite good that this 10 percent is on your side of the street and involves your shadow.
  • Lastly, let me make two reading suggestions. The first book is Dark Matters: Discovering Wholeness in the Shadow by Lauri Boyd. Lauri is a Unity minister who shows how we can grow by dealing with our shadows. The second book is The Universal Christ, by Richard Rohr. This book is fantastic in showing how we can deal with our shadows and much more when we are in touch with the Christ within.

We can both do this shadow work and join the Lovin’ Spoonful in having a “hot time, summer in the city.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick