Presence

So, what is this Presence thing?
What is it not?
What goes with it, and need not?
What prevents it, and what enables it?

It is not Self-consciousness, that “What will people think?” feeling which always gets them wrong- no one thinks of me that much, or so maliciously. That brake, block, barrier, which always holds me back, is not there.

It is seeing the world as it is. It is Consciousness, accepting all the things I have denied because I have been frightened. Is it the same as that feeling of Heightened consciousness, each sense more alive- you could hear a pin drop? I think, not necessarily, but it may go with that. Consciously seeking to get into that state, for example by rubbing my fingertips on a surface and concentrating on the feeling, may get me into the state of Presence.

Meditation

may enable it, though I am not always in it when meditating: I can be either beside my thoughts, noticing them, or in my thoughts, absorbed by them.

Habit and habitual ways of being, people and places where I fall into old habits, may knock me out of Presence, but I can stay there- if I am aware of this. Something to notice, something to practise.

Can I think things through in a state of Presence? Can I make plans? Actually, I think that is the only state in which I think things through, though it feels different. My “thinking” when I imagine my flashing, passing thoughts are Me so often is just moving round the same old tracks. To realise something new, it certainly helps to be Present in the moment.

Conversation

Steve’s comment on his own blog:

I’ve actually had conversations with atheists who use entirely the same approach as these three false brethren. It’s like some kind of deja vu. Spooky! Especially when you consider they’re supposed to represent Christ.

I am not certain that I understand Steve’s comment, because what I think he means is quite horrible. We were discussing equal marriage, and the “false brethren” were arguing for it.

I don’t think I can exonerate Steve, however I try, from the charge that he thinks atheists are bad people, or at least that they make bad moral arguments. This could be a Biblical view, from the Chosen People first coming to Canaan and being commanded to wipe out the inhabitants, to the return from Exile.

The Book of Nehemiah is firmly in this exclusivist view. Jews are returning from Babylon to Jerusalem after the exile. The city is in ruins, and they rebuild the defensive wall, though the neighbouring peoples attempt to stop them. Then, they pledge to keep the Law of God. What is the first item of that Law that is actually quoted in the book? 10:30-31:

‘We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons.

31 ‘When the neighbouring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day.

What of the New Testament? Revelation has the Bad people worshiping the Beast rather than God. Even Jesus says, Matthew 12:30:

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

So, that a soi-disant Christian uses arguments atheists use is suspect. There are strong Biblical arguments for a small group of Christian Good people, alone among the wicked heathen hordes.

Fortunately, there are also strong Biblical arguments for the goodness of people generally. Peter and Cornelius the Centurion:

You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.

I see it as a conversation, over the world wide web, and elsewhere: ideas swirling around, in newspapers and in universities, in pubs and homes, in political parties and multinational companies. Even the supporters of the worst ideas do a valuable service, testing them to destruction, reducing them to absurdity. The extremists who will not compromise make it easier to hold a more moderate view on their side. So people get better. So we seek to recycle and reduce waste, because it is the fashion. So we are kinder to animals: most people in Britain “would not hurt a fly” and use humane mousetraps if they need to trap mice. The opposing idea, of a Remnant of Christians clinging to the morality of God’s Word while the Atheists and the Muslims all were just Wrong is simply ridiculous.

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Another Pastor Steve says that the Roman Catholic child abuse scandal was covered up by coteries of gay men in the priesthood. He is sick and tired that the mainstream news media prevent this truth from being stated.

I think this untrue, because the level of vilification of gay people is as great in the Catholic church as in the Evangelical. However, even were it true, those gay men had to keep their sexuality, a large part of their identity, secret on pain of being disgraced, sacked and ruined. You cannot predict how gay people will behave when free from how other gay people behave when persecuted. Persecuted people act in twisted ways. Free people act in creative ways.

Cusp

I got the bus to the office, and went up front on the upper deck. It is lovely to watch the countryside unfolding, though I like that place in the bus in the city as well. A three year old rushed to the front of the upper deck, even more pleased than I was to be there, and prattling away all the time, playing the Pirate- “Yo ho ho” she kept repeating. Mummy never told her to be quiet, but modeled quietness, all her responses limiting the energy in this public place. A patient, useful lesson.

I was thinking how the voiced “th” as in the words “this” or “that” was so difficult to say, it was a sound I always made below the break. I want to come over as a woman, not as a transsexual, I want to blend in. Tears prick my eyes, and I feel irritation. Bloody hormones, all this self-pity. Then- no, it is pain, presenting male was painful, and transition has been painful too.

And the tears bring the sense of Presence. So easy to step into it, it seems: authenticity, in the moment, relaxation, whatever, so easy, like turning through five degrees- yet if it is so easy, why am I not there always? What is this state? What makes me step out of it? I notice it when it is there.

In the office itself, with those people, I pass into habitual ways of being with those people. There are things to do, and ways of doing them. But on a moment alone, in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle, I say it again, “this, that”- What is it like? Not at war with the world, that constant tense defensiveness against imaginary enemies, demons within me. It feels unsafe. I speak and my voice sounds softer. Surely this undefended state is vulnerable-

Later as I walk from the office to the supermarket, singing softly to myself “this, this, this, this that, this” I feel quiet joy. It is much easier. I am still singing the sound, my voice sounds sing-song- must get the voice recorder out again, check it-

I have been squished, squashed, flattened, so much, I have such fear of that, and I am growing out of it. I have a right to be here. The World- taken as a whole- is not hostile.

The moment of realisation in The War of the Worlds:

The torment was over. Even that day the healing would begin. The survivors of the people scattered over the country–leaderless, lawless, foodless, like sheep without a shepherd–the thousands who had fled by sea, would begin to return; the pulse of life, growing stronger and stronger, would beat again in the empty streets and pour across the vacant squares. Whatever destruction was done, the hand of the destroyer was stayed. All the gaunt wrecks, the blackened skeletons of houses that stared so dismally at the sunlit grass of the hill, would presently be echoing with the hammers of the restorers and ringing with the tapping of their trowels. At the thought I extended my hands towards the sky and began thanking God.

 

The Hell people

“When is a Christian not a Christian?” asked Sharon Autenreith, about Charles Worley. Her answer is more nuanced than mine. From Charles Wesley, she says,

The world is full of people who seem respectable and religiously observant and who show up at church often enough.  But if they don’t genuinely love God as He revealed Himself in Christ, and if that doesn’t spill over into an active love for others, well, that’s not Christianity.

Initially I demurred, quoting

They drew a circle that kept me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But Love and I had the wit to win
We drew a circle that took them in!

Then I read Ivar Fjeld. Have a look at the comments. They are not scared to lie:

Statistics show as many as 75% of “gay” men have been prematurely sexually active or abused as a child, usually involving another male (sometimes a female).

Andrea says of gay people,

it’s hard to want and serve the Living Creator when one wants to serve the Satan of the Damned and all his evilness…which with each evil they ‘take pleasure in’ there will be a stronger and more devilish demonic pull to create and get involved in to satisfy that lust that is ever dragging the person(s) down lower to the pit of Hell.

Ivar agrees. He wants to tell me of the Love of God, which I have only if I repent. But, he says, we are in the End Times:

When the moral code of conduct falls in Zionist Israel, the last and final antichrist will have his way. Than there will only be lawlessness on Earth, and the man of Lawlessness will be welcomed.

Revelation gives him a lot of fuel for these thoughts. Chapter 13, for example.

The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise its authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. 7 It was given power to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And it was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. 8 All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life, the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.

I have read that church leaders like Gene Robinson are promoting a false religion, and leading people to Hell. Armageddon and the Rapture will follow.

I had wanted to emphasise what we have in common. We believe in God, and in Jesus, and we have the Golden Rule. But I really do not care what these people think. Hell awaits all who do not conform to their narrow beliefs? LOL. God creates seven billion people in order to damn most of them to the Lake of Fire? Worthless rubbish. They are false Christians, better called Hell people, for their emphasis on Damnation.

At one time, I took it seriously. The thought that I would be damned hurt me. Taking communion expressing myself female was a huge step for me. The thought that they would be damned still hurts and oppresses gay people.

I exchanged emails with a Hell person. He told me,

 I firmly believe it is satan’s lies that continue to deceive those who live this life style. I also believe that satan has manipulated scientists minds into believing they found the cause of homosexuality. It may seem as though I am giving satan a lot of credit and power and he does have a degree of power, but we must remember that God is in complete control of this universe we live in.

Words fail me.

Rugby patriotism

A Scotsman on the ground in the mud. Where he should be.

9-6.

It is always pleasing when the result goes so massively contrary to form, especially when it goes your way. With a try in the last minute! (Sporting language is always confusing. A “try” is a “success”.)

Picture.

Unfortunately the facts got in the way of a good story. It was a penalty. And when I thought it was contrary to form- first win in Australia since 1982- it means retaining the Hopetoun Cup, as the last Test match at Murrayfield was also a win for Scotland. Unexpected but not incredible.

In Scotland and England, and around the World, football is more popular. Football, occasionally called “Association football” from the Football Association (of England), and therefore, occasionally, “Soccer”. In Wales, Rugby is more important, and they are fiercely patriotic about it.

I am Scots, and I am English: I am both, none of this half and half nonsense. The only time I am solely Scots is when Scotland is playing England at whatever. My fellow Scots and the Welsh disappoint me: many will want whoever is playing England to win. It feels to me like a perception of inferiority. We Scots think of the English all the time. They think of us occasionally.

Oddly enough, Swanston has a devoted group of rugby fans who could not care less about football, and I asked some about how they felt about the home nations. They do not care whether Scotland or Wales wins or loses, unless it affects England’s chances or final position in a competition. I thought that mean-spirited, I would have hoped that English rugby fans would have fellow-feeling for Scotland and Wales. It is indifference, though, rather than hostility.

On 9 June, Australia beat Wales 21-18.

Denying reality

Here is the North Carolina General Assembly’s Bill to Study and Modify Certain Coastal Management Policies. Forbes notes that the State’s

delicate barrier islands protect extensive lowlands vulnerable to both hurricane storm surges and flooding from heavy rains

and therefore it needs the infrastructure to protect those lowlands. So what would the Bill do?

Coastal counties nominate members to the Coastal Resources Commission, which is the only State body authorised to adopt a policy on sea-level rise. It is not mandated to do so, but if it does so it must instruct the Division of Coastal Management to calculate the rates of rise. Section 2(e) needs to be quoted:

These rates shall only be determined using historical data, and these data shall be limited to the time period following the year 1900. Rates of sea-level rise may be extrapolated linearly to estimate future rates of rise but shall not include scenarios of accelerated rates of sea-level rise.

That is not something I want a lawyer or legislator to decide. If I am under threat of flooding, I want the best prediction of the rates of rise, demonstrated by the scientific method, with the use of all available information. Let the scientists debate the issue, they are the ones with the knowledge.

The result could be that the future sea level is clearly known, but the Coastal Resources Commission is legally bound to make plans as if it will be lower, and the Division of Coastal Management is bound to make predictions of rise which most people admit are false.

I do not know the science of sea-level rise, but I do know that accelerated rates of rise cannot be ruled out.  

Ocracoke Lighthouse, North CarolinaUntil this year, I self-identified as a Conservative. This legislation is in no way Conservative. Conservatives know that public goods need to be publicly funded. There may be a decision that the costs of a particular public good are too great, but that decision should be made on the facts. It may even be argued that man-made global warming is a reasonable price to pay for economic growth: that decision, too, should be made on the facts.

If it is possible that this Bill might require someone by law to make a statement he knows to be false, then I do not have words strong enough. It is Wicked. Refute accelerated rates of rise by evidence, not by fiat.

Thank you to 2 Girls Getting Married for informing me of this. Picture credit. I hope that those websites will tolerate me using their pictures, and linking to them. I hope that the website owners will not be too scared. Go, tourist North Carolina! See Roanoke Island- before it is too late!

If

Rider-Waite Tarot

If I were a man, I would exult in the strength and beauty of my body
If I were a man, I would sing loud and often
If I were a man, I would walk for miles
If I were a man, I would cycle on country roads

If I were a woman, I would care for and nurture others
If I were a woman, I would practise healing
If I were a woman, I would make eye contact and smile
If I were a woman, I would give warm hugs

If I were cissexual, I would notice my privilege
If I were cissexual, I would notice the disadvantage of others
If I were cissexual, I would be Worthy
If I were cissexual, I would speak the truth

If I were transsexual, I would follow my path to the end
If I were transsexual, I would stand tall and free
If I were transsexual, I would make myself beautiful
If I were transsexual, I would hear others

If I were a man, I would dance in the darkness
If I were a woman, I would carry a light
If I were cissexual, I would practise fearless Love
If I were transsexual, I would see what Is

If I were human, I would worship God
If I were human, I would delight in service
If I were human, I would make connections
If I were human, I would touch your heart

Contradictions

I lived in an urban area, mostly white but increasingly Bengali: my white neighbour moved out, a Bengali family moved in. I got friendly with their three year old son. I had Muslim evangelism pushed through my door: a CD with a jolly song about going to the Masjid rather than playing video games and a rant from a man about how “our” women were corrupted by Western society. Also there was a paper proving that the Koran was the word of God, because it was consistent and coherent, whereas the Bible could not be, because of its many contradictions.

Here is one I like. Galatians 3:28:

There is neither Jew nor Greek: there is neither bond nor free: there is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Contradicting Genesis 1:27?

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

I have known the Genesis verse used against transsexual people. The two are different, says the Evangelical. Indeed the poor Evangelicals can’t quite bring themselves to translate the Galatians verse as a contradiction: the rhythm of the verse is male nor female, but the NIV says “male and female”. The “Nearly Immaculate Version” makes no sense, in order not to contradict that Great Gulf Fixed between the sexes.

I prefer to read the Genesis verse as a shout for women’s equality. Possibly it meant that when it was written, whenever that was.

Does the Galatians verse, which clearly supports women’s equality, contradict Ephesians 5:24?

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Clearly. So, give one precedence and interpret the other to conform to it. Do as you like, and find a Biblical argument for it. If anyone makes the opposite Biblical argument, accuse them of “taking verses out of context”. Brilliant.

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Some early Christians, declared heretical, rejected the Old Testament. There, God is violent and wrathful. In Genesis God rained sulphur and fire from Heaven on the cities of the plain, and then told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering. Later, God tells Abraham not to hurt his son, and Abraham sacrifices a ram instead: the ram was provided by God.

For me, this is an early lesson on the nature of God. In the time of Abraham, in Mesopotamia, it was thought that the first born should be sacrificed. One man realised at the moment of the sacrifice that God does not demand human sacrifice.

I cannot be certain that this figure from the British Museum actually refers to the story. It was made in Ur around 2600-2400BC. It pleases me to imagine that it does.

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Did Jesus permit divorce? Matthew 19 says yes:

‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’

And Mark 10 says no:

 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.’

To me, none of this matters. I read the Bible for the good I can get from it. I do not imagine that one can “live by” the Bible, or that it is Inspired by God in the sense of being dictated, or that it is literally true. Anyone who does imagine those things ought, really, to explain away these contradictions.

The word of God

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make God’s face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you
The Lord lift up God’s countenance upon you, and give you peace

This passage, Numbers 6:24-26 which is one of my favourites, is found inscribed in two silver amulets found in a burial from about 600 BCE. It is the oldest known manuscript of the bible, and the only one from before the Jewish exile in Babylon. What we possess now are copies of copies of copies. How accurate are they?

Now, when copying the Bible, Jews take great care in getting each individual letter precisely right. The text they copy is called the Masoretic text, and it dates back to the first century CE. About 200 manuscripts and fragments have been found from Qumran and elsewhere in the Judean desert. These differ from the MT.

How far do they differ? If you really want to know, go to a university library. In my living room, I have “The Dead Sea Scrolls” published in 1997 by Geza Vermes, a scholar who has studied them over decades, and “The New Jerome Biblical Commentary”, written and edited by Roman Catholics, and with the imprimatur and nihil obstat of the Catholic church, published in 1989.

Vermes says,

The Dead Sea biblical tests basically agree with the the traditional form of Scripture, but at the same time display a substantial amount of variation in vocabulary, style, word order, longer and shorter formulation and other details.

The New Jerome says that scribes felt free to expand the text with quotes from elsewhere in the Bible, in order to explain the text; and that in Isaiah in particular there are differences from the text standardised in the second century BCE.

The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, quoted in the New Testament, in which there are abridgements: Jeremiah is “considerably shorter” than the Masoretic Text.

As for the Masoretic Text itself, my NRSV and NIV have frequent footnotes reading “Meaning of Hebrew uncertain” and referring to ancient translations used to make a meaningful translation. In these cases, the Hebrew appears to make no sense.

My interest in bringing up these desiccated facts is to argue that no-one knows what the Prophets said, or the original writers wrote, initially. I do not need that argument in order to refuse to “live by the Bible”- if a biblical text disagrees with my moral judgment, that will be my reason not to follow it slavishly- but I argue that it is not possible for anyone to live by the Bible, as there is considerable disagreement in the earliest texts as to what it says.

And I feel quite entitled to alter that quote from Numbers above. I do not like the pronoun “his” applied to God, as I favour inclusive language, and God is not simply male nor simply female- so I have substituted the word “God’s”.

Theorising enables

I am happy expressing myself female, whatever that means, and I do not particularly care why. There is a vast amount of theory around trans people, because we evoke strong reactions: if I describe my operation half the population say, “That’s interesting” and half cross their legs and Wince. Only a tiny minority go, “Ohhhh”, and relax completely. So, the muggles try to make sense of us. We are less threatening if they imagine they can make sense of us. Some of them make sense of us by explaining precisely why we are deluded or wicked, and these theories can be extremely detailed.

And yet, when Lili Elbe transitioned, the theorising served her. Magnus Hirschfeld agreed, and had to “explain” what was going on, to justify their acts: and the result was to enable, not to prevent, her transition. It does not matter that others came afterwards and said, only people exactly like her should be able to transition, because other theorisers said, well, other people need to transition too. I have read that even Ray Blanchard is an enabler, that he supported transition, even if we might not like his theories. I love Hirshfeld’s motto, “Justice through science”.

Harry Enfield nailed the knowall who tells other people how to live their lives in the 1980s.

People, generally, do our best under difficult circumstances. If you see someone doing something you would not do yourself, ask yourself if it really harms anyone, really. Really? Then ask yourself why they might, and give the answer, because they want to. If they want your help, they will ask for it.