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Posts Tagged ‘Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration’

Today, like most Sunday mornings, I attended the now digital services of the Unitarian Universalists of Mt. Airy (until recently it was the Unitarian Universalist Church of Mt. Airy). Today the service was given by two long-term members on the subject of convenent. It was a good service, and I learned a lot about being in community. I have been a card-carrying member of the Unitarians for more than five years, but I do feel like I am still in the learning phase. This is possibly because this is how I approach life. It is also probably related to the fact that I was raised secular. I have a hard time summing up my complex relationship to religion in a few words, but I do know that the religion that I found – combined with my other spiritual practices of doing qigong and Buddhist meditation — makes me a better person. It also makes me more inquisitive.

I am heavily influenced by the gnostic gospels The Gnostic Gospels can help people think in new ways, critical for this time. Consider that “gnosis” is the common Greek noun for “knowledge.” Perhaps, the reason the Gnostic Gospels are scorned is in the name: Gnostic (“knowing”). Apparently, it is heretical to know your own truth.

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 were known throughout history – particularly in the Middle Ages – but were always banned by the Church.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of the Gospel of Mary written by Mary of Magdala and found in fragments.

I’ve decided to post a short excerpt from my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders(Adelaide Books)that were inspired by the The Gospel of Mary.

Mary looked dejected. Thomas wanted to cheer her up.

“It does not matter,” Thomas said. “You and I are Yeshua’s favorites. We’re the only one he trusts, really. He told me himself that there is no way to know that the apostles won’t abandon him in a crisis.”

“That’s true,” replied Mary. “Besides, we’ll be travelling with Yeshua when he performs his miracles. There’s nothing that Peter can say that will change that.” Mary nodded and then spoke: “Peter treats me like an adversary. But I am trying not to respond with anger. For one thing it would tarnish the feeling that I hold for Yeshua. I do feel that he can truly save us. Also, I know that the angry person’s wisdom is the seventh power of wrath.”

“What are the first six powers?” asked Thomas.

“The first form is darkness; the second, desire; the third, ignorance; the fourth, death wish; the fifth, fleshly kingdom, the sixth, foolish fleshly wisdom; and the seventh, as I told you, the angry person’s wisdom.”

Mary picked up her basket and glanced back toward the Temple. “I should go before the meeting is over and the men come out.”

Thomas looked at Mary with respect bordering on awe. Mary was wise, to be sure. She had much to offer.

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 participated in a service on difference during a month of storytelling at  Unitarian Universalists of Mt. Airy in Philadelphia. I reflected on story and led the following writing exercise. You can watch the reflection on You Tube (below) or read the text below. I hope it inspires you.

A story about difference

All my life, I have struggled with being different. Finally, in my sixth decade, I’ve made peace with the fact that I am different – that I am uniquely myself with the corresponding thought that it is good not to “fit in” anywhere.

For a long time, the only places I’ve felt comfortable are those that embrace diversity. Perhaps the reason why is that places where everyone is the same take me back to my childhood when I was bullied for being different or “other.” This was an intense experience, but the end result was that it did make me identify with others who are seen as different.

Decades ago, I found myself mistakenly in a gathering of lesbians who all worked for large corporations. They were talking about having to be closeted which at that time was the only way they could survive in a corporate environment. Rightly or wrongly, I felt that the entire thing – working for corporate America and being in the closet – was, in a word, “weird.”

So, my feelings of being different haven’t always related to being Queer, but that has usually factored into it. When I came out and found my tribe, I found myself among a group of lesbians in a woman’s book-store – many of whom all dressed the same in various types of jeans and tailored shirts usually with the collars turned up. Well, it was the eighties, and we had a uniform. So, I distinguished myself with a pair of trademark red high-top sneakers and dangly earrings.

I’ve been different in different ways over the years. I’ve been a lesbian-feminist (before the word Queer came along – even though I was always queer with a lower-case “q”). About six years ago, I found my way to this Unitarian Universalist congregation which is diverse enough to make me feel comfortable. Being a Unitarian Universalist for me means embracing more than one faith tradition and since this is different than most religions, I’ve often had to explain how this works.

More recently, for the past year and a half, I’ve belonged to the worldwide movement of going to a healthy plant-based diet. Of course, there is some overlap between my identities, such as the existence of the UU Animal Ministry. And I admit that I am happy when I find another LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) vegan!

You might say that I’ve worn lots of hats over the years. And the members of my tribe now? Well, I’d have to say that the people I’m most comfortable with are those who are most comfortable with difference – including their own!

We are all, in our own way, different.

–Namaste

To learn more about my recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

The Unicorn, The Mystery now available from Adelaide Books — #amreading #FaithfullyLGBT

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This morning, I participated in a service titled “Telling Our Stories” at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in the Mt. airy section of Philadelphia. I reflected on story and led the following writing exercise. You can watch the reflection above or read the text below. I hope it inspires you.

We all have a story to tell – at least one story if not more. It may be the story of how we got here, the story we know that can help others, or the story that we’ve always wanted to tell. The story encloses us in a world, we discover that world, and we learn things. Often, one of the things that we learn is that we are not alone.

As a writing teacher, I tell my students to write down their stories.  It’s true that if you write down your story and hold it up to the light you will experience it differently.

I often think of the quote from the Gospel of Thomas (in the Gnostic Gospels).

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

The saying is attributed to Jesus and some say this is heresy which makes me think there is something to it. Regardless…

I encourage you to think of myth and re-create yourself with it. It might be a myth that you remember from childhood. It could be the story of the tooth fairy or a bible verse. It could be any story that helps to get you through life. I encourage you to be positive and to be strong in your story.

As a working writer, I often think of my life as aligned with the myth of Sisyphus.

This is the story in Greek mythology of a man rolling a boulder up a hill. According to this myth, Sisyphus received a punishment in the underworld condemning him to roll a boulder to a mountaintop only to have the boulder roll back down again. 

There are few variations, but for the most part the myth fits me – except that in my case a woman is rolling the boulder up the mountain. Perhaps this is my way of remembering that good things come to those who never give up.

When you include myth in your story, you can rewrite that myth or put yourself into an existing myth. You may find yourself feeling larger and stronger.

Telling our story helps us define ourselves. As the late poet Audre Lorde said, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”

Writing your story requires listening. Listen to the silence. When all is quiet listen to the voice inside of you and write down what it says. 

If you like, you will have a chance to share a story with us this month – during this month of story.

Since, we don’t have time for you to write during the service, jot down a few ideas after this and if you feel like it, return to your ideas later.

We’ll have some music after this for about five minutes, so you can reflect on your story and write it if you choose to.

Think about your favorite myth. What is the character in the myth that you relate to the most.? Maybe myth doesn’t work for you. Maybe myth irritates you. You are invited to rewrite the myth.

If myth doesn’t work for you, you can write a story that doesn’t include myth. Maybe you would like to write the story of how you got your name or of how you got here.

Namaste


To learn more about my recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

The Unicorn, The Mystery now available from Adelaide Books — #amreading #FaithfullyLGBT

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(This morning I participated in a UU service with several other lay leaders on the topic of Buddhism. It was truly an enjoyable experience and I learned a lot. My reflection is on the YouTube video above and is printed below.)

Good morning

A Unitarian and a Buddhist?! This is a question that I am asked a lot – especially when my credibility is being challenged. I guess the problem is that people don’t understand how you can be two things at once. 

So, I take a breath and sometimes I explain. But always I take a breath — even when I don’t explain. When I decide to respond, I explain that you can be more than one thing at once. This fits for me because, like Walt Whitman, “I am large. I contain multitudes.” As a writer this is particularly true. When filling out the occasional Unitarian Universalist form, I always check Buddhism as my root religion. I was raised secular and Buddhism feels the most natural to me. I take a breath. But I am also a Unitarian Universalist. I have chosen a faith that includes everyone. That is important to me, especially as a Buddhist.  

I embrace the moment. Some would say that the moment is all we have. I don’t try to run away from it, as many do – often using food, drugs or alcohol among other things. I take a breath and inhabit the moment even when it is an extremely difficult one – or a complicated moment like this one. Some might say that it is intersectional – when things fall apart and come together. As a writer I often record the moment – because we have so much to learn from history even, or especially, when it’s happening in the present moment.

I’ve written that these are difficult times to be a Buddhist. It’s true that I cannot wish everyone well. So instead, I wish for peace and for the highest good to emerge. Can doing nothing change the world? 

Please take a breath with me. Take a deep inhalation for a count of three and exhale for a count of four.

Buddhism is energy. It is breath. And I would say it can change the world. These are difficult times – to be Buddhist or to be anything. But we are also in a time of change. For me, it is a necessary time to be a Buddhist – because as I breathe in and out, I realize that the Buddhism I practice is a way of taking care of myself.  If I didn’t practice it, I would have been reacting to things for much of my life instead of observing. 

One of my mantras, Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, is a phrase that translates loosely to “I devote myself to the Mystic Law of the Lotus Sutra.”

This mantra aligns my energy with the universe. It is also called the Law of Attraction, the Mystic Law or God, among other things. We are all connected to a force of goodness that is larger than ourselves.

–Namaste 

To learn more about my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders, click here:

https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/2018/04/25/a-perfect-mind-segment-of-they-published-in-blazevox15-amreading/

To learn more about my recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/2020/11/22/the-unicorn-the-mystery-now-available-from-adelaide-books-amreading-faithfullylgbt/

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I’m reposting a talk I gave at a Unitarian Universalist Memorial Day service on the topic of forgiveness that includes a segment from my latest novel The Unicorn, The Mystery. The YouTube video of my part of the service 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:

“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.

The Unicorn, The Mystery is available online where books are sold.  You can also find it at your local library (just ask the librarian to order it if the don’t already have it), through your local bookstore or directly from the publisher, Adelaide Books.

To learn more about my recently published novel — The Unicorn, The Mystery, click here:

https://tealeavesamemoir.wordpress.com/2020/11/22/the-unicorn-the-mystery-now-available-from-adelaide-books-amreading-faithfullylgbt/

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Today is Pentecost in the Christian tradition. There was a time, when the word “Pentecost” just conjured little white churches in central Pennslytucky that I knew with a shudder that I should avoid. (Even driving by on the turnpike was a hazard.) But I am now past that. I am really am curious.  I researched the Christian holiday of Pentecost a while ago for my novel The Unicorn, The Mystery (being published later this year by Adelaide Books) and found that doves were routinely shoved through a little hole in the ceilings of cathedrals in the Middle Ages. (Doves represented the Holy Sprit and before that they were associated with Aphrodite.)  Perhaps there really is nothing new.

The minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church I attend (now digitally) is from a Christian-background and mentioned that today was the holiday of Pentecost in his background. Then he went on to talk about the events of the day which truly are grim.

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Later,  I received two comments online relating to Pentecost. The first comment was from a colleague I’m friendly with. She quoted a passage from what I assume is the Acts chapter in the New Testament. The quote ended with: “ever with the cross that turns not back.”

I approached this Bible verse like a riddle. To me, not turning back is persistence. 

The second comment I received was from a not so friendly source. It was written in response to my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders. He told me that Christ demands the complete and full surrender of self. Then he said, “This not only includes acting upon same sex attraction but all sin.”

I have to confess to being raised secular— something that I have always considered a blessing — so I may have missed something. But I think I was just insulted.

I’m a practicing Buddhist.  That’s my root religion in my Unitarian Universalist faith. As such, I rarely comment on anything personal about my harassers. But I looked at this guy’s Twitter profile and saw that he looked more than a little light in his loafers. He is young looking and rather effeminate. In fact, if he hadn’t just insulted me, I’d think we both played for the same team.

He described himself as a “Catholic who’s doing his best and discerning the priesthood.” Now I don’t know what the latter part of that means. But I do understand the first part. The question is what is he doing his best at? Does he mean that he’s doing his best in his avoidance of same sex attraction? If so, what is his best? Does he act on his same sex attractions now and then?

I hear that thinking you’re engaging in a sinful act might make things seem forbidden, and therefore “hotter.” But to me, it’s easier to believe that there is no such thing as “sin.”  I’ve heard it said that Jesus never said one word about “homosexuality” being a sin.

I’ve come to understand that Jesus is about justice.

In my research today about the holiday of Pentecost, I learned that the holiday is often called White Sunday or WhitSun. And I learned that the wearing of red is customary.

If it is White Sunday — then it is time for white people to stand up for justice. And this time — as in too many instances — it’s about racial justice. As a practicing Buddhist, I try to stay away from anger. But people have a right to their anger and often when it starts, it can’t be stopped. It’s perfectly understandable.

The senseless murder of George Floyd is an outrage. Thinking of yourself as above the law or as the law — is a mindset that has to be stopped. 

The golden rule of ethics (included in the New Testament) of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, is a creed that we live by.

It’s time for justice.

“…. ever with the cross that turns not back.”

 

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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One of the ways my partner and I have been staying connected during this time is through video chatting — with others as well as with each other. This week we met with a small group with our Unitarian church that is focused on poetry. Actually one member of the group is someone we know from way back when who was in a feminist writing group I was in. Another friend brought this poem to share. Since it has to do with writing and it talks about the sit down and be quiet method that I’ve espousing for decades, I thought I would share it with you. It was penned by Wendell Berry.

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How to Be a Poet

(to remind myself)
i
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
ii
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
iii
Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

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

THEY Scottie

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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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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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