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This morning, I helped with a Unitarian Universalist service based on theme of “The Gospel According To Gandalf.” 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.

When I first learned that the service for today was on the Gospel According to Gandalf, I drew a blank. I have long prided myself on the fact that fantasy writing has nothing to do with me. But I remembered that I really enjoyed the talk on this topic last year. I also remembered that I identified with the character Frodo in that he was defiant and had no interest in power but is the hero of his own story.

Then I remembered that I absolutely loved the Lord of the Rings trilogy when I read it as a teen.  It allowed me to enter the mystery. I loved it so much that I wrote “Everybody should read The Lord of the Rings” in large letters with a black sharpie on the white bathroom wall in a dive bar in Trenton that I hung out in when I was a teenager. My then best friend, who died young, looked at me in utter delight and exclaimed, “I knew you wrote that. I knew it!”

What can I say? It was the seventies. I was a teen and, like all my friends, then, I had a substance abuse problem. It is something that I tried to leave behind me. I wrote one novel based on this experience and closed the book. I thought I was done. But the fact is that I have had an off again, on again relationship with substances over the years. My own story of abusing substances when I was a teen – in a certain time and place – is something I felt bad about for a long time.

Of course, I regretted how this behavior may have affected others – especially my parents. But the question that I always came back to was, “Why did I do that to myself?” After many years, I concluded that I had to do something to break out of the confines of my life, and that is what I did. So, I forgave myself. After all, the past is the past.

And while I would never want to encourage anyone to use substances, my experiences weren’t all bad. There were a few moments of breaking through to something brilliant and elusive that may have laid the seeds for the talking unicorn in my head whose words I wrote down in a novel titled The Unicorn, The Mystery which will be published later this year by Adelaide Books. The novel is based on the unicorn tapestries in The Cloisters that is part of The Metropolitan Museum in Manhattan.

 

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So, fantasy writing probably does have something to do with me – even if the talking unicorn in my head is a realist. And I may have unconsciously modeled myself on Frodo. Who knows? I do know that I have come here for a number of years – to this Unitarian Universalist church — and listened to the opening  statement that included some variation of you are welcome to bring all that you are.  It must have sunk in because here I am talking about something that I thought I was done with.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until last fall in the year that I turned sixty and embarked on a balanced plant-based diet for health reasons, that I experienced an absence of any craving – including alcohol and other products that contain sugar.  In addition to being addictive, sugar compromises the immune system – important to know during these trying times. It wasn’t just me who found that a plant-based diet eliminated cravings. At a party, I met a young woman with blue hair who had been formerly addicted to heroin but who had since gone to a plant-based diet.

We all have a past. So, I encourage you to bring all that you are here – including histories that you may not be proud of but that we can all learn from.

Remember, you are the hero of your own story.

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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I do a lot online, and have frequently been told that I am going to hell, I assume, for writing my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders.

In response, I made blog posts which go out on Twitter.  One day I put on my red devil sequin horns and took a new author photo of me reading THEY.

Then one morning I woke up to the following comment

“I find it interesting all these people passing judgement on others when I’m pretty sure there’s something in the bible about not judging others or something. It’s almost like they pick and choose what to follow.”

This person has a good point. There are many passages in the Bible about not judging.  The most well known is from Matthew 7:1 which says:

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

There are many other spiritual practices which basically say the same thing.

 

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Or as my mother said to me when I was a child: 

“Twinkle, twinkle little star, what you say is what you are.”

Thinking about this gives me pause.

 

THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available where books are sold online, from your local bookstore, or library. It is also available directly from the publisher Adelaide Books,

To read an excerpt of THEY (Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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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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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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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.

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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.

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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

 

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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:

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“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.

 

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