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I often consider the world to be a Buddhist test. I pride myself to be able to wish everybody well — regardless. This time I failed that test. Not only did I get pissed — I relished the feeling of righteous anger.

You see, I got ganged up on in Twitter.  I was bullied as a child and really really don’t like being ganged up on. Then a crowd of boys pushed me down the steep hill that was behind the elementary school playground. This time it was retweets and likes on a homophobic Bible verse that was sent to me.  It did not matter that this was a Christian gang. I still got pissed.

I read and reread the verse. It was from Romans and part of it reads: “…for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust toward another.”

First of all, the “natural use of the woman” — really?!

Secondly, this verse tells us that there were LGBTQ people in Biblical times. Of course, we knew that, but this confirms that our tribe was there.

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If anything, this Bible verse (which I have seen before) should be ignored. It also points out the necessity of re-writing the Bible which I did in THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders ( Adelaide Books).

I was ganged up on by this virtual mob during Pride. My first thought was shame, shame, shame. This is what we used to say during the LGBTQ Pride March in NY where we used to stop and point at the religious right people protesting the parade and chant back at them.

Shame on you for trying to make me feel bad about myself. And shame for trying to make a whole group of people feel bad about themselves.  What’s the point? Usually, homophobia has a fair amount of twinkle, twinkle (what you say is what you are) in it.

This is what I thought at first. But then I started to wonder what makes a homophobic right religious person tick. For surely by  driving people away from the church — it isn’t self preservation.

So I went to the major offender’s Twitter page and the first thing I saw was a donation button. Ah, money, I thought. That’s what they’re thinking. Then I saw a video about the migration of a certain Bible from Scotland to a recent “presidential” photo op in front of the church near the White House after the protestors in the street were scattered with tear gas.

I loved it when I saw that Mitt Romney was marching in the street with the Black Lives Matter protestors.  He was marching with a group of evangelical Christians who were singing “This Little Light of Mine.” Even if they came late to the party, they came. And even if some of these folks still oppose LGBTQ rights — other evangelicals (usually younger ones) are secure in their sexuality and are more open minded.

On this Twitter page (of the person who sent the homophobic Bible verse) there is no mention of justice and no mention of Jesus. There is no mention of goodness.

There is no mention that those protesting George Floyd’s murder are right — and that they are bending the moral arc of history toward justice.

We are at a pivotal moment in history — but not to back the forces of hate.

The young people are shaping the world that they want to live in.

Listen to them.

They are not your enemy.

 

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 “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 was reorganizing my office and going through my old poetry when I came across my Easter poem:

 

Jesus is a daffodil.

 

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(This photo was taken by Barbara McPherson of a daffodil that we grew in our garden.)

That’s it. That’s the entire poem.  It’s not dated but I believe I wrote it several decades ago.

 

In my pile of Exquisite Corpses ( I published many poems in that magazine, I found a poem by Karl Tierney, whose collection Jim Cory edited (Have You Seen This Man, The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney, from Sibling Rivalry Press). The poem is below.

 

ROME IN THE AGE

OF JUSTINIAN

 

Franks to the north,

and Vandals to the south.

 

Visigoths to the west

and Ostrogoths all around.

 

But thanks to your rectitude, Justinian,
still no sign of the Vulgars!

 

 

 

 

You can read a review of Karl Tierney’s book on this blog:

https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/2020/01/23/karl-tierneys-poetry-collection-airing-on-this-way-out-amreading-lgbtq/

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Namaste

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

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I was delighted to read this review which I excerpted below:

“What I liked most about the book was that I was a part of the discovery.  I would be reading about Tamar and her family and friends and then suddenly one of them would mention a relative or acquaintance who lived in another land; gradually I would come to realize this person was a famous Biblical character, for instance Naomi and Ruth from “I go whither you goest,” fame.

As a young teenager I was in search of answers, so I read the Bible from cover to cover twice. l   don’t know that I found any answers, but I enjoyed the stories. I was able to connect to those ancient people. The stories in They are told in simple, everyday language; they do not sound Biblical. They sound human.”

–reviewed by Vanda, author of The Juliana Series

To read the entire review, click here

 

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(Note: the following is my fiction excerpt titled “The Artists” that was just published in Adelaide Magazine.  The piece of short fiction is excerpted from my recently completed novel Pictures. Following is several paragraphs of “The Artists” followed by a link to the full story at Adelaide Magazine. Below that is an excerpt from Pictures on You Tube that I read at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia. And below that is a link to some other published excerpts of Pictures.)

 

THE ARTISTS
By Janet Mason

(October, 1926)

After dinner,  Nan and George refilled their wine glasses with a deep red Bordeaux and went to the sitting room where they waited for their spouses to join them.  George put a record on his new Victor Victrola.  It sat in the corner on its own end table. Its sound horn with its fluted edges resembled a large silver lily. The opening was turned toward the wall.

Nan stared at the fluted horn.

“I turned it to the wall so that the sound would echo through the apartment,” said George.

“The music sounds turbulent,” said Nan.

“That’s the point,” replied George.  “Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring portrays the violence of the Russian pagan rites. A maiden dances herself to death in the sacrificial dance.  Stravinsky uses Russian folk music in the score.  He was sketched by Picasso, and Picasso undoubtedly influenced him.  They both discovered artistic primitivism at the same time — Picasso in his cubist painting and Stravinsky in his experimental music.”

Nan  cocked her head and listened to the strains of music amplified by the phonograph.   She imagined violin bows slicing air. She heard cubism in the music. The bass of kettle drums sounded.  She cocked her head so that one ear was turned to the sound horn as she listened intently to the high tones of the piccolo and flutes.

Despite what George had said, Nan didn’t care for the music.  She didn’t say so though — out of politeness to her teacher and friend.

Emma came in and joined them, sitting down on the burnt umber leather sofa next to her husband. Wilna was still missing.

She must be in the powder room, thought Nan.

“I hear that the piece started a riot in Paris when it debuted,” continued George.  “But that was because of the bad ballet dancing under the direction of Nijinsky.”

….read more here in Adelaide Magazine.

Pictures was, in part, inspired by my discovering and reading about Wilna Hervey and Nan Mason by Joseph P. Eckhardt (WoodstockArts).  I went to see the show in Woodstock at the Historical Society and here is one of the photos (Nan is on the left; Wilna is on the right:

 

 

Click here to see more photos Woodstock Hist. Society -- portrait of Nan Mason & Wilna Herveyfrom the show about Nan and Wilna at the Woodstock Historical Society.

 

 

Read other published excerpts of Pictures (and see other YouTube segments) by clicking here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration (in Philadelphia) I did a talk titled “Honoring the father as well as the mother.”  This talk was part of a special service on Earth Day.

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

 

In the past month, my 98-year old father has been hospitalized three times.   Since I am an only child and a dutiful daughter, this has thrust me into a new chapter of my life – which feels at times disembodied and surreal and other times purposeful and grounded.

The night before one of his medical appointments, I slept in Levittown – the place where I grew up and is so much a source of strength to me as well as a considerable source of angst. I attribute my strong work ethic to my working class background. This is also the backdrop of two of my novels and partly of my memoir, Tea Leaves, about taking care of my mother when she was terminally ill.

In this conventional landscape, I found myself praying to a conventional God about my father. Now, I was raised secular. In the past four years of being a Unitarian Universalist, I have learned about traditional religions and at the same time deepened my spirituality through such alternative paths as Buddhism and yoga. I have always prided myself on being alternative.

To say that I have long had issues with patriarchy is putting it lightly.

One of my earliest memories is when my father and I walked to the neighborhood pharmacy – which is still there but now sells convalescence and medical supplies for the home instead of the chewy  Mary Jane candies of my childhood – and for some reason I stayed outside.  When he came back out of the store, I was putting the imprint of my finger in the pliant grout around the store’s window.  “What are you doing?” he asked me.  I truthfully replied that the group of boys who had just been there told me to do this. “Never do what a group of boys tells you,” he said gruffly.  I must have taken his words to heart, because this is how I have lived my life.

And so in this conventional landscape, I found myself praying to God the father to help my father.  When I told my partner who I was praying to, she gave me a quizzical look – that comes rarely in the lives of the long married — that said, who are you?

A week later in the emergency room with my father again, I found myself again praying. There is much suffering in the emergency room. I could feel the pain around me – the squalling babies, the broken people wheeled in on stretchers, a gaunt and neglected old man leaning back, his mouth wide open.

I was sitting there breathing in and out. I was practicing Tonglen – the Buddhist practice of breathing in the suffering around you and breathing out peace.  But there was so much suffering around me – including my father lying back on his bed with a breathing tube in his nose.

Then the young dashing doctor came in. He kept shrugging and mentioning that my father was 98 – and that he could go home if he wanted to.   I could see him giving me a sideways glance.  I felt summed up as a big lesbian who his charms were lost on. More than that, I found his ageism appalling.  My father was in the emergency room because he had a hard time breathing.  (He is living with congestive heart failure.)

Fortunately, the nurse — who I liked — suggested that my father be admitted to the hospital.  As I write this reflection, he is still in the there. I am sitting with him – making sure that he gets the proper care.

My partner and I live our lives simply and fully as if every day is Earth Day.

Barbara is a drummer and we have attended many gatherings where it is chanted:

The earth is our Mother, we will take care of her.

This is true – the earth is our Mother – and I did take care of my mother.

But the earth that I sprang from is also my father – and I will take care of him.

 

 

NAMASTE

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Yesterday morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration (in Philadelphia) I did a talk titled “Entering The Mystery.”  This talk was part of a larger service on “New Member Sunday.”

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

 

Good morning

 

“Janet?  Janet joined a church?”

I overhead this a few years ago when I was downstairs.  A woman I had known casually for a few decades through the women’s community was talking to my partner.

Her comment wasn’t judgmental or skeptical.  Rather it was innocent and incredulous — or maybe it was simply factual.  Was she hearing things correctly?

Could Barbara had said this? Was it true?

This was after a service when several members of the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir joined the Restoration Singers on Music Sunday. Our music director, Jane Hulting, formerly directed the Women’s choir and stays in touch with the “Annas.'”

Of course, I found the comments of this “Anna” amusing.

But I’m the first to admit that I’m an unlikely church member.

When I joined Restoration about four years ago, it was the first time I had joined a church.  I was raised secular – but always knew myself as a spiritual person.  Like many, I was distrustful of organized religion.

In one of my earliest spiritual memories, I remember standing on the beach as a child — having lost my parents — and looking out to the waves and praying to an amorphous and genderless “God” that I find them.  Then I turned around and my mother was walking toward me.

I played the guitar as a child, and in fifth grade sang “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the stage. The song has always had resonance for me.  Then as an adolescent, I crossed my own troubled waters.  Perhaps it was my spirituality that got me through.

When I started coming to Restoration, the time was ripe for me.  I discovered a religion that shared my values.  I had a life-time of alternative spirituality behind me and found a place that wasn’t rigid or narrow where I could explore traditional spirituality.

I also found a spiritual home for my partner and I.

Last week she said to me after we came home from the service that it was really wonderful that we have such a nice church to attend together.

There are so many people from the wider communities that we belong to here at Restoration. And there are so many others — who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.  It is good to be together.

It is good for me to be connected to all of you, to this Beloved Community – and to be connected to hope.

Shortly after the election, I heard a short segment on National Public Radio about how people in the United States tend to be divided into red and blue states and experience sameness rather than diversity.  They often don’t know the stories of anyone who is different from them.

Diversity helps to build empathy.

It also creates hope.

I really cherish being part of the diversity here at Restoration.

As a writer and as a creative writing teacher, I know that our stories are sacred. I spend much of my time alone and am fortunate in having a partner who respects my need for aloneness.  Solitude is necessary for a writer but so is being in the world – to a lesser extent.

I’ve been a reader all of my life.  As a child, the whole world opened up to me when I learned how to read.  I was described as a bookworm – as a child and as an adult.

Restoration’s emphasis on books drew me in as did its diverse and welcoming community.  But coming here most Sunday mornings is different than spending my time writing and reading. By coming here, I am part of a community that is connected to the world and to the cosmos.

A year ago, I would have said that the diversity of the congregation was important – today I know that it is absolutely essential.

As I mentioned, I was raised secular. Religion is still a bit of a mystery to me.  Everyone’s reason for joining a church is different.  I suspect that each person joins Restoration for a reason that might end up being different from what they may have thought originally.

Welcome to the mystery.

 

 

–Namaste

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(previously in The Huffington Post /Religion)

I had a spiritual revelation in my polling place last week in the presidential election. My partner and I chatted with others in line. There were many familiar faces and also many new acquaintances. It was a diverse liberal crowd. I smiled at a man wearing a blue “I’m With Her” T-shirt in the line that snaked around behind me.

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When I got to the registration table, an African American woman sitting behind the table gave me a smile when she heard me exchange names with the woman next to me  — someone in the neighborhood who I had never met before. In the hour in which we stood in line to vote — we discovered we had much in common. It was then I realized, this is like part in church where people pause and greet each other. The minister in my church calls it a “radical welcoming.”

When I joined the Unitarian Universalists several years ago, I quickly became a lay minister — called a worship associate in Unitarian lingo. As I recently explained to a vehemently atheist friend (there are many atheist Unitarians), my Unitarian Universalist experience has helped me learn about religion (I was raised secular), be open to people of all backgrounds and above all to underscore that no one group “owns” spirituality/religion.

Before I joined the Unitarians, I avoided religion all together since the religious right put me off — including the white Evangelicals who, according to The Huffington Post, voted for Trump, for the most part. They voted for him in record numbers based on hypocritical un-Christian hate filled values.

One of the epiphanies that I had in line at the polling place was that as a lifelong democrat, I have always voted, and I have voted for more than a few guys (and they were all guys) who I personally did not like. (President Obama was, in fact, the first candidate who I actually liked.) I have always strongly felt that there is a difference between the two major parties — enough of one that people’s lives will be affected.

Of course, this epiphany that I had at polling place the morning of the election was before we would see the devastating effects caused by people not voting.

If you stayed home and didn’t vote or effectively cast your lot for now President-elect Trump by voting for a third party — it is now time to wake up, suffer the consequences and step up to help those, especially the most vulnerable, who are now threatened by this administration. It’s time to cast away smugness and entitlement, and to put yourself on the line. Those (of all ages) who sat out the vote and are so apathetic they plan to do nothing are part of the problem.

As a practicing Buddhist, I meditate almost every morning. (The Unitarian faith includes and supports many spiritual paths.)

My emotions quickly cycled through me after the election results came in. On election day, spirits were high. After voting, I volunteered for the Democratic Party and went and knocked on doors. The people I talked to — almost all African Americans — had already voted. At the watch party (in my liberal neighborhood), I was stunned. By the following morning, I was devastated and depressed — so much so that I didn’t think I could get out of bed. But then I realized that anger was more healthy. Then for about two minutes, I felt deep grief — a necessary letting go and a relief — and returned to nothingness in my morning meditation.

Since then I keep going to back to anger.

Anger is linked to survival and I am blessed to have a strong streak of both. Perhaps it is my class background that makes me unafraid of my anger. I am the first in my family to have graduated from college and I have strong opinions (they may be different opinions from others from my class background but they are still strong). I am also a second-generation feminist and it may be my mother’s feminist rage (something I talk about in my book Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters).

I also am a lesbian-feminist who came of age under a fierce patriarchal system and I remember the quote from The Woman-Identified Woman By Radicalesbians:

 

“What is a lesbian? A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion.”

I am empathetic but concerned about the stories I am hearing about people — especially young people— being emotionally stymied by sadness/devastation and fear. Vulnerability is a good thing but too much of it leaves us open to attack. Remember, they want us to be fearful.

When I heard a friend talking about a young gay man who said he felt like he should go back into the closet, my immediate response was, “NO! — We have to be more out than ever.”

I am with Senator Elizabeth Warren who said in an interview on the Rachel Maddow show that now is the time when “We stand up and we fight back.” She advised people to volunteer for the causes they care about, to stay connected, and to stand our ground.

Despite my spiritual beliefs or maybe because of them, I do not have any optimistic words about the future. I do not advocate acceptance and I do not buy into the theory that anything is “God’s will.”

But maybe it is the goddess in my heart that gives me joy when I see the protestors on the street (#NotMyPresident).

Now is the time to prepare for the worst (even as we may hope for the best). We have to be centered and strong — to fight for our own rights and to help those who need help.

As the saying goes, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

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