The Bird in the Garage & The Bird with a Broken Wing

June 21, 2022

I have been touched by some of author Jeannie Blackmer’s writing.

Jeannie lives in Boulder, Colorado. I remember coming to Boulder after enjoying fantastic hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. It felt like something out of a John Denver song.

She is passionate about using the written word to encourage people in their spiritual growth. Jeannie confesses to the “sin” of possibly liking chocolate too much, but she is also passionate about scuba diving and beekeeping.

Like most other people living in that part of the world, she loves the outdoors. Jeannie also loves teaching courses in journaling. I agree with her that there is something special about writing things down and letting them flow out onto the page. When I am journaling, my writing often takes the form of prayer letters to Spirit.

Jeannie writes that her husband Zane and she have a large three-car garage with glass doors on the north and south sides. A bird had flown inside the garage, and the little feathered creature was desperate to get out.

The bird kept flapping its wings and slamming into the glass doors. “Feisty little guy. He’s not giving up,” Jeannie thought.

The bird’s “try and try again” attitude was in sharp contrast to how Jeannie was feeling that morning. There were a ton of worries and challenges in her life that day, and she felt like giving up.

First, there were serious worries about her aging parents. Second, there was her dear friend in hospice. Third, there were the “financial struggles” that Zane and Jeannie were facing. On top of that Jeannie was also dealing with some health-related challenges.

She got into her car, backed out of the garage, and left open one of the glass doors. The hope was that the bird would fly away home. (John Denver sang a beautiful song called Fly Away. Click here to listen.)

When Jeannie returned from her errands, she checked to see if the bird was gone. No, it wasn’t. Instead, the bird sat on the garage floor, “dazed but still alive.” This time she opened all the garage doors, and the clatter of the doors rolling up jolted the bird. The bird took off and was able to fly away.

“This tenacious bird reminded me not to give up, a reminder I really needed at that moment. That little bird was an example that if I persevere through hard times – even if I fly into obstacles – I’ll build character, and then hope will come,” Jeannie writes.

Jeannie remembered that her ultimate hope comes from Spirit, that promise to restore us and make us strong (1 Peter 5:10). “Sometimes I might feel dazed, but if I can endure difficulties and keep my eyes on (Spirit) … I will make it,” she adds.

I identify with both the bird and Jeannie! We might think we are so much smarter than that bird, and we are in some ways, but …

I remember walking in the woods at Unity Village, the headquarters of the Unity moment. I reached one of the lakes and saw a fish swimming near the shore. I looked at the fish and thought, “Fish, you think that lake is the entire universe. I can see so far beyond your perspective.”

The next day I was in the middle of a challenging class on theology. I was struggling to keep up with what, for me, were profound thoughts and mind-boggling concepts. I thought back to the fish and mused, “Okay, fish, my perspective and range of thought might be a little farther than yours. But in the final analysis, it is not all that much farther.”

Like the bird in Jeannie’s garage, many of us long to fly away home. All too often, we seem to be flying into glass doors that are blocking us until we feel dazed. But with perseverance, the powers of strength and faith, and with a “little help from my friends” (to quote the Beatles), we too will be able to be free at last.

Thinking of the bird in Jeannie’s garage and the Beatles, the Beatles’ song “Blackbird,” written by Paul McCartney, comes to mind. Click here to listen. A part of the lyrics go like this:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night,
take these broken wings and learn to fly.
All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.

Paul said that the tune was inspired by a Bach lute piece often played on guitars. When Paul and George Harrison were teens, they tried to learn this Bach piece.

After he had written the song, Paul played “Blackbird” for his future wife, Linda Eastman, the first time she stayed at his home. In terms of meaning, Paul told interviewers that “bird” also means “girl” in England. When he was in Scotland, Paul started thinking of the civil rights struggles in America – particularly from the point of view of black women. “I was using the symbolism of a blackbird,” he said.

A bird stuck in a garage and a blackbird with a broken wing – and both with the innate desire to fly away home. Both birds are a little dazed, but both finally make it.

I am reminded of a comment made many years ago by Saint Augustine. He said there is a God-shaped hole inside all of us that only God can fill. He also noted, “There is no rest until we rest in thee.”

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Poohsticks & True Sticks

June 14, 2022

The following is a true story that involves both children’s literature and international espionage.

It also involves ethical and spiritual dilemmas. But most of all, it is a story that I fondly remember.

I have loved A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories since I was a little boy. Bedtime was always a pleasure when my parents read me stories about Christopher Robin, Piglet, Rabbit, Tigger, Kanga, and Baby Roo. But for me, center stage was always occupied by that lovable bear.

Everything about the stories fascinated me, including the incredible illustrations. We had woods behind my childhood home, and I often imagined that it was the Hundred Acre Woods.

There was the story about Winnie-the-Pooh – in all his roly-poly-ness – getting stuck in Rabbit’s door. There were stories about Tigger’s bounciness and Piglet overcoming fear (even the fear of a “Heffalump”).

Some of my favorite stories from the Hundred Acre Woods were about Christopher Robin and his animal friends playing Poohsticks together. A.A. Milne wrote about Poohsticks in his book, The House At Pooh Corner, first published in 1928. This volume was the second in the Pooh series, and it was famous for its notable introduction of Tigger into the cast of characters.

What is Poohsticks, some of you may be asking? Well, Poohsticks is a game.

How do you play it? Let me explain – it is much easier to understand than, say, cricket. I went to several cricket matches at Lord’s Cricket Ground in England. Lord’s is to cricket what Yankee Stadium is to baseball. Every time I thought I understood what was happening, I eventually realized that I knew next to nothing about the game.

In Poohsticks, you first find a stream or some source of running water. Then you need to find a bridge that spans the running water. Next, every player needs a stick. Everyone goes to one side of the bridge – the side which is upstream. Then, at the same time, everyone drops their sticks into the water. After that, everyone runs to the other side of the bridge and looks over the railing as far as they can. It may take several seconds, but just like a horse race, you will see one stick clear the downside river portion of the bridge first. That stick is the winner – unless several sticks cross the “finish line” simultaneously.

There are delightful stories about how A.A. Milne played Poohsticks with his young son on a bridge in Ashdown Forest in England. It has been visited by so many fans of Winnie-the-Pooh that the original bridge started to wear out. British authorities in the County of Sussex asked the Disney Corporation if it would contribute to refurbishing the bridge. Disney has made several feature films based on Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends and gladly made a sizable contribution.

The World Poohsticks Championship has been held at Day’s Lock on the River Thames since 1984. Extensive media coverage of the event would likely amaze that “silly old bear.”

When my children were little, we lived in the town of Vienna, VA, outside of Washington, D.C. We were very fortunate to be able to buy a house right next to a meandering park. Through these woods flowed Wolf Trap stream, which eventually ran through Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

The National Park Service operates Wolf Trap, the summer home of the National Symphony. Many different artists have performed there through the years. I saw the “greats” from Peter, Paul, and Mary to River Dance perform at Wolf Trap.

My children called the section of the park behind our house “the Wild Blue Yonder.” There is a bridge over the stream where my children and I often played Poohsticks. I remember them leaning so far over one side of the bridge to see the winning stick that I was grateful none of them ever fell into the stream!

Imagine my amazement when one morning, as I was reading The Washington Post, there on the front page was a picture of the same bridge where we played Poohsticks! How could this be? What was going on?

I read the accompanying news story and learned the following: One of our neighbors – well, he lived one street away – worked within the FBI’s Soviet Analytical Unit, the department responsible for capturing Soviet spies in the United States. He used his security access to gather and sell information about double agents and ongoing investigations of the Soviet Union. The Soviets were paying him mega-bucks for this treason.

How was this transfer of information and money taking place? The Washington Post said our “neighbor” would hide the information and documents under the bridge where we played Poohsticks. Then a Soviet agent would remove the stolen documents and hide money (and sometimes diamonds) under the same bridge.

The news article said that many law enforcement agents had maintained strict round-the-clock surveillance of the bridge. They’d probably seen us playing Poohsticks several times. I could hear the counterespionage agents saying, “When is this crazy family going to stop playing Poohsticks?”

The story was not only on page one of the newspapers but on all the news channels and shows. It was a real shocker to me to realize what was going on underneath the bridge while we were engaged in childhood delights. While we leaned over to see which stick was first, we had never noticed anything under the bridge.

David, my middle son, asked me: “Dad, if we had found the money, we would have been rich. Would you have allowed us to take the money if we had seen it?”

My immediate answer was, “No, David, I would not have allowed us to take it because I would have assumed it was drug cartel money, and I don’t want to have drug cartel hit men coming after us.”

Later I thought about my answer to David and wished I had responded differently. David did not say the following, but he could have: “So Dad, what you are saying is that you wouldn’t take the money because of your fear of getting caught. But what if you knew you could get away with it?”

I wish I had said, “No, son, I would not have taken it because that would be wrong. I would have reported the money under the bridge to the police.”

Jesus told the Pharisees that they were more interested in the outside of their cups, while they failed to clean the inside of their cups. He said a clean heart and consciousness came first. When it does, the outside of the cup takes care of itself. Buddha called it “right thinking” and made it part of the Eightfold Noble Path.

When we take Jesus’ and Buddha’s words to heart, we can have the child-like innocence and wonder of playing Poohsticks no matter what is happening under the metaphysical bridge of life.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Good Grief: It Just Keeps Rolling Along

June 7, 2022

Many months ago, URV member Ann Turner came up to me and said, “I have an idea for a new group we should do at Unity of Roanoke Valley.”

“I’m all ears,” I responded.

“It would be a group that deals with grief. You and I have both lost spouses through death. But this group wouldn’t just be about the death of a partner. It would be about all types of grief such as health-related challenges, financial and family issues, seeing a dream evaporate – we would deal with all types of grief,” Ann explained.

I thought the idea was fantastic, and Ann and I made plans to get the group started. I told my daughter Rachel about it, and she said, “I’d really like to go to the group because I’m graduating from high school this year, and I feel a lot of grief over my high school time.”

Since the group meets on Tuesdays at URV at 10:30 am, I had to tell Rachel that missing high school classes was not an option. “Seriously, Dad, I have not had a normal high school experience, and I feel grief over that,” Rachel explained.

In fact, Rachel has not had one normal year of high school. In her freshman year, when we were in Tulsa, the Arkansas river overflowed its banks, and the school year ended very early as parts of the city remained flooded. The Oklahoma teachers’ strike happened during her sophomore year, and schools were shut down once again for an extended period. In her junior year, there was the full impact of the pandemic, which was followed by a crazy senior year.

Interestingly, Ann Turner also didn’t have a normal high school experience. For Ann, growing up in England, it was World War II. Despite the different times and different countries, Ann and Rachel have a lot in common about their teenage grief experiences.

Through pastoral counseling, I have learned that nobody – and I mean nobody – comes through this thing called life unscathed! There are tragedies, injustices, serious disappointments, and broken hearts in all of our lives.

There is something called the “second arrow” in the Buddhist tradition. That great Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, explained it this way: We are all going to be shot with “first arrows” (I.e., divorces, illness, slander, unemployment, etc.), and the “first arrows” can hurt.

But what causes us long-term injuries and severe pain are the “second arrows” that we shoot into ourselves (e.g., Why do these things always happen to me? If only I had done X. How will this look to others? I can never fix that mistake, etc.) How we react to the “first arrows” – by shooting “second arrows” – determines if we will be diminished or grow from our grief experiences, Thich Nhat Hanh insisted.

Eckhart Tolle backs up this Buddhist observation. In his excellent book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (which the URV Book Club is currently reading), Tolle says that it is never the situation itself that causes us the real pain. It is the stories that our ego tells about the situation that causes us long-term grief.

The URV Grief Group begins our get-togethers with an opening prayer and some meditation. Then we go around the circle and talk about our week that was. What went right? What were the joys and challenges? What issues are bringing up some grief for us? Of course, this is based on strict confidentiality, and this sacred trust has not been broken.

It has been such a thrill to see many group members apply spiritual principles and get through hard things with flying colors. We all share in the joy of major accomplishments. I have enjoyed the sense of camaraderie and humor within a so-called grief group.

After we go around the circle, we then have a reading from a book that deals with grief-related issues. Currently, the group is reading from a wonderful book written by Jerry Sittser, A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss.

Dr. Sittser is a professor emeritus of theology and senior fellow at Whitworth University. He holds a master of divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary and a doctorate in the history of Christianity from the University of Chicago.

Profound loss and grief came in an instant to Dr. Sittser when a tragic car accident took the life of his wife, mother, and daughter. A drunk driver sped across the center line at 85 miles an hour and crashed head-on into Sittser’s car. The drunk driver survived the impact, but the driver’s pregnant wife was killed in the crash.

Jerry experienced waves of overwhelming grief, and he wrestled with some of the deepest questions a person can ask. He realized that he could not go back to the way it was before the accident, and he also realized that this tragic experience could destroy him. Instead, he used this time to understand some key lessons that grief has for all of us.

Dr. Sittser concluded that the soul could grow despite deep losses. His book was first published 25 years ago, and the revised and expanded second edition was released in 2021. It really has become a minor classic.

Some of Jerry’s key findings include the following:

~ It does not make sense to compare who’s loss was worse. A loss is a loss.

~ Many people find that their spiritual lives become deeper and more enriched through tragedy than they would through comedy.

~ In one sense, many of us will not entirely get over the grief we have to walk through. But intensities can change, and we can start to find meaning even in deep grief situations.

I love our little grief group, and I have gotten much from it. But I believe that many more people at URV would benefit by dealing with their grief.

You are not alone. One of the greatest predictors that somebody needs to deal with grief is that this somebody has been born.

Also, I hope more people follow Ann Turner’s lead and step forward with great ideas for groups, workshops, and classes. I know many of you have great ideas for things we could be doing at URV. Thank you in advance for your suggestions. It does take a village …

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Thank You and God Bless You Dr. Anonymous

May 31, 2022

It is hard to realize that only 50 years ago, this very month, Dr. Henry Anonymous did his very courageous act, which moved the world forward in such a positive and powerful way.

We are not talking about ancient history. In the grand scheme of things, 50 years ago is like yesterday.

A key takeaway from the Dr. Anonymous story is that we all have the opportunity in our own large and small ways to raise consciousness.

I can hear some of you asking: “So who is Dr. Henry Anonymous, and what did he do?” Glad you asked.

Dr. Anonymous’ real name is Dr. John Fryer. His bravery and action are significant reasons why the American Psychiatric Association (APA) no longer classifies homosexuality as an illness. When the APA made this long-overdue change, many psychiatric associations worldwide followed their lead.

It was not that long ago that homosexuality was considered an illness and listed as such in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM. Numerous repressive laws – many of which were part of criminal codes – were justified by this DSM listing.

John Fryer was born in 1937 in Winchester, Kentucky. In many ways, he was a child prodigy. At the age of five, John was already in second grade in his elementary school. He graduated from high school at 15 and was awarded a bachelor’s degree from Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky when he was 19 years old. He earned his medical degree from Vanderbilt University in Nashville when he was 25 and did part of his medical internship at Ohio State University.

John began his psychiatric residency at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. However, he started to feel waves of depression because he had to hide his homosexuality. Given the laws and social mores of the time, one can understand why John did not come out, which resulted in a great deal of suffering for him.

In addition to his mental suffering, John was discriminated against because he was gay, even though he was secretive. For example, he was forced to leave a residency position at the University of Pennsylvania because he was gay. The department chair told John that he had a choice: He could leave, or he could be fired.

John was passed over for promotions to tenured teaching positions because of homosexuality. This happened despite his outstanding performance as a psychiatrist. Only many years later, he received a tenured teaching position at Temple University.

Dr. Fryer was the first gay American psychiatrist to speak publicly about his sexuality at a time when homosexuality was labeled a mental illness within the larger “sexual deviation” diagnostic category, according to the second edition of the APA’s DSM.

It was 1972, and the APA was meeting in Dallas. At the time, homosexual activities between two consenting adults were considered a felony in the state of Texas.

A number of psychiatrists – and others – believed that one way to change the APA’s position on homosexuality would be to have one of the APA members come forward during the Dallas conference and lay out the facts. Several people approached Dr. Fryer and asked if he would speak during one of the APA’s panel sessions.

At first, Dr. Fryer did not want to touch this assignment with a 10-foot pole. We really can sympathize with him. Would you want to go public at a widely covered convention and practice “self-incrimination”? First, would you like to be hauled off to jail by a Texas Ranger? And second, even if you were not prosecuted under Texas law, you would see your career go up in smoke. Either way, you could wind up as Texas toast!

At that point, an ingenious idea was conceived. John would not go on the panel as Dr. Fryer. Instead, he would speak as Dr. Henry Anonymous. A distorted Richard Nixon mask would disguise his face. A wig would be put on top of this mask. Also, he would be wearing an oversized tuxedo that would look like something you would expect Bozo the clown to wear at a formal soirée.

The APA panel session seat at the table for Dr. Anonymous was at first empty. The distinguished crowd quieted down, as from behind the curtains, Dr. Anonymous was led to his seat. To say that the psychiatric wizards were amazed would be an understatement.

When it was his turn to talk, Dr. Anonymous cogently made the following points:

The APA’s DSM classification of homosexuality as a mental illness was neither based on a proper application of the scientific method nor reliable data.

The APA‘s DSM classification of homosexuality as a mental illness was being used to justify a wide range of repressive and unfair laws.

The APA had many gay members who were not coming out for obvious reasons. This situation was truly detrimental to these psychiatrists. Dr. Anonymous talked about his situation.

Lastly, Dr. Anonymous explained how all of the above points generated incalculable harm for individuals and society.

After the session, Dr. Anonymous was whisked away. Fortunately for Dr. Fryer, it was only many years later that the world discovered that he was Dr. Anonymous.

It would be too easy to say that Dr. Anonymous’ talk by itself changed things. But many people believe that John played a major role in creating a sea change at the APA. Experts again looked at the evidence, and the classification of homosexuality as a mental illness was removed from the DSM. This change had a significant influence on America and many other countries.

Dr. Fryer did many other wonderful things following the Dr. Anonymous talk. For example, during the height of the AIDS crisis, he treated many AIDS patients in his home so that they could maintain confidentiality and anonymity.

Also, he loved music and was a gifted organist. For many years he served as choirmaster and chief organist at his church. Dr. Fryer made his transition in 2003.

I think there is a great deal that we can learn from Dr. Fryer’s example:

First, there may be creative – and even humorous – ways that we can advance a cause dear to our hearts. The age of miracles is not passed. There may be times when we can have our cake and eat it too.

Second, we may not face such enormous opportunities as Dr. Fryer to advance consciousness positively. But we can, in our own small ways, help move our planet in the direction of Spirit’s wonderful dynamic flow.

Third, when we are serious about “what is mine to do” and “how can I be a part of neighbor helping neighbor,” the universe responds.

So thank you, Dr. Fryer, for blessing all of us.

All the best,

Rev. Rick

Life Lessons from Unity’s Gardens

May 24, 2022

One of the first things you notice about Unity Village, the worldwide headquarters of the Unity movement, is the beautiful gardens.

Located outside Kansas City in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, Unity Village is truly a spiritual oasis. The buildings look like something out of the Italian renaissance. There are incredible rose gardens, nature trails, two lakes, fields, streams, sculptures, and fountains that can take your breath away.

When I went to Unity Institute and Seminary, Debbie, Rachel, Therese, our cat (Sphinx), and I lived in a lovely house on an acre of wooded land in Unity Village. We felt very blessed to be surrounded by such natural and human-made beauty.

If you have never been to Unity Village, I hope you will visit those sacred acres for a class, workshop, or even a drive/walk/pray-through. The first time I visited Unity Village, I headed up research for United Way. We had just conducted focus groups in Kansas City, and I remained in that “everything is up to date in Kansas City” for one more day.

I drove the rental car out to Unity Village and went on the tour. It was a feeling like coming home. The beauty and peace struck me. I felt relaxed and at ease. As part of the tour, I remember watching a film narrated by the late James Dillet Freeman, whom many consider the poet laureate of the Unity movement. During the film, I started to cry in that darkened auditorium.

As beautiful as Unity Village is, I was blown away when I saw Unity of Roanoke Valley. Unity Village is larger than our campus, but URV and our 26 sacred acres are right up there with Unity Village in terms of gardens, fountains, natural trails, labyrinth, and more. In fact, in certain areas, I think we are ahead.

Many hands, feet, and hearts have made keeping up URV into a labor of love. I would like to “shout out” special thanks and praise to three individuals for all that they have done:

Our Buildings and Grounds Manager, Greg Riley;

Our Building and Grounds Volunteer extraordinaire, Bill Sapp; and,

Our Master Gardener and Rose Care Specialist extraordinaire, Donna Haley.

Being in nature at URV restores the soul. Walking the nature trails and reading under the trees can center one beyond words. I have also enjoyed walking the labyrinth, listening to the water flowing through the fountains, birds chirping, and more before work hours.

I have also learned some powerful lessons from URV’s gardens, and I would like to share some of these life lessons with you. They include:

Being down does not mean you are down for the count: It was several weeks into spring, and one tree by the patio in the rose garden looked dead. I was so sad that this tree might have to be cut down. Even without any leaves on it, the branches were beautiful. I would have loved to paint this seemingly dead tree and its twisted branches if I were an artist.

I asked Greg about this “dead” tree. He told me that the tree was very much alive, and in a few weeks, it would be full of new life and green leaves. Well, as the picture demonstrates, Greg was right! This reminds me that the age of miracles is not past, and resurrection – or what Charles Fillmore often called regeneration – is still going on right before our eyes. We have the ability – and are called – to be a part of this process.

In the dead of winter, Jesus led his disciples through a barren field and said, “The fields are ripe (some translations say ‘white’) and ready for harvest.” That great Unity teacher Eric Butterworth said our first job was not to set things right. “Our first job is to see things right,” he insisted. How often are we ready to write things off as dead when that thing would be willing to be resurrected if we gave it half a chance – and have faith? And that includes ourselves!

Buddha was right: I saw resurrection in one tree in the Unity of Roanoke Valley garden, but Buddha was right: In the material world, nothing lasts forever. In the “relative realm,” as Metaphysicians call it, we exist in a world of change and impermanence. The only constant is change.

Many of you will remember the beautiful tree next to the fountain out front of the main URV building. Flowers often circle the fountain, and this lovely tree shaded them.

A few weeks ago, powerful winds were blowing through or mountains. We heard a large crash! Then Greg looked, and this tree had fallen over. It was no longer standing tall. We were sad to see that this had happened.

But we were thankful for how the tree fell. It could have fallen on the manse. It could have fallen on the church. Instead, it had dropped safely on the ground between the buildings.

We were grateful that Bill Sapp came up with his chain saw that night and cut away the branches in the dark. Greg gave him the best light he could. This picture shows all that remains of the once beautiful tree. Yes, Buddha was right about impermanence. But we can know joy and peace even in the midst of this change.

It takes a village: URV had a wonderful vegetable garden near the labyrinth before the pandemic. Lewis Shontell was a critical force behind it. During the heat of the pandemic, the vegetable garden remained dormant.

However, as URV became interested in Neighbor Helping Neighbor, Celia McCormick envisioned reviving the vegetable garden. Celia imagined the vegetables being grown for people in need. Her dream of providing fresh vegetables for people caught on. A small army of gardeners is now turning this dream into a reality!

The old church model is called the minister-centered paradigm, in which ideas and directives tend to flow from the top down. URV, like many other Unity churches, is moving into a community-centered model where ideas and initiatives tend to “bubble up.“ It does take a village to create the “beloved community“ that so many of us long for.

All things work together for good: In the Book of Romans 8:28, the apostle Paul said that “all things work together for good for those who know and love God.” A recent URV-garden-related incident demonstrates this point.

There was a robbery recently at URV‘s garage near the labyrinth. The thief, or thieves, hightailed it down the hill in their car. Their car swerved and hit one of the columns by the bridge before it wound up in the creek. The stone column was knocked down – as well as the light – and most of the stones wound up in the creek.

The thief, or thieves, ran away, leaving their car and most of the stolen items. They also left fingerprints and DNA evidence. The police believe they know who committed the robbery.

Bill Sapp had wanted to do some work on the bridge, but he didn’t know how he would divert the water to perform the job. When the thief knocked down the column, the stones landed in the creek so that they diverted the water. Bill is now able to do the work!

Also, hopefully, this incident will lead to long-term good for the thief or thieves. Court orders have led many people into recovery through Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

In the Disney movie Alice In Wonderland, there is a song about “Learning a lot from the flowers.” There is a lot we can learn from URV’s gardens, flowers, and trees. Click here to watch this charming song from the Disney classic movie.

We are entering the growing season. May it be a wonderful spring and summer for all of us with much growth.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Unity’s Five Principles: A Metaphysical High Five

May 17, 2022

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t turn to Unity’s Five Principles to see me through. So often, they provide a firm foundation to see me through the crisis du jour. Jesus talked about building on a rock and that many people attempt to construct their lives on sinking sand.

Some examples of possible sinking sand include:

  • I have a secure future with the XYZ Corporation, and my 401(k) is my ticket to prosperity;
  • They love me, and they will always be there for me;
  • I have always been healthy, and I feel fantastic;
  • My kids are wonderful, so successful, etc.

A true story: A British scientist tried to determine where he could retire and be safe. Where was the least likely to be involved in a war, potential nuclear fallout, pollution, negative impacts from global warming, pandemics, overpopulation, economic dislocation, and stress? He collected a ton of data and ran it through computer models and numerous statistical simulations.

The result was that this man decided to move to one of the Falkland Islands, off the coast of South America. Six months after he arrived, the war between the United Kingdom and Argentina commenced. His house was on the bay where the Argentinian troops first landed, and the war was practically fought in his front yard and living room.

I have found that Unity’s Five Principles are an excellent way to build on a rock – God/Spirit – and avoid potentially sinking sand. At Unity of Roanoke Valley, we have devoted a new round of Spirit Circles to Rev. Ellen Debenport’s insightful book The Five Principles.

Spirit Circles are small groups that meet in peoples’ homes, at Unity of Roanoke Valley, and online. They are studying Rev. Ellen’s book and making friends within our fellowship. I am also devoting six Sunday messages to Unity’s Five Principles. This spring session of Spirit Circles will not only help newcomers to Unity, but it will also help Unity oldtimers re-examine and deepen their understanding of these key spiritual concepts.

A simple drawing of a hand has helped me think of Unity’s Five Principles as being like a metaphysical high five. From the thumb to the pinky, a Unity principle is on each finger, and it goes like this:

First Principle: God is

Second Principle: I Am

Third Principle: I think

Fourth Principle: I pray

Fifth Principle: I live

God is  Yes, remember in the heat of the crisis du jour that God is absolute good and is everywhere present. There is no spot where God is not. God is there in your financial challenges, your love life dilemmas, and when the election results don’t go your way.

I Am  Yes, remember that our real essence is “Christ in you – the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). The Divine Spark is inside you, and you are “one with the One.” In the final analysis, your real essence is not your fears, your sense of lack, the “mistake” you may have made in 1994, or any error thoughts.

I think  Yes, as the old Unity song goes:

Our thoughts are prayers,
And we are always praying.
Our thoughts are prayers,
Take charge of what you’re saying.

Our thoughts and feelings matter – and they matter big time! As the Law of Mind/Action states: “A thought in mind produces after its kind.” We are co-creators with God.

I pray  Yes, daily prayer and meditation are needed to maintain conscious contact with Spirit. All of the great spiritual masters have shown this to be true. The Unity movement started as a prayer ministry, and prayer remains at the center of all that we do. We suggest that you try Affirmative Prayer. Jesus stated it this way: “When you pray, believe that you have received, and you will receive” (Mark 11:24).

I live  Yes, it is not enough to know this stuff on a “head level.” We need to feel and act on this on a “heart level.” To obtain the benefits, we must live the spiritual truths that we know when the rubber meets the road. The medicine only works when we take it.

Let me give an example of how these Five Principles have made a difference in my life. Roughly five years ago, my wife Debbie died of cancer. I started to go through waves of grief and despair. I also sensed real fear and anger running through me.

For a few days, I felt cut off from God. But then I remembered Unity‘s first principle. I realized that if there was no spot where God is not, then Spirit was here right in the middle of this loss. I re-examined what I believed about God, and I discovered waves of deeper faith than I had ever imagined.

I also again started to sense that the Divine Spark is inside me – and all people. This is my real essence, and it does not die – as it did not die for Debbie. With this came a renewed realization that my thoughts and feelings matter. As that New Thought saying goes: “Change your thinking, and you change your life.”

I redoubled my prayer and meditation life, and this investment in time and energy paid off beyond my wildest dreams. Lastly, I started to feel hopeful and grateful as these principles unfolded in my life.

These Five Principles work – particularly when the chips seem to be down. These Five Principles seem to encapsulate so much of the spiritual wisdom of the ages. However, sometimes the most challenging part of applying these Truths to our life is remembering them when things don’t appear to be going our way.

Remember that the Five Principles are there for us during rainy days. They are there for the long dark nights of the soul and for the times when it feels so great to be alive. They are a metaphysical high five!

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

CODA: A First in Many Ways

May 10, 2022

With the war in Ukraine, a lingering pandemic, climate change, poverty, injustice, women’s rights, and rising inflation, there are so many important issues other than the Academy Awards.

My daughters and I were staying in a hotel near Washington D.C. on the night of this year’s Oscars. In the morning, when we came down to the breakfast room, the only thing everybody was talking about was Will Smith slapping Chris Rock.

I was amazed that the movie CODA won the best picture of the year. Written and directed by Sian Heder, the movie was a first in several ways. It was the first time a streaming service company (Apple) went home with an Oscar for best picture. It was the first time a deaf person won the award for best supporting actor (Troy Kotsur, who plays the father in CODA). And it was the first time a movie had drawn such significant attention to the situation of deaf families in a hearing world.

Since I am not always an “early adopter,” I had not seen CODA when it won the Oscar. I must admit I have been skeptical of Academy Award winners ever since the movie La La Land won the Academy Award for 30 seconds only to have it yanked away.

Remember that fiasco back in 2017? La La Land was announced as the winner of best picture. But then it was revealed there was a mistake in the award envelope, and Moonlight was declared the winner.

I then went to see Moonlight and felt cheated for a second time! “How could they have picked Moonlight over La La Land?” I moaned.

But this time, when I went to see the “best movie of the year,” I was positively amazed. CODA more than deserved the award. My advice to you is that if you have a chance to see the film in theaters or stream it on your home screens, do it!

Let me first tell you a bit about the film and why I think it is so important on a cultural level. Then I’d like to explain why I think it is a real turning point that a company like Apple won the “best picture” award. Lastly – and most importantly – I would like to share why this film struck such a spiritual chord with me (and I believe with many others as well).

CODA stands for Children Of Deaf Adults. Ruby (dexterously played by Emilia Jones) is a shy 17-year-old girl who lives in the seaside fishing village of Gloucester, Massachusetts. She is the only one in her family who can hear. She has had to translate the hearing world for her deaf parents (expertly played by Marlee Marlin and Troy Kotsur). With her older brother (who is also deaf and played by Daniel Durant), Ruby tries to keep the family’s fishing boat business afloat.

The hearing world often ridicules her family. It is not an easy situation for Ruby, and she can fall asleep in the middle of class in high school due to exhaustion. But Ruby loves music and has natural talent as a singer. Her colorful music teacher (played gracefully by Eugenio Derbez) spots Ruby‘s talent and tries to nurture it. He thinks Ruby could win a scholarship to one of the most prestigious music schools in the country.

But here is the conflict and critical decision. The music school is located in Boston. Attending college means that Ruby would leave her family alone at a critical time. Who would be there to interpret for them? Who would be there to help them function in a hearing world?

Ruby‘s family is starting a wholesale fishing cooperative to fight back against some of the sleazy practices in the fishing industry. It couldn’t be a worse time for Ruby to go away to college in Boston. And yet, Ruby will pay a high price if she does not follow her passion for music and sacrifices herself for the family business.

On top of this, Ruby is falling into her first love affair with a fellow music student (played charmingly by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). My college roommate grew up in a town just north of Gloucester. I remember the “lakes” in the old rock quarries up there. The water was freezing! I hope that Emilia and Ferdia did not have to do 33 takes of their love scenes swimming in the bone-chilling rock quarry water!

The family, of course, does not understand Ruby’s passion for music. At first, Ruby walks away from even trying out at the prestigious music school. But then her family members, starting with her father and brother, get it! When she finally auditions for college, Ruby incorporates sign language into her music.

There are so many scenes that touch one to the core. Ruby and her mom, for example, are sitting on the bed. She courageously asks her mom, “Were you disappointed when you learned that I was not deaf?” Ruby’s mom admits that she did feel disappointed. Ruby asks her why and her mom signs back, “I was afraid that as a deaf person, I would fail you as a mother.” It takes a lot of courage to ask a question like that, and it also takes a lot of courage to give such a heartfelt response.

Throughout the film, there is humor and gaiety as well as tears. Yes, this is a movie about a deaf family. However, I believe many families could relate to Ruby’s clan.

So what is so important about CODA on a cultural level? First, in many places, the movie uses subtitles. You will need them if you don’t know how to read American Sign Language. Also, in several key places and scenes, there is no sound. You start to view the world from the point of view of a deaf person. The level of empathy generated in CODA is extraordinary. There are so many things we hearing people just take for granted.

So what is so important about CODA in terms of Apple winning the best picture award? It is a clear indication of the growing dominance of Big Tech in the entertainment industry. Should we care about this? Back in the days of Clark Gable and the Hollywood studio system, we were concerned that the movie industry was a very tight oligopoly with only a few large corporations. Our political system responded by placing limitations on how much of the film distribution system could be owned by the large movie studios. Later we also created constraints on how many local TV and radio stations the big networks could own.

Are we now comfortable with a few Big Tech firms controlling our entertainment and news industries? I can watch CODA on an iPhone. Guess which brand of smartphones Ruby’s family uses in the movie? Let me place all my cards face up: my computer is a MacBook Air, and the cell phones in our house are Apple. I am also a subscriber to Apple’s music streaming service. Apple does many things very well. But we say we believe in checks and balances. The British philosopher Lord Acton said: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.“ CODA indicates that these issues are not going away anytime soon.

What about CODA and spirituality? The movie does an excellent job of portraying real-life situations and challenges. There is often not a clear “good guy” on one side and “bad guy” on the other when applying spiritual values. At the age of 17, Ruby faces a complicated dilemma. Should she stand by her family in a crucial moment, or should she fulfill her need to achieve, what psychologist Abraham Maslow would call, self-actualization?

Dr. Maslow saw something even more profound than self-actualization in the last years of his life. He called it transcendence. We might call it spiritual enlightenment or being one with the One.

For Ruby, the road to self-actualization and transcendence is not an easy or straight path. I believe that is the case for many of us in real life – unlike so often in the movies. However, I hope you make a straight line to see CODA – if you have not already seen it.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Science & Religion: A Match Made In Heaven?

May 3, 2022

Do you remember the song Love and Marriage? It went like this:

Love and marriage, love and marriage
They go together like a horse and carriage.
This I tell you brother,
You can’t have one without the other.

Frank Sinatra first made this song famous in a TV production of Thorton Wilder‘s play Our Town. It was then released as a single and made it to the top of the Billboard charts.

Not to be outdone, Dinah Shore stopped seeing the USA in her Chevrolet long enough to record a cover of this tune. Her version of Love and Marriage also made it to Hitsville. (To listen to Old Blue Eyes singing the song, click here. To listen to Dinah’s cover of it, click here. I’d be interested in hearing from you which version of the song you like best.)

If a similar song were to be sung about Science and Religion, it might go like this:

Science and religion, science and religion
Don’t coo together like doves and pigeons.
This I tell you sisters,
The wars they’ve had can give you blisters.

If you ever get a chance to see Bertolt Brecht’s incredible play, Galileo, you can sense the struggle that has taken place in the past between the two. Walter Isaacson’s excellent biography of Leonardo da Vinci also reveals this historical tension. Or see the movie Inherit The Wind, starring Spencer Tracy, about the famous 1920s Scopes “monkey trial” trial in Tennessee.

Is this tension just a thing of the past? Given the recent trends of polarization in our society and recent book banning and curriculum censorship attempts, I don’t think so. I also don’t think it has to be this way. Both science and religion should be seeking truth. We should not have to pick between the two.

Albert Einstein hit the nail on the head when he said, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.“ Einstein also believed that both science and religion – in their best forms – produce a sense of awe and beauty.

I feel very grateful that Charles Fillmore, a co-founder of the Unity movement, was a great lover of science and spirituality. Of course, spirituality played a central role in Charles‘ life. But so did science, and he kept up with the latest scientific discoveries and theories of his day.

For example, Charles was electrified by the early discoveries of radio waves. He was one of the first theologians to use radio to broadcast his message. His last book, Atom-Smashing Power of Mind, was published in 1948 (the same year he made his transition) and indicated his intense interest in science.

I am so glad that Unity does not ask us to check our brains at the door. Modern Unity thinkers have been interested in the latest developments in neuroscience, artificial intelligence, research about the possibilities of the metaverse, and more.

Given all of the above, I have been very interested in learning about Rev. Pamela Conrad. I hope to meet Pamela someday soon. She is the rector of Saint Albans Episcopal Church in Glen Burnie, Maryland. Pamela is also a research scientist at Washington DC‘s Carnegie Institution of Science, a member of the tactical operations team for the Mar’s Perseverance rover mission, and a researcher with NASA‘s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Pamela says that being an Episcopal priest and an Astrobiologist has given her two heavenly pursuits. Reporters often ask her how she got interested in both these fields. Concerning science, Pamela points back to a night in 1957 when her dad – who was a scientist – pointed out a tiny dot in the sky that was moving very fast. He told her that was Sputnik – the USSR‘s first satellite.

She was fascinated and “kept looking up at the stars.“ Her father made a model of the US launch rocket and satellite Explore. “I ran all around the house with it, captivated by the idea of exploring something as big as the sky,” Pamela says.

Twenty years later, Pamela was in graduate school studying geology. Her focus was on Geobiology, and it wasn’t long before she became interested in the geobiology of the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

So, where did the love of religion come in, you might ask? Like many of us, Pamela went through several long dark nights of the soul. From this came several profound spiritual and mystical experiences. It was more than a hop, skip, and a jump, but in 2017 Pamela became an ordained Episcopal priest.

Pamela sees science and spirituality as being intertwined. “Both are ways of understanding what God has created … It’s OK to explore what God has made, letting science guide us. Science is a tool God has given us. Science teaches us that we are continuously growing in our understanding, something Faith teaches as well,” she insists.

She says that “whenever I see a new image come from Mars, I’ll take a look at the landscape and go, ‘I am so sorry God that I made you too small. Look at that! You are everywhere! You are so much bigger than we can imagine.’”

I am glad that the science and spirituality of the 21st-century are so much more simpatico than the science and traditional religion of the 19th century. You, too can be a lover of both science and spirituality. You do not have to pick one or the other!

A long time ago, Saint Augustine said that if your interpretation of Scripture disagrees with the latest in sound science, then there is something wrong with your interpretation of Scripture. I am grateful that the early pioneers of the Unity and New Thought movement stressed metaphysical interpretations of the Bible.

At the same time, the key issues raised by modern science are too important to be left to just scientists. Get involved! Science and religion can and should be a marriage made in heaven.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Forgiveness: Where The Rubber Meets The Road

April 26, 2022

I imagine that many of you have heard the saying: “Holding on to resentment is like drinking a bottle of poison and expecting the other person to die.”

I suspect that most of you – if not all of you – would agree with the wisdom of this aphorism. However, I also suspect that while many of us (and that includes me) believe this, we often have a difficult time putting this principle into action when the rubber meets the road.

This is what Unity’s 5th Principle is all about. It is not enough to know this stuff intellectually. We need to put these principles into action in the midst of “front line” situations.

I remember when my wife, Debbie, would say to me, “Rick, you sound resentful about ‘X.’”

“No, I am not. What makes you say that?,” I would growl back.

“Your tone of voice, your facial expressions, and the entire posture of your body,” she would respond.

“Well, I am not resentful. And you can take your own inventory if you’d like,” I would snark.

A day or two later I would sheepishly come up to Debbie and say, “Remember when we were talking about ‘X’? … Well, I’ve been thinking: Maybe I still have a wee degree of resentment about it….”

Not only had I been hanging on to a major resentment, but I was not really willing to consciously admit or feel that resentment. Then I could admit to a very small hardness of heart about it. It was only, say, a week later that I admitted ‘X’ was really a major festering sore inside of me. It was several weeks after that when I was actually willing to do the forgiveness work that Jesus, and all of the great enlightened masters, encourages us to do.

There is a reason why our Way Shower and all of the other spiritual teachers spent so much time on the topic of forgiveness. It is so central and a key foundation for our spiritual growth.

Recently, I was in the basement of our house with my seven-year-old daughter, Therese. She was swinging around on a basement pillar, and she asked me what would happen if the pillar fell down. First, I told her that I doubted the pillar would fall down from her swinging on it. But second, I said that if this pillar fell, the house would still stand because the pillar was not carrying a lot of the house’s weight.

Then I showed Therese another pillar in the basement. “If this pillar were to go, you could expect a lot of the house to start caving in. This pillar is a central load carrier,“ I pointed out. Similarly, forgiveness is a central load-carrying pillar of our spiritual house. Medieval cathedrals have been able to stand for centuries because of flying buttresses that carry away much of the massive weight of the stones.

I am always on the lookout for teachers who can help me get better at growing a forgiving heart. I don’t want to be like the pharaoh in the Bible who had a “hardness of the heart.“ For these reasons, I was recently struck by the advice of Sabra Ciancanelli, who is an editor of Guideposts magazine. Guideposts is a journal that Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale founded.

Sabra explains some of her challenges with forgiveness. A classmate stole one of her favorite toys in kindergarten – a small cat figurine. Usually, Sabra kept it in her pocket to give herself a feeling of safety and comfort, like a security blanket.

Decades may have passed, but Sabra still had this feeling of being violated. She was at her 20th high school reunion when she saw the woman who stole the cat figurine. All of the old feelings flashed inside of Sabra.

Later that night, both Sabra and the former kindergarten thief were side-by-side in the food line. “I remember you,” The woman said to Sabra. “I almost didn’t come tonight. I hated school. Glad I’m here, though,” she added.

During the reunion, Sabra did some deep Forgiveness work. “I forgave her. Just like that, the resentment I had carried for years disappeared. Sometimes forgiveness just happens; other times, it takes effort,” she commented.

Sabra listed some excellent tips about how we can let go of our anger and resentments and “grow a more forgiving heart.” I have followed many of her suggestions, and I have discovered that they work – at least for me. Maybe some of these will work for you too.

Sabra suggests that we:

  • Decide to forgive: In many cases, forgiveness starts with a conscious decision. Dr. Fred Luskin, Director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, writes that “forgiveness changes the present, not the past … It’s a choice you make to heal yourself.“
  • Be patient: “Sometimes, a hurt you thought was healed might resurface. If that happens, look at the situation from where you are now. Recognize you have grown and will continue to grow,” Sabra says. I would add that it takes what it takes to get us where we are today. Also, where we are today is not where we will be in the future!
  • Surrender the idea that you are right: “Instead of rehashing an offense, try to be kind, compassionate, and understanding,” she suggests. For me, this is one of the hardest things that Sabra suggests! But I remember an old saying in 12 Step fellowships: “Would you rather be right, or would you rather experience serenity?“
  • Breathe out past hurts: At times when we feel locked in anger and resentment, it makes sense to take a deep breath in and let ourselves relax. As we breathe out, Sabra suggests we say, “I’m ready to forgive and move forward.”
  • Write your apology or letter about burying the hatchet: In some cases, the person we feel anger toward may no longer be living or has moved to a different part of the world. We can always write that letter of apology and make peace. Even if the person has died, we can read that letter to the spirit.
  • Walk away hurt: Instead of eating a carton of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or compulsively spending, a better way for me is to go on a good walk. I have found the Blue Ridge Mountains to be such great partners in the process of forgiveness.
  • Cultivate a Forgiveness plant: “Use a plant that you have, or buy a peace lily or a purple hyacinth, which traditionally means ‘I’m sorry.’ Every time you water it, picture yourself releasing bitterness, regret, and finding peace,” she suggests.
  • Forgive yourself: Maybe this one should go at the top of the list? Give yourself a big hug and a smile! Be ready to let go and let God, concerning any guilt or shame that you might feel. And when it comes to God, we are all more than forgiven!
  • Look to animals for inspiration: I learned much about forgiveness from dogs and cats.
  • Turn to Scripture: Sabra suggests 1 Corinthians 13: 4-5 (“Love is patient and kind … and it keeps no records of wrongs.”) I suggest Psalm 37:4 (“Delight in the Lord, and you will have the desires of your heart.“)
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff: Let it go, and Let God!
  • Envision a bright future: “Focus on feeling better by releasing the pain or guilt of wrongdoings. Every moment is a new opportunity to grow a more forgiving heart,” she notes.

I feel very grateful for two wonderful teachers about forgiveness: Sabra, and my wife, Debbie. I bet there have been great teachers about forgiveness in your life too.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Dolly Parton: Dream Big and Pray Big

April 19, 2022

I guess most pop stars would spend a great deal of time thinking about how they could get themselves into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Located in Cleveland, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has become a Mecca for pure out-and-out rock idols. It also has included some artists – like Billy Holiday – who might only have a tangential relationship to rock.

Why is this Hall of Fame located in Cleveland, you ask? Well, the story goes that legendary disc jockey, Alan Freed, was one of the first – if not the first – to push rock music on the airwaves. Some say Freed coined the term rock-and-roll. Freed was big in Cleveland before he transformed radio in New York.

So here is Dolly Parton, up for election to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. She could be included with Elvis, Chuck Berry, Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Janis Joplin. This year, Dolly is on the ballot along with Pat Benatar, Dionne Warwick, Lionel Richie, and Duran Duran.

Many rock critics and aficionados believe that Dolly would be a “shoe-in” to get elected. And that is why many were surprised when Dolly said she wanted her name removed as a nominee for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

In an Instagram post, the 76-year-old singer/songwriter said that she was flattered and grateful to have been nominated, but she feels she has not “earned the right.” Think about that for a moment. Dolly Parton – Working 9 to 5, more than 50 studio albums, and many Grammy awards to her name – did not think she had “earned the right” to be elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. “I do hope the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame will understand and be willing to consider me again – if I’m ever worthy,” she added.

Several people close to Dolly Parton said she did not feel she had done enough in the rock genre to qualify for a seat in the Cleveland hall. She saw herself more as a country/pop singer than a rock star. All I can say is, “Wow, how many other entertainers would have shown such clearheaded humility?”

When I read about Dolly’s request to be removed from this year’s ballot, fond memories came back to me about the time I met Dolly Parton. It was several years ago, and the place was Pittsburgh. The United Way was holding its annual convention in the former steel capital of the world, and as a United Way staffer, I was looking forward to the meeting.

Many great thinkers and speakers would be on the program at these United Way conventions. It was also a time to catch up with old United Way friends and go out to dinner and let your hair down.

That year, one of the main speakers at the convention was The New York Times columnist and Public Broadcasting Service commentator David Brooks. I have gained so much from Brooks’ columns and books. He tends to be more conservative than me. But even if I do not always agree with him, he dares to ask the tough and central questions, I believe.

At every United Way convention, a speaker is assigned an “angel.” This “angel” is a United Way staffer who is there to answer any questions the speaker might have and make sure they get to the right place at the right time. I was honored to be chosen as David Brooks’ “angel” and enjoyed our conversations about spiritual values in the modern world.

David, it turned out, is Jewish and is active in a synagogue. He was pretty funny telling stories about getting his son Bar Mitzvahed. I also learned a great deal from David as he spoke about how he applied spiritual values to contemporary geopolitical issues.

David Brooks was not the only headliner at that Pittsburgh convention. Believe it or not, the great Dolly Parton and her band would also be on stage. For a moment, I fantasized what it would be like to be Dolly’s United Way “angel” – which of course, I wasn’t. But then I came back to reality: “You are David Brooks’ ‘angel.’ Count your blessings. Serenity comes from gratitude for what you have and not whining about what you don’t have – and never will have.”

Why would Dolly come to a United Way convention? Plus, there were rumors that she was not charging United Way any money for her being there. Again, this gets to the nature of the kind of woman Dolly is. She is the founder of something called Imagination Library. This incredible nonprofit works to get books into the homes of people who cannot afford to buy books. Imagination Library places books in the hands of underprivileged and underserved children.

I was walking in the convention hall when the UW chief-of-staff rushed up to me and said, “Rick, get as many folks on your team as possible and go down to this room pronto. Brian (the CEO of United Way) and Dolly Parton want to speak with you!”

The reason Dolly was in Pittsburgh was to partner with United Way. She felt a partnership between Imagination Library and United Way would help her step up the distribution of books to children in need. I was being asked to this meeting because Dolly wanted to “speak with the numbers people.” So there we were – United Way’s market research team with Dolly Parton.

Dolly is smart as a whip. She asked us excellent questions about marketing trends, demographics, costs to do certain things, and more. “Oh, this will be a good partnership,” Dolly smiled.

After discussing markets and numbers, Dolly started talking about her past. “We were dirt poor,” she said. But then she said something that struck me. “We might have been poor back then. But I always dreamed big and prayed big!” What an incredible outlook on life!

I have often thought of those words from Dolly Parton – “Dream big and pray big.” All too often, I think we let fear, scarcity, and lack thinking crowd out dreams and affirmative prayers. But as the great American teacher of mythology, Joseph Campbell, said, “What we truly want is in the cave that we really fear.”

One of my favorite lines in the Bible is in the apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. He wrote to them, saying, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me“ (Philippians 4:13).

I often think of Dolly and that afternoon in Pittsburgh when I think of these words. When I walked into the room to meet with her and the CEO of United Way, I was amazed by how short Dolly is. She is only 5 feet tall. But in so many ways, she is truly a giant.

I hope you Dream Big and Pray Big!

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick