Unclean Lines

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I went to church recently. Not temple, (Christian) church. This is not the norm for me. The congregation I worshiped with is one I have thought about visiting for a while. In truth, it’s a flock I used to belong to and worship with regularly. This community gathers at what is now known as Life Journey Church, click here to visit their site, but used to be called Jesus Metropolitan Community Church (JMCC). For anyone who isn’t already aware, the Metropolitan Community Church is a non-denominational sect of protestant Christianity that is not only welcoming of the LGBT population, but also is affirming. As such, the membership is usually primarily humans from the greater gay community – although there are also plenty of non-gay folks who attend, as well.

I first learned of the MCC while as a teen I began coming to terms with my sexuality and was also a very active Christian person. This was a tumultuous time in my life because my family isn’t Christian and Christians generally don’t like gays. So, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what my future would hold and I anticipated being thrown out by one or both of these important parts of my life. As it turned out, only the Christians threw me out. (Not before putting me through the bogus-est of therapies. Calvary Baptist Church, click here for their site link, I think, had never had to deal with a problem like me.) During those difficult years, my backup plan was to run to the MCC for a kind of sanctuary, hoping that in my worst-case scenario, someone would help me. Had it come to that, I’m sure someone would have – luckily that wasn’t needed. This is in no small part because my family mostly kicks ass. I’m not sure exactly when JMCC changed its name to Life Journey or if the dropping of the “MCC” from the actual name indicates a separation from the larger MCC denomination, but I know I parted ways with the church after a chat with the then-and-now pastor, Jeff Miner.

The chat happened after a morning service. Something about the sermon hit me as being uncomfortable. This is probably due to my own personal development and spiritual growth and a growing feeling that Christianity simply wasn’t big enough. That morning, after the service, I filed in line with many others who hugged our pastor as we left the sanctuary, and while there I asked him about god greeting people at the so-called Pearly Gates. I don’t recall exactly, but his must have been mentioned in the sermon that day. I asked him if he thought it would be disturbing for a dead person to arrive at the gates to Heaven, expecting to see Ganesha or Vishnu or the Universal Mother or Nothing At All, but instead to be greeted by Jesus. He agreed that it probably would be disturbing. Our chat lasted only another minute or two and during that time he pretty well said that he believes god shows up in the manner expected by the soul.

That was the last time I attended that (or any other) church. I can play along in most scenarios when it serves a purpose. However, I couldn’t any longer rationalize buying into a religious practice that not only seemed too small for me, but the potential spirituality of which contradicted some of the actual religious structure. Pastor Jeff Miner is a fine person and a brilliant human being – everyone should get to know him. I mean it. But I couldn’t allow myself to continue to participate in a Jesus-centric mode of worship and living when the real and true Reality is that not only is Jesus not the “only way” for us to return home (and you bet your butt he isn’t), but also that whatever God is to whomever recognizes God, God will appear in that form. (Does that sentence read clearly?) I think I could be okay attending a church if it were a church that celebrated Mohammad and Ganesha and Zarathustra (Zoroaster) – equally. But that isn’t the case and it was the final nail in my Christian coffin that a “Jesus only” spiritual methodology had that element of hypocrisy. (Maybe hypocrisy isn’t the right word, but it sure feels like it.) “Jesus is the only way – unless you don’t recognize him – then god will manifest in another way.” Umm…. What? Really?

So I stopped attending and began developing myself as a Hindu. I’ve now spent more time as a Hindu than I did in my two stints as a Christian (couple years as a teen at Calvary Baptist and then a few more years as a young adult at JMCC), and I’ve yet to feel like I’m even remotely close (nor have even inched closer, at all) to outgrowing this path. Still, one thing I missed was my connection to the local gay community – which was primarily facilitated through JMCC. I don’t go to bars. At all, really. And aside from meeting people through other people or going to the bars or joining up some social group or something, the church was the next most logical way of connecting to my tribe. I missed that and still do. And so, I decided to be nosy and see what it’s like now. And I did that last Sunday. The building and many of the faces are mostly the same. The worship service is essentially no different.

Last week’s sermon dealt a lot with the book of Leviticus. More specifically, what made someone or something unclean. It was also noted that throughout the Bible, and especially in the Old Testament, the Jews are referred to as the “children” of god – never as any other kind of people. Always children. With that idea in mind, spiritual evolution was discussed throughout the sermon: We, as a collective, should be evolving beyond the child stage of development. Obviously, most of the references to these children of God are in the Old Testament, where much of the do’s and don’ts of Christianity fall as well. So there’s an association made here between being a child and needing rules. So-called rules are for those who aren’t as developed and still require (benefit from) a structure being imposed upon them. It sounds sweet to think of yourself as a child of god, but it’s not exactly a compliment. We’re told Jesus came to do away with those laws – to fulfill them – as a means of saying, “Guys, grow up! Stop being children.”

 

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One example discussed in the sermon to illustrate this is the notion of something or someone being unclean. In those ancient days, observations were made: A bird flies. A mammal walks on the ground, and a fish swims. This is natural order. Natural order is, naturally, ordained by god at the time of creation – when He supposedly made birds to fly, mammals to walk, etc … And so, the math follows, if something deviates from this so-called natural order, there’s something terribly wrong. Thus storks and bats (the examples in the sermon) are unclean. Storks are birds that do fish things. And bats are mammals that do bird things. They violate god’s laws of nature and are therefore unclean. The photo in this post is of a Cheez-It product, CRUNCH’D, a cheese cracker – cheesy poof mixture that surely violates the natural order of all creation.

In just about as many ways as animals can be unclean (violate nature), so can humans also. The main example in the sermon, as it tied into the scriptural reading, was leprosy. The verses read by the congregation explained the process of suspecting and diagnosing leprosy. The process could last as few as seven days or as many as 21. The possibly-afflicted could end up being cleared. But if that soul were unlucky and actually had leprosy, then the rules required that person to wear torn clothing, keep visibly messy hair, sleep outside the limits of the city (a very dangerous thing), and wherever they walked they were required to cover their upper lip (with their hand) and shout ahead, “UNCLEAN! UNCLEAN!” to broadcast that an untouchable person was near. It was understood that even their breath could spiritually contaminate someone else. To anyone, modern or ancient, scared of catching leprosy it probably doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea to have all those rules in place. You could easily know whether you were in danger of being dirtied by someone else. In those ancient days, though, leprosy wasn’t the only thing that could designate someone as being unclean. If you had any physical blemish what-so-ever then you were unclean. This included people who were disabled – whether from birth or due to age or an accident.

The catch here isn’t that unclean people were forced to do all the aforementioned things. Those are all pretty degrading, but the real rub is that they weren’t allowed in the presence of god – weren’t allowed into the temple, as such. So, someone with scoliosis or spina bifida or whose growth plates were injured as a child and had one limb shorter than the other – all unclean. If you’re autistic or have a hump in your back or are in a wheelchair – you’re simply not good enough for god, for life.

How screwed up is that? And it doesn’t stop there. Like birds that dive and swim as a fish would, men who love men (as women were designed to do) were likewise stepping out of the line and file intended at creation’s start – unclean. Same goes for women who love women as men were designed to do. And god help you if you were transgender – except you would be too unclean for god to help. Then, as we all know, Jesus came to be among humans and not only touched lepers but also made great efforts at setting the record straight on what supposedly defiles a person and what doesn’t. Thank god for Jesus. Right? Not me. I mean, not really. I don’t doubt that Jesus was one of humanity’s many guiding lights, but I don’t go any further than that with him – not anymore. If Ganesha can’t score me front row seats in Heaven, then I don’t know how somebody with half as many hands is going to do it.

So, it was a good lesson delivered in the sermon. For sure. And it was nice to be with those like myself. For sure. But my visit to the church served mostly to remind me of why I no longer follow the Christian Dharma. As heart-felt and genuine as I think a lot of it actually is for those congregants, it still felt almost wholly juvenile and somewhat ridiculous. It felt emotionally imbalanced and smelled of enslavement – tragic for a path preaching freedom through Christ. If Christians are people who have been washed clean and set free through Christ’s blood, then why in the world do so many of them feel threatened or “against” so much of life?

And now my conundrum: I obviously can’t worship there. So much of everything said or practiced under that roof makes me roll my eyes so hard I get a migraine. And besides that, I’ve been clear that it stopped being a good fit over a decade ago. But it was nice to be around other gays – something that happens very rarely for me. Although, these gays aren’t the ones I have the most in common with, whatever that means. I’m just not sure I want a ton of friends who attribute every life challenge or misfortune to Satan or who think they need someone else to pay for their own actions. Plus it’ll be something my husband will never join me in because he has zero tolerance for that kind of bullcrap. So… Do I return? I’m thinking I might – for entertainment, if nothing else. But surely there will be something else.

Aum Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha | Aum Shanti

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Gayshnava

Taken from Google Image search, "Gay Hindu"

Taken from Google Image search, “Gay Hindu”

Friday was an interesting day for me. The week has pretty much flew by, although Friday not so much. Russia’s been on my nerves in the worst way. It’s not often I recommend obliterating nations, but Russia is pushing it. Even the Middle East with all its own joys doesn’t get under my skin the way Russia is currently. In the Middle East at least they have “good reasons” for their dumb ideaologies. By “good reasons,” I mean religion. Everyone is dictated by Islam in those regions and while it’s not right to be that way either, per se, it’s at least a foundational starting point that can evolve. It’s spiritually misguided logic – it theoretically started out wholesome, and wherever it sits currently, it could also theoretically get back to square one. Russia is different though. The stuff coming out of Russia these days is just mean. Russia’s not saying that Jesus wants them to hunt gays. It’s saying its population is dwindling and gays pose a threat to reproduction and therefore the survival of the nation. That view violates so much common sense and even basic facts that I find it far more offensive than a Muslim who’s ignorant wanting to hunt gays. It’s a fine line, but a distinct one in my mind.

Along these lines, a friend on Facebook reposted something from Vaishnav literature wherein Prabhupad Swami had some pretty harsh words regarding gays, including that we’re lower than even the animals, which are already far lower than humans already. He went on and on as the devotees probed him on this. You can read that blissful knowledge here.

The best part of it all for me was that no one said, “Those are not true Vaishnavs!” One commenter did come close (he’s what another friend would rightly call Kraishnav), but otherwise it didn’t even show up on th radar. This is heard muchly within Abrahamic religions. Whenever Christians hunt people or Muslims bomb them, the other adherents of those faiths are quick to abandon their brothers and very loudly make sure everyone else knows, “They aren’t real Christians!” I’ve even heard a Buddhist monk do this in reponse to some other monks standing up against Muslim oppressors. It seems terribly egoic to me when people turn on their own brothers/sisters like that. It was nice that no one did that – today anyway.

Someone else commented that Vaishnavism is essentially “curried Catholicism.” I’m not sure that’s an entirely fair or accurate assessment, but it’s one I can relate to as having an element of truth to it.

But it all got me thinking… What if one keeps his mouth shut entirely? I mean, the whole event Friday on Facebook was really quite interesting. Somebody said something, others encountered that said thing and said something else in reponse, and then more and more people ended up saying more and more in reponse (in reaction?).

So if I have shitty or hateful or whatever views does it really matter so long as I keep my pie hole shut? My karmas are mine alone (mostly) and if I don’t project them in any manner externally (which, I’ll admit would be nearly impossible to do) then why should anyone else care about it?

I see this happen in the spa I work part-time at. One professional will be having a conversation and since the area is rather open and fluid, conversationsa are often blended and melted into each other, or at least overlapping. This often creates a “mind your own business, nobody asked you” kinda of situation. Prior to those interactions, relative peace is experienced. But is that really peace, or just relative, individualized ignorance?

Here’s what I think the REAL root of it all is: Jnana. And I mean both sides of the Jnana “coin.”

Jnana, I’ve said before, is experiential realization of Truth. It requires work on your part and no one else’s. If I want your advice to check my own thoughts against, that’s one thing. But if I haven’t invested enough work in my own Self, I won’t even really be (experientially) aware of what’s already inside me. This is simultaneously the starting place and the finish line, no joke. But if this doesn’t happen, a person not only has no secure foundation (afterall what’s clearer than your own personal, experiential, realization of Truth?), but also almost certainly has no clear idea of the Goal – also because they’ve not invested the work needed for experiential realization. So if one neglects the work that needs done, and has no realization of the secure foundation (not the same as having no foundation at all), and has no resultant sight of the Goal which would also need to be certain, then he/she is likely to rely on others in ways that the hope-filled think will give direction to their journey – this laziness is grave and is pretty much the reason the self-help industry is booming. Nothing wrong with a book telling you how to reach your higher Self, but just reading won’t work. This almost invariably means that the kind of ineractions I mentioned earlier take place.

To keep moving… What’s all the fuss about gayness and Hinduism? Superficially, Hinduism is pretty much literally the most liberating religion ever. Many religions are quite “free,” but within the context of history and orthodoxy, the freedom found in Hinduism simply can’t be surpassed.

Interestingly, Hinduism has a rich, albeit somewhat obscure, history of gayness. The Faithology website has a page on homosexuality within Hinduism which can be accessed by clicking here – and it does a fair job at detailing exactly what I’m talking about.

The site mentions the “third sex,” which everyone should read about. More popularly, though, the site also offers a few nuggets most might not know about. For instance, the Harihara aspect of God, is a male-male union of Shiva and Vishnu. This can’t exactly be said to be gay, but it’s definitely homosexual (according to a strict definition of the word) and stands in sharp contract to the more obviously hetero blending of “God” in the form of Shiva and Shakti. Also, Krishna’s own son, Samba, actually engaged in homosexual acts (which isn’t the same as being gay, but whatever) and is a known cross-dresser/transvestite. There’s also a version of the Ramayana that details the creation of the god Bhagiratha from lesbian intercourse.

Another WordPress post, also inspired by some of Friday’s interactionsw, was composed by the Facebook friend mentioned earlier who had reposted Prabhupad’s interview transcription. This post can be read here, and takes a myth buster form. In all actuality, the posted I just linked you (as well as my post here) could just about as easily contribute to the strife I was getting at in the beginning of this post.

In theory, we should all be able to hold any view under the sun about any subject under the sun, and it shouldn’t matter. Should it? Why does it? Have I already provided the answer, or do I need you to help enlighten me? Are you sure?

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti

Proud

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Today was the Gay Pride Parade and Festival in Indianapolis. I’ll say now that it’s been most of a decade since I last attended any kind of Pride event. There are various reasons for this, mostly pertaining to past work schedules. However, this year the stars aligned (I mean that literally, as today happens to also be Shani Jayanti) and I was able to attend. Things have changed!

For starters, the sheer volume of people attending the Indy festivities is exponentially bigger than it was when I last attended. SO many people were there. Also the number of vendors has grown quite a lot. Late in the day, I heard a dag queen proclaim from the main performance stage that Indy Pride is now TENTH in the list of “best” Pride festivals in the WORLD. I’m not sure how this is true, or that I even believe it, but I can say it kicks ass in its own way. When it was first held in 1988, there was only a single float in the parade and the parade took a mere 15 minutes. And I can remember from events in the recent past (within the last decade) that large parts of the massive downtown park were vacant. Definitely not the case today – thankfully!

As with any other life experience, I found today’s adventure to be one of learning. Please allow me to share.

1) There are many kinds of people in the world. This is how it’s always been. It’s how it’ll always be. This is because suchness is a goodness.

2) There will be those who disagree with #1. And when force-fields are erected in effort to silence or mute those who disagree with #1, they will pay good money to buy their way to a spot inside that protected area. I saw this first-hand today.

3.1) Many people wear things they oughtn’t to wear.

3.2) All – and I do mean all – of the people I saw walking around in only undergarments today were nearly the exact opposite of the physical appearance you’d ever want to see wearing only underwear in public. This was first noted today by my beloved. A great many people SHOULD be discouraged from some of the wardrobe choices they make. This isn’t being mean. This is encouraging responsibility.

4) On occasion, when exposed to sun and upon neglecting application of sunscreen, it becomes quite apparent that a significant part of my genetic makeup comes directly from that of lobsters. This is currently VERY evident right now and will likely remain quite visible for the next few days.

5) I find that as much as rainbow bracelets and excessive body glitter annoy me, I recognize that at these gatherings it’s important for my people to express exactly what they feel how they feel it. I noticed a number of people who seemed to be dabbling with gender bending solely for the sake of shock value or outrageousness. They looked ridiculous or gross – I’m not talking about transgendered people or intersex. But that’s perfectly okay because that’s only my limited perception from within my own, very hard-earned, secure identity. There are many whose personal shape isn’t as clearly defined as I experience mine to be. I think this is partially because many refuse to continuously invest the effort required to know one’s self, and partially because for many people the lines simply are more blurred than my own. As I walked the festival a number of times today, noticing new people with each step, I began having a kind of “dual” experience. On one hand, noticing a number of people and scenes that were just about embarrassing, I found myself thoroughly entertained by Maya’s spectrum. On the other hand, in the face of such immense diversity, I began also to see The One that connects us all and found myself soaked in the Universe’s amazing and sometimes bizarre beauty.

And now, on the verge of tomorrow, I’m quite tired, quite sunburned, quite fulfilled, and quite ready to be at temple bright and early tomorrow offering my sincerest and most humble gratitude to Ganesha for all that life is.

Om Shanti

Very Full Indeed

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I have a Facebook friend who annoys me frequently. He’s forever posting “red flags” about one thing or another: high levels of metal in our drinking water, the poisons put into our food by the makers of it, various kinds of pollution no one has ever heard of. He’s also posting similarly annoying “good” things like sweet-ass recipes no one’s heard of, interesting facts about our culture, and upcoming events of interest that one might not otherwise know about.

One thing he never neglects to post about, about twenty times a day, is how gay people are faring in political world. I don’t mean gay politicians, although he’ll post about those too. He’s a sentinel of sorts. He’s truly ever watchful. Many times I wish he’d just give it a rest. But I’m glad he doesn’t.

People need to throw a stink about things that aren’t right.

People often have marches or boycott or petition… make real fusses about something they want changed. This is great and is effective. Something also important, though, is simply showing support.

Today was a pretty big day for gays in the USA. If you aren’t sure what I mean, grab any immediate news and fill yourself in. The heat behind the push for marriage equality has built and built, and is finally coming to a boil.

Like boiling water on skin, living as a gay person is often quite painful. Unless you’re good at fulfilling the public’s general expectations of male/female roles, daily life is not just challenging – it’s awkward, and embarrassing, and frustrating. And, quite sadly, sometimes dangerous and deadly. Even gays whose lives are “convenient” enough so as not to have as many worries as their gay brothers/sisters, still face uphill battles just about anywhere they turn. My intention isn’t to turn this post into a “pity the gays” post. Many have said that gay is the new black. I’m not sure I feel this is a great comparison, but it’s truly close enough. Consider black history and the struggle blacks went through for equality – and how blacks STILL often face discrimination. There are many parallels in the modern gay struggle.

Not everyone can march on Washington or otherwise throw a fit about life’s injustices. But everyone can show support for their loved ones, and this is crucial. Even the most confident individual appreciates – needs – support from the people in his life that mean the most to him.

The Facebook app on my phone is spotty, and throughout the day today I wasn’t on much. Then between getting new furniture and making dinner, it was close to 9pm before I even touched the computer. And when I did….

Today was a nice day at the office. It was great to finally have the new living room furniture in place. And at dinner, I literally stuffed myself with good food. And then I sign on to Facebook and for a minimum of fifteen minutes I scrolled my newsfeed in awe.

So much red!

And now, while my heart was full from a good day, and my stomach filled from a yummy dinner, so the same is to be said of my spirit!

My brother posted as long of a status post as I think I’ve ever seen, broadcasting his opinion that support should be shown every day and not just in changing one’s Facebook picture. His own wife did change her picture, and I read in a few different places where she explained to others that she was doing it to show support for her “loved ones.” My step-aunt has been very vocal on Facebook for a few days already about the ridiculousness of this kind of discrimination. My Hindu bahin (sister) in Atlanta took pictures of herself wearing red in support. There were a few instances where I expected to see something and didn’t, but just about everywhere I clicked or scrolled I found that so many “in” my life care for my happiness and the happiness of those like me.

My beloved sat before his computer around the time I did mine. His experience seemed to mirror that of my own and he updated his status with, “I have to say regardless of what effect it truly has, I am very humbled and pleased to see so much red on my friend feed today. It’s good to know there are so many supportive people out there!”

Humbled, indeed! I write to you now with goose bumps, and a heart so full I can feel it in the lump in my throat as I hold back tears.

After spending the last decade of my life with the guy I call my beloved, it’s my sincerest hope that sooner rather than later I’ll be able to legally marry him, and worry less about many things. Regardless of when that day comes, and surely it will, please don’t wait to tell someone you love that you love them, or someone you support that you support them – or even if you just mildly care about someone, tell them.

People need to know it.

Om Shanti