INSIGHTS Blog

Read along as Rev. Dr. Rick Belous shares personal stories, anecdotes, insights and more that will entertain you, challenge you, and ultimately inspire you!

Before his call to ministry, Rick was Vice President of Research and Chief Economist for the United Way system. He was also an adjunct lecturer of economics at George Washington University. He is an ordained minister with Unity Worldwide Ministries as well as serving as an advisor to them. Rick also serves as president of Spiral-Pathways.org (a research network dedicated to studying and advancing the evolution of spiritual consciousness).

Rick lives in the Roanoke area with two of his daughters and a cat.


Thanksgiving and an Attitude of Gratitude

November 22, 2022

It was 2017, and my wife, Debbie, had just died of cancer.

Here I was, the widowed father of two girls. Rachel was 13 at the time, and Therese was two years old. I had also just started as the senior minister at Unity Center of Tulsa.

There were times when I felt very low. I feared I wouldn’t be a good parent for my girls. I also felt a nagging anxiety over whether these doubts would cripple my ability to lead the Tulsa congregation successfully.

These fears also lined up with something that happened to me when I was 17. My father died, and I felt that if God would not save my father, then I didn’t want to have anything to do with religion and spirituality.

Between the ages of 17 to 24, my academic and professional life flourished. However, in so many other ways, my life was, as they say, going to hell in a handbasket. I was miserable.

But when I turned 24, I was fortunate to meet several people who showed me a spiritual solution to my problems. I found that this path was – for me – the answer to my addictions. I had several profound spiritual experiences and was amazed to discover that I had a deep faith. A few years later, I was blessed to find the Unity movement.

So it was 2017, and I said to God, “I do not understand why Debbie died. But I certainly don’t want to relive – and make the same mistakes I made as a 17 to 24-year-old. My two girls are counting on me, and so is Unity Center of Tulsa. So, God, I am not walking away from you this time, and I know that you will show me the way to get out of this colossal funk. Thank you for the solution to all of this, and I know the answer is on its way.“

A day or two later, what came to me was: “Go out and buy a notebook, and when you feel overwhelmed by all of this, write a prayer letter.” So I did just that.

Tulsa is blessed to have several really nice coffee shops. I would go to one of them, order a cup of decaf coffee, and take a table. Then I would write a prayer letter to Spirit, and I would really pour my heart out. I would share the grief that I was feeling, and I would write about the times when I felt overwhelmed by doubt and fear.

But then I would write that despite it all, I believed that Spirit would see me through. I believed that “intuitively I would know how to handle situations which used to baffle me.” I would also remember my favorite lines from Amazing Grace:

‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

Then I would finish the prayer letter with a gratitude list. I discovered that I had so much to be grateful for. But I would list more than the obvious things to be grateful for. There were so many positive things that I often take for granted.

For example, recently, I learned that one of the directors who reported to me at the United Way in Washington D.C. had a stroke. We share some of the same cardiovascular issues. When I left United Way, I recommended her for my position – and she got it. She is roughly 15 years younger than me and has a daughter who is about one year older than my daughter Therese. She is now in a wheelchair. How often have I been grateful that I have full mobility and can take care of things without assistance?

Let me give you another example. I recently heard from a friend back in Tulsa that her four-year-old grandson has been diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. They are doing more tests, and it could be a very virulent form of muscular dystrophy. I have six children, it’s very easy to take it for granted that they are all in good health.

There is something so healing in this attitude of gratitude. I think so many of us take so many things for granted. I’ve been admiring the Blue Ridge Mountains and all their beautiful Fall colors. It is great to be full of gratitude for living in this beautiful part of the world. But recently, I looked at the Blue Ridge Mountains and was grateful that no army was coming over them and shelling civilian targets.

I am grateful that my big supply-side shortage challenge this week was that I could only get 2% cottage cheese instead of 4% cottage cheese. I hate to sound like the Chamber of Commerce, but Americans often take many of our blessings for granted.

Well, I would finish the prayer letter and be amazed. I had gone into the coffee shop feeling lower than pond scum, and now I was feeling terrific as I finished the prayer letter.

And here is the kicker: Absolutely nothing had changed in the outside world. But my consciousness had changed, and that made all the difference.

I said to myself, “They must be putting something in the coffee that changes my mood and outlook.” But following my cardiologist’s advice, I was drinking decaf, so that couldn’t be it. I was just blown away that prayer letters with a gratitude list could have such a positive impact on me.

Now, it is not that I wrote one prayer letter and gratitude list, and everything was permanently changed for good. The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thích Nhất Hạnh, wondered why Buddha followed his daily spiritual practices after attaining enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree. He felt that if Buddha was enlightened, he might no longer need to do all these daily exercises.

But then Thích Nhất Hạnh remembered the Buddha’s teachings on impermanence. Nothing in this world lasts forever. That will also apply to Buddha’s enlightenment if that is the case. He concluded that even the Buddha needed to do these daily spiritual practices to maintain his enlightenment.

I think Thích Nhất Hạnh is right. As my daughter, Therese, loves to remind me, ”You don’t stay smelling sweet on yesterday’s shower.” Back in 2017, it required me going into many different coffee shops, again and again, while writing prayer letters with a gratitude list. But it kept on working!

I don’t write a prayer letter and gratitude list every day, but I try to do it several times each week. I don’t always make coffee shops my prayer closet these days. But as we approach Thanksgiving, I strongly suggest you consider adding these tools to your spiritual arsenal.

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving filled with an attitude of gratitude. If there are challenges in your life (and there often are), may you view these challenges as opportunities for real spiritual growth.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, and Metaphysical Translators

November 15, 2022

For several reasons, the British writer and scholar C.S. Lewis has meant a great deal to me.

His works have impacted my life, and I know there is a long line of C.S. Lewis admirers. When I visited Oxford University, I always made a point to visit the college where he taught (Magdalen College). Similarly, at Cambridge University, I always went to where he taught (Magdalene College).

As an undergraduate, I was an English major, and Lewis’ writing on medieval and renaissance literature opened my eyes to many things. Also, his interest in Nordic and Celtic mythology introduced me to such ideas as Ragnarok (i.e., the death of many Nordic gods and a world submerged by water – all before any modern concerns about climate change).

But what captured my imagination even more was Lewis’ fictional writing – notably the Narnia series. In Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, children make their way through clothing in an old wooden wardrobe and wind up in a very magical – and often dangerous – land.

As a child, whenever I was in an old house or saw beautiful antiques, I would imagine myself making a similar transformation into a world of imagination. My aunt and uncle lived in just such a beautiful old house, and they kept many things up in the attic, including old books. It was there that I discovered a complete set of Mark Twain’s writings. I would be off on a steamboat going down the Mississippi in the 1800s or a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur‘s Court.

Then there was Lewis’ science fiction. He created an interplanetary universe filled with strange devils and sometimes even stranger saints.

Lewis was born in 1898 in Belfast, Ireland. He served in the British army during World War I – The War To End All Wars. The horrors Lewis saw during the war, combined with postwar modernist trends, were enough to beat any religious or spiritual beliefs or feelings out of him. He became a devout atheist/agnostic.

Here is the most important influence that C.S. Lewis has had on me. Something was profoundly missing from this great scholar’s life. Despite his academic success and all of the accolades paid to him and his scholarship, there was a deep emptiness inside of him. No amount of achievements could fill this hole for him. All the intellectualism that he possessed could not help him think his way out of his problem.

And then something happened – something that he certainly did not plan. He discovered that he believed in God. What drew me to Lewis is that what he wrote about this “conversion” process and experience mirrored what I had experienced going from atheism/agnosticism to faith and unity with Spirit. (The unity with Spirit was always there, even when I was not conscious of it.)

Also, Lewis did a fantastic job describing the profound benefits such a change in consciousness can have on us. No, all of Lewis’ problems were not solved overnight. But he was, as he put it, “surprised by joy.” He also found a faith that works even in difficult situations.

Lewis had the good fortune – or synchronicity – to fall into a group of other spiritual scholars and writers. This group was known as The Inklings and included such people as J.R.R. Tolkien. They would meet at an Oxford pub called The Eagle and Child and read early drafts of their works in progress to each other. Can you imagine being in this pub, sitting by a warm fire with a drink and listening to J.R.R. Tolkien read a chapter from The Lord Of The Rings?

But then came World War II. For some time, England stood up virtually alone to the Nazi empire. Many people felt that Great Britain couldn’t win. Winston Churchill, of course, played a crucial role in rallying the nation. But Lewis also played a significant role.

The British Broadcasting Company asked Lewis if he would give a series of talks on the radio. He had been speaking to British soldiers, and it was noticed that he had a profoundly positive impact. He readily agreed to give a series of talks about spirituality in the modern world. Like FDR‘s fireside chats, Lewis’ talks were listened to by many people and had a profound influence.

After the war was won, many people came to Lewis and asked him if he would publish his radio talks in book form. He did that, resulting in a wonderful book called Mere Christianity.

I read this book several years ago and recently decided to reread it. I am glad I did, and I would like to pass on some thoughts and suggestions that have come to me from this rereading of Mere Christianity:

~ If you have never read this book, it is well worth reading, and if you read it many years ago, it is well worth rereading.

~ I think Lewis does an incredible job at pointing to key parts of the so-called “perennial philosophy” or “golden thread.” (If you are not familiar with these terms, which Aldous Huxley and Emmet Fox used, please look at the first message in the recent series at Unity of Roanoke Valley called Unity and World Religions. You can do that by clicking here.)

~ Lewis’ way of first getting at the realm of the Spirit is so simple and wonderful. He does it by just listening to people’s conversations and arguments. He very cogently points out that if you do this, you can hear that people may disagree, argue, and even go to war. But underlying their speeches and conversations is a sense of a higher moral law that points to a realm above the everyday physical world. Isn’t that what metaphysics is all about? It is about something beyond our everyday physical reality.

~ Lewis, in many ways, was a very traditional Anglican Christian. I bet many from Unity and New Thought traditions will be turned off by some of Lewis’ language, images, and theology. But I have a suggestion for people in Unity and New Thought. To read this suggestion, please move to the next bullet point.

~ I suggest that we “Unitics” and “New Thoughters” develop a healthy translator. This translator can take traditional religious terms and translate them into metaphysical images and truths. Interestingly, many of us can do this when we read something from Hinduism or Buddhism. But for some reason, we often can’t do this when reading something from traditional Christianity. We take what a writer like Lewis is saying literally, and we reject his words’ literal meaning or image.

~ I have a good theory as to why Unitics can have a great translator for Hindu, Buddhist, and even Jewish works, but they will not use this translator on traditional Christian works. Many of us have painful memories of our early days in traditional Christian environments. But I believe that after we have healed those wounds regarding religious abuse, we will be able to apply the metaphysical translator to the works of traditional Christian writers.

~ Reading C.S. Lewis literally will often not provide one with a nourishing feast. But when one applies a good metaphysical translator to Lewis’ writings, an incredible feast is on the table waiting for us!

Before coming to Unity of Roanoke Valley, I was the senior minister at the Unity church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Tulsa is the buckle of the Bible Belt. Believe me, you can’t live in Tulsa without breathing in some old-time traditional Gospel music.

A Unitic’s first reaction to Old Time Gospel music might be: “YUCK!” But when you apply your metaphysical translator to Gospel music, you can discover real beauty and uplift – and spiritual truth – in stained glass bluegrass.

I wonder what C.S. Lewis would have made of stained glass bluegrass? Come to think of it, many of the images he wrote about in medieval and renaissance literature found their way into Old Time Gospel music, including:

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses …

(Click here to listen to the rest of the song.)

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

A Higher Power That Knows Our Every Thought

November 8, 2022

It is not even Thanksgiving yet, and a part of me is thinking about Christmas.

And not any old part of Christmas! I’ve been thinking about Santa Claus and that old song:

He sees you when your sleeping
He knows when you’re awake.
He knows if you’ve been bad or good,
So be good, for goodness sake.

(And, of course, I’ve been thinking about Gene Autry’s great rendition of Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town. To hear the singing cowboy croon this tune, click here.)

If that is the case for Santa Claus, just think of the abilities that great “One presence and One power” has! Wait a minute, I’m going to look at my user preferences. There has to be some electronic page where I can click if I don’t want God to see all of my thoughts and behaviors … Where is that electronic page?

WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT ELECTRONIC PREFERENCE PAGE DOESN’T EXIST?? YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME! GOD GETS TO SEE EVERYTHING? SINCE WHEN? SINCE ALWAYS? THAT’S NOT FAIR! WHERE IS THE CUSTOMER SERVICE DEPARTMENT?

I remember being at a wonderful workshop given by Ram Dass (a.k.a Richard Alpert, the Harvard psychology professor who, along with Timothy Leary, was fired for LSD experiments in Cambridge, Massachusetts)

Ram Dass said the problem with LSD and other drugs was that they would take him up but then bring him down. He felt there had to be a spiritual way to experience the spiritual uplifts without the crash landings.

So in the 1960s, he made a pilgrimage to India. Once there, he was led to a guru named Neem Karoli Baba in northern India. This Hindu teacher was seen by many as being an enlightened spiritual master. While deeply steeped in Vedic wisdom and the Upanishads, he was also a lover of Jesus.

Before leaving for India, Ram Dass’ mother had died, and he felt real grief over the loss. He had said nothing about his mother’s passing to anyone in India. But one night, Ram Dass went out to look at the stars. By chance – or was it synchronicity – Neem Karoli Baba was also out looking at the stars.

When Neem Karoli Baba saw Ram Dass, he started talking about Ram Dass’ mother and other family-related matters that Ram Dass had not mentioned to anybody except his psychiatrist back in America. Ram Dass was floored that his guru knew all this about him.

But then, as the days passed, Ram Dass thought, “If the master knows this about my mother and the other things about my family, then he must also know about when I did X and how I failed to do Y. He must also know about P, D, and Q … Gulp!”

However, another thought and feeling overcame Ram Dass. “My guru knows all this about me and still loves me. He loves me just the way I am,” he realized with gratitude.

There was another thing that Ram Dass told us that had started to develop in him. He got a strong desire to clean up his act, but not because of fear of punishment. He wanted to do this out of love for himself and his guru, and to be more in line with what he believed to be spiritually true. He said it was all done on a positive basis, not out of negative reasons.

It’s great that you don’t have to go to India to realize the same spiritual truths. I have been reading and enjoying the blog posts of Gwen Faulkenberry, who lives in the Ozarks in Arkansas. She writes that recently she was wrestling with a tough issue. “I felt embarrassed for not being stronger, for not handling it (this situation) well,” she admitted. However, for some reason, she didn’t want to pray over this issue or take it to Spirit.

Gwen said that a Bible verse struck her. Matthew 9:4 says, “But Jesus knew their thoughts.” She said that she felt like God knew her thoughts throughout the situation, even though she had not sought God’s help.

“I remembered I was not alone in my head even though I hadn’t prayed, and I realized that just because I don’t engage the Lord, it doesn’t mean that he hasn’t engaged with me. He knows my thoughts, so I might as well not try to hide them or edit them,” she said.

She said she felt Spirit saying to her, “I am with you, even here. You are not alone.” The great Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, had carved in stone over the doorpost of his Zürich house: “Called or not, God is there.”

Gwen suggests the following “Faith step” for us: “Is there something you need to get out of your head?“ Write a letter to Spirit about it. “Then listen for His still, small voice,” she adds.

This all boils down to a few key points. Many of us have known these points since we were very young. The hard part is to follow up on these points when the “rubber meets the road.”

~ God/Spirit/our Higher Power knows all our thoughts and actions, so it is foolish to try to hide them.

~ God/Spirit/our Higher Power/Jesus/Neem Karoli Baba not only knows our thoughts and actions but He/She/It truly loves us with everlasting love just the way we are.

~ Called or not, God is there.

~ When we are in this state of consciousness, we can clean up our act not out of fear and negativity but through positivity, hope, and faith.

So maybe it really is good that “he sees you when you’re sleeping/he knows when you’re awake.”

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

The Run-Up and a Rudder We Can Steer By

November 1, 2022

In one week, it will be Election Day. Please make sure that you go out and vote!

I hope that you will never view this blog as being involved in partisan politics. I have tried to keep such politics out of what I say. You don’t come to a Sunday service to hear another editorial endorsing Democratic or Republican candidates. You need that like a hole-in-head.

However, I think there are times when certain fundamental values come to the forefront, and the minister is obligated to say: “What would Jesus do, and what would Jesus say?”

In recent years, very conservative Christians have co-opted the phrase “What would Jesus do?”. Their use of this phrase and value statements is so different from how it started. In the 1890s, a Topeka, Kansas minister, Rev. Charles Sheldon, published a novel entitled In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do?

Rev. Sheldon was very progressive for his day, and so was his Congregational Church. In the novel, a man down on his luck comes to a church in middle America. This man is decent but has been beaten down by hard times. Nobody does anything to help him, and he dies.

The preacher at the church is so filled with remorse that a question forms in his mind: What would Jesus do? He asks his congregation to put this question in the forefront of their consciousness and to try to live by it. For those in his congregation who take this to heart, there is a profound change in their consciousness and behavior.

When I was the minister at Unity Center of Tulsa, my daughter Rachel and I visited Rev. Sheldon’s church in Topeka. It is still a “hotbed” of compassion, care, and “neighbor helping neighbor.“ I believe that Rev. Sheldon would be cringing if he had lived to see what is being done today with the phrase he created.

It is clear that Jesus was concerned about those who were marginalized in society. He told us: “What you did to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did to me” (Matthew 25:40). Our way-shower has also told us that “To whom much has been given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). Jesus certainly was not a defender of the status quo.

The above does not mean that deeply committed and spiritual people will always agree on the specific means and details to help our neighbors. Nor does this mean that we will always share the same priorities. But there has been in America – in my lifetime – something that philosopher and writer Jon Meacham has called “America’s civil religion.”

Meacham, in his books – such as The Soul of America – has seen some of the following values as part of this American civil religion: democracy, freedom of speech, religious freedom, equality of opportunity, etc. Of course, these values have often been upheld imperfectly.

That is why it is important to build “a more perfect” union (as our Constitution states). However, recent public opinion poll data and other evidence show that this American civil religion is becoming very frayed. Consider one of these American virtues: a belief in democracy. A growing number of people are willing to throw democracy overboard If democracy results in their not getting their way.

I strongly recommend a series of podcasts produced by The New York Times called The Run-Up. The podcast looks at the upcoming midterm elections. The editors of the podcast state that “we can’t understand this moment in politics without first understanding the transformation of American evangelicalism.”

Please listen to The Run-Up podcast released on Saturday, October 2, 2022, on The New York Times, The Daily. You can listen to it by clicking this sentence.

The Run-Up podcast does an excellent job of presenting the evidence behind the rise of so-called Christian Nationalism. This growing body of opinion believes that our Founding Fathers – and for Christian nationalists, it is fathers – created a Christian nation that was to be exclusively directed by Christian institutions and leaders.

Further, Christian nationalists define Christian institutions and leaders as only those who agree with Christian nationalist positions. It is, of course, God’s will that America follows Christian nationalist goals and objectives, they believe. If democratic practices do not support and uphold the Christian nationalist way, then so much the worse for democracy.

I wish I could tell you that only a very, very small group holds the above ideas. But the evidence shows that the number of people willing to buy into this, either in part or in whole, is depressingly sizable.

I believe there is something very positive to say about Jon Meacham’s American civic religion or basic American values – including something called democracy. I also believe there is something unhealthy when people believe they have a monopoly on God. One of the key things I do love about Unity is that we honor all paths that lead to spiritual enlightenment.

The British political philosopher, Edmund Burke, pointed out that all that was necessary for evil to triumph was for good people to do nothing. I used to believe that “it couldn’t happen here.” I thought our institutions, Constitution, and values were so strong that they would block “it” from happening on our shores.

I no longer believe that “it” couldn’t happen here. But I do believe and have faith and hope that many decent people will not take our freedoms and blessings for granted. In many cases, it may only take small acts of courage and civic responsibility to make a difference.

We are almost finished with our series on Unity and World Religions. Yes, these are perilous times in many ways – and much could be lost. But I hope you have discovered through this series that there is an incredible rudder by which we can steer the boat we are in and that spiritual values play a vital role in this process.

Also, this rudder is not narrow-minded, vengeful, self-centered, or egoistic. It is loving, inclusive, and open to all, and it can lead us to “a world that works for all.”

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Spiritual Lessons from Baseball: “Play Ball”

October 25, 2022

The World Series is about to start, and it should be a grand climax to an exciting year in baseball.

As a Yankees fan, it’s been interesting watching Aaron Judge going for the home run title and baseball’s so-called “triple crown” (i.e., the highest total of home runs, batting average, and runs batted in). But what I admire most about Aaron Judge is his leadership, team and community spirit, sportsmanship, and humility. As they say in the Bronx: “All rise. Here comes the judge!”

Baseball is my favorite sport. A lot of it has to do with childhood memories of being a pretty good left-handed first baseman – and a decent hitter, if I say so myself. I remember my Little League days with fondness.

I watched the Washington Nationals play the Yankees a few years ago. Earlier that day, The Washington Post had run a big article about an “enforcer” in the National Hockey League who had died because of brain injuries. In hockey, the “enforcer” is the big guy whose “job” is to get into fights and protect his teammates. There also had been articles about brain injuries in professional football.

So I was sitting at the Nationals-Yankees game thinking: “Baseball is such a civilized sport compared to these other games.” But just as I finished thinking that thought, the pitcher wound up and intentionally threw a fastball directly at the batter’s head. Fortunately, the batter was able to duck and avoided getting clobbered by a 98-mile-an-hour hardball.

“Well, maybe baseball isn’t as civilized as I thought,” I said to myself. Then there was also Ty Cobb, who would slide into second base with his metal spikes intentionally aimed at the second baseman‘s legs.

Some people say the following about baseball, “It is like watching paint dry”; or “watching baseball is a cure for insomnia.” My response to people who say such things is, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are saying.”

There is so much strategy behind the decisions about what type of pitch should be thrown, how to position the fielders, and whether a batter should bunt, swing away, or take the pitch. Also, should the runners hold up, or should this be a hit-and-run?

In a society that always wants instant gratification, baseball is often the equivalent of a slow build-up: There are two outs, and finally, bases are loaded, and then there is the call to the bullpen. It is a dual between a pitcher and a batter, and finally, it is a full count. The next pitch could decide the game. The pitcher winds up and throws a curveball, which the batter fouls away. So the pitcher-batter duel continues.

One more pitch is thrown, and it is a game of inches. The pitcher meant to throw an inside fastball; instead, the ball comes in over the plate. There is a swing and the crack of a bat. The ball starts to fly up and out over the park. Will it go foul, or will it be fair? … By a few inches, the ball sails out of the park inside of the foul ball pole … Ball game over; it was a walk-off home run!

I have found that it doesn’t have to be Major League Baseball to capture one’s interest. Many smaller towns – like Salem, Virginia – have wonderful Minor League Baseball parks, which get you very close to the action on the field. In Tulsa, my little daughter Therese was picked to say “Play ball” into the stadium microphone at the start of the game. There is a real community spirit in those Minor League Baseball parks. And often there is a good fireworks show at the end of the game.

But the key reason for bringing all of this up is that we can learn some important spiritual lessons from baseball. These lessons include the following:

~ In life, we will often fail: Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox was probably the greatest hitter of all time. During his best year, Williams had an incredibly high batting average of 400 (out of a possible 1,000).

This means that Williams got on base roughly 40 percent of the time. But this also means he failed to get on base roughly 60 percent of the time. In other words, even the great Ted Williams – in his best year – failed more than he succeeded. We will often fail to accomplish what we hoped to achieve in life. But that does not mean that we are a failure!

Many biblical scholars would say that Jesus’ primary goal was to work with and train 12 apostles to carry on the job when he was gone. However, he was not successful with all 12 of the apostles. Even Jesus did not have a batting average of 1,000.

~ If you dream big dreams, the chances are that your rate of failure will increase: Babe Ruth was called the “king of swats.” For many years “the Babe” had the home run record. But people also fail to remember that Ruth often held the strikeout record.

Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company were highly successful. At one point, Ford had over 50 percent of the car market. But what people often forget is that the first car company created by Ford went bankrupt. If you have a big dream and “swing for the fences,” your strikeout total will probably increase. But as a Yankee fan, I am so glad that Ruth often was “swinging for the fences.”
~ Life, like baseball, is a team sport: All baseball teams want superstars like Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Sammy Sosa, Derek Jeter, etc. But if all you have is one – or even two superstars, you will not have a winning team.

It really does take a village! Or, as the Beatles put it so well, “We get by with a little help from our friends.” It may seem like America is the land of rugged individualism. But ironically, our so-called “national pastime“emphasizes that life is a team sport!

~ The love of the game is so important: Yogi Berra was that great Hall of Fame catcher and “philosopher.” My all-time favorite Yogi saying is: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

There came a time in Yogi’s career when he stopped loving the game of baseball. For him, it became a business and started to get boring. Needless to say, his batting average and fielding ability declined. Fortunately, he was able to renew his love of the game, and there was a “second wind” in his career. When Yogi retired as a player, he was able to go on and become a great manager for both the Yankees and the New York Mets. As in Yogi’s case, your love of your “game” really does matter!

When I was a kid, the World Series happened in September, not in October, as it does now. I remember our group of kids would huddle around these newfangled things called transistor radios and listen to Mel Allen or Red Barber call the game.

I will be delighted to see the World Series on my widescreen TV or smartphone. But I will remember that baseball has some important lessons for life.

Recently, after my team lost a game, my seven-year-old daughter, Therese, looked at me and said, “Come on, Dad. Remember, it is just a game!”

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Children of All Ages: From Boomers to Zers

October 18, 2022

A column by Rev. Vicki Kemper recently caught my eye.

Of course, how could this column not catch my attention? I saw that Rev. Vicki is the senior minister at the First Congregational Church in Amherst, Massachusetts. I had just dropped off my daughter, Rachel, for her first year at the University of Massachusetts, located in Amherst.

I remembered seeing Rev. Vicki’s church – part of the United Church of Christ – on a quaint New England street. I thought, “What Synchronicity! I must read her column!”

Rev. Vicki started by repeating Jesus’ famous words, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” (Matthew 19:14). But then she noted that the “locals in our area will tell you – with a grumble – that there are a few sure-fire ways to know the college kids are back.”

These include horrendous traffic jams and Target and Walmart parking lots overflowing to the brim. The locals will also tell you that there will be a tremendous spike in beer sales and, increasingly, legal marijuana sales in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There will also be “sheer pandemonium at Trader Joe’s, and a mosh pit three people deep at the Whole Foods yogurt section,” she reports.

Well, I can vouch for (and caused) some of these backups and long lines. Rachel and I did not buy any beer or marijuana, but we did purchase many things for her dorm room at the local Target. Also, first-day registration and move-in did cause long lines of traffic on normally tranquil New England lanes.

However, Rev. Vicki writes, “One doesn’t have to be a shopper, driver, or partier to know that something is different in the area that includes not one but five institutions of higher learning.” Amherst, Massachusetts, is not only the home of the University of Massachusetts but is also the home of Amherst College, Smith College, Hampshire College, and Mount Holyoke.

“There is new energy and excitement in the air. The streets that were all but deserted are now bustling with activity. Our sleepy little towns have awakened with a joyful roar. And at our church, it’s entirely possible that a sign or banner will go missing – sometimes to be returned (perhaps with a note saying ‘Lost a drunken bet. Sorry!’) and sometimes not,” she reports.

Because the college students are not the “little children” mentioned in the Bible, some of Rev. Vicki’s congregants have a hard time keeping a charitable disposition towards these Generation Z students. Gen Zs have often been called Zers. Since so many in her congregation are Baby Boomers, you could say, “we all too often see things as the Boomers vs. the Zers,” she notes.

But Rev. Vicki cautions us that Jesus’ admonition about children very much applies to the Zers. “It is these stressed out, searching, sometimes alienated children who need community and support. For their sake and ours, let them come,” she admonishes us. And then Rev. Vicki offers a beautiful prayer: “For the precociousness and perspective of children of all ages, we give you thanks and praise. May we welcome them with joy and thanksgiving, blessing and honor!”

I can imagine that the resentment and anger Rev. Vicki has experienced from some Amherst-area residents is very real. The theme of grudges between “town and gown” is notorious and long-standing, whether it be Oxford and Cambridge or some American college communities.

The economist in me would like to point out to the good residents of Amherst that if it weren’t for their five notable institutions of higher learning, the Amherst-area economy would be on very shaky footing. Also, I was only in the Amherst area for about a week, and I could figure out side roads that avoided the worst traffic jams. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to determine what dates of the year might not be the best times to do major shopping excursions in Amherst.

But this certainly is not to excuse all types of behavior by college students. For example, Rachel told me that as she was trying to enter one of the university’s dining halls, she saw two young men fighting with broken beer bottles. Rachel had the good sense to steer clear of this incident, and I hope the gendarmes arrived on the scene quickly to stop such behavior.

Nevertheless, Rev. Vicki’s column raised some interesting memories and concerns for me. I remember when I was a college student. My father died when I was 17 years old, and after that, I did not want anything to do with religion or spirituality. Until my mid-20s – after my undergraduate days – I was an agnostic/atheist!

There are times when I feel badly about this because during my undergraduate years, all I would have had to do was take a subway train down to Lincoln Center in New York City, and I could have heard Eric Butterworth preach on Sundays. Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, was still occasionally speaking in New York City. I deeply regret that I never went to hear this spiritual pioneer speak. It was only in my mid-20s that I started to open up to spirituality and religion.

For many Gen Zers, Millennials, and Gen Xers, we will probably not see them entering the walls of our churches. But many of them are genuinely seeking. Many are spiritual but not religious, and I think many of them want what Unity offers.

That said, I think many of them will not come to us. It will require us to reach out to them! We can do this in many different ways. Rev. Dr. Martha Creek, a great Unity minister, led a fantastic session at the recent Unity Worldwide Ministries conference. She was discussing spirituality in the future and predicted that the “church of the future“ would be a “hybrid church.“ This means it will be both within a four-walled sanctuary and powerfully online.

I believe that we will first reach many Zers, Millennials, and Xers by what we do online. Our online efforts are NOT some sideshow to “real” in-person church. Don’t get me wrong: I am a Baby Boomer, and for me, in-person church will never be replaced by online church. But many people who are younger than me don’t see it that way, and they don’t function that way. When we improve our online content and stop seeing it as a sideshow, then we will stand a better chance of influencing many people to come inside our sanctuary walls.

It will also mean that we must go to them beyond being online. It will mean going to college campuses and being active where Zers, Millennials, and Xers thrive.

A church that is exceedingly top-heavy in baby boomers is not in a healthy long-run position. Such a church could very easily and quickly become a museum piece.

But I am optimistic that our online presence will continue to improve. I am also optimistic that we will improve and expand by going to the places where Zers, Millennials, and Xers are.

Jesus said, “Let them come onto me.” Given the realities of this era, I believe that Jesus today would also say, “Let’s go onto them.” Jesus was not a hermit or a mystic on a mountain who expected people to make the trek to him. He made an effort to go where they were. I know we will get better at doing the same.

As we do this, I think we can vastly reduce any metaphysical tensions between – as it were – “town and gown.”

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Remember Divine Order!

October 11, 2022

I recently read several blog posts by Pamela Toussaint Howard that moved me.

She is a young native New Yorker who is now working out of Atlanta. She is a journalist and author or co-author of eight books. Her spiritual insights apply ancient truths to dealing with very modern situations.

Pamela believes it is very important to “regularly rehearse the triumphs” Spirit “has orchestrated” in her life. One of Pamela‘s giant areas of concern has been finances.

“When I decided to freelance, it was often difficult to believe Jesus would provide for me long-term. If I were hired to write a book, I would hoard the advance money because I feared there might not be another deal anytime soon. Even one year when I had a salaried job, I lived meagerly on one paycheck a month – and banked the rest like the world was ending,” she noted.

One day she remembered what happened to her family when September 11, 2001, devastated New York City’s economy. “At the time, my mom and I had a catering business that regularly serviced restaurants. In an instant, orders completely ceased (following the attack on the twin towers),” Pamela recounted.

This situation went on for months. No money was coming into their catering business, but they still had many bills to pay. “We didn’t know how we would pay back our large business loan with no customers,“ she said. The level of fear and panic increased every day. There was no solution in sight. The possibility of bankruptcy loomed large for Pamela and her family.

Then Pamela and her mom started to kneel on the living room carpet and fervently pray. They didn’t know the solution, but they started thanking God that all was in Divine Order. They started doing affirmative prayer and believing in a positive solution to their circumstances.

The solution did come! “Our loan was reduced to a fraction of what we owed,” Pamela reports. This gave them the breathing room and time they needed to bounce back as the New York economy regained steam.

Now when she faces financial challenges, “the Holy Spirit reminds” Pamela of how God came through for her family back then. Her confidence builds when she remembers this previous incident, and she knows that Spirit “will surely do it again.”

One of Pamela‘s favorite verses from scripture is 1 Samuel 17:37 (“The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”)

What is going on here? Well, Young David has just volunteered to face Goliath. On the face of it, this seems like a hopeless challenge. But King Saul is telling David, “Here is what I do: I remember the times in the past when Divine Order saw me through. Then my fear starts to turn into real faith!”

Pamela suggests that we take a genuine faith step when our life circumstances seem to be quicksand. She suggests you keep a log of God’s “faithfulness in specific circumstances so that you can look back and be encouraged like David was.”

These spiritual tools do work! In my case, it was back in the 1990s. I was fired from being the chief economist at a leading think tank in Washington, DC. I went through real resentment and anger. Then I went through real fear: How would we pay the bills? Who would ever hire me again in such a position?

I decided to try Unity’s concept of affirmative prayer. Jesus states this principle so well in Mark and elsewhere: “When you pray, believe that you have received and you will receive” (Mark 11:24).

I did not have any job prospects in sight, but I wrote a prayer letter to God in which I thanked Him for the new job that was on its way. I thanked Mother-Father God that it would be an excellent opportunity to do social good and help people. It would be an opportunity to lead a creative bunch of economists and social researchers and a financially rewarding position.

The fear left me, and instead, I had real faith. I knew I had to keep on doing the next right thing. There were some days when I had a bad 10 minutes. I even remember one day when I had a bad 20 minutes. But I never had a totally bad day! I just kept doing the next right thing.

Somehow the money always appeared to pay the bills. Then at the end of eight months, the United Way offered me the opportunity to be their vice president of research and chief economist. It was the right position and right job, and I would never have made the switch had I not gone through unemployment. I was also offered a salary at a higher level than what I had been paid before.

On top of that, two years after I started with the United Way, the think tank that fired me went bankrupt. In other words, what I considered a horrible tragedy was actually God’s way of giving me an early lifeboat off the Titanic.

When I face challenges or fear starts to raise its ugly little head, I remember what God did for me back in the 1990s, and any fear gets turned into faith. It is so powerful to remember how Divine Order has worked in my life.

Today’s Daily Word for October 11th is Divine Order. The affirmation is: “I am in the flow of divine life and order.” The Daily Word suggests, “I nurture my unfoldment with faith, patience, and trust in the activity of God in me.”

I believe that a good way of doing this is remembering how Divine Order has worked in the past in our lives. When we have journaled and listed previous examples of God’s faithfulness in our lives, we can counter any negativity by remembering that we were born blessed and remain blessed!

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

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Quiet Quitting And Workplace Karma

October 4, 2022

I like to think of myself as an “early adopter” and “ahead of the curve.”

But the reality is that I am often not one to see a so-called “inflection point,” where there is a significant change in the direction of a social trend.

However, there is one trend in the world of work that I saw a number of years ago when I was still a “card-carrying” economist. I am on record as having said in the early 2000s that “thousands of workers have quit their jobs. They just haven’t told their bosses yet.”

Well, this trend has grown and is now referred to as “quiet quitting.” How do you define “quiet quitting?” Zaid Khan, a TikTok user with over 10,000 followers, defines the term as: “You’re not outright quitting your job, but you’re quitting the idea of going above and beyond.”

The phrase “quiet quitting” went viral on social media. Then in the Summer of 2022, The Wall Street Journal ran an article with the headline, “If Your Co-Workers Are ‘Quiet Quitting,’ Here’s What That Means.” Meanwhile, the influential British newspaper, The Guardian, published the article: “Quiet Quitting: Why Doing the Bare Minimum at Work Has Gone Global.” Not to be outdone, The New York Times soon followed with: “Who Is Quiet Quitting For?”

What is interesting is hearing the justifications for quiet quitting in the contemporary workplace environment. Clayton Farris, a TikToker with roughly 48,000 followers, says, “I don’t stress and internally rip myself to shreds (about work).”

Following this logic, there once was a “social contract” between employees and employers. Granted, millions of American workers never had such a social contract. But for many white-collar workers, the deal was: You work hard and play by the rules, And you will experience wage and salary growth, good and stable fringe benefits, and you’ll be treated as part of the corporate “family.”

With the rise of the global economy, technological changes, lower unionization rates, and increased competition, the old social contract has gone the way of all flesh at many companies and within many industries.

During communism in the old Soviet Union, there was a common refrain from many workers: “The bosses pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.” This dysfunctional norm in the USSR was a key factor – but not the only one – behind the stagnant Soviet economy.

To give a sense of how eroding such a social norm can be, roughly 90% of the farmland in the Soviet Union was run by collective farms, and only 10% was run by private plots. However, over 50% of the value produced by Soviet farmland came from the 10% run by private plots. The collective farms were notorious for quiet quitting.

China is now an economic powerhouse. But I am old enough to remember when China was an economic basket case and couldn’t even feed its population. There was mass starvation in China. Quiet quitting was a significant factor in Mao’s Great Leap Forward.

Recently, quiet quitting has been justified by the following logic: The old social contract is dead, so why should anybody go the extra mile when an employer would not even cross the street for you? Also, we live in a cutthroat culture that is out of balance. Quiet quitting is just restoring balance in our society. Quiet quitting is akin to getting even with underhanded employers.

It might be very old-fashioned, but I think examining what light sacred scriptures can shine on this subject is very interesting. For example, Jesus was quite clear on the issue. He said, “If somebody tells you to go one mile, you go two” (Matthew 5:41). Let’s remember the social context under which Jesus said this. The Roman empire occupied the holy land at the time. A Roman centurion or lesser official could command a Jew to drop what he had and carry the Roman’s load for a mile. Jesus says that we are to go at least twice the distance commanded.

The apostle Paul backs up Jesus’ notion. Paul said, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3.23). We must realize that our true “master” is Spirit and that we are working for “the Christ within.“ This changes whom we are working for and what type of service we should be giving.

But I could hear some folks saying, “Yes, but many situations are unfair, and quiet quitting just evens the score.” However, Paul has given us another way of looking at these situations. He told us that “all things work together for good for those who know and love God“ (Romans 8:28). I would be glad to write another blog with numerous examples that support Paul’s point – and it isn’t supported by quiet quitting!

I think some sacred scriptures from other spiritual traditions have something to teach us about quiet quitting. The Hindu and Buddhist traditions talk about karma. Perhaps one good contemporary definition of karma would be: What goes around, comes around!

As quiet quitting has grown, there has been interesting karma in the workplace. When I was chief economist for the United Way system, I had the good fortune to meet and become friends with Jim Clifton, the chairman, and CEO of the Gallup group. Gallup, of course, is one of the world’s leading public opinion polling and survey research companies.

I remember Jim’s interest in creating a Gallup survey system that could be used to help employers find more workers who would not be prone to quiet quitting. The Gallup system could motivate workers away from quiet quitting, he believes.

But quiet quitting has also triggered another form of karma in the workplace. Many companies have increased the use of high-tech surveillance methods.

Click this sentence to listen to a fascinating New York Times podcast on the subject.

With more workers laboring at home, a growing number of Fortune 500 companies, and other firms, have developed very sophisticated – and George Orwellian 1984 – techniques to monitor employee productivity. These techniques include taking screenshots of workers while working at home. It also includes measuring the frequency and timing of keystrokes. One program measures the jiggling of one’s computer mouse. If the mouse isn’t jiggling, then the worker must not be working (and their pay will be docked.)

But then again, karma can produce more karma. A recent popular and top-selling item has been Mouse Jigglers. So your boss is measuring if you’re jiggling your mouse? This device will jiggle your computer mouse even if you are asleep or at a hockey game!

A culture of quiet quitting is not a healthy culture. In the Book of Ecclesiastes, we are told that “whatever you are capable of doing, do it with all of your might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). It was good advice back then, and it is still good advice today.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Learning to Love and Appreciate Small Jewels

September 27, 2022

I ask you not to dismiss what I am about to tell you as being just a crass story from a former New Yorker because I think there might be a lesson in it for you, even if you have spent little time in the Big Apple.

I went to college in New York City and had an excellent art history professor. He made the subject come alive, particularly in the area of architecture.

My professor felt that the modern skyscraper was the first significant architectural innovation since the Roman arch. Steel and reinforced concrete gave architects a new technology with which they could build fantastic structures reaching up to the sky – even taller than the tower of Babel.

I remember my professor’s engaging lecture about the buildings of the architect Louis Sullivan. He told us that if we wanted to see these structures, we better hightail it out to Chicago as soon as possible because many of them were getting torn down rapidly.

Soon after the class ended, I made a beeline for Chicago. I was glad I did because the Sullivan buildings were incredible, as were many other structures in Chicago.

Since this was my first visit to the Windy City, I thought it might be nice to see some of Chicago’s museums. I decided to visit The Art Institute of Chicago. But being the New Yorker that I was, I said to myself, “Of course, the Art Institute of Chicago won’t be able to hold a candle to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Modern Art. The Art Institute of Chicago is probably worth a quick 45-minute visit – maybe even a one-hour visit.”

However, I was bowled over when I walked inside the Art Institute of Chicago. Yes, it wasn’t as big of a museum as the ones in New York City, but the Chicago museum was incredible. I said to myself, “I should have realized that back when Europe was for sale, the money was in Chicago!” I think I spent almost the entire day in that fantastic museum.

This was not the last time that I experienced this museum phenomenon. The pattern goes like this:

  • First, I think “X” will not measure up or be as good as “Y” in New York.
  • Second, I actually experience “X,” and I start having an open mind about “X” instead of being locked in by my preconceived notions.
  • Third, I stop comparing “X” to anything in New York.
  • Fourth, I start seeing “X” as the unique jewel that it is.
  • Fifth, I start being grateful for the opportunity to experience “X,” and I really start enjoying this moment with “X.”

I can give other examples of when this has happened to me. When I was in seminary at Unity Village, outside Kansas City, my nose was out of joint about the Nelson-Atkins Museum. This Kansas City museum is much smaller than the art museums in New York or Chicago. But the Nelson-Atkin is a real jewel. Both its permanent exhibition and temporary shows are lovely.

Kansas City also has some museums that are lacking in New York. For example, Kansas City has a fine museum on the Negro Baseball Leagues. Understandably, this museum is in Kansas City because this was the home of the Kansas City Monarchs (this team was the equivalent of the Yankees in the Babe Ruth era). Kansas City is also the home of the Arabia Steamship Museum. Arabia was an 1800s steamship that sank to the bottom of the river. The boat and its cargo were excavated, and the museum explores the era of steamboats in America.

When I became the senior minister at Unity Center of Tulsa, I experienced more small jewels. The Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa has an incredible Southwestern and Native American art collection. The Philbrook Museum of Art includes not only art but has impressive gardens. Also in Tulsa are the Woody Guthrie Center and the Bob Dylan Center. On top of that, there are museums and memorials to one of the worst race massacres in America.

But this phenomenon can be applied to far more than museums. For example, consider amateur theater and musicals. It is easy to attend these events and say, “Well, this certainly isn’t Broadway!” Yet I have found that when I stop comparing, I begin enjoying many unique aspects of amateur theater. Not every amateur production will be a jewel, just as not every Broadway show is fantastic! But so many amateur productions have so much to offer.

Another example is minor league baseball vs. Major League Baseball. I love the closeness to the field and players in minor league parks and the community spirit. When I can stop comparing minor-league ball to major league ball, I enjoy a minor league game!

I think this phenomenon applies to many areas of our lives. There are so many little jewels that we can experience if we stop saying, “Well, this is not ‘Z.’”

Also, your point of comparison might not be New York. Your “Z” could be another time, place, or person. It could be another situation, or it could be a comparison to some ideal or fantasy that you have.

I am not saying that all comparisons are wrong or that we should never make comparisons, but I do think the Book of Ecclesiastes has it right when it tells us that “there is a time and place for everything under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8).

There is a time and place to make comparisons. But there is also a time and place to cease making comparisons. Socrates said that the “Unexamined life is not worth living.” However, the over-examined life is not a bowl of cherries, and it can hinder us from seeing the many jewels in our lives.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Getting Over Being Vulnerable To The Disapproval Of Others

September 20, 2022

So we are in the thick of the political season with the midterm elections fast approaching.

I want to tell you two political stories. I promise they are non-partisan tales and contain spiritual lessons for us regardless of whether we are liberals or conservatives.

The first story involves Gwen Ford Faulkenberry. She lives in the Ozarks in Arkansas and is an author, a college lecturer, and a blogger on modern spirituality. I started reading her blogs and was intrigued by her columns and observations.

She was not a political junky by any stretch of the imagination. But her friends convinced her that she should run to become a representative in the Arkansas state legislature. “We need non-politicians with your zeal and values in the legislature,” they said to her.

So in 2020, Gwen ran for office. One of the beauties of a blog on the Internet is that I was able – in 2022 – to go back and read some of Gwen’s blogs that she wrote while she was running to become a state representative in 2020.

“When I was a kid in school, I was always trying out for something. I won sometimes, and I lost a lot. The older I got, the more sense I acquired, at least in that department, and it’s been a long time since I’ve made myself vulnerable to the approval of others on any large scale. Maybe that’s why I was reluctant to enter a local political contest and why the race itself is so terrifying. Every single day I ask myself what in the world I’ve gotten myself into,” Gwen wrote.

Making yourself vulnerable to the approval of others was hard for Gwen, and I suspect it is also difficult for many of us. It is far easier to stay in the cocoon of a small comfort zone. However, we don’t grow if we do that.

Gwen said that when fear raised its head during her campaign, she spent time renewing her connection with Spirit. She wrote that Spirit never promised that she would win the election. But Spirit did promise always to be there with her. Because of this, Gwen realized she could “walk through this – and every other situation – fearless.”

I enjoyed reading the blogs written during Gwen’s 2020 campaign. It was at the pandemic’s peak, and she was very creative in coming up with new ways of campaigning. For example, she started something called “Riverside Chats.” These were online “meetings” where anybody could join the sessions and ask questions. Talk about making yourself vulnerable!

Gwen wrote, “What is really important to you right now, and what if it doesn’t work out? Sit with that for a minute.” Then she suggested that we insert God’s hand there in the middle of it all. “Visualize the truth every day, and you’ll be ready to face anything,” she said.

As I read her blog, I came to election day in 2020. I so much wanted to read that she won her election. But the election results showed that Gwen not only lost the race but was also trounced. Gwen received only roughly 30 percent of the vote, and her opponent garnered about 70 percent of the votes.

More recently, Gwen has been able to refer to herself humorously as a “failed politician.” I wish I could tell you that when we walk hand-in-hand with Spirit, we always get what we want. That does not appear to be the case. However, when we have that deep connection with Spirit, we do not have to fear or be vulnerable to the disapproval of others. As the Psalmist put it, “Delight in the Lord, and you will have the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:7).

The second “political” story I want to share shows how we can “win” even when it seems that we have “lost.” This story comes from Rev. Molly Baskette, who is the lead pastor of the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, United Church of Christ

Rev. Molly has a good friend who became a representative of her state legislature in 2018. Before winning her first election, this friend’s chief qualification to be a lawmaker was that she had previously run a church camp for many years. Her friend knew “how to herd cats, handle conflict, cast division, and sing while doing it all.”

Rev. Molly‘s friend kept voting her conscience in the state legislature, and she did not always follow the dictates of her party’s political leaders. Of course, this got her into trouble with the bosses, and as a result, she was literally moved to the back rows of the state house’s floor.

It was so far back that she was next to many representatives from the other political party. Instead of complaining, Rev. Molly‘s friend started talking to and becoming friends with many of these representatives from the other political party.

“She told them about why she was voting the way she was on critical justice issues and judicial appointments. And she began flipping (some representatives from the other party to voting her way) … In what used to be a hostile, polarized political environment, new relationships are forming. Hearts and minds are being opened,“ Reverend Molly reports.

“Being moved to the back of the room is not always punishment. It might be just the place God needs you,” Rev. Molly points out.

These two stories remind me of a powerful documentary I saw several years ago called Hoop Dreams. The movie followed the paths of two talented Chicago inner-city high school basketball players. Everybody thought these young men would have incredible careers in the National Basketball Association.

In a typical Hollywood movie, they would have faced difficult challenges and overcome each one. The final scene would show them winning NBA championships or being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Instead, in Hoop Dreams, both young athletes never make it to the NBA. Something happened to each of them that they could not overcome, and as the political stories told above, they lost their “elections” by more than 70 percent and/or were consigned to the “back of the room.” Life can have a way of doing that.

However, be it politics, sports, show biz, business, or even social work or the ministry, we do not have to be vulnerable to the disapproval of others.

The key questions are:

  • What does our Higher Power think?
  • Are we aligned with the “still, small voice” inside us all?
  • Do we have some scripture and other books that can be a real North Star to us when things don’t go our way?
  • What can we learn from the criticisms that are being made about us?
  • And do we have some spiritual mentors and support networks that we can turn to in difficult times?

Having the above and truly relying on these powerful resources can make all the difference. During the height of the pandemic, I heard one of my spiritual mentors – Rev. Russell Heiland, the senior minister at Unity of Fairfax – ask the following question: “How can what is before us be for us?”

I think when we are playfully trying to answer Rev. Russ’ question, we are less vulnerable to the slings and arrows that will inevitably be shot at us in the material world.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick