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Note: This morning I gave this reflection as part of the Tikkun olam (repair of the world) service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia.  To view a YouTube video, click here.

Good morning

After I talked to Maria some weeks ago about today’s service, I went to teach my adult creative writing class and a new student — a retired nurse — talked about her struggle with breast cancer (which she is still battling) and why she wants to write a book about it, not only to chronicle her own experience but to help caretakers and medical professionals know what to do and what not to do.

I encourage my students to write about the hard stories in their lives — to go where the energy is and to protect themselves by setting down boundaries. Having written out several of my own hard stories, I have experienced that the energy of the subject matter will change after the story is written.  At the very least, the act of writing the story will give the writer more perspective.

In this way the writer experiences more whole-ness in her or his own life. And the telling of the story is healing for the world.  When I have heard from readers about the books I have written — both prose and poetry — that the work has meaning for them because they have had remarkably similar experiences, their remarks are a gift.

I’ve been teaching creative writing for nearly twenty years and consider it an honor. Just recently, because of the work that I am doing with Restoration, I have begun to consider my role in coaching students of all ages to tell their story an extension of the ministry that I do here.

When Maria asked me the question of whether what is inside of us influences the outside world, I had to think about it. That this church has such a strong focus on social justice is something that appeals to me.  Obviously, we are connected to the world and have a responsibility for healing it.

But — as a writer — I spend far more time inside my head than I do in the world.

Wholeness is something I have long struggled with — for a variety of reasons. My daily practice of yoga and Buddhist chanting helps — as does attending worship at Restoration.  On Tuesday morning, my yoga teacher (the one and only Jane Hulting) reminded me that all we have to do to connect with our inner selves is to take a deep breath.  That’s something we can do now. Breathe in as I count to four and then breathe out as I count to six.

If the whole world were to take a breath at the same time, then things might change. At the very least the people of the world might be able to pause, reconsider and change the course of their actions.

My relatively brief time here at Restoration has given me that pause. I have been more open to religion — or what is thought of as religion — and yet I have become more in touch with my secular self.  My Unitarian Universalist journey has also coincided with my best and most productive years as a writer — something I’m sure is no coincidence,  especially given the UU mission of restoring wholeness. Creative writing has long been my channel to spirituality and to myself.  I have long recognized that there are lots of unhealed people in the world who oppress others.  I can’t say that if they were healed, all the social ills would go away.  But I can say that I have a commitment to my own whole-ness.

But I — along with everyone else — am connected to the world and I am concerned about it.

 

The Dalai Lama picture and quote "The true hero is one who conquers his own anger and hatred."

I came across this quote from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama:

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

It bears repeating:

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

The quote made me smile and it helped me realize that there are things that we all can do:

We can belong to a congregation like Restoration that has a strong focus on diversity and social justice.

We can decide where and when not to spend our money — or as my mother said — “vote with your dollar.”

We can support elected officials who support the same values that we do. We can also vote against candidates — those trying to be elected officials — who don’t share our values.

We can also go through life with an open-mind and open-heart. This may be difficult in our increasingly fractured world, but it is more important than ever — for our insides and for our outsides.

 

Namaste

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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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