Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘lay minister’

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

Read Full Post »

This morning, I gave a talk titled “Religion?” at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Avenue in Northwest Philadelphia.  I discuss being at a workshop with the feminist witch Starhawk, my understanding of the differences between religion and spirituality, and how being raised secular enabled me to write my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — New York/Lisbon).

You can see my words below on the YouTube video or read the talk below that.

 

 

Religion?

Some months ago, my partner, Barbara, and I were attending a nearby workshop with the feminist witch Starhawk.  At dinner I was sitting across from Starhawk when she was talking about the liberal theologians that she works with. A woman sitting next to me said that religious people are part of the problem.  She mentioned that religious people elected you know who.

I replied that it is true that religious people did put you know who in office but that they were CONSERVATIVE religious people and that there are plenty of liberal religious people.

Suddenly it was as if I was looking at myself from the outside:  Really, you’re defending religion? a voice hissed skeptically.  Maybe it was the ghost of my card-carrying atheist bible burning mother.  Perhaps it was the voice of my younger self that pretty much happily ignored all things religious.

In any event, the voice was so strong that I stopped defending liberal religions and went back to eating my dinner.

Five years ago, or so, when I became a member of this congregation, I recognized that I had found a religion that fit my values.  I knew that coming here worked for me – and that my partner and I love being part of the community here.  In fact, Barbara already knew many of the people here because of her job at the Mt. Airy post office, which she is now retired from. And we had a few long-time friends here such as the multi-talented Jane Hulting who many of you know as our music director.  Jane rescued us during a hard time and became our yoga instructor.  We are now taking qigong with Jane, and I still consider her my spiritual teacher.

But having been raised secular, a part of me was still wondering what religion was and where I fit into it. Of course, the Unitarian Universalists (or UUs as we are often called) encourage freedom of thought and value reading as evidenced by our well-known book sales.  And, of course, we came to a tradition that is welcoming of the LGBTQ community.  When I initially expressed surprise to my partner that the congregation was so open minded, she replied that we wouldn’t be here otherwise. Right again.

I’m sure this all factored into my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders which I wrote about five years ago and which was published by Adelaide Books.  In fact, as I mentioned at a recent reading, I probably would not have been able to write that book had I not been raised secular. In other words, had I been raised to regard the Bible as, well, Gospel rather than myth and story and had that Gospel instructed me to hate myself then I would had justifiably left and avoided religion for the rest of my life.  I know plenty of people who have had this experience and believe me, I do understand.

So, I was still left wondering what religion was all about – and why I am drawn to it. Then a while ago, I heard fellow member Wayne Boyd talk about the difference between religion and spirituality and what being a member of this congregation means to him.  He talked about the rules of religion being on the outside of him and spiritual development being on the inside. I sat in the pew and thought “Aha.”

A crucial piece of the puzzle fell into place.religion

For many reasons I have never cared for rules. And my early self-destructiveness aside, my adolescent 1970s motto that “rules are made to be broken” served me well: particularly in coming out as a lesbian in my early twenties and in becoming a creative writer – a field in which rules really are meant to be broken.

But in the spiritual journey of my inner self, I have come to value myself and others as important entities on equal footing. This is a value that I have long held, but in this UU culture where the first principle is — The inherent worth and dignity of every person – I value and believe in myself even more and that means that I value and believe in each one of you even more.

In my UU journey, religion must certainly mean something as different to me as it does to each one of you.  In fact, I think difference is a big part of what religion means to me.  And so, I go deeper into myself, through my yoga practice and through my Buddhist meditation — and through being a member of this community.

Is that religion?

 

Namaste

 

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available online, through your local bookstore or library.

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

they_cover1_300

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

I was very excited this week to give a reading from my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — New York/Lisbon) at the Penn Book Center.  I read with Anjali Mitter Duva who read from her novel faint promise of rain (She Writes Press).

It was very cold outside, but inside the bookstore it was warm and cozy. It was warm in many ways with many of my favorite books lining the shelves — and a few new ones that I did not know about.  There was a packed house and the reading was complete with snacks before the question and answer period.

Many thanks to the Penn Book Center (an independent bookstore on the edge of the University of Pennsylvania  campus — 34th and Sansom) and to the Working Writers Group that hosts the All But True reading series.

You can watch the reading on YouTube or read my selection from THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders below the video.

From Chapter Ten of THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders

 

Maybe the passerby was just lost. There was no point in taking chances. Tamar brought a few clay pots outside with her. She started to rinse them out with a bucket of water from the well. They were just dusty so they didn’t need to be scrubbed. She rinsed the pots and kept her eyes on the horizon. The figure was close enough that she could make out that the rider was wearing a black and white striped robe. First, Tamar saw the brown veil draped across the rider’s face. Then she saw something bouncing up and down with the camel’s steps. The rider had breasts – and over them, silver necklaces, glinting in the sun, rose and fell.
Tamar held a clay pot on its side and washed out the inside even though it was already clean. She placed it in the sun to dry.
The visitor came closer and stopped. The camel knelt down and the visitor disembarked and stood in front of Tamar.
“Tamar,” said a husky, familiar voice. “It is me.”
Tamar was silent.
The rider took off her veil and revealed herself.
“Are you glad to see me?”
“I thought I’d never see you again,” said Tamar. She held her wet rag to the inside of a clay pot, swirled it around and set the pot in the sun.
“I needed some time to myself,” said Judith. “And in that time I realized that things were
different. I am different.” She reached down and put her hands on her stomach. There was a slight bulge. “For one thing, I am with child.”
“Are you sure?”
“It has been more than three moons since I last bled,” said Judith. “Plus I feel different. For one thing, I don’t have the sickness that I suffered the last six times. A child is stirring in me, and I am sure it is a girl. And there has been no one else but you.”
Tamar stared at Judith. Rubbish, she must of laid with someone — probably Bram, she thought.
She didn’t believe her. But happiness bubbled up in her and spilled over. Tamar was happy for Judith. She had helped Judith create a daughter — even if she had just paved the way by teaching Judith to silence the old voices in her mind and how to value herself as a woman.
“I see you are again wearing the silver necklaces that Bram gave you,” said Tamar.
Judith nodded. “I figured that it didn’t matter anymore — since I am with child. I am certain that it must be a daughter. And since I always liked the necklaces…”
While Judith was busy making excuses, Tamar remembered the words of one of the old woman from the province of Arzawa who told her that in the ancient days women gave birth to daughters without the intervention of men. The old women told her that many of the goddesses were born this way. Suddenly, Tamar felt as proud as a father announcing the birth of a son.
So, it is true, thought Tamar. But outwardly, she bristled. She was proud but, at the same time, she could not believe it.
“Are you sure you did not lay with Bram?” she asked.
“I am sure,” replied Judith. “I would’ve sent word, but if Bram finds out that I am with child, he will be angry. You know how men are. He will assume that I was unfaithful and lay with another man. And you know what happens to wives who commit adultery.”
Tamar nodded gravely.
“I have decided that I love you and want to live with you. I brought some of my belongings, enough for a few nights, in these baskets behind me. I can send for the rest. Bram is off on a journey to settle new lands. He probably won’t even notice that I am gone when he comes back.”
Tamar looked at the baskets. They were wide and deep. They looked full. Judith needed this much stuff for a few nights? How many more baskets would she send for? Tamar considered the fact that Bram was a powerful man. He would come for his wife, or send someone. He would find out that she was with child. He would have them both burned at the stake.”Wait a minute,” said Tamar, holding up her hand. “You belong with Bram. You created six sons together.”
“But I want to be with you. Your people are my people. I will lodge with you, and be with you always.”
Tamar was silent.

—-

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available through bookstores and online where books are sold.  It’s also available through your local library.  If the library doesn’t already have it, just ask your librarian to order it.

For more information on THEY, click here.

 

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders

 

Read Full Post »

This morning, I led a Unitarian Universalist Memorial Day service on the topic of forgiveness.  In my talk about forgiveness, I debuted my latest novel The Unicorn, The Mystery. The YouTube video of part of  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.

 

 

For me, forgiveness is a thorny issue.  I suspect I’m not alone.  I may forgive – but I do it on my own terms and this means taking the time that I need to understand the deeper reasons of why I was offended by someone’s actions. So, for me, learning to be more forgiving is wrapped up with protecting myself and having good boundaries.

As a practicing Buddhist, I understand that forgiving others is a way of forgiving yourself.  But as I did research on forgiveness, there were so many conflicting theories, that really the only thing that ultimately made coherent sense to me was this quote from Oscar Wilde:

“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”

A few years ago, I was leafing through a slim book on Christianity and was surprised to read that forgiveness is expected in the Christian tradition.  As a tenet, this one is not so bad. But it did occur to me that a reason why traditional religion has never appealed to me is that, on principal, I would never believe what someone tells me I should believe.

So when it comes to forgiveness, I process things the way that I usually do – in my writing. The novel I am currently writing The Unicorn, The Mystery, is set in the late Middle Ages and addresses some religious themes.  I am going to read you a short excerpt of a monk talking with his Latin teacher, also a Priest:

purification

 

“One of the things that Augustine is known for is his ‘doctrine of love.’ He wrote about forgiveness – which of course is related to love.  In addition to forgiving others, it’s important to forgive ourselves. In fact, some argue that you cannot forgive another without first forgiving yourself,” said my teacher.

I smiled and nodded.  This all made sense. No words were necessary from me.

“He also was the first to write about loving your neighbor as yourself. In saying this, he infers that it is first necessary to love yourself. When you truly love yourself, then you can love your neighbor and you can love God unconditionally,” he stated.

The Priest was silent – and so was I for a moment.

My curiosity got the best of me and I asked, “What if you are ashamed of yourself – how can you find it in your heart to forgive yourself? And if you can’t, how can you ever love your neighbor and how can you love God?”

The Priest looked at me oddly.

“That’s a good question,” he replied finally. “I do not know the answer. Perhaps I am not the best person to talk about love. I take the Christian writings seriously.  I try to follow them.  I follow my heart and each time it is a disaster. I love teaching and I love my students. But each term, things go too far, and I have my heart broken again,” he cried.

I looked at him with sadness.  He had his reasons for hating himself. Perhaps that’s why he was snippy at times. How could he forgive himself, when the church told him he should be ashamed of himself?

This time I cleared my throat. I looked at him with tears in my eyes, and said, “Father – it is true that you know how to love and it is true that you are worthy of love – from others, from God. I came to your office that night after vespers a few months ago. I saw you bent over the desk with Gregory – I saw the love that surrounded you.”

The Priest looked at me as if he had seen a ghost.

 

 

I attended the Episcopal Church until I was about five — when my mother became a card-carrying atheist.  It’s a long story.  I remember reciting the Lord’s Prayer. When I think about forgiveness, I think about the lines:

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive them that trespass against us;

 

As I did my research, I was fascinated to learn that in the “Book of Matthew,” chapter 6, of the New Testament, the line after the Lord’s Prayer says:

 

“For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

 

Of course, in my Unitarian Universalist interpretation, God the Father could be the Universe, the Great Spirit, or the Mother/ Father God or God the Father.  It depends on what day it is.

If I’ve offended anyone, please forgive me.

 

Namaste.

 

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

 

Amazon THEY

Read Full Post »

This morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration (in Philadelphia) I did a talk titled “Meeting Hate With Compassion.”  This talk was part of a larger service.

You can view the YouTube video below.  If you prefer, you can read the piece below the video.

 

 

A few years after my partner and I bought our house, now decades ago, an angry young white man who lived across the street threw rocks at our second story bedroom window. I should say that this man was young but he was an adult.

I had seen this young man looking at me with hatred in his eyes and I knew it was him.  We also had been verbally harassed since we had moved into the neighborhood – by him and by others.

Initially, I wanted to throw rocks back at his windows.  But I couldn’t do that — since he lived with his grandparents.  So I called the police.  I reported this as a hate crime — which was the logical thing to do, except that in Philadelphia, at that time, lesbians and gay men were not protected under the hate crimes bill. I was upset – understandably so – and went through the range of emotions at being targeted, including rage and grief. The dispatcher and the officer were open-minded and supportive.  The officer encouraged us not to engage with the rock thrower (he said that this usually made things worse).

I’m a practicing Buddhist now, but I wasn’t then.  I never thought about it consciously but that experience must have been a major influence. As a wise friend once said, we are all victims of victims.  And if we are different, we run the risk of being victimized more.  But the point is that we all are different – and we should value those differences in ourselves and each other. Differences are what make a community interesting.  Take this one here at Restoration, for example.  Also, it’s oppressive to try to be like everyone else – especially if you’re pretending.

Years ago, when the rocks were thrown, I practiced compassion by looking out our bedroom window and noticing that the angry young man had the same look of hatred on his face when he looked at his mother’s husband — a man who was probably not his father.  His mother was severely disabled, is now in a nursing home, and her husband left.

Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, my partner Barbara and I went to a gathering where one of the people, a former minister, said that we must have compassion for those who hate because “they are so broken that the only way that they can feel good about themselves is to hate others.”

King quote on refusing to hate

I knew with sadness that what she said was true. Perhaps I was a natural Buddhist years ago in that I took non-violent action. The police officer (and a neighbor) told us the young man’s full name. When I saw him on the street, I greeted him by name.  I told a neighbor who is related to the angry young man that “We were not going to take it, and already called the police.”  I also told his grandfather, who he lived with, the same thing.  The angry young man’s relatives agreed with me that I should alert the police.

After that, I kept saying hello to him by name whenever I saw him on the street, forcing him to acknowledge me.

The harassment stopped.

Over the years I have become a kind of a patchwork Buddhist. I chant every day, but am not formally affiliated with any group.  I learned Nam Myoho Renge Kyo — by watching Tina Turner on YouTube and going to a few Buddhist parties. The mantra is an expression of determination to embrace our Buddha nature and to help others achieve happiness.  For me, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is an ancient vibration that puts me in alignment with the cosmic energy of the universe.

Anger and hatred are at odds with the Buddhist philosophy. One quote, attributed to Buddha says that:

“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world; it is appeased by love. This is an eternal Law. If one speaks or acts, with a pure mind, happiness follows one as one’s shadow that does not leave one.”

It bears repeating:

“Hatred is never appeased by hatred in this world; it is appeased by love. This is an eternal Law. If one speaks or acts, with a pure mind, happiness follows one as one’s shadow that does not leave one.”

 

Nam Myo Renge Kyo

Read Full Post »

 

Note: This morning I gave this reflection as part of a service on transitions at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia.  To view the YouTube video, click here.

 

In my early twenties when I studied women’s self defense and then karate, one of my favorite t-shirts was a sky blue muscle shirt that had the Chinese character for crisis. This character shares characteristics with the symbol for opportunity.  This was the early eighties.

crisis character

I have no idea what happened to this particular t-shirt, but the saying stayed in my mind.

Undoubtedly it was something that fueled me as I studied martial arts and became a self-defense instructor to women — and also to people of all genders with intellectual disabilities.

My students showed great progress. They held their heads up high and looked people in the eye. They defined the space around them.   They connected with the life force inside of them — called “Kiai,” a Japanese word used in Karate which describes the shout delivered for the purpose of focusing all of one’s energy into a single movement.  In studying self-defense, they were becoming more self confident.

Many were transforming from former victims into survivors and thrivers. They were healing.

I took pride in being their teacher. We were on the journey together.

I have long known that change is good. Not only is it good, it is necessary and unavoidable.

“Change is the only constant in life,” as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus is quoted as saying.

My delightfully progressive late aunt (my mother’s sister) was known to say to her more conventional relatives (mainly her husband and her son): “The universe is always changing and so am I.”

Change is necessary — but it also can be scary.

Personally I have found that in that scary-space — in the free fall over the abyss — it is possible to do the necessary good work that reinvention requires.

One thing that I have learned over the years, is that things rarely go back to the way they were as much as we might want that.

I tend to stay in the present — which is good in many ways — but the downside is that I can forget some of the spiritual lessons that I’ve learned in decades past.

Remembering that change is good and necessary is definitely one of those things.

We tend to expect things to last forever. Perhaps this is part of the survival instinct that is wired into us.

In my last major transition, I went from spending my days in a cubicle to doing my best writing — and perhaps to being my best self. I had been in a high-stress job for five and a half years and my major saving grace was that I was using my days off to pursue my own writing.  This also may have contributed to burn out.

Now I knew that this was an opportunity for me and my writing but still I suffered from severe anxiety when I was laid off.

But because of this experience, I know what it feels like to walk through life like a robot. I understand job stress and burnout.

I recently had dinner with an old friend who is also a retired therapist who tactfully said to me, “You just weren’t taking care of yourself when you were in that job.”

That’s an understatement and I shudder to think of what may have happened to me if I hadn’t changed everything.

Fast forward to five years later, and I am still reinventing myself, but I am much stronger — in large part thanks to yoga — with our music director Jane Hulting — and a spiritual practice that includes attending worship here at Restoration.  In yoga, Jane often quotes from the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, in particular from her book When Things Fall Apart in which she writes:

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that’s life.”

Her words bear repeating:

“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again. From the awakened point of view, that’s life.”

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »