The official blog of Susan Landis-Steward, writer of whatever she likes, and co-founder of Puddletown Publishing Group

Posts tagged ‘religion’

An Interview with Susan Landis-Steward

Q. When did you decide to become a writer?

A. When I was four. I wrote poems which my father translated from hieroglyphs and stored in my grandmother’s German Bible. One was about a star.

Q. Your grandmother was German?

A. Well, her Bible was. I assume she was. Her last name was Rugenstein. You do the math. My father also said she was Jewish. She was dead by the time I came along. But she married a Mennonite, and they raised their kids Lutheran. You figure it out. I gave up trying to understand my family a long time ago. That’s probably another reason I write.

Q. So you just started a publishing company. What do you know about publishing?

A. More than you might think. I’m a few credits away from a Masters in Publishing. And I’ve been working in the industry for several years as an indexer. Oh, and I’ve had some stuff published. Besides, I chose great business partners.

Q. You write lesbian mysteries?

A. Yes.

Q. ?

A. You asked the question. I just answered it.

Q. Why lesbian mysteries?

A. Write what you know. I’m mysterious and lesbian. I’m also neurotic so my characters are neurotic. My mysteries are fairly autobiographical in many ways, but only those who really know me know which parts are me.

Q. Do you have a dog?

A. What kind of lesbian would I be if I didn’t have a dog? My dog is a Jack Russell Terrier/English Springer Spaniel mix named Good Dog Gwyneth. She’s a pound puppy. She thinks my partner is God. I am merely a door and can opener. Unless I’m going somewhere in the car. Then I become a temporary demiurge.

Q. Why do you use words like demiurge?

A. I have a Masters in Spiritual Traditions and Ethics. I seldom get to use those words.

Q. Are you some sort of religious freak?

A. Why, yes, I am. But not in the way most people think of it. I’m a JuBuEpiscoPagaTarian Universalist who reads the Qur’an for edification and studied for the Episcopal priesthood.

Q. You wanted to be a priest?

A. Until I realized I couldn’t bear to spend another minute with my seminary  classmates, yes.  As a layperson, the Episcopal church had a hard time shutting me up. I liked that. Now I preach in the UU tradition sometimes.

Q. Do you talk about religion in your books?

A. Sometimes. In the second book in my Blind series, I introduce a  woman priest as a character. Write what you know again. I know a lot of women priests. Although I like nuns better.

Q. Nuns?

A. I fell in love with my partner because she wore nun shoes. I love nuns. When I found out she’d done time in a convent, I was hooked.

Q. So there are lesbian nuns?

A. Well, duh.

Q. One of your main characters is blind. Why?

A. As a person with a disability, I’m fascinated by the ways people with disabilities find ways to live normal lives, whatever that means. Since my disability is hidden, I figured a character with a visible disability would be easier to write.

Q. How long have you and your partner been together?

A. Depends who’s doing the math but somewhere around 20 years.

Q. Math?

A. Yeah. I have a hard time remembering how old I am so I get the math wrong. I have to figure out how old the oldest kid is, and then remember which year she was born, and work from there. I get it wrong a lot.

Q. Kids?

A. And grandkids. I’m lesbian, not unplumbed. I’ve got three daughters, and almost four grandkids.

Q. Back to the math…

A. I can’t figure out how my cell phone works either. It has a big red button that says “END CALL” but when I answer the phone my brain says “PUSH ME.” I hang up on people a lot.

Q. About your brain…

A. Traumatic brain injury, October 9, 2002, during simple throat surgery. The brain injury would have been okay except for the three concussions in the years before. Cumulative effect. My brain finally gave out.

Q.  Huh?

A. I died. I did not see Jesus. I did not go toward the light. I caught a jump start from a passing surgeon, and an ancient Asian nurse scared me back to life by yelling, “BREATHE”  every time some alarm went off. For awhile, I was out of alignment, pulled to the left, had a weird kind of aphasia, used a cane to stay upright, and set things (usually things full of liquids) down on invisible tables. I also closed my eyes while driving.  I’m mostly okay now, though. Although, I did get fibromyalgia as a lovely parting gift.

Q. I’m glad your brain is better. What changed?

A. Knitting and spinning. I did a lot of both since I couldn’t work. I made lots of yarn and lots of scarves, hats, and sweaters. Later I learned that using both hands at the same time knits new neural pathways. Since I needed some new ones, I just made them myself.

Q. Thanks. We’ll do this again sometime.

A. Please send someone else to do the interview. Your questions suck.

Three Theological Things: The Funniest Profound Books Ever

I heard Christopher Moore on NPR the other day, talking about his new book. The commentator, who I should know but don’t because I have terminal CRS disease, asked him about his earlier book Lamb, the story of Jesus’ missing years told from the point of view of his best friend, Biff. Right there you know it’s going to be funny. And if you are a fan of Moore, the man who brought us some of the most bizarre vampire stories, carnivorous mobile homes, and stupidest angels ever, you know you are right. Lamb is laugh-out-loud funny, and I find out, now required reading in many seminaries. Now that is cool!

Gospel by Wilton Barnhardt is a cross between Christopher Moore, Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, and the Three Stooges. A romp across three continents, in search of a newly discovered Gospel, the book is both theologically imaginative and totally bizarre. And God, played by Himself, is a main character, one who will have you laughing out loud.

Right now I’m reading A.J. Jacob’s The Year of Living Biblically. While the other two books are fiction, this is brutally honest non-fiction at its best. If you’ve read Jacob’s first book, The Know-it-All, his chronicle of the year he spent reading his way through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, you know what I’m talking about.  Jacobs, a secular Jew and writer for the Atlantic Monthly, sets out to follow all the laws in the Bible as faithfully as possible.  His long-suffering wife has to endure a booth, for the Feast of Booths, built in their Manhattan apartment, her husband’s attempt to avoid all contact with her and anything she has touched during her menses, and a full-year’s worth of beard, increasingly odd clothing, attempts to keep holy the Sabbath, and generally strange events, all while trying to raise a young son. During the course of the year, with regular visits with pastors and rabbis who serve as a motley crew of advisors on all things religious, Jacobs has mulitple epiphanies about the life of faith.

Read them if you need a good laugh or if you just want to get a new perspective on your own faith.

Five things I’m grateful for today:

  • Sun. Finally. Sun.
  • A friend who took me to lunch to cheer me up
  • A comfy bed for a much-needed catch-up nap
  • Jenny’s promise to let me get a motorcycle if I lose some weight
  • A cat that says I misunderstand her

Thursday's Three Theological Things

Funny how hard times turn the mind to God. I’ve found myself praying that the slump in my business dissipate before I’m broke. But I’m also using the time off to work on other things. Like writing. Like renewing my teaching certificate and signing up to substitute. Like think about what I really want and need. All very spiritual pursuits.

I’m taking a class called Writing the Spirit that conveniently falls during Lent. A couple weeks ago, we were given the task of writing an “I am from….” poem about our spiritual lives. It was an interesting exercise, everyone in the group wrote amazing stuff, and I’ve decided to let you read mine.  If you want to do your own, all you have to do is write “I am from…” and get that pen moving.

So, for my first theological thing, here’s my poem.

I am from stained glass and uniforms,
Jewish boys carrying crosses they don’t believe in
While Christian girls with covered heads are excluded from the altar

I am from concentration camps and schism over buttons
The 1928 prayer book and the Coverdale psalms
Too many years in seminary and not enough in prayer
Messiahs and Prophets (blessed be their names).

I am from gentle lovers and fierce daughters, wise men and wiser women,
From evolution, revolution, metanoia, and koinonia
From words and the Word, bread and wine,
Matzo balls and latkes, Sabbath-keeping and rule-breaking

I from choirs of children in four-part harmony
From wanting what I could not have
Until women defied the church and paved the way
And I found I did not want it anymore.

I am from midrash and surahs, gitas and rubrics, Genesis and Luke,
From women’s circles and men’s rules
From broken vows and understanding abbots,
From priests and nuns, rabbis and teachers,
From buried and broken Alleluias.

I am from the holy, whatever be its form.
I am.

Second Theological Thing
Shifting gears a bit, but still staying holed up in the library of the UU church, this week’s assignment involved Carolyn Myss’ Sacred Contracts and her archetype cards. We each chose three cards from the deck, after setting an intention for discovering more about our spiritual path. The three cards represent past, present, and future, or where I come from, where I am, and where I’m going.  I drew the Hermit, the Fool, and God.  Interesting choices for me.

The Hermit, or Mystic, at its best, withdraws from society to focus on the inner life. While I don’t necessarily withdraw, I do like my solitude. Although I can’t say I always use it to advantage. Sometimes I do things that nurture my inner life. Other times I just play World of Warcraft. Which some might argue IS an inner life. Or at least an imaginary life. At its worst, the Hermit withdraws because of fear, intolerance, or to avoid the problems of the world.  I will admit to some fear, and some avoidance, but I’m in therapy again for the gazillionth time to work on that.
Therapy, for me, is a very Hermit-like thing to do. The self-reflection, with someone to call me on a tendency to navel-gaze, has been an invaluable tool in my life. And right now I’m not doing therapy because there is anything particularly wrong but because I want to indulge a desire to grow. Yes, part of that is looking at old stuff, but I’ve done most of the hard, painful part of that already. Now I’m spending an hour every other week in a very disciplined focus on my inner life. And I’ve found one of those once in a lifetime therapists who is truly gifted and is able to serve as both guide and friend. All in all, I’m enjoying my Hermit-age.

My present card is the Fool. In tarot, the Fool is the Zen ‘beginner mind’, the child just starting out on the journey, a reminder that we are always beginning again. In Myss’ archetypes, it’s the ability to communicate profound truth through humor and represents what we’d like to say if we just had the courage.  The downside, or shadow, is a tendency to use humor in cruel ways. I hope I don’t have that. But I am one who uses humor a great deal in my writing, preaching, and life and there are few sacred cows. I pretty much say what I mean, and often do it with humor.

My future card is God. I asked the question about whether this card was gendered, or if it included goddess. It is gendered, and is the male god. In tarot, it would probably be the Heirophant or the Emperor. I’m not done thinking about it so I can’t tell which for sure. Maybe it’s elements of both. This card is the ultimate in male dominance. If used wisely, it is compassion and benevolence (the Emperor). Used poorly, it is the dictator or despot. I’m guessing that Jenny might see moments of the dictator in me but I like to think that I am headed for compassion.

Anyway, my assignment is to think and journal about these things. I guess I just did part of it publically. But I wanted to share about these archetypes, an idea that fascinates me and can be very helpful in looking at life.

Third Theological Thing

Gwyneth

Gwyneth

As we all know, God is Dog spelled backwards and I’ve found this dog to be unconditional love on paws so it must be true. We took a walk along Johnson Creek today, in the freezing cold, and Gwynnie found this pool. Now, given the temps we’ve had here the last few days, I’m guessing that water was pretty dang cold. I would have posted the whole sequence, as she first went in with front paws only, then her back toes, then up to her ankles (do dogs have ankles? Does God?)  But over the course of about 30 seconds, most of them captured on my new camera, she went in up to her belly. I was sure she was going to start swimming but she drew the line somewhere. Anyway, I’m thinking she was feeling the need for a baptism in icy water.

Here’s the strange part. We live on a freaking CREEK. About 30 feet off the end of our house is Beaver Creek. Has this dog EVER gone in the creek? No. She has her own little latrine spot near the creek (can’t train her to be environmentally friendly), and there is a spring that feeds the creek which is also her personal drinking fountain, but she has NEVER gone in the creek. First time she’s near a body of water that is not on our property, she’s right in there. Can’t be a desire to swim. She can do that right here. Nope, I’m pretty sure she was baptising herself.

And don’t start with me about dogs having souls or not. There was a whole theological debate on whether women had souls back in time and the debate was not souls or no souls. Nope, it was do women HAVE souls or ARE women souls. I vote that women are pure soul and as such have no need of HAVING souls. And I think the same is true of my dog. On the other hand, being the roommate of a purely evil cat, I’m pretty sure Sophie doesn’t have one, nor is she one. Some of you will, of course, argue with that. You know who you are. Feel free to comment. Just be civil. Now, talk amongst yourselves.

25 Random Things

  1. I have no idea how to put a Facebook link in a blog post and need Lisa to help me.
  2. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are the only dog allowed in the British Parliament by order of Cavalier King Charles who is dead but the rule lives on.
  3. My daughter is in Peru right now. So is her husband. He is Peruvian which sort of explains why they are in Peru.
  4. I am two degrees of separation from several presidents and three degrees away from Barack Obama. I am one degree of separation away from Sally Struthers which puts me two away from a whole bunch of movie stars. However, I am not impressed with myself. I just need to put 25 random things down and those came to mind.
  5. My uncle had mafia connections. As in the Rat Pack. Really. It’s true. Just ask my sisters. OH! That puts me two degrees away from Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr.!
  6. I write mysteries. The current one has the mafia in it. Also theology, sex, politics, lesbians, and guns. Did I mention sex?
  7. St. Paul was a feminist in his day. I know. Hard to believe. But true. Live with it.
  8. So was Mohammed. Really. And virgins may actually be olives…..
  9. Paraguay is a country in South America. I almost forgot that.
  10. Maize.  In elementary school social studies, the answer was almost always maize.
  11. That was before 42 was the answer.
  12. Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time was rejected several dozen times over close to a decade.
  13. Then it won the Newberry Medal.
  14. It snowed in Portland today. I drove anyway because it was just pretend snow. The kind that happens when it’s 40 degrees out.
  15. I used to be a real live hippy. I’m still real and still alive. But I had kids and sort of grew up. Sort of.
  16. My daughter calls me her pothead mom because I smoked pot recently to see if it helped with the pain. It did. But I forgot how to smoke and choked. Not a nice experience.
  17. If I would agree to live in the car with her,  Good Dog Gwynth thinks that would be a very good thing. She loves the car almost as much as she loves Jenny.
  18. I have no idea how to spell my dog’s name. The Good Dog part I’m okay with. It’s the last part that baffles me. One n? Two n? Another y?
  19. When I was a kid I learned the vowels were a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes w and y. They don’t teach w and y as vowels anymore. But I’m sure that the w and/or y in my dog’s name are vowels. At least I’m pretty sure. I may be missing something. No, they have to be. Because all the other things are definitely consonants. And there has to be a vowel. That’s another rule that lives on. Unless you are from another dimension or something. And actually, the dog’s name has two syllables which means there needs to be ANOTHER vowel and I don’t think wy counts as two vowels. Where does the other one go? This is going to keep me awake tonight.
  20. Cows can be tipped over and I’d like to try it. Despite what people think, I’m not particularly fond of cows. Just because I gave one talk on cow piety…….Strange the things you get standing ovations for…..
  21. This is the 21st random thing tonight. Four more to go.
  22. I learned a lot of new stuff today. I believe you should learn at least one new thing every day. I’m set until mid-May, 2010.
  23. My favorite podcast is Cast On. It’s about knitting. It’s funny. It’s in Wales. It’s by a lesbian. These are a few of my favorite things. (Although I still love all the straight women in my life, too!)
  24. It really is time to go to bed because a friend is coming over at 10 am to work on a service we’re doing this Sunday. It’s on Sabbath and about Sabbath. I’m preaching. Look out! Heresy alert!
  25. I just learned how to knit a moebius strip. Now I’ll have to learn how to quit knitting it. But there is no real stopping point so it may go on for awhile.

Religious Rant of the Day 7/31/08

Rowan Williams, the great white hope of the Anglican Communion (meaning he’s the Archbishop of Canterbury), is, according to a BBC twitter, going to be heading a committee that will look at forbidding same-sex relationships, retroactively forbidding OUT gay bishops (the closeted ones can stay), and doing so in a “let’s-make-a-deal” way with the African bishops who have been holding the Anglican communion hostage to their conservatism and lack of education.

Why is it a third-world person can be priested with six weeks of bootcamp while first-world people have to get a friggin’ master’s degree? Just another reason I’m no longer an Anglican.

Read all about it here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7509125.stm

Things you should know…..About Islam

Not that I’m an expert but my current research is on Islam. Why? Because I’m writing another book, why not? So, for this book, I need to know all I can about Western Monotheism. Being an idiot savant in Judeo-Christian tradition, I’m all too aware of my weaknesses in Islam.

First: If you want to read a fabulous book set in Islamic Pakistan, read Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. It is one of the (so-far) two books on my books-everyone-should-read-to- be-a-compassionate-and-informed-human-being list.

Now some facts:

Islam means submission to God. Basically this is the same message given by Moses and Jesus. I dated a Muslim years ago and was told that God sent Moses and folks didn’t listen. Then God sent Jesus and not only did people not listen, they put him on a pedestal and worshipped him. I have opinions about this but that’s for later. Finally, God sent Muhammed and said get it right this time.

Islam is not about terrorism or jihad. Nor does jihad mean what you think it does. Assuming you are not my Muslim friend Mike. He DOES know what jihad really means. Yes, a real live Caucasian American Muslim convert. I even eat with him! Live with it. Chances are Islam is growing faster in your neighborhood than your religion is. It’s one of the fastest growing religions in America and with good cause. It’s a good religion.

Madras means school. Unfortunately, while we’ve been bombing the hell out of innocent people, folks like the Taliban are building madrassas to indoctrinate kids into a perverted version of Islam. Think of school run by the likes of Jerry Falwell, or Rush Limbaugh, or George W. Bush. A TRUE madras is a place where everyone is taught all the best that there is to know…sort of like a good university except it takes little kids too. Madras is not a bad thing anymore than PS 12 is a bad thing. But extremist madrassas are very bad things just like Christian extremist schools. Oh yeah, the Qur’an REQUIRES the education of girls.

Allah means God. So does Dieu (that’s French, the only foreign language I’m actually conversant in). Guess what Christians and Jews in Arabic-speaking countries call God. Allah. Same God.

Like women in Judaism before Jesus and Paul, women in pre-Islamic centuries were devalued and mistreated. Jesus, Paul (yeah, I know, another subject some other time), and Muhammed all taught equality for women. If you don’t believe me, do your homework in Scripture and history. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be in the status quo don’t give up easily. So, a perversion of Islam has been perpetuated and AMERICANS, being basically illiterate and lazy, believe whatever Fox News tells us to believe.

Read the Qur’an. Now, it’s not the easiest reading, but it is amazing. (And you can download it free for your iPhone or iPod Touch).

I will be posting other facts about Islam as I go along, and will recommend some books for you to check out. Check your prejudices at the door, please, and open those minds.

BTW, the book is a mystery and that’s all I’m going to say. Well, it has lesbians in it, too. If you want an advance read, you have to be in my writer’s group. Not even the Adored Jenny gets to read it until it’s done.

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