About scififreak35

I'm a dreamer, a social justice warrior, a believer in hope, humanity, and beauty, and I want to save the world. I also want all the milkshakes and Captain America swag.

Roll Away the Stone, Rise Up, and Go Out Into the World: An Easter Sermon

Easter. The holiest day on the Christian calendar. The culmination of holy week. The end of the season of Lent. Here in America, Easter is usually all of that or Easter eggs, bunnies, baskets full of toys and candy, and pictures of terrified children with giant bunnies that may or may not be demons. Or was that just my 80s experience with the mall Easter bunny?

Easter, like Christmas, is a rather complicated holiday in America. Confusing if you have no idea what it’s about. It’s a mix of the secular and the religious. Christian and pagan. And for many people it truly is both. Going to church and then running around with other kids looking for hidden eggs and toys in Easter egg hunts.

While I’ve been really excited to do this service for months, I really struggled on how to approach it with you. Easter can be approached in a lot of ways. I consider myself to be a UU Christian. I am a member of the UU Christian Fellowship. UU Christians are still UUs and we have a lot of diverse beliefs. I am also an agnostic who does not know anything for sure and it feels arrogant if I try to think in absolutes. I spend a lot of time thinking and reading about theology and theological opinions, but I’m horribly indecisive by nature and I want options for everything.

A few weeks ago Adam asked me “So what DO you believe about the resurrection?” And I’ve been considering my answer ever since, thinking I might have something more coherent by now. Well, I don’t.

Did Jesus die on the cross and then rise three days later? Did he or angels appear to his friends and family and give them their marching orders? I don’t know. But I do think that something happened. I believe that the followers of Jesus experienced something that renewed their hope and their spirits after witnessing the worst thing ever: the brutal execution of their savior. Something happened. Now, I know how legends and myths work. I get how Christianity came to be this stew made from the many ideas and concepts floating around the Ancient Near East at the time. What my professor calls The River of God because rivers pick up all sorts of things that become part of the river. But there’s often some truth to legends. I refuse to outright dismiss the fantastic from the story of Jesus for the sake of hard logic or science.

I knew I wanted to tell an Easter story about Jesus. I wanted to keep Jesus in Easter. This is his story. But there are a lot of ways to tell his story. I was once reading The Watch Tower, which is a religious tract that Jehovah’s Witnesses publish. There was a question on the back of that particular issue. It asked the reader who was Jesus to them. The options were: the baby, the martyr on the cross, or the triumphant king. I thought about it and realized that while those are all legit Jesus evolutions, like Pokemon Jesus, none of those were MY Jesus. When I think of Jesus, I picture a man with kind eyes and gentle hands and a salty and sassy disposition. I think of the man that people followed and traveled far and wide to listen to. The man who said bring all the children to him. The man who healed and comforted. The man who stood up to the powerful for the powerless. The man who gave people hope. The man who was so awesome we are still talking about him over 2000 years later.

So Easter is a story we tell every year to remember it. The story is of life conquering death; it’s a story of a man who fought the system and seemingly lost that fight, but actually won. In Jesus, the oppressed had a champion and then he made us all champions. He ran the race and then passed the torch to us.

The death of Jesus was not the end of his story or his ministry. Oh no. The Roman Occupiers and the ruling classes tried to silence him because they were afraid of his message, but all they ended up doing was giving him a bullhorn and a platform. To quote a modern day Jesus figure, Neo, Jesus didn’t come to tell us how the story was going to end, he came to tell us how it was going to begin. Easter is Jesus in the phone booth at the end of The Matrix. He warns the system that is lying to us and using us and oppressing us, the Matrix, that he is going to open the eyes of the people and show them the real world, as it really is. And once people see, once they know The Way, they are going to remake the world.

Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Lent is the 40 period Christians spend in reflection and mindfulness of sacrifice, endings, death, and loss. Then there is Holy Week which starts with Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem, known as Palm Sunday, includes Maundy Thursday which is a commemoration of the last supper, Good Friday when Jesus was crucified, and Easter vigil on Saturday with lots of light. Then there’s Easter. Today. Today is a celebration. Today is a joyful day. The most joyful day.

The four gospels tell the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection slightly differently. Which is typical of the gospels. But each one is important and beautiful. In the book of Matthew, Jesus leaves the tomb at some point, then appears to the Marys after some angels tell them that Jesus has risen like he promised. He tells the Marys to gather the other disciples and he gives them all their final marching orders. He tells them to make disciples of all the nations and teach people what he taught them. The very last thing he says to them is “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus tells his followers that he is with them always, even when he is no longer physically with them. His love and his faith in them, in us, is everlasting. I don’t think it matters if you do not believe in the resurrection.  But do you believe in this kind of love? The kind that can transcend death?

In the book of Mark, the Marys are again the first to know of the risen Jesus. Once again, he sends Mary Magdalene out to tell the others. In this version they don’t believe her, typical, but Jesus chews them out later for not believing her. The text says he “upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness.” Typical Jesus. One last scolding of the disciples for the road.

Jesus tells the disciples “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to all of creation.” What IS the Good News? The Good News is that the Kingdom or kin-dom of heaven is real and it’s here. Already. Paradise is right here under our feet.

Okay, it doesn’t look that way to us right now, because the earth is covered in trash and carbon emissions, violence, war and death, eroded top soil and people who do not know the way. All sorts of pain that creation can feel, and is wounded by, because I think that God suffers with us. The universe hurts when we inflict pain upon each other and the earth. Life itself is crying and begging for mercy. We are all so traumatized. And tired. And angry. It’s too much, and also not enough. But it’s not the end of this story.

The Good News is that the light of love and hope can never be extinguished.

In all the gospels, Mary is deeply grieving for Jesus. Her world is shattered. Hope is gone for her. Mary doesn’t even recognize Jesus when he is standing in front of her. She assumes he is a gardener. Her eyes are full of tears and darkness is all she can see. Jesus has to shout her name to get her to see him. To see light again. He has to prove that he knows her before she knows him.

In the book of Luke, two angels ask Mary, who is in the tomb looking for Jesus, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” We spend so much time looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place. We look for love in the wrong places, happiness in the wrong places, fulfillment in the wrong places, meaning in the wrong places. We often confuse what is truly good with what we think is good. I’m not sure it’s our fault. We are drawn to what seems good. The light was the first thing there was. God called it “good.” It was the first Good thing. We turn our faces to the good like flowers towards light. And whether it’s sunlight or artificial light, the flower will hope for the best.

Let me talk about sin for a moment. We are talking about good and I am purposely trying to shy away from “dark” as a contrast to “light.” Dark IS a contrast to light as a non-value judged reality, but dark isn’t BAD. I’m not using dark as a synonym for “sin.” To UUs, sin is not something related to identity. It’s not something we are born with. No original sin. We are all born in the image of the creator and so we cannot be born as anything but good. Because creation is good. Sin, to us, is a transgression against what is good. Sin is what we do to other people. It’s not a sin to be a certain race or religion or sexual orientation or class or nationality. That’s who you are. But it IS a sin to hurt people and animals, to exploit people and our resources, to abuse, to withhold lifesaving resources and tools, to value the unimportant over what is actually important.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul lists what he believes are the marks of a “true Christian.” He says, “Your love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to each other with mutual affection. Excel at showing respect for each other. Never be lazy in showing such devotion. Be on fire with the Spirit. Serve the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in trouble, and persistent in prayer. Supply the needs of the saints. Extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you. Keep on blessing them, and never curse them. Rejoice with those who are rejoicing. Cry with those who are crying. Live in harmony with each other. Do not be arrogant, but associate with humble people. Do not think that you are wiser than you really are.

Do not pay anyone back evil for evil, but focus your thoughts on what is right in the sight of all people. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in peace with all people. Do not take revenge, dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written, “Vengeance belongs to me. I will pay them back, declares the Lord.” But “if your enemy is hungry, feed him. For if he is thirsty, give him a drink. If you do this, you will pile burning coals on his head.” Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

I think piling burning coals on a head means killing with kindness.

To the Univeralists, good is what endures, not evil. Not sin, but justice. There’s a Universalist slogan from like the 19th century that says “death and glory!” It sounds like a wrestler’s catch phrase or something, but it means we die, then we get glory. There is no hell. The love of God is too big, too rich, too pure, to condemn any of creation to an eternity or afterlife of damnation. All are saved. That’s what universalism means.

For a lot of UUs today, this idea of salvation or hell isn’t one that resonates with their core beliefs. Many consider ourselves to be post-Christian or our primary belief system is something very different from Christianity like Buddhism, paganism, humanism and so forth. But we retain the idea that people and creation are fundamentally good at the core. We put enormous faith in people. We rail against systems and corporations and governments and ideologies and, yes, people but we believe that they can be fixed or saved or rebuilt. THIS is a deeply hopeful faith. We try not to throw things away because everything has intrinsic value. Our 1st and 7th principles honor the worth and interconnectedness of all things. To condemn others is to in some way condemn yourself. We’re all the same starstuff. That’s the sort-of Good News.

I say sort of because Jesus told us The Way isn’t easy. This isn’t going to be easy. Let’s throw stones, and point fingers, and be done with all that mess, right? But what if we push a little harder? Try again? Stay a little while longer? Do it one more time? Listen more deeply? Love with everything we have? What if we commit ourselves to doing as Jesus says, Jesus who died for this, and bring the Good News, which is hope, to all the nations? We could, as the UU Christians say, truly love the Hell out of this world. See what we did there?

Incipit Vita Nova is the motto of my undergraduate college, Scripps College. It means “enter into a new life” or “thus begins a new life.” It is etched on a stone archway you walk through to enter the campus from the front. When you step through that archway, you are beginning a new life. It really was like that for me.

Easter is the story of new life. It was a new life for Jesus and his followers. For many of us, the church is a new life. Many of you left other faith traditions to come to UUism and begin a new life. Many of you went from non-believers to Unitarian Universalists. Many of you are standing right now on the cusp of a new life or identity or version of yourself.

Don’t be afraid. Roll back the stone and step into the light. Let your eyes adjust to the brilliance before you. See us, recognize us. Your friends and blood family and church family. Let us join hands and walk into the world together. Perhaps on different paths, but not alone. Never alone. Like Jesus, we are with you always, to the end of the age. There’s an entire world to save and we, Easter people, are the ones to do it.

May it be so, Blessed be, shalom and amen.

 

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The Long Game: Damsels in Distress and White Saviors or Meta Thoughts About Mariko Yashida in The Wolverine

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Being perpetually late to the party, I just watched The Wolverine last night. First thing I have to say is that while I thought the movie was mostly okay, I don’t understand why it needed to be made. Yes, it’s based on a canon X-Men story that’s well known (Logan’s time in Japan with one of his great canon loves, Mariko Yashida), but the story feels like something that would be fine for an episode or two of a TV show, but you wouldn’t necessarily make it the subject of a whole movie. It largely feels like hey look at this random adventure of Logan’s–in Japan! Yay? 2 hours of extreme Logan manpain and frowny faces: the sequel.

I did however really like Mariko and Yukio’s characters. I found myself really wanting to see their whole movie. Like, that should have been their story. How does it feel to be Yukio in the house of Yashida. She grew up in this house as one step above a servant but never considered an actual member of the family–except to Mariko. And what about having one of the suckiest mutant powers ever? The ability to see how people are going to die. I’d be afraid to look at or get to know *anyone.* And what of Mariko? The princess who is betrayed by everyone when she inherits the kingdom she doesn’t want. These two girls who had nothing but each other. The only people who didn’t see them as tools or means to an end. Who loved them. Tell me THAT STORY.

Now, being fairly familiar with the original story, I prepared myself for some icky Orientalism in this movie. I mean, it probably couldn’t get around it considering the canon. I just hoped it wasn’t completely full of Orientalist tropes. Now, the tropes are definitely there: ninjas, Yakuza, submissive Asian women, domineering Asian men, the white savior etc. But, as you watch, something interesting happens. You realize that a lot of these tropes are seemingly subverted. The question is: is this intentional on the part of the film makers or purely coincidence. And until someone asks the question and the film makers tell us, the answer seems to depend on how cynical you are. But putting that aside, here are the things I noticed/found interesting/subversive:

*****************SPOILERS AHEAD. SO. MANY SPOILERS. PLEASE BEWARE OF THE SPOILERS.*********************

1. Mariko as a damsel in distress:

Mariko continuously tells Logan that she doesn’t need his help in the film. He continuously ignores this. The audience ignores this. Mariko looks like a damsel in distress: delicate, pretty, quiet, in danger. One of the times Logan insists on protecting her, she asks him why and he says he doesn’t think she’ll last to the end of the day if he doesn’t. Mariko gives him a Look that pretty obviously says “Yeah. Okay.” Considering all the attempted kidnappings and shootings that have gone on thus far, you assume that he’s right. Her insistence that she doesn’t need Logan and her dismissive and rude behavior to him (HE’S JUST TRYING TO KEEP YOU ALIVE, MARIKO! WHY ARE YOU FIGHTING HIM ON IT?) comes across as her being naive, stupid or suicidal. But…it becomes increasingly clear that this is largely an act on her part. For example, she can fight. In the film she’s often being dragged somewhere by thugs like a typical damsel. But only until she’s had enough. Then we see her using very effective hand-to-hand fighting techniques. She’s calm and efficient. Clearly trained. It’s advantageous for her to play the part of the helpless victim in order to gain information and let others foolishly under-estimate her. THIS is what Logan is messing up with his sexist alpha male assumptions. When she tells him that she’s going into hiding, he condescendingly assumes she means her HOUSE–where everyone knows she lives. She gives him yet another Look that practically screams “do you think I’m an idiot?” and takes him to her grandfather’s house in Nagasaki that everyone has seemingly forgotten about. One of the first things Logan sees of Mariko is her being hit by her father after they argue. Logan is clearly disturbed by her being hit and passively just taking it. However, later in the film her father goes to hit her again and Mariko easily blocks him with her hand. She *let* him hit her earlier. Again, she had to appear to be the obedient, submissive daughter.

2. Mariko is playing the long game:

I’m convinced that Mariko has this elaborate investigation that she’s set up that Logan keeps on jeopardizing. It’s supposed to be a big reveal that Mariko’s father is the one who put the hit out on her. Logan eventually beats the information out of her skeazy fiance, the minister of protection (or something). Thing is, it’s clear that Mariko *knew* this. Probably from the beginning of the movie. After her father hit her, she dramatically takes off across the court yard and appears to try and throw herself over the wall in an attempt to kill herself. Logan stops her (thanks, white savior!). Near the end of the film, her father brings this up and says something like he can finish what she started/tried to do. Mariko calmly looks at him and says that she never intended to kill herself. Her father looks shocked. He realizes that he’s been played. Of course she wouldn’t try to kill  herself in such a public and easily foiled way. She wanted to see if he would stop her or saying something, show some concern. He didn’t. Because he wanted her dead. She needed proof.

At the house in Nagasaki, Logan asks her about her fiance. Mariko says she doesn’t want to marry him, but her father arranged it. Logan is clearly full of opinions about her being obedient to her father and marrying someone she doesn’t love. She tells him that it would bring dishonor to her father and that she doesn’t expect him to understand, being non-Japanese. That shuts down the questioning/topic–which is what she intended. Keep in mind that she likely knows that her fiance and father in are cahoots to off her. She’s still playing the long game, which means being the obedient daughter. Her fiance tells Logan that Mariko would never go through the wedding if she knew she was the sole inheritor of the company/fortune. But that’s not her motivation at all. He makes it sound like she wouldn’t marry him if she were financially independent, but she cites honor and duty. The fiance is part of her con.

They are trying to kill her before her grandfather’s will is read. Mariko asks Logan why her grandfather would leave her a company, a fortune and a legacy she doesn’t want and he says that’s why. Because she doesn’t want it. Thing is, we’re supposed to believe that she has no idea she’s going to inherit this…but she never really seems shocked or surprised. Again, not as ignorant as she seems.

3. Logan as white savior:

Logan clearly thinks that he is going to sweep in and save Mariko from all this Big Bad Stuff. It’s interesting how differently he treats Mariko and Yukio. Based on looks alone he assumes that Mariko is the delicate China Doll (despite being Japanese) who needs the strong man to heroically protect her. He never treats Yukio like this. In fact, he’s often brusque with her. Even when she’s expressing great concern for him. But she’s not pretty (like Mariko), seemingly delicate, willowy, aloof, soft-spoken, or submissive. Yukio doesn’t trigger his white man protective urges. Where the trope is subverted is that it’s the other way around more often than not. Mariko is in control. She has to save him several times.

First of all, he doesn’t know the country or the language or the customs. She has to translate for him. She has to explain what things are (like the couples hotel). She has to navigate for him. She instructs him in etiquette and proper use of things like how to tie his robe and using chop sticks. He has no means of getting things like food and shelter without her. Unlike the usual trope, he’s not better at being Japanese than she is.

Second of all, after he collapses in the hotel, she gets medical treatment for him. His healing factor is gone. He would have likely bled to death if she hadn’t gotten help for him. Despite being a “princess” as he calls her, she has the knowledge and means to quietly get the hotel owner’s son, a veterinarian student, to remove the bullets in his body and patch him up.

Thirdly, she saves him in the big showdown at the end. Logan is effectively confined to the chair-thing and unable defend himself when the giant samurai tries to cut off his blades with it’s meltingly hot sword. It’s Mariko who jumps into the fray, in front of a GIANT SAMURAI MADE OF ADAMANTIUM WITH A GIANT FIRE HOT SWORD, and gives Logan the opportunity to escape. Keeping in mind that she has escaped from her badass ninja childhood friend to do it. And…she saves Logan at the end when he’s at the mercy of her grandfather and getting his healing ability sucked out of him.

…..honestly, why was this movie not called “Mariko Yashida: She’s Fine, Logan, Thanks”

God Loves a Cheerful Giver– 5/18/14 Sermon on Gratitude and Generosity

This is a sermon I gave at the Universalist Unitarian Church of Riverside on 5/18/14 on generosity and gratitude.

 

Last Sunday, I was in a parking lot when a man approached me as I was heading to my car. He asked if I had some spare change so that he could get some food. He offered to wash my windows. I told him that I would give him some change, but he didn’t have to wash the windows. It was freely given and I don’t ask for or expect people to “earn “my generosity. He begged my pardon but said he came from a working class family and would much prefer to wash the windows and do what he could. While he washed my windows, he told me a bit of his life. He turned 60 on that Saturday before. He’s been in and out of the hospital with health issues. He’s on SSI and would get more money if he could hold out until 65, or even 62, but he has 4 ruined discs in his back and he’s broken his neck in the past. I was feeling really bad for him by this point, when he said that he feels blessed because he “could have woken up in a 3rd world country today.” Now at that point I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh, no, what is he going to say next’ because you usually have to brace yourself with those sorts of openings. But he continues and says, “half the world woke up without clean water today. Half the world woke up without food. I wake up every day and think about that. Despite all this, I can still walk and do something. I’m blessed. That’s what keeps me going.” He then thanked me for the change and went on his way with his napkins and Windex in an old water bottle. I just stood there, overcome with awe and affection. 

One of the reasons why this encounter made me pause, physically and spiritually, is because our theme for this month is gratitude and I have been having a really hard time lately finding anything to be particularly grateful for. Because the thing is, when we are usually told to count our blesses or be grateful, there’s an assumption, a judgment sometimes, that you have all these good things in your life that you are just taking for granted and how dare you not recognize that. But sometimes, maybe often times, there are seemingly no good things in your life to be grateful for. Or they are especially hard to see through your tears and pain. We all know that there are, generally speaking, those less fortunate than we are; we just sometimes want our moment to think of ourselves as that person once in awhile. And I think that’s okay. But in the story I just related to you, I think the universe put me directly in the path of one of those ‘less fortunate’ people in the flesh, not as a statistic or a hypothetical, but as a Teacher. When the student is ready, the teacher appears, right? This man had practically nothing, and was in pain, but he was grateful just for life and felt sorrow for those that had even less.

In Matthew 6:25, Jesus says, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what will you put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” It has been my experience that some of the most grateful and hopeful people are those that have the least. Some of you know that you have to sometimes lose everything to learn the value of what you had. And have. In that same section, Jesus goes on to say, “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  Basically, take it one day at a time.

I don’t have much right now, but I was able to give that man what I could. People have been put in my life who have been able to give me what they could, when they could.  And I, admittedly, like a lot of you, have trouble accepting people’s generosity. I am often too proud and I feel guilty for needing help, because maybe if I made better choices, I wouldn’t be in this situation, even as I know that most of that isn’t true. It’s so hard to admit that you need help and then to take it when offered. Recently, a friend offered to help me with money after hearing some of my troubles. I turned her down, politely, because I know some of her troubles, too. She doesn’t always have steady work and these last few years have not been the easiest for her. But she said ‘No. I have a few gigs right now and I’m kinda steady for the moment. I’ll gladly share the little I have with you’. Learning how to take someone’s outstretched hand is an act of the deepest faith, I think. To trust that they aren’t going to snatch it back at the last minute or later lord it over you.  To believe that people just want to pay it forward and help where they can. Trust falls of faith is a thing we need to practice.

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” 2nd Corinthians 7. So many of you are “cheerful givers”! I have a book called “Dancing with God: Americans Who Have Been Touched By The Divine.” A man, a photo-journalist I suppose you could call him, Steve Wall, travels across America, mostly in the Deep South, and talks to people about their experiences with the divine or a spiritual “other”—which covers a lot of definitions and experiences and takes pictures.  Most of the people he encounters are poor, have had tragic lives and have, to quote a favorite song of mine called “Cry Ophelia,” ‘come to a little wisdom through a whole lot of failure.’ In the first story, Mr. Wall talks about going undercover in a homeless shelter to see what the experience is like and how the people who rely on those services feel about life in general. He has a not only completely dehumanizing experience dealing with apathetic staff, poor conditions and inadequate supplies, but it’s a genuinely terrifying one as he experiences how the world sees him and treats him when he’s perceived to have nothing. And yet. And yet he meets some of the most generous people in the truly homeless he meets. Men who offer him their little bit of money for bad coffee because it’s cold outside. Who offer him a place to stay because they can.  Even though they just met him a couple of hours ago. One of the men he meets is “crazy” Little Willis, who is like a guardian angel to these men and who has a knack for getting the other homeless what they need, be it medicine or a coat in the winter. Steve Wall asks him why does he do these things for the others and Little Willis says, “I ain’t no man of the cloth, no nothing like that. I be just a plain child of the Almighty. We’s all God’s children, and I just gotta do what the Almighty expects outta me. Makes no difference what all the reverends say ‘bout heaven someday. That’s holy talk. Peoples gotta have a little help from time to time in the here and now. The rest the Almighty’ll take care of. These men are my family, man.” Steve later walks into an upscale, suburban church, still pretending to be homeless, and has yet another terrifying  and eye-opening experience.  As soon as he walks in, he becomes an example, a teachable moment for really bad theology, and a project to the “good” church folk as they try to blame his lack of means on his perceived lack of faith. Later, in the car with his partner, after he’s literally run out of the service, his friend has a revelation and says, “For them, you weren’t a Christian because God blesses those who follow Jesus. You were poor and dirty. You were homeless. God doesn’t let that happen to His people. In their mind God was not listening to you, so you must not have been one of His own. Otherwise, you would have earthly material goods. They didn’t want anything to do with you,’ cause they didn’t want any of you to rub off on them. I call it ‘bump-and-run Christianity.’ It was real easy to run up and shove God in your face, try to get you ‘saved.” And when you wouldn’t, they could clear their conscience with, ‘Well, I’ve done my part.”  

I want to contrast that religious community with ours. So many of you open your homes to stray animals and people in need; you give a dollar when you only have two; you volunteer 10 minutes  when you only had 5 to spare; you offer your whole hearts and hold nothing back. Why? What makes you all so generous?  Reverend Tom Owen-Towle says in his book “Theology Ablaze: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary Year of Unitarian Universalism that, “the sensibility of gratitude” and I would say generosity because they are two sides of one coin, “is bedrock to stoking the flame of our liberal religion.” We UUs are gracious people.  This is built into our faith and our faith communities. It’s no accident that so many of us are in “helping” professions. You are: counselors, teachers, social workers, nurses, caretakers etc. Rev. Owen-Towle points out that “[n]one of us asked to be born. There’s no special merit involved with our arrivals. We didn’t earn the privilege of life. We were lucky. Whether we look at existence scientifically or religiously, it’s a miracle, a wonder, a gift of grace.” So why give? “The Hebrew religion says that we do genuinely good deeds out of neither guilt nor fear, neither to impress our neighbors nor gain heaven, but we lead moral lives mainly because we hanker to say thank you to God, to the Creation, to Life itself for our very existence, for being freed from all sorts of slaveries, and for being loved ongoingly. “ Our faith calls us to take stock of what we have, to be grateful for it, then to share that generously with others. The flame of our chalice is to be used to light paths in dark places and to be used to light other candles. You don’t diminish a flame by sharing it. You just increase light, exponentially.  So let us hold, in our left and right hands, that we must have gratitude and generosity. We must experience both to be fully human. Giving with one hand and accepting with the other is a spiritual and sacred act that we should consider ourselves lucky to be able to do.  So may it be so today and all our days to come.

The Wonder of Love

As told from the pulpit of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Riverside on April 13th, 2014:

“Love is a form of work or a form of courage”: This is the quote that was in our Wayside Pulpit this week. I was walking through downtown Riverside this past Sunday, heavy of heart and chastising myself for never seeming to know when to let go of something or when to surrender. I was also wondering if those two things are actually the same thing—surrendering and letting go. As I was thinking about this, I walked by the church and saw that quote. The truth of it struck me, hard. “Love is a form of work or a form of courage.” What a powerful truth. And exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. Well played, Universe, I thought. Personally, I think it’s an ‘and/or/both’ thing. Love is a form of work and a form of courage/love is a form of work or a form of courage/love is *both* a form of work and a form of courage. That got me to thinking about love and our theme this month of wonder. There are so many things in this world that are wondrous, so many, but one of the most wondrous things is love. Love in all its forms.

The ancient Greeks gave names to four different types of love: Agape (spiritual love), eros (romantic love), phillia (mental love-love of community/virtuous love) and storge (family love). Love is one of the surest things that make us human. Has anything been more written about, talked about, sung about, lived about than love? Of love, the poet Maya Angelou, who just celebrated her 86th birthday, says “In the flush of loves light we dare be brave/And suddenly we see that love costs all we are and will ever be. Yet, it is only love which sets us free.” We’re going to come back to this idea in a minute.

It’s been my experience that love is the hardest emotion to feel, the hardest to express. Especially on any kind of grand scale. Hate is easy, anger is easy, apathy is easier still. It’s really easy for us to give into negative emotions. But Love? Love is hard. Love is the emotion that leaves us most vulnerable. The things we do for love. The compromises we make, the bargains we strike, the things we sacrifice, lengths we’ll go to, what we can achieve! For love.

I’m reading a book right now called “The Demon’s Surrender” by Sarah Rees Brennan. It’s the third book in a young adult trilogy. In one scene, one of the main characters says something really profound about love that stuck with me. Before I tell you what he says, let me give you a little of context. In this series, this young man, Alan, has spent his entire life protecting his little brother, Nick, who’s actually a demon in a human body (just go with it) from the world. Mainly from magicians who are always trying to kill them. For several reasons. He’s always been on the run and has had to become a really dangerous person with no other relationships in order to protect his brother. He was disabled in an attack and he’s lost all his other family. Love has cost him literally everything. In a scene where he has just been tortured, another character remarks that the price he had to pay to keep his brother alive, this torture, was too high a price to pay. Especially for a “brother” that is a demon and he has no blood ties to. In response, Alan, the young man, then says, “Love always costs more than you can afford to pay. “ But then he says, “And it is always worth the price.” Let me repeat that.*repeats* Imma let that sink in for a second.

A show of hands: How many of you have loved someone who can’t or won’t love you back? How many of you have felt that love was a burden? How many of you have wished that you didn’t love something or someone? How many of you have loved something it hurt to love? Or someone? How many of you have had to walk away from something or someone *because* you loved it? Think of that saying about if you love something, you have to set it free. Now, taking all that into consideration, how many of you loved anyway? Fully. Knowing it would hurt, knowing it would change you, for better OR worse, knowing that it would not be returned, or maybe not in the same way. Knowing it would cost more than you could afford to pay? Or, conversely, pay back. And yet who among you would still love, and gladly, and think that it was worth it—even if it cost you everything? I thought so. And isn’t that wondrous? Isn’t that a miracle?

The Christian Bible says that we humans love because God loved us first. That’s said explicitly in 1 John: 4. God, in the Christian religion our faith claims as one of our sources of truth and meaning, loves us when we are wayward, when we hurt each other, when we are not being our best selves. We are hard beings to love, we humans, and yet we are told that our Creator, if that is what you believe, loves us anyway—always. Even though we are imperfect and continuously fall short. Maybe even because of that. In fact, the Bible claims that one cannot be of God or know the divine unless one has love and extends it to others:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the “soothing” for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot[a] love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother

Love terrifies me. “It is a form of work and a form of courage”, remember. So I am grateful when it is extended to me for free with no strings attached. I think we all need love, and we all deserve love. But that’s hard to believe about ourselves sometimes, right? We think all of our flaws and our past mistakes make us unworthy of love, think maybe love is not something we deserve. Or maybe someone has told us that we are not worthy of love. Or that we are unlovable. And we believed their lies. And they are lies. We deserve it because we live. Because we are human. That’s all. We are part of the story of creation and all things and that alone means we should love ourselves and each other. All of us are walking wounded. We all hurt sometimes. Let us remember this today and all our days to come so that we can pay it forward, all that love we didn’t have to earn or win, to someone else. Someone who is in pain and just trying their best to simply live and who maybe falls a little short like we all do sometimes. This is what our faith calls us to do. To love. Even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. When it hurts is when you have to push forward, not retreat. You have to believe that love is worth it. That you are worth it. That WE are worth it. Do you believe? I said, Do. You. Believe? Good. Than go forth and love this entire broken world with all your heart and let this world love you back. Because we are ALL worth it. Amen and blessed be.

 

Niala’s Annual Hot List–2013

It’s that time of year again, folks! The time when I provide you with glorious photographic proof of the people who I think are bringing sexy back this year. It’s coming a little late this year (was that pun intended? Maybe) but let this keep you warm if you are actually in a part of the world that is cold right now. That is not here. But we can pretend. But first some….

Frequently Asked Questions:

Q: Is this totally objectifying people?

A: Yes. And no. No one makes it onto my list with just looks alone…unless they are Godrey Gao. He pretty much made it on looks alone. But he seems like a super nice guy, too.

Q: Those are a lot of white folks.

A: Yeah. That’s kind of my thing. I like a LOT of vanilla. BUT. This year there is almost an equal number of PoC! Look at me expanding my horizons!

Q: So. Basically, this is a list of people you want to do naughty things with? And you think we care?

A: Duh. And DUH.

Now that the silly questions are over, bring on the wo(man)-cake! In no particular order:

Tom Mison: Tom is 31, 6’1, British, gorgeous, adorkable and stars as a man out-of-time Icabod Crane on Fox’s new hit show Sleepy Hollow (aka my new fandom obsession).

Tom+Mison+Fox+Star+Party+Arrivals+G-aeG4AhCUGl

Tom Hiddleston: Tom is 32, 6’2, British, gorgeous, adorkable, a good dancer, speaks 4 languages and is just all the things.

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Benedict Cumberbatch: Benny is 6’0, 37, British, gorgeous and perfect. In all ways. That is all.

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Clark Gregg: …surprised me. He’s 5’9, 51 (!), American and…really adorable and sweet looking and…I don’t know. Indulge me!

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Orlando Jones: Not usually my type, but I love this man. He is HILARIOUS AND SUCH A FANGIRL (Yes, fangirl). He’s been in a lot of things, but he’s most recently starring as Captain Irving in Sleepy Hollow (stop whatever you are doing right now and follow him on Twitter and Tumblr!). He is American, 45 and 5’11.

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Nicole Beharie: Nicole is American, 28, 5’1 and stars as Detective Abigail (Abbie) Mills on Fox’s new hit Sleep Hollow. She is obviously gorgeous, but I really see her and Tom Mison as a package deal. I LOVE Icabod/Abbie SO much. You don’t even know.

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Karen Gillan: Karen is British, 5’11, 25, gorgeous and awesome. She played one of my favorite companions EVER, Amy Pond, for 2 seasons.

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Chris Evans: Another surprise for me. I didn’t expect to fall so hard for Captain America (a Marvel character I was pretty sure I didn’t like)! But now I am so ready to enlist and serve in any way I can *cough*. Chris is American, 32, 6’0 and obviously hot (have you seen his ASS in the Capt America uniform??).

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Elizabeth Henstridge: Elizabeth is 26, 5’4 and British. She plays Jemma Simmons on Marvel: Agents of SHIELD. I had never heard of her before SHIELD but I watched the pilot and while I was pretty “shrug” on most of it, I definitely wanted to know who SHE WAS. I admit I’ve been pretty much only watching for her and Clark Gregg.

simmons_elizabeth henstridge

Godfrey Gao: Godgrey is 29, 6’4 and Taiwanese-Canadian. He mostly got in on looks alone. No lie. But. I found out about him because he played one of my favorite characters in the big screen adaptation of Cassandra Clare’s The Mortal Instruments series: The bisexual immortal warlock Magnus Bane! PERFECT CASTING. Look at this man. LOOK. AT. THIS. MAN. Just. I can’t.

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Ming-Na Wen: Ming-Na is Chinese-American, 5’4 and 49 (!). She has been in ALL THE THINGS, but she is currently starring as Agent May on Marvel: Agents of SHIELD. I have loved her for so long. So beautiful.

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Bonus Tom and Nicole! Why? REASONS. That’s why. Look at how adorable my OTP is!

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Okay. Now discuss. 😉

My Coming Out Story

….As told from the pulpit of the Universalist Unitarian Church of Riverside for National Coming Out Day on 10-13-13

*Note: This is as-written. No adlibs added during the presentation are here*

My Coming Out Story

 One complaint I hear all the time from straight people, generally after someone famous has come out, is “why do they have to announce it? I don’t go around announcing my sexuality to everyone. Why make it everyone’s business?”  Then usually someone asks where the Straight Pride parades are and all the eye-rolling from the non-straight people and the allies commences. It takes a lot of privilege and a lot of ignorance about that privilege to ask such a question. If you didn’t know, let me tell you, every day is Straight Pride Day. Straight people don’t have to make announcements because straight is considered the default, the golden ticket, your Hogwarts letter. The norm.  Everyone and everything else is considered deviant. You are considered straight until proven otherwise. If you are straight you get to have your orientation celebrated and rewarded. From tax benefits, legal privileges, the media etc. And it’s everywhere. You announce your orientation everywhere you go with wedding rings, holding your partner’s hand, putting up family pictures in your office, casually discussing your partner with friends, family, coworkers and strangers and it’s never called “flaunting” or ‘shoving your lifestyle in everyone’s face.’ Such behavior is so commonplace and ‘normal’ that it goes without comment. But when someone who is not straight does it, it’s “flaunting” and trying to make a statement.

Coming out is a revolutionary act in our society. It takes courage and conviction and unbelievable strength. Coming out can mean homelessness, loss of a job, loss of family, friends, community standing, reputation and death.  That makes coming out a privilege for many people. People often stay closeted for good reasons. Important reasons. necessary reasons.

Coming out is a multi-step process. Sometimes the first step is coming out to yourself.  I envy those people who have always known who they are and who they want.  Just knowing must be so nice. This is not to trivialize the struggle that generally follows this knowledge, we know that you accepting yourself and the rest of the world accepting that truth are two different things, but at least being sure in your own heart must be a comfort on some level.

Let me tell you my story now.

People tend to think of sexuality as fixed and polarized. You are either gay or straight.  It’s fixed, it doesn’t change and it’s very clear. That has not been my experience. In high school I was straight. I was not in denial. I was not closeted. I did not struggle. I was, to the best of my knowledge, only attracted to boys.  No crushes on female classmates or fantasies about women. This, however, changed in college.  I started finding myself attracted to women. It wasn’t about experimenting or curiosity. My attractions simply changed, but it was not about choice. It was about evolution. This threw me into some confusion.  I didn’t know what to do or what to think. I was clearly no longer straight, but I also was not completely gay. You might be thinking, ‘well, duh. You’re bisexual’ but bisexual implies a 50-50 split. Someone who is equally attracted to both men and women. I am not. This is a long time before I heard of the spectrum of sexuality or monosexuality versus non-mono-sexuality. In some ways, being gay, lesbian and straight are really easy. It’s either attraction to the same sex or the opposite sex. Neat boxes. Those are monosexualities. Non-mono sexualities are bisexuality, pan sexuality and queer (depending on how one defines it).

Bisexuality is a fraught identity. You have one foot in each world and you aren’t accepted in either.  There are so many stereotypes and barriers if you are a non-mono. Bi-phobia is the term used. Bisexuals are considered slutty, not able to commit, greedy, indecisive, risky and sexual unicorns.  I’ll explain that one later. Many do not believe it’s even a real identity. Ever heard ‘bi now, gay later’?  Bisexuality is often seen as either a stop rest on the way to Gay Town or an experimental phase, at least for women, until their college hippie days are over and they are back safely in the arms of heterosexuality. It’s a weird place to be. I get some hetero privilege because people assume I’m straight. I’m safer than others. I can “pass”.  On the other hand, I’m also usually invisible. To everyone.  Gays and straights. This is called bi-invisibility. And it sucks.

I spent so many years being torn over a label. It was so important to me that I find something that fit. I was desperate for a community, for something real and tangible. I used ‘lesbian’ for a bit and felt like a total fraud. I used queer for a long time, but that took a lot of explaining. I’ve recently started using bisexual. Boxes are so important to us. We don’t do well with gray lines and people who refuse to play by the standard rules. People demanded that I label myself for THEIR comfort, not mine. Why don’t you just pick a side! Why do I have to?

I have to come out a lot as someone who does not generally ‘look gay.’ Most people assume that I am straight.  I am selectively “out.” I do not lie. I will tell anyone the truth if they ask me. But they usually have to ask. I don’t generally volunteer. I live and work in a conservative part of SoCal. I spent the last 4 years working mostly with youth with Planned Parenthood. Disclosing that I was queer could have easily jeopardized my relationships with needed community contacts, schools, teachers and so on. I was once called a “faggot” and had my car vandalized by a homophobic teenager who saw a “Diversity” sticker on my car. With my family I am very selectively out. Most of my family is not what you would call “gay friendly.” I take a very passive-aggressive approach and post things on Facebook, hope they will see them, and then tell everyone else. Work done for me.  That’s actually how I came out officially. I announced it at the end of a post about something totally different on my LiveJournal. It was on National Coming Out Day—and I didn’t even realize or know. The universe was clearly speaking to me. All my friends know.

So who am I? Sylvia Plath said, “I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.”  At the tip of the iceberg I am a female identified rather femme bisexual.  That’s my current label. What does that mean to me? For me? I am generally attracted to real women and fictional men.  If you are a woman, call me. If you are a man?  Call me if you are Benedict Cumberbatch. If you are still a man, but are not Benedict Cumberbatch, never fear. You can totally be a different British actor. Matt Smith, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Daniel Radcliffe…)

Finally, why my coming out mattered?  It mattered because I will not, cannot live a lie. Not even one of omission. I need to live an authentic life. I love being part of the LGBT community. Or something  bigger than myself. It mattered because as an activist I need to take the same risk as those I stand with and fight with. If they can be brave, so can I. It matters because I want you to see me. All of me.

Anais Nin said, “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.’

I needed to come out.