New Starts: There is Always Another Chance!

January 18, 2022

When I was living in the Big Apple, I, of course, rode on the subway.

There were often no seats left in the subway cars, and I was a “straphanger” being jostled and rocked by both the train and my fellow passengers. It was noisy, and in the summer, it was sweaty. But it was most often a fast – and relatively inexpensive – way to get where you were going in the city.

It was also the last place in the world where one would expect to have a spiritual experience and commune with God. But we say that “there is no spot where God is not,” and that should include the D Train rumbling through the tunnels under the Manhattan streets and East River.

Given the above, I was pretty intrigued by the book titled Finding God on The Train. It was written by Rick Hamlin, a contributing editor for Guideposts magazine. Guideposts is a leading spiritual journal founded by Reverend Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and his wife, Ruth Peale.

In this wonderful book, Rick Hamlin talks about how realities and schedules resulted in him doing his morning prayer and meditation on the subway from his apartment in Washington Heights to his job in downtown Manhattan. He was able to treat a subway car as if it were his prayer closet, and he was able to filter out the outside noises and clatter.

Rick also writes about the beautiful spiritual relationships he developed with people while praying and meditating in a New York City subway car.

Recently I read an article by Rick about so-called “new beginnings.” He says that he was never much in favor of standard New Year’s resolutions. “I’d never make them through the first month. I do believe in giving myself a new start. Something you can do again and again, as you seek new goals and growth in faith, “Rick writes.

I think there is much truth here. Many of us can make the most incredible New Year’s resolutions, but somehow by mid-January, our egos are just not strong enough to get the ball into the metaphysical end zone. We slip and fall. Then we say to ourselves, “Well, I just blew it! What’s the use?” and “That’s it for that resolution – it’s down the tubes and history!”

Hamlin is pointing to a better way of dealing with our hopes and aspirations, I believe. God always gives us a second, a third, a “70 times 7” number of chances. We can set new goals and grow in faith. If God gives us so many chances, we too can give ourselves many chances. We can dust ourselves off, stand up, and get back into the race. We can learn from what has just happened and thank God that there is more than our egos when it comes to getting metaphysical footballs into end zones.
Rick also says that several Scripture verses have helped him in this process, including:

  • Isaiah 40:31 (“But they that wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”) Rick says, “There is no reason why we can’t grow in amazing ways, but it all begins at the source. The success of any new project I’ve ever tackled has depended on my waiting for the Lord – seeking that inner strength first. It helps me get the rest of my priorities straight.“
  • Psalm 51:10 (“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.“) Rick notes that the psalms “were written thousands of years ago, but their verses can speak to our most contemporary needs … A reminder that every day is a new beginning.“
  • Matthew 2: 11-12 (“And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.”) This verse, of course, refers to the three wise men. Rick adds, “This Epiphany was a profound revelation for them, a new start. Afterward, they return to their country via a new route. I think that says a lot. After any Epiphany, you can’t go back to doing things the same old way.“

I think Rick’s suggestions make much more sense than the lyrics from that old song All, or Nothing at All (to hear a great version of this song click this link and listen to Frank Sinatra croon it).

I recently came across a story which really demonstrates the wisdom of these points. Lori Kennedy and her husband Russ lived in a beautiful house in California in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Of course, this was the area where the devastating fire in Northern California recently took place.

Lori and Russ only had a few minutes to evacuate from their home as the fire came raging down on their community. When they were able to come back to their neighborhood, it looked like it had been firebombed. Almost nothing was left standing.

Lori was particularly devastated that the fire had completely destroyed her extensive library of spiritual/metaphysical books. There was almost nothing to carry away.

As Lori was walking back to the car, she felt a piece of burned and smudged paper sticking to her boot. When she looked at the damaged page, she realized that it came from a book in her now nonexistent library. While badly burned, she could still read the following on that burnt page:

“If life seems difficult, I pause and reflect on the blessing sometimes hidden within every circumstance. With renewed faith and courage, I begin again.“

Lori says, “I framed that scrap of paper. I kept it on the nightstand in every hotel and motel we stayed in over the coming months. It now sits in a place of honor in our new home, a reminder that we can begin again.“

So if you have fallen off the wagon – and it’s only mid-January – I suggest you try Rick Hamlin’s “new start” medicine. And, remember the treasure that Lori Kennedy was able to carry away from her home that was destroyed by fire.

You may also want to listen to another Frank Sinatra song, That’s Life (to enjoy it, click right here).

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

The Web(b) of the Universe: More Wonderful Than We Imagined!

January 11, 2022

I am willing to admit to at least one guilty pleasure. When I am at the library, I will often plunk myself down in a chair and take out a big book dedicated to pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

The Hubble Space Telescope is well-positioned to capture images of deep space. The pictures show galaxies well beyond our Milky Way.

They show cosmic nurseries where stars are born and where stars are in violent death throes. There are pictures of giant gas nebulas that radiate more colors than the pallet of an impressionist artist.

The Hubble Space Telescope pictures captured my attention for several reasons. First, these pictures are beautiful. In many cases, these pictures are as aesthetically pleasing as the artwork hanging in some of our greatest museums.

Second, these pictures reveal an incredible universe. When Galileo got in trouble with the church authorities, part of the charges leveled at him was that he was besmirching the Ptolemaic model of the universe, which placed the earth in the center of everything. Ironically the universe that actually exists is far more beautiful than the old Ptolemaic model.

But third, and I think this is a key point, the universe that the Hubble Space Telescope reveals is far more awe-inspiring than the cosmology the church fathers were defending back in Galileo‘s day.

I believe that awe is a key component of spiritual growth. Awe of a sunset, a newborn baby, or being in a wonderful love relationship are all highly spiritual experiences. Therefore, the enjoyment of pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope can be as spiritual as going to church on Sunday. (Not that I am trying to discourage anybody from going to church. Looking at a book about the Hubble Space Telescope does not have to be mutually exclusive with going to church – they can reinforce each other.)

But hold onto your hat! As fantastic as the Hubble Space Telescope is, NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency have just done something which should top Hubble buy a country mile – or a country light-year!

They have just launched the James Webb Space Telescope. Named after the NASA administrator who directed American space efforts during the early years of the Apollo program, the Webb telescope is roughly three times bigger than Hubble and seven times more sensitive to light from far away in space.

They launched the James Webb Space Telescope on December 24, 2021. Named after the NASA administrator who directed American space efforts during the early years of the Apollo program, the James Webb Space Telescope is roughly three times bigger than Hubble and seven times more sensitive to light from deep space.

Since light takes time to travel to us, the light hitting Hubble and Webb often took billions of years to reach us. So when the Hubble and Webb telescopes send us pictures, they send us snapshots of how things were billions of years ago.

While the James Webb Space Telescope can see deeper into space than the Hubble, it will also go back further in time. The James Webb Space Telescope mission is to produce information about what things were like in our universe 13.7 billion years ago. It is estimated that the Big Bang took place 13.8 billion years ago, so the hope is that Webb will bring us information from almost the dawn of time.

I believe there are several big takeaways from all of the above, including:

  • The more we learn about our universe, the more beautiful and fantastic the universe appears to be. The universe is far more wonderful than the earth-centric models upheld by all manner of church-sanctioned torture machines.
  • There does NOT have to be a war between science and spirituality. Unfortunately, in this era of polarization and COVID-19, we are seeing a newly emerging battle between some forms of religion and science. Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of the Unity movement, was a lover of spirituality. But he was also a lover of science.
  • I think people interested in spirituality and metaphysics should take the time to look at and contemplate the Hubble and (eventually) Webb pictures of the universe. They should take time to look at and contemplate other images from nature – including photos of the human body (both above and under the skin). Doing this can lead to such a strong sense of awe. I believe it is vital that we not lose this sense of awe and wonder.

This sense of awe can lead us out of the feeling that all that exists is mundane garbage. It can remind us of the incredible miracle that all of this exists, and that we exist.

After all, it is a miracle that something exists when it could have been the case that nothing exists. And not only that, it is a beautiful miracle that you and I exist and are one with all of this.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

New Life at the Town Dump

January 4, 2022

Before going off to seminary, my wife and I were blessed to have a small second home in the mountains and forests outside of Lynchburg in Amherst county.

Debbie grew up in a small town in way – way – upstate New York on the St. Lawrence River. She could literally see Canada from her bedroom window. The first time I went back to her hometown with her was during a bone-chilling January. I was amazed to see that many people in the North country used a type of plug-in device on their cars to ensure they started in the morning. My future mother-in-law looked at me and said, “Well, this relationship must be serious if you’d come up here in January.”

Debbie found Northern Virginia to be a nightmare come true in many ways. The traffic jams seemed never-ending, the crush of people and construction was overwhelming, and the sense of being a cipher unenjoyable. That is why she did all she could to find us a small second home on five acres that included a stream on the edges of the property.

I would drive down from Washington on Thursdays and telecommute on Fridays. During several snow-covered Fridays, I remember going outside time and again, trying to keep our satellite dish free from snow so that we could maintain our internet connection.

There were other things that were different between this country life and suburban Northern Virginia. For example, in the woods outside of our nation’s capital, I didn’t have to worry about walking in the forests in the fall. But in the Amherst woods, you could be taking your life into your hands by walking in the woods. To quote that great spiritual teacher, Daffy Duck:

Hunters to the right of me.
Hunters to the left I see.
Over hill and over dale,
Bullets whizzing past my tail.
There’s no rest and there’s no peace,
Won’t their shooting ever cease?

Another difference was how you handle garbage. In Northern Virginia, you would dump the trash in a big plastic bin, then you rolled it out to the street once a week, and it was magically taken away. There was “no muss and no fuss.” But in the country, we had to put the stuff in the trunk and then drive it to the town dump, which was way off in the forest. After you turned off the small county road, you got on an even smaller dirt road – and there was the cliff. Once up at the cliff, you gave the trash the old “heave-ho!”

The enjoyable part of the Amherst town dump – believe it or not – was getting to meet many of the locals. People were amiable and talkative. I got quite a bit of good advice from the repartee at the town dump. It was there that I learned one was relatively safe from hunters in the fall if you hiked in the state parks.

One time I had this old rusted wheelbarrow. To me, it was a useless piece of junk. So I labored mightily to get it in my car’s trunk. Then I used rope to tie the trunk shut. At that moment, I wished I could remember some of the knots I learned in Boy Scouts. There was one called a Sheepshank Knot. If you knew how and where to pull it, the entire knot vanished, and you almost felt like Mandrake the Magician. My memory and fingers failed to tie a perfect Sheepshank Knot, and I had to ask one of the locals if I could borrow his Bowie knife to cut the rope.

I freed the wheelbarrow from the trunk of my car and hauled it up to the cliff. I felt like the High Priest at the temple who was about to sacrifice the goat when one of the locals came up to me. He nodded and said, “If you are going to throw that old wheelbarrow away, may I have it?”

I said, “Yes. But why do you want it? It’s just junk.”

He looked at me and nodded again. “Well, the top part is useless, but the under part looks good. I can take the wheel assembly and handles and attach it to something else,” he explained.

“It’s yours, and happy New Year,” I chimed.

I didn’t think much about this exchange for the next few months. But the trash kept coming, as did the trips to the dump. I remember taking a wonderful anthropology/archaeology class. The professor kept saying that all human civilizations have something in common. “They all generate and produce trash. We can learn a great deal by studying these trash piles,” our teacher added. Sometimes I wondered what future generations of anthropologists and archaeologists would conclude by studying the Amherst town dump?

It wasn’t surprising that I again met the fellow who took my old wheelbarrow during one of these garbage hauls. He saw me and said, “Look what I am using to wheel the trash up to the cliff.” I gazed, and there it was: It looked like an almost shiny new contraption, but the underside was my old wheel barrel!

I commended him on his fine work and often think about this experience. For me, there are several “takeaways” (no pun intended) from this experience, including:

  • When thinking about the 12 Powers (as depicted by Unity’s co-founder, Charles Fillmore), the power of Elimination is often overlooked. It is an essential power and a vital part of a well-rounded spiritual practice. We need to get rid of things that block and no longer serve us to grow. Our mental closet and garage clutter often need to be reduced, so we have room for the things that will help us grow.
  • But many of us are so materially and emotionally blessed that what looks like clutter to us may be of real value to others. So it does make sense to take our clutter to the metaphysical town dump, as it were. We should exercise our power of Elimination. But before we give our clutter the old “heave-ho” over the cliff, it may be wise to see if somebody else can see the treasure in what appears to us to be only junk.
  • We may have something to learn when we see how others have taken our old clutter and turned it into gold. I certainly did when I saw my old wheel barrel raised from the dead like Lazarus.
  • Lastly, we may have some preconceived notions about where and how we will receive wisdom. Yes, Divine truths may come from leather-bound Bibles, but I believe God can – and does – speak to us through skywriting, lyrics from pop music, and conversations at town dumps. We can experience this when we are awake and listening.

Eckhart Tolle has repeated a wonderful Zen story that demonstrates this. A famous Zen Buddhist monk named Barzun sought enlightenment for years, but he was unsuccessful. He had been in beautiful gardens and forests, seeking enlightenment to no avail. Then one day, while in the hustle and bustle of a town market, Barzun overheard a conversation between a butcher and a customer.

The customer said to the butcher, “Give me your best piece of meat.”

The butcher responded, “All of my pieces of meat are the best.”

Upon hearing this and understanding it deeply, Barzun received enlightenment – right in the middle of the town market!

May we go beyond our preconceived notions of where and how spiritual truths can be transmitted.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

The Burning Bowl and White Stone Ceremonies, And The Power Of Wow!

December 28, 2021

We soon will be celebrating both the Burning Bowl and White Stone Ceremonies at Unity of Roanoke Valley, and I think it is an excellent time to reflect on their power and importance in our spiritual lives.

The Burning Bowl Ceremony will be held on New Year’s Eve (Friday, December 31st at 7:00 pm). Last year, because of COVID-19 restrictions, we celebrated our Burning Bowl Ceremony as a parking lot service.

You know, I am beginning to have fond memories of URV’s parking lot services. They remind me of the old saying, “Light a candle, and don’t curse the darkness.” To paraphrase that old saying, “Hold a parking lot service of the mind, with your internal Sessions Band, and don’t let the pandemic get you down.” That is what the URV community did for the most part, and I think we should be very proud of how we zoomed through the worst of the pandemic.

However, I am so glad that the Burning Bowl and White Stone Ceremonies will be held in our sanctuary while following CDC safety guidelines and the Governor’s executive orders this year. The White Stone Ceremony will be held on Sunday, January 2nd, during the 11:00 am in-person service and the YouTube service.

To borrow and slightly alter a line from Eckhart Tolle, I believe that both the Burning Bowl and White Stone Ceremonies contain the “power of wow!” I genuinely think they are some of the most important additions the Unity movement has made to the liturgy. Several non-Unity ministers and rabbis have asked me for suggestions about adding these two powerful services to their liturgy and worship cycles.

Metaphysically, Christmas is the time of the rebirth of the Christ within each of us. Yes, that Divine Spark is always there. It does not die. But there may be times when we die to it. We can be oblivious of it. There may be times when we forget that it is there. Or we may be so centered on other things of the ego that the light of the Christ within appears to be very dim. Christmas can be a time when we shake off and clean away the dust and muck that we have allowed to accumulate on our Divine Spark.

We can become very much like Zacchaeus in the Bible (Luke 19: 1-11). Zacchaeus was a short, balding man with a Napoleon complex. Jesus was going through Jericho, and everybody wanted to see him. But Zacchaeus was so short that he had to climb up a tree to see the itinerant rabbi from Galilee.

Jesus looked up at Zacchaeus in his tree and said, “Come down because I am going to spend the night in your house.” Some of the Pharisees and others in Jericho started grumbling, “What kind of holy man could this Jesus be if he’s going to spend the night in the house of this corrupt and brutal tax collector?”

While Jesus was at Zacchaeus’ house, he didn’t berate or condemn the tax collector. He didn’t tell him to change his ways or that he would go to hell. So what did Jesus do? Well, he just let the Christ light shine. And what happened? In the presence of the most high, the Christ within Zacchaeus was reborn!

So what did Zacchaeus do? He turned to Jesus and said, “Master, I want to clean up my act! I want to do X, Y, and Z – not to mention P, D, and Q.” Jesus gave Zacchaeus a warm thumbs up.

We can be like Zacchaeus when the Christ within us is reborn. Many of us will want to clean up our act and get rid of things that no longer serve us. That is the beauty of the Burning Bowl Ceremony. We can first write down what is holding us back, and we can then symbolically burn this paper and release its contents. Next, we write a letter to our Higher Power that, like Zacchaeus, contains a vision of where we want to be. This is the first part of the “power of wow.”

The Gospel of Luke doesn’t go into this, but I would be willing to bet – if I were a betting person – that a few days after Jesus left Jericho, Zacchaeus ran into a few real-world problems. Despite his best efforts, he soon discovered that his ego was not strong enough to accomplish “X, Y, and Z, not to mention P, D, and Q.” Yes, he wanted to clean up his act, but it would not be easy. While facing these trials and tribulations, Zacchaeus discovered something fundamental, I believe. He truly learned that while Jesus the man would not always be in Jericho, the Christ within him – the Holy Spirit – would always be there, particularly when the chips seemed to be down.

This is where the White Stone Ceremony comes in. In the Book of Revelation (2:17), we are told that we will be given a white stone. On this white stone will be written a new name, a word, a key, a source of Divine power that will see us through. It will give us the strength and wisdom to get our metaphysical football into the end zone.

I have experienced this and seen this repeatedly happen at White Stone Ceremonies. I have known people who have carried around their white stone in a pocket or purse. My daughter Rachel and I have put some of our white stones down on our family altar at home. As the old song says, “It is in every one of us to be wise.” This is the second part of the “power of wow.”

I hope you will take advantage of the Burning Bowl and White Stone Ceremonies. May you experience both parts of the “power of wow.” Remember, X, Y, and Z can happen in your life – not to mention P, D, and Q!

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Starless In Mortarville, And Oh, Merry Christmas!

December 21, 2021

Since Roanoke is known by so many as the “Star City,” I thought it might be nice to write about several Star of Bethlehem stories this Christmas.

However, several “starless” Christmas stories really moved me this year. I think there is so much that we can learn from these true stories, particularly since so many of us have numerous stars in our lives.

The first story involves a young man named David Mark Smith, Jr. from Sparta, Georgia. A few Christmases back, David lived in a two-person shelter on a U.S. Army base in Baghdad.

The nickname for this army outpost was Mortarville. It seemed that almost every day, the soldiers had to scramble to avoid incoming missiles from the insurgents. Several times David was very fortunate to avoid serious injuries. The base had a series of sandbags and fox holes to protect our troops from the incoming mortars.

David’s job was to repair tanks, troop transports, and patrol vehicles that got hit by enemy fire. He was very good at the job, but the repeated aerial attacks were taking a toll on his well-being.

He wanted a Christmas tree in his spartan accommodations to remind him of Christmas back home in Sparta, Georgia. His mother sent him a 2 foot tall Christmas tree and mini ornaments, which included a little tractor (similar to the one his father rode on their farm), a little football, and a small race car (like the one he hoped to own after the army).

David was grateful for this little tree and ornaments he set up near his bed. But he missed not having a star to put on top of this artificial evergreen.

On Christmas Day he went to the recreation tent and found it strung with Christmas lights. There was singing and great joy. Soldiers shared baked goods and other things with each other which had been sent from their families and friends back home. A good time was had by all. They loved singing Christmas carols and then doing karaoke to the latest hits – and some oldies.

The line was long in front of the telephones connected to US area codes. Finally, David got a chance to call home. He was able to speak with his mother, father, and two brothers, not to mention the aunts and uncles who were there. All were able to tell him Merry Christmas and happy new year, and they loved him, missed him, be safe, and God bless you!

After the phone call, David headed back to his little shelter on the base. Just then the air raid sirens sounded. Incoming mortars! He was able to take cover behind some sandbags. After several explosions on the base, the sirens finally sounded all clear.

When David got back to his two-person shelter, he discovered that one of the mortars had landed close to his living quarters. Once inside, David found that his Christmas tree and other things had been knocked over.

He picked up his tree and reset the ornaments – nothing was broken!

Then David started to pray a real Christmas prayer of thanksgiving. He thanked Spirit that he was alive, that his family was safe and sound in Sparta, Georgia, that he had such a loving family, and that he had a faith that was seeing him through some rough times.

David thought that it didn’t matter he was “starless” in Mortarville!
Here is a second “starless“ Christmas story. It is about Sheryl St. Aubin in Hudson, Florida. Sheryl and her husband had two children, and every Christmas, they would set up and decorate the Christmas tree a week or so before Christmas. Then they would wait to put the star on top of the tree on Christmas Eve.

The family tradition was to rotate which child would put the star on top. Sheryl’s husband would lift the lucky child high in the air with the star. Then they would lower the star on the top of the tree.

Soon the St. Aubin family was blessed with a third child, and his name was Finn. But there was something very different about Finn. After seeing many specialists, the doctors said that Finn had autism.

One Christmas, it was Finn’s turn to put the star on the tree. The parents tried to pick him up with the star, but he had a significant fear attack and refused.

Sheryl decided not to put a star on the tree that year. One of the older kids bellowed, “Finn ruins everything!” Sheryl lovingly explained why it was more important to show patience and go without a star on top of the Christmas tree.

The family Christmas tree went starless for several years, with Finn refusing to take his turn. The family learned not to pressure or shame him into doing anything.

Then three Christmases later, grandma came over for a pre-Christmas visit. All by himself, Finn went to his mother and pointed to the top of the starless tree.

“The Star?” Sheryl asked. Finn nodded yes. So Finn took the star and was lifted up high. Then he placed the star on the very top of the Christmas tree.

Yes, these are two very different stories, but I think they have a common reminder for us. Our game plan often includes a metaphysical Christmas tree – as it were – with a beautiful star on top and a loving family around it – all doing what we think is best (and, of course, we know what is best).

However, reality often has a way of throwing a monkey wrench into our plans, let alone an incoming mortar or autism. But when we can center in on the real reason for this season and count our many blessings, then we can truly enjoy Christmas – even if it might seem to be minus a star or two.

May we remember that the real star is already inside us and just waiting to shine!

Merry Christmas,

Rev. Rick

Advent: The Prequel of All Prequels

December 14, 2021

Given the entertainment industry’s propensity to make prequels, sequels, and backstories, I was thinking of calling this blog: Son of Advent: Part 2.

I can hear some of you saying, “When was there Son of Advent: Part 1?”

Well, last week’s Insight blog was, in a way, Advent: The Movie (If you missed last week’s blog/column, click here).

Last week I wrote about Advent being a time of waiting and how waiting can be an important spiritual discipline. Waiting is certainly something that we have had to go through in this COVID-impacted economy of supply-side disruptions. To borrow from The Night Before Christmas:

In the grocery and department stores, the shelves were all bare, shoppers kept hope that food and gifts would soon appear there.

When what to my wondering eyes did produce such a pain, but a never-ending global mess of a disrupted supply chain!

The prices were climbing straight through the attic roof, and would not stop rising despite the stamping of my hoof.

But I read in the Daily Word to let go and let God in this plight, so a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

I know Advent seems like a minor second fiddle compared to Christmas, but for a moment, picture Advent: The Movie as the main feature. So keep munching on your popcorn and consider the following:

~ It was during Advent, Mary said “yes” to God and “have your own way.” During Advent, Mary showed incredible trust even when things were not following her script.

~ It was during Advent, Joseph had a dream that told him that there was another way – and a far better way – of seeing his situation with Mary.

~ It was during Advent, both Mary and Joseph were willing to leave their comfort zone of Nazareth and journey to Bethlehem – without any reservations (and you can take that several different ways).

~ It was during the prequel and way before Christmas, the Wise Men first saw the Star and were willing to follow it. (I love the saying, “Wise men and women are still willing to follow that Star!”)

You and I will probably never be put to such hard tests as Mary, Joseph, and the Wise Men faced. I hope that if we had to travel, our transportation methods would be smoother, and we might be able to make reservations in advance. However, I remember when the Belous family made a long road trip from Northern Virginia to Glacier National Park in western Montana, we had to cross through North Dakota. This part of America was going through its incredible fracking boom. Well, for many miles, there seemed to be ‘no room in the inn’ – and there wasn’t even a stable for us.

But no matter what trials we face, may we learn from Advent. May we be able to draw on the powers of Faith, Strength, Wisdom, Zeal, and Love. May we remember that the 12 Powers – and all of their offspring – reside in us. It is easy to remember this during a Sunday church service. But may we remember this during the more difficult times when the ‘rubber meets the road.’ May we remember this during our Advents.

And may we remember that our Christmas will follow our Advents. It is easy to lose sight of this in the daily ups and downs. I have found it important to remember the advice of Unity’s co-founder Myrtle Fillmore. She would often remind people to “Look beyond appearances.” Look beyond the relative realm or material world. Look beyond to that absolute realm of Divine Mind, and know that there is a Divine Spark inside of all of us. That is our real essence and not our “error thoughts” (of lack, scarcity, doubt, and self-inflicted emotional wounds). We are truly more than enough!

So much of the really hard stuff happened during Advent. If making a good story/movie requires a challenge, then the first Advent is an example of successive challenges being overcome. Our lives, similar to Advent, are successive challenges and opportunities in many ways.

May your Advent – like Mary, Joseph, and Wise Men – be a time when your reliance on Faith, Strength, Wisdom, Zeal, and Love grows. And may it be a time where you discover that you are far more than you realized you were before Advent.

So a very Joyous Advent to you – and almost as an afterthought, Merry Christmas!

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Waiting for Christmas: Patience, Patience, Patience!

December 7, 2021

We are now in the season of Advent and are waiting for Christmas.

To be perfectly honest with you, waiting is not my strong suit. I remember my first Christmas as the new minister at my first church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was rather impatient and couldn’t wait to get the Christmas decorations and advent wreath set up in the sanctuary. While I couldn’t decorate the entire church building by myself, I did manage to get the advent wreath and candles set up next to the podium in the sanctuary.

The next day one of our licensed Unity teachers – a dear friend – came up to me and asked if she could make a few adjustments to the advent wreath. I said, “Of course, feel free to make some changes.” Well, she completely rearranged it, and then she told me, “Rick, I say this out of love. Why don’t you stick to your day job?” She was right. Her improvements were far better than what I had done in a rush job.

My younger daughter, Therese, is also not good at waiting and showing patience. She asks almost every single day in December, “When is Christmas?” And she also tries to get inside every closet to see if Santa has dropped off anything early.

Advent sometimes reminds me of the wonderful play by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Samuel Beckett, Waiting For Godot. The play is usually presented on an almost bare stage that sometimes has one lonely and windswept tree. The two main characters in the play are some Laurel and Hardy like vagabonds. They are waiting for somebody or something that will change everything and make it all better. They call this somebody Godot, and of course, Godot never shows up.

How often are we uncomfortable waiting and thinking that when our Godot shows up, it will finally be different? If only “X” happens, we will feel complete and whole. We will have arrived. When the degree is earned, the lover shows up, the house purchased, the car is in the driveway, our political party is in the White House, and on and on. Often our Godot does show up, and we are still left with that old uncomfortable feeling.

One time at Disneyland, we were in a long line for a ride. While in the line, I started to compare it to life. What if we get to the head of the line and discover that the time we spent in line was, in fact, the ride? What if we realize that our Godot has been inside us all along and that we already have what we so deeply desire?

Christian author Joyce Meyer notes that “patience is not the ability to wait, but how you act while you’re waiting.” When I read this, my reaction was: Life is like a metaphysical advent season. Yes, there are the joys of Christmas. But what am I doing right here and now to enjoy what I can enjoy today?

Specifically, in terms of advent, I am asking myself these questions:

  • Advent is a time of great music and many free concerts. Am I enjoying them? Am I letting my ears and heart have a musical feast?
  • Advent is a time of great Christmas lights and decorations. Am I letting my eyes enjoy these visual feasts?
  • Advent is a time of parties and get-togethers. Am I being sane about these gatherings? I don’t have to go to every single one. Sometimes it is in our best and rational interest to say no. Also, we don’t have to be the last ones to leave the party. Still, am I enjoying these social occasions?
  • Advent is a time of helping others. Am I being of love and service? There are so many opportunities to do this!
  • Advent is also an especially good time to remember the child inside all of us. I believe that you are never too old to give yourself the childhood you always wanted.

I have also enjoyed several musicals, movies, and books that looked at some famous characters’ backstories. For example, I loved seeing the musical Wicked. It is about the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch is the main character, and Dorothy is practically a “walk-on” part. For a moment, think about a musical, movie, or book where Advent is the main character and Christmas Day is almost an extra on the stage or in the book. Maybe Advent’s stage name would be Patience?

Patience has another side and another role, which was recently brought home to me in an email sent by a Unity of Roanoke Valley member. The email said: “Be strong enough to walk away from what is not best for you, and be patient enough to wait for the blessings you deserve.”

Many of us are like the two characters in Waiting For Godot. We settle for third or fourth-best when Godot does not quickly show up. We may sell ourselves short. I have often felt that many of my long-run problems started as my “brilliant” short-run solutions. Maybe a great gift for me would be a “box of patience” under the Christmas tree.

I got some interesting news today. Before I graduated from the seminary, there was a job I really wanted after I was ordained as a minister. I was one of the three finalists for the job but was not picked. When I learned about this, I felt very impatient, to say the least. However, I learned today that the organization in question has just eliminated this position and let go of the person who did get the job.

And, as it turned out, it was a much better road for me to move in the direction of being a minister at local churches. I believe that I have grown spiritually more than I would have if my post-seminary career had gone according to my original script. Developing a stronger sense of patience can help us spiritually develop in so many ways.

So here is to Advent and waiting for Christmas. May you have a joyous, productive, and heartwarming Advent season … oh yes, and almost as an afterthought, Merry Christmas!

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

But I’ll Have A Blue, Blue, Blue, Blue Christmas!

November 30, 2021

As our family makes a list – and is checking it twice – of all the Christmas movies, shows, Hallmark specials, etc., that we want to see, high on our list is Burl Ives and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Made in 1964, this “clay stop motion” TV special tells the story of Rudolph in a very ingenious way. With his glowing red nose, Rudolph is often treated as a freak and outcast at the North Pole. His parents try to hide their son’s uniqueness, and they are embarrassed by Rudolph’s red nose.

Mixed into this is a little elf named Hermey, who doesn’t want to be a toymaker. Instead, Hermey dreams of being a dentist. On top of all of this, there is the Island of Misfit Toys (e.g., a pink spotted elephant, a train with square wheels, and a boat that can’t float).

Burl Ives – who voices Sam the Snowman – starts the show by crooning:

Have a holly jolly Christmas
It’s the best time of the year
Now I don’t know if there’ll be snow
But have a cup of cheer

Have a holly jolly Christmas
And when you walk down the street
Say hello to friends you know
And everyone you meet

For many, Burl Ives’ singing snowman really captures the mood of this season. They would agree with other song lyrics: “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

But for many others, the King – Elvis Presley – hit the old proverbial nail on the head when he sang: “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you.”

For many, either because of death, COVID-19, distance, family disputes, breakups, and more, the Christmas season will feel like “down at the end of Lonely Street, at Heartbreak Hotel.” Surveys by mental health experts document the grief some people feel during this time of year.

The singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote about a breakup that occurred during the holiday season. She felt doubly miserable about it because everyone around her was so merry and full of joy. She sang, “I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”

At my old home church, Unity of Fairfax, we held something called “Blue Christmas” around this time of year. Everybody was invited, and both those who were “down” and those who were “up” would attend. Those feeling down were given several positive suggestions for coping with the Christmas blues. Those who felt up were also given some very good ideas about how to help people experiencing a “blue Christmas.”

I remember some of those sage suggestions:

  • Don’t give up on gratitude: Keep writing gratitude lists – center on the many wonderful things you have.
  • Enjoy what you can: A key loved one may be gone or missing from the table, but there are many great things to enjoy this time of year – from free concerts to beautiful lights.
  • Be of love and service to others: The best way to get out of your garbage is to help somebody else get out of their garbage.
  • When feeling the joy, pass it on: Bill W., the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was thanked by thousands of people for what he did. Bill would always respond by saying, “Pass it on!”
  • You don’t have to do everything and go to every party this time of year: “No” is a complete sentence. And if you go, you don’t have to be the last one to leave.
  • Remember a key Buddhist concept for Christmas: All things in this world end – even the holiday season. This can be taken two different ways. First, this pain or blue feeling will pass, and/or second, the Christmas season will not last forever. So enjoy it while you can!
  • It is okay to be different and feel blue even if it seems that the rest of the world is holly and jolly.

If the truth be told, I bet even Burl Ives said “Bah, humbug” at least once in his life during the Christmas season.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

An Attitude of Gratitude: It Really Works!

November 23, 2021

G.K. Chesterton was a great English writer, philosopher, lay theologian, and literary and art critic.

The “G.K.” stood for Gilbert Keith, and he was often called the “prince of paradox.” Time magazine noted that “Whenever possible, Chesterton made his points with popular sayings, proverbs, allegories – first carefully turning them inside out.” He was born in 1874 during the high watermark of Victorian England. He died in 1936 when it was clear that the sun would set on the British Empire.

Chesterton was the creator of the famous priest-detective Father Brown series. He also wrote many books on the role and relevance of spirituality and religion in the modern and often caustic world. Chesterton loved to debate, and he often got into friendly disputes with noted agnostics/atheists such as Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw, and H.G. Wells. The British Broadcasting Company asked Chesterton to give a series of talks on the radio, which became very popular in the 1930s.

C.S. Lewis, who also had a very popular radio talk series on the BBC, said that Chesterton’s writings were crucial in his conversion to Christianity. Chesterton wrote, “The wild worship of lawlessness and the material worship of law end in the same void. Nietzsche (who started the “God is Dead” movement) scales staggering mountains, but he turns up ultimately in Tibet.”

I bring up Chesterton on this Thanksgiving week even though I can find no reference or proof that he ever went to an American Thanksgiving dinner or celebration. The reason I do so is that Chesterton said his goal was to take nothing for granted. He wanted to live his life in a way that “everything (would be) received with gratitude.” Then he would make sure that “everything (would be) passed on with grace.”

May Gratitude and Grace be the Salt and Pepper at our Thanksgiving celebrations this year. I know this has been a challenging period for many. The pandemic, health and financial conditions, social tensions, and increased polarization in our society have not been easy. Yet many of you told me that you got so much from The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Our Spirit Circles looked at this incredible book, and they were “happening places.”

The joy that the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu talked about was not surface happiness based on ephemeral things occurring in our lives. This type of joy is based on profound spiritual connections, and it was an “inside job.” It is interesting to note that the Dalai Lama says he is a non-theist and does not have a traditional God. You don’t have to be a traditionalist with a standard God to know this joy!

The Dalai Lama and the Archbishop said that a key pillar to knowing this Joy is to live in an attitude of gratitude. I think they would very much approve of Chesterton’s idea to receive everything with gratitude and pass it along with grace.
In this spirit, I read and was moved by an article in a recent issue of Guideposts magazine. Written by the Guideposts editor Celeste McCauley, the piece is entitled “Gratitude Makeover.” For Thanksgiving, McCauley suggests some possible ideas and activities to help you launch a gratitude makeover. Her suggestions include:

  • As soon as you open your eyes in the morning, say, “Thank you.”
  • Start a gratitude journal. I find it very useful to write down three things every day for which I’m genuinely grateful. Then I try to write one more thing that I might be taking for granted, such as a hot shower, a roof over my head, the fact that I do not need assistance to get to the bathroom, the right to vote, and more.
  • Live in wonder. Celeste suggests that we “Dig deep into the things – big and small – that delight you. How did a constellation get its name? Where was the first car built? Who invented cotton candy?”
  • Take a new path. She says, “You never know what you might discover when you switch the route you take every day. A new pie shop in town? Grab a slice.”
  • Say grace. It doesn’t have to be just before a meal.
  • Keep an “attitude of gratitude.” McCauley notes there is a reason why this is one of the most popular sayings in 12 Step fellowships.
  • Little things count! “Research shows that daily acts of kindness boost happiness. They don’t have to be big. What matters is your intention,” she adds.
  • Pray! “Take a page from Philippians and think of those things that are true, noble, right, lovely, and admirable,” Celeste suggests.
  • Change your focus. She points out that “you can be blessed and stressed at the same time. Can you find something to be grateful for in your challenges? A hidden strength, maybe, or an unexpected ally?”
  • Lastly, McCauley notes that a “gratitude makeover” can happen when we set a goal to be “kinder and more compassionate.”

Happy Thanksgiving. May we remember Chesterton’s ideas of gratitude and grace, and may we also try some of McCauley’s “gratitude makeover” suggestions. I have found that when we put these ideas into practice, we can move out of Professional Pity Party & Victims Day and into real Thanksgiving.

Nothing in the outside world may change, but we do, which makes all the difference in the world. Then we are in better shape to be of love and service.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

The Power of Faith: Fake it Until You Make It!

November 16, 2021

Back in October, I wrote a blog about my experiences after the death of my wife Debbie roughly five years ago.

I received a good number of responses from readers saying the column moved them, and they wished that they had my faith. Right from the top, let me admit that my faith is imperfect and not always stellar.

In that October blog, I shared that there were times when I almost felt overwhelmed with grief, and I had concerns that I would fail as a single parent to my daughters. On top of that, I was a new minister at my first church, and I had some fears that I would not meet the congregation’s rational expectations.

Add to all of this that I had some health and financial concerns. And I felt I would never be in another relationship like the one I had with Debbie.

I wrote that when I felt down, I would go to my favorite coffee shop, order a mug of decaffeinated java, and write a prayer letter to God. The miracle was that after writing these prayer letters and gratitude lists, I would feel good – I mean really good!

Nothing externally had changed. But I had changed internally – and that made all the difference! There is more than a grain of truth to that New Thought adage: Change your thinking, and you change your life! I kept going to that coffee shop, ordering a cup of decaffeinated java, and writing prayer letters and gratitude lists if I started feeling down. This medicine worked time and time again!

Now let me add a little bit more about my so-called level of faith. Right now, in Youth and Family Ministry (YFM), the children are studying the 12 Powers as first described by Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of the Unity movement. I hope to teach a course on the 12 Powers early in 2022 for adults. I will have more to say about this new class soon.

The 12 Powers – there is something so thrilling about the number 12 (12 tribes of Israel, the 12 apostles, the 12 months of the year, the 12 Steps, etc.) – are powers that are within us all. They are powers that we can call on when we face challenges and opportunities in life. They are powers that can see us through. As it is put so well in the 23rd Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

Often when the 12 Powers are presented, the first power that is explained is the Power of Faith. That was the first power the kids studied in YFM.

So back to the time right after my wife died. I remembered what happened to me when I was 17. At that tender age, my father died. After his death, I did not want anything to do with God, religion, or spirituality.

For roughly the next ten years, my life went downhill. Yes, I did well academically and professionally, but psychologically it was not going well. I developed several addictions, and I was often very depressed.

But then – despite my best efforts not to go in this direction – I experienced several powerful spiritual events in my life. My experiences were very similar to what C.S. Lewis, that great Christian author, wrote about as he moved from atheism to profound spirituality. I was amazed that the addictions and depression were lifted from me. I was also blessed to find the Unity movement soon after this.

So after Debbie died I said to God, “I feel my faith slipping. But I do not want to go through the hell I experienced after my father died. I will do anything not to go down the tubes again. I don’t want or need another ride on that merry-go-round.”

I had called several male friends whose wives had died and asked them to explain what their lives were like following the death of their spouses. They told me stories of overeating and putting on a ton of weight, of drinking way too much, of taking drugs, and of compulsively getting into a series of relationships with women. I didn’t think any of that would be a wise solution. I just wanted my faith back.

As it turned out, all that Spirit required me to do to get my faith back was go into a coffee shop and write prayer letters that included gratitude lists! But it was a choice. To have my faith renewed, I had to make a decision – even when I did not feel a strong sense of faith.

Rev. Edwene Gaines is a Unity minister with a compelling message. I have devoted several Sunday lessons to her excellent book, The Four Spiritual Laws of Prosperity. She was a dirt-poor single parent who founded and leads a solid and prosperous ministry.

I have seen people come up to Rev. Gaines and say, “Gee, Edwene, I wish I had your faith.”

Edwene responds to such comments by saying, “Well, don’t sit around on your hands wishing for faith. Make a decision. Act ‘as if’; faith is a choice. Fake it until you make it.”

Often, the difficult experiences from our past can help us make good choices now. If it weren’t for the harrowing experiences after my father died, I’m not so sure I would have made the good choices I made when Debbie made her transition.

Also, I must admit that just because something happened to me does not make that something a universal truth. But I have met others with similar experiences like mine, and from those difficult experiences, a beautiful faith has grown and developed.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick