Prospect

Idyll, MordilloBefore breaking the plastic wrapper, I brace myself to have my conscience pricked. I see a sad but strong, beautiful brown boy. It is a wonderful photograph, artfully focused and lit, with a riddle: “What is worse than losing a son?” Oh God. Oh, OK- turn the page- what is worse than losing a son? “Losing his brother too.” There’s also the Crisis at Christmas menu, surprisingly upbeat: Desserts are “New skills”- meet our Employment team- and “New hope”.

There are also adverts for The Great Courses- DVDs of lectures on “A history of European Art” or “Practising mindfulness” for ÂŁ45- the last time I looked, there were lectures for free on the Internet, you paid if you wanted a marked examination. Also Slightly Foxed magazine, slogan “Falling leaves, falling spirits?”

On to the magazine. It quotes Foreign Affairs: Between 1901 and 1960 every independent country had a coup d’etat except Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US. The first thing I turn to is the Stephen Collins cartoon, whose website Colillo refers to the wonderful Mordillo, then the puzzle, which takes a few minutes.

Prospect is moving to the right. The editor writes that Ed Miliband’s speech was “rightly called one of the worst political speeches of modern times” and “The Conservatives have been more honest”, then a Tory MP gloats that he suggested Scots MPs should not vote on English matters in 2005, and was sacked for it.

Where else would I read about Chinese medical care, more ruthless than the American system? “For many, falling ill is a death sentence”. Fine particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter are most dangerous to health. Mordillo loveThe WHO guideline is that over ten micrograms per cubic metre of air is hazardous to health. The rate in Washington is 10.6mcg/mÂł; in Xingtai it is 155.2, and the Chinese government calls any rate under 150 “moderate”.

The enlarged quote caught my eye- Dylan Thomas once summed up Welsh nationalism in three words, two of which were “Welsh nationalism”- above a cartoon skewering middle-class insincerity: a woman tells a charity collector I’d love to help but I really don’t want to help”.

The culture pages. Lionel Shriver reviews Tim Parks’ collection of essays. In “The Chattering mind” he notes “how obsessively the mind seeks to construct self-narrative, how ready it is to take interest in its own pain, to congratulate itself on the fertility of its reflection.” Parks catches a particular kind of autobiography: At least I’ve understood and brilliantly dramatised the futility of my brilliant exploration of my utter impotence”. This is too close to what I do here for my comfort.

At the end, extracts from letters and memoirs, this month on “Bitterness“. Jorge Luis Borges said, “Not granting me the Nobel Prize has become a Scandinavian tradition; since I was born they have been not granting it to me”. RB Kitaj, his Tate retrospective bruisingly reviewed, said Never ever believe an artist if he says he doesn’t care about what the critics write about him. Every artist cares. Those reviews of my show were by pathetic, sick, meagre hacks. They were about small lives and lousy marriages.

It’s always interesting to see what the educated middle classes are reading: Prospect had the slogan “The National Conversation” for a time. On putting it down today, I do not feel cheered up.

The art of accompaniment II

Matisse, painted blue nudeI cannot encounter another human being without being open. Any preconceptions I have of them, and especially any demands I might make of them, get in the way. I am not properly encountering, now, of course: I do not walk my talk because I am in conscious incompetence; but I see the possibility, and sometimes try it.

What the Pope says is beautiful- approach the other with sandals off, as on holy ground- and helps me see that conservative Catholicism is completely worthless. It is a set of moral rules, and frightened, hectoring demands that we all keep them. It is not even of use as ascetic discipline, because the demands are made on others, and the demands one emphasises are those one may accomplish easily, from inclination or circumstance. It might give a fragile sense of community, all people believing the same way until one has to be Cast Out for Sin, but at the cost of preventing any meaningful encounter with another, or any understanding of oneself.

Liberal Catholicism sees the failure of conservative Catholicism, but is hardly better in the Pope’s definition, which states the “objective evil” of the other’s acts, even if not culpable for particular reasons. Thomas Aquinas adapted Aristotle for mediaeval Christians, and is now a “Doctor” of the church, one of only 33 (three of whom are women). His explanation is the orthodox belief, though superseded by newer philosophy. In the same way, contraception is seen as always wrong, though experience shows the evolved human baby-making drives are quite strong enough to overcome a person’s rational commitment to contraception.

So the Liberal Catholic seeks to encounter the other, with a set of preconceptions. When this other is healthy and oriented towards God, s/he will behave in the correct Catholic way, eschewing contraception, celibate if gay. That prevents the encounter, prevents the Liberal Catholic from seeing the value in the other’s ways of being. The Catholic is trapped into thinking only her/his way can be good. Even for the liberal, there comes a moment where the other who sees the world differently must be excluded, because that other is incorrigible. In trying to remove the speck from the other’s eye, the Liberal whacks her over the head with the log in his own. At best, the liberal will tolerate church attendance of the Bad person, but not any teaching position or participation in the Eucharist. There are the Good people, who eat the bread, and the Bad people, who may receive a blessing or not as they choose.

When Francis said “Who am I to judge?” he went on The problem isn’t this (homosexual) orientation — we must be like brothers and sisters. The problem is something else, the problem is lobbying either for this orientation or a political lobby or a Masonic lobby. He would welcome us in, and insist on his rules.

The Quaker way is to encounter the other without demands. Of course I make assumptions about how another is. I want things from people, and am perturbed or angry when they do not do as I wish. I project that as judgment on the other. This is contrary to the commands of Jesus. It excludes me from the Kingdom of Heaven. Seeing it, I have a chance of alleviating it.

Curtain twitching

Anne Ryan, no. 650Should I open the window? “No, officer, I am not eavesdropping on you, it’s the terrible Summer heat the cooking smells in here.” Alternatively, I could go out and ask them to move their cars from my parking space. There is a police van and car outside. When they move from outside my window, I open it to hear more, but only catch the odd word. It is the tone of voice I get, the professional policeman telling the truth to the scrote who is not listening well enough. No sign of a forced entry.

Other police stand under the overhang, out of the rain. There are five of them, in their yellow jackets, looking bored. An ambulance appears, with a brief sound on the siren, but sits outside.

Stubborn woman, your Mum, Brandon, says Ben’s voice.

Finished up going to St Mary’s for about a week, says a woman. Something about “Crisis team”.

Steph walks into the ambulance. Will they section her, I wonder. There was something about “if this happened outside on the street…” I saw her this morning, and we wondered if it was going to rain, and was my washing safe on the line? Steph was drying hers on the radiators. Odd, though, that she looked out the door as soon as I opened mine, as if she wanted that chat. Brandon walks into the ambulance but walks out immediately and the doors are shut from within.

The police van leaves, with two men, as if they had expected bother but it did not happen.

I came over about two hours ago, says Ben. A bottle and a half…? She had a couple of glasses, and she lost the plot. Lost the plot.

“She’ll probably want a fryup in a minute.” But Steph’s mum gets into the ambulance, and it drives off with Steph.

It’s my own problems I should be worried about, I suppose, but it’s not just grim fascination. I feel some sympathy.

The Art of Accompaniment

What did the Pope mean? Accompanying others, to encourage growth in the Christian life? Angry as some conservative catholics have been, I could give a conservative interpretation: the Catholic church still believes it has morality cornered, sorted, specified, and the Christian should be nice in encouraging the other to see it his way. This is more effective than angry denunciation, but the result remains the Catholic one size fits all: gay BAD, contraception BAD, etc.

I hear the words on accompanying as a Quaker, and they are lovely. As a Quaker, I would say we are continually learning, and I have to be as open to learning from the other as I expect her/him to be from me. Someone who wants to teach me is interesting as a specimen, but the content of the teaching is probably worth little. I have met too many bores, know alls and closed minds- if you spent just an hour in their company, they think, and paid attention, you would have the world as sorted as they.

It is not worth doing this accompanying with everybody, says Francis. It has to be a pilgrimage with Christ to God: those who seek to avoid God are self-absorbed, and accompanying would entrench that. (Oops. I don’t think this is me, but it is a wee bit close to the bone.) The accompanier must protect the sheep from wolves who would scatter the flock. There is one Catholic moral view, and the opposition is a deadly threat, rather than an alternative way of seeing, or a worthwhile attempt at what is Right and true. To the Quaker, there are no wolves.

The Gospel tells us to correct others and to help them to grow on the basis of a recognition of the objective evil of their actions (cf. Mt 18:15), but without making judgments about their responsibility and culpability (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Someone good at such accompaniment does not give in to frustrations or fears. He or she invites others to let themselves be healed, to take up their mat, embrace the cross, leave all behind and go forth ever anew to proclaim the Gospel. One truth, one perception.

One might find Francis a conservative with a concern for PR, rather than a liberal. One can see chinks of light: every believer must study the Bible (p175) and in it will see the contradictions, lines of growth, and Love. You cannot be a conservative once you start to think.

The heart of [the Gospel] message will always be the same: the God who revealed his immense love in the crucified and risen Christ (p11). God constantly renews his faithful ones. I want to see hope here, that Francis might want his flock Christian, rather than merely Catholic- but the more I study his words, the more I see that is a leap of faith.

To celebrate having one thousand followers, I include these two polls. I would love to know how many of that thousand actually read this.

Hormone history

Pissarro, still life painting with apples and pitcher I cannot see how the advice I was given about hormones, or the decisions I took, could have been better; yet with hindsight I wish they had been otherwise.

When I decided to transition, it seemed possible to me that I would revert within five years; yet the only way I could get to the point of committing to presenting male was trying the alternative. If I never tried transition, it would always be the siren path. I have not reverted, and have no desire to, twelve years on. I started taking Ovran, which has now been discontinued, the sort of dose of oestradiol that women take as HRT, and Oestrogel, absorbed through the skin. Soon after I started taking spironolactone, a testosterone suppressant, prescribed by my private psychiatrist Russel Reid. I heard on Radio 4 that some men are so concerned about hair loss that they take this, illegally sourced. It can cause irreversible damage to the testicles, and breast development.

Pissarro, still life with peoniesI asked my GP to refer me to a local endocrinologist. He had seen my trans friend, and without expertise in trans issues had read up a bit. He tripled my hormone dose, and gave me gosarelin implants, which suppress testosterone more comfortably. They are given to sufferers from prostate cancer. The tripling was to stimulate breast growth, which did not impress me much, and I stayed on that dose until it was suddenly cut to zero. My feelings went wild: though I had had periods of emotional lability before, it was then that I became completely self-conscious of them. I went back on 2mg, then 4mg, then 6mg, and my lability continued.

Eventually I got referred to Charing Cross, and though I have not seen their specialist endocrinologist, he has looked at blood tests. He has halved my dose of oestradiol and put me on Elleste duet, which includes a synthetic progesterone- norethisterone acetate. My oestrogen levels are “normal”. Progesterone might make me feel a bit more energetic and motivated, was the thought. I take it twelve days in 28, and notice that my breasts are slightly tender then.

Well, what’s normal, and how does it matter? Normal for a woman after menopause: contraceptive pills have far higher doses of hormone. If your blood sugar is not “normal”, you can develop diabetic retinopathy- go blind- or follow the path unconsciousness- coma- death. “Normal” oestrogen levels seem less important than that, but- I don’t know. As for energy levels and motivation, some people do what I do plus a full time job. Rationally I see it would be better to be doing more, but I am reasonably content with watching TV and reading a bit, blogging a bit. Perhaps, if I had a partner supporting me, I would be looking for other excuses reasons for my lassitude, such as chronic fatigue syndrome. I manage not to be emotionally labile by excluding everything from my life, and hiding at home. I have not been meditating. I knelt, just now, and rather than concentrating on my breath my mind went wild, thinking of an experience yesterday with exasperation and sadness. Should I try once again to pass through the lability?

Stillness

Blake, the wise and foolish virginsBen Pink Dandelion, in the Swarthmore lecture, writes of worship, We come together to nurture and enhance that sense of connection that spreads from us to the Divine and back again, and between all of us who are part of this power and this Life. We do not journey alone, but find in the silence and stillness the joy of that connection.Quaker worship gives us a communal intentionality and internal space to feel together the life of the Spirit that is with us all the time. It allows us to feel that inward communion one with another, and this experience binds our community all the more strongly… ideally we enter into the silence and stillness of worship and experience an encounter with the Divine which feeds and directs our ministry, whether it is vocal within the meeting, or in terms of our life beyond the meeting house. 

We find the spiritual at the heart of the stillness, the garden of God’s love and wisdom brought to life inwardly as a place to partake in the life of the Spirit. We find joy and wisdom and guidance and love all present, and can feel the binding of that encounter between us. In meeting for worship for business, we can still feel Blake, the wise and foolish virgins, wiseled by the spirit into new and unimagined places. It is a wondrous gift, and we are changed by bringing our daily concerns into that space.

My self-monitoring and aware presence are supplemented by a third state, the communal stillness. I need to be self-aware, and have autonomic brain processes for this, or I would be unable to walk, but that conscious egoist self-judgment- “What will people think of me?”- is inexpert and often counter-productive. The highest treason: to do the right thing for the wrong reason. I sit attentively, my body language aiding my attention, or I sit in the same posture thinking how good it looks, or even that it should help my attention.

Beyond the conscious self-judgment, and aware presence, I bring the Unconscious to consciousness, and at the end of that is my connection to God. I have known the gathered meeting, and I have known meetings which were not gathered, which are in the majority perhaps.

It seems to me that I am not Convinced, in the Quaker language, converted to the sense of God’s guidance animating Quakers in all of life, not just in the Sunday hour. I have been aware of the possibility for years.

Conscious and self-conscious

Modigliani, Juan GrisI was blogging even as it happened, turning phrases over in my mind. This great gift of being able to communicate clearly is also a curse. My attention shifted between Vaughan Williams, sung by Richard Walshe, and myself and my reactions.

I had doubted it, but it seems true. One cannot be conscious and self-conscious; when I was self-monitoring, I was not listening, so in the moment I asked “Am I paying attention?” I made the answer No. I sit as I would in worship, to listen, to bathe in the music, and then notice how I am sitting for that purpose.

At least I am conscious of the self-monitoring. It is not as panicky as it once was, or as constant. Seeking stillness and presence, I achieve it more and more. There are moments when my attention is forced outwards: dancing is best for this, but sometimes conversation works. I pay full attention to the other person. Yet my concern is my own speech. I cleanse my mind for aftersight and foresight, and in the process dilute my perception of what is, now.

It was beautiful. I am hungry for such experiences of beauty. I forgot myself long enough to be moved to tears, and then noticed that and was pleased, and drew my attention to the music again. Perhaps I am hungry for the state of presence, sensing where I am in the moment, and hope that Beauty, outside myself, will take me to that state.

It was interesting to hear music I did not know from a composer whom I so love. In “Songs of Travel”, words by RLS, I was familiar enough with the conventions to supply the word “Hope” after “farewell to…” How strange that a man so young, only 32, should Jeanne HĂ©buterne, Modiglianiwrite so movingly of love and loss, I blogged. “A star had come down to me.” That is complete and perfect loss: no lover, no safety, no property: it seems peculiarly Scots to me, finding the strength to carry on without hope. Either Vaughan-Williams did not set all the verse, or Walshe did not sing the whole cycle. For my post, I read the verses page by page.

Where the old plain men have rosy faces,
And the young fair maidens
	Quiet eyes;

I have heard that before. My father used to quote it, I think. Now I am just blogging.

I got this quote from John Welwood on One Spirit, and shared it on Facebook: Forget about enlightenment. Sit down wherever you are and listen to the wind that is singing in your veins. Feel the love, the longing, and the fear in your bones. Open your heart to who you are, right now, not who you would like to be. Not the saint you’re striving to become. But the being right here before you, inside you, around you. All of you is holy. You’re already more and less than whatever you can know. Breathe out, look in, let go.

H commented Or stop ‘trying’ and allow it to happen by itself. (Like the breath does). When I allow, sometimes I am in the beauty, conscious only of it; and sometimes I am self-monitoring.

Catholic “Earthquake”

Vermeer, allegory of the Catholic FaithCatholic church: not quite as blindly wicked about sexuality as before? Here is the relatio. It is a summary and suggestions after discussion, to be submitted to the Pope, not new doctrine; but there is some hope here.

It suggests “accepting and valuing gay sexual orientation”. So no-one would be ostracised simply for setting off someone’s gaydar. Would they still be excluded from training for the priesthood? The Vatican currently “cannot admit to the seminary… those who present deep-seated homosexual tendencies”. It thinks being gay hinders people from relating correctly to men and women, and is a state of emotional immaturity.

That reference to “affective maturity” helped me understand the relatio’s following sentence: The question of homosexuality leads to a serious reflection on how to elaborate realistic paths of affective growth and human and evangelical maturity integrating the sexual dimension: it appears therefore as an important educative challenge. This could be read as agreeing that queers are immature, and need to be educated to maturity- straightness. Not quite as Earthquakey as Reuters suggests. Or perhaps Catholics will recognise that many gays cannot be made mature through education, and look on them with pity, like other disabled people. Still, that is better than blaming us.

It goes on, Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions– gay people have sex, and that is bad of them- it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners. Wow. Having a partner is good for you. Tell that to the priests!

No earthquake on contraception. Being open to life is an intrinsic requirement of married love. The drop in the birthrate weakens the social fabric, it says. Human maturity means rejecting contraception, and the church must educate people to see this. Rather than simply stating that gays and those who use contraception are Wrong and Bad, the Church must say why, and educate people into maturity as far as possible. This recognises that the Catholic position is not self-evident, which is a good Vermeer, a maid asleepthing, but does not indicate any change otherwise.

What of divorce? We are all sinners. The Church turns respectfully to those who participate in her life in an incomplete and imperfect way, appreciating the positive values they contain rather than their limitations and shortcomings. We are on a spiritual journey, and are not yet perfect. The Church holds up the ideal of life-long marriage to cohabiting couples, hoping they will mature into that ideal.

The church approaches the divorced person in love. The relatio quotes the Pope: The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment”, which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Es 3,5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our  compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life. That is, the priest is more gentle with the lost sheep, not merely condemning, but still has the aim of bringing the other to living in accordance with traditional doctrine. The divorced who are not remarried would be admitted to communion. Some of the remarried might be admitted, after a period of penance. Not an Earthquake, then, but a slight movement towards health. But hear the conservatives whine and scream about it!

Improper story

View of Toledo, El GrecoI expect and desire stories to be Moral, and am surprised when they are not. The Man who wasn’t there ends with the murderer’s conviction for murder, which is satisfying. The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means, said Ernest’s housekeeper or aunt or someone- Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess, Google tells me. Anything else would be A most improper story to tell to young children, undermin[ing] the effect of years of careful teaching- another aunt, this one in Saki.

This changes the way I see old stories. Arachne boasts she can weave better than the Goddess Minerva, so Minerva challenges her to a contest, and turns her into a spider for her presumption. Hubris- nemesis, a good Moral story. Except in Metamorphoses she doesn’t. Arachne wins the contest, but hangs herself with her threads: Minerva turning her into a spider saves her life. This is more difficult to pigeon-hole.

I like to have sympathy with the main character, so dislike Brighton Rock. I wanted Pinkie’s schemes to succeed, but they are silly and pointless- marrying, so that the witness cannot testify, indeed.

Inspector de Luca, in a dark world, finds the murderer and survives, but no more. Not exactly a happy ending, but the best possible.pixabay 1

This is the effect of Christianity as a religion of moral control, with church and state together working to keep the populace Good for nearly seventeen centuries. Sorry, atheists, if I am telling you what you already know. But it is not the Christianity of the Gospels- eg the unjust steward, where a bad man does a bad thing, and loses his job- Disaster! So he does more bad things, and is commended. So strange. What can it mean? In proper stories, the bad end unhappily, even if not in life.

The Kingdom of Heaven is here and now. This is clearest in the Gospel of Thomas: Jesus says: “If those who seek to attract you say to you: ‘See, the Kingdom is in heaven!’ then the birds of heaven will be there before you. If they say to you: ‘It is in the sea!’ then the fish will be there before you. But the kingdom is within you and it is outside of you!” 

Also in Luke: The Kingdom of Heaven is among [footnote: or, within] you.

Matthew could be read both ways, that the Kingdom is “at the end of the age”, when the wheat is gathered into God’s barn, aka pie in the sky when you die. Or, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure in a field which a man buys- not an analogy for death. It is as if the writer is aware of two understandings and two kinds of Jesus quotes, and mingles them.

We are in the Kingdom of Heaven, if only we see it. It is Reality.

MP on Iraq

Paul CĂ©zanne, The card playersWhen arguing, stick to your strong points. From what he misses out, Mr Sawford’s argument for bombing Iraq is very weak indeed. I emailed him on the day of the vote, and he wrote to me dated 6 October. He has posted much of his argument on his website. He says six key conditions were met:

There is a just cause for action on humanitarian grounds and the grounds of national interest, as the instability caused by the overthrow of the democratic state of Iraq means it could become a haven and training ground for terrorism directed at the UK.

Humanitarian bombing. Who’d have thought it? The rhetorical triple is good- just… humanitarian… national interest- three words to push my buttons- but how might bombing promote stability in the Failed States Index’s 11th most unstable state?

Paul CĂ©zanne, bathers, in partIS have shown they could not be negotiated with. Well, so has the US, with drone strikes. Who can negotiate with death from the air?

The UK is responding to the request of the democratic state of Iraq. I can’t find how inclusive it is of the Sunni minority, but the BBC says it is not.

The aims of the mission are clear: international military air power is supporting the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga in their ground campaign against IS, and the use of air power is accompanied by training and resources to support their efforts. Are the aims achievable? Are those forces capable of withstanding IS?

There is broad support for action, with all 28 EU member states, the Arab League, and a regional coalition of Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and Qatar supporting the action. In 2010, Saudi Arabia bought $60bn worth of aircraft from the US. Why isn’t it flying these missions? Sales continue. Ask Google. It appears Saudi Arabia is bombing Syria instead: so much for Britain not bombing Syria.

The action is proportionate, with the UK now committing a limited number of Tornado aircraft as well as continued surveillance.

Paul CĂ©zanne, bathersI emailed, and asked three questions this does not address.

What are the chances of success?

What are the costs of the action?  Flying the Tornados and firing their missiles costs money, as does repairing the damage on the ground, and is there a risk that IS will have surface to air missiles?

In what way is this military action better than doing nothing at all? Will not more Muslims be made militant by seeing their co-religionists bombed? Might IS left alone become as good a government as we might expect in Iraq after further bombing? Is there anything which might produce stable, peaceful states in Iraq and Syria?

Hooray for Youtube. This charming song has lived with me for decades.