Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category
Folks, over the last month or so, I’ve told you a lot about my new novel, CHANGING FACES. I’ve told you some of what I was about when I wrote it, and about my process in writing it, and about all sorts of other stuff…but as it’s Sunday, I thought I’d tell you the real reason I kept going.
After my husband Michael died in 2004, I was absolutely devastated. (I think everyone who regularly reads my blog knows this.) For a while, I didn’t recognize myself, at all…I was in so much pain, I could not create, could not write, could not play music, and saw no purpose to my life at all.
In the middle of 2005, one of my good friends asked me to come to Kansas City for a convention, ConQuesT. I had another friend offer to pay for my expenses while I was there; she and her family put me up in her house. It was the first time I’d tried to go that far away since Michael died, and because I was worried about the length of the drive, I took the Amtrak train from Chicago.
Little did I know that doing that would change my life. But it did.
I went to the convention, stayed with my friends, talked with my other friend (who was also at the convention), met some writers, all that. I felt a little better, being around people who were more like me; they didn’t see me as inherently flawed, inherently broken, or inherently irredeemable, just because my beloved husband was dead.
But that was not what changed things. (I’m getting to that, trust me.)
On the way back to Chicago, I met a minister and his wife. His name was Reverend Evans, and was an older black gentleman. He told me about his life, and his work, but mostly listened to me as I told him about everything going on — my frustration, pain, anger, rage, all that. And about how I couldn’t write, but had two novels in progress — ELFY, and CHANGING FACES. And that I wondered if there was any reason, any reason at all, I was still alive.
Rev. Evans could’ve easily thrown platitudes my way. But he didn’t.
Instead, he said that God is love, and that I knew that, because I’d seen it. Reflected in the eyes of my husband, for one; and in every word I wrote, and had ever written, for another.
This all made sense to me.
And he talked a great deal about CHANGING FACES. He said he thought I was still here to finish it. Because the world needed to know that we all need love. Regardless of race, creed, sexuality, gender preference, love is what matters.
And finding love, reflecting that love, is what’s most important.
But believing in yourself, and your talents, is also important.
Because that’s how we best enhance the Godhead.
See, our creativity comes from the Higher Power, and as such, when we are creative, we are reflecting that love and faith…and it gives back to the universe, which gives back to us.
I view talking to Reverend Evans as one of the most pivotal moments of my life. He reminded me that I still had things to do. And that even though Michael had been embraced by God/dess, and was no longer here for me to embrace, I could still be a testament to that love, so long as I kept trying.
And I’d like to think that in getting ELFY published (albeit in two parts, as AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE and A LITTLE ELFY IN BIG TROUBLE) along with CHANGING FACES, I have done some of what I was put here to do.
There are two guest blogs I’d also like to point you to, before I go. The first is new today, and is up at Kayelle Allen’s blog…it’s about writing bisexual characters. (Or at least a bisexual character.)
Here’s a bit from that:
Now, as to why (Elaine) still couldn’t accept herself as gender-fluid easily? Well, as a society, we’re only beginning to learn about people who don’t always feel male or female. Sometimes they feel one way, sometimes another, maybe a third time they have a mix of both traits. Gender preference is not the same thing as sexuality; not by a mile.
So, Elaine has dated women and men. She sees the worth of a person and is not automatically attracted only to one sex. In a way, Elaine isn’t attracted by anyone, sexually. She’s only attracted mentally and emotionally, and then, much later, sex comes into the picture. But that’s not that strange, considering she’s a scholarly sort. She can see into a person, and evaluate who that person is, in a way most people don’t. She doesn’t even think to do this because how she views people is part of who she is.
Ultimately, love is love. Who you love is far more important than what gender your love happens to be. Seeing a person’s soul, seeing a person’s heart, seeing a person’s worth, is far more important than whether that person is straight, gay, bisexual, or Martian.
Obviously, I believe this. (So did Reverend Evans. So did my late husband, Michael.)
And the second is an interview with Mayra Calvani; here’s a bit from that about my favorite authors (hint, hint — I mention Katharine Kimbriel, Jason Cordova, and Chris Nuttall here, so do tell your friends):
First, Lois McMaster Bujold is one of the best writers working today. She combines humor, scientific expertise, world building, romance, characterization, heart, and much more in a package that is incredibly appealing. She’s considered one of science fiction and fantasy’s modern masters by many, and for good reason.
Second, the work of Katharine Eliska Kimbriel is phenomenal. She has written three hard SF books in her Chronicles of Nuala series, and three alternate history/fantasy books in her Night Calls series. They are all excellent books with great writing, wonderful characterization, world building to spare, humor that arises from the characterization…just can’t say enough about her books. (And that she isn’t as well-known as LMB just vexes me. Writing of this quality should be celebrated far and wide, methinks.)
Third, I’m fond of Linnea Sinclair. She combines romance and SF in a way I find very appealing.
Fourth, my early mentor, Rosemary Edghill, writes exceptionally well in a wide variety of genres, from detective stories to Regency romance to urban fantasy (and beyond). The way she uses language is wonderful, and I always learn from her work, whenever I pick it up. (It’s like meeting an old friend.)
“But Barb,” I hear you protest. “What about the male authors?”
Oh, I have a number of favorites there, too. Robert A. Heinlein, Stephen R. Donaldson, David Weber, Dave Freer, Eric Flint…and don’t discount my friends Chris Nuttall or Jason Cordova, either. (Chris is so prolific, he’s put out at least ten books a year in various genres for five years running. Chris has gotten so good, he just might end up with one of those major awards like the Hugo or Nebula one of these years. And Jason can write anything…just give him time, and he’ll figure out a way to write it and sell a ton of books. That’s just how he is.)
So, there you have it.
Have a good Sunday, folks.
Is it possible for human beings to comprehend that other people have burdens, too?
Sure, we know our own burdens — the problems we carry mile after mile, day after day. They’ve become so much a part of us, it goes without saying…they’re just there, and we keep on shouldering them because we know no other way.
But we don’t always know what burdens the other person is carrying, just as the other person doesn’t know our burdens.
Yes, there’s a way around this problem. You can ask what’s going on. Maybe you can help shoulder the load for a while, if the other person allows it…if the other person lets you reach inside, so you can see them in the same way you see yourself.
Because it’s Easter Week, I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I know all sorts of people, and every one of them has problems. Some are more profound than others; some are of more immediate concern than others, too. But every single last one of us has problems.
Buddha recognized that, in his time. So did Jesus Christ. So did other notable religious figures…it’s one of those universal truths that everyone respects, but no one knows how to solve. (Though Buddha’s dispassionate look at suffering is certainly worth a try, to be sure.)
Is it possible for us to carry each other’s burdens? Can pain be halved, if someone else knows of it and cares about you and wants to relieve your burden(s)?
I hope so. I believe so. But I don’t know for certain.
What I do know, for certain, is that if you don’t talk about what’s bothering you — or worse, you can’t talk about what’s bothering you — for most of us, that pressure builds and builds like heating food inside a pressure cooker. Eventually, as in the pressure cooker, that heat is going to escape…and it might escape in all directions.
That’s why discussing your problems, discussing your pain, discussing your burdens, can give comfort and peace even if there’s no ready solution for any of them.
Try not to be upset if you need to unburden yourself. Why?
- Mother Teresa talked of how depression could overcome her, in her diaries. (In her case, she was definitely unburdening herself to the Higher Power.) She gained comfort and clarity from this, and was able to go back to her work with the poor of Calcutta with a lighter heart.
- And Jesus Christ, the night before he was taken to be crucified, seems in retrospect to have wanted his friends to know he was aware of his fate and accepted it. (If that doesn’t show just how much comfort can be gained by discussion, I don’t know what will.)
Maybe this is why unburdening yourself to a friend tends to help, even if your friend cannot solve your problem(s) for you. By doing so, you remind yourself that you’re not alone, and that someone else cares about you and the burdens you carry.
That, to my mind, is an important thing to keep in mind. Especially during Easter Week.
Today was a watershed moment in American sports history, because today was the day that Jason Collins, a 12-year veteran center in the National Basketball Association, came out as gay. Collins is the first-ever professional athlete in any of the four major professional sports — hockey, baseball, basketball, or football — to come out while he’s still playing.
My first reaction: Hallelujah!
Then I read Jason Collins’ three-page, first-person story in Sports Illustrated (written with Franz Lidz). There are many relevant things here, including why Collins felt the need to come out, what his background is (he’s Christian and believes in Jesus, who promoted tolerance and mutual understanding), and why being gay is not a choice.
Instead, it’s just who Collins is, right along with his basketball ability, his love for history and the civil rights struggle, and many other admirable qualities.
Here’s a relevant quote from the third page of the SI story:
Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start. It all comes down to education. I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road. Former players like Tim Hardaway, who said “I hate gay people” (and then became a supporter of gay rights), fuel homophobia. Tim is an adult. He’s entitled to his opinion. God bless America. Still, if I’m up against an intolerant player, I’ll set a pretty hard pick on him. And then move on.
Speaking of Tim Hardaway, as Collins said, Hardaway has completely changed his opinion. Michael Rosenberg wrote at Sports Illustrated about how others have reacted to Jason Collins’ groundbreaking announcement — remember, Collins is the first-ever pro athlete to come out as gay in a major male American professional sport while he’s still an active player — and he included a quote from Hardaway:
Several years ago, (Tim) Hardaway made some harsh anti-gay comments, and the backlash was severe enough that Hardaway decided to educate himself about homosexuality. His views have changed radically. He told me he was wrong several years ago, and that gay people deserve the same rights that heterosexuals have.
Hardaway, who now works for the Miami Heat, also said this:
“If people on teams were to come out, people would get over it and accept it and move forward. I really do think that. Any sport. If one person or two people, whoever, comes out in any sport, that sport will accept it and go from there.”
My second reaction: Amen!
Then I read this story by openly lesbian professional tennis player Martina Navratilova, also at SI. Navratilova knows a great deal about professional pressure to remain closeted, as she was the first major pro sports player in any league to come out as lesbian back in 1981.
Navratilova praises Collins, which makes sense, and then gives a brief history of how difficult it’s been up until the past few years to get support in any professional sports league for gay rights, including the ability to be open about your sexuality rather than closeted. But she stumbles a bit, in my opinion at least, when she references the late, great Reggie White.
White, as any Packers fan knows, was one of the greatest defensive ends in the National Football League (see this link from Packers.com that summarizes White’s career nicely), and was enshrined in the NFL’s Hall of Fame in 2006. He was also a Christian minister, and had been raised with fundamentalist Southern Christian values. Because of this, while White loved everyone, he was not particularly tolerant of gays and lesbians and actually took part in a well-advertised TV campaign to try and get GLBT people to “cease” their homosexuality.
This was offensive, and both the NFL and the Green Bay Packers objected — but for the wrong reason as they were more upset that Reggie actually wore his football jersey in the ads than anything else.
White also could be verbally awkward, as when he went to address the Wisconsin Legislature in March of 1998. White said something about how Asians are endlessly inventive that sounded awful, like a racial stereotype, rather than the compliment he had intended. And his comments about other races, including African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans were no better.
All of these things caused White to lose out on a professional announcing gig after he finished playing football. So White did suffer censure.
White died in 2004. And at the time, he was attempting to educate himself in ancient Aramaic, as he believed that certain scriptures of the Bible may have suffered by translation — which means that he had apparently had a consciousness raising of sorts. But he didn’t get the time he needed to learn more, as he died of sleep apnea. (Here’s a link to the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Foundation, which is located in West Allis, Wisconsin.)
Now, whether this means White would’ve evolved on this issue is unknown. But I do know that in 2004, President Obama was against gay marriage. Hillary R. Clinton, while adamantly for gay rights in most senses, was also against gay marriage, as was her husband the former President. Tim Hardaway was still against gay rights (which, to be fair, Obama and the two Clintons were for), and hadn’t yet educated himself on this issue. And there were many, many people in all walks of life who said ignorant and bigoted things about GLBT Americans — so Reggie White was not alone.
Look. I met Reggie White in the summer of 1996. He was promoting one of his books, which was a Christian missive about how you need to make the most of every day you’re on this Earth and treat people with kindness and respect. I got to talk with him for fifteen or twenty minutes, without handlers of any sort, as I apparently impressed him because I didn’t ask for an autograph and just talked with him as a real, live human being. (Thank God/dess for book tours, eh?)
I related to White as a minister, and didn’t see him solely as a great football player. And White was a compassionate, caring man — he wanted to know what was going on in my life, and he gave me some advice that’s stuck with me to this day.
I truly believe that had White lived to see 2013, between his studies of Aramaic (he even was studying the Torah itself) and his knowledge of people and his love for everyone, he most likely would’ve changed his opinion. He may have even worked with Athlete Ally, which is a group of straight athletes supporting gay athletes — something that didn’t exist in 2004.
We all have to remember that when White died, he was only 43. He lived a good life. He loved God (who he couldn’t help but see as male, but also saw as all-inclusive — I know this from talking with him). He cared about everyone, and he loved everyone.
But he didn’t get to live another nine years. And in those nine years, anything could’ve happened.
That’s why I wish Navratilova had picked a still-living athlete with a homophobic stance. Because there are still quite a number of those, and with one of those she could’ve had a good, spirited and honest debate as to why whomever she’d picked is still so closed-minded in this day and age.
But as she didn’t — and as I’m a Packers fan who once got to speak with Reggie White at great length — I felt I should respond. Because it’s only right . . . White was a great man in many respects, but yes, he was flawed on this issue.
Still. He was a great man, and he is now deceased. It is time to let the dead rest, while we continue to support progress in all aspects of American life.
This morning, after I saw the headlines that Pope Benedict XVI plans to step down as of February 28, 2013, I knew I had to write this blog.
Now, why is this such a headline-making event? It’s simple: Most Popes die in office.
In fact, Pope Benedict is the first Pope since 1415 to voluntarily step down, according to Sky News. And the reason is simple: he is a frail man now at age 85, and he says a younger and stronger man is needed.
In a statement, the pope said in order to govern “…both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
Pope Benedict had the unenviable job of following John Paul II as Pope, and for the most part did a good job. While not perfect (he angered many Muslims with some ill-advised comments), he visited Auschwitz, prayed with Jews and Muslims, and was active in trying to root out pedophile priests (and those who covered for them) in the Catholic Church, paying close attention to Ireland and the United States in particular.
Whenever a major religious leader steps down or passes on, it’s a solemn occasion. But it’s less solemn when someone actually realizes his time has passed and steps down rather than dies in office.
Good for Pope Benedict for realizing that he’s older now and not up to the task of the heavy workload of a modern-day Pope.
My hope for him is that he’ll enjoy the remainder of his life as a retired Pope, odd as that sounds, and that he’ll continue to work to remove pedophiles from the priesthood even in retirement as best he’s able.
Folks, now I’ve heard and seen it all. Even God has poll numbers.
According to this Web site, God’s approval numbers stand at 52%, with 9% disapproving. (I’m not sure where all the other people are on this issue. Perhaps the pollsters talked with a lot of atheists?)
Note I’ve seen other polls, rarely, such as the Gallup Poll, with numbers on God. They’re usually much higher than this. I would venture a guess that the reason for that is because of our overtly pessimistic American culture and political situation more so than anything else — we’re unhappy about our politics, we’re unhappy about our financial situation (personal and governmental), and we’re unhappy about the overall prospects for anything better because it sure doesn’t look like anything’s really improving out there.
Anyway, the reason we have new poll numbers for God is that the PPP polling firm wanted to use them in order to contrast those numbers against the poll numbers for Congress. And while God’s poll numbers were lower than you might expect for a Deity, they were considerably higher than any member of Congress.
From the article:
Questions about God were asked as part of a larger survey assessing American opinions of congressional leaders in the midst of the ongoing debt ceiling debate in Washington.
God’s approval rating exceeded that of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, as well as both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, with each party receiving only a 33 percent approval rating.
God also polled significantly higher than the scandal-ridden media baron Rupert Murdoch: only 12 percent of those polled viewed him favorably, compared to 49 percent who viewed him unfavorably.
“Though not the most popular figure PPP has polled, if God exists, voters are prepared to give it (sic) good marks,” PPP said in a July 21 press release.
I would sincerely hope so!
Add a corollary of sorts from this article, which discusses a church in Washington, DC, that’s praying for a “just and compassionate budget.” From the article, which has a video attached:
‘There’s nothing in the Bible about whether there should be revenues in the budget package of 2011,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, a nonpartisan Christian movement working to end hunger in the U.S. and abroad. “But there’s nothing in the Bible that says you can’t tax rich people. There’s a lot in the Bible that says you ought to protect poor people.”
Later in the article, the interfaith leaders who’ve been helping to hold this daily vigil said:
Besides praying, the group of interfaith leaders are urging their followers to contact members of Congress. Earlier this month, they sent a letter to President Obama, writing that “people who are served by government program – those who are poor, sick, and hungry, older adults, children, and people with disabilities – should not bear the brunt of the budget-cutting burden.”
Can I get an “Amen” from the peanut gallery? (Please?)
Today is Easter Sunday for most of the Western World, and I thought as it is both a secular holiday and a very holy day (where the word “holiday” came from), I’d talk about what Easter has come to mean for me.
To me, Easter means, above all else, forgiveness. Now, this may seem odd, as Easter is the day which commemorates Jesus Christ rising from the dead after being entombed three days before; you might wonder how I’m getting forgiveness from this, rather than persistence (which also applies), or hope (which certainly applies), or even faith itself (which definitely applies).
Simply put: Jesus was crucified on the cross, which was a common punishment of that day and time. Jesus was a very spiritual, holy man who believed in love, and truth, and light and faith — among many, many other good things — yet if he hadn’t forgiven the Romans who placed him on that cross, nor if he hadn’t forgiven Judas Iscariot (one of his Twelve Apostles) for placing him in a horrible position in the first place, nor if he hadn’t forgiven Peter (another of his apostles) for betraying him to the Romans . . . well, if Jesus hadn’t forgiven any of them, why would he have risen from the dead in the first place, much less done anything else after that?
I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that condemning an innocent man to death merely because you’re afraid of him (the Romans), or you need money more than you need his friendship (apparently Judas’s problem), or you’re unable to resist the pressure (though this is human and completely forgivable, while the other two actions are hard for modern readers to understand whatsoever) has got to be the worst thing you can possibly do to him. It is a grave sin in the worst of senses — you’ve ended a very good man’s life, a holy man’s life, someone who had done many wonderful things (including miraculous healings, feeding a huge multitude from very little, and much more) — for little or no reason, all because too many people were afraid of Jesus because Jesus refused to stop spreading his Word.
Yet Jesus forgave these people who sinned against him, some grievously (the Romans, those within his own Temple, Judas Iscariot) and those who sinned because they could not help themselves (Peter). And in the process, he brought hope, and light, and joy, and the belief that the spirit is eternal — or at least that it can be — and that all who wish it may learn about his Father (the Deity, otherwise known as God) and become better, wiser, kinder people who will partake of eternal life.
Now, the various denominations of Christianity differ on what, exactly, eternal life may be. Some think it is literally a restoration of our human faculties, but for eternity and without pain, aging, health problems or death. While some others believe that it means our souls are eternal — that our bodies ultimately don’t matter, but our souls do, which is why we must behave the best way we can, knowing all the while that we will sin and we will err, but that we must learn to forgive — not just our enemies, but ourselves.
Christians believe Jesus was the only son of God, while other faiths differ — some believe Jesus was a prophet, a holy man, or merely a good man who meant well. Yet somehow, the happiness of Easter tends to wind through every life, no matter how far away your belief system or spirituality is from the Christian belief system, because the message of forgiveness, along with the twin meanings of hope out of absolute despair (Jesus’s death was widely mourned) and the belief that anyone can be redeemed. Even a Roman who put Jesus on the cross to be crucified; even Judas Iscariot, who sold out his good friend Jesus; even Peter, who was weak during his hour of testing and had to learn to forgive himself for it after Jesus rose from the dead.
I believe in forgiveness, and most importantly, I believe in the eternal nature of the soul. As such, Easter may be the most important holiday we still have because it celebrates the worth of an important man, a very good man who did many, many wonderful things in his lifetime — a man the world can’t stop talking about. A man the Christians revere as Divine, yes — but Divinity alone isn’t why we remember Jesus, is it?
The last thing Easter means to me is that to believe in miracles still means something. All of Jesus’s family, friends, most of his colleagues, his followers, they all prayed for a miracle. Every single last one of them prayed — and they got their miracle when Jesus rose from the dead and came among them once more to spread the word and to remind them to “love one another” as he had loved them.
I believe in redemption, yes, but even more, I believe in the power of miracles. We need more of them in our lives, to remind us of how special life can be — at this time of misery in the United States, with extremely high unemployment numbers and stories about people getting killed for the few dollars in their pockets, it seems to me that whether the story of Jesus was true or not, we need his story like never before.
But I, for one, really hope the story of Jesus, all he did, and all he was, is true. Because it’s wonderful to think of a Deity who’d love us so much that despite all of our failings, our shortcomings, our problems and our pain — much less our wailings to him of woe (something the Christian God is said to welcome) — that he’d send his son to help us, guide us, and then to redeem us.
Note that Horus among the Egyptian Gods has a very similar life-path and story to that of Jesus Christ. And there probably are other Gods and Goddesses throughout recorded history who share some of the same characteristics; as a Unitarian-Universalist who’s studied a great deal of comparative religion, I believe that the message — that the soul is eternal, and that we can have joy if we want it, no matter how flawed we are and no matter how many mistakes we make in the process — is the same, but that the messengers used may not have been. (Or maybe that’s just how our human minds can perceive it.)