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This morning, I led a Unitarian Universalist Memorial Day service on the topic of forgiveness.  In my talk about forgiveness, I debuted my latest novel The Unicorn, The Mystery. The YouTube video of part of  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:

purification

 

“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.

 

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

 

Amazon THEY

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I am re-posting some published excerpts of my novel, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders that was just published by Adelaide Books (New York/ Lisbon). (For more information about the book — click here.)

This piece was first published in aaduna and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

 

The Mother  

(sometime early in the first century)

 

In the beginning was the Mother.

In the womb, Tamar took mental notes. The heavens trembled — at least it felt like the heavens. Maybe it was just gas. The Mother shifted. At first, it was too dark to see. But Tamar could feel. At first it felt like chaos — like everything was unconnected. But then she felt something holding her. A curved wall. She was leaning into it. It was soft and warm. She felt her backbone curve behind her. She was half of a circle. Was she floating? There was a chord attached to her belly. She relaxed once she realized that she wouldn’t float away.

There were appendages coming out from her shoulders. She looked down below the chord. On the lower part of her body there was a small bump and on either side of that were two more appendages. There was liquid all around her. She felt warm and safe. She didn’t have to worry yet about breathing.

Whoosh. She flinched. Slosh. Gurgles whizzed by. There was an abbreviated bubbling. After it repeated three times, she identified the sound as a hiccup. After a few moments, there was silence. Then there was a contented hum coming from the distance. Tamar knew it was the Mother, and it calmed her.

Amazon THEY

The darkness lifted. She saw a distant light glowing through the pink barrier. She looked down and noticed tiny extremities with red lines moving through them. They were attached to the ends of two appendages, on each side of her. She found that she could move them, as if she were trying to grasp something. She knew that these movements would come in handy later. The light went out. Darkness. Tamar felt herself in her body.

She was perfect.

When she woke again, she blinked for the first time. It felt good so she did it again. The pinkish yellow glow came back. She clenched and unclenched her fingers. She rubbed the short one across the tips of several of the others, and felt a roughness. She felt a nourishment rushing from the chord through her body. And it was good. She went back to sleep for a long while.

When she woke, she stretched and yawned. She saw a pinkish yellow glow. It was faint and came from the other side. She looked toward the light and saw the sack next to her. There was someone inside who looked like her. It even had a light glowing around its edges — just like she did — down its extremities and around its fingers and toes. She remembered now that she had entered one body of two. Her twin was beside her. There was a large, round dome attached to a small body like hers. The big round dome faced her. The eyes looked at her. One blinked and the other stayed open. The two corners of the lips went up. Somehow she knew that this was a smile. Her twin was welcoming her. She wanted to welcome him back, but something stopped her. She didn’t know who her twin was. Was her twin part of her? She wasn’t sure she wanted to be part of someone else. She definitely didn’t want to share her Mother.

There were appendages on both sides of his body. There were five fingers attached to the end of each appendage. The fingers clenched and unclenched. They seemed to wave at her. Tamar thought about waving back, but she didn’t. She wasn’t sure if the thing next to her in the translucent sack could see her. So she pretended that she didn’t see it. Then she looked down and saw something protruding. At first she thought that she was seeing a shadow. She moved her head slightly. The shadow was still there. She looked down at her own body and saw that she also had a third appendage on the lower part of her body. It was much shorter than the two other limbs. She clenched and unclenched her fingers. They were all there — five on each side, including the shorter ones at the ends. None of them had fallen off. She looked down again. Somehow she knew that this protrusion made her a boy and knowing this made her angry.

She knew her name was Tamar, but she had forgotten where it came from. She knew that Tamar was a girl’s name, and that she was a girl. She had a vague memory in her cells that she had come from a single egg, fertilized by a trail of light that had come just for her. And she remembered that another egg, fertilized with its own stream of light, was next to her and that the two eggs had merged. They crossed over and into each other, exchanging some vital information. Tamar’s egg knew that it was female. But it absorbed a sequence of information that told it that its genetic material that it would be male and female. The secret language of the cells said that each of the eggs would be XX and XY.

The thing next to her had a longer protrusion than her. She took comfort in that. Perhaps this meant that she was really a girl after all. But the thing next to her — gradually, she came to think of him as her twin — would most likely be lording his superiority over her forever.

On the sides of the protrusion were two lower appendages. She found that she could use her mind to stretch them. And once she stretched them, she realized that these were her legs and that her feet were attached to the ends of them. She kicked at the inside of the pink cushion that surrounded her.

“Ow,” said a woman’s voice. It was the voice of the Mother. Tamar knew that she had to get the Mother’s attention first. She kicked again.

This time she felt a gentle hand push down on the other side of the pink cushion. Her twin nudged the Mother back.

“What are you trying to tell me, my son?” asked Mother.

I’m a girl — a girl just like you Mother, Tamar tried to say. But speech eluded her. She had yet to utter her first cry. But she had to get Mothers attention —

to read the entire piece in aadduna, click here

 

 

 

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Following is a YouTube video of me reading from Catwalk a new novel that I am currently revising.  The same story — that of revisiting and revising Sodom and Gomorrah — is printed in my blogpost below the video.

Based on a fictional interpretation of the life of my maternal grandfather,  Catwalk opens in 1927 when Joseph leaves his wife and two daughters to find himself.  He is in love with his best friend Vince, but does the love that dare not speak its name exist in the 1920s?

It does – in speakeasies, honky tonks, in the back rows of silent film houses, the alleyways near Times Square, between sailors in Gulfport, Mississippi and in the Merchant Marine where Joseph and Vince enlisted at the beginning of the Great War. Still, Joseph is torn between being a “normal man”  (in the vernacular of the time) and a “degenerate.” He tells himself that he is not a “fairy.”  He just loves Vince. He day dreams about the two of them setting up house, and  having a life together.

But this son of a Southern Baptist deacon raised in Biloxi, finds himself constantly at odds with his own demons.  Catwalk is a tale of romantic adventure where historic settings come to life. This excerpt of Catwalk takes place when Joseph falls asleep on the beach in Biloxi Mississippi and dreams of a different world.

 

 

 

Joseph opened the car door and stepped out onto the shoulder of the road. He walked around the front of the car to the beach. He felt the sand sink under his shoes. Unsteadily, he put one foot in front of the other and walked to the water’s edge. He relieved himself and when he was done he staggered backwards and found himself sitting on dry white sand. He sat cross-legged and dug his right foot into the sand.  A clump of sand fell into his shoe. Joseph reached down and untied his shoe. He took it off and held the black leather shoe upside down. He emptied the sand onto the beach. He put the narrow toed shoe on again and tied the laces tightly. He ignored the grains of sand clinging to his pant legs. He tied his shoes. He felt the sand in his shoe again. Joseph started to reach for his shoe to empty it out again but let it go. What did it matter?
He stared up. Bright stars punctured black sky. Vince was out there somewhere.  Perhaps he was looking at the stars, too. Joseph wanted to stop thinking about Vince, but he couldn’t think of anything else. Joseph clutched his hand to his chest and rocked back and forth. He rarely cried. He didn’t even cry at his mother’s funeral. But now he was alone in the dark. He was drunk. He spent the day with a cadaver that looked like Vince. Joseph could still smell the acrid scent of the embalming fluid. Joseph looked to his left at the sand dunes and then to the right at the vaults and tombstones. He twisted around and stared back at a vault that was behind the tombstones at the top of the beach. The cross atop the vault shimmered.
Joseph was alone with the tiny white stone house of death that was waiting for him. A flash of inspiration came to him. The only way that he could escape his memories of Vince was to leave Biloxi. Vince’s presence was too strong here. The two of them had grown up here together as boys. They had run off together and joined the Merchant Marine when they were young men. As adults, they had talked about returning to Biloxi.
Joseph lay down on the sand and curled into a fetal position. The humid summer’s night air wrapped around him like a blanket. He shut his eyes and listened to waves wash over pebbles. His crossed his arms so that they made an X across his chest. The fingertips of his left hand burrowed into cool grains of damp sand. He fell asleep and dreamed that he was standing in the cemetery with a shovel.  He was digging into the sand — digging and digging.  A familiar voice called. It was deep and pleasant   But it was distant. Joseph had to find Vince. The voice brought back everything that he had ever loved. They had been boys together, sitting next to each other in church, swimming through the waves to a deserted isle where they could pretend they were shipwrecked sailors. Vince was a part of him.  His voice brought everything back: Vince being bullied when he was a boy; the scar that was left on his cheek when Joseph had defended him — the two of them becoming fast friends, boys growing to men. The first time they had made love was in the memories of sea foam. Even Joseph’s jealousies of Vince’s girlfriends seemed important now. He realized that this had been part of the love that formed him, before and after they had joined the Merchant Marine.  Their shared experience of being fathers was part of their love for each other, too.  Vince was at his happiest when he had become a father, twice over.  Joseph had been genuinely happy for him. He had almost been as happy when his own children were born.
Vince called to him in a deep, melodious voice that was separate from Joseph but part of him, too. The voice was louder with every shovel full of sand that Joseph dug up and flung over his shoulder. He began digging faster, faster. The voice still sounded like it was far away. He dug the hole so deep that he could no longer reach the bottom. Joseph thought he saw translucent arms reaching toward him from the hole. They were attached to broad shoulders, a barrel chest. Joseph saw Vince’s olive skinned face with the scar above his cheek.  His mouth was open. He was calling to Joseph. Joseph could see Vince’s chiseled face, but Vince looked like a ghost. Joseph hoped that Vince wasn’t dead.
Like a man dying of thirst, Joseph peered at the apparition. His eyes were that parched for a glimpse of Vince. Suddenly the apparition became filled with blinding light. Joseph stared into the light. He saw that it was a tall figure with wings the span of an Albatross.

angel in city
Joseph realized, as he stared into the light, that it was Vince disguised as an angel. Vince was one of the angels who came to visit Lot in Sodom. But instead of an angel disguised as a man, he was a man disguised as an angel. But it wasn’t one angel that visited Lot. There were two angels. Joseph knew that Vince was alone and lonely. He was searching for Joseph. Joseph could be the other angel. They would be together again. Together they had visited Sodom where the neighboring men from the town had knocked on Lot’s door, saying that they wanted to “know” the angels. But in his version of the story, the angels would leave together, arm in arm, rather than assisting God in burning down Sodom and Gomorrah.
They would leave together and fly off with their Albatross wings to a land in the clouds where two men could love each other. Their love would be bright and true.  Their love would be so strong that it could change everything, including a world that denied they existed.
Joseph only had to tell Vince that their love could change everything — that they could create a world that was so good it was brilliant.
If only Joseph could touch him. Joseph cast down his shovel and dove into the hole. When he reached the dazzling angel that was Vince, he fell right through him. It was as if he was plunging through flaming hoops at the circus.  Yet the flames did not burn or scorch him. The fire cleansed him. It was as if he were precious metal. He could feel the dross dropping away. His intent was purified.
The Bible said that Godly fire would consume the wicked, but not the righteous.
His love for Vince was righteous.
He fell through the light into the darkness.  As he entered the darkness, he knew that his love was as pure as the fire of God. Vince returned that love. They would be reunited.  Together they would spread the gospel of love.
Love was the energy that created the world.
The fire did not destroy him.  It fueled him.  He would find Vince. He had faith in the power of love. He would seek love, and he would be rewarded in this life and the next.
His joy would be fulfilled through Vince. This was his word.
Joseph tumbled heels over head through the long tunnel that he had dug.  The apparition of Vince and the blaze of the angel vanished.  But Joseph could hear Vince calling to him from far in the distance.
“Joseph. Joseph.”
Joseph kept falling through darkness.
“Joseph. Come closer. Closer.”
Joseph kept falling. He created a V with his arms behind him so that he could fly more smoothly with the wind rippling off his body. He was no longer falling. He was soaring downward.
Vince was somewhere in this tunnel.  Together, their love would illuminate the darkness.
Joseph kept soaring.  He was determined to find Vince — even if he had to plunge straight through to the other side of the earth.

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This morning, Sunday December 17th, I led a Unitarian Universalist service 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).

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

light-tree

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:

I 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

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Note: An excerpt of short fiction from my new novel, Pictures, was published in the Fall 2017 BlazeVox17.
Following is several paragraphs of “Cliff Dwellers” followed by a link to the full story at BlazeVox17.  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.)

 

They were going to see George tomorrow evening. He was throwing a small party to celebrate the completion of his painting, Nude With A Parrot. He had worked on it for years and said that it was much more complex than any of his boxing paintings, which of all his work had received the most acclaim. Nan couldn’t wait to see it. She first knew of George as an artist, then as her teacher and then as her friend. When she still lived in New York City, she went to the Art Students League on Fifty Seventh Street. She had intended on signing up for his class. But George’s classes in the City were always full. So she started taking art classes with George when she and Wilna moved to Bearsville near the town of Woodstock in the Catskills where he taught in the summer. He was taking on new students and as it turned out he liked her work. She couldn’t believe her luck! She knew of his work from her days in the City. She had gone to a group show of the Ash Can artists at a gallery in the Village. There, she had fallen in love with his Cliff Dwellers. She was enthralled by the large painting of overcrowded Lower East Side tenements with a street between them. A huddled mass of people filled the bottom of the canvass. Children played on the pavement in the foreground. Wearing white, their mothers bent over them. The mothers were young women harried beyond their years with too many children and even more worries. Four clotheslines were strung above the crowd between the tenement fire escapes. The thickly slanted brushstrokes brought the scene to life. On the left hand side of the canvass, a black man wearing a brimmed hat tipped his head forward. On the right, a white man sat on the railing next to a set of stairs that led from the tenement into the crowded street.

read more at BlazeVox17

4x5 transparency

“Cliff Dwellers” was inspired by the above painting  by the artist George Bellows in 1913. George is also featured in my piece of short fiction titled “The Artists” published in the latest issue of Adelaide Magazine.  Click here to learn more.

 

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

 

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Note: a version of this review is being aired this week on the international LGBTQ radio syndicate This Way Out, headquartered in Los Angeles. To listen to the entire news wrap, click here.

Just when I was starting to think that well, maybe religion gets a bad rap, I was jolted back into reality by reading three recent books on the theme of religion written by queer writers.

The moniker “queer” embraces LGBT (what a friend calls the alphabet people) — which stands for “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender.” One thing we all have in common is that we are different — from each other and from the rest of society. This fits with the original definition of the word “queer” which meant strange or odd — “unusually different.”

An article in the Baptist News Global cites Pew Research Center’s findings that 62 percent now say “homosexuality should be accepted by society … 12 points higher than when the same question was asked in 2007, when acceptance of homosexuality stood at 50 percent.”

That religion is changing — and so rapidly — is a good thing.rainbow leaf

But imagine for a moment that you are a parent and the church you are in — and probably were raised in — tends to still be in the non-accepting 38 percent. Then imagine that your teenage child comes out as gay or lesbian. Or that your young child insists that he or she is the opposite gender.

Suddenly, your world is upside down. And the people in your congregation — the ones you would ordinarily trust in a crisis — have a good chance of being non accepting. You have the choice of leaving, of course. Or you could stay and help the people around you become more open minded — but this might possible hurt your child.

This may be part of the reason that young people — who tend to be more open minded about sexuality — are leaving religion in droves. According to The Christian Post, “a third of young adults in America say that they don’t belong to any religion.”

The reason that I thought that religion might be getting a bad rap is that I’ve been having a good experience as a Unitarian Universalist (and as one of the lay ministers) for the past four years.

But my secular upbringing undoubtedly made me more open to exploring religion and I found a “Welcoming Congregation” which means acceptance of all its members, including those in the queer community. In the case of the congregation that I joined, most of the congregants are straight and they are genuinely non-homophobic. But the fact is that we’re all different (and this is a good thing) so I would say that everyone is a little bit queer. And since, people are leaving religion in droves, perhaps religion itself is in danger of becoming queer in the original sense of the word.

Yet, we’re all spiritual people and religion does have something to offer. It can use its power to heal rather than to hurt.

The first book I read was To Drink from the Silver Cup: From Faith Through Exile and Beyond (Terra Nova Books) by Anna Redsand. As an adult, Redsand explored many of the same alternative spiritual traditions that have fueled me such as yoga and the Gnostic Gospels. But since she was raised fundamentalist (and encountered discrimination early on) she eventually found a Christian congregation that embraced her whole self. Redsand, who was raised by missionary parents in the Navajo Nation, is particularly insightful in her analysis of oppression.

Redsand writes movingly about the alternative reality that many, especially those from religious backgrounds, experience:

“Twenty-one when Stonewall happened [in 1969], I was then grieving the end of a guilt-ridden, clandestine affair with one of the nurses at the mission hospital.”

In Straight Face (Green Bridge Press) author Brandon Wallace writes eloquently about the reality of living a dual existence as a gay person who had entered the ministry of a fundamentalist religion that denounced gays. He shows us how this is extremely unhealthy. But he also explores how he felt called to come out of the closet, become his authentic self, and help others. This came after he read about a gay teen who had died by suicide:

“While I was reading, all of my past came screaming back at me. I thought about my own suicide attempts, and all the nights I Iay in bed and thought about doing the same thing.”

A Faithful Son is a novel by Michael Scott Garvin that explores the life of a young man growing up gay and fundamentalist in a small town in the South. “Boys like me grow up crooked…” he writes, and tells us the story of how and why the narrator had to leave the small town and move to Los Angeles. The narrator is devoted to his mother and writes movingly about her final days. Ultimately, he writes not about finding faith in the end — but about the narrator finding himself — and maybe in some ways that is the same thing

These three books are a testament to difference. These three author may all have come from fundamentalist backgrounds, but their stories are all different.

What they all have in common was that all three authors were raised in a strong faith that gave them something, but to preserve themselves, they had to leave.

This piece was previously published in The Huffington Post

 

sunset from inside a cliff.jpg

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This morning, Sunday August 13th, I co-led a Unitarian Universalist tradition called Poetry Sunday.  This is one of my favorite services because we are privileged to hear so many voices from the congregation as people read their own work and the poetry of other poets.  For this service, I wrote a reflection and read from my new novel titled Pictures and talked briefly about the early environmentalist and poet’s poet Robinson Jeffers. You can see my reflection below on the YouTube video or read the reflection below that.

If you are interested in reading/viewing other published excerpts of Pictures click here.

For more published excerpts of Pictures, click here.

For a post about previous UU Poetry Sundays, including a YouTube video of my reflection on the late poet Audre Lorde, click here.

 

 

Earth is our home. We are part of this world and its destiny is our own. Life on this planet will be gravely affected unless we embrace new practices, ethics, and values to guide our lives on a warming planet. As Unitarian Universalists, how can our faith inform our actions to remedy and mitigate global warming/climate change? We declare by this Statement of Conscience that we will not acquiesce to the ongoing degradation and destruction of life that human actions are leaving to our children and grandchildren. We as Unitarian Universalists are called to join with others to halt practices that fuel global warming/climate change, to instigate sustainable alternatives, and to mitigate the impending effects of global warming/climate change with just and ethical responses. As a people of faith, we commit to a renewed reverence for life and respect for the interdependent web of all existence.

–Threat of Global Warming/Climate Change, Unitarian Universalist Statement of Conscience

 

I was having lunch with my old friend and my first publisher the poet Jim Cory when the name Robinson Jeffers came up.  I was telling Jim about the novel I was revising, called Pictures, and about a party that my characters were attending at the home of the fine art photographer Edward Weston in 1926 in Carmel ,California.  It is a fictional depiction of historical people, most of them artists of varying kinds. Jim said that the poet Robinson Jeffers lived in Carmel at that time, and he most definitely would have been at the party.

I found out later that Weston photographed Jeffers. Robinson Jeffers by Edward Weston

My friend Jim then went on to describe Jeffers as a pioneering environmentalist/ climate justice activist, poet, seer.

I went home and promptly reserved the books of Jeffers from the library and opened one of his poetry books to “Distant Rainfall” – I’ll read it here – “Like mourning women veiled to the feet/ Tall slender rainstorms walk slowly against/ gray cloud along the far verge./ The ocean is green where the river empties,/   Dull gray between the points of the headlands,/ purple where the women walk,/ What do they want? Whom are they mourning?/ What hero’s dust in the urn between the/ two hands hidden in the veil?/ Titaness after Titaness proudly/ Bearing her tender magnificent sorrow/ at her heart,/ the lost battle’s beauty.”

I read a little more about Robinson Jeffers – who is truly fascinating – and then I was inspired to add several passages about him to my novel, Pictures, including the following passage where my character is hiking the cliffs of Carmel, California, overlooking the Pacific when he spots Jeffers:

 

Edward was usually looking for images. He imagined that Robinson was doing the same thing  — or looking for inspiration, doing whatever poets did.  Usually they just nodded or when they were close they exchanged a few words.  Edward had a feeling that Robinson was more reclusive than he was.  It was true that art required the artist to be alone, and that human beings were a distraction (unless they sat still and silent for a portrait).  One time, Edward had spotted Robinson on a trail above him, staring out at the ocean as the mist, turning into rain, rolled toward the shore.  The man’s gaze had been so intent, so singularly focused, that Edward was mesmerized. He wondered what was going through the man’s mind.  Did he see things in the mist — did he see leviathan women walking along the surface of the ocean as they heralded the storm.  Were the women his muses? Or was the mist itself the muse as it became rain — the wetness part of the mystery that became poetry.  As Edward stared, he was captivated by the cragginess of the poet’s face. He seemed to be as rough hewn as the rocks behind him. To look at him was as startling as seeing sheer cliff walls disappearing into sea. One day, thought Weston, I will photograph him.

 

Briefly, John Robinson Jeffers was an American poet known for his work on the region of Big Sur on the central coast of California.  Today he is considered an icon of the environmental movement. His father was a Presbyterian minister and his mother a biblical scholar. He is known as a poets’ poet and has been written about by other poets such as Adrienne Rich.

In these surreal days of having to insist that science is real, it’s good to remember Jeffers.

Science is real and so is the mystery.

 

–Namaste–

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