Alchemy of Breath

The heart of this spiritual experience is an hour’s meditation, concentrating on the breath. We breathe in and out through the mouth, from filling the lungs to emptying them as far as avoids discomfort, with no pause at the top of the breath or at the bottom. We lie down on our backs, perhaps with a cushion under the knees to keep the tailbone comfy. Here is a video on the technique.

However on this Zoom taster we start with a lecture on the Drama Triangle. It has three characters, Hero, Villain, and Victim. We can bounce round these three characters in our relationships, or escape the triangle into Presence. Adopt the posture you would have as Hero. Here we are expressing ourselves physically, rather than intellectually. It is a useful exercise. I learn something from it. Consciously embody each. Use your body not your intellect. Stop relying on an intellectual analysis. Be gentle with yourself and others.

The drama triangle is a trap. To move on from it, you have to enter Presence. As Abraham Hicks says, don’t slide into the ditch to rescue someone from it. In presence, you take your space. It is a state of perceiving your own feelings, and the world around you, of wonder, curiosity, and non-commitment. If you enact this with your body, with the sound Hmmm indicating curiosity, that can create a boundary to protect you from fast-thinking reaction, sucking you back into the triangle. Or you might enter presence by deliberately moving your body in a new spontanous way.

Be aware of your empathy: don’t be indulgent, or interfere with the other’s creativity. The victim does not know where their power of choice is. Ask a question, to get them to think, or see things differently. Don’t be a hero, be the Encourager. Remember they, and all of us, are

Complete.
Resourceful.
Whole.

You could suggest what their options are, or ask them to state options. Providing solutions is not true friendship.

When you find yourself in the Victim role, ask “What are my options?” Do something, anything, to end the sense of powerlessness, and accept responsibility for where you are.

Then we move into the breathwork. Notice your physical sensations, and let your mind be what it is. Inhaling, allow the Universe, or supporting Love, to enter. Exhaling, let go. Notice the feelings in your body. Under anger is fear, under fear is sadness, and under sadness is unconditional Love. We are conscious, adult people becoming our own inner leader.

During the exercise, alas, listening to the music of Raphael Shastro, I fell asleep. I was also uncomfortable with the breathing technique. Reminding myself that I had chosen to start, and had a choice whether to practice the whole hour, I turned off my zoom camera and went to cook my dinner, while still listening. My mind and intellect were at work. However, doing the practice I was more conscious of being an animal, with a physical body, than I might be in Quaker worship.

The people attending comment on how they found it, and they found it mindblowing and life-changing. This teacher, Anthony Abbagnano, can bring people to a spiritual experience, which may do lasting good. Charismatic himself, he tells us that the charismatic teacher needs fact-checked, and falsehoods pollute the teaching.

Welcome the resistance you feel to the practice. Feel that resistance: it carries messages. Also welcome the Call you feel.

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin, organiser of the March on Washington in 1963, was a Quaker who schooled his monthly meeting in pacifism and prison warders in non violent resistance and direct action. He might accept tactically delaying racial integration in order to reduce resistance to it; he would not accept delay caused by white people’s hurt feelings. In prison, he addressed the Warden as an equal.

In 1942, he was arrested in Nashville, Tennessee, for refusing to sit in the back of a bus.

He was the assistant to Martin Luther King who may have brought King to non-violent resistance and direct action; he had to resign as assistant when he was accused of an affair with King. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. concocted the story fearing civil rights marches would embarrass the Democratic party. Rustin supported gay rights all his life: “no group is ultimately safe from prejudice, bigotry, and harassment so long as any group is subject to special negative treatment.”

He recognised how injustice is interconnected, and supported poor whites. King eventually followed Rustin’s argument, for example in the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968. Rustin led the A. Philip Randolph Institute, forming alliances with the white labor movement. He was a singer who released albums and entertained fellow prisoners by the prison pipe system.

He was brought up by his grandmother Julia, a Quaker, and joined Brooklyn MM when he moved there. The Meeting was considering providing US soldiers with hospitality services. Rustin argued that soldiers’ morale was important to make them effective in war, and as “war is wrong”, “It is then our duty to make war impossible, first in us and then in society”. Yet it would not be fair to men committed to taking part in the war to admit them to meeting for worship, where pacifist messages might cause them anxiety. Co-operating with the military might make it more difficult for Quaker conscientious objectors to avoid conscription.

Rustin was a youth worker for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which worked on nonviolent direct action for peace and human rights. He observed, “The suffering which the Negro has already endured fits him well for the disciplines necessary for nonviolent direct action. . . . The use of violence by a minority group is suicidal.” In a few months he travelled in twenty states and spoke before more than 5000 people, including in seventeen colleges, and counselled many men and boys considering conscientious objection.

He was a Communist who left the party when war broke out and the party told him to focus on defeating fascism rather than the liberation struggle of African Americans.

Jesus was his exemplar in nonviolent direct action. Jesus practiced civil disobedience (He deliberately violated the Sabbath laws), noncooperation (He refused to answer ‘quisling’ Herod when questioned by him), mass marches (Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem with a large procession of his followers shouting revolutionary statements), and even personal nonviolent direct action (He drove by drastic action the exploiters from the temple).

Rustin refused to go to a camp for COs, as COs there had restricted contact with the outside world, and so went to prison. “But when the will of God and the will of the state conflict, I am compelled to follow the will of God.” He said he would attempt escape from a minimum security prison, so had to be sent to a higher security prison. The warden begged his superiors to send Rustin somewhere else. He immediately sought to work with the warden for the racial integration of the prison.

I have had difficulty, sometimes, remaining in the Light in a Quaker committee. How much more in the violence of prison? Rustin wrote, “Though joyfully following the will of God, I regret that I must break the law of the state. I am prepared for whatever may follow.”

I have been taught a great lesson since coming here—namely, that there is such suffering in this world that not one penny should be misplaced or one moment wasted by men of social concern. I shall see many fewer shows and drink many fewer beers when I am free. And this not merely for discipline of self, but because these pleasures pale into the distance as one is brought face to face with the suffering . . . in lives here. I say this to indicate that we, all of us, must be very careful to search ourselves and our enterprises to make certain that we are using our resources wisely.

When the warden allowed him to mix with white prisoners, a man attacked him with a mop handle, with force sufficient to break the handle and Rustin’s wrist. Rustin did not resist, and insisted that the attacker be not punished, perhaps heaping burning coals on his head.

I certainly am convinced that there is need of a spiritual revolution if we are to avoid complete moral degeneration. I am equally certain that some totally dedicated and spiritually radical group, giving itself constantly and wholly to a life of the spirit, will (by its virtues) usher in the forces that will make genuine change possible. Whether I am to be of that group I doubt.

My own wish to be part of that revolution blanches before this modesty.

When one works to relieve racial tension (an area in which progress is slow, in which a life’s work can be destroyed by one hasty or unfortunate incident, in which the principle of ends and means must be observed faithfully) one must develop along with patience and a real consideration for the conditioning and point of view of others an easy sense of humor. Be able to laugh! Be able to laugh at yourself first. Only then will you have perspective, that middle ground “between tears and laughter” in which you will be forced to work for many years yet.

He would not force a white man to integrate. “It is, indeed, the most basic tenet of my belief: to force is to destroy.” But, giving white objectors the option of moving to another wing meant that they were not forced. The Warden should also consider the Black men: “There are 19 men in lower E who may appear to be content but who constantly are warped and embittered and made to look upon themselves as inferiors (as you yourself have noted) by the system of separation. The line of segregation, as every enlightened social worker, doctor, or teacher knows, touches every aspect of these 19 black lives.” Rustin thought the warden might be delaying, and wrote, “May I hear from you today.”

Instead the warders found prisoners who told of Rustin propositioning them sexually, or said they had seen him engage in oral sex, and had him placed in administrative segregation. Rustin resisted being sent there; but later wrote, “As a personal discipline I intend to … concentrate wholly on my own share of guilt; to refuse to discuss the administration’s share.”

From “I must resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters,” ed. Michael G. Long.

Being together, speaking truth from the heart

“This is what the scriptures and the mystics talk about,” she said. Yes. I want to write about it, to map my route up the mountain.

In between my “Speaking from the heart” experiences, I have doubted them. The doubt grows less. When I express myself like this, people affirm me. They find it powerful and beautiful, and so do I. There was one on Sunday, at Jamie Catto’s workshop. Then on Monday and Tuesday I was with my old sorrow, bearing the weight of it, and on the computer, reading and commenting, in my head. On Wednesday morning I felt I had to go out, to be an animal in the air, and went cycling. I want to push myself, but effectually: beating myself up does no good. I want to gently encourage, and in fear I am close to beating myself up. There was that day in May when I seemed to balance the need to protect myself with the need to push, and I have not been cycling much since. Too hot. Too wet. Too windy. I was monitoring my cadence, and there were moments when I looked about, and noticed trees and the valley.

Wednesday afternoon was the Whiteness and Racial Justice workshop, and an exercise was to repeat five times the phrase “I am white”. I started off as the good girl, the rule follower. After the third time, I paused. I was numb. I tried to feel what I feel.

I want to do something useful with this.

Ah. There she is. That is my heart, my power, my light. Before I said it, I judged it- I have no right to state such lofty motives, said my judgment, but now I have the strength to say it regardless.

Thursday morning I was thinking about the welcome I had when I came to Friends. I felt friendless and rejected. I could not worship God disguised as a man but was afraid to worship expressing myself as a woman. I was welcomed by a gay man who had done a great deal to bring Friends to welcome gay people.

I search QF&P for “Welcome”. I read, “Do you welcome the diversity of culture, language and expressions of faith in our yearly meeting and in the world community of Friends?” And, 21.23: “What do ye to excess? How often Jesus showed his approval of extravagant generosity when it arose from a simple and pure impulse of the heart.” She writes of the father going out to welcome the prodigal son. God’s love is excess and extravagance.

I realise I need to welcome myself. The Power in me hides away because I judge it cruelly, suppress it, will not let it come to light. I see that something is my goodness, and the judgment comes out: “Goodness? Ineffectuality”. That cruelty is untruthful.

A signpost? I don’t know. I want this for you. I want this for Everyone.

Say what you know to be true.
Speak from your heart.
There may be judgment in you. Mind it not.
Speak what you feel, not what you ‘ought’ to say.

Speaking to my friend in the afternoon, I am just there. It speaks to her directly. She says, “When your heart speaks I listen and my heart hears you”. This might be a signpost: when I speak from the heart I may touch people who listen. Ministry in Meeting should be like this.

We are silent together.

When some guru asks me, “Where do you feel it, in your body?” I have not felt anything. On Sunday I felt old tension in my neck and shoulders. It is stress, but the judgment asks, “What have you got to be stressed about?” Old stressful things, that I have not yet healed. And on Sunday I also may have felt something under my sternum. And now I feel warmth over my ribcage. It is love. It is

Beneficence.

I will make good come from this.
It is too much for me, now, I cannot sustain it.

Whiteness

White Privilege, White Fragility, White Supremacy- what is Whiteness, and how can understanding these terms help fight racism?

Recognising my white privilege may help me see where I need to act. I talked to my MP last week. He is my colour. This is part of white privilege. What can I do about that? Well, attending Constituency Labour Party meetings, I did not notice, but am pretty sure all the people there were white. The last candidate selection for the constituency, all the potential candidates were white. I could talk about ways of encouraging Black people to join us. It also may help demonstrate the structural racism in society: the lie that ours is a meritocratic society also harms working class and queer people, as well as Black people. I can’t just renounce that privilege. I have to work hard to negate it.

Poet and writer Momtaza Mehri, from Somalia, is concerned that he can use liberal white guilt to leverage his lack of privilege into a career based on representing other Black people. There are “structures, logics and economic arrangements that perpetuate global anti-blackness”.

These come under the heading of White Supremacy, which is not the racism of Mr Trump, who wants immigrants from Norway but not “shithole countries”. It is much broader than that: the everyday experience of people of colour, practices and policies made invisible, normalised, and taken for granted, even in a liberal society. Well-meaning Whites sustain it.

Confessing my white privilege may be a ritual where I demand absolution from the nearest available Black person, making me a “good person”. This protects the system of White Supremacy from subversion. When I deny complicity, or that race is involved in any particular disadvantage, I deny Black experience. Why should someone “play the race card” if it is so often ineffective?

Whether I am good or bad is not the issue. That centres my feelings as a White person rather than the oppression of Black people. How does benefitting from the system make me complicit? In Britain, our history as we speak of it is White- the good White people abolishing slavery are emphasised, not the British people making their money from slavery or the suffering caused by colonialism and the British repression of the Kenyan liberation struggle. I as an individual can educate myself about these things, and seek to educate others. I can challenge praise of our Empire.

White invisibility reproduces white supremacy. White norms permeate white-dominated society, and appear to be common and value-neutral to we whites who benefit from them. Through these norms we construct difference. Critical Whiteness Studies attempts to make whiteness visible. It can only be studied by problematizing it, making it strange.

Whiteness is like a right of property protected by social institutions. “whiteness involves a culturally, socially, politically, and institutionally produced and reproduced system of institutional processes and individual practices that benefit white people while simultaneously marginalizing others.”

White Supremacy sustains white privilege. White privilege is not passive, even if unconscious. Failing to pay attention to the processes whereby White people take resources from people of colour perpetuates the White sense of innocence. White privilege allows whites to be oblivious and arrogant.

Tolerant people who love diversity and believe in justice may still sustain white supremacy through ignorance. We don’t pay sufficient attention to Black voices. We act as if all spaces are ours. We share an understanding of reality, in our language and action, which centres us. This is so all-pervasive that it requires labour to see it. It ensnares us. So one can never become the ideal anti-racist, as the system blinds us. So my goodness should not be the issue, only, what can I do next.

Critical Whiteness Studies helps make the oppression visible. From the Oxford Research Encyclopedia: pdf available here.

Whiteness is culturally constructed, so different groups can be added or removed. In the British Empire “Europeans”- non-British whites- were privileged over local people, but below British people. In New England, WASPs- White Anglo-Saxon Protestants- were privileged over Catholics and other white immigrants, who are now admitted to whiteness. In Britain, Eastern European workers may not have the full privileges of whiteness, reports Dr Helen Moore: pdf available here.

Black Lives Matter UK

Black Lives Matter.

On 4 August 2011, Mark Duggan was followed by firearms police from a meeting where he reportedly had collected a gun, according to the controversial “Operation Trident” focused on gun crime in London’s black communities. Three cars executed a “hard stop”, forcing his minicab to a halt. Duggan came out of the car. A police officer was shot during the incident, and officers told journalists that there had been “an exchange of fire”. The Daily Mail called Duggan a “gangsta”. However a week later the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) admitted one police officer’s bullet had passed through Mr Duggan and injured another. Two days after the killing, the police had not met the Duggan family, and they led a protest march to Tottenham police station. Police continued to refuse to meet with the family, and the protest became confrontational, eventually with rioting. In 2013 a coroner’s inquest interviewed dozens of witnesses, and in 2014 the jury concluded it had been a lawful killing, but also that the first bullet fired by an officer at Mr Duggan had injured the other officer. A year later, the IPCC published its report, saying Mark Duggan had thrown a gun onto grass seven metres away from the mini-cab.

The detailed Forensic Architecture report concludes that Duggan could not have thrown the gun. No officer gave evidence that he had seen Duggan throw the gun. Their video shocked me. My vague recollection of the case was that Duggan had had a gun, but there was no DNA link from the gun, wrapped in a sock, with Mr Duggan. I noticed in myself an initial desire to exonerate the police, and challenge the evidence which eventually led to a large settlement in the family’s unlawful killing action against the Metropolitan police. This is the desire to see society as basically well-functioning, documented by Sara Ahmed, which causes difficulty for complaints against the police, or about authority in any institution.

Sean Rigg wrote, performed and produced his rap album Be Brother B Good and volunteered at the Franz Fanon community centre in Brixton. He suffered bouts of mental illness. On 21 August 2008 he was arrested and restrained by Brixton police, and died shortly after. The inquest reported four years afterwards, and the family’s Justice and Change campaign site does not seem to have been updated since 2014. Rigg was fit, healthy and forty years old when he died. The inquest in 2012 concluded the way he had been restrained, “more than minimally”, had contributed to his death: his heart stopped after “unnecessary” and “unsuitable” restraint while lying face down. However in February 2019 the Metropolitan Police exonerated five officers of charges of failing to identify Rigg’s mental illness, excessive restraint, and giving false evidence to the IPCC and the inquest. In The Guardian, his sister Samantha Rigg-David described her “anguish”, says the subhead, and her courage in campaigning.

A man claiming to have Covid 19 spat and coughed on Belly Mujinga, a railway worker, and her colleague at Victoria Station in London. The British Transport police took no further action having decided there was insufficient evidence. She died on 5 April from Covid 19.

Naomi Hersi, a trans woman, Continue reading

Bearable anguish

I was speaking from my feminine self. It is delightful, and also frightening. I feel vulnerable. There have been moments when my voice goes into a higher register and I say something I know with my whole heart. At last, my mask slips. It is an iron mask, put on to protect me, now constricting and rubbing at me.

Speak from your heart, said Menis, and you speak directly to the hearts of others. It is the most direct way to touch someone apart from a kiss. Five years later, I speak from my heart. I spoke at Jamie’s zoom workshop, and then his zoom get-together, where I said the government’s threats to trans people frightened me. And I felt the love:

You’re also warm and wonderful
I feel like I want to give you a huge long hug Abigail xxxx
I love those words, I am scared…I am mostly harmless. : ) A poem could come from that…..Your voice is so important. Don’t give up hope. Be the poet that you are and spread yourself into other people’s lives. Get writing girl!!!
Sending long, warm hugs m’luv xxx
Really feeling that Abigail ❤
🧡💛💛Love you Abigail
Big Love Abigail ❤

And I spoke at the racism zoom. “I want to move from guilt and embarrassment to action”. I don’t know precisely what the mask is- ego, or the sense of “What will people think?” I know there are feelings around taking it off, fear, which I don’t want to feel so I don’t even consider taking it off. And then I pass through the fear and talk from my heart and people hear me and value me.

I loved the zoom Quaker worship on Sunday. Some people sat outside the meeting house under a mulberry tree, some people joined by zoom, and I sat with my eyes closed listening to the birdsong. I wanted to be at the meeting house.

I am not alone at home. I have all these books, magazines and sites on my computer, which give me a war. There is always something to react to, so I am in the reaction, much of which is habitual, rather than in simple wordless perception which is generally delightful. I look up, and consider my curtains. I find the colour glorious, this soft, gentle green.

The simple wordless perception is delightful, I think, then in comes the challenge: what about cycling uphill when too hot? I have wanted to cycle that thirteen miles, but not enough actually to go. What weighs against it is fear of perception, of being with my actual feelings, or with truth, manifested as fear of going uphill when too hot.

Pure happiness rarely gets through my defences, and when it did my first thought was all things will pass. Momentarily happy now, considering those curtains, then considering where I am now, worrying, questioning, comes in immediately.

It is anguish.

The anguish is bearable because I am worthy. Happiness and anguish co-exist. They may be separate brain circuits firing off at the same time. I feel a passionate desire to understand which may be different from my usual desire to keep in control. It could be a desire to see truth in all its complexity and to understand for its own sake.

Reading of that Quaker meeting’s racism, in 1948, and then discussing it, I felt embarrassment and a deep desire not to exaggerate the racism, to be clear about its precise bounds, which is difficult when I cannot remember the details of the paragraph in which I read about it, and in any event that paragraph is a secondary source and the writer of the primary source might not have been there. Layers and layers of fog, and my embarrassment and discomfort, white guilt, and a desire not to accuse that pastor of any more than my knowledge clearly supports. Or, cut through the white guilt, let go of my shame and embarrassment, and just be clear. They were racist. This is bad.

It feels the same way as taking off the mask and speaking with my female voice.

Quakers can be gentle. We rarely say something is wrong- only when called to stand against it. We exhibit polite interest, and of an idea which is clearly wrong, guarded neutrality. I may refuse to do something to support another when I don’t see that it is right, but may investigate to see the good in their position. We don’t directly confront unless we can’t avoid it. That makes it difficult when someone is suffering the ongoing emotional pain of discrimination, anti-trans, racist, sexist, against disabled people, whatever- and others just don’t see it. There is the general perception that Equality in the UK is pretty much alright, and Quakers share this. My guarded neutrality in me, with inquisitiveness- what is going on here?- it is a virtue in me, but it can get in my way if I expect it from another, perhaps another who is howling in pain.

Possibly the embarrassment I see on a wife’s face when the husband stands to minister is similar. Breaking through the shell or mask is difficult. It does not necessarily mean she thinks he is wrong to minister.

There is truth and clarity in the Now. There is safety in vulnerability.

Cecil Hinshaw

I heard of Cecil Hinshaw in ministry on Sunday. An older man said Hinshaw had inspired him to be Quaker, and had integrated the Quaker institution William Penn college in Oskaloosa, Iowa, with black and white students and faculty. I thought the 1940s was late to be integrating a Quaker college, but the pastor of the local Friends Church objected to black people in his meeting, quoting “birds of a feather”. The church appointed a committee, then decided all races were welcome at worship.

Hinshaw, a former Quaker pastor, sought to make the college a training ground for radical pacifist activists, involved in nonviolent direct action against the militarist state. With a theology of holiness and perfectionism, he sought to convert society following the example of Gandhi. He said, “Words from the Bible ought to shock us, stab us awake so fiercely that we could hardly sleep at night.” Instead we repeat them piously and meaninglessly. He became college president in 1944. The college was near bankruptcy, and suffering low enrollment because of the war. Iowa YM had already welcomed minority students to the college.

Hinshaw recruited students and faculty from pacifists in Civilian Public Service camps, and prisons. He encouraged racial integration, which caused friction with the town. Racial equality was his attempt “to practise the principles of pacifist living”. It was an embarrassment to most Friends Church members who supported the peace testimony but lived in small towns and wanted less publicity. In 1948 seven students or recent graduates were sentenced to eighteen months in prison for refusing to register for the draft.

A community council elected by proportional representation made decisions for the college. Military veterans and conscientious objectors mixed and worked together for justice and peace.

In 1948, 10% of the enrollment were from ethnic minorities: Japanese Americans, Hispanics and Jewish refugees. The 22 black students and reports of interracial dating troubled the town. When Marian Anderson, a black singer of classical music and spirituals, gave a concert on campus the local hotel refused to let her stay. Hinshaw recruited the first woman African-American professor in Iowa, and the first African American woman to teach in a predominantly white college. A mob threatened Cecil’s children if she remained, and she had to move onto the campus. The debate team boycotted a tournament when their black teammate was not allowed to compete.

Hinshaw resigned in 1949 after losing a vote in the Trustees. His resignation devastated his supporters- faculty shrank from 33 to 19, and only 7 of the 1948 faculty remained in 1950. The new interim president was quoted as saying “I am hopeful the number of Negro students will be reduced”. Divisions caused by the conflict lasted a generation within Iowa Yearly Meeting. The college fell away from Hinshaw’s radical pacifism, and in 2003 students demonstrated in favour of the Iraq War.

From “Penn in Technicolor” by Bill R Douglas, published in Quaker History. The title comes from an editorial in the Monroe County News, from a place just south of Oskaloosa, mourning Hinton’s departure: “If man is to be saved for something other than sizzling to his death under the bomb, the Penn idea must bloom again”.

Lenna Mae Gara wrote in Friends Journal of her experience and fellow students there: when Hinshaw left, Oskaloosa got what it wanted, a bland little community college. But when Kazuko Arakaki, from a Japanese-American internment camp, arrived as a student in 1944, it made her fellow students question the racism and war hysteria that made the camps possible. Julian Winston, a black student, became an attorney in Washington DC.

Joining the “Black Lives Matter and Racial Justice” course from QPSW, I was referred to the Friends Journal article in 2014 by Gabbreell James, telling of feeling unwelcome among Quakers as a black woman, and an article from 2011 on white fragility by Robin DiAngelo. She has now written a book with the same title. I recognise it. In small groups men were told not to monopolise the conversation. I am rarely short of things to say, but have not wanted others to monopolise so much since my first AM nominations committee meeting. My guilt and embarrassment are part of that white fragility, which gets in the way of work for integration, peace and equality. Speaking possibly from my inner light I said I want to move on from guilt to action.

Reni Eddo-Lodge, currently enjoying a windfall from white guilt after the death of George Floyd, says debates about racism are a game to some, a form of entertainment where writers and controversialists can take a position and argue. “We all know… all the stuff people have been saying for years,” she says.

I’m not looking to tell people what to do. People are very willing to give up their agency and look for leadership when they feel impassioned about something and I don’t want that at all, I want them to use their critical thinking skills to challenge racism and I can’t tell them how to do that.

Imagine you had a partner who you were hoping might be able to improve their perspective on something, and instead they say, “just tell me what to do”. That tells me that person isn’t willing to take on any level of responsibility and I guess what I’m trying to do is prompting people to take responsibility for racism. That takes initiative and using your own brain.

Be still and cool

I awoke to a social media storm. The first thing I saw on facebook was, “Woke to find the Government has declared war on my existence. Stress, shaking, panic, fear.” Oh. What’s happened now? The Sunday Times’ main front page article was about trans. It said nothing new about the government’s plans on trans recognition, in the most obnoxious way.

I read the article, and wondered whether to blog about it, or go cycling before Meeting. I decided to blog about it, and share that blog, so I did, and then felt wound up. I needed to calm down before Meeting, and knew the passage: QFP 2:18.

Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit from thy own thoughts, and then thou wilt feel the principle of God to turn thy mind to the Lord God, whereby thou wilt receive his strength and power from whence life comes, to allay all tempests, against blusterings and storms. That is it which moulds up into patience, into innocency, into soberness, into stillness, into stayedness, into quietness, up to God, with his power.

Considering that was not enough, so I phoned a Friend. She knows a lot of the Bible. God challenges Job:

Deck yourself with majesty and dignity;
clothe yourself with glory and splendour.
Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
and look on all who are proud, and abase them.
Look on all who are proud, and bring them low;
tread down the wicked where they stand.
Hide them all in the dust together;
bind their faces in the world below.
Then I will also acknowledge to you
that your own right hand can give you victory.

Job, sitting on his ash heap, cannot do these things. So Job says, “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes”. Then, he gets wealthy again, with sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys and beautiful daughters. He is a bright, active man, and he does what works for him.

I still need to calm down. There is a lot to wind people up, these days: the deaths from the Pandemic, Brexit, the George Floyd demonstrations, and, for me in particular, JK Rowling’s statement and that Sunday Times article coming after Liz Truss’s statement. Others have been outraged about Miriam Margolyes. For years Donald Trump has been fomenting the outrage through Twitter, and it seems Boris Johnson is following the same route. So there were far-right demonstrators “defending statues”,

I find the source of the Fox quote, which is his letter to Lady Claypole, at p346 of Nickall’s edition of his Journal. I read it, before and during Meeting, and considered its predictions. “Looking down at sin, and corruption, and distraction, you are swallowed up in it,” he says. Ain’t that the truth. Of course I knew “Be still and cool” before, but today it speaks to my condition in the clearest way. But- “Looking at the light that discovers them, you will see over them. That will give victory; and you will find grace and strength; and there is the first step of peace.”

A Beatles song comes to mind:

Dear Prudence, won’t you open up your eyes?
The sun is out
The sky is blue
It’s beautiful
And so are you
Dear Prudence, won’t you open up your eyes?

Saturday, my personal growth workshop was about Yin. Yang goes out, does stuff and achieves things, and Yin receives, notices what is, including what is inside me, what I feel. Jamie Catto says our education is far more for Yang than Yin. Mmm. So, “I awoke to a social media storm”. Well, why? Because the first thing I did on awakening, before showering, dressing or breakfast, was to scroll facebook. One answer would be to spend less time on facebook. However, I want my voice to be heard. I shared about JK Rowling, and had 1,163 views of it on the post’s first day. I had a lot of social media love. It is nothing compared to in person friendship or affection, but it can be a delight- “Love the way you write. Hate the way you hurt,” said one person, once.

So, my voice is calling for peace, about Rowling and the Sunday Times. I feel this is worthwhile, and may even be worth the costs of “looking down at distraction”, in order to coax others from it. I might find other ways for my voice to be heard.

I am still with Victorian genre painters. Here’s George Goodwin Kilburne:

Towards “Towards a Quaker View of Gender”

A Quaker view of gender should work towards inclusion, particularly of people whose inclusion now is contingent or insecure. As far as possible, we should see people as individuals, rather than as members of groups, or through the prism of particular characteristics. Where there is disagreement, we should first see what we agree about and what we have in common before delving into those disagreements, which can be painful and protracted. There is deep hurt and concomitant lack of trust, so we should work to show that all the hurt, and all the people involved, matter. We need threshing, and separate spaces so that all perspectives may be heard.

Gender is a social construct, and not innate. Margaret Mead investigated societies where both sexes would appear feminine to US gender expectations of the time, or both masculine, or the men feminine and the women masculine. Within one society, gender roles, stereotypes and attitudes can vary between different social classes or by skin colour.

Sexual differences are relevant. Women tend to be smaller and physically weaker than men, though there is an overlap. However culture, convention and the language people use may make sexual differences appear more or less important. It may not be possible to entirely strip away culture, to see those sexual differences, or any human characteristic, as it would be without any cultural influence at all.

The culture that we live in is invisible to us, like the air we breathe, simply normal, unless we make a sustained effort to bring it into the light. The culture privileges particular groups, and oppresses or marginalises others. It is particularly difficult for privileged people to see the oppression in their culture, which at first seems to them to be normal, unobjectionable and unquestionable.

Apart from the gametes they produce, there is no characteristic or trait of one sex which does not exist in the other, or which is not equally valuable or admirable in both.

One person cannot write “Towards a Quaker View of Gender”(TAQVOG) which, like “Towards a Quaker View of Sex” from which it takes its name, should point out oppression and seek liberation, so that the gifts and qualities of all people may be valued, and all people flourish so that the whole community flourishes. Each individual will have blind spots, which conceal from them the oppression or the gifts of another.

So I passionately desire anyone who can to write what they would wish included in TAQVOG. There are many blogs, magazines and organisations which might publish such pieces- I’d publish you on mine, whether I agree with you or not. Personal testimony is necessary, but also there are many involved in the disputes who are well qualified to analyse from an academic perspective, but might feel unwilling to tell personal experience. All kinds of responses have value.

I am a trans woman, and my fellow-feeling is first with trans women, then other trans and gender-variant folk, then with all affected by gender- which is everybody. First with trans women, whether considering transition, transitioning, or long transitioned, whatever they look like, in all their responses and needs including intimate and personal ones: because I know the terror and isolation I have felt and can still feel. If I were to write for TAQVOG, trans would be my first concern.

If one of us does wrong, deal with the wrongdoing, but don’t punish her for being trans as well, doubt that she is trans because of the wrongdoing, or judge all of us by that wrongdoing. If one of us does well, notice, welcome and recognise that, because we have potential which is not realised because of the difficulties of being trans. Don’t speculate about our genitals! Most of us want surgery, but waiting lists are long.

TAQVOG would not primarily be about trans people and trans issues. Around 0.1% of the population has transitioned to express themselves as another gender, but gender stereotypes, attitudes and roles oppress everyone to an extent. Perhaps 1% of the population have extreme difficulty with gender, either because of being particularly distant from the stereotypes or having a strong internalized tendency to see the world in gendered terms and judge themselves and others on conformity to those roles. Many trans women, for example, work hard to conform to male stereotypes before transitioning.

Instead it would primarily be about violence, and first violence against women: physical violence and coercive control, violence in the home, the workplace and public spaces, and the way women are inhibited from full participation in public spaces by the threat of violence. This includes physical violence by Quaker men. But it would be about all the violence, the cultural and structural violence which prevents people from valuing and developing their qualities because of gendered restrictions, including on men. This needs a wide range of personal testimony, and academic analysis which I am not qualified to make.

I got the idea of TAQVOG from an article entitled “Towards a Quaker View of Gender and Sex” in the Friends Quarterly, which I condemn, as I see it as tending to promote unjustified fear and exclusion of trans women. So it is important to me to quote a part I agree with, to show partial agreement is possible even between the most apparently opposing views, and because it summarises one of the most important issues TAQVOG would address:

It is of vital spiritual importance that we explore society’s expectation of us on the basis of our sex, as well as other characteristics and experiences. It is by slowly stripping away these layers that we are able to listen to the still small voice inside.

Though some societal expectations affirm some people, if we did this we could truly appreciate our diversity, and include everyone.

The human inner light lives on despite society’s expectations, and stripping away those layers is the way we fulfil these words of George Fox, from the Journal, Nickalls’ edition p263: “So the ministers of the Spirit must minister to the spirit that is transgressed and in prison, which hath been in captivity in every one, whereby with the same Spirit people must be led out of captivity up to God.” It is the same paragraph: that is how we “answer that of God in every one”.

This freedom is in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

A Quaker transphobe

Though a few Quakers are viciously and closed-mindedly transphobic, most transphobia among Quakers comes from arrogance or ignorance, and a failure to see privilege, rather than hate. The Friends Quarterly has printed a transphobic article, because the transphobe has disguised her hatred. In this post I analyse the article, and illustrate the hate. This is a content warning. If you feel able to bear a gaslighter pretending her transphobia is speaking out for vulnerable cis women, read her quotes below. But as trans people will spot the transphobia immediately, this post is mainly for Quakers who might wonder what the fuss was. These well-intentioned souls may be asking, “Who, me? Surely I am never transphobic?” Continue reading