Feed the Hungry Heart on Feb. 22

Come to an intimate gathering of fresh, local food and fresh, local writing at Prose Restaurant in Arlington, MA.

Reasons you should come to Feeding the Hungry Heart at Prose on Feb. 22 at 7pm:

1) It’s all about the food. $15 gets you a vegetarian buffet of fresh, local food that will rock your socks off. Prose is one of the best restaurants in Boston, and $15 is an amazing deal. Dinner at Prose usually runs more like $40 a person

2) It’s all about the writing. Our featured readers will rock the socks off of anyone who still has them on after sampling the buffet.

3) It’s all about the community. Reaching Productions creates spaces that celebrate and support artists no matter what their level of experience. If you sign up for the open mic, you can expect people to applaud you. And that applause will rock your socks off.

4) It’s all about me! I’m organizing this event solo. As the date gets closer, I get the “what if I throw a party and nobody comes?” jitters. Be a pal and show up just for me. And for the food, writing, and community.

RSVP on Facebook by clicking this link

Or, comment below.

Mother Lil’s Jesus

“Try my Jesus,” she said. “My Jesus is your Jesus.”

She had the warm, rounded curves of a mature Jamaican woman. She wore white — white tunic, white pants, a white head wrap. Her name was Mother Lil.

When I arrived at the store, the woman at the counter gave me a slim, hardcover book bound in green. “Have her read Psalm 23,” I heard Mother Lil tell the woman.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want

I’d been raised on Bible verses. The Franciscans sang the entire mass, in a chapel suffused with Sunday morning sunshine. But what I remembered was Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians. What I remembered was the dingy gray Cathedral where a fat Archbishop in a gaudy dress rubbed oil on my forehead and told me to go forth and be a soldier of the Lord.

The Franciscans were kind, but they weren’t the ones who confirmed me. That fell to St. John’s Parish. Sister Christine ran the Religious Education program at St. John’s, and to this day I think she honestly believed every one of her little charges was going to grow up to be a drug dealer. She wouldn’t let the girls enter the church without a skirt on. Once, she dragged me down to the thrift store in the basement, picked out some moldy old thing, and forced me to put it on over my jeans. The word “genuflect” still makes me think of her.

They still used the Baltimore Catechism in my CCD classes — and that was in the 1980s. “What is the nature of God?” it asked me. And then gave me the answer in one paragraph. Even at the age of 12, I knew humans had been asking and answering that question since the dawn of time.

The Roman Catholics told me my body was dirty and bad. They told me I should be silent in church. They told me to marry a nice man who would take care of me if I submitted to him, but I knew how well that had worked out for my mother. And I loved my body. I loved other women’s bodies. There was no place for me in that church.

Here, in the Hope and Love Botanica, on Main Street in Poughkeepsie, New York, I hoped to find the secrets of that other church. I wanted to unlock the faces of High John the Conquerer, of Yemaya and Obatala.

“What goes on here?” I asked the woman at the counter when I first came in.

“What goes on here?” she echoed. She raised her eyebrows at me, this young white girl in the cheap blazer and the high heels. With my Vassar education and my computer skills, I thought I could cut into the secret practices of a religion born of the slave trade like you cut into a stick of butter.

“Yes, what sort of tradition do you practice?” I asked.

“Well, we are affiliated wit’ the church,” she replied. And I had to ask her to repeat that, because the Jamaican accent, and the notion of the Catholic Church tangled up in this, this thing I wanted so pure and sacred and separate… I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

“Do you teach classes?” I asked.

“We do spiritual readings.”

So I made an appointment for a spiritual reading.

And that is when Mother Lil handed me the Book of Psalms and had me read.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures
He leadeth me beside cool waters
He restores my soul
He leads me on the paths of rightousness
For His name’s sake.

Even if I should walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I shall fear no evil
For Thou art with me
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me

You prepare a table for me in the presence of mine enemies
You anoint my head with oil
My cup overflows

Truly, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life
And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
My whole life long

As soon as I began to read, the tears leaked out. Pipes opened by a vision of a loving God -– a Father, even — who would care for me like a shepherd.

But I couldn’t–I couldn’t. Not then, not for 10 years and more, could I open myself to such a Lord. That wasn’t the Father I knew. He was a Father of vengeance and hate. He never told us the rules, the rules changed all the time. And the rules that he set for us… they made no sense. You might as well tell the Irish to stop eating potatoes, the things he wanted me to do, and stop doing.

Mother Lil never said I had to take the Father, though. She offered me the Son.

“Try my Jesus,” she said, as I wept in the back room next to a table with a white candle and a bottle of fleur de lis. “My Jesus is your Jesus.”

She settled into a trance after an opening prayer so filled with lovingkindness it wrenches my heart today to think of it.

“Someone does spiritual work,” she said. “You do spiritual work?” And I nodded.

“The answer isn’t in the books,” she said.

I never paid her. She never asked for money, but I knew I owed it to her. I was living hand to mouth, right out of college, but nothing really prevented me from going back another day and dropping a $20 bill, a $10 bill, something, on the counter. The store is gone now. There’s no counter left where I can drop that $20. And interest accrues.

Gifts always come with a price, even if it is not money. My price is ministry. Because I cannot pay her back, I have to pay it forward, all the days of my life. Dwelling in the house of the Goddess, under the eye of Obatala, child of Brigid, child of Athena, child of Yemaya, child of Oya, I pay it forward all the days of my life.

Sometimes the whirlwind follows me, not goodness and mercy. I am not the Lord. I am not the Lady. I am a child of the gods as we all are. Any power given to me is borrowed. It leaks out of an imperfect vessel. Given the chance to lead, I’ve sometimes led us into deserts, not green pastures. But even deserts have their lessons to teach. And still I pay it forward.

I send thanks to Mother Lil for that first opening, for that first answer that didn’t come from books. I send thanks to Mother Lil for her Jesus, who is my Jesus, who is your Jesus.

Dear NOW: This Is Why I’m Not Giving You Any Money

Dear NOW:

I wanted to explain to you why I am not sending a contribution in response to your recent U.S. mail solicitation to me. I have three primary reasons for not wishing to send you my dollars:

1) As a queer woman, I am uneasy about supporting an organization that has a history of marginalizing “the lavendar menace” from the feminist movement.

2) The overt fear-mongering tone of your letter (“Do you want animals and clowns teaching your children about sex?) bore a marked resemblance to the emails I get from the Family Research Council. I believe strongly that hope and compassion conquer fear and loathing. Nixon’s campaign back in the middle of the last century appears to have had far-reaching consequences in the realm of national and local politics. One of the reasons Obama was so refreshing as a candidate, and why people rejoiced in his election, was because he ran on a platform of positive change rather than the fear and paranoia that marked the Bush administration. I expect the organizations I support to deliver the same sort of message.

3) I find that other organizations seem to be doing a better job of working for goals that I care about.

That being said, I am glad to see that you have joined the Web 2.0 revolution (hahaha) and will be following your actions via Facebook, Twitter, and email. I’m open to persuasion. So persuade me that your organization is still relevant and working toward the type of change that is in line with my own values.

Lovingkindness Is as Important as Transcendence

From the Daily Dharma. Is it possible that my early introduction to Buddhist philosophy was filtered through the lens of these American dharma teachers. As a pagan, I believe that this world, this physical existence, is a gift. I don’t long for Nirvana anymore than I long for Heaven. The idea of a rest in the Summerlands between lifetimes does appeal to me, though. And I’ve experienced myself the suffering that comes from attachment, and the serenity and joy that follows surrender and radical acceptance.

Untie the Boat

When we first brought one of our teachers to the States, we asked him what he thought of the American dharma scene. We had started these different centers and were very proud of what had happened. He said that he thought it was wonderful but that sometimes American practitioners reminded him of people sitting in a boat rowing very strenuously, with great sincerity and effort, but refusing to untie the boat from the dock. He said we reminded him of that in our fixation on transcendental experiences to the neglect of a sweeping view of how we’re behaving day to day, how we’re speaking to our family members, how we’re taking care of one another, or whatever. That’s why I think it is tremendously important to continually open and expand our understanding of where freedom is and where the dharma lies.

– Sharon Salzberg, “The Dharma of Liberation,” from the Spring 1993 Tricycle. Read the complete article.


Open Letter to Garrison Keillor

Dear Mr. Keillor:

I am writing in response to your recent article in Salon.com criticizing Cambridge, my home church of First Parish Cambridge (Unitarian Universalist), and the Unitarian Universalist faith in general.

I have been a loyal listener of Prairie Home Companion since you first went on the air in the 1970s. I have always loved listening to the News from Lake Wobegon, the gentle and forgiving and open-eyed way that you described the imperfect and well-meaning individuals from a small town in Minnesota that seems to resemble your own. I listen to the Writer’s Almanac every day. In many ways, your soothing voice and gentle words have followed me all the days of my life. I have dwelt in the house of public radio my whole life long. Your work has been a source of comfort and inspiration to me since I was a small child.

That is why your recent article was particularly dismaying and disappointing to me. I am not angry about what you wrote, Mr. Keillor, just very, very hurt.

In one of your stories, you describe a young man who is a dancer in New York City. In this story, you describe how much easier his life would be if he were desperately attracted to the woman who shared his apartment. But he is not attracted to women. You go on to say, “his life would also have been easier if he were a lawyer.” Like that dancer in New York, I discovered some things about myself that have been very hard for me — and many people — to accept. I am a bisexual woman, and I am a witch. Neither of these things did I choose for myself, anymore than I chose to have blue eyes. These labels do not define me, but they are a part of my identity, just as much as my blue eyes and my love for Prairie Home Companion.

After leaving the Catholic Church of my birth, and after many years of practicing my beliefs in private and seeking a spiritual home, I became a member of First Parish Cambridge. I joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation because it was the only church that would take a witch as a member. I discovered for the first time in my life a vibrant, organized, active community of people with deeply held beliefs that I shared. These beliefs and their creed may be different than yours, but they are beliefs nonetheless. They deserve to be treated with the same respect as those of mainstream Christianity, of Judaism, of Islam.

UUs care passionately about things like social justice, the inherent worth and dignity of all people, the interconnected web of existence, and the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Do not mistake our aversion to written dogma for wishy-washiness. Wishy-washy people do not work for the survival of Jews in Nazi-occupied Germany. They do not face criminal charges to keep immigrants from dying of thirst in the desert. They do not face violence and death in their own houses of worship.

You accuse us of having no creed. Our seven principles and six sources are even easier to understand than the Apostles’ Creed.

One of the most hurtful things you said in your article, Mr. Keillor, was that Christmas is a Christian holiday, and that if we don’t like it, we should go off and celebrate another one. Christmas is a part of my cultural heritage, and I refuse to abandon it to bigots and dogmatists. Furthermore, most Christmas traditions have pagan origins, including the Christmas tree, Christmas caroling, the exchange of gifts, and the Yule log. Good Yankee Congregationalists and Calvinists like the Rev. Lyman Beecher even refused to celebrate Christmas.

According to many Biblical scholars, it’s much more likely that Jesus was born in the spring. But there’s already another big Christian festival at that time of year. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s called Easter (from the German Ostara), a holiday that, like its pagan predecessors, celebrates life, death, and rebirth with the coming of the spring. Easter is also full of traditions that date back to its earlier pagan origins. I, for one, am not going to deny my children the pleasure of an Easter egg hunt in the service of theological purity.

Religion, like all of human experience and culture, is constantly evolving. As a Protestant, you should be well aware of how much your version of Christianity differs from that of Rome. And religious tolerance has always been one of the bedrocks upon which American society has rested. Please don’t fall into the same trap that Rev. Fred Phelps did. As a Christian who celebrates the birth of your Lord Savior Jesus Christ, you are no doubt aware of these words from the Book of Peter:

Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing.
1 Peter 3:8-9

I will not repay your insult with more insults, but with this wish: that you be treated with the same kindness, tolerance, and forbearance that all beings deserve.