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Posts Tagged ‘welcoming congregation’

This morning, I helped with a Unitarian Universalist service based on the lifting up of Pride. The service was about magic and being the hero of your own story.

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

Happy Pride

This is what I used to say every June to our legion of friends, old and new, when we were in every New York Pride Parade for years.

The New York Pride events were, of course, cancelled this year. Pride usually draws a large amount of people from all over the country.  It’s estimated that two million people have attended New York Pride each year in recent years.

My partner, Barbara, and I weren’t planning on going this year and we haven’t been to Pride for years. Although we would like to go again and see our friends in Brooklyn who we stay with. Even so, even with all the tragedy going on around us, I was momentarily taken aback a few months ago when I heard Pride was cancelled.

Pride is that much a part of me.

The LGBTQ community has earned Pride.  But I do not think that having pride should be limited to one group of people.  Everybody should be proud of themselves.  As the late, great, writer Toni Morrison said, “You are your own best thing.”

She was speaking, of course, about true pride, or self-love or empowerment – whatever you want to call it. This kind of feeling good about yourself, does not rest upon feeling negatively about another group.  That’s not pride. Unfortunately, we’ve been seeing far too much of it and it’s heartbreaking – to say the least.  One could argue that hatred of others begins with self-hate.

Pride was born in the protests of the Stonewall Inn, which became a week-long riot in 1969. The people with the least to lose – those who couldn’t pass in straight society, the butch lesbians and the drag queens – exploded one night during yet another police raid on a gay bar. Raids were customary then. Gay people were routinely carted off to jail, their names were published in the newspapers. They lost their jobs – and often their families.

Ten years later, there was another riot, after the assassination of Harvey Milk, a small business owner and politician in San Francisco. The man who assassinated him, a former firefighter, got off lightly on a charge of manslaughter and used what has since come to be called “the twinkie defense” – meaning that his legal team used the excuse that he ate too much junk food which led to his criminal behavior. After this sentencing, a peaceful candlelight vigil turned into a riot outside San Francisco’s city hall which involved setting buildings and police cars on fire.

 

lesbian statue of libertyA few years after Harvey Milk was assassinated, I attended the premier screening of the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk (the first movie) at the Roxy on Sansom Street. I was young then, in my early twenties, and recently out as a lesbian. I still remember sitting in the dark theater and listening to the crying of those around me – mostly gay men.

Both riots – and there were others too – were before my time, but they are part of my history.

My partner and myself have lived in the Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia for a long time. We’ve had our problems with homophobia – even here in liberal Mt. Airy – but for the most part we have been met with acceptance. And that’s the way it should be. Of course, we should have equality. All people should have equality. This acceptance, no doubt, is why I sometimes take LGBTQ rights for granted.

These days, I’m probably more excited about going to a plant-based diet (which I did last fall for health reasons).  When I found out that this diet has a favorable effect on the planet, I was even more jazzed.

I’ve long been in favor of cultivating the earth — not just because it is the right thing, but because it is interesting. I’m a second-generation organic gardener, and I like bees. And I like planting bee balm and lavender and other plants that bees like.

But what I’m really excited about in going to a plant-based diet is feeling like I have a new lease on life. And I’m excited to be part of a global community.

There was a time when I felt the same way about coming out as a lesbian. Coming out in the early 1980s, meant that I didn’t have to erase myself and it meant that I had a tribe.

Recently, when reading a quote by the important gay writer Steve Abbott, I became very excited. The quote is about intersectionality and was made far before that term was commonly used. Steve died in 1992 of complications due to AIDS when he was forty-eight.

In his ahead of his time essay “Will We Survive the Eighties,” Abbott writes:

“It is clear that what we are doing now … is killing us all. And as we project these attitudes onto other species and towards the Earth’s ecological system, we are jeopardizing our very planet. I would argue that we can no longer afford to see anything – not even ‘gay liberation’ or our survival — as a separate issue needing a separate cultural or a political or a spiritual agenda. This does not mean I intend to renounce my sexual orientation, far from it. Even in times of sadness or loneliness, it remains my greatest source of strength and joy.”

As I read Beautiful Aliens, A Steve Abbott Reader edited by Jamie Townsend and published recently, I was reminded that we all have our stories and that we were all forged in fire.

In 1992, I was at a writing program in Boulder Colorado, when I was scheduled to have a one on one critique session with Steve Abbott.  He was at the program but had to leave early because he was sick with full blown AIDS. Nearly thirty years later, a review copy of his book showed up in my mailbox. I did not know it was being published and I had not requested it.

To me, this was one more experience that proves that the universe works in mysterious ways.

I became Unitarian Universalist later in life – after fifty – when I found a religion that agreed with me. In particular, the Seventh Principle rings true:  Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

We are all connected.

 

 

–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 this morning I had a lot to be thankful for.  Open Table MCC in the Philippines sent me this moving YouTube video.  And then a reader sent me the comment about my novel, THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books) that I posted below for you to read.

 

It’s hard to believe that people are so ignorant that they think that hermaphrodites, gays, and bisexuals didn’t exist in Biblical times. There is evidence on pottery in Greece as far back as 10,000 yrs B.C. “They” is among one of my most recommended books, great job!

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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When I first read the announcement of the Church of England saying that sex was okay only for married heterosexual couples and those in same sex couples — including clergy — are expected to abstain, I sucked in my breath.

I am a Unitarian Universalist with a root “religion” or practice of Buddhism. I was raised secular and Buddhism feels the most natural to me and I do have a practice, so I check that box.

Despite not expecting that much from the patriarchy, I keep expecting more from religion. Admittedly, I know very little about the Church of England apart from what I just searched on the internet. But I do know that it is Episcopalian. I have an English background and my forward thinking feminist mother thumbed her nose at this religion when she left, burned her bibles and became a card carrying atheist.

I expect lots of people will be leaving the Church of England after this announcement.

So, my first Buddhist prayer is for the children of people who stay in this religion, who come out (because you never know) and in some way internalize the message that they are less than. And sadly, these children may internalize self hatred in ways that cause harm to harm themselves. In the past, plenty of LGBTQ youth have taken their own lives.  But we live in a different world now and my hope is that being in that world helps these young people.

My second Buddhist prayer is for the people who stay in the church.  It is a Buddhist philosophy that the person who hurts others, hurts himself or herself. My hope is that the people who stay in this religion can change it so that it is not oppressive to others and to themselves.

My third Buddhist prayer is for the institution of this religion. This is a hard prayer because it’s easy to be angry and to say the Church of England deserves what it has coming. So it’s time for me to step back and to truly have compassion for the institution.

Like the government, religion is meant to serve the people (not the opposite). Religion is not meant to serve institutions — including churches and seminary schools. When religion does not serve people they are free to leave and form community elsewhere. This is why so many churches have gone out of business. So my hope for the religious institutions is that they understand this before it is too late.

I came to religion later in life. When I look back on my religious journey on the past five years or so,  I realize that I have been searching for the answer of what exactly religion is. This morning, with the help of the new minister — a smart young man who is a real natural — I realized the answer. Religion is designed for us to realize that everyone is sacred. This includes LGBTQ people, our families and our allies.

DCA0522F-70DE-4A90-9802-D500AEF27DFAReligion is captured spirituality and it is available to everyone.  So on my walk this afternoon, I thought and felt the words of Native American poet — and the U.S. poet laureate—

 

 

 

To pray, you open your whole self

To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon,

To one whole voice that is you.

…. “Eagle Poem” by Joy Harjo

 

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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I wanted to let you know that my novel THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders (Adelaide Books – New York/Lisbon) is featured by BlazeVOX‘s Zoom Blog.  BlazeVox (which also publishes books) is the press that published one of the first excerpts of THEY.

Thanks to BlazeVox editor Geoffrey Gatza for offering his heartfelt encouragement for so many experimental writers!

You can view THEY on the BlazeVox blog by clicking here.

 

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

 

Amazon THEY

 

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Yesterday morning at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration (in Philadelphia) I did a talk titled “Entering The Mystery.”  This talk was part of a larger service on “New Member Sunday.”

You can view the YouTube video below.  If you prefer, you can read the piece below the video. Thanks!

 

Good morning

 

“Janet?  Janet joined a church?”

I overhead this a few years ago when I was downstairs.  A woman I had known casually for a few decades through the women’s community was talking to my partner.

Her comment wasn’t judgmental or skeptical.  Rather it was innocent and incredulous — or maybe it was simply factual.  Was she hearing things correctly?

Could Barbara had said this? Was it true?

This was after a service when several members of the Anna Crusis Women’s Choir joined the Restoration Singers on Music Sunday. Our music director, Jane Hulting, formerly directed the Women’s choir and stays in touch with the “Annas.'”

Of course, I found the comments of this “Anna” amusing.

But I’m the first to admit that I’m an unlikely church member.

When I joined Restoration about four years ago, it was the first time I had joined a church.  I was raised secular – but always knew myself as a spiritual person.  Like many, I was distrustful of organized religion.

In one of my earliest spiritual memories, I remember standing on the beach as a child — having lost my parents — and looking out to the waves and praying to an amorphous and genderless “God” that I find them.  Then I turned around and my mother was walking toward me.

I played the guitar as a child, and in fifth grade sang “Like A Bridge Over Troubled Water” on the stage. The song has always had resonance for me.  Then as an adolescent, I crossed my own troubled waters.  Perhaps it was my spirituality that got me through.

When I started coming to Restoration, the time was ripe for me.  I discovered a religion that shared my values.  I had a life-time of alternative spirituality behind me and found a place that wasn’t rigid or narrow where I could explore traditional spirituality.

I also found a spiritual home for my partner and I.

Last week she said to me after we came home from the service that it was really wonderful that we have such a nice church to attend together.

There are so many people from the wider communities that we belong to here at Restoration. And there are so many others — who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.  It is good to be together.

It is good for me to be connected to all of you, to this Beloved Community – and to be connected to hope.

Shortly after the election, I heard a short segment on National Public Radio about how people in the United States tend to be divided into red and blue states and experience sameness rather than diversity.  They often don’t know the stories of anyone who is different from them.

Diversity helps to build empathy.

It also creates hope.

I really cherish being part of the diversity here at Restoration.

As a writer and as a creative writing teacher, I know that our stories are sacred. I spend much of my time alone and am fortunate in having a partner who respects my need for aloneness.  Solitude is necessary for a writer but so is being in the world – to a lesser extent.

I’ve been a reader all of my life.  As a child, the whole world opened up to me when I learned how to read.  I was described as a bookworm – as a child and as an adult.

Restoration’s emphasis on books drew me in as did its diverse and welcoming community.  But coming here most Sunday mornings is different than spending my time writing and reading. By coming here, I am part of a community that is connected to the world and to the cosmos.

A year ago, I would have said that the diversity of the congregation was important – today I know that it is absolutely essential.

As I mentioned, I was raised secular. Religion is still a bit of a mystery to me.  Everyone’s reason for joining a church is different.  I suspect that each person joins Restoration for a reason that might end up being different from what they may have thought originally.

Welcome to the mystery.

 

 

–Namaste

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