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Archive for March, 2015

This morning, for Palm Sunday, I presented this novel excerpt at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia where I am a lay minister.  The segment is also on You Tube. Click here to see the video.

Although I was raised by a card carrying atheist mother and an agnostic father, I always loved Palm Sunday.  I loved the pale green palms.  I loved the story. I loved the donkey.  Maybe it was the pagan origins that drew me in.  Even as an adult, Palm Sunday held its appeal.  Still, I thought that religion had nothing to do with me. And over the years, I came to think that I had dodged a bullet.  Still, I wanted to believe in something — maybe I wanted to believe in myself more.

A few years ago, I experienced a spiritual awakening as a result of coming to this church.  My first thought was that “they don’t own it.” ‘They’ being the Christian right and ‘it’ being religion.  Last year when I read the Bible — I was actually surprised to see how little anti-gay material is in it, except for the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis, and some rules in Leviticus — that also include not eating shellfish or wearing garments made of linen and wool.

As a second generation feminist coming of age in the seventies, I lived by  the motto that rules were made to be broken.  As a creative writer, it is not unusual for me to view the world through  my characters. When I heard that the theme for worship this month was Brokenness and Resilience I thought of my maternal grandfather, Joseph.

His brokenness and resilience is something that has been passed down to me. He was a Merchant Marine, a lover of opera (he was Anglo not Italian), an alcoholic and a batterer to his wife (my grandmother) and his daughters (my mother and my aunt). I developed my own theory about him and when I told my gay male friends about him, they gave me knowing nods.

I am going to read an excerpt from my novel Catwalk which is set in the late 1920s in the Prohibition era.  Joseph, the protagonist, is a gay man and is also the son of a Baptist deacon. My grandfather, Joseph, was raised in Biloxi, Mississippi.  The fictive Joseph is in love with his boyhood friend Vince, who he was separated from and who he pines for. Joseph, my grandfather, abandoned my mother (and the rest of her family) when she was seven.  I never met him. I always wanted to know more about him — even if I had to make it up.

I’ve been working on this novel for ten years and when I was in the revision process, I noticed that it was full of religion.  I realized then that religion has always been with me — as a fact and as a fiction. Palm Sunday, which Rita will tell us more about, was my pathway to religion.  Religion fueled Joseph’s demons.  But in this section where Joseph falls asleep under the stars on the beach of the Mississippi Sound — religion enters his subconscious in a good way.

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Joseph lay down on the sand and curled into a fetal position. It was a hot summer night.  He shut his eyes and listened to  waves wash over pebbles.  He fell asleep and dreamed that he was standing in the cemetery with a shovel, digging into the sand.  A familiar voice called to him. It was deep and pleasant.  But it was distant. The voice brought back everything that he had ever loved.  They had been boys together, sitting next to each other in church, swimming through the waves to a deserted isle where they could pretend they were shipwrecked sailors. Vince was a part of him.  His voice brought everything back — Vince being bullied when he was a boy — the scar that was left on his cheek when Joseph had defended him. The two of them becoming fast friends, boys growing to men. He remembered the first time they had made love.  Memories of sea foam.  Their shared experience of being fathers was part of their love, too.  Vince was at his happiest when he had become a father, twice over.  Joseph had been happy for him. He had almost been as happy when his own children were born.

Vince called to him in a deep, melodious voice that was separate from Joseph but part of him, too.  The voice was louder with every shovel full of sand that Joseph dug up and flung over his shoulder.  He dug faster and faster – but still the voice was far away.  Eventually the hole he dug was so deep that he could no longer reach the bottom.  Joseph saw translucent arms reaching toward him from the hole.

Suddenly the apparition became filled with blinding light.  As Joseph stared into the light, he saw that it was a tall figure with wings the span of an Albatross.

It was Vince disguised as an angel — like one of the angels who came to visit Lot in Sodom.  There were two angels that visited Lot.  Joseph could be the other angel. The neighboring men from the town had knocked on Lot’s door, saying that they wanted to “know” the angels. But in Joseph’s version, the angels would leave together — hand in hand.

They would fly to a land in the clouds where two men could love each other.  Their love was bright and true.  Their love was so strong that it would change everything — including a world that denied they existed.

Joseph cast down his shovel and dove into the hole.  When he reached the brilliant angel that was Vince, he fell right through him.  He realized then that the dazzling light was fire.  Yet the flames did not burn or scorch him. The fire cleansed him.

The Bible said that Godly fire would consume the wicked, but not the righteous.

His love for Vince was as pure as the fire of God, and Vince returned it.  Together, they would spread the gospel of love.

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UU author/historian Mark Morrison- Reed comes to UUCR on Stenton Avenue and USG on Lincoln Drive in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia

RSVP for UUCR events by Friday,  April 10th — email Desi at  office@uurestoration.us

FRIDAY, APRIL 17TH –at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Mt. Airy 6900 Stenton Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19150

7:00pm – 9:00 Book Reading – Sanctuary

The Selma Awakening: How the Civil Rights Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism

SATURDAY, APRIL 18TH — UUCR on Stenton Avenue

10:00am – 12:00pm

Morning workshop session – Fellowship Hall

We Are What We Sing: Diversity in UU

Hymnody

Singing our way through UU hymns from 1861 to today, we will make some interesting and telling discoveries about why we are who we are.

How Open the Door?

We will watch this DVD which surveys the history of race relations from the Abolitionists to Black Power. Following the DVD, we will explore Restoration’s history of becoming a multicultural congregation.

12:00 noon – 1:00pm     Catered luncheon:  $10.00

1:00pm – 3:00pm

Afternoon Workshop Session-Fellowship Hall

Eight Keys to Attracting People of Color to UU

Congregations

This DVD explores Davies Memorial Unitarian Universalist Church’s effort to become diverse.  After the DVD, we will explore what Davies and other congregations, like Restoration, have in common with one another.

The Nature of Racism

We will conclude our workshop with an examination of the nature of racism: how and why it impacts our efforts.

JAZZ APPRECIATION MONTH CONCERT WITH

MONETTE SUDLER AND LADIES NIGHT OUT

7:00- 9:00 Jazz Concert in the Sanctuary

$20.00 admission

(doors open at 6:30pm)

Monnette Sudler – guitar & vocals

NorikoKamo – organ

Luciana Padmore – drums and  Lynn Riley – saxophones and flute http://www.reverbnation.com/    monettesudlersladiesofjazz

Sunday morning  – April 19th – Mark Morrison-Reed will be giving the early sermon at 9:15 at the Unitarian Society of Germantown 6511 Lincoln Dr, Philadelphia, PA 19119

Sunday morning – April 19th – Mark Morrison-Reed will be presenting the sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue:

11:00am  Worship

“Dragged Kicking and Screaming into  Heaven” Early in the 19th century Universalism swept across our young nation finding a popularity it never again achieved. It proclaimed a truly radical message. Is it time for us to return to the message that God’s love brooks no resistance? Universalism re-articulated for the 21st century.

12:15pm — UUCR on Stenton Avenue

Potluck Lunch/Book Signing – Fellowship Hall

Note:  The following is a reflection that I gave at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue in  Philadelphia where I am a lay minister. Unitarian Universalism is a faith that encompasses all religious/spiritual backgrounds (including atheism, agnosticism and Buddhism) in a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning”.

In 1965, when events that were part of the voting rights struggle unfolded in Selma, I was six years old.  I must have seen parts of it on television.  I don’t remember.  But I do remember that I was influenced by the Civil Rights movement.

This weekend is the 50th anniversary of the historic march on Selma.  Today is also International Women’s Day, a global day of equality that was started in 1908  by the Socialist Party of America to demand better working conditions for female garment workers.

When I came out, I read a book on the nature of oppression and how it is all related and multilayered.  I see now, in retrospect, that the book just reaffirmed the experiences of my life.

The first in my family to graduate from college, I was  born to a feminist mother when she and my father where in their forties. In my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (Bella Books, 2012), I relate a conversation that I had with my mother when she was dying.

“I’d feel better about this if you were fifty. I thought if I waited, I could bring you into a better world. I really thought things would be better and in some ways they were. No one talked about racial equality twenty years before you were born, there was no environmental movement.”

“And no women’s movement.” I met my mother’s unwavering gaze.

My mother was an excellent story teller. One of the stories that she told me was about Vera, a black lesbian she met in her licensed practical nurse training program. Vera was her own person, and she made quite an impression on my mother.

In telling me about Vera, my mother was telling me about her past and also about my future.

The Civil Rights movement and the movement for gay and lesbian rights were and are, in many ways, very different.  There was some homophobia in the Civil Rights movement and racism in the gay rights movement — despite considerable overlap.  For one thing, we have some common enemies as seen in the ongoing struggle over same sex marriage in Alabama.

I was heartened by the response of the young people — of all races — who responded to the hate speech of the protestors by yelling, “We love you.”

It is no coincidence that the country’s first African American President was also our first President to embrace same sex marriage. In President Obama’s last State of The Union address, I was proud to see the standing ovation at the President’s mention of same-sex marriage and that it was led by Representative John Lewis, the important Civil Rights activist. He was in the front of the march from Selma to Montgomery and was among those brutally beaten by the police on what became known as Bloody Sunday.

The African American author, retired UU minister, and noted UU historian, Mark D. Morrison-Reed is coming to Restoration the weekend of April 17th.  In his book The Selma Awakening, How the Civil Rights Movement Tested and Changed Unitarian Universalism, (2014, Skinner House Books), Morrison-Reed examines the UU faith and finds it lacking in its concerns with Civil Rights before the events of the freedom march at Selma catalyzed it.

As a newish Unitarian, it was disheartening for me to read that the Unitarian Universalist faith, except for pockets of true progressiveness, was not that evolved even in the early days of the Civil Rights movement.  Yet, it was interesting to read how the emphasis on racial equality changed, especially after Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., called for people of faith to join the freedom march.

I am currently involved in Restoration’s Beloved Conversations which provides the space for us to examine our experiences of race and ethnicity. In reflecting on what Selma meant to me personally, I realized that I grew up in an era that taught me that injustice is intolerable.

I came out in my early twenties and fell in love with my partner Barbara, who first met many of you at the local Post Office.  She retired several years ago.  Barbara is modest, but she is also a wonderful drummer and early on in our relationship she was part of a racially diverse group of women drummers and that was an important part of our lives. This undoubtedly helped to shaped my experience along the way.  But the underlying fact is that I am more comfortable with diversity than sameness.

The Civil Rights movement gave birth to the women’s movement and the gay liberation movement.  It also opened the door for many others to be fully human.  There is a saying that we are more alike than we are different.  There is still much more work to be done for racial equality.  And as we work for justice, it’s important to realize that we are working to make a better world for all of our relations and for ourselves, too.

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It’s been a cold winter. Very cold. One of the things that I’m doing to keep warm is to take an imaginary LGBT cruise in my head — through books — to exotic lands.

The first stop was the land of queer history, which I entered by reading Katie Gilmartin’s mystery Blackmail my Love from Cleis Press. This who-dunnit traces a lesbian narrator, Josie, tracking down her gay brother’s disappearance in 1951 in San Francisco. The book begins with Josie donning her brother’s clothes, exploring gender as she interviews people who knew her brother. One person she talks to is a deeply closeted, gay, school teacher. At that time, gay school teachers had to keep their sexuality under wraps at all costs or lose their jobs. One of the chief misconceptions was that “homosexual” was synonymous with being a child molester. The thought of being thusly accused is at the heart of this gay teacher’s internalized homophobia. He watches himself scrupulously — his every movement. The story of intrigue also leads us through the underworld of gay bars. This page-turner of a mystery is rooted in historic fact and is a reminder of how LGBT people survived before gay liberation.

My next stop was sunny Thailand in Ladyboy and the Volunteer by Susanne Aspley (Peace Core Writers). I learned a little bit about the Peace Corps but far more about the culture of Thailand where sixty percent of foreign men entering the country participate in the sex industry. I also learned about “ladyboys”, who are male to female transgendered women, who in many ways are accepted in their culture. Many of the ladyboys participate in the sex industry to send money home to their families. In my favorite passage in the book, the straight but not narrow female narrator asks her ladyboy friends what their clients do when they find out. One replies:

When I do tell them, they get more excited, because they have never been with a ladyboy. Susan, all men are a little gay. Homo in some way. They just don’t admit it. When they travel to Thailand, no one knows them here, so they do things they would not do back home. Experiment.

When I picked up Love Together, Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen, I thought I would be reading about an experience vastly different than mine. But what I found was that as a lesbian in a long-term relationship (thirty years now and counting), I have a lot in common with these guys. The author interviews many couples by the length of time they have been together, starting with ten to twenty years and ending (in Section Six) with couples together sixty to seventy years. Overall, I enjoyed reading the commonalities between all the couples. Many talked about making each other laugh and gave commonsense advice such as being kind to your lover.

I loved reading the words of the men who had been together many decades — maybe because they had much wisdom to offer or because they made me feel young again (possibly both). In particular, I enjoyed reading the words of John McNeill described as “one of the true giants of the gay and lesbian community.” McNeill is a former priest and in 1976, penned the groundbreaking book The Church and the Homosexual. He’s been with his partner Charlie for almost fifty years. In the interview, he says:

Spiritually, I take very seriously that statement in the scripture that God is love. Any if anyone loves, they know God. I have always believed that this includes a gay love relationship, which is a genuine human love and therefore contains the Divine. It’s another way of knowing God. That certainly has been the fundamental belief system for me in my relationship with Charlie for the last forty-seven years.

The temperatures were dropping, but I was a little warmer when I came back from my cruise.

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