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Archive for the ‘Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration’ Category

(I presented the following reflection this morning at UUCR in Philadelphia.  To view the video on YouTube, click here.)

 

“I doubt therefore I think. I think therefore I am.”

— René Descartes

 

In thinking about my journey to religion, I realized that skepticism played and continues to play an important role.

On my desk where I write every day is a small mirror — no more than two inches high with a black and white photograph of my mother on it — taken in 1928.

This mirror is the image on the cover of my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters.

mothermirhome

My mother was a feisty card-carrying atheist whose lifelong motto was Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true.”

When my mother was dying of fourth-stage bone cancer, I was staying upstairs at my parent’s house where I woke up and had a mystical vision of her standing at the foot of the bed. At this point, she could no longer get out of her bed which was downstairs. The next morning, when I told her about the vision, she bawdily said, “Oh, that wasn’t me.  That was Jesus.”

Then she had a good snicker.

Religion was always good for a laugh in my house.

Of course, there always is some truth to humor — so maybe my mother really is Jesus or maybe Jesus is my mother.

It took me a while to internalize my mother’s motto about being true to myself.

First I had to get through being an adolescent in the seventies in a working class landscape. One thing led to another, and I was caught up in the whirlwind of substance abuse. Nothing was off limits.  A few of my friends did not live through this.

Although I did survive, I had and still have a fair amount of regret about this period of my life.

This led me to realize in retrospect that religion can be useful in keeping pre-teens and teens on track.

But as the saying goes “it’s all grist for the mill.” I wrote two novels based on my adolescence — the first more autobiographical than I usually admit.  The second novel which I recently completed is called Art, a novel of revolution, love and marriage and is more or less straight up fiction based on the landscape of my adolescence.  The protagonist is a young, dashing, motorcycle riding lesbian who was someone I knew (not me) who went to jail for dealing drugs.

But I do believe in second chances — and third — and the novel has a happy ending. It’s not true — in the sense of nonfiction — but it has a core of emotional truth. In fiction, anything is possible.

I was the first in my family to go to college — during which I tried to fit in as a heterosexual and failed. (The less said about this period of my life the better.)

Then, finally, soon after college I came out. What a relief.  During this time I remember going to a women’s spirituality talk at a bookstore, and thinking well, I don’t need that!

Then the gay men I knew started dying. I went to a lot of funerals in those days and a lot of marches  and encountered signs that said things like “God created AIDS” and “[Derogatory word for gay men] will burn in hell.” This put religion into perspective for me.  Not only was it unnecessary, but it was barbaric.

Besides, I was a feminist of the “Hey, Ho, Patriarchy’s Gotta Go” variety.

This was another reason to be dismissive of religion.

But as the decades rolled by, I noticed that when things around me fell apart, I tended to fall apart also. Then in my forties, when I worked in Center City, I befriended a deeply closeted gay man who was a practicing Orthodox Jew. We butted heads on a few things, but I really respected his belief in God — truth be told, I envied it.

Then, as the saying goes, a few other things happened.

I didn’t know it, but I wanted — needed — to develop a stronger inner self.

And I have — thanks to my yoga teacher Jane Hulting, my spiritual teacher, really, who led me to this church and taught me many lessons along the way. I ended up here intuitively — without searching for a church. One day before I joined, I was sitting in the pew and experienced an opening inside of me.  I heard a low chanting — a rustling all around me as people recited “The Lord’s Prayer.”  Now, no one was actually saying the “Lord’s Prayer” — not in this church, not that day, not ever to my experience. But that is what I experienced.

So this is my story of religious salvation — even if the word salvation kind of makes me cringe. It would because I’m a skeptic and I’m being true to myself.

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I recently had the honor and privilege of having a Conversation with William E. Berry, Jr., Publisher & CEO, of aaduna literary magazine.  The journal published my novel excerpt “The Mother”  and nominated it for a Pushcart Prize.

Below is an excerpt from the Conversation and a link to the full piece in aaduna:

Janet Mason:

First off, thanks bill for your compliments about my work in aaduna.  I feel honored that you described it as having an “intriguing intensity,” “subtle edginess,” and a “provocative premise.”  The inspiration for my novel She And He, which “The Mother” came from, reflects several sources.  I review books for The Huffington Post and the radio syndicate “This Way Out” based in Los Angeles, and three of the books I reviewed that influenced me were on transgender topics.  The other major influence was reading the Bible pretty much for the first time which gave me a fresh take on it.

I wanted to write something fun and upbeat based on this landscape — and come to think of it, I did put a fair amount of myself into it.  I am tall and because of my height and angularity, I am frequently called “Sir.”  And though I identify as female, I have always identified with male and female interests.  When I was a child, I had an imaginary friend who was a boy my age who lived in my mind.  I actually didn’t think of this until now, but this must have influenced my thinking of having a line of intersex characters that are born in “The Mother” and the intersexed twins Tamar and Yeshua.  Tamar, the narrator of the story, indentifies primarily as female but is born intersexed.  And her brother, Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) identifies as male but was born intersexed.

I think my life is pretty normal — normal for me!  I spent a lot of time alone writing and I also garden (this summer I planted and harvested a lot of pumpkins and carnival squash).  My partner, who I live in an old farmhouse with, is retired from the postal system, and is a fabulous cook.  I take long walks everyday and do yoga and a Buddhist meditation practice almost daily, so my day to day is pretty tame but it suits me.

to read the rest of the Conversation, click here

“The Mother” is an excerpt from my novel in process, She And He.  It is loosely based on a character (Tamar) from the Hebrew Bible, and is told from the spin of how independent women and gender-variant characters not only survived but thrived in ancient times.

You can see a skit from She And He on YouTube .  The skit was done at the Unitarian Universal Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia.

You can also read another excerpt, written as standalone short fiction, in the online literary journal  BlazeVOX15

Another excerpt is forthcoming this year in Sinister Wisdom —coming out in April.
janet-and-sappho

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Note: As a result of this talk, I was interviewed on the UU Perspective podcast by Sharon Marrell.  You can listen to the Podcast by clicking here.

(I presented this at the Unitarian Universalist Church where I am a lay minister. The segment is also on YouTube. 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.”)

When I heard that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same sex marriage, I was sitting in a diner in Levittown with my 96-year-old father and his 91-year-old lady friend. The sound on the TV was muted when the news broke so I read the captions and then read them again to make sure that I wasn’t imaging things. I clapped and loudly exclaimed “we won!”

I was the only one in the diner who was paying any attention to the news. As my father and his lady friend quietly agreed with me, I noticed a white man about ten years older than me, with a bandanna on his head and who sported a grizzly beard, staring at me with a hostile glint in his eye as if thinking, “so you’re one of those.”

I stared back, pleasantly, until he lowered his gaze.

I grew up in Levittown — a working class suburb of Philadelphia. In the 1980s, several years after I had moved away, a young gay man named Anthony Milano who lived in the area was brutally murdered by two men who confessed to killing him and are still on death row.

I always thought that it was some kind of innate survival tactic that I came out after I moved to the relative safe haven of Germantown/Mt. Airy (liberal, diverse neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Pa.). My partner Barbara and I have been together for 31 years and during that time have occasionally come to this church — mostly for Folk Factory concerts. When we first started attending somewhat regularly several years ago, I mentioned to Barbara that it was nice to come to a church that was so accepting of gay people.

“If they weren’t, we wouldn’t be here,” she replied without missing a beat.

I had to admit that — once again — she was right.

Lots of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) people avoid religion because we have experienced religious intolerance.

When I started attending this church in earnest, I learned that Unitarian Universalists (UUs) have been marching for

marching for LGBT social justice as long as I have, if not longer.  The Unitarian Universal Association website states that, “As Unitarian Universalists, we not only open our doors to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, we value diversity of sexuality and gender and see it as a spiritual gift.”

When I heard that the theme for this month is abundance, I wanted to do something on marriage equality.  For me, there is an abundance in being yourself. This probably fits every UU principle, but it especially resonates in the First Principle of “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

It was, fitting, perhaps that I was in Levittown when I heard the Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality.  I had no idea how amazed I would feel that marriage equality is actually a reality in the entire country.  And I am proud of my country because this ruling is having a ripple effect around the world: in countries where people are still being imprisoned because of who they love.

But the man staring at me with hostility was a reminder that much work needs to be done — especially in small towns and in the South, especially in the areas of discrimination in housing, employment, and for the rights of transgendered people.

In being myself, in being out, I feel the abundance of being able to change the world by being who I am. By being myself, I make room for others to be themselves.  Perhaps that is true for all of us — regardless of our sexual orientation. If we are ourselves and if we are secure in ourselves, we make it easier for others to be themselves.

In researching and writing my latest novel titled Art: a novel of revolution, love, and marriage, I explore how social movements in the lifetime of my characters (who are adolescents in the 1970s) overlapped to re-shape society. These movements include Civil Rights and racial justice, feminism and reproductive rights, labor and economic justice and gay liberation which became LGBT rights.

Add climate change, another UU priority, and it’s easy to see how these issues are all connected. We are all human and we live on this planet.

We are all connected.  We are larger than ourselves.

There is abundance in the struggle.

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