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Posts Tagged ‘Janet Mason lay minister’

This morning, I helped with a Unitarian Universalist service based on the lifting up of Pride. The service was about magic and being the hero of your own story.

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.

Happy Pride

This is what I used to say every June to our legion of friends, old and new, when we were in every New York Pride Parade for years.

The New York Pride events were, of course, cancelled this year. Pride usually draws a large amount of people from all over the country.  It’s estimated that two million people have attended New York Pride each year in recent years.

My partner, Barbara, and I weren’t planning on going this year and we haven’t been to Pride for years. Although we would like to go again and see our friends in Brooklyn who we stay with. Even so, even with all the tragedy going on around us, I was momentarily taken aback a few months ago when I heard Pride was cancelled.

Pride is that much a part of me.

The LGBTQ community has earned Pride.  But I do not think that having pride should be limited to one group of people.  Everybody should be proud of themselves.  As the late, great, writer Toni Morrison said, “You are your own best thing.”

She was speaking, of course, about true pride, or self-love or empowerment – whatever you want to call it. This kind of feeling good about yourself, does not rest upon feeling negatively about another group.  That’s not pride. Unfortunately, we’ve been seeing far too much of it and it’s heartbreaking – to say the least.  One could argue that hatred of others begins with self-hate.

Pride was born in the protests of the Stonewall Inn, which became a week-long riot in 1969. The people with the least to lose – those who couldn’t pass in straight society, the butch lesbians and the drag queens – exploded one night during yet another police raid on a gay bar. Raids were customary then. Gay people were routinely carted off to jail, their names were published in the newspapers. They lost their jobs – and often their families.

Ten years later, there was another riot, after the assassination of Harvey Milk, a small business owner and politician in San Francisco. The man who assassinated him, a former firefighter, got off lightly on a charge of manslaughter and used what has since come to be called “the twinkie defense” – meaning that his legal team used the excuse that he ate too much junk food which led to his criminal behavior. After this sentencing, a peaceful candlelight vigil turned into a riot outside San Francisco’s city hall which involved setting buildings and police cars on fire.

 

lesbian statue of libertyA few years after Harvey Milk was assassinated, I attended the premier screening of the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk (the first movie) at the Roxy on Sansom Street. I was young then, in my early twenties, and recently out as a lesbian. I still remember sitting in the dark theater and listening to the crying of those around me – mostly gay men.

Both riots – and there were others too – were before my time, but they are part of my history.

My partner and myself have lived in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia for a long time. We’ve had our problems with homophobia – even here in liberal Mt. Airy – but for the most part we have been met with acceptance. And that’s the way it should be. Of course, we should have equality. All people should have equality. This acceptance, no doubt, is why I sometimes take LGBTQ rights for granted.

These days, I’m probably more excited about going to a plant-based diet (which I did last fall for health reasons).  When I found out that this diet has a favorable effect on the planet, I was even more jazzed.

I’ve long been in favor of cultivating the earth — not just because it is the right thing, but because it is interesting. I’m a second-generation organic gardener, and I like bees. And I like planting bee balm and lavender and other plants that bees like.

But what I’m really excited about in going to a plant-based diet is feeling like I have a new lease on life. And I’m excited to be part of a global community.

There was a time when I felt the same way about coming out as a lesbian. Coming out in the early 1980s, meant that I didn’t have to erase myself and it meant that I had a tribe.

Recently, when reading a quote by the important gay writer Steve Abbott, I became very excited. The quote is about intersectionality and was made far before that term was commonly used. Steve died in 1992 of complications due to AIDS when he was forty-eight.

In his ahead of his time essay “Will We Survive the Eighties,” Abbott writes:

“It is clear that what we are doing now … is killing us all. And as we project these attitudes onto other species and towards the Earth’s ecological system, we are jeopardizing our very planet. I would argue that we can no longer afford to see anything – not even ‘gay liberation’ or our survival — as a separate issue needing a separate cultural or a political or a spiritual agenda. This does not mean I intend to renounce my sexual orientation, far from it. Even in times of sadness or loneliness, it remains my greatest source of strength and joy.”

As I read Beautiful Aliens, A Steve Abbott Reader edited by Jamie Townsend and published recently, I was reminded that we all have our stories and that we were all forged in fire.

In 1992, I was at a writing program in Boulder Colorado, when I was scheduled to have a one on one critique session with Steve Abbott.  He was at the program but had to leave early because he was sick with full blown AIDS. Nearly thirty years later, a review copy of his book showed up in my mailbox. I did not know it was being published and I had not requested it.

To me, this was one more experience that proves that the universe works in mysterious ways.

I became Unitarian Universalist later in life – after fifty – when I found a religion that agreed with me. In particular, the Seventh Principle rings true:  Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

We are all connected.

 

 

–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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“Who knows maybe God didn’t even make the serpent. Maybe the serpent was here first. Maybe the serpent created God.” – The Mother in THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders

 

I’ve noticed a surge of interest in the Gnostic Gospels. The Gnostic Gospels can help you think in new ways, critical for this time period. Consider that “gnosis” is the common Greek noun for “knowledge.” Perhaps, the reason the Gnostic Gospels are scorned is in the name: Gnostic (“knowing”). Apparently, it is heretical to know your own truth.

I’ve decided to post short excerpts of my book THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books) that were inspired by the Gnostic Gospels. When I came across a story of the serpent (who talks!) in the Gnostic Gospels, I was fascinated. So today I am going to bring you excerpts of my novel that were inspired by the serpent.

The Gnostic Gospels were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. There are some conflicting theories about when they were first written, but some historians say that they were written before the New Testament was written. The Gnostic Gospels are very different from Genesis in telling the story of how the human race was created.

The Gnostic Gospels were known throughout history – particularly in the Middle Ages – but were always banned by the Church.

Those who were known followers of the Gnostic Gospels were deemed as heretics and burned. Granted, in those days you could be burned at the stake for many things. But the last time I searched Twitter for the Gnostic Gospels – people were still saying to be careful of the Gnostic Gospels – because you could still be branded as a heretic.

So, I’m sharing these excerpts in the hope that you may also be inspired to think in new ways:

“I’ve read this story to you before, but today I want you to think about the serpent. You know what a serpent is, don’t you?”

“Yes, Mama. I’ve seen them in the desert. Some are poisonous, and some are friendly. I don’t touch them unless you say it is okay,” said Tamar. She picked up her stylus. She drew a squiggly line and looped it around in the shape of a serpent. It had a fat body and held its head up.

“That’s right,” said Mother. “And that’s a very good picture. But serpents usually have a forked tongue sticking out. This one has to stick out her tongue and hiss to get Eve’s attention.”

“Okay, Mama.” Tamar picked up her stylus and drew a forked tongue in the soft wax.

“That’s very good,” said the Mother. “Now when I read the story to you again, think about the story from the serpent’s point of view. Remember the serpent is also known as the Female Principal and the Instructor.”

“What is an Instructor and Female Prin–?” asked Tamar.

The Mother looked at Tamar as if suddenly realizing that she was speaking to a child. “Oh. What I mean is that the serpent has the wisdom of the goddess and is teaching the humans in the Garden how to live. Do you understand?” Tamar nodded and smiled. She really did understand.

“Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made. What do think is meant by the phrase ‘more subtle?'”

Tamar looked up and gave the Mother a blank look.

“The person who wrote this might have meant that the serpent was more intelligent than the other creatures, less likely to bow down to God,” said the Mother. “Who knows maybe God didn’t even make the serpent. Maybe the serpent was here first. Maybe the serpent created God.”

Tamar looked at her mother and nodded. She was silent as she thought for a moment. “Maybe, the serpent wouldn’t let God tell her what to do.”

“Exactly,” said the Mother. She nodded her approval. “He said to the woman, Did God say You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” The Mother stopped reading. She looked puzzled. Then she said, “I knew that there was something wrong with this sentence. The author refers to the serpent as He instead of She. Maybe it’s a typo.”

“Maybe the serpent was both,” said Tamar.

“Both? What do you mean?”

“Maybe the serpent was both male and female,” said Tamar.

“Oh, I see. I hadn’t thought of that. Maybe you have something there.”

The Mother smiled down at Tamar.

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 helped with a Unitarian Universalist service based on theme of International Pig Day.

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.

“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.” – Wilbur, the pig, talking about Charlotte, the spider, in Charlotte’s Web, the classic by E.B. White.

I was very excited when I learned that today is national pig day. National Pig Day was started in Texas – in fact it was started by Reverend McKinley’s art teacher, Ellen Stanley. Now it is an international holiday to honor the uniqueness of the pig.

I’ve always been drawn to pigs. Perhaps, it is their innate intelligence made obvious to me at a young age when I read Charlotte’s Web.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that it was so easy for me to move to a plant-based diet last fall which I did for health reasons. This means that I only eat plants and cut out all animal products.

My partner Barbara and I had been moving toward a plant-based diet for several years prior to this because of compassion for the animals and concerns for our own now and future health.

So, when I started seeing an acupuncturist and she emailed me a link to a YouTube video of a physician talking about how a low-protein plant-based diet is the best way to avoid kidney stones, I was right there. The universe must have heard me, because the minute I gave up dairy, the muse descended in the form of a talking dairy cow.

For two and a half months, I wrote — almost without stopping — a novel titled Cinnamon: a dairy cow’s path (and her farmer’s) to freedom. And while I am still in the revision mode, this is the fastest I ever wrote the first draft of a novel. The larger arc of this pro-cow, pro-farmer novel is about the possibility of change.

Call it quantum physics or magic, everything around me seemed to line up for the writing. We had been visiting the cows, the pigs, the sheep and their offspring, the lambs, at Saul agricultural high school on nearby Henry Avenue for several years.  I never anticipated, however, that I would be writing a novel with a talking dairy cow as a narrator. The other narrator is a female dairy farmer.  The farmer and the cow, who she named Cinnamon, become friends which leads to a happy ending – something that is happening all over the world.

The writing of this novel was very intense. I knew that the dairy cows didn’t have an easy time of it – to say the least.  But I learned so much that I went through a period of consciousness raising. In spiritual terms, I began to see the beingness of the farm animals reflected back to me.  I could especially see this in their eyes.

I did write a novel – meaning it is fiction, which loosely interpreted means I made things up. But my farmer narrator, like me, has health issues that lead her to a plant-based diet.  Also, like me, she is lucky enough to have a partner who loves to cook for her. Like me, she starts to get better. And in the meantime, she becomes more connected to the farm animals. Like others who went to a plant-based diet, I became more compassionate – and that compassion extends to the animals, to myself and to the world.

I was delighted to learn that the Unitarian Universalist Association has an Animal Ministry. You may have seen the ad in UU World with a plate at the top with two eggs for eyes and a turned down piece of bacon under that – making a frowny face. A quote on the ad reads, “The United Nations says that a global shift to a plant-based diet is crucial to save the planet and to feed the growing population.” The website quotes the prominent Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh who has said, “Making the transition to a plant-based diet may be the most effective way an individual can stop climate change.”

This quote from Tich Nhat Hanh bears repeating:

“Making the transition to a plant-based diet may be the most effective way an individual can stop climate change.”

As my acupuncturist says, “By moving to a plant-based diet you are improving your health, helping the animals, and the planet as well. It seems like a no brainer.”

I would agree. We have plenty of prominent activists who espouse plant-based diets. These include noted activist Greta Thunberg and actor/activist Leonardo di Caprio. And we have the actor Joaquin Phoenix who, in his acceptance speech at the Academy Awards, talked about how we have descended into an egocentric world view and about the fact that everything is connected – including human rights, animal rights, and the future of the planet.

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If you are interested in learning more, I recommend Plant Based News which has videos on You Tube — many of them featuring the noted cardiologist Dr. Neal Barnard.

In my novel, the dairy farmer feels very guilty that she sold her pig – who at the time was the size of a small adult human. She sold the pig to pay taxes on the land, which has been in her family for generations. Eventually, when she figures out that she can do things differently – by creating a farm animal sanctuary on her land where her animals can live out their natural lives – she adopts a new pig and names him Wilbur.

Like any writer, I did my research. Pigs and their lineages can be very complex. But here’s some interesting and fun facts that I learned about pigs: Farm animal pigs are direct descendants of wild boars which I understand can be very dangerous.  A boar is an uncastrated male domestic pig, but a boar can also mean a wild pig of any gender.

Pigs are known to be very intelligent. They are considered the fifth most intelligent animal in the world. Some say they are even more intelligent than dogs.

So, in this season of Lent, whether you identify as a Christian or not, consider being kind to your arteries as well as to pigs, by giving up pig products for a while – and see how you feel.

In doing so, you might reflect on the seventh Unitarian Universalist Principle:.Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

 

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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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This morning, I took part in Poetry Sunday, a Unitarian Universalist summer service that is a tradition. In my talk, I reflected on the nature of love and read from my recently completed novel The Unicorn, The Mystery. I also read a poem by Sappho and read my own work that it inspired (“Sapphics for Aphrodite”).

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.

 

 

There are many types of love. I explore the many types of love in the novel that I just completed The Unicorn, The Mystery which I am going to read from briefly:

 “The point I was going to make is that romantic love is far from the most important type of love,” said the Priest with his usual authority. “Christians believe that pure love—the kind of love that is selfless and creates goodness—is the way that God loves us. This is why the saying, ‘love you neighbor’ is so important. There are numerous references to this in the Bible. But the most important is from the Gospel According to Mark in which he says ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than this.

“This kind of love is called ‘agape,’” continued the priest. “Agape is the highest form of pure, selfless love. It is the kind of love that God has for us—and the kind of love that we strive to have for our fellow man.”

“I recognize the word,” I replied. “It’s Ancient Greek, from the time of Homer.”

The Priest narrowed his eyes.

 Of course, many of the great poets have been inspired by romantic love, especially the Greeks.  But some may argue–and I do–that love (regardless of the kind of love) is the inspiration for all poetry.

Sappho statue

 

 

One of the poets from antiquity who greatly inspired me was Sappho, who lived around 600 B.C.E.  Of course, she lived before labels but many of Sappho’s love poems were written to women.  And she was technically a Lesbian since she lived on the Isle of Lesbos, now called Lesvos.  Most of what is left from Sappho is in fragments. One of the complete poems that survived is her “Hymn to Aphrodite” which I’ll read now: 

 

On your dazzling throne. Aphrodite,
Sly eternal daughter of Zeus,
I beg you: do not crush me
With grief

 But come to me now – as once
You heard my far cry, and yielded,
slipping from your
father’s house 

to yoke the birds to your gold
chariot, and came.  Handsome sparrows
brought you swiftly to
the dark earth, 

their wings whipping the middle sky
Happy, with deathless lips, you smiled:
“What is wrong, Sappho, why have
You called me? 

What does your mad heart desire?
Whom shall I make love you,
Who is turning her back
on you? 

Let her run away, soon she’ll chase you;
Refuse your gifts, soon she’ll give them.
She will love you, though
unwillingly.”

 Then come to me now and free me
From fearful agony.  Labor
for my mad heart, and be
my ally.

 

Almost twenty years ago, when I took a pilgrimage to Greece, including a stay in Sappho’s birthplace of Skala Eressos, a beach town on the Isle of Lesvos, I wrote the following response to Sappho’s hymn to the goddess of love.  The title is “Sapphics for Aphrodite” —

 

Aphrodite, in your blazing chariot,
I do not ask to be loved by anyone
against her will, to be fled from
or to be pursued. 

I do not ask for anything that will
sever my breath with anguish; I do not wish
to destroy or to be destroyed.
I do not wish for 

anything other than for the stars to blaze
in my pulse until breaking, shattered, and
incandescent, I am consumed: the moon’s rays
intent upon me. 

Aphrodite this is all I ask of you,
you who hold the Fates in my hands,
and you, of the golden winged chariot, in
whose temple I burn.

 

The priest in my novel has a point. Romantic love can have its limitations.  But love is love – regardless of what it is called. And love can lead to goodness.

 

Namaste

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This morning, I took part in a Unitarian Universalist summer service. In my talk, I reflected on The Egyptian Cat Goddess the Goddess Bastet (a part of my novel The Unicorn, The Mystery) and on the spiritual practice of gardening.

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 the summer, I garden.  This is a common hobby for many, especially writers.  It teaches patience, attention, and relentless hope.  Not everything that we plant comes back – especially after a long icy winter.  Not every seed sprouts and not every sprout makes it.  In this way it makes me focus on the positive – on what does come back and on what does sprout.

Being a Unitarian Universalist gives me a spiritual context in which to think about gardening. Many of our flowers attract bees – such as bee balm, lavender and the butterfly bush. And bees, of course, are good for the planet.

Every now and then, a plant from my writing appears in my garden – seemingly out of nowhere but probably from a seed dropped by a bird.  Last year it was a tall flowering weed known as a “sow’s ear” which was also in the manuscript I just finished writing, titled The Unicorn, The Mystery which is set in the 1500s in France.  I was amazed, of course, at the sow’s ear in my backyard.

Recently, I planted catnip.  Cats love our backyard and often we see one sleeping there – most often in the shade of the young hazel nut tree that my partner’s sister sent us. Inside, my office looks out to the backyard where the garden is. Our old cat Felix has taken to sleeping on the inside back windowsill – no doubt protecting his territory.

godess bastet threeI have long been fascinated by the Egyptian Cat Goddess Bastet. In my novel, The Unicorn, The Mystery, my monk character (who in many ways is a Unitarian Universalist at heart) prays to the Goddess Bastet.

 

I stepped slowly and softly as if the soles of my feet had ears.  I took another step. A branch snapped under my foot.  I winced. That would never do.  If my beloved unicorn heard that she would assume there was a human nearby – big enough to snap a branch under foot – and hide.  It seemed like I would never find her.  I decided to pray.  But I had prayed to the One God before and it hadn’t worked.  Who would I pray to? Who would help me?

Immediately, the Goddess Bastet leapt to mind. Bastet was an Egyptian Goddess who was half woman and half cat. I knew about her because when I was a boy, my mother would tell me the stories that her father had told her.  He had loved Greek mythology and found out that the Goddess Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, was related to the earlier Goddess Bastet from Egypt who came from the even earlier fierce lioness Goddess Bast, the warrior goddess of the sun.

The followers of Bastet ruled ancient Egypt for a time in the land where cats were sacred.  I remember that my mother’s emerald green eyes gleamed as if she were a cat herself when she told me about the Goddess Bastet who kept away disease and was the protector of pregnant women. The stories she told me about the fierce, soft, cat Goddess Bastet were so vivid that she made me want a cat for my very own pet.

My mother cautioned me, however, not to mention cats to anyone but her. People with cats were looked on with suspicion, she warned me. For some reason cats were looked down on by the Church as wily creatures associated with Satan. Again, my mother told me that it was very important never to anger the Church.

Surely, the Goddess Bastet would help me find my beloved unicorn. She of all the gods and goddesses would understand why I had to find my beloved unicorn to save her.

I closed my eyes tightly until I saw a slim woman, standing tall.  She had very good posture, with the head of a cat.  I knew it was Goddess Bastet, just as my mother had described her.

 

 

And so, the Goddess Bastet and other worlds – real, imagined and both – is something for me to mull over as I tend the soil and do the spiritual work of gardening.

 

Namaste

 

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