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Posts Tagged ‘Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration’

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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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.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l99Mgj_yGhs?start=1&w=560&

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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What made you write about foregiveness? Some of our folks seem afraid to talk about foregiveness and accountability.

Just recently someone on Twitter asked the above question. I thought I’d answer this on my blog since Twitter might not give me enough space.

I started thinking about forgiveness when a former Unitarian Universalist minister kept mentioning it in her sermons. Up to this point, I hadn’t given the concept of forgiveness much thought except that I saw it was used oppressively at times as when the victim was blamed.

Then I read a very slim book on Christian forgiveness from which I learned that forgiveness is expected.  The book did not explain how forgiveness is found in oneself. I read the book to see if it would be helpful for a Christian relative who was in constant distress.  I didn’t think it could hurt, but I don’t know that she ever read it.57AEAA82-52C1-4B8A-8691-3CDA24FC6BBC

It was news to me that Christianity expected forgiveness — perhaps because I was raised secular. I started looking at forgiveness from a Buddhist perspective.  There is one strain of Buddhist thought that says a slight to someone else is a slight to yourself. Like lots of people, I had things in my life to forgive and move on from.

I thought about it in my daily practice. I finally made up a mantra about forgiving everybody who had ever done me perceived or actual harm. Then after a while I forgave myself for any harm I may have caused intentionally or not. The thinking behind this is that none of us is perfect and that also our actions may have been misinterpreted.

It took a year of meditating on this, but I could actually feel the result. I felt lighter as if I had been dragging around a boulder for years and had just let go of it.

Like many things in my life, this worked it’s way into my writing.

 

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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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Just recently, I was contacted online and was asked what do I mean by saying Unitarians don’t believe in hell and therefore I can’t be threatened by it.

Whatever the motivations were behind the question, it did make me think.  I’ve long heard that Unitarian Universalists (UUs) don’t believe in hell and that it is an issue for some people.  For the record, I do believe in karma (not necessarily a Unitarian belief) — that what goes around comes around and I do believe strongly in living an ethical life. UU beliefs on hell can easily be found online. One of the most accurate and pithy statements I found came from a website  called Learn Religion which stated:

Heaven, Hell – Unitarian Universalism considers heaven and hell to be states of mind, created by individuals and expressed through their actions.
Unitarian Universalism describes itself as one of the most liberal religions, embracing atheists, agnostics, BuddhistsChristians, and members of all other faiths. Although Unitarian Universalist beliefs borrow from many faiths, the religion does not have a creed and avoids doctrinal requirements.
I was raised secular and it felt natural to be part of a religion that doesn’t emphasize a “bad  place” like hell or tell me I’m going there. Plus, I really like the UU notion of making life on earth less hellish with its emphasis on social justice.
But also for the record, I support people’s rights to believe what they want to. It’s called Freedom of Speech (or thinking for yourself) and it’s in the constitution. This notion undoubtedly helped me become a fiction writer.

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

THEY a biblical tale of secret genders Janet Mason New W

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As a practicing Buddhist, I admit that there are times when it’s hard not to be defensive. We’re naturally wired to the negative – it’s part of our DNA fight or flight hardwiring.  So, I sit with my feelings for a while before responding.  Sometimes I go online and listen to Tina Turner chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

At this point, I am used to being told that I’m going to hell for writing THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books – New York/Lisbon).

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But this time, a case of online harassment left me nonplussed. The harassing Tweet was of my review of Jeffrey C. Stewart’s biography of Alain Locke published by Oxford University Press which won the National Book Award for nonfiction. The review was aired on the international LGBTQ radio syndicate This Way Out.

Alain Locke was the first black Rhodes Scholar (in 1907) – and a gay man – who went on to start the Harlem Renaissance. In my view, the publication of this book was a major step forward.

The harassment stated that being gay was a sin (but being Black was not) and then it went on in very explicit terms to state the sexual practices of what the harasser thinks that it is that all gay men and all lesbians do with each other.

It was the use of the word “sin” that threw me.  This is a secular book and we live in a secular culture where the sizable (22 percent) number of people who don’t identify with a religion is rising.

As far as what the harasser said about being gay being a sin but being Black not being a sin – it gave me pause to reflect that racism and homophobia often go hand in hand.  As the saying goes, “Haters gonna hate.” Of course, there are homophobic Black people as well as racist LGBTQ people. But a moment of feeling better than someone else doesn’t negate the fact that we are in the same marginalized boat.

Recently I was hospitalized for kidney stone surgery.  The minister of the Unitarian church that I am a member of came to visit me. I knew that he and his wife had joined the counter protestors outside a local library and lent Christian support to the story-time drag queen reader.

I asked him what he said to the Christian group of protestors who came to protest the drag queen story reader.  He said that from a Christian perceptive that since Jesus died for our sins (specifically for the sins of the whole world – John 2:2) that all sin was erased.  So therefore, sin is negated.

I was elated to hear this.  I have never related to the word “sin.” I was raised secular and came to religion after fifty.  I have always wondered about the word “sin” – if we are all sinners, why isn’t a moot point?  So it seems to me that  “sin” is an antiquated word – and given its ability to harm adults and children (and to keep them away from religion), I would prefer to use the word “ethical” as in “I’ve always believed in living an ethical life.”

As for the harassment – since it sounds religious – I will pray for the harasser:

Nam Myoho Renge Kyo

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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When I heard about National Library Week, April 7-13, I immediately wanted to blog about libraries.

But my deep belief in libraries is too large to be contained on one week.

When I heard that the Free Library of Philadelphia was order multiple copies of my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books; 2018) for its branches, I was thrilled.

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The Free Library also has multiple copies of my book Tea Leaves: a memoir of mothers and daughters(Bella Books; 2012).

I began hearing from people from coast to coast, that they were ordering my novel THEY through their local libraries.  I was thrilled, of course.

When a library buys a book, it means that many people can read it. Libraries are the great equalizer of knowledge. And in a nonreading culture (even if this was not true) libraries are essential. There is a very important link between reading and thinking.

Libraries — and librarians — teach people how to think.

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

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

To read a previous post about me reading from my book Tea Leaves at a local branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, click here.

 

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I wanted to let you know about my upcoming reading at the Penn Book Center this January 30th (Wednesday) at 6:30 pm.  I’m reading with novelist Anjali Mitter Duva.

The address of the Penn Book Center (in University City, Philadelphia) is 34th and Sansom Streets.

The series is hosted by the All But True Working Writers Group. 

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