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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

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

Give it back with gratitude.

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

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

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

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

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

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

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

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

Do not hold regrets.

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

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

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

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

Ask for forgiveness.

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

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

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

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

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

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

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

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

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

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

(I also found the poem at poets.org)

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Last night a friend and I went to see the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am and I loved every minute of it.  For as long as I can remember, I have long been inspired by the work of Toni Morrison and was again inspired by the movie as a writer and as a human being.

I am far enough outside the mainstream not to have heard the criticism of the white, male (straight I assume) literary establishment who criticized her and said she did not deserve to win the Nobel Prize.  But the comments were, unfortunately, predictable.

I have long considered Morrison America’s greatest living writer and was motivated by the movie to go back and reread her books.

As a writing teacher, I have often quoted Morrison’s statement that revising is the “delicious” part of writing, that the writer goes back and sculpts the hollows that brings forth the characters.

The movie brought me to tears more than once.

I was moved by her discussion on internalized self-hated – that her first book, The Bluest Eye, strongly addresses.  As a lesbian writer, I have often written and thought about internalized oppression – the fact of its existence, where it comes from, and how it can be overcome.

 

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I was struck with what she said about white people and racism.  She said that racist white people are “bereft” and that by being racist, they are also damaging themselves. She asked the question that what are you without your racism? Are you still strong? And she said that if someone needs to feel better than someone else, they need to process that by themselves – without her.

So, thank you Toni Morrison. I recognize genius when I see it/read it – and am uplifted by your gifts not threatened by them.

 

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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Homophobia is an old habit and homophobia in religion, in particular, is becoming an old habit.

It was interesting that my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books – New York/Lisbon), was maligned online today, the same day that a substantial number of brave graduating students of Notre Dame College walked out of their commencement speech given by Mike Pence.  Pence is slated to appear at a number of Christian colleges in the upcoming weeks and the adverse reaction of the students is causing concern among Christian conservatives. There is talk of students withholding funding.

To all this, I say to the students: Good job! Good for you in standing up for yourselves and others!

Good for you in being part of the changing world!

On this glorious spring day with the blossoms beckoning, the good news about the #notmyjesus students and the #MuellerTime report finally revealed, I opened Twitter only to be told that I am going to hell. The full text of the Tweet is below.

Perhaps it is because I have gotten such good feedback on my novel, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, that being told that I am going to hell does not produce the desired effect.

Some of the good feedback, I have gotten about THEY:

A colleague in Los Angeles let me know that her MCC book discussion group is reading and discussing THEY. (MCC stands for the Metropolitan Community Church, founded in 1968 with a  focus on human rights that includes (but is not limited to) the LGBTQ community.)

At a local spiritual gathering, a trans woman (who I remembered from my church when she was presenting as male) responded enthusiastically “you’re that Janet Mason?!” and then told me that the book was important to her and in her library in a LGBTQ community center — where the rainbow flag flies outside prominently — in a nearby small town.

The Queer Church of England (also harassed) retweeted one of my Tweets about THEY and I have also from a Priest from England that he ordered and plans to read the novel.

I also have gotten a large number of glowing reviews including Gregg Shapiro who wrote in the San Francisco Bay Area Reporter that the publication of my new novel THEY “is occurring at the right time.”

Of course, there’s a lot I could say about the offensive Tweet if I wanted to take the time to dissect it. But what I will say is that change is always possible, and that forgiveness is possible too.

I will pray for you to change your errant ways.

 

@thetruthspirit

homosexuals will NEVER enter Heaven

men who practice sodemy r ABOMINATIONs to the ONE GODs,Jesus&Heaven

Dont FOOL yourselves

REPENT&STOP your cocksucking ways

 

In addition to being available through you local library, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is available through your local bookstore or online.

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

 

Janet Mason novelist area resident

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Many thanks to the Philadelphia Gay News for the article they ran this week before my reading at the Penn Book Center (with Anjali Mitter Duva) at the fiction series at the Penn Book Center, 130 S. 34th St., on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

Mt. Airy author Janet Mason is well known on the Philadelphia literary circuit and within the local LGBTQ community for her provocative writing that includes poetry, memoir and fiction. Her last book, “Tea Leaves,” won the Golden Crown Literary Award for lesbian memoir.

Mason’s new novel is set primarily in biblical times. “THEY: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders” (Adelaide Books, $22) is quite different from Mason’s other work. The novel details the story of Tamar of the Hebrew Bible and a twin sister Tabitha, Tabitha’s intersex twins and the dawning of the concept of defining male gender as preferential, along with the concept of gender as finite — two genders with no variants.

Mason, who will be reading (with Anjali Mitter Duva) at a fiction series at the Penn Book Center on Jan. 30, delves deeply into the variants with her lesbian protagonist and the character’s family.

It’s a complicated story that evolved over the past couple of years as Mason experienced her own awakening with regard to religion, the Bible and gender.

“I was raised secular,” Mason said. Her mother, the subject of “Tea Leaves,” was “a Bible-burning atheist.”

About five years ago, Mason joined the Unitarian Universalist Church where she became a lay minister.

they_cover1_300“I started reading the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, which I’ve always been curious about,” Mason said. “There is some great stuff in both books of the Bible, but there’s also a fair amount of misogyny and violence. I remember that in my high-spirited 20s, I announced at some opportune time that someone needed to rewrite the Bible.”

Mason says while reading the Bible for the first time, “I came across the story of Tamar in Genesis, the muse descended, and I was off and running. I was also influenced by taking yoga and developing a daily practice that included Buddhist meditation.”

Other influences included “knowing a young family on my block whose child transitioned at age 5 to become a happy little girl. I was also reviewing several books on trans issues,” Mason explained. “Later, when I was finished writing the novel, I found out that Biblical scholars — including a rabbi who published a piece in The New York Times — had found that the Hebrew Bible, in particular, did have original words such as ‘they’ to connote both and all genders.”

 At a time when the political climate has turned anti-LGBTQ and evangelicals seem to have taken ownership of the Bible, Mason said she wanted to “send the message that we are all valued. The evangelicals definitely don’t ‘own’ religion, even if they think they do. Many of their children are staying in the religion and changing it to be more liberal. And there are plenty of liberal religions — and they are changing, too.” Religion, she says, “is becoming more inclusive of LGBTQ people.”

For Mason, “Working on ‘THEY’ was my way of entering the stories and myths of the Bible made real to me by my imagination. My hope is that ‘THEY’ might be an opening for some to enter the stories and find that there’s room for them, too.”

Though Mason is currently promoting her new book with readings and book signings, she is also working on new projects, which include revising another novel titled “The Unicorn, The Mystery,” of which several sections were recently short-listed for the Adelaide Literary Prize.

“It’s a novel that is set in an abbey in medieval times where several nuns who happen to be in love with each other live. A monk and a talking unicorn narrate
the story.”

Mason will be reading (with Anjali Mitter Duva) at the fiction series at the Penn Book Center, 130 S. 34th St., on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m.

(interview by Victoria Brownworth for PGN)

 

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Note: 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.

As a lesbian writer, I am continually confronted with the fact that we are many things – at the heart LGBTQ but perhaps not in everything we do.  I’ve come to the conclusion that LGBTQ status shouldn’t matter even when it does.

Recently, I was reminded of this dilemma in the reading of two books from Other Press about men who happen to be gay in the Middle East. Both books are well-written and delightfully complex. Both also represent stories within a story. coexist rainbow flag two

In The Parting Gift (Other Press 2018), a novel by Evan Fallenberg, we meet an unnamed narrator who tells us the story by writing a letter to his former lover Adam who he knew in a university in the states when the narrator left abruptly for Israel where he fell in love with a for a time lived with an alpha male who was previously heterosexual – and who in fact, as the narrator tells us, may not have an orientation other than being macho and selfish.

The story line, like the sexuality of the two male beloveds, is fluid. “This story, like most stories, could begin in a number of different places,” writes Fallenberg.  His narrator explains that he chose to go to go to Israel “because if you’re a Jew you can get off the plane in Tel Aviv, tell them you want to be a citizen, and you get processed right there at the airport.  Full rights and benefits – housing, education, medical.”

Once in Israel he meets and falls in love and lust with a spice-dealer who is close to his ex-wife and his children. The gay narrator becomes totally ensnared in the relationship and once things quickly begin to go bad, he is forced to examine entitlement – first that of his lover but then also the entitlement that he himself grew up with even as he acknowledges that he is now on the receiving end of entitlement.  It is being used against him. The narrator explains to Adam (and to the reader) that he didn’t leave abruptly because, “I had no friends, no real prospects. I was suddenly a 1950s housewife, trapped and helpless.”

The Diamond Setter, a novel by Moshe Saka (Other Press 2017) which was translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen is a sprawling novel that traces the role of a blue diamond — a cursed but inanimate object with a storied past — in connecting people and communities.

A main character — Fareed a young Arab man from Syria who crosses the border and sneaks into Israel with the destination of Yafa – is gay. Fareed (who is carrying the diamond) finds himself in a community that evokes his past.

In addition to being culturally significant, or perhaps as a result, the novel has love at its core. It begins with a few paragraphs that contain the passage that this a story “from back in the days when the Middle East was steeped not only in blood but also in love.”

When Fareed is amazed at the acceptance of gays in Israel, one of his new friends in Yafa warns that,

“Most gay Palestinians in Israel are closeted. It’s a very conservative society. Even our leaders, the ones in the Knesset, say things like, ‘Arab society is not yet mature enough to contend with this issue.’ What is it mature enough for it to deal with then? … What’s for sure is that the Shami Bar, here in Yafa, is an oasis.  It doesn’t represent anything going on in this country, certainly not the discrimination and racism against Arabs.”

Perhaps the novel can be summed up by what Sakal writes in the Afterword:  “Anyone who lived in Palestine before the State of Israel was established in 1948 had tales of brave relationships that survived even the bloodiest of times, love affairs and friendships between Jews and Arabs … “

As complex as The Diamond Setter is, it can leave the reader with the feeling that with love, anything is possible.

 

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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Janet Mason will launch her new book THEY, a  biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — New York/Lisbon) on Thursday, July 26, at 7 p.m., at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane in West Mt. Airy.

From the Chestnut Hill Local — interview by Len Lear:

“I hope the story lets everyone know that religion/spirituality is open to them,” said Janet, “whether or not they chose it. The story was in part inspired by a young woman who lived on my block and whose child transitioned genders at an early age. A few years ago, this young mother left her church in tears after a rather judgmental remark from another congregant.

“Of course, my neighbor never returned to that church. When I was writing, that story was in my head, and I think consciously it means that I wrote the book to let everyone know, especially that child, that there is room for them. They are valued.”

To read the entire interview, click here.

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To read a published excerpt from my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders

(Adelaide Books New York/Lisbon), click here.

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