Turner Prize

attractiveI wanted to see what artists are talking about Now, what they are saying and how they are saying it. Having had poor reviews, the Turner Prize exhibition is quiet on a Sunday morning.

I assumed this woman was the artist Ciara Phillips herself, but it seems not. I found the subject attractive. “She looks intelligent,” I said. H pointed out how unfeminine she looks. We had been discussing this. A woman told M he was responding like a child, and she wanted him to Be a Man. I translated that: “You are responding how I don’t like, and I want you to respond how I want”- but arguably “being a man, manly, masculine” is a good thing. In 5Rhythms dancing I have wrestled a man on the ground- being a Man- and at country dancing I have faced a man less than a yard away, both of us doing cuts and points and Heuching. It is exhilarating. Once I heuched like that and the other recoiled, and I felt abashed. And, I am still Feminine. I prefer it. I see how a strong woman would resent being labelled as unfeminine- wrong, even unnatural- and resist “feminine” being held up as any sort of ideal, and still I run from “masculine” in the same way. Yes, it’s great. It’s not for me. By all means, M, have fun with your Masculine side, explore it, even find how you like it when with women, but don’t fall for this idea that “manly” is in any sense a better way of being, even for manly men. How you are is the better way of being.

Well, it was in our minds before we went, and I could not say that is what Phillips intended to say, but that picture brought up something for me which H helped clarify. It was repeated, in the middle of the floor from floor to ceiling, and repeated on the walls. I found myself playing spot the difference between the iterations, and could not. The blurb at the door told me there was a “Reassuring OK” on the wall, which I did not take literally- H did- so seeing it printed in colourful letters on yard high paper, framed behind glass, I gave a shout of laughter which caught the attention of the two other people in the room, briefly. Most British people my age would think of “the words ‘Don’t Panic’ in large friendly letters”.

You see, I am not an art critic. The Independent might call it “maddeningly derivative Reuters, Ciara Phillipsand lazily opaque”, but I do not know from what it is derived, and work to find meaning in it, or a response. The photo from Reuters is art in itself, using the horizontal K as a reflective surface, a view of the room I had not seen. There was a horizontal O, four feet across, ten feet high and open for me to walk in. At eye level hundreds of phrases were written out, in alphabetical order- “How are you?” before “I don’t give a shit”, and were read from a loudspeaker above, in alternating male and female voices. I found the voices youthful and beautiful. I felt enclosed in that O, which I found pleasant, even reassuring.

What I believe

John Martin, The Last Judgment detail- Gabriel and the WhoreHaving been challenged that what I believe is rubbish, I should say what I do. Two Christian beliefs particularly offend atheists as ridiculous and groundless: that there is a God who acts in the world, and that after our death something of us survives in Heaven or Hell.

Afterlife first. Jesus quoted, there will be neither marrying nor giving in marriage. So any afterlife would be very different from what we know now. There is an old line, recently quoted in Doctor Who, that speculating about it is like unborn babies speculating about what the World is like. How could we know? Official Catholic doctrine is that there is a bodily resurrection: even our “mortal body” will come to life again. Our lowly bodies will be like Christ’s glorious body- so no illness, possibly no tiredness after effort. Would there be anything I could not lift?

Much of my conscious thought is irrational and repetitive. Right now, Witch Hunt by Rush runs in my mind as an ear worm. When I cycle, at one moment I notice my surroundings, especially if a car calls my attention or my effort, or an ear worm, or a worry. It is not at all like writing. Unconscious perception becomes conscious where necessary. A lot of it relates to other human beings. A lot of it relates to needs, hunger, thirst, tiredness- if all that was taken from me life would be boring, yet Heaven can’t be boring either. The being in an afterlife would be so different from me that even if it retained some of my memory and experience, even some of my characteristics, it would not be me.

I am happy to say I don’t know, don’t anticipate resurrection, and am focused on life here. Hell does not exist, though, except in human imagination- the North Korean prison camp, the serial killer- again, here on Earth.

Arguably, Jesus was focused on life here, too. Repeatedly in Jewish texts between 600 BCE and 135 CE the Story of Israel is told. God chose God’s people, rescued them from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land after forty years in the Wilderness to do 420 miles. They made a covenant, that the people would obey God, but the people never did. God used Babylon and Persia as God’s instruments, and Israel was in exile. The release from exile had not happened, but God’s anointed King would come, and all the World would worship the One True God in Jerusalem. Spurious Messiahs arose, up to Simon bar-Kochba, to lead the Jews to miraculous conquest.

Jesus used Death as a metaphor most clearly in the lines “Let the dead bury their own dead” and “My son was dead, and is alive again”. Jesus sought to bring people into the Kingdom through example and in Love. No, the Jews would never conquer the world militarily, but the idea of Jahweh might- God is Love, worshipped now by 2.18 billion Christians. The Kingdom of Heaven is Now, in the hearts minds and acts of all of us seeking to create it here on Earth.

They

blossom and fruitWhy should I go? They will hold me up to ridicule and contempt. Their every action will make me acutely conscious of my inferiority. Then they will pass onto other things, ignoring me, for I am unworthy of their interest.

Breathe.

I contemplate an evening with these people. It is the kind of thing generally thought of as a pleasure: eating drinking and talking together, with attractive intelligent people.

Consider. Bickering? Point-scoring- competitiveness- some ribbing- not really, no, I don’t really expect that. How well do I know these people, as opposed to having assigned them to boxes-

The Wind seizes ChlorisSo there I was, saying that I have grown so much more sane, no I have not wasted the last two years, and- I have my illusions confronted with Reality- or, no, that is not quite it-

I am ashamed. I am ashamed of being unemployed. Where people gather and assess each other’s attractiveness, as a sissy I am the least possible attractive. Or these are the things which are in my mind, now, a symbol or symptom of my greater disquiet.

What set me off was H telling me who would be there. D and his new partner. Fine, I have no problem with D. Then she mentioned U, for some reason- U is not going- and I reacted wildly. I would rather H did not think me still affected by that. I would rather I did not think me still affected by that. I don’t think I am though I don’t want to see U.

So much resentment. So much anger. How badly I have been hurt, so much shit has poured down on me, it is not my fault and

the flowers underfootSo much fear. What am I going to do? How will I support myself when I feel so little energy.

If at some undefined point in the future, I will by some way I don’t yet know improve my situation, then everything is alright. If it could not be otherwise but that I will improve my situation then it will be alright. The thought that I cannot and will be unable to floats uneasily just under my conscious awareness, mostly.

H would come to meet me if I wanted. I think I can get to Islington, but that is generous. Caring. Loving, even. Then other H phoned and told me I did not need to go if I did not want to. I think I would regret it if I did not. I should be able to cope with these things.

I don’t know. Or, what do I know? These are attractive people whose company I have enjoyed. Being unemployed is part of it. What do I want? To be the centre of attention? Sympathy? To be able to relax, and take off my masks- or something- but to be authentic with them, I must be authentic with myself, and that involves all that fear. And resentment.

—————

Afterwards- of course it was not like that.

Here are the Three Graces, then all of Primavera.

three graces

Botticelli- primavera

Citizens’ Income

Grace 1I find this Green party policy attractive. My sister called it ridiculous, because unaffordable and not giving proper incentives, as well as that the party had no power to implement it. I feel that it will appeal to a particular kind of personality, and rational persuasion of its value will be more difficult for others.

It will appeal to communal people, like me. We like “everyone to get along”, and have a high level of altruism. Perhaps altruistic is a better word. Altruistic people build strong communities. Individualists look out for themselves. This is not because they are bad, but because of their character, and has advantages for the whole community as the individualist seizes advantages no other has seen- as long as those advantages are not to the detriment of others, but benefit the Relative Least Advantaged Person.

Grace 2The communal person will see that only a hurt or damaged person will seek to be a freeloader, or feel unable to better themself by working for additional income. The individualist might see attraction in freeloading and be suspicious of others being tempted. The Green party sees the informal sector- people doing each other favours- growing, a highly communal view.

Initially, the citizens’ income would be partial, not including housing costs, and housing benefit would remain means tested. HB would be extended to cover contributions towards mortgage repayments. Eventually, the CI would cover housing costs, taking account of the variation of housing costs across the country, from high to insanely high.

Grace 3To me, the stress of the constant threat of loss of income to benefit sanctions makes a person less likely to find work. There were 554,000 sanctions in eight months to June 2013, a 10% increase on a similar period in the previous year, on 2.5m JSA claimants at any one time. We need more carrot, less stick. The CI would achieve Beveridge’s ideal of a reliable safety net which would not stifle initiative or incentives. Now, we have no safety net. There would be incentives to take part time work. More people could undertake higher education or training. The tax system would be simpler. Redistribution of income from the wealthy to the poor would increase the flow of money, as the poor spend more of their income on basic services.

Now, employers pay low wages and the state makes them up with tax credits, but with a CI it would be easier to change jobs, and so employers would have to pay realistic wages to retain staff.

How would it be paid for? By replacing current benefit payments, reducing administration costs in the tax and benefits systems, and improving economic efficiency. Because fewer people would be caught in the poverty trap, more would be practically available for work. Multinational companies do not pay tax on profits created in Britain under the current system.

Much of this is cribbed from the Citizens’ Income Trust.

Comfort zone

Chloris, scattering rosesI wondered what a comfort zone is.

Others are different

therefore I am wrong

Oh well, I can live with that, if I know it is the default. Pause, bring it into consciousness, consider alternatives. If it is the default, it means there is no comfort zone, everything is uncomfortable except switching the mind off. If I find a friend and start to play, that is comfortable.

Two years without even voluntary work, three years unpaid, it has to have value, somehow. I have been thinking, much of it here. Seeing more clearly how I am, and deciding that it is not shameful: patching myself up, healing my wounds, grieving. I am thinking better. In January 2013 I wrote on Original Sin– not particularly Biblical, not psychologically insightful or helpful motivationally, just bad. My friend Sacred Struggler commented,

I know you’re mad and rightly so, but try not isolate dialogue until you know no progress can be made. Grouping people and cutting them off from you isolates them from the awesomeness that you are and prevents them from being faced with your undeniable humanity.

I replied Sometimes I scream NO NO NO! because I want to be heard. I needed to differentiate myself. There they are- I will wheel out that Neil Peart quote again: “Quiet in conscience, calm in their right, confident their ways are best”- They, the Others, it is my perception that They are an undifferentiated mass, rolling over me, even if that is not entirely true. I felt overwhelmed, and this was my struggling out of that. Yesterday I posted on Original Sin again- the idea is not right, but it is not merely harmful. I was not merely reacting against, but being more able to accept and articulate my different position, I can find value in other views.

I wanted to be heard by myself. I wanted to be able to hold an idea in my mind despite what I perceived as the weight of authority against it. This is all in my own head- others are less interested in me than I am. I begin to create a comfort zone, inside my own skull. In my isolation, I expand it: rather than ruminating on the same ideas, I think through others. I am thinking better. How wonderful to have the luxury of that freedom!

I am fringe Left wing, left of the Labour party, having been a Conservative party member. I am on the Left now because I am a benefit claimant- it is self-interest; but also because the people around me, socially and at work, have been on the Left. I say fringe Left- the word “extreme” is not comfortable- but R says merely Left. The Labour party has left him behind, moving Rightwards. Calling Ed Miliband left wing is merely ridiculous, he says.

I change because of people around me, and that is OK. I am a human being, part of a social species.

Original sin II

Mars sword, Mercury sandalsAs in Adam all die-

Because of Adam’s first sin, all human beings inherit that sin, and so are damned unless we turn to Christ. God cannot look upon sin.

I phrased it as bleakly and repulsively as possible, because that is the understanding many people have of original sin. Biting the apple has great importance, so a young Earth creationist suggested that if we did not all descend from Adam and Eve, Christ died in vain. A more nuanced view is possible. If you grow up with people who are angry, violent and chaotic, you will become so. The sins of the fathers are visited on the children, even to the tenth generation. My story of my mother’s mother’s father shows how controlling he was. St Augustine, not aware of a distinction between nature and nurture, observed this.

Some say that Augustine invented the doctrine, based on a Latin mistranslation of Romans 5:12. Or, the ideas were around from the Bible, and Augustine systematised them. Here is that verse in the NRSV:
12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—

And here in the NIV:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned –

I am not going to burrow into the Greek, I am not that keen, but once it has been thought- we inherit sin, when our soul joins our foetus- it could be read that way. I read it that my sin is my own, and my responsibility, which is a little harsh when I did grow up in that fearful, controlling environment. If we inherit sin, it is not through some mystical curse on the new soul but through environment or part of human nature. Pelagius came up with the idea of Limbo, where an unbaptized baby would go: not blessed, but not in eternal torment either.

Which is harder to bear, that we sin from our first thought, or Original Blessing? That says I am created Good- your works are wonderful, and I know it well- but yet still fail, doing what I do not want to do.

I move on. From Original Sin v Original Blessing, a vile way of seeing humanity against a good way, I move to Original Sin and Original Blessing, layers of metaphor which fit part of my experience and help me understand it; rather than rejecting a doctrine and rejecting its believers, I can see more clearly that part of God they have.

Green policies

Botticelli-primavera- Venus and CupidSurely the Green Party’s policies are a waste of time? It wants a citizen’s income and the decommissioning of British nuclear weapons, neither of which are remotely likely to happen. At best, with a Green cohort of twenty MPs holding the balance of power and entering coalition with Labour, would Labour accept either of these, even if the Greens agreed to support all other Labour policies as the price of them? This is an optimistic view of the potential election outcome.

If the Greens have practically no chance of implementing nuclear disarmament, why bother announcing it as a policy?

I find nuclear deterrence ridiculous. It might have some value in a world with five nuclear powers, but when North Korea might develop a bomb and a missile system to deliver it, it seems reasonable that Kim Jong Un would not be deterred by the destruction of his country from firing off the missiles, if he felt his grip on power slipping. If he cared about his people’s suffering, he would not be governing as he does. I do not want a Prime Minister who is willing to destroy all life on Earth, even if provoked by the destruction of all life in the UK. Having a submarine hidden somewhere under the Atlantic, hidden well enough that it can emerge and destroy the World, revolts me. It is a sin, demanding repentance and cleansing.

Saving the money- whether £15-20bn as the Government claims, £34bn says Greenpeace, £100bn for lifetime costs says the Scottish Government– would be good too. £16 666 for every person in the country, a good contribution towards a citizen’s income.

I want that policy to be articulated, with as loud a voice as we have. Whatever result it may have- losing the UN Security Council permanent seat, perhaps, or offending our allies; whoever many oppose it- all the other parties, though 63% of voters support scrapping Trident. I want it to be part of the national conversation, a nagging doubt at the back of the most militaristic mind, a named possibility so that others might see the rightness of it and come to support it. This is a long game, but politics has to last more than a week.

And, the policy says who we are. It arises from our principles. It is the kind of thing Green MPs would seek. We would turn away from fear and hatred to trust and hope.

A pacifist considers Remembrance Sunday

William Orpen, a German gunners' shelterMinistry in meeting: I much prefer my little bit of God to the bit of God they have at the war memorial a few hundred yards over there. Yet when they invoke God, God comes. S ministered that peace passes all understanding.

I heard things about Remembrance Sunday which revolt me. Until the 1980s, someone said, they did not allow people maimed in armed service to parade; those parading had to appear normal. I thought, it has to be pacifist, to an extent, thinking of about 850,000 British military deaths in world war one, 450,000 in world war two, and thousands in other conflicts. Even if you see it as “Heroic Sacrifice”, you are still confronted with all that death, and in Britain the popular phrase “lions led by donkeys” encapsulates the thought of thousands wasted by bad strategic decisions of men taking too little care of their own side. I must not get too- “gung-ho” is the word that came to mind, inappropriately- about this, not everyone would see the war in the way I do; but the parade is not just a sentimental UKIPpy Pride in Britain thing.

William Orpen, a grave in a trenchThough when the parade started, and we heard the military drums, I heard how militarist it can be.

Marion went, and reported there were thousands there, perhaps 5-10% of the town. There were various ministers, and a Hindu priest singing prayers.

Of course it is not one undivided They with one undivided view, but a range of people with different motivations for turning up in brilliant sunshine in chilly November at the war memorial. It is not Quakers, the chosen people of God,  following God’s will while the Benighted swarm outside: I can allow them to believe as they do about God, war, remembrance, reality, without it feeling like a threat to me, and that is part of feeling able to hold my own understanding about these things even if others disagree. This understanding of how it might be to be at peace in the chaotic flow of the world’s opinions is not where I am, and not a perfect view of where I might be. Peace passes understanding. But I move towards it, and that is good. God is big enough for all of us.

 

Atheist Quakers IV

Edouard Debat Ponsan, Truth escaping from a wellOften, Quakers think of ourselves as part of the Enlightenment. Christ has come to teach his people himself, said George Fox: he relied on his own experience, because no one professing to be Christian could teach him, and because the traditional ways of encountering God through physical symbols of bread and wine had comparatively little value. And, he remained Christian. He wrote, “We call the Holy Scriptures… the words of God”.

This was still a change from traditional Christianity, as Deism was, the idea that the First Cause retreated and did not intervene in history or make miracles: we put our experience over dogma.

If Fox brought unconscious aspects of his brain into consciousness, and thought them the promptings of God, that could have come from the common knowledge of the time, the thing we do not question- just as the Sun was the centre of the cosmos, so God was, and Christ was conceived of the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary, as Fox wrote.

If Fox simply accepted the Bible because everyone did, our acceptance of it cannot rely on his, on the flimsy basis of pre-Enlightenment tradition and habit. If Fox accepted the Bible because he found God in it, we still need to consider it for ourselves. Has it value?

We can rely to an extent on our own tradition: generations of Quakers have been Christian and felt their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Since the 1950s, many Quakers have not: “Just add an ‘o’ to it, if you find the concept of Go[o]d uncomfortable.” There are still the experience of being moved, and our practices of testing that movement, but not necessarily any reason to ascribe that movement to anything outside my own brain. I know the experience of being moved has value from my own experience, but it would have the same known value whether it came from me, or from a God.

We can rely to an extent on our own tradition, but that is like sitting in a vehicle moving under its own momentum. If I do nothing to fuel it myself it will stop. We can think of the word “God” as a metaphor, or an attempt to describe experience, or as reality, but believing in God is a greater step than believing in Quakerism.

I love my illusions 💋

I love my illusions. They do me good. Or I would get rid of them.

There are the atheists, blogging away. Some just want to feel clever and right, but Victoria Neuronotes wants to save us poor benighted Christians from atrophied brains and self-abuse, others might want to save us from idiotic falsehood, they might all prefer us thinking better and living happier, and under it all, they want to make us more like themselves. Confident their way is best, they want us approximated to it, for our good or for the good of our victims. Or, they want to justify to themselves their way of being. These motives may co-exist.

My friend Andy went from quite a conservative Christian, knowing being queer is Wrong, to a wildly liberal one, accepting his queerness, back to being conservative again, apart from the Gay bit. He is not alone.

Finding I liked so little what I thought I ought to, and continually surprised by how much I liked what I actually did- dressing female, for example- I decided what I needed more than anything was to know myself and accept myself as I am.

I cling to my illusions, thinking they are true, because the alternative is frightening: illusions like

 everything's going to be alright. 

Perhaps, even, believing those is good for me, giving me

 courage to continue
in the face of adversity.

There are things I haven’t realised yet. Perhaps I never will. Or I accept intellectually, but can’t accept emotionally.

Wonderful bit in Doctor Who:

Missy: say something nice.
Chang: You’re going to kill me, aren’t you? Please don’t kill me, I don’t want to die
Missy: I’ve got all day! And I’m not going to kill you until you say- something nice.
Chang: It has been an absolute pleasure working with you and I truly believe that you will not be able to find it in your heart to murder me.

Missy fires, Chang vanishes. Someone said when she explained like that, he would not “say something nice”, but I thought that “You’re going to kill me” is too difficult to grasp but “say something nice” is easy so he does that. Watching it again to get the dialogue, I find it worse than I remembered: he works out she will kill him from her hints. And he still says something nice.

I want to know who I am, and groping towards this I use words. In the shower this morning I was seized with the desire to write them down- access my unconscious, whatever, I think it a good exercise. Not on the blog, obviously, even I know that is going too far, but here are some:

 Gorgeous, Right, Worthy, Gifted, Truthful, 
Intelligent, Perceptive, Creative, Loving, Able, Musical, Poetic, 
Humorous, Forceful, Valuable, Relaxed.

And some aspirations:

Spontaneous, Successful, Admired, Engaged,
having integrity…

Returning to this hours later, I remember the Sheriff at Forfar sentencing a man who had been chucked by his girlfriend, and made a nuisance of himself outside her house. He said “He cannot understand how a person as attractive as he could ever evoke this reaction, and the way the rest of us convince him that he does, is prison.” At my advanced age, though, I can happily believe something without needing everyone else to believe it too. Thank God! At Last!