If you told a caterpillar that one day it would become a butterfly, would the caterpillar believe you? How is it possible that a worm with short stubby feet that munches on plants can transform into a creature with huge, elegant wings, long, slender legs, and a straw-like tongue that sips from flowers? Surely such transformation is impossible. But it’s not.
How does the caterpillar know to form a chrysalis? Does it know what will happen to it when it does? Does it have any idea that its body will literally break down into a kind of genetic goop, that its tissues and very cells will disintegrate, that it will digest itself before being reborn in a completely new form? Is it terrified? Is it eager? Is it answering a call that only it can hear? The idea that any creature would willingly undergo such a destruction of itself seems impossible. But it’s not.
This particular Tonglen practice was inspired by the work of Joan Halifax. You can listen to this practice as a guided meditation or scroll down for a text version.
Tonglen is a Buddhist meditation practice of giving and receiving. It’s a practice that intimately connects our own suffering with the suffering of others, in service of keeping our hearts open. We cannot fully participate in the healing of others’ suffering while running from our own. We need to hold both.
I’ve been a Unitarian Universalist for thirty years, ever since my parents joined my home church in Milwaukee when I was six. This is the kid my parents brought to church with them:
The Little Mermaid had recently come out, and I was instantly obsessed. This ingenious Halloween costume, made for me by my mom, quickly became a year-round outfit. I used to sit in our front yard imagining the amazement of all the people driving by at the sight of a mermaid so far from the water. We took a road trip to visit my great-grandmother and her ocean-view cottage in Massachusetts, and I distinctly remember the lengths my mom had to go to to convince me to not wear my tail all the way there and quickly throw myself onto one of the glorious rocks in front of my great-gram’s cottage before she came outside to greet us. “You’ll give her a heart attack!” she pleaded. “She’ll be too surprised to see a mermaid in her yard.”
What really made me the little mermaid in my mind and my heart, though, was not the outfit but the music. I memorized all of the songs and sang them everywhere, including at church. Legend has it that it was my earnest belting of “Part of Your World” in the lower level at all hours that inspired the music director to start a kid’s choir.
This sermon was delivered on July 17, 2016, on the first day of the annual GAYLA retreat for men who love men at Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine, where I served as minister of the week. I’m publishing it today in honor of the third anniversary of the Pulse massacre.
My dear friends.
Here we are. We have made it to this sacred place. We come from places near and far. Some of us have traveled a long, long road to be here, in more ways than one. Some of us find ourselves here for the very first time, for others, this place is full of memories. We come bringing joy and sorrow, excitement and pain. This place, this community, can hold us all. Feel the ground underneath you. Breathe the air flowing between us. Open your heart to the life force here in this place.
Let us be together in silence, not thinking but rather focusing on feeling. Feeling this groundedness, breathing into this connection, and opening our hearts to one another. Continue reading “The Power of Community”→
This piece is a guest post written by Kio and edited by Imani McPhaden
Recently the UU World published an article where the author rather deliberately outlines some of her critical learning moments and lessons with transgender folks. The article seemed to focus on specific nuances around language and the new language transgender folks have been sharing with one another and the world. As I read it, I was struck by the techniques used. Alternating some of the newer language and knowledge about gender with personal stories to highlight how that language looks in practice. It featured examples of gender faux pas and showed how those experiences could be opportunities for growth rather than an end of a relationship.
A version of this piece was originally posted on Facebook on March 5, 2019
Yesterday morning I started hearing from fellow trans Unitarian Universalists because I was quoted in a feature article in the spring issue of the UU World, the UU magazine that is published out of the denomination’s national office, the print version of which is just landing in people’s mailboxes.
I need to name publicly that being quoted sends the impression that I condone this article. I don’t. I’m deeply disappointed in the UU World, in senior editor Chris Walton, and in author Kimberly French for publishing this piece. In a political environment in which trans people are being actively targeted for violence by the state, in a context in which trans UUs are increasingly voicing the fact that Unitarian Universalism’s approach to LGBTQ welcome has failed trans people, an article written by a cis person, that centers cis people and cis perspectives, about trans people, is not incremental progress—it’s harm.Continue reading “What It Takes to De-Center Privilege: The Failure of this Week’s UU World Article”→
At every point in the history of the United States there have been people whose faith has provided the bedrock for lifelong efforts to end violence, oppression, and inequity—Dorothy Day, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Bishop Gene Robinson—and there have been others who have used their religion as a weapon to further these same forces; to maintain the oppressive status quo rather than challenge it.
My name is Alex and I’m in the business of Welcome.
I’m particularly excited to be here because I’ve heard that you all are engaging with some renewal work around being a Welcoming Congregation—the UU program that congregations can go through to intentionally increase their welcome and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. This congregation was first recognized in 2004. Raise your hands if you were around for that!
So I’m here today, thirteen years after your recognition as a Welcoming Congregation, to ask you to revisit—and possible reimagine—what welcome means to you.
I want to start by telling you a story. This story comes from one of my spiritual mentors, the fabulous Kate Bornstein, and it is her version—a queer and transgender version—of the story of Adam and Eve. Here’s how it goes:
Once upon a time, God was bored. God needed a project. So God created a world! And God created Lilith, but she was a little too much to handle so God sent her on her way and created Adam and Eve. And God made them a garden and told them, “Everything you need is here. Go anywhere you please, do anything you want, be happy and fulfilled.”
“Oh—there’s just one little thing,” God said. “All I ask is that you not eat the pretty looking apples on that gnarly looking tree over there. Okay?”
Well before you know it a serpent showed up and seduced Eve into eating an apple. And Eve in turn convinced Adam to take a bite. And as the story goes, they were instantly aware of their nakedness and were ashamed.
God realized what had happened and came to see them. But God wasn’t mad. God was profoundly sad. And I’ll tell you why. The reason God had wanted Eve and Adam to not eat from that tree was because it was the tree of good and evil. As soon as they ate from it, they were aware of the binary of good and evil, and they were seduced by it. Continue reading “Transgender Faith”→
You can listen to an audio recording here (in my opinion, the audio recording is much better than the written word—I swear! We’re more charming in person).
We aren’t taught in this culture to be openhearted. There’s no lesson. And I came to openheartedness as central to my spiritual practice the hard way. Whether it was the violence I was growing up with, the shame and the struggle around being queer and being gender nonconforming, whether it was being 28 years old and being diagnosed with AIDS at a time before medication was available.
Every turn I came to in life there was a reason for me to armor up. There was a reason for me to not let anyone near me. Because the outside world was telling me that if I wanted to stay protected I needed to curl in a ball. The last thing I ever needed to do was leave myself vulnerable. But at the same time that the world was telling me that, there was always this soft, loving voice of the beloved telling me that that was not for me. That I was meant to be openhearted regardless of the information I was getting from the outside world. Continue reading “The Spiritual Practice of an Open Heart”→