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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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I do a lot on Twitter and yesterday found a YouTube link that a church account sent me.  Despite that I am good at ignoring things (possibly related to my practice of Buddhism), I got “hooked” and started watching the video.

It was a preacher saying that he was a Christian and followed the teachings of Jesus and that people tell him that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality — so far so good.

But then he backtracked and said that Jesus wrote the book of Leviticus in The Hebrew Bible. This is the chapter of the rules for starting a society that stipulate that man shouldn’t lie with man. Women, of course, are barely mentioned. Big surprise.

Jesus wrote parts of The Hebrew Bible? What!!! I stopped watching the video and did a quick search on who wrote The Hebrew Bible. I found a few different theories — but nothing about Jesus being the author of any parts of The Hebrew Bible.

I’m the first to admit that my math skills are scary-bad, but I can do a timeline and actually have many times in my writing life. Jesus, the person, was born in the year one A.D.  That means that Jesus wasn’t born yet when The Hebrew Bible was written.

Recently, I had a conversation with a liberal-minded Unitarian Universalist woman who told me that one of the churches she attends was having a schism over LGBTQ rights.  She emphasized that this was a Christian church.

I remarked that the people who suffer most are the children of parents who attend the church.  Children who are brought up to hate themselves often (worst case scenario) kill themselves or leave the church. I’m old enough to remember the stories of young people who jumped off bridges and their poor parents many of whom too late changed their minds about LGBTQ rights.

This is why people stay away from churches and why churches close.  Younger people tend to be more secure about their sexuality and less likely to sacrifice their children to hatred.

The world is changing and churches need to change with it.

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 my inspirations for my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books — NY/ Lisbon) is 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.

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 first place where I heard the Gnostic Gospels was in the music composed and played on the harp by our friend Julia Haines.

Julia has a wonderful composition of Thunder Perfect Mind. 

Thunder Perfect Mind is one of the ancient texts of the Gnostic Gospels.

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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

To learn more about Julia’s music, you can click the following link to her CD Baby Page that features HER Songs, Thunder: Perfect Mind and Odyssey.

  https://store.cdbaby.com/Artist/JuliaHHaines

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

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This morning, I helped lead a Unitarian Universalist service based on the Oscar Wilde quote — Be Yourself: Everyone Else is Taken. I talked about the word queer in one of its uses as “odd” and also in terms of being Queer. The theme of the service is that there is safety and strength in being ourselves.

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

 

 

When I was in high school, my then best friend wrote “to the queerest girl I know” on my yearbook photo and then signed her name.

I had yet to come out – even to myself – so I took her sentiment at face value.  She didn’t use the word “queer” to express the modern sentiment of that word, which has been reclaimed. She didn’t even use the word queer in its old-fashioned sentiment which was often heard in such statements as, “I’m as queer as a three-dollar bill.”

She meant the other definition of the word queer – at that’s how I took it – to mean: odd.  I wasn’t offended then and I’m not now. Given that I remember this incident, it’s likely that I was flattered by it.  As it turned out, I wasn’t only queer with a lower case “q,” but Queer also with an upper case “Q.”

When I came out in the early eighties, I identified as a lesbian-feminist.  Close to ten years later, a younger friend explained to me why she identified as Queer and that it was a more inclusive term that included Lesbians, Gay men, Bisexual people and Transgendered individuals.  These are the initials that form LGBT which is often followed by “Q” for queer and sometimes with a plus-sign that includes Intersex (inclusive of people who are born with both sexual characteristics), non-binary folks who don’t identify with either gender, and those who are asexual.

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I listened to my younger friend and when she said the word “inclusive” I was right there.  I have always been in favor of inclusivity.  It’s a fact that we need each other, and we also need our straight allies. We also need to be allies. We need to be okay with the fact that we are different differently. There’s a good chance that I have my background to thank for my need for diversity.  As a budding queer intellectual, I was bullied and scapegoated by my working class peers. I strongly believe that there is strength in diversity and that there is safety in diversity.

There’s an equally good chance that my need for diversity led me to becoming a member of this congregation.  As is written on the Unitarian Universalist Association website:

“In Unitarian Universalism, you can bring your whole self: your full identity, your questioning mind, your expansive heart.

Together, we create a force more powerful than one person or one belief system. As Unitarian Universalists, we do not have to check our personal background and beliefs at the door: we join together on a journey that honors everywhere we’ve been before.”

I feel that at this point of my life, I have arrived at a place where I am more of myself than ever. This may seem to be more related to being a writer than to being Queer, but it is all connected. I am a gardener, and my life is like my backyard. Finally, (after much work) everything has started to grow in all the right places. And I am amazed.

Recently when I was revisiting the works of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, I noticed that they used the word “queer” in their works. Of course, to a writer, the queer detail is the good one: It is odd. It is telling in its unusualness. It is not a cliché.

I’m all for progress, of course.  This includes LGBTQ rights.  We have some major rights but not all rights by any means.  And the rights that we do have are being eroded. But I have mixed feelings about assimilation. I have heard it said that since marriage equality, there is no longer a gay beach in Provincetown, the LGBTQ mecca located on the tip of Cape Cod. If there’s no gay beach, then we cannot find each other.

So, the same time that rainbow Pride clothes are showing up in some major department stores, such as Target, we are being erased.

I do not think it’s healthy for anyone to be just like everyone else.  And I don’t think it’s healthy for everyone else to be just like everyone else. We are all different.

It’s time for everyone to be queer.

 

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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One of the great pleasures in being a Unitarian Universalist lay minister is that I am called on to select and do readings as part of services. This past Sunday which happened to be a Poetry Sunday, focused on social justice, I chose to read Joy Harjo’s poem, “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet.”

The poem—which was passed along to me from my partner—was perfect for the service.  I have long been familiar with Joy’s poetry.  Her work is frequently used in Unitarian services, and long before I was a Unitarian, I was a fan of her work.

Then I heard that she was the first Native American U.S. poet laureate (it’s about time!).

 

You can watch me read the poem on YouTube or read the poem below the video.

 

Janet Mason reading Joy Harjo — a UU reading
Unitarian Universalist (UU) lay minister Janet Mason reads, as part of the annual Poetry Sunday, a poem written by Joy Harjo, the first Native American poet laureate of the United States. Poetry Sunday is a UU annual event. Janet is reading at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration in Philadelphia.
http://www.youtube.com

 

For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet

By Joy Harjo
Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

8BBC3AB4-D8D5-4AB4-9748-7A437D9CA9EFBe respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.

Reprinted from Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings by Joy Harjo. Copyright 2015 by Joy Harjo.

(I also found the poem at poets.org)

 

 

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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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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Looking back into the not so distant past, I recall wondering as I looked out the window — what if Spring doesn’t come back this year?  I didn’t wonder that this year, probably because I was busy — with my head in my laptop —revising my novel The Unicorn, The Mystery.

Having been raised secular (along with being a fan of Greek mythology), one of my favorite stories is about Persephone and her emergence from the underworld to be reunited with her mother Demeter.

I’m the first to acknowledge that I’ve had my issues with Christianity over the years.  What it came down to was that traditional religion just had too much baggage for me.  But that is changing.

But having been raised secular was freeing enough for me to once write a poem that said 

Jesus is a daffodil.

That’s it.  That’s all the poem said and, in my mind, all it had to say.

Just recently, I published a blog post about seeing the movie, Wild Nights With Emily, and how happy it made me as a scholar of Emily’s lesbian life.  I received a comment from someone who called himself “a reverend” about how upset it made him to think that Emily Dickinson was “gay.”

The movie is based on solid research regarding Emily’s relationship with her sister-in-law Susan and how that relationship was erased.  The comment (given its source) made me wonder if all – or most — of homophobia is based in religion.

A7CFB471-CA19-44C6-9F38-DDCFC95058E7Thankfully, religion is changing.  At the movie theater, I picked up a copy of The Philadelphia Gay News, which had an article about Drag Story Time at the Mt. Airy Philadelphia branch of The Free Library being protested by conservative Christians. My partner and I were delighted to  see the minister (McKinley Sims) of the Unitarian Church we attend on the cover of the newspaper as one of the counter protestors protesting the protestors and taking the side of the drag queen and story time. 

McKinley is on the bottom right of the photo (holding a big wooden cross) and his wife K.P. Is next to him holding a sign that says, “Christ is in all things, including drag.”

I was delighted that the a substantial graduating class of Notre Dame College walked out on speaker Mike Pence because of his anti-LGBTQ views. One of them coined the hash tag #notmyjesus. (For more informative, click here )

So let’s hear it for the people changing Christianity and changing the world!

 

Available through you local library, (including the Lovett Library branch of the Philadelphia Free Library where the protest was) THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders is also 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.

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