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THEY, A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders by Janet Mason (an excerpt)

Genre: LGBT Literature or Fiction

The following is excerpted (Chapter Five) from THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders by Janet Mason (Adelaide Books ñ New York/Lisbon) the novel of which LGBTQ icon and Biblical scholar, Amos Lassen, has written:

THEY is a groundbreaker and I am sure that the author will agree with me that attempting to add new meaning to given bible stories is tantamount to heresy. I have no doubt that she will suffer repercussions from those who do not agree with her approach. Personally, I found her story to not only be wonderfully written but charming and liberating to us who have lived in a binary world for too long.THEY Scottie

“Close your eyes and imagine the long ago city of Babylon, in a land called Mesopotamia, near the mighty Tigris.  A gentle wind blew.  There was a beautiful Goddess named Ishtar. She was also known as the Queen of the Night,” said Tamar.

“Which night, Auntie?” asked Pharez, sitting on the floor of Tamar’s tent, playing with one of the  figurines.  Zerah crawled toward the camel Aziz.

“Zerah, look at Pharez’s doll. See how pretty? Here’s another one just like it.” Tamar grabbed a clay figurine from the woven basket.  Zerah came crawling back.

“Ishtar was called the Queen of the Night because she was known as the goddess of love and …  well of love,” said Tamar.

Ishtar was the goddess of love, war, fertility, and sexuality.  And she may have been a sacred  prostitute.  Tamar felt protective of the twins.  They were too young to hear about war and sex.

“What did the goddess look like, Auntie?”   Zerah looked up at her with big brown eyes under long thick lashes. The child was sitting cross legged.

“She was tall and beautiful and she had wings,” answered Tamar. “She had a face like… well a goddess … with wide set eyes shaped like almonds and a high forehead under a crown that was piled very high with ridges like a fancy temple. She held her arms up. Her hands grasped two

loops of rope that also may have been hand mirrors. Her two pet owls were usually by her side.”

“Ooooh owls! Do you have an etching?” Pharez dropped the figurine.

“I have one that we can look at later, but first I want to tell you the story of someone “That’s what happens to us eventually. We cease to exist.  But don’t worry.  It won’t happen for a long, long time. And if you meet a spirit guide like Asushunamir it might not happen at all.”

Tamar told herself that lying was okay if it made people feel better — especially children.

“How did the spirit guide save the goddess?”

Tamar could tell now that it was Pharez who was asking the questions.  Pharez’s nose was a little

more snub than Zerah’s.  They had the same oval faces ending in pointy chins.

“I was just about to tell you that,” continued Tamar.

“Ishtar wanted to go somewhere new and she had never gone to the underworld where her evil sister, Ereshkigal, ruled.”

“Ha. Ha.”  Zerah covered hir mouth with a small hand.

“Evil sister,” repeated Pharez. “It sounds like you and mama.”

Zerah shot Pharez a look.

The twins were silent.  Both looked down. The fringe of their long lashes covered their secrets.

Tamar wondered what Tabitha had told them.  Her sister had left the twins while she went shopping at the market.  She said she would be back this afternoon. They had agreed not to tell the twins that they were sisters, so that they wouldn’t have to worry about one of them blurting it out around Judah. They told them that Tamar was a good friend of their mother’s. The twins called her “Auntie.”

Unless she was busy, Tamar always watched the twins.  Sometimes it felt like they were her children. She loved them that much.

“Ishtar wanted to go to the underworld.  But first she had to ask the other gods if she could go. They ignored her so she asked again and then again. Finally, they said she could go.”

Tamar paused.

“The underworld had many gates,” she continued.  “There were seven in total.  Ishtar came to the first gate and rang the bell. Claaanggg. There was one ring for the first gate and two for the second gate and so on. Ishtar rang the bell and waited.  She tapped her foot.  Finally, the gatekeeper came, but he did not open the gate.  Like most goddesses, Ishtar had a temper.

To read more on LGBT Book Buzz, click here:
To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.
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I do a lot on Twitter and yesterday found a YouTube link that a church account sent me.  Despite that I am good at ignoring things (possibly related to my practice of Buddhism), I got “hooked” and started watching the video.

It was a preacher saying that he was a Christian and followed the teachings of Jesus and that people tell him that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality — so far so good.

But then he backtracked and said that Jesus wrote the book of Leviticus in The Hebrew Bible. This is the chapter of the rules for starting a society that stipulate that man shouldn’t lie with man. Women, of course, are barely mentioned. Big surprise.

Jesus wrote parts of The Hebrew Bible? What!!! I stopped watching the video and did a quick search on who wrote The Hebrew Bible. I found a few different theories — but nothing about Jesus being the author of any parts of The Hebrew Bible.

I’m the first to admit that my math skills are scary-bad, but I can do a timeline and actually have many times in my writing life. Jesus, the person, was born in the year one A.D.  That means that Jesus wasn’t born yet when The Hebrew Bible was written.

Recently, I had a conversation with a liberal-minded Unitarian Universalist woman who told me that one of the churches she attends was having a schism over LGBTQ rights.  She emphasized that this was a Christian church.

I remarked that the people who suffer most are the children of parents who attend the church.  Children who are brought up to hate themselves often (worst case scenario) kill themselves or leave the church. I’m old enough to remember the stories of young people who jumped off bridges and their poor parents many of whom too late changed their minds about LGBTQ rights.

This is why people stay away from churches and why churches close.  Younger people tend to be more secure about their sexuality and less likely to sacrifice their children to hatred.

The world is changing and churches need to change with it.

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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What made you write about foregiveness? Some of our folks seem afraid to talk about foregiveness and accountability.

Just recently someone on Twitter asked the above question. I thought I’d answer this on my blog since Twitter might not give me enough space.

I started thinking about forgiveness when a former Unitarian Universalist minister kept mentioning it in her sermons. Up to this point, I hadn’t given the concept of forgiveness much thought except that I saw it was used oppressively at times as when the victim was blamed.

Then I read a very slim book on Christian forgiveness from which I learned that forgiveness is expected.  The book did not explain how forgiveness is found in oneself. I read the book to see if it would be helpful for a Christian relative who was in constant distress.  I didn’t think it could hurt, but I don’t know that she ever read it.57AEAA82-52C1-4B8A-8691-3CDA24FC6BBC

It was news to me that Christianity expected forgiveness — perhaps because I was raised secular. I started looking at forgiveness from a Buddhist perspective.  There is one strain of Buddhist thought that says a slight to someone else is a slight to yourself. Like lots of people, I had things in my life to forgive and move on from.

I thought about it in my daily practice. I finally made up a mantra about forgiving everybody who had ever done me perceived or actual harm. Then after a while I forgave myself for any harm I may have caused intentionally or not. The thinking behind this is that none of us is perfect and that also our actions may have been misinterpreted.

It took a year of meditating on this, but I could actually feel the result. I felt lighter as if I had been dragging around a boulder for years and had just let go of it.

Like many things in my life, this worked it’s way into my writing.

 

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To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

 

 

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Just recently, I was contacted online and was asked what do I mean by saying Unitarians don’t believe in hell and therefore I can’t be threatened by it.

Whatever the motivations were behind the question, it did make me think.  I’ve long heard that Unitarian Universalists (UUs) don’t believe in hell and that it is an issue for some people.  For the record, I do believe in karma (not necessarily a Unitarian belief) — that what goes around comes around and I do believe strongly in living an ethical life. UU beliefs on hell can easily be found online. One of the most accurate and pithy statements I found came from a website  called Learn Religion which stated:

Heaven, Hell – Unitarian Universalism considers heaven and hell to be states of mind, created by individuals and expressed through their actions.
Unitarian Universalism describes itself as one of the most liberal religions, embracing atheists, agnostics, BuddhistsChristians, and members of all other faiths. Although Unitarian Universalist beliefs borrow from many faiths, the religion does not have a creed and avoids doctrinal requirements.
I was raised secular and it felt natural to be part of a religion that doesn’t emphasize a “bad  place” like hell or tell me I’m going there. Plus, I really like the UU notion of making life on earth less hellish with its emphasis on social justice.
But also for the record, I support people’s rights to believe what they want to. It’s called Freedom of Speech (or thinking for yourself) and it’s in the constitution. This notion undoubtedly helped me become a fiction writer.

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders Janet Mason New W

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One of the great pleasures in being a Unitarian Universalist lay minister is that I am called on to select and do readings as part of services. This past Sunday which happened to be a Poetry Sunday, focused on social justice, I chose to read Joy Harjo’s poem, “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet.”

The poem—which was passed along to me from my partner—was perfect for the service.  I have long been familiar with Joy’s poetry.  Her work is frequently used in Unitarian services, and long before I was a Unitarian, I was a fan of her work.

Then I heard that she was the first Native American U.S. poet laureate (it’s about time!).

 

You can watch me read the poem on YouTube or read the poem below the video.

 

Janet Mason reading Joy Harjo — a UU reading
Unitarian Universalist (UU) lay minister Janet Mason reads, as part of the annual Poetry Sunday, a poem written by Joy Harjo, the first Native American poet laureate of the United States. Poetry Sunday is a UU annual event. Janet is reading at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia.
http://www.youtube.com

 

For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet

By Joy Harjo
Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

8BBC3AB4-D8D5-4AB4-9748-7A437D9CA9EFBe respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.

Reprinted from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright 2015 by Joy Harjo.

(I also found the poem at poets.org)

 

 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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This morning, I took part in Poetry Sunday, a Unitarian Universalist summer service that is a tradition. The theme was social justice. In my talk, I reflected on the nature of poetry in creating empathy and talked about Carolyn Forché’s memoir, What You Have Heard is True about her time in El Salvador. I also talk Carolyn’s influence on me as a teacher and my migration from poetry to prose.

The YouTube video of my talk  is below. The complete text of my talk is below that.  The service took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Ave. in Philadelphia.

“Poetry makes nothing happen”

This oft quoted line is from W.H. Auden’s poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.” In our culture nothing is a negative word – but I posit that nothing is a good thing. It gives us a chance to pause, to reflect, to think for ourselves and to see what is in front of us.

I have observed that poetry creates empathy. It slows down time so that we can observe a detail and then feel a feeling. And since empathy starts with the self, it may be that almost all poetry is social justice poetry.

Recently, I have noticed that I am sighing and feeling depressed whenever I see a headline. There are lots of reasons to feel depressed – especially in the news. But as someone who actively combats depression by doing Buddhist chanting every day and practicing yoga, the feeling was strong enough for me to recognize it.  At the time that I was feeling this way, I was reading Carolyn Forché’s memoir of witness and resistance titled after a line in one of her most well-known poems written about her time in El Salvador in the late 1970s,What You Have Heard Is True. Carolyn, who was in El Salvador in the time that was building up to a civil war, is an internationally known poet and professor.

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It was during the reading of this memoir and possibly because of it, when I decided that depression was a luxury I couldn’t afford.  I am, after all, a writer.  And words matter. I first met Carolyn at a week-long poetry workshop at Omega Institute that I took with my friend Anne Arfaa (who is playing the piano today. Thank you, Anne.) I was twenty-nine — the same age as Gertrude Stein when she first started taking herself seriously as a writer.

There is a lot that I have forgotten about that workshop, since it was a long time ago. But what stayed with me was my daily discipline of writing and a line of poetry from a poet I had never heard about before but came to love: Mary Oliver. I didn’t know who Carolyn Forché was before the workshop, but my partner – Barbara – told me that she was an important poet and that I would love her work.  Barbara is usually right. This time she was very right.

The lines of my poetry became longer – and began to include dialogue – so I migrated from poetry to prose.  I didn’t think about it then, but the discipline and the lyricism I had learned in that poetry workshop was with me when I wrote my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters (published by Bella Books in 2012) and my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books in 2018).

I remember Carolyn staring at me during the workshop when she talked about the importance of a daily writing practice. I may have imagined it, but in this moment of doing nothing – no words were spoken – it’s quite possible that I picked up the mantle of responsibility.  I was one of the students who would write daily.  And long before I was a Unitarian Universalist, I considered my daily writing practice to be a spiritual practice.

Carolyn Forché’s memoir brought this all back to me. What You Have Heard is True is particularly significant in light of the tragic mishandling of the crisis of immigration and asylum seekers we are witnessing at our borders. The memoir is a reminder that the poverty and violence people are fleeing in the South and Central Americas was created in part by the U.S. government. Our tax dollars helped the government support brutal corruption in the name of suppressing what the U.S. government called “communism.” What this really did was to keep the masses of people impoverished.

The information wasn’t new to me. In the old days there was lots of overlap between progressive communities. Still, I found the information to be as gripping as it was appalling.  I couldn’t put the book down.

Forché extensively quotes Leonel Gomez Vides, the man who brought her to El Salvador.  I will leave you with his words to ponder.

“You want to know what is revolutionary …? To tell the truth. That is what you will do when you return to your country. From the beginning this has been your journey, your coming to consciousness.”

Namaste

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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Many thanks to Vanda for her post on Goodreads responding to my blogpost on “sin.”

read Vanda’s review of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders(published by Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon) click here.

To add a little something to your thoughts about “sin,” my research has told me that the original meaning of sin was “missing the mark,” like not hitting the bullseye in archery. Missing the mark sounds so much more loving and human than the blackness that SIN conjures up. Missing the mark is like saying, “oh, well, you’re not perfect. Me either. Have a nice day.” As for homosexuality being a sin I love to engage those so-called Christian folks, by asking how they know. Many say Jesus said so, but in truth Jesus never said one word on the subject. Then I encourage them to go back and read their Bible. The idea of homosexuality being sin comes from the Old Testament. This is where I like to ask them why they cut their hair, why they shave (if they’re male)? Those are sins too. Why are they picking out one and ignoring the others, the one they’re committing? I need to brush up. There’s so much more you can trip up those folks with. Vanda

Click here to learn about Vanda’s novels about lesbian history.

 

 

 

 

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