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Posts Tagged ‘Unitarian Universalism’

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 have been rather amazed at the resilience of people in my many communities — particularly in my queer community. Perhaps it is because we have been through this before.  The AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s left its devastating mark on entire communities; it was global; and we were at first not sure how it was spread. It’s important to remember that queer people fell in love and partnered in that era — including my partner and myself.

One of the ways that my partner and I are getting through this crisis is by staying connected to our faith based community. Kudos to our minister Reverend McKinley Sims (Kin) who went immediately to a digital format.  The Unitarian Univeralist Church of the Restoration (in Philadelphia) already had a live-streaming platform which has been strengthened and the minister also did the service via Zoom so we could hear people’s joys and concerns. Kin gave a rousing sermon and opened with a pre-recorded rendition of “I just want to celebrate another day of living.” Hope was inspired. I’m sure that was intended.  There was also excellent live music, with the musicians maintaining the new social distance in the church that was empty of the congregation.

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photo by Gloria Rohlfs

 

Another way that I am dealing with this period is by understanding the scientific history of this pandemic. Plant Based News just posted an excellent video (which you can see on YouTube). It featured a 2015 talk by Dr. Greger who is an important author, plant-based diet advocate and a physician with a background in infectious disease. His talk was spell-binding. Not only did he predict the current pandemic, but he connected the history of infectious diseases to the history of the domestication of animals for human consumption. In particular, he connects the spread of influenzas to the factory farming of chickens. I took away that if the Corona Virus hadn’t spread from wet markets in a region in China that it would have spread a different way. It still might. It’s up to us to change and stop providing a market for diseased chicken — or any chicken.

 

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This morning, I helped with a Unitarian Universalist service based on theme of International Pig Day.

The YouTube video of my talk  is below. The complete text of my talk is below that.  The service took place at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration on Stenton Ave. in Philadelphia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This quote from Tich Nhat Hanh bears repeating:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Recently, I read with considerable consternation that suicide rates among LGBTQ youth are up — again.

Then I was targeted online with anti-LGBT citations from the New Testament. I was tempted to let this go — like most writers I have moved onto other topics — but then it occurred to me that there is a connection between anti-gay sentiment in the Bible and LGBTQ youth committing suicide.  Young people are being taught that they don’t matter — and the few anti-gay passages in the Bible are trickling into the bully culture of mainstream society.

My first thought was that citing the anti-gay passages from the Bible does not make one a Biblical expert.  In fact, the second citation was wrong.  The first citation from Romans (which Biblical scholars believe was written by the Apostle Paul who is believed to have been gay himself, unfortunately with no small amount of internalized homophobia) is one of the few (if not the only) references in the Bible to lesbianism. The citation reads, “women exchanged natural relations for those contrary to nature.”

To which I reply, “Good for them!”

It’s nice to know that some 2,000 years ago, same sex passion did exist and was important enough to have several mentions in the Bible.

There are plenty of references to men engaging in “unnatural” passions with each other. But what I noticed most when I read part of the Bible as research for my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is the intense misogyny.  By comparison, the anti-gay parts seemed to drop away.  It is after all — one (patriarchal ) history of the creation of the world. Some would say it is THE history of the world.  But there are plenty of creation myths. Then there is science.  The Bible just happens to be a very popular set of creation myths.

There are also, beyond a doubt, some absolutely beautiful passages in the Bible. So rather than throwing out the baby with the bath water, I have decided to claim the parts of the Bible that suit me.

 

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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Happy Holidays!

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I am reposting this talk that I gave last year to mark the occasion of Hanukkah which  starts on Sunday, December 22 and ends Monday, December 30th. The talk was a Unitarian Universalist (UU) service that was called “Ringing in the Light.”

I talked about my childhood memories of being touched by Hanukkah and my experiences in celebrating the Winter Solstice and with the Gnostic Gospels. You can see my words below on the YouTube video or read the reflection below that.

As far back as I can remember, the light beckoned.

The sun was a ball of fire in the sky.  The light changed into vibrant colors in the morning and the evening.  It filtered through the branches of trees.  The sunlight had, in fact, shined down and helped to form the trees.  So the light was in the trees (along with the rain and the earth).

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Even when it was cloudy, I knew the sun was there. Sometimes I could see the ball of sun outlined behind the gray clouds.

The first time I remember being drawn to the light in a religious context was when I was in elementary school watching a play about Hanukkah.

Despite its nearness to Christmas on the calendar, Hanukkah is one of the lesser holidays in Judaism. Hanukkah, also called The Festival of Lights, began last Tuesday at sunset and ends this Wednesday, December, 20th, at nightfall.

When I asked my partner what Hanukkah meant to her, she responded that it is a celebration of survival, hope and faith.

The holiday celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, detailed in the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud.

This victory of the Maccabees, in approximately 160 BCE –  BCE standing for Before The Common Era — resulted in the rededication of the Second Temple.  The Maccabees were a group of Jewish rebel warriors who took control of Judea.

According to the Talmud, the Temple was purified and the wicks of the menorah burned for eight days.

But there was only enough sacred oil for one day’s lighting. It was a miracle.

Hanukkah is observed by lighting the eight candles of the menorah at varying times and various ways.  This is done along with the recitation of prayers.  In addition to the eight candles in the menorah, there is a ninth called a shamash (a Hebrew word that means attendant). This ninth candle, the shamash, is in the center of the menorah.

It is all very complicated of course – the history and the ritual – but what I remember most is sitting in that darkened auditorium and being drawn to the pool of light around the candles on my elementary school stage.

I am not Jewish.  I say that I was raised secular – but that is putting it mildly.  My mother was, in fact, a bible-burning atheist.  Added to that, I was always cast as one of the shepherds in the school’s Christmas pageant since I was the tallest child in elementary school.

Also, I had Jewish neighbors – and as a future lesbian and book worm growing up in the sameness of a working class neighborhood — I may have responded to difference and had a realization that I was part of it.

Then I grew up, came out, thanked the Goddess for my secular upbringing, and celebrated the Winter Solstice with candles and music. This year, the Solstice falls on December 21st. The Winter Solstice (traditionally the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year)  is this coming Thursday in the Northern Hemisphere of planet Earth – which is where we are.

One of our friends who we celebrated the Solstice with is Julia Haines. Julia is a musician who has performed at Restoration.  She has a wonderful composition of Thunder Perfect Mind which she accompanies with her harp playing. You can find her on YouTube. Thunder Perfect Mind, of which I just read an excerpt, is one of the ancient texts of the Gnostic Gospels.

The Gnostic Gospels were discovered in the Egyptian town of Nag Hammadi in 1945.  Originally written in Coptic, these texts date back to ancient times and give us an alternative glimpse into the Gospels that are written in the New Testament. They are so important that they are banned in some conventional religions.  And in my book, that’s a good reason to read them.

Reading them led me to think of myself as a Gnostic – meaning one who has knowledge and who pursues knowledge – including mystical knowledge.  The Gnostic Gospels have provided me with inspiration for my writing, particularly in my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, soon to be published by Adelaide Books. And they also inspire me in the novel I am currently writing — titled The Unicorn, The Mystery.

I am inspired by the Gnostic Gospels in part because they let in the light.  In particular, they let in the light of the feminine.

As Julia says in her rendition of Thunder:

am godless

I am Goddess

So how does finding the light factor into my experience of Unitarian Universalism? Later in life, after fifty, I found a religion that fit my values.  I found a religion wide enough – and I might add, secure enough – to embrace nonconformity.

In finding a congregation that is diverse in many ways – including religious diversity – I have found a deeper sense of myself.

And in that self, I recognize that the darkness is as least as necessary and as important as the light.

As a creative writer, I spend much of my time in the gray-matter of imagination.

It is in that darkness where I find the light.

 

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 received an online comment this morning that to my inquisitive mind might have well had said: why encourage people to think for themselves?

“Can we just not encourage people to read gospels written hundreds of years after Jesus’ life? They are all interpretations of him and not actually his words?” [sic]

The comment brought to mind an incident that occurred some years ago. At a meeting of the worship associates (I am one of the lay ministers at a Unitarian Universalist church) the then intern minister mentioned that the professors at the seminary she was attending “hated” Elaine Pagels (a champion of the Gnostic Gospels).  Despite my Buddhist inclination not to engage with negative comments, I had a knee jerk reaction (in religious terms one might say I had an Ejaculation) and responded that the professors probably “hated” Elaine Pagels because they were jealous that she had published so many books. Another lay minister agreed with me. Even though I hadn’t meant to, I had started a religious war. Apparently, it’s easy.

The Gnostic Gospels were discovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt in 1945. There are some conflicting theories about when they were first written but some historians say that they were written before the New Testament was written.

The Gnostic Gospels are very different from Genesis in telling the story of how the human race was created. Readers can experience the Garden of Eden from the serpent’s eyes and ears!

3BDB915D-309B-403F-9E02-4628201F2FABThe Gnostic Gospels were known throughout history – particularly in the Middle Ages – but were always banned by the Church.

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

Given the scant evidence that Jesus actually existed, you’d think the Gnostic Gospels would be welcomed as further evidence that Jesus did exist since many of them refer to him. (There also is no evidence that Jesus wrote any of the New Testament or left any writings behind.)

The Gnostic Gospels are living documents.

I and many others have been inspired by the Gnostic Gospels.

In particular, my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books – New York; Lisbon) was influenced by the Gnostic Gospels.

Also my novel The Unicorn, The Mystery (forthcoming from Adelaide Books in 2020) was inspired by the Gnostic Gospels (in particle by Thunder Perfect Mind).

Perhaps the reason the Gnostic Gospels are scorned is in the name: Gnostic (“knowing”). Apparently, it is heretical to know your own truth.

 

To read more about the Gnostic Gospels, click here:

https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/2019/09/11/inspiration-by-gnostic-gospels-thunderperfectmind/

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 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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I woke up to the message that just because I don’t believe in hell doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Then the harasser too me to “have fun burning.” I assume that this sentiment was evoked by my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (from Adelaide Books).  Or maybe it is because I am part of the LGBT community.  Or perhaps it is just because I don’t believe in hell. Whatever.

It was “the have fun” part that really caught my attention.

You see, I’m a Buddhist (that’s my root religion which is encouraged in Unitarianism) and I thought that’s nice, my harasser is wishing me to have fun. I am wishing him happiness also.

As Pema Chodron (the Buddhist teacher) says, if people experience true happiness then they are less likely to oppress others.

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My partner who is not a Buddhist stopped by my office to admire my red devil sequin studded horns that I am wearing. ( I am having fun.) At first she said “that’s awful” when I told her about the comment. But later she said, ‘Don’t get mad. Get even.”

Exactly.

I’m having so much fun wearing my devil horns that I think I’ll keep them on — maybe all week!

 

 

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 when I think I am ready to move on to immerse myself in other projects, I am harassed about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books— New York — Lisbon).  I am a creative writer after all and we do tend to move on and write about other things and be fascinated by other details.

This time it was someone quoting the apostle Paul from the New Testament in one of his homophobic passages —  from Romans. Paul, hmmm, I thought, he sounds familiar. So I did a little research. I learned from Q Spirit, an online Christian zine, that Paul most likely struggled with his own homosexual nature when he was writing these passages.  To be fair, the author also writes that Paul also wrote some superb passages on unconditional love.

I also learned from Q Spirit that I was hit with one of the “clobber passages” from anti- LGBTQ bigots in quoting the New Testament.

Now, internalized self-loathing is a complicated thing. There are reasons for self hatred, but when that self hatred is used to oppress others — we have a problem.

There are lots of congregations that welcome LGBTQ members. There are so many that it seems like a no-brainer.

But we still have work to do.

Meanwhile churches are going out of business and there is a trend for old churches to be sold and to be turned into private residences.

When churches do discriminate against LGBTQ people, they hurt the children of their congregants, so people leave.

Also, when a young person who is just learning about his or her sexuality or gender expression leaves, a generational thread is broken. Often the parents leave too. And their friends and so on.

The antiquated notion of homophobia is one reason that churches go out of business.

Other online sources — such as Belief Net— have the same theory about apostle Paul suppressing his own homosexuality as the impetus behind his anti-gay writings.

I remember the feminist author Mary Daly, decades ago referring to Paul as the “little man who hated women.” That would be about right.

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

 

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