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Posts Tagged ‘Buddhism’

This morning, I helped with a Unitarian Universalist service based on the secular, humanist and holiday theme of “myth.”

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.

In first grade, the teacher firmly put me in the hallway of the private Episcopal school I was enrolled in because I had told the entire first grade class that there was no such thing as Santa Claus.

Outraged that the adults were lying to us, I had leapt to my feet to make this announcement.

I remember being angry as I stood in the hallway. Afterall, I had been put there because I was telling the truth.  (I had it on good authority – from the older sibling of a friend – that my information was correct. Once I heard this, everything fell into place.)

I imagine some adult, telling me that I shouldn’t burst other people’s bubbles, finally got through to me.

It’s little wonder that I went on not only to pay attention to myth – but to turn it inside out, to inhabit it, and to write new myths and rewrite old myths. My own belief in myth is that it all started with the winter-solstice, which is not a myth, in itself,  but scientific. The Winter Solstice is the briefest day of the year. This year the Winter Solstice falls on December 21. This is the longest night of the year. The Winter Solstice lets in the dark. I believe that myth was created in the dark.

 

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In my view, myth was created to explain ourselves and our origins. So, I don’t always believe myths, but I believe in myth.

There are lots of untold stories in myths. One could say there are minor characters whose stories are untold. From there, one might begin to question the veracity of the major characters whose stories are told.

If you follow this line of thinking, you can see my point that myth is ripe with possibility.

I heard it said that we are hard wired for belief.

Several months ago, I would have said of my own hard wiring that religion has given me more belief in myself. But now I see that it is also true that I believe in the myth of myself.

As I tell my students, a myth is a story that tells us about ourselves — that can come from any culture. Consider, for example, the Hopi myth of Grandmother Spider Woman. This Native American myth, prevalent in the Southwest among the Hopi and other tribes, is about a woman (a goddess figure) who wove the web of existence and thought the world into existence. This myth tells us where we came from – and perhaps from there we can figure out how to do things differently.

Also, as I tell my students, a myth can be from your childhood (such as the story of the Tooth Fairy); a myth can be classical; a myth can be biblical; a myth can be whatever – you can write your own myth.

It’s entirely possible that thinking about myth – and putting yourself into it – can make you stronger.

Recently, I had my students write themselves into a myth and read their story to the class. One of my younger students wrote about herself as Sisyphus, taken from the Greek myth, that you may be familiar with, that depicts a man pushing a huge boulder up a steep hill. At the end of the story, this student revealed that she is making a new path up this old mountain.

The Myth of Sisyphus is a popular one – and an apt one for a writer – although it can also be a metaphor for life. When I was a young adult, I had a postcard on my bulletin board in the cubicle where I spent my days — depicting a tiny Sisyphus pushing a huge boulder up a steep mountain.

When my student finished her story, I smiled and nodded.

She had just taught me something about myself. I didn’t do it alone. But with the help of many, including this Unitarian Universalist congregation, I forged my own path.

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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Last night, I attended a magical gathering at the main branch of the Philadelphia library where we gathered to listen to U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo read her poetry, sing and speak.
Joy talked about many things — including the importance of forgiveness so that we don’t make ourselves sick with anger and resentment.
She wondered what the world would be like if we all experienced each other’s stories.
What would the world be like if we all had that much compassion?
She spoke on #worldkindnessday — and that was auspicious. It made me think that #worldkindnessday should be everyday.
In the short video below, Joy Harjo talks about the trickster, explaining that the trickster in all cultures usually sits near the person in power and reminds that person when power is bestowed on him or her, the power does not belong to the person.  Power is meant to be shared.

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 piece is airing worldwide this week on This Way Out (TWO), the syndicated LGBT radio show.  Click here to listen to the entire show.

(TWO is the first international LGBTQ radio news magazine.)

I don’t usually think of myself as an optimist. But in reading Juno’s Swans by Tamsen Wolff (published by Europa editions), I began to think of myself as something close to an optimist: as one who has hope. After all, as a lesbian and as someone concerned about the world – I do have hope that things can change (for the better).

The reader learns at the very beginning that this is a coming of age story – where a young woman falls in love with another young woman only to have her heart broken. Perhaps it’s an all too common refrain: the beloved is in love with someone else.

The exceptionally good writing is what drew me in.  Through this writing, I learned that this was a big love with a capital ”B”. The narrator Nina – who is entering the last year of high school — falls in love with a slightly older girl named Sarah.  Nina and her best friend have gone to Cape Cod for the summer where Nina is taking acting lessons. There is a convincing back story about Nina. She has been basically abandoned by both of her parents and was raised by her grandparents.  However much she adores her grandparents, it’s easy for the adult reader to come to the conclusion that the narrator was left vulnerable by her parent’s absence.6A6100BD-5E84-416E-8EF0-D584892C12C6

However, it was the big love that the narrator feels for Sarah that I was struck by. Wolff writes that Nina slid her hand into Sarah’s, shortly after the two of them met, and that Sarah held her hand:

“The world was between our palms, so discreetly and politely pressed, so heated and limitless, curious and fervent.  The world contracted to that electric violet place.  If we had opened our hands right then, the light streaming out would have dazzled you blind. I didn’t look at her. I couldn’t look at her. I just held that pulsing jewel and marveled, brilliantly distracted.”

The novel is laden with Shakespearean references and the title comes from a reference in Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It.” The novel is set in the age of AIDS, which is evident in the lives of the characters around them. Perhaps indicative of that time period, the narrator is not into labels.

The reader finds out later that the narrator has at the same time always had boyfriends so that she can fit in at school – even if she is contemptuous of them.  Hmmm, the sarcastic part of my mind commented, things haven’t changed that much.

Still, I had hope. What if a girl can look at another girl and see the air break into pieces around her?  What if we lived in a world where labels weren’t necessary?

This world is possible as evidenced by the trueness of the author Tamsen Wolff writing in her novel Juno’s Swans as she describes Sarah’s comfy feather bed: “In it, we belonged to each other and nothing in the world could touch us.”

 

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 woke up to the message that just because I don’t believe in hell doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Then the harasser too me to “have fun burning.” I assume that this sentiment was evoked by my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (from Adelaide Books).  Or maybe it is because I am part of the LGBT community.  Or perhaps it is just because I don’t believe in hell. Whatever.

It was “the have fun” part that really caught my attention.

You see, I’m a Buddhist (that’s my root religion which is encouraged in Unitarianism) and I thought that’s nice, my harasser is wishing me to have fun. I am wishing him happiness also.

As Pema Chodron (the Buddhist teacher) says, if people experience true happiness then they are less likely to oppress others.

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My partner who is not a Buddhist stopped by my office to admire my red devil sequin studded horns that I am wearing. ( I am having fun.) At first she said “that’s awful” when I told her about the comment. But later she said, ‘Don’t get mad. Get even.”

Exactly.

I’m having so much fun wearing my devil horns that I think I’ll keep them on — maybe all week!

 

 

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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Every now and then I connect with an independent bookstore.  This time it was Quail Ridge Books located in the North Hills of Raleigh North Carolina.

Quail Ridge Books is promoting November 30, 2019 as Small Business Saturday.  But for those who work for and run independent bookstores, everyday is Small Business Saturday.

So support your local independent bookstore, support reading, support your community and yourself.

 

Here is the Quail Ridge Books link to my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders

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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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My colleague Sandy read this debut of my memoir Now, from Antiquity — tracing my father’s line back to forever.  This reading was part of a larger service on veterans at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia. You can the excerpt on YouTube or read the excerpt pasted below that.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l99Mgj_yGhs?start=1&w=560&

My father was a veteran. He was in the United States Army Air Force during World War II, and since he was blind in one eye avoided being in direct combat.  I grew up seeing old black and white photographs of my father – a broad shouldered young man with curly blond hair – smiling into the camera when he was stationed in New Guinea and hearing my mother’s anxious tone telling me that he crossed the Pacific in an un-escorted ship. Two years ago, on May 7th, 2017, when he was ninety-eight, he passed away. When my father died, it was like a library burned down – his life and wisdom contained that much history.

A year later — thanks to our resident realtor, Chrissie Erickson – I sold the home I grew up in.  His death and the sale of the house prompted to write a memoir titled: Now, From Antiquity – tracing my father’s line back to forever.  For today’s service, I am going to read a part of the memoir where I meditate on the flag he was buried with.

I was always proud of my father, but from an early age I did not trust the American flag. This meditation was written when I began to examine my feelings toward the flag.

There is nothing in the history of the American flag – from Betsy Ross onward – that makes me detest the American flag. It was when I was travelling in Greece – about 20 years ago — that I really appreciated being from a country where women could be independent.

My thinking leads me to the conclusion that I don’t really detest the flag. I am enraged by what it has come to stand for. What angers me is nationalism and the idea that I can only salute one flag. What angers me is when one flag is said to be more important than another. In the eyes of some, I might be described as un-American. But the fact is that the flag represents me too. I’m just skeptical and careful about whom I pledge allegiance to.

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Every American flag does not evoke feelings of anger in me. One flag also evokes great sadness.  My father was a veteran of World War II. His cremated remains – as he wished – were installed in a veteran’s cemetery and members of the military came and did a flag ceremony for him. A very dignified young military man presented me with the flag after he had folded it.  When I got up to give my tear-filled eulogy, I handed the flag to my partner who doesn’t cry easily. It is the image of Barbara hugging that triangular folded flag and crying that I think of most when I recall that day.

Barbara bought me a triangular case – with a wooden back and sides and glass front — to keep the flag in. The flag in its case sits in my home office bookshelf. For an experiment, I brought the flag in the case out of the bookshelf and put it close to me when I do my morning meditation. The Buddhist teacher on YouTube talked about the value of “softening” toward the thing that causes you to feel aggression.

I sat in front of the flag and meditated with my eyes closed. The first thing that I noticed when I opened my eyes is the American flag from my father’s service. It is folded into a triangle in its wooden case with its white stars displayed on a navy background. On closer inspection, I saw that the white stars are embroidered and raised. They rest on a woven navy background behind them. There are six stars displayed. Two are in the top row and four are in the bottom row. Of the fifty stars all together (each one representing a state), these are represented in their blue triangle of night sky.  I see now that the stars are beautiful, brilliant, and limitless. They represent what is known as “the wild mind” in Buddhism, the vastness of what is possible. I felt myself soaring between them in the midnight sky, reaching new heights and then coming back to myself as in meditation I breathed in and out and wished this kind of freedom and compassion for all who encounter the stars of the flag.

I breathed in and out, doing the tonglen “taking and receiving” practice of Buddhism. I breathed in my own feelings of hostility toward the American flag. I breathed out feelings of compassion for myself. Then I breathed in any fear or hostility that might be stirred up in others by the sight of the flag. Then I breathed in fear and breathed out compassion for all who feel compelled to armor themselves with the American flag.

I exhaled the vastness of the white stars in the night sky. I exhaled my journey through the stars and into the higher realms that they inhabit. I exhaled joy. Then I inhaled again, wishing this feeling for everyone who encounters the flag.

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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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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