38 Degrees

38 degrees 1To the TTIP protest. I went to Nupton, as it was organised by the Green Party there, the best organised local protest in easy bus reach. I have never been to the main town in my constituency. And I wanted to check them out: I want a political party which I can respect, and feel good about.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership being negotiated between the US and EU will make consumer protection, employment protection and environmental protection legislation illegal. Corporations will be able to sue governments for damages in shadowy, unaccountable international courts, for damages for restraint of trade. The Australian government legislated that cigarette packets should be plain, with only a health warning, and was challenged by the WTO. It is apocalyptic. The NHS will be privatised. But people’s anger is diffused, channelled by UKIP against immigrants and the EU.

We need that anger, directed against the real problems; and we also need to give people hope. But standing in Aldershot street, I found that we were talking to ourselves. We collected six signatures, and some may have been our own. “Power to the People Corporations” said our leaflets, which is a good slogan: I wondered how to express the enormity of TTIP. The protection of employment tribunals has already been taken away, because of the huge charges to the Claimant for using them. “Power to the Corporations!” I said, holding out my leaflets, as people walked by, shaking their heads. They have their own problems. They do not want inveigled into others’ enthusiasms. Some took my leaflets, and put them in the bin ten yards down the road. Some looked.

It is hard work. Acceptance of What Is, was my mantra- this is not a judgment on me, rejecting my leaflets- but I found it upsetting, as when I am unable to communicate. 38 degrees 3UKIP gives them something simple to hate.

No wonder that we talked among ourselves. I told a man I had come from Marsby. “A ‘Black Bitch’,” he said knowingly. I would rather say Martian, being a science fiction fan. He is a science fiction fan too. “It’s Doctor Who tonight,” he said excitedly. (Oh, no.) “And it’s the Daleks!” (Here it comes-) “EXTERMINATE!!” I don’t think anyone noticed. Really. I moved away.

I had one conversation with The Public. A man with that sheep-like vacuous slogan, spouting self-righteously and resentfully. It’s all the fault of the EU, apparently. “They took us in, without a referendum.”

An American now living here, protesting with us, wanted to tell me how bad private medicine is. They won’t insure you for “pre-existing conditions”. If you have diabetes, you need health care for diabetes, but can’t get it. He had some condition, and was landed with a $14,000 bill. He came round after an operation, and had a $300 bill from the anaesthetist pinned to his shirt. So he said he would declare himself bankrupt, and the hospital made claims on various charitable funds, to pay their bill for him. This was the Seventies, and he is still angry, still needs to tell me. I think we should be talking to other people, but don’t see how we can.

38 degrees 2

First impressions

metmuseum El Greco The miracle of Christ healing the Blind rightI was unimpressed with my first contact with Greenbelt. Last year it was in Cheltenham, and as the clerk I had an email from Cheltenham Quakers enthusiastically saying how wonderful it was, and how well their meeting for worship at Greenbelt had gone. AM agreed that I could propose worship to them, after I bubbled over at AM.

That was February, and I could not propose worship then. I had to wait until March, and get a response in May. The form I completed referred to Greenbelt 2013, and the woman I emailed did not always email back. I had no idea what the venue would be like- would there be any buildings, or would it all be under canvas? Would there be any chairs? They asked about health and safety issues- don’t think so, but I am not an expert.

A month before, I had a new contact at Greenbelt, and we found our worship was not mentioned on their programme on the website. Initially we were promised ten tickets for the full weekend, but at the last minute told that as we were only contributing on one day, we could only have tickets for that day. I complained, and was told we could have tickets for the whole festival. But we were frightened of them, and this showed in our fear we would not get in- we had no ticket to show. We ended up with five weekend tickets and seven day tickets- we have more than ten? No problem.

metmuseum El Greco The miracle of Christ healing the Blind leftPeter drove me there, and we queued for ages in the car. We diverted to the box office, and when I said I was a contributor they were welcoming. I got my tent up. I wanted to take Peter to the Contributors’ hospitality tent but Security stopped me. So we went to a caff selling tea and bacon rolls, and sat under canvas beside a tots’ climbing frame. Two people joined us, and we started chatting about Christianity and Creationism. Peter left, and with my braw silver Contributor’s wristband I went into the Festival.

I walk on a plastic path through a wood. Less than five minutes’ walk from my tent, I enter the Festival ground, with the main stage and some food stalls on my right. The Mount, where we worship, is over to the left, but I have to go round a square lake. On my way I find inflatable sofas, with a large sign saying “We’re here to listen”- I chat to two Spiritual Directors, cuddly middle-aged women. They hope to hear joys at least as much as sorrows: they are not counsellors. You say what is going on in your life, and they ask “Where is God in that?”

Across a bouncy pontoon bridge then up a steep ramp to The Mount, which is square, a wee bit away from the rest of the Festival. A man had a T shirt inscribed “Hug me” so I asked and had a hug. There is a canopy, providing a roof but no walls, and outside it is perhaps fifty yards square and flat. It is a new feature, put up only four years ago. I was thinking this could be beautifully atmospheric for worship, when a loud BRAAANGGG of an electric guitar sounded from the Main Stage.

I am open, receptive, excited.


Metmuseum St John on Patmos, Hans Baldung Grien, detailGreenbelt is a festival on the August bank holiday each year. Fifteen thousand people gathered, many of us camping, round a group of venues in marquees and canopies. My idea of Heaven. In the venues there was a mix of serious talks, music, and comedy.

How Christian is it? K thought it in great part post-Christian, with social and environmental concern. But then she told me that two years ago at Greenbelt she had the painful realisation that she does not believe Christianity any more, yet still loves to come here. Someone else, a Methodist, found it insufferably Anglican, but independently of us there were Quaker speakers. There were hoodies on sale with the tag “Jesus is my Superhero” and the reference Romans 5:6– not my theology, or mode of expression- but I only saw one being worn.

That hoodie seriously tempted me, though, because of the cold. “Coldest night in August on record” said someone- I doubt that– but we shared stories of lying awake, cold and miserable. Someone said someone else had frost on their tent one morning. Instead, I got a soft wool blanket which would double as a shawl. The rain came down on Monday, and the ground became muddy quickly, but before then we had only a few short showers. Then on Monday morning I woke at 3am too hot, because I had wrapped myself so well, Metmuseum St John on Patmos, Hans Baldung Grienand lay groggily wondering whether I should risk taking any off. My tent kept rain out and stood the wind, but I found that except in the most propitious conditions- dry, sunny, no wind- I could not erect it or take it down alone. So I asked a passer-by, who helped gladly. K stayed in a B&B: all the hotels locally are booked up.

On Saturday I wandered down towards the showers, past stalls selling jewellery and pottery, music books and more clothes. “Come in out of the rain!” said a man. OK. I love this hand thrown bowl, ÂŁ150, but it is quite out of my range. We chatted for a bit. Also there was a stall selling stuff for circus skills. They had been doing work with the young people. I had chatted at one talk with the wife, who is thinking of retiring. Their arthritis is playing up. They can pass the firm on. I got a pretty glass pendant.

Then as the rain stopped, I had my best musical experience of the festival: Hannah Scott on the Roots stage. It is open mic, and the pottery-seller commented that many of them could not even tune their guitars properly- it is hard, in the open air, hot in a tent, etc- but someone had pulled out and she stepped in there though she was paid to play at the Canopy. Not realising this, I heard the quality and stopped to listen. Twenty of us sat in the sun under the trees, with this beautiful music, just a voice and one guitar.

Christianity and Wisdom

Metmuseum Reliquary of Mary MagdalenLeviticus 20! say the homophobes, and many gay people say “Fuck You” to that by leaving Christianity. Why would anyone stay? Because Christianity is Ours, at least as much as theirs, and they will not take it from us. And it is a handy store of human wisdom.

Susan is a wise woman. I watched her at our Greenbelt Quaker meeting with R, a pretty slip of a thing aged around 14. Perhaps R commented that we normally have flowers in the centre. I noticed when she brought something from the lawn grass of The Mount, to place on our banner; then trot off, and find a daisy, to replace it. R took pleasure in her contribution; Susan, physically old but able to enter the joys sorrows and conundrums of all ages, delighted in R’s pleasure, and their pleasure delighted me.

One woman ministered that we should not be waiting under the Master’s table for crumbs to fall, when there is a place at it with our name on it. I thought that rather good as a bon mot, though when I retailed it someone said she had heard it elsewhere this weekend. We all got the allusion, and possibly many atheists would too, so pervasive are our stories.

Considering my own progression into Wisdom, I wonder how I am doing. How much, really, should I have learned by 48? Passing by a tent I heard The Scargill community on bodies. Ours is a physical religion, with a God who so delighted in human bodies that God lived in one. (Or All, I would say). Our bodies are wonderful, and a gift. The Spiritual and the future matter, but not to the exclusion of the Now and the physical. I saw my body was beautiful when I transitioned, and that all bodies are beautiful at a Quaker weekend shortly after. You might say that the emphasis on humans as spiritual, rational beings rather than as animals with animal responses and needs is a Christian failing; I would discern its root in the Enlightenment; but my Christianity has the answer. All of the human is beautiful and valuable.

I left the tent in the cold night, got a cup of tea and sat outside at a table. I opened conversation with the woman there- so much easier at Greenbelt than on, say, the London Underground. She could accept the truth of that, that all human beings are beautiful (a truth one can find in strands of feminism and psychotherapy as well as Christianity) about others, but not about herself. I told her how beautiful her eyes were.

Different ideas in Christianity have value at different times. I find the American Evangelical insistence on Original Sin, and the Remnant who are saved, divisive and destructive, but in a genuinely embattled persecuted community it could give strength and hope. I disliked at the Eucharist singing of heaven after death- Heaven must be here, an idea beloved of more Christians than just Quakers- but for slaves, tired of living and scared of dying, it could give a way out of despair. Such hope might let them see ways to improve their lives which despairing people could not see.

LGBT at Greenbelt

Saints Peter, Martha, Mary Magdalen, and Leonard- Correggio 1To Greenbelt, the Christian festival. I was a bit shocked to see a picture of the Ascent of Man (always the figures are male) with above it pigs growing wings then taking off and the caption “Evolution- pigs might fly”. I like the cleverness of it, but is it really Creationist- here?

K thought not. She thought less than 1% of the 15,000 people here would be YECs. I joked that the prayer in the Eucharist that morning “May you also embolden those working towards full inclusion and freedom for the LGBT community” could be read as meaning freedom from our perverted lusts and wickednesses- very Anglican- but I don’t think it was. LGBT is our word, after all.

In a Church Missionary Society gathering I met two young lesbians who are part of an internet support network for about a hundred young LGBT Christians in Evangelical and Charismatic churches, even in the Church of England. Coming out to parents is a real risk: some get kicked out of their homes, but one, a University student, told how his parents had come to take him home so he would not be exposed to these temptations or go so far off the path as to imagine himself “gay”. I thought such insanity was reserved to the US.

Saints Peter, Martha, Mary Magdalen, and Leonard- Correggio (2)In a lovely panel discussion with the title “We’re not an issue, we’re a Gift” a woman told about how she was a seventh generation ordained priest in the Church of England but without a licence. Her sister is also a priest. She was charged in a church court with “Adultery” for lesbian sex. She said straight men facing the same charge generally got moved sideways, but she had her licence stripped from her. She cannot undertake any priestly act without individual permission from the bishop. Perhaps the men expressed contrition. I am glad she (I am sure) did not. So now she works in a supermarket. Recently, a mystery shopper under 25 bought alcohol at her till, and she was disciplined for failing to ask for proof of age. The disciplinary process in Asda was gentle and aimed at helping her to do her job better, favourably contrasting with Discipline in the CofE. I also stood and spoke about how for Quakers, marrying queer couples in the same way as straight couples is a matter of our religious principle, our testimony to Equality, from our seeking the leadings of the Spirit. Pádraig, a Catholic, joked ruefully that “Pope Not Horrible!” was front page news for a year.

Pádraig also ran the storytelling. I had ten minutes with a microphone and an audience- my idea of heaven, with the right material- with eight others on Saturday night, and several of us were queer. The two women on the stall on Diverse Church- looking at race and mental health as well as LGBT- were a recently married couple. The woman I had arranged our Quaker meeting at Greenbelt was also part of the “Outer Space”- pun, Out, L&G Christian Movement- stall.

Welcome in

The Adoration of the Shepherds, El GrecoChurches have all sorts of ways of ring-fencing ourselves, locking people out, comfortably defining evil as Not-us, Them Over There; but at the heart of Christianity is inclusiveness. Jesus says “Go out and make disciples of all nations” which is impossible if you will not talk to them. All nations are the mission field. As the Jesuits recognised, they listen to you more if you make an effort to listen to them, to see what they value, to speak their language.

Then, there is salvation by grace. Between the saddle and the ground, the man realises that he has done wrong, and he accepts the offer of Christ. He calls on Christ as his saviour. He is in, immediately. However we might disapprove of him, he is one of us now, part of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Muslims have the same idea. The Shahada (testimony) pronounced sincerely to a Muslim is sufficient to make you a Muslim. Say “La ilah illa Allah, Muhammad rasoolu Allah”, meaning “There is no true god (deity) but God (Allah), and Muhammad is the Messenger (Prophet) of God.” Anyone may be included.

Some Christians talk of The Fundamentals- originally the verbal inerrancy of the Bible, the divinity of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, salvation by Penal Substitution (Jesus bears the punishment for our sin) and the physical resurrection of Jesus- but these are inessential. How could it be otherwise? One Christian might see that another’s belief is insufficient, and attempt to educate him, but Jesus admonishes her to first take the log out of her own eye.

A Christian is anyone who follows Jesus, in however idiosyncratic a way.

Christians cannot merely associate with Christians, or with people of whom we approve. Again we have Jesus’ example, associating with foreigners, colonial oppressors, prostitutes, pharisees- anyone willing to talk to him.

Let the one without sin cast the first stone. Inspired by Linuxgal.


Goth Model, photo by Wirklich1198I am a benefits scrounger, and how cool is that? While others have to work to stay alive, I sticks my flipping hand out and get all the money I need. You there, hard working family- you would not need to worry about your car MOT, or max out your overdraft every month, if everyone did their bit. It’s us scroungers that are the problem. Occasionally the DWP, representing the Good People, come down on me and say, Hey! You! Prove you are entitled. We think you are fit/ have too much capital/ are not actively seeking work. Prove it, or we will stop giving you our money! But I know the tricks, so I get away with it.

I got chatting on the bus with Leslie. People tell you such things! You’re far too intelligent for Eagle’s Nest, he said. Oh, you’re not so bad yourself. He could read in infant’s school, but it was really strange cos he couldn’t read at the end of primary school. Yet he had read all the listed books- the blue book, the red books, you know- and was on to library books. Then he failed his 11-plus.

He said something about a female relative who was completely bald, and I thought, ey up, has he spotted my wig? Then he said how he had a man’s name, Lesley is the woman’s spelling, but some women use “Leslie” and he even gets letters to Miss Leslie Bracthurst. I’m Abigail. Like a lady’s maid, he says- yes, Abigail Masham, Queen Anne’s maid. It’s quite a popular name now. Yes, it was distinctive when I was a child, I say.

He was off to Swanston for some thing for job-seekers: he would get his CV done. I told him the trick is to go in a suit and tie. They treat you differently. He hasn’t worn a suit in 29 years. It was Wave Gotik Treffen Leipzig 2011a wedding. Get one in a charity shop. The last time he was in a charity shop, he bought a basque. Now I am really suspicious. He was going to The Rocky Horror Show.

Deadpan. “Absolutely every man in the whole world gets a kick out of that, or wants to.”

I took tea in Oliver’s with Jayne, then caught the bus home, and Leslie and another woman talked of being on the sick. It took five weeks’ bed-bound, and three months house-bound, to convince her doctor she really was ill. They can’t find a physical cause for her pain. Now, if she is a person in trouble, that’s OK, she says she can’t work for the pain and it is credible, because physical causes can’t always be found. But if she is a scrounger, one of the Bad people, then she is obviously just trying it on. I liked her girly-Goth style, a top with a pattern of skulls and crosses, and a full-skirted purple velvet coat with embroidery on the sleeves.

Lesley’s CV had been printed out. “It’s all lies”, he said resignedly.

Across the divide

Fanny_und_Julia_(Penzel)Not all followers are congenial. A.L. Luttrell followed me, so I checked out his blog and found “Should Obama be impeached or tried for treason?” No, I would say. Simple enough question. Commenters divided on whether he should be hanged- hanging a black man, after all the Lynchings, looks bad- but I had difficulty discerning what was the purported treason. “Argus” thought he might suspend the constitution and rule as a dictator, a paranoia too far. Jimbo complained of people spending billions in campaigns- I agree that is a problem- but he thought the solution was to limit government power, not campaign spending. Nootkabear accused the President of “destroying our beloved nation”: perhaps everything he does is as hateful as treason to them.

“Aiding and abetting terrorists”, said wanderingtruthseeker. Luttrell agreed. Was it the prisoner swap of five Taliban for Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl?

Harley said that Jesus was not tolerant, and we should not be tolerant of Obama’s disregard for the constitution either. “Render unto Caesar”, “Go the extra mile”- Jesus was completely tolerant of Roman arbitrary power, unlike many of his countrymen.

The vice-president would succeed, and they don’t think that would be an improvement.

Fanny and JuliaNanarhonda commented there, and revealed she believes Obama was not born a citizen of the US, so was not eligible to be President, and that ISIS have found Saddam’s WMDs in Iraq. This appears to be untrue, yet another partisan scare story.

I had a look at Nanarhonda’s blog, and found Matthew 24 NKJV- unfolding before our eyes? It depends what you mean by unfolding. Isaiah used apocalyptic language about Babylon’s conquest of Jerusalem, and to me Jesus’ language refers to the Jewish wars. Jesus saw the uppity Jews and the increasingly oppressive Romans, and prophesied this would end in war. This does not mean the end of the laws of physics, but the upending of society as we know it. And ever since the gospels were written, somewhere on Earth a society has been being destroyed by war. Always, somewhere, there are sorrows, tribulations, betrayal and deceit. This does not mean the coming of a Kingdom of Heaven in the “Left Behind” sense: insofar as it exists, the Kingdom of Heaven is the way of life of Jesus’ followers.

So I agree with Rhonda that the Islamic State persecution of Christians fits this, but not that it portends a Second Coming. In her comments she says some seem to think that God is American, even Republican, “And he is SO NOT!”

If I saw her merely as a Birther, so deluded and ridiculous, I would miss this point. God is of all people, not just her kind. I agree. That is a huge step towards empathy and respect for all people.

But there is more. She reached out to me in this comment. We have been emailing. It seems to me that she feels her society is threatened by gay pride, yet she met a lesbian for whom she had great respect, and now she wants to understand. She has told me something of the work she did, and I am sure if I had seen her there I would have liked her and respected her for it.

First I heard the fear anger and (I think) delusion- Obama is president through deceit, a traitor- and find this ridiculous and horrible. But then I see the person, and like her. I love her reaching out to me, in an attempt to understand.

Atheist Quakers III

DSC00272Fear can be Good.

I am happily theist, or at least Protean: that every hair on my head is numbered is valuable, and feels true to me. And David Boulton is bordering on anti-theist: he asserts as a matter of certainty that there is no God, that the promptings of love and truth are simply (not merely) our own evolved primate processes. He has a wonderful turn of phrase, for example “The Republic of Heaven”- that there is no God, no King, does not mean there is no Heaven, nor that we cannot be in it.

So I thought, I am glad he is a member of the Religious Society of Friends, because his extreme position makes room in our Society for others to join too. People like Mark. And there are others like Sarah, who pisses me off a bit, saying that “I was a theist when I was immature, and when you are mature like me you will be non-theist too”, but that is OK because we share these experiences.

And I thought, here am I, the Good Person. I am Eirenic, seeking ways we can come together, in our shared experience of God, or those unconscious processes, whatever it is, and where the words we use to explain our experiences, though different, do not get in the way. And Sarah, though she is polemic, speaking up for Her Side, the process is big enough to cope with our differences, and neither of us can do great DSC00273damage to the Society even though it behoves us to take care to do good.

Then I thought, I have a lot of experience of being excluded. The last picked for the Volleyball team at school, because I was useless (Oh- was that you, too?) The queer, deviant, pervert. Here am I, the Good Person, making sure everyone is included and no-one is cast out, and I am that out of my own experience of being excluded and fear of being excluded again.

My fear produces a constructive and creative and Loving result.

Of course fear can be good. I skid on the wet road, that makes me frightened, I take care not to do it again, I don’t die in a car accident; but it seemed my fear was of everything, and it was merely harmful, merely holding me back; and now that overwhelming fear, the Ache, the Scream, the Desolation, can be part of me which produces life and delight. The grit in the oyster. As long as I don’t take it too personally when someone leaves, for whatever reason.

I have my stories off pat. I was bullied at work. I was right and management was wrong, and these are the facts to demonstrate both assertions. I tell them for my own sake, of course- it was not my fault- because I need to assert that to myself, and another’s guarded assent helps me. If I have self-confidence, I can say “I have had some difficulties, and currently I am on the sick” and not anticipate “Well, you don’t look unfit for work to me” or be hurt by it if it happens.