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.


Fireworks Above You and Within You

June 29, 2021

As we approach the Fourth of July, something written by Ty’Ann Brown really moved me. Ty’Ann is Vice President of Guideposts Ministries.

She grew up in New York City in a building overlooking the East River. When I went off to college, my mother sold our suburban home and lived in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We too had a wonderful view of the East River. I particularly liked watching the boats sail by and the bridges when they would be lit up at night.

Ty’Ann remembered that “every year my family and I would go to the rooftop so that we could get as close as possible to those famous Macy’s fireworks.” On the Fourth of July, “they seemed so beautiful, so magical – almost heaven-sent. I would gaze at the sky in awe,” she added.

Remember that old song Up On The Roof by the Drifters? It went like this:

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right up into space
On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be
And there the world below can’t bother me

I remember that feeling on top of the roof of my mother’s building. But as Ty’Ann explains, it was even more special on the fourth of July.

Ty’Ann says that as an adult, she wasn’t impressed by fireworks anymore. “But one year, I was visiting my Mom on July 4, and she called me to the window. Watching the sky light up and hearing the oohs and ahhs, I got caught up in the excitement too,” she admits. Similar to Ty’Ann, it has been such a joy watching fireworks through the eyes of my children. I, too, have been caught up once again in their magic.

After the experience with her Mom on July 4th, Ty’Ann started thinking about what fireworks could teach us about faith. “Sure, it would be great if we all maintain faith as big and as bold as those firework displays all the time. But that doesn’t always happen,” she notes.

However, Ty’Ann adds that “ fireworks can remind us to pause – and look upward. To look toward God … if only we pay attention.” I love the metaphor of fireworks being one way we can see the grandeur of Spirt. Another way that works for me is looking at the wonderful and fascinating pictures of the universe from the Hubble space telescope. Those pictures that look at galaxies and nebulas deep in space are as beautiful as the pictures one can see in a fine art museum.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and others in the 1800s were able to express this aspect of the Divine in their Transcendental movement. But it is not just a question of the fireworks “up there” in the sky or the “fireworks” in outer space. It is also a question of the fireworks within us. If we can’t feel and know – if we can’t experience the fireworks within us – then I think many of us will miss seeing the fireworks outside of ourselves. Even if we go up on the roof, we will fail to see the peace and beauty that the Drifters sang about.

These inner fireworks are the immanent side of the Divine. It is the Divine Spark that is inside all of us. This is our real essence and not our error thoughts of lack, scarcity, or “I am not good enough.” It is easy to get stuck in this negative cycle, and then we can fall into professional victim mode.

A person who has helped me reignite my inner fireworks is a young woman named Dr. Kate Bowler. She is a professor at Duke University’s Divinity School. I spoke about her during a recent Sunday message (watch here). Kate’s life was flowing along very smoothly and successfully. She was viewed as an up-and-coming academic superstar, and she was a New York Times best-selling author. She was – and still is – married to a good man, and they have a darling little boy. Then one day, Kate found out that she has stage four cancer and her chances of survival were not good.

However, she has been part of an experimental treatment and is still alive and kicking. Every two months, she must go through a serious treatment, and she is told the probability that she will live for another two months. It was under these conditions that Kate’s inner fireworks came alive. She has written several incredible books that deal with suffering and the human condition. She also hosts a great podcast. (To connect with Kate’s great work, go to katebowler.com)

In the Power of Now (currently being read by the Unity of Roanoke Valley Book Club) and in other books, Eckhart Tolle also talks about these inner fireworks. When they come alive, Eckhart believes that we see the outer world in an entirely different light.

I believe that both forms of fireworks are important since the Divine is both transcendent and immanent. The Divine is both inside and outside of us. Truly, to borrow a phrase, “there is no spot where God is not.”

This Fourth of July, my wish for you is that you enjoy both your outside and inside fireworks. May you also enjoy family and friends, the water, and a hot dog and/or a hamburger – or veggie burger. May we also remember that we were born blessed and remain blessed!

Happy Birthday, America,

Rev. Rick

Eric Carle and Those Magic Moments

June 22, 2021

Unless you are a parent with young children or a grandparent with the same, the name Eric Carle might not mean anything to you.

But if you have had to joy of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to a child, then you probably know about the book’s author (Eric Carle) and that he recently made his transition at age 91.

In one sense, Eric’s books involve uncomplicated stories. In the case of the caterpillar, we are dealing with a caterpillar who eats through one apple, two pears, three plums, four strawberries, five oranges, one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon. This little fellow gets a stomach ache and decides to stick to tree leaves. Nevertheless, the hungry caterpillar turns into a beautiful butterfly.

What is missing in the above retelling of the story is the bright and joyful color palette that Eric used. Also missing are the descriptions of the creative page designs that Eric mastered. For example, children can actually stick their fingers through the holes in the foods where that very hungry caterpillar has eaten through. Meanwhile, the various pages are often different shapes and sizes.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar has sold more than 55 million copies around the globe, and the book’s 224 words have been translated into more than 70 languages. In his career, he wrote more than 70 books that sold over 170 million copies. In addition, Eric won many awards for his innovations and excellence in children’s literature.

One of my favorite Eric Carle books is Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me. In this book, a little girl longingly looks at the moon and asks her father to bring it down for her. So the father gets a very big ladder to bring the moon down for his daughter. When the father hands his daughter the moon, it is only a thin crescent. She is overcome with joy to play with the moon in her yard. Eventually, the moon gets so small that it disappears. Then, a few days later, the moon is once again way up in the sky and growing in size.

The colors used by Eric are incredible, and the shapes of the various pages are unique and help develop the story. For instance, children love unfolding the page where the father climbs and climbs the very tall ladder all the way up to the moon.

Eric said that his love of colors and nature sprung from his walks in the woods with his father when he was a small boy. When he became an adult and needed to earn a living, Eric became a commercial artist for Madison Avenue. His bright and creative use of colors and shapes were really welcomed by several of our country’s leading advertising firms.

As his successful career was unfolding, the author and publisher of a book entitled Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? asked if Eric would be the illustrator of this children’s book. Eric said, “Yes,” and the rest is history.

I wish I could have met Eric Carle, but I never had the opportunity. However, I had the next best thing – the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts. I would strongly suggest that if you are ever in central Massachusetts, please stop by and visit this museum. The building itself is bright and modern, and it is located in the beautiful countryside. Large windows seem to maximize the natural light that pours into this museum dedicated to all picture books – not just Eric Carle’s work. When Eric and his wife were visiting Japan, they toured a museum dedicated to picture books. That experience gave the Carles the idea to build a fantastic museum in America that would also showcase picture books.

I loved the permanent and temporary displays and exhibits at the museum. My children and I have also enjoyed the art studio in the museum where children (and adults) are encouraged to paint and draw their own illustrations, or whatever else they fancy. There are sculptures of several of Eric’s characters and creations. My youngest daughter, Therese, loved being near – and a part of – the sculptures. There is a wonderful collection of picture books in the museum, and on several occasions, the Belous family had storytime right there.

But perhaps my favorite part of the entire museum is the museum’s auditorium. On many days, the museum shows an excellent film that explores the life of Eric Carle. What moved me the most were the parts of the film where we have a chance to go into his studio and watch the master create a beautiful illustration. We see how he builds up a rainbow pallet of beautiful colors. In the film, Eric explains how he gets lost and absorbed in his projects. He says that time seems to disappear when he is doing this. Also, he says that he is not thinking about his troubles and the crisis du jour. He feels a real connection with his art, and things just seem to flow. He says that when he is in this spiritual state, he does not even care if the picture and/or illustration is sold or liked by the critics. It is more important to feel and experience that moment of self-actualization.

I believe that we can – and should – have these moments in our lives. We may not be great artists like Eric Carle. But we all have talents and the ability to experience pure activities. What do I mean by pure activities? We can do these things, not for the love of money, fame, or other recognition by society, but because we love doing them, and they bring us closer to Spirit. To quote The Beach Boys, these pure activities are also “fun, fun, fun until daddy takes the T-bird away.”

Please ask yourself: “What pure activities are there in my life?” “Am I giving enough time and attention to these pure activities?” “Am I thanking God for my talents?” And lastly: “Do I really believe that I can accomplish mighty things?

I am grateful for people like Eric Carle, who shows us what is possible – and have fun in the process.

Many Blessings,

Rev. Rick

Ernest Hemingway: Hook, Line, but No Sinker

June 15, 2021

It is hard to overestimate the importance of Ernest Hemingway on writing.

As he loved to be called, Papa Hemingway said that all good American literature flows from one great book: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In a similar vein, I believe it is possible to divide literature into two groups: BH and AH (i.e., Before Hemingway and After Hemingway).

Pick up any novel written by Henry James or Edith Wharton, and you will see long-winded sentences and florid prose. Pick up almost any novel written after Hemingway, and you will find a leaner cut of meat than our grandparents – or great grandparents – feasted on.

Yes, there are some exceptions to the above-stated rule. But they remain exceptions, and these detours have mostly gone down a road that has led us nowhere.

I believe that Hemingway’s stylistic improvements have been far more important than the combined influence of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, and T.S. Elliot. Hemingway’s influence on the written word has extended well beyond novels and other forms of fiction.

For example, in the Unity movement consider writing that was BH compared to prose that was AH. Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of the Unity movement, is a great example of a BH writer. You can say many wonderful things about Charles’ ideas. But his prose style is often like a turgid gravy that a modern cardiologist would suggest we avoid. Compare Charles’ prose style with an AH Unity writer like Eric Butterworth. Eric’s style is lean, crisp, and clear.

I would go so far as to say that Hemingway’s influence extends well beyond the written word. Look at early – or earlier – films compared to more recent movies. In general, the editing has become much tighter and leaner. The dialogue has become much closer to how people actually speak and how real conversations flow. I believe that Hemingway has had a major influence on all of this.

It is fitting that the great documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, has just devoted a new three-part PBS series to the life of Ernest Hemingway. It is an excellent film series that you can stream at home.

I remember some years ago, a wealthy Wall Street investment banker friend (from my parent’s generation) said to me, “Rick, I just had dinner with somebody from your generation who is interesting, intelligent, and literate beyond Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead.”

“Who,” I asked?

“Ken Burns. His next documentary is about baseball, and he was hitting up our firm for money,” he smiled.

I also remember watching the Ken Burns series on the American Civil War with my youngest son. Burns could take old photographs, music, great narrators, historians, etc., and make them – and stories about the Civil War – come alive. Ironically, it was very Hemingwayish magic.

Burns lives in Walpole, New Hampshire. Several years ago, I was in Walpole, and there walking towards me was none other than Ken Burns himself. I wanted to shake his hand and tell him how much his documentary films have meant to me. But I didn’t stop him. Did I chicken out, or did I want to respect his privacy? Probably it was a little bit of both.

The Ken Burns series on Hemingway reminded me of something that I think is very important when considering great and famous men and women – and not so famous men and women. To borrow and shift a phrase from Hemingway’s classic – The Old Man and the Sea: It is Kosher to take somebody hook, line, but not sinker!

We don’t have to “buy” the entire package. We have the power of discernment to pick and choose. As they say in 12 Step fellowships, “Take what you like and leave the rest.” Myrtle Fillmore, the other co-founder of the Unity movement, one time was charged with being eclectic. Her response was: Yes, she was eclectic, and she was very proud of being eclectic.

I take back nothing on what I said above about the importance of Hemingway’s writing style. But the Burn’s series so reemphasized for me the tragedy of how this brilliant writing style was used to support petty egotism, senseless killing, cruelty, raging alcoholism, and a phony concept of masculinity. Hemingway created a false god, and when it failed him, he committed suicide.

Stylistically I am glad to walk down his road. But in so many other ways, I believe that Hemingway has shown us a path to avoid like the plague.

Let me take another example: Thomas Jefferson. When I was a kid, it was hook, line, and sinker for Jefferson. The more we recently have learned about Jefferson, we might take the line and sinker, but we might leave the hook.

What is coming to me now is the image of how my mother shopped for groceries. She didn’t buy everything in one store. She bought a little bit of this at the A&P and a little bit of that at the Safeway. For this type of meat, she would shop at Joe the Butcher, and for these kinds of vegetables and some other type of produce she would shop at the small store owned by a Korean-American family. Some things she would buy at Marvin’s Mart. But then she would tell me, “Rickey, never buy ‘X’ at Marvin’s Mart.”

I see great metaphysical wisdom in my mother’s grocery shopping patterns. We have the power of discernment and the right to be eclectic – just like Myrtle Fillmore!

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Creating the Beloved Community at URV

June 8, 2021

{The URV Town Hall Meeting was held on Sunday, June 13, 2021}

I hope you will be there because I think this Town Hall will be important for our spiritual community in many ways. The pandemic is not over, but given the vaccines and other measures, we are in the process of reopening our buildings. Back on April 25th, we started holding in-person Sunday services at 11:00 am in the URV sanctuary. Before then, for a year or so, our sanctuary was, in essence, a TV studio where we recorded our YouTube services. We are still recording and posting weekly YouTube services, but it is great to see and be with people in the sanctuary.

At first, we had a reservation system, masks, and social distancing. But as the Governor’s executive orders and CDC guidelines changed, we dropped the email reservation system and masks (if one is fully vaccinated). We were also able to loosen up a bit on the social distancing. Then on Sunday, May 16th, we reintroduced fellowship after the service in the Fellowship Hall and the Rose Garden.

We were also able to begin scheduling weddings and other events at URV. We are in the process of finding ways to reintroduce small SpiritGroups within our community. The Governor – as of the writing of this blog/column – is still considering several proposals concerning youth and the pandemic. But we hope the resuming of in-person programs for the Youth and Family Ministry will happen soon.

Many people in our community have expressed the goal of doing much more than just reopening the buildings at URV. Winston Churchill said, “Never waste a good crisis.” Yes, there were many wonderful things at URV before the pandemic, but wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could use this “crisis” to go from “good to great” (to borrow a phrase from Jim Collins of Stanford and the University of Michigan)?

Our URV Vice President, Pat Eby, has coined an excellent term – ReUnity! What is ReUnity? Well, I think ReUnity means following Churchill’s advice and making the most of this crisis period. It means a rededication to Unity principles. It means taking our spiritual community to new and positive levels. But more importantly: What does ReUnity mean for you?

That is why the URV Board of Directors recently surveyed folks to find out their hopes, dreams, and concerns. What is working for you? What is not working for you? Where would you like URV to go? Think what this time period could be if it were more than just reopening the buildings!

At the June 13th Town Hall AlMena Hughes, a URV Board member and the chair of our new HR/Staffing Task Force, will lead us in a meditation and consideration centered on URV’s Core Values. Currently, these Core Values include: Spirited-Centered, Integrity, Inclusivity, Love, Gratitude, and Transformation. There is a wonderful pamphlet on our Core Values which you can download here or get a printed copy at the church.

URV Board President Jeremy Johnson and other URV Board members will review the recent survey results at the Town Hall Meeting. The URV Board of Directors also has been working on a new strategic plan. Nothing is set in stone, and this Town Hall Meeting is designed to get your input on all of the above in a spirit of love and respect.

In the process of all of this – ReUnity, Core Values, survey results, a strategic plan, etc. – I have been speaking with Unity ministers from around the country and studying several powerful books. I have also treasured the emails, text messages, phone calls, and visits from many of you. Your comments and suggestions mean a great deal to me.

First, in talking to leaders of other Unity churches around the country, I think URV has come through the pandemic in better shape than many other spiritual communities. We came up with many new and innovative ways of serving the community during this crisis. But we do share some very similar challenges – and opportunities – compared to several other spiritual centers.

Second, I have gained a great deal from your suggestions. Please keep your comments coming. I value your suggestions!

Third, one book I have been studying in this process has really stood out to me. It is Creating the Beloved Community by Jim Lockard. Jim is an ordained minister with Centers For Spiritual Living, another branch of New Thought. Jim has a deep and rich ministerial background.

The term “Beloved Community” comes from Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King wrote, “Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.“ For Lockard, the Beloved Community “is a place where purpose and passion meet, where we practice being the person we desire to be and support others in that effort. It is where our faith in spiritual principles is realized as true compassion and service.“

The Beloved Community “is like an incubator – a place of safety and support for the kind of inner exploration needed to gain self-awareness and develop compassion. It is also very often a base of operations for outreach to the larger community and the world,” Lockard notes.

Lockard also says that the Beloved Community sees “obstacles as gifts that allow something new to be called forth from within us; some new strength, skill, or level of compassion. This perspective is itself transformational, for instead of working to keep things from going wrong, we simply work toward the vision and treat any obstacles that appear as part of the process.”

Lockard makes many wonderful suggestions about how to make the Beloved Community a reality. I look forward to exploring this with you in future blogs/columns, Sunday messages, and classes. I am very interested in your reactions and suggestions concerning the idea of a Beloved Community at URV.

Looking forward to seeing you at the Town Hall. I do believe that ReUnity can be empowering and fun!

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Abundance, Prosperity, and Our Take On Life

June 1, 2021

Before I went to seminary, I was asked to speak at several Unity churches in Northern and Central Virginia. It was a great experience, and I enjoyed doing it.

Since they were different audiences, I was able to reuse and repackage various stories and jokes. I had read about Groucho Marx’s days in vaudeville. He would tell a joke one way in a town, and then he would reuse the joke with a slightly different twist in the next city. Then he would compare and contrast the different audience reactions. From this method of testing and adjusting, the Marx Brothers would take a good skit or routine and make it great.

But then I graduated from seminary, was licensed and ordained, and became the minister at Unity Center of Tulsa. I soon discovered a new fly in the ointment, as it were. Unlike my pre-seminary days, the congregation in the sanctuary in Tulsa remained roughly the same week-after-week. There was no way I could repackage and reuse material, and this sent me into a major panic.

I prayed, “God, if it keeps on going like this, then I am soon going to run out of material. I will have no more new stories to tell. They will have heard them all. But things have to be kept fresh and new every week. What should I do?”

I really felt panic and petrification. I felt I would be going to the cupboard, and it really would be empty. It would like a baseball pitcher who needs to strike out somebody in the later innings of a close game, but he knows his fire and magic are gone. Some of his key pitches are not working too well this day – they are off by inches. Nothing seems to be breaking his way.

But then I had a strange experience. I don’t get these feelings every day, and I do not hear an audible voice. Yet something deep down inside of me that was way beyond my ego said, “I promise you that as long as you remain in good spiritual condition, you will never run out of material!”

I was flabbergasted, to say the least. Call this “knowing” God, Spirit, Higher Power, Higher Self, Divine Mind, Wisdom, the Beyond that is Within, or a Force or Flow, it was a powerful experience. The fear of running out of material left me.

I felt I did not need to hold back on stories or insights for fear of running out. The conviction came that the cupboard would not be empty. The proverbial cookie jar would have goodies. The stream would not become dry. Of course, there were things I had to do to remain in a fit spiritual condition. But if I kept up my side of the bargain, Spirit would not fail to deliver. That was a tremendous change in my consciousness.

This has so far proven to be the case. I do not live in fear of running out of material. More ideas seem to flow into my mind, and the question then becomes which of several possible roads I should walk down. That New Thought line is so true: “Change your thinking, and you change your life.”

I now seem to have this faith that things will be delivered on time in the area of material to use for Sunday messages, blogs/columns, classes, etc. Good ideas will freely flow. I don’t hold back out of concern that there will not be enough good ideas delivered tomorrow. I do sense a real Divine flow, prosperity, and abundance.

It is like Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. They were promised that God would provide them with “manna” to eat every day except on the Sabbath. But they were promised that they would get a “double portion of manna” on the day before the Sabbath. Think about it for a second: If you are a minister, some of the key things you have to produce are messages/sermons, blogs, columns, and classes. Here I was in fear of running out of material, and this was replaced by a real sense of abundance from an infinite storehouse.

Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, the cofounders of Unity, spoke about “error thoughts” – I.e., thoughts that are not true and hold us back from being what we can realistically become. High up on their “error thought” list were thoughts of lack, scarcity, and that if something good happens to us, then it is bound to be taken away from us. They often quoted Jesus saying, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” They talked about moving from fear to faith, from scarcity and lack to abundance, and from doubt to believing in ourselves.

So here is the rub or the challenge: You would expect that after I had experienced this shift in my thinking in the area of material for messages, sermons, etc., it would be relatively easy to expand it out to other areas of my life. Well, there have been some steps forward in my consciousness, but all too often, I can fall into “victim consciousness” in other areas of my life. However, the big difference is that I remain in this unproductive pit for a far shorter period of time than was the case in the past. I become aware of my “error thoughts” much quicker these days.

I find it comforting to be “a work in progress.” I love the saying from 12 Step programs: “Progress not perfection.” I would suggest that if you have experienced this sense of prosperity and abundance in a certain area of your life, try expanding it into another part of your world.

I remember hearing Alan Cohen, the author of The Dragon Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and other gems, speak about two cities. One city he named Scare City (i.e., scarcity), where people live in fear. Cohen spoke about a second city called A-Bun-Dance (I.e., abundance). In this second city, people are having a really great time. I think it is possible for many people to have dual residences in both cities. In some areas of their lives, they tend to be in A-Bun-Dance. But in other areas, they remain in Scare City.

I wish we could give the cosmic postmaster a complete and permanent change of address card. But every time we can give the cosmic postmaster “a do not deliver our mail” to a Scare City address for an extended period of time, we are making progress.

Many blessings,
Rev. Rick

Memorial Day Memories: Different Times and Different Places

May 25, 2021

Memorial Day was a very big deal in my hometown of Port Washington, N.Y.

Located about 25 miles outside of New York City, on the northern shore of Long Island, Memorial Day in our town always started with a big parade up Main Street. Many World War II and Korean War veterans would march along with the high school band. I remember marching with my Boy Scout troop.

We would turn left at the road that led to the high school where the parade ended. But that was only the beginning. On the high school steps would be a large podium where our local Congressperson would eloquently speak about America, the free World, and our responsibilities.

I remember one year after the festivities had ended, one of our neighbors came up to my mother and said, “I am not usually a flag-waver, but for some reason, I was really misty-eyed when I saw Old Glory coming up Main Street this year.”

I would think about my father in the U.S. Army tank corps, and how he was injured in the war. I would remember my father’s many trips to the Veteran Administration facilities. “If it was fighting Hitler, Mussolini, and a militaristic Japanese regime, then I hope I would have the same courage and patriotism that my father and his friends showed,” I would say to myself. Memorial Day was also the “unofficial” start of Summer back then.

Nobody in that era would wear seersucker suits, yellow ties, or even shorts before Memorial Day. But after Memorial Day, white pants and white skirts were seen in abundance – not to mention Bermuda shorts. Pools would open, and the town often smelled like a never-ending barbecue.

But then times changed, and it was the era of the Vietnam War; protests, draft card burnings, long hair, and dress codes seemed to be made to be broken. I have almost no Memorial Day memories from this period. To put it mildly, I felt very conflicted – and not always for great humanitarian reasons.

Part of me wanted to become a lawyer like so many other people in my family. My mother told me that if I were to be arrested, burned a draft card, etc., I could kiss any chances of being a member of the bar goodbye!

I wish I could tell you that I made a high moral choice after centering on my deep core values. But the truth of the matter is that one night the National Draft Lottery was held, and my number was 353. I knew the draft board would not get to 353 that year, so I told my local draft board that I wanted them to revoke my “2S” student deferment and place me in the “1A” draft pool. The rules stated that if you served one year in the “1A” draft pool and were not called, then you would be free from any military obligation. I served my one year in the draft pool and was not called – nor did I volunteer. Thus, I was legally free from any military obligation. Meanwhile, many of my friends were not so lucky, to put it mildly.

But then, in the blink of an eye, I was married and had a young son named Joshua. My father-in-law was very active in the American Legion. For Memorial Day, we would drive up to Albany, N.Y., where my father-in-law lived. We would get up early and little Josh and I would put flowers and flags on the veteran’s graves, followed by a pancake breakfast at Grandpa’s American Legion Lodge.

On one particular Memorial Day, Grandpa drove his car in the Memorial Day parade in Albany, near the state capital building. I asked my little son, “Do you see anything strange?” I thought he would say that grandpa was driving down the center of the road. Instead, Josh chimed up, “Yes, grandpa is driving slowly.”

Then with a few more blinks of the eye, Josh had grown up and served two tours of duty in the Iraq War. He was injured during his second tour of duty. He was flown back from Iraq to Germany and then to the Brook Army Medical Facility in San Antonio, Texas. During the Iraq war, this is where we sent many wounded soldiers for treatment. Many of the soldiers had amputations, serious burns, and other injuries. Many of the wounded soldiers were women.

We were fortunate. Josh did not lose an arm or a leg; he was not burned, nor was he disfigured. But he had experienced so many IEDs that he had trouble moving his laundry from the washing machine to the dryer. In Iraq, they had found him unconscious on a pile of barbwire. Fortunately, over the years, Josh has really recovered. I feel so blessed by this.

After the Army, my son went to college and was very active in a student veterans organization. In fact, my son founded a scholarship program for veterans at his university. On Memorial Day, I would join my son for various ceremonies, picnics, and parades. He now lives in Austin, Texas, and I am here in Roanoke, but I always call him on Memorial Day to tell him how proud I am of him.

Looking back at all of these different Memorial Days, I keep thinking about a line from the Grateful Dead: “What a long strange trip it’s been.” I think it is important for me to acknowledge all of these different Memorial Days. In 12 Step programs, there is a promise that “we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.“. In plain English, it took what it took.

Recently I read a wonderful book on American history by Harvard historian Professor Jill Lepore. The title of the book is These Truths, a History of the United States. Dr. Lapore has done an excellent job, I believe, of showing the beauty and promise of America. But in the same book, she has also presented the dark underside of the American experience. She believes that true patriotism can be grateful and honor the many golden blessings of the American experience. But at the same time, she adds that true patriotism can face this dark underside and heal and correct it.

And so I wish you a very happy Memorial Day. In looking at your past, please remember that it took what it took to get you to where you are now. Self-forgiveness is so important. May you learn to love yourself through all of the different phases of your life. We are works in progress with a Divine Spark inside.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

The Tower of Babel: 21st Century Style

May 18, 2021

When I was decorating my office at Unity of Roanoke Valley, one of the first things I did was hang a picture on the wall over the computer. It is a picture of the Tower of Babel, painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Bruegel was one of the most famous Dutch and Flemish painters of the 1500s. His paintings of landscapes and peasant scenes used many pioneering techniques that had a major impact on Western art. When people come into my office for pastoral counseling or some other matter, they often ask me about Bruegel’s painting. I tell them that I loved this picture since I was a little child.

It shows the construction of a large tower reaching up to the clouds, and this tower exists within a medieval city. You can see the city’s harbor, masted sailing ships, and docks. You can see the working people at all of their different trades. You can see the gentry and nobles looking so proudly at their tower to the heavens, and they seem to have no idea what will really happen because of their “public works” project.

Some leading modern historians have gone back to this painting – and others – by Bruegel to learn more about how people lived during the Northern European Renaissance. But my first attraction to this picture as a kid was just because I liked it. It pulled me in. Way before I ever saw the Disney movie, Mary Poppins, I fantasized about jumping into this picture and spending the day in this 16th-century port city with a big tower.

My framed copy of the painting has been with me for many years – through think tanks, the Library of Congress, United Way, Unity Center of Tulsa, and now URV. Sometimes I think I would have gotten fewer comments about a painting on the wall if it would have been a modern art canvas in which the artist used a squirt gun to apply the paint and an electric toothbrush to spread the goop around. Many of the comments have been, “Why did you put THAT on the wall?” (And often this has not been said in an encouraging or engaging tone of voice.)

But I have come to learn much more about this painting on a spiritual level, and it means even more to me now. For example, Carl Jung said that Bruegel‘s painting of the Tower of Babel is the first major example of a mandala in Western art. Jung was, besides a leading psychiatrist, a gifted artist, and he painted many mandalas. These circular symbols represent psychic wholeness, spiritual completion, and connection with the source of being. He saw the tower in this painting as a great mandala.

Then, as I became interested in Spiral Dynamics and the evolution of spiritual consciousness, I started to see Bruegel’s work as a mandala and a spiral reaching out to new possibilities. Some of the technology depicted by the Dutch/Flemish artist in the upper levels of his tower were new inventions in his day.

When I became an economist, I told people that this picture was the first know painting in western art of a council of economic advisors. If you look at the lower left side of this painting, you will see a king, and in front of him are several tradesmen all bowing and scraping. I would tell people that these tradesmen were a council of economists willing to produce any numbers – or interpretation of the numbers – that the ruler wanted.

But this painting by Bruegel has taken on an even deeper significance for me in recent years – and a significance in line with the Biblical Tower of Babel. The great 20-century Protestant theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr, was the head of Union Theological Seminary in New York City for many years. In the 1930s, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was at Union Theological Seminary, but he wanted to go back to his homeland in Germany. Bonhoeffer was one of the founding pastors of a denomination resisting Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Niebuhr tried to convince Bonhoeffer to stay in America and wait for the Allies to win World War II. Then he suggested that Bonhoeffer could go back to help rebuild Germany on a spiritual level. Bonhoeffer decided to go back to Germany in the 1930s, and he was eventually arrested and executed by the Nazi regime.

Niebuhr said something which I think gets right to the central point of the Tower of Babel, “Nothing worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime.” If that is the case, then why dream and pray “big?” Why attempt anything grand that could move us up the spiral? Niebuhr’s response to these types of questions was that “we must be saved by hope. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love,” he added. Hope and love are the responses to the reality of the Tower of Babel, I believe.

Another great Protestant theologian, Martin Luther, shared an important insight into how we can respond to the “Tower of Babel” phenomenon (I.e., our dreams often won’t come true in our lifetime, and even if they do come true, the final result could be very different from what we envisioned.) Luther was asked what he would do if he knew that today was the last day of his life? He responded that if he knew he would die today, he “would plant a tree.”

That seems like such a foolish response. Luther would not live to see the tree grow. He would never enjoy the fruit, shade, or beauty provided by the tree. But I agree with Luther. Even if we knew that today is our last day, we should keep on with Niebuhr’s hope and love. Even if we do not live to see our dreams and visions come to fruition, we should continue to – in the words of Dolly Parton – “dream big and pray big.”

And yes, another lesson from the Tower of Babel is hubris. Excessive pride and self-confidence in the ego seem to be a major factor in 21st Century life. But let me revise Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum for these modern times: “Speak softly and carry big Mala beads.” (Mala beads are often used in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism during meditation and prayer practices. You can also get Mala beads in the URV and Unity Village bookstores.)

A dear friend of mine recently had a real Tower of Babel experience. Paul (not his real name) is a professor of business and economics at an American college. He was asked by the “powers that be” at the school to create a great program to teach business management to undergraduates. Well, Paul created such a program, which I think was an excellent model, but the “powers that be” changed horses in midstream, as it were. They were now not interested in making this plan a reality. I believe the plan would have worked and even have made money for the college. But most importantly, it would have been an excellent educational model that other colleges and universities would have emulated.

Paul spent several years letting go and letting God. Paul’s God is not by any stretch of the imagination the traditional theistic God. But he found peace and was able to let go of this tower that would never be completed. God – either traditionally or non-traditionally defined – moves in mysterious ways. Paul has won a Fulbright Fellowship grant to go off and spend some time in a third-world county where he will teach and help build a business education program.

So when I look at Bruegel’s Tower of Babel, I see loss, sadness, a warning about hubris, and a major application of the law of unintended consequences. But I also see hope and love and the desire to plant a tree even if this is our last day. Who knows what metaphysical Fulbright Fellowship grants are in our future?

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

ReUnity: Better Than Even Before!

May 11, 2021

The Divinity School at Duke University publishes a wonderful and widely read newsletter called ALBAN. I have found its articles to be often “spot on” for key issues that face modern spiritual communities.

Recently, the editor of ALBAN noted that when the pandemic started over a year ago, many people asked: “When will things get back to normal?” As the impacts of COVID-19 dragged on and on, many people started asking a different question: “Will things go back to normal?”

As month after month passed in lockdown and/or closed churches, synagogues, mosques, etc., the ALBAN editor noticed the question changed to: “What if things don’t go back to the way they were?” Now the editor says she hears more members of congregations ask: “What could the new future look like?”

Some of us at Unity of Roanoke Valley view these challenging times not only as an opportunity to reopen the buildings and go back to the way it was before the pandemic but as a golden opportunity to relaunch URV in new and exciting directions! There were so many great things about URV before COVID-19, but the potential is there for us to grow and expand to … to where? Well, I love a term coined by our talented URV Vice President, Pat Eby. That term is ReUnity!

What is ReUnity? That is for our entire spiritual community to determine. That is why the Board got the ball rolling with a survey for URV members and friends to discover peoples’ dreams, visions, and concerns. Where and how would people like to see URV go? What is working and what is not working? What would help you in your spiritual walk?

If I could add my two cents: For me, ReUnity would look more like the so-called “community-based” model where many ideas – and resources to make dreams a reality – would “bubble up” from URV’s members and friends. URV would be a great “attractor” to the spiritual but not religious. Not only would we be an incredible spiritual community, but our 27 acres would be a wonderful center for retreats, education, and many different types of events. But this is just how I have envisioned ReUnity. Quite frankly, I am more interested in how you see ReUnity. Know that we can do it and be co-creators with Spirit!

At the start of URV Board meetings, a very touching thing is done. One of the members of the Board leads us on a “spiritual adventure.” Often a Board member will share a spiritual practice that means a lot to them. At a recent Board meeting, Pat Eby led the “spiritual adventure.” We started off with a simple prayer, and then she read from a recent column in the Roanoke Times, by Leonard Pitts.

Mr. Pitts notes that church membership has been declining for quite some time. “For the first time since Gallup began tracking religious membership back in 1937, it dropped below half. Back then, 73 percent of us belonged to some house of worship. Today, just 48 percent do,” he writes. But the interesting thing is, this is not because of a tsunami of atheism. On the contrary, “as many as 87 percent of us still profess belief in God,” Mr. Pitts comments.

How should we deal with the above trends and facts? Pat made a very good suggestion during this “spiritual adventure.” She suggested that we turn to Unity‘s five basic principles. In this time of prayer, Pat said that we should “open ourselves up” and “invite an infilling of hope, optimism, and welcome into our being, an INFUSION of creative service. We welcome original thoughts, abundant energy, and hearts of collaboration.”

Pat suggested that we remember Unity’s first basic principle and that there really is one presence and one power in the universe, “God the good, omnipotent.” When we do this, we can embrace a “CAN DO” power.

She suggested – following Unity’s second principle – that as we go through a time of ReUnity, we remember that the Divine Spark is inside all of us. We are already one with the One.

Pat noted that a key building block could be Unity‘s third basic principle: our thoughts really matter! “We are co-creators with God. We create our own reality through our thoughts and beliefs … We develop ways to hear and accept others’ contributions with respect while retaining the ability to accept and ponder, and not feel coerced to agree,” she added.

The fourth basic principle helps us to “align our heart-mind with God through prayer and meditation,” she said. When we are aligned with Divine Mind, we can be instruments of God’s peace.

As we develop and build a vision of ReUnity, it will be important to utilize Unity’s fifth basic principle: We live the spiritual truths that we know, and we walk the walk – not just talk the talk. Pat added that “as we practice, we are changed.”

I wish you could have been there as Pat led this “spiritual adventure.” I came away from it feeling really pumped up and ready to ReUnity with all of you!

What comes to mind right now is something from Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland. It is Carroll’s “Lobster Quadrille.” Alice is on the beach and the sea creatures sing to her:

Will you, won’t you, will you,
Won’t you, will you join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you,
Won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

I hope you will join the ReUnity dance. It can be better than even before!

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Frances Melson and the Power of “The Ask”

May 4, 2021

I first met Frances Melson during my United Way days. I headed up research and economics, and she was a powerhouse in resource development.

She was a great teacher and back in those days I needed a great deal of mentoring when it came to the art and science of fundraising.

I remember her gentle laughter one time after she heard my so-called “elevator speech.” The exercise involves pretending you are with somebody in an elevator and you have just a short time to interest them in supporting and donating to, your cause or project.

“What is so funny,” I asked Frances?

“Well, Rick you forgot to make ‘The Ask.’ In fundraising that is essential. After all, you are asking somebody to give or do something,” she said smiling at me. It was good training.

There is a story about Tip O’Neill, who was the Speaker of the House. His district was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and nobody could beat him in his district. He was campaigning in Cambridge a few weeks before the election, and a friend came up to him and asked, “Why are you campaigning so hard? The people are going to vote for you.”

The House Speaker responded, “Yes, I know they are going to vote for me. But they still like to be asked.”

Well, I learned a great deal from Frances, and I got a bit better at fundraising. I even reached a point where I was going around the country speaking to local United Way executives and telling them, “Our donors are very much like my children. My kids are very good at heart. But I have to ask them every week to take out the garbage. Otherwise, the smell would be horrible.”

I have actually become a stickler on and an aficionado of “Asks.” Have you gotten a fundraising letter where you have to read paragraph after paragraph before you even know what they want you to do? I much prefer to be presented the “Ask” right upfront. Then one can take several paragraphs to justify the “Ask.”
Frances is African American, and she has always been calm and cogent in terms of racial issues. I would use the words realistic and sober to describe Frances in terms of social issues. She was a key United Way representative to our Fortune 50 corporate donors. For all of these reasons, I was quite taken by one of her recent posts on Facebook. She shared something written by the author Rex Johnson. It reads as follows:

“I need to run some errands. To ensure I arrive alive, I won’t take public transit (Oscar Grant). I removed the old air freshener from the vehicle and double-checked the status of my registration (Daunte Wright), and ensured my license plates were visible (Lt. Caron Nazario). I will be careful to follow all the traffic rules (Philando Castile), signal every turn (Sandra Bland), keep the radio volume low (Jordan Davis), and I won’t stop at a fast-food restuarant for a meal (Rayshard Brooks).

I am too afraid to pray (Rev. Clemente C. Pinckney) so I just hope the car won’t break down (Corey Jones). I’ll make sure not to dance (Elijah McLean), stop to play in the park (Tamir Rice), patronize the local convenience store for snacks (Trayvon Martin), or walk around the neighborhood (Mike Brown). Once home I won’t stand in my backyard (Stephon Clark), eat ice cream on the couch (Botham Jean), or play video games (Altatina Jefferson). I guess I’ll watch a movie around 7:30 PM, but I won’t leave the house to go to Walmart (John Crawford), or to the gym (Tshyrand Oates), or jog (Ahmad Arbery). I won’t even walk to see birds (Christian Cooper). I’ll just sit and remember what a blessing it is to breathe (George Floyd), and I definitely won’t go to sleep (Breonna Taylor). BECAUSE WE HAVE BLACK SONS AND BLACK DAUGHTERS … ULTIMATELY BECAUSE WE ARE BLACK.”

After reading Frances’ post of Rex Johnson’s writing, I wondered what the Ask would be? I think it would be that sanity be restored to our land. That non-white parents do not have to have “the talk” with their kids (“When pulled over keep your hands on the steering wheel and speak respectfully. Be courteous. Don’t make any sudden moves. Don’t get angry. Don’t do anything to escalate the situation.”) As a white father, I never had such a conversation with my older children. But my high school daughter, Rachel, is hoping to take driver’s ed this summer. I’ve already had such a serious discussion with her!

I respect the Second Amendment to the Constitution. But I think the Ask would also include some sanity in terms of gun regulation and firearms in our society. I also think the Ask would be about what we can do on a community and individual level to reduce the level of violence in our society. There may not be easy answers, but to quote the prophet, Isaiah, “Come let us reason together.” I suspect the Ask would also be for more fairness in community policing and that white people understand what the situation looks like from the eyes of those in the minority.

While at United Way, both Frances and I worked with a young researcher named O.J. Johnson. O.J. is the son of an African diplomat, and his family lived in McLean, Virginia (McLean is the town where the Kennedy compound was located and where all those touch football games with JFK, RFK, and Ted were played. Many “movers and shakers” live in McLean.) O.J. told us about all of the times he was stopped and told to pull over. I was amazed.

Yes, there was the recent guilty verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial. On the day when the verdict was made public, I heard an interview with a lawyer representing the family of George Floyd. He said that he has been involved in several hundred cases like this one in his legal career. But in fewer than five of those cases has a jury returned a guilty verdict!

For better or for worse – and I believe it is for better – we are all going to be living in an increasingly multi-racial and multi-ethnic society. This could truly be one of our greatest strengths in an increasingly globalized world. We have an opportunity to forge a nation that can continue to lead and play a unique role in the world community. Or we can become a highly dysfunctional morass of hate, violence, and exclusion.

I don’t expect that Unity Of Roanoke Valley by itself can solve all of this. But I do believe that our spiritual community has a role to play. Let me make two suggestions:

First, we will soon start a URV group devoted to Neighbor Helping Neighbor. Please consider joining us in these efforts of compassion and love. Many of you have already come forward in terms of the Giving Room!

Second, we close our services with the singing of the Peace Song (“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”) Let’s really meditate on what these words could mean for both our community and for us on the individual level. Let’s not have these words just be “mumble words.“ Let’s really take them to heart. Unity‘s fifth principle is about walking the walk and not just talking the talk. I think this is a key Ask that Spirt is making of us.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick

Anger and Resentment: They Can Be Healed

April 27, 2021

Many people who are not alcoholics or drug addicts – or have any other form of addiction – have found that they can greatly benefit from the key precepts of Alcoholics Anonymous.

In fact, way back in 1951 AA won the prestigious Lasker Award, which is given every year to the person, institution, or group that has made a major contribution to medical science. The Lasker Award citation said, in part, that AA’s insights had “vast potential for the myriad other ills” facing humankind.

When I was growing up there was an advertising campaign for Levy’s Real Jewish Rye Bread with the tagline, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.” They would show a picture of a non-Jewish person loving their rye bread sandwich. Well, just as you don’t have to be an alcoholic to get a lot from AA, I believe you don’t have to be a person court-ordered into anger management classes to improve your spiritual walk by following a practice called HEALS.

The HEALS method was first developed for violent prison inmates. However, it has been shown to be very effective even for people whose worst word they may sometimes say in anger is “Fudge.”

I believe that anger and resentment can hold many of us back from being the people we were really intended to be. It cuts us off from feeling and knowing the true power of the Christ that is within us all. This Divine Spark has been called by many different names down through the ages: the Buddha nature, the Atman, the Shekinah, the Perennial Philosophy, or as Eckhart Tolle has called it, “Presence” or “Being.”

When we are in anger and/or resentment mode we cut ourselves off from the full power of the Divine Spark that is within us. This is sad because the Christ within is our real essence and real nature – not our fears, error thoughts of scarcity and lack, and not our schemes of “getting even,” etc.

That is why the enlightened masters spent so much time advancing the way and practice of forgiveness. Look at any of the four gospels in the Bible and you can see how much importance Jesus placed on draining our anger and resentment batteries. We should get rid of this negative energy so that it is not powering our car. Archaeologists have discovered many other written “gospels” besides the four that made it into the Bible. The interesting thing is that whether or not the gospel is canonical (I.e., “official”) or not, they all agree on this central issue of anger and resentment.

A practice that works for me is keeping “David Letterman Lists.” Remember on his old late-night TV show, Letterman would have “top ten lists.” (Like the top ten things you can say when you are at a formal dinner party, and you thought the finger bowl was the soup bowl.) Well, I keep a running list of my anger and/or resentment. I pray for the persons, places, or things on my list. When I feel good or okay about the noun on my anger and/or resentment list, I can then cross them off the list. There have been times when my list has gone down to one or two nouns and I start feeling that I am up for sainthood. But then, invariably, something happens and my list expands back to over ten nouns.

But what do you do when the anger/resentment sneaks up on you? When it takes you by surprise? One moment it’s a clear day with not a cloud in the sky, and the next moment it’s like a tornado warning in Oklahoma. That is what the HEALS method is designed to deal with.

The HEALS method was created by Dr. Steven Stosny, a psychologist and professor at the University of Maryland. He is also the founder of CompassionPower, which is an institute for the treatment of various forms of anger, abuse, and violence. Dr. Stosny has appeared with Oprah Winfrey, and he is the author of several excellent books, including “Soar Above: How To Use The Most Profound Part of Your Brain Under Any Kind of Stress.

Dr. Stosny believes that from violent inmates to people who get angry and say “Fudge,” we are all dealing with some core hurts that when triggered lead to anger. Some of these core hurts include feeling:

—Disregarded;
—Unimportant;
—Accused (guilty, untrustworthy, distrusted);
—Devalued;
—Rejected;
—Powerless; and,
—Unloveable.

When a core hurt is triggered, Dr. Stosny teaches people to think of the word HEALS.

First, see the “H” flashing in your mind. For me this a key step. If in the middle of the emotional storm I can remember to see the “H” flashing then “we are in the money, honey.” Once I remember to see the “H” flashing, it is like a powerful beacon leading me safely home.

Second, Experience the core hurt. Feel it! What does this incident remind you of? Often what is going on inside of you is not something that happened in 2021. It is more about something that happened in 1971 or 1961.

Third, Approach your Higher Power and/or Core Values. In Unity, we would say approach or remember the Christ – Divine Spark – within you. Feel and know that you are one with the One. This is your real essence, this is who you are, and nothing outside can change it.

Fourth, Love yourself and see yourself as God sees you.

Fifth, Solve the problem. Look for a win-win solution if possible.

Let me make a suggestion: Don’t wait for an emotional Oklahoma tornado to pounce upon you before you try the HEALS method. When you are alone, bring up a current or old anger or resentment in your mind. I mean really bring it up and let it rip! Then try to see the “H” flashing, and go through each of the steps with the other letters in HEALS.

Practice is important.

I have seen the HEALS method work for other people, as well as me. Anger and resentment can be HEALED. But it takes work and willingness. Nevertheless, I believe it is well worth the effort.

Many blessings,

Rev. Rick