Finedon meeting house

Should Quakers spend £50,000 on a Quaker meeting house built in 1690?

Quakers were active here during the Commonwealth. After the restoration of the king, one refused to pay tithes of forty shillings, and was distrained for fifty pounds. He later spent a year in prison. As soon as toleration was granted in 1689, they built their meeting house, but local people stoned them as they went to worship there. They refused to retaliate, but built a high wall around the meeting house to mitigate the attacks. The meeting lasted until 1912, when it was laid down and the building acquired by a local family.

The local history society keep it open, and developer bought it and sought planning permission to make it a house. It would be a small house- the meeting room is about fifteen by eighteen feet, and there is a narrow corridor at the back with a sink and an electric socket. There’s an old harmonium, which is still working. The lawn outside is a burial ground, reducing its potential uses.

The council refused permission. I don’t know how else the external structure may be preserved, how it could get an owner sufficiently interested to do the work on it. I needed it pointed out to me, but that pointing, of concrete rather than lime mortar, is ugly:

The history society has an exhibition there now. I think those mannequins are dressed as Quakers.

People now care more about preserving such structures than we did in 1912.

What would we use it for? Our meeting houses are big enough for the Friends who meet there. Mostly, we rent them out making an income. Possibly we could rent this out as offices. If we started worshipping there again, I am the nearest and could go there to keep the meeting: a Friend did that at Kettering for years, and now Kettering can have 18 on a Sunday morning. I don’t feel I particularly want to, though.

A Friend said we could have children here from local schools for an experience of the silence. We could offer it for artists, she suggested.

We could buy it. The asking price is £50,000, money the AM has. We held area meeting there this month, and I sat there hearing this, unconvinced. We are not a historical society for the preservation of old buildings, that’s the Church of England’s job. I don’t know what we could use it for. I feel an emotional pull from a meeting house built in 1690, and suddenly started taking hurried photographs, so I could ask you what you think.

At yearly meeting

Yearly meeting, a thousand Quakers in one building in Euston for four days, is heavenly for me. I am with my tribe. Sitting in the sun, I said I had mislaid my lunch, and a friend bought me sandwiches. She has previously bought me coffee, dinner and champagne, and had me to stay, and shows me the weirdness of my world can be lovely as well as threatening.

That was after the Salter lecture, organised by the Quaker Socialist Society and given by Diana Jeater. She wondered why she, rather than Zimbabweans, should be considered a world expert on Zimbabwe, and spoke on how we in Britain are still colonialist. British people went to Africa, and some went to study Africans; but to explain them in British concepts for a British understanding, with metaphors we were comfortable with, which did not precisely fit. So they attempted to formulate how grammar worked in local languages, and then in schools told locals they were speaking their own language ungrammatically. People say “I have been to Africa” as if it were homogenous. We looked at them as if our technological superiority and different religion were superiority of civilisation, and imposed on them. How would it be, if we could find new words, to understand their other ways of seeing? Or let them say who they were, rather than defining them? This is so close to the idea that trans people should speak for ourselves rather than mediated by cis people that it strengthens my acceptance of myself.

I am sad to say that Quakers who spend less time with me seem to like me more- or perhaps it is just harder to negotiate ongoing relationships, and occasional encounters can give the joy of seeing and sharing without the difficulty of working together. Those who have met me before here want to talk to me, and while they care for me they also receive from me. I was glad to see someone again, though they spoke of the increasing difficulty of travelling, and dislike of being apart from their wife. If you’re ever in —-? I will look you up, I said. I may not see them again.

One observed that she had not heard me speak in the business meeting yet: um. Well, even with a thousand people there I often know I can contribute something worthwhile, and I spoke on racism later- to much the same effect as I wrote here. Most of that session was from people pre-arranged to speak, and there was only time for one person from the floor. I was moved to hear my words “Who is like me?” in the minute of the session. The meeting the evening before was a synchronicity. All worked out for good. What one woman heard was that “we are animals”- she brought her young daughter to hug me, as her daughter says the same thing.

Two years ago there were signs on the disabled loos that non-binary people should use the unisex toilets in the basement. This year the disabled loos were marked all-gender toilets. That was OK. I tried the men’s once, and though it was clean I was more uncomfortable than anywhere else- I felt my awareness shrink to my physical location, so I did not bang into anyone. I could not allow myself to be aware of anyone’s reaction to me there. I don’t know how they reacted.

We are included and heard. I heard trans folk give ministry in meeting, and from someone at Oxford meeting about the hire of a room to “A woman’s place”- she showed there was no transphobia in the Quakers hiring out the room. Quakers stood with the demonstrators outside. They only heard details of the room hire at 3pm that day, which was dishonest of AWP. If they make a statement I will publicise it as soon as I hear of it. Yet at the Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity meeting, some expressed trans-excluding views. I hope we can hear each other amongst Quakers.

Quaker whiteness

In Britain, most Quakers are white. A far smaller proportion of us is BAME, Black, Asian and minority ethnic, than the population. What can we do to change that?

In my last Anglican parish, the vicar worked hard to include Afro-Caribbean people. The church warden was Afro-Caribbean, as were half the choir, and people came to my church from all over the borough. The BNP was rampant there at the time, and the vicar may have saved one member from involvement with them. And still, at church socials, usually black and white people sat at different tables. Coffee after the Eucharist was mostly white.

For me, Yearly meeting is like a colossal party. I shed my radiance on many people there, and on leaving was stopped for two hugs of beautiful warmth and togetherness. I am grateful. There are many people there whom I have worshipped with over the years, and made connection, but also I can go up to someone I do not know and start a deep conversation, thoughtful, playful, sharing, truthful. Heart meets heart. A thousand people in Friends House might suit the more extrovert of us, and I see some reserved folk whom I know only by reputation, powerful intellects, equally deeply feeling but not showing that as profligately as I do.

I stayed with a local Friend who volunteered to put up Friends from elsewhere. On Sunday night I went to worship at eight, and heard the buzz of conversation down below ebb away. I felt it enriched our silence. I went back on the Tube, and on the platform was recognised by a Friend. Three of us talked in the car, and I enthused about Yearly Meeting Gathering last year. It was like a party, I said. And the man of Asian heritage asked, “Why is this different?”

A day after that conversation I was doubting my interpretation of his question, and two days after my doubts increase, but I remember my certainty of the meaning that evening. It would be impertinent for me to speak for him, and this was my impression: that while YM in London may be more intense than YMG, more focussed on the meeting for worship for business, for him there was not that ease of moving into groups, hearing and being heard, togetherness, a relaxation and removal of masks more profound than alcohol could ever achieve- and part of that was white racism. White people there were not interacting with him in quite the same way as with other white people. We are great apes, with fifty million years of primate evolution behind us, and dividing up others into in group and out group is hard to shed completely.

I love to be with people who are like me.
Who is like me?
How can I expand my understanding of “who is like me”?

There are a lot of us queers in BYM, possibly more than in the general population, and much of the reason is the welcome we get. Quakers are alive to HoBiT- homophobia, biphobia and transphobia (maybe less so to biphobia) and have worked against it. Our support for equal marriage is a powerful witness. I am Quaker because I am trans- I might have found the Society if I had not wanted to transition, but as it was I was a stranger and you took me in. One answer might be to find some equivalent principled work that we could do to serve BAME people, though it is hard to see an example. And supporting equal marriage does not just benefit us queers, but the whole Society: we are all enriched when more voices are heard.

I am aware of the working class origins of many Quakers, but generally because people have told me their histories. About three quarters of us have at least one degree, and many regional accents are moderated or even expunged. We are more homogenous than we should be. There is that of God in every one, and you do not need a degree to hear it in yourself, or feel that spiritual connection with All that we so value. There are people inspired by the Spirit who would enrich us, if they could find us and we could welcome them.

I am an aspiring ally to disadvantaged groups, because I am trans and it behoves me to see other oppressions beyond my own. Yet I am not speaking as an ally here. An ally would say, what barriers are we white people erecting to make it harder for us to connect to others? Speaking as a white person, wanting the good of white people, I ask, how can we hear other voices, expanding our understanding of truth, and enriching our knowledge of God?

The Mythic Archetypal Feminine

“In most mythologies and archetypal psychology, the feminine principle has greater interest in the inner, the soul, the formless, intuition, connection, harmony, beauty, and relationality in general; it is more identified with lunar subtlety than the over-differentiating light of the masculine sun god or the literalism and linearity of the left brain. … Jesus himself illustrates these feminine qualities…and God is variously described as a compassionate mother, a hen protecting her chicks, and even “The Breasted One” or El Shaddai.

“The masculine principle, as I experience it and have observed it, is more interested in the outer, the mental, exterior form, idea, the movement or action of things, the naming and differentiation of things one from another; solar clarity of individual things, as it were, as opposed to the relationship of one thing to another. It prefers the ascent of mind to the descent of soul. It often moves toward “agency” and action before relationship or intimacy. Just watch little boys play, and watch how men love to fix, build, and also demolish. It is often a more “focused consciousness” than the “diffuse awareness” of the feminine principle, as Carl Jung noted. We see examples of these characteristics in Moses, the Hebrew judges, the practical, eager disciples, and in many images of God as lion and king.”

That’s Richard Rohr. I find his comments harmful. People need to experience both to be fully rounded. He is clearly more comfortable with the masculine principle than the feminine: he ascribes the masculine specifically to boys and men, but not the feminine to girls and women. With the possible exception of the judge Deborah, he does not name women- even, he implies that Mary Magdalen was not a “disciple”. In describing the feminine, he specifically contrasts the masculine, in negative terms, but describing masculine he alludes to the feminine as “descent of soul”: he is frightened of critiquing what he calls feminine.

What he calls feminine is necessary to serve what he calls masculine. It is all very well to “fix, build and demolish” as long as you are not in conflict. The “feminine” relationality means we can co-operate, and eases the self-doubt of the man when he fails. I see female architects building, which creates a shift: the work of supporting is for all of us, not just females. Monks and male priests, men of peace, ideally take on that feminine role, using intuition, compassion and connection.

The “descent of soul” is a matter of maturity, not just femininity. We learn who we are, and come to accept the whole in unity rather than just the active, confident mask. Men have to learn to do this for themselves, without women supporting them. Then we can support each other, and move between soul and intellect, intuition and action, as necessary. We can be co-operative rather than hierarchical. We will have diverse voices and so greater collective understanding.

In “The State of the Art”, Iain M Banks’ character observes that a particular Holocaust memorial is a cave to walk into, “a cunt rather than a prick”. The man approves, but they are two parts that fit together, not symbols of discrete roles. One might think of the active yoni “enveloping” the phallus, and of monuments being just that, stone symbols of commemoration, not penises.

The result is a union of archetypes. Each person’s gifts are valued. Couples may be partnerships without “men’s” and “women’s” roles. These separate archetypes have value, but as active and contemplative, or nuanced and decisive, rather than masculine and feminine. God may unite them as of equal worth without being seen as mother or father.

Other people’s anger

I don’t really like “gay panic” killings to be part of entertainment. Two TV dramas I have seen this month included a gay panic killing- one might even have been a trans panic, as the murder victim was female in Virtual reality but male in real life. Yes, I know they exist, and there was no sympathy for the murderer in either, but someone I could identify with was bludgeoned to death. Women complain about the number of women murdered in such dramas- it always begins with the death of a ‘girl’…

Why should a gay pass be such a provocation, anyway? Both dramas showed it raising uncomfortable echoes in the murderer. The organismic self, feeling attraction, comes up against the self-concept, furiously asserting “I’m not gay”. All the rage and terror that elicits is projected outwards, onto the nearest possible victim. If that gay man is disgusting, then the murderer can ignore his disgust for himself. And he makes his disgust and anger indisputable- surely he cannot be gay, when he feels so strongly.

Such cognitive dissonance, the conflict between who I am and who I ought to be, is painful. Turning the anger outwards may reduce the pain, but cannot address the problem. Neither can my instinctive method, which is to turn the anger inwards. I beat myself up for not living up to who I ought to be. Well, I am not that person, and so the anger only hurts me; but turning it inwards has the advantage, for me, that it does not manifest in conduct which others may find objectionable, until it means I have no motivation to do anything at all.

So now, having drained away my motivation and my self-respect, the anger still turns inwards. I beat myself up pointlessly. It’s other people’s anger, which I feel because I have taken it into myself from them: so as not to suffer it from others, perhaps. So as to fit in. It may be old anger, from my parents’ generation or even before, which no-one would feel now except me.

Who I am is who I ought to be.

The problem is changing my self-concept, so that it matches my organismic self.

The gay panic comes not just from the murderer’s homophobia, but from society’s. His self-concept would not be straight but for homophobic messages from the wider society, or from his upbringing, that straight is better than gay. Concepts of how people ought to be get in the way of anyone seeing who they really are, even the people themselves.

I hope my explaining who I am, here, may help anyone who shares my characteristics. If it brings out a strong emotional reaction- even one of revulsion- it has something to tell you.

The anger is merely destructive. Not all anger is- we get angry against injustice, and that may give energy to end it- but this anger either turns on an other who has innocently drawn the angry man’s attention to a characteristic he must deny, or on the angry person themself. His anger at the other does not change his organismic self, only allows him to deny its reality. It blocks him from seeing himself clearly, and prevents self-acceptance. My anger hurts me, and changes my perception of my real attributes from gifts to weakness.

Perhaps I could consider the anger. Why was I angry? What characteristic am I angry at? How could I see it differently? Self-acceptance is my work. How can I see something in myself, which is so frightening I use anger to prevent me seeing it?

Hanging

When committing suicide by hanging, I would want the right quality bit of rope: I would want the knot to slip easily as I dropped, then hold tightly as I thrashed. I would not want to “dance til noon”. The metal steps out the back would be a good place, as it would give me a longish drop to get the knot good and tight: the shock might make me unconscious instantaneously. When I got the rope, I would consider the appropriate knot.

I am not suicidal at the moment, but I gave this some thought in December. Then when I might see an NHS psychotherapist and was assessed whether my depression was severe enough, she quizzed me in detail about my suicidal ideation- or fantasy. I did not think about being found, either the shame of it or the shock for the finder. Yes I made acts preparative to suicide, in 2003 and 2009. She found my depression moderate, which might have been severe enough, but my anxiety only mild to healthy, which was not enough. I wonder if my anxiety would manifest more if I were living with someone else. Clare, you are not bringing in any money, and the house is a tip again. And I would go quakey and start to greet.

Feelings manifest themselves consciously when they need to, when the conscious mind is making demands. So I thought I wanted to go to the Quaker meeting, and then manifested anxiety symptoms. No, I do not want to see those people. And my inner rationalist looked on, perplexed but persuaded by the manifestation.

-Who are you angry with?
-The whole fucking world.
-Are there people you warm to?
-Yes, actually, including some who do not warm to me.

I am seen as someone to fear, which perplexes and bamboozles me, because I see myself as gentle, and have been at great pains to establish to my own satisfaction that I would not get physically violent. And because I find my own force of character difficult to understand, whether I constrain it or let it run free. It terrifies me how badly I can come across when I mean well.

I want to be able to sit in silence with these people and chat over coffee after. I want that to continue, and if that seemed reasonably stable I would want them to give me a task which I would find worthwhile. Quaker Voices printed my writing, but it has shut down.

-What does being Quaker give you?
Pain. But also contact with stimulating highly intelligent spiritual empathetic witty people. This is a connection I don’t want to lose, but if my becoming distressed is a Wrong that I commit, which could justify my exclusion, then I might be excluded at any time for something I cannot control. When we fall out, we fall out really badly and can be self-righteously vindictive.

I will try to come across as loving and positive, and hopeful, and not let rage and terror too much get in the way.

-Are there enough warm souls to carry you forward?
-No.

And yet when I said I could not be my whole self, that my distress was unwelcome, he denied it. Perhaps he does not know. I want our naked humanity to come out. There was some backslapping about the story-telling event, when lots of us gathered to hear a story-teller from Bedford. I felt that was a missed opportunity, that we should come together to see each other, to know and be known, not to be entertained, but the friendly togetherness and light small-talk was adjudged a success.

I value the silence. I find it hard work, to be present with my whole self, to accept my whole self, to know my whole self- sometimes I approach that, sometimes I don’t.

In December, I gave the matter of how I would hang myself some thought. I do not want to be maimed. I do not want to survive it. I want it to be as quick and painless as possible. I note that I am using the present tense, even though I do not want to do it, now.

Mindful anguish

Richard Rohr’s daily meditations suggested that entering a sense of mindfulness, or presence in the moment, produces a sense of gratitude. So I stopped reading them. Brené Brown says Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose, or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path. That seems better to me.

I will go back to Rohr, though when he attacks the attitude of Christians who want rules-based religion, a fixed set of rules and judgment, rather than openness to what is paradoxically he is reinforcing my understanding of the world and its people- rules-based religion bad, so I’m one of the good people. “We preferred a stable notion of God as an old white man, sitting on a throne”- this is a caricature. Though even under Francis rather than Maledict, I sense his fear of the institutional church and his careful argument that he is orthodox really.

I sense my avoidance as I write.

Then I searched his archives and found no recent use of the word, so perhaps I misread, but what I took from one of these meditations is that moving into a sense of mindfulness feels good, where for me it feels intense. It is a plunge into icy water. I need to go there, out of petty feelgoods like facebook likes and record page-views into reality, but I did and felt anguish.

Don’t tell us what to avoid, but what to seek. The thing to avoid will become irrelevant and uninteresting, when we see clearly what to seek. This passage from Rohr’s meditations is positive: For a nanosecond, there’s no “you” and no God. No experience and no experiencer. There’s simply a direct, undivided, sensate awareness of a single, unified field of being perceived from a far deeper place of aliveness. And what is first tasted in a nanosecond can indeed become a stable and integrated state.

I felt anguish, intensity, ice. Vulnerability, as Dr Brown says.

I am still avoiding: I read in the Guardian of a man who cured his depression by cycling, or something- when cycling he is simply aware. And I used that article to judge myself, for judging myself when cycling. For I am not immediately responding to a situation or simply enjoying the World Perceived, but judging- I should be able to go up this hill in a higher gear. No, listen to your thighs. (Yes, I judge myself for judging).

Mindfulness is easier outside than inside, with nature and all strangeness rather than the familiar regular objects. I could really look at that sandal, and see its detail, but it is not the same as a living thing in the wind. I would like delight, gratitude, wonder, from mindfulness, they make it a state to seek out. I am writing! Analysing mindfulness! It is what I do. Not merely avoiding…

I felt anguish. I connected to my feelings and felt anguish, and I wanted it to stop. Far better to stick with ego reassuring itself that rationality and analysis gives it control. I feel anguish because I am denying and avoiding (judge me bad) or because I have suffered (judge me victim). I am in a particular situation I do not like, having to find a source of income and not liking the available options. Cycling, there is exhileration cycling very slightly downhill with the wind behind me- that road, there- and other sensations. Always there is the analysing mind, which makes progress as well as ruminating. Feelgoods, ways of avoiding with a brief dopamine hit, well, people do that.

Mindfulness is. It is everything. It is worthwhile. It is difficult and challenging. It is-

I sat in Meeting, wrestling, anguished, confused.

Bloodless moralism

In First Things, Helen Andrews criticises consequentialist morality. It is no longer sufficient to know that something is wrong, one must give a reason based on outcomes, she says, decrying that. It is a long essay, and summaries of what she thinks is bad or good might be a straw man, but she made me think of One instinctively knows when something is right, which Google tells me was an advertising slogan for Croft Original sherry. One grows up in the right schools with the right education, reading the classics, drinking proper sherry as soon as one is old enough, worshipping in the Church of England, and the decency of ones elders rubs off on one.

There was a man who wanted to learn about jade, so the expert gave him a piece of jade every day to examine. After a few months he gave a green stone which was not jade, and the man expostulated, “You tell me nothing, you just give me pieces of jade, and now you give me a stone which is not jade!” Of course, he knew it was not, instinctively. Andrews praises Christopher Hitchens, who she says was not an expert in anything, but people cared what he had to say for two reasons: It was evident that he had read widely, and he expressed himself beautifully. Both of these are forms of authority.

She argues that social science research into good policy for good aims does not work. She cites the Doll tests, which she says were so flawed in their method as to be scientifically worthless. I could not comment- but if they are shown to be worthless, it is by other social scientists honing their methods, and finding better ones, or at least the pitfalls to avoid. That social science is difficult does not mean it is not worth trying.

The doll tests were used as evidence in Brown v Board of Education, mandating the racial integration of US schools. She approves that decision, but not that particular evidence. She does not say how she would have decided it- perhaps with Quemcunque miserum videris hominem scias,  a quote from Seneca, or Jesus’ teaching on who is my neighbour, to include the Samaritan, the hated outsider/foreigner. I am glad she approves the Civil Rights struggle, but judge her commitment to racial equality on her attitude to people of colour’s struggle now- this dismissive aside on “LGBTQ identity politics and black lives matter antics” may indicate that.

So her apparent belief in deontology may be naturally conservative, better at seeing when something has been recognised as right, than finding ways of improving culture. A good education is no guarantee of morality. People quoted the Bible to justify slavery. Perhaps the divide should be between those seeking to improve the whole society through moral action and those merely in it for themselves, rather than by the tools we use to find that moral action.

Or deontology works when we have an idea that something is right, but could not quite put a finger on why. It may be that I had a rule inculcated as a child, or a Great Ape instinct that this is beyond the normal behaviour of my species.

Philosophers could debate whether necessity or coercion ever justified theft without ever looking at consequences, either those imagined as likely or shown by social science evidence. People make slippery slope arguments which are later shown to be unfounded. My own morality is a mix of consequentialism, deontology and virtue ethics, half understood, inconsistent, and almost certainly at least partly self-interested, but eliminating consequentialism would not improve it.

On the train, a woman could not sit by her ten year old daughter, so sat beside me. I offered to swap seats with the daughter so they could sit together, and she accepted, gratefully. It cost me nothing, benefited them both, and still gives me pleasure a week later, and I cited that pleasure when Andrew raised evolutionary arguments against altruism. “Not everyone would feel it,” he said. Those of us who do should stick together.

Bloodless Moralism.” I found it through Ross Douthat.

Worship is relationship

I was taken to church weekly as a child. Reciting the creed was part of life, and believing it was part of my identity. I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth, and of all things visible and invisible… So when in 2010 I no longer believed, that was painful as my identity was remade against my will. It felt that I still believed, sometimes. Yet when in February 2011 I was touristing around the south coast having admitted to myself that I did not believe in an Eternal God, creator, outside time but in some way a Person, I went into a church to admire the building and was forced to my knees by the holiness of it. My heart had been opened by the Hoffman Process and I was in a strange place, open to remaking my identity, new and greater understanding, accepting feelings which had not fitted my world view or self-image before.

The world is not as I thought it is. Perhaps you have had such experiences, or will have, or else have a smoother, less painful, way of learning and integrating learning.

The field where Greenbelt is held each year is eldritch at all times, and magical during the festival. I don’t know where the tree was, only that I was unaware of it until a broad leaf almost hit my face, and I jerked my head away, looking at it in shock- and then I was fully aware of it, the beauty of that leaf, and I was in relationship with the tree, I-thou with it, seeing, appreciating, loving. There are spirits, naiads and dryads, within feet of you at all thymes you are outside.

Slowly, the utterly magical spiritual experience, where I am aware of my surroundings or at one with them, merged with my quotidian experience, where I could move into awareness by touching a surface then appreciating it, entering fully into my sensation of it. Then my awareness expanded to my other sensations. — talked of repeatedly waking up: he would be walking along the street, then he would awaken into awareness and realise he had not been awake for a week. There was the dullness of going through the motions and ruminating on fantasy, then the quick sharp awareness of reality like fresh clear air among smog. And yesterday there was the millennium bridge, the fried nuts seller, the pigeon, those tourists, the River. The Cathedral. I was, there, in that space, at that moment.

(My judgment kicks in. Was it like that, really? That was how I saw the church at the time; and the tree was an intense experience, though only for an instant. And I am a story-teller, and these are my stories for you now.)

Freed from the idea of a God in some way separate from all things visible and invisible I have moved towards the idea of worship as relationship, which seems more valuable. I turn outwards. There is Me and everything else, or Not-me, and I contemplate it. Me and Not-me, or me in Not-me, something greater than myself, inexplicable, inexorable, with Love Wrath and Indifference mixed. “Before the Big Bang God lit the blue touch-paper, and advanced.” God is in everything. Rationally I am non-theist, emotionally I am theist: I cannot believe in a creator of this Universe which fits the Christian ideas I learned, yet being in relationship with Not-me fits how I am made.

God is that which is Not-me. God is in me. God is our relationship. This organism, being and growing, perceiving, relating, and also second-guessing, doubting, ruminating, has moments relating to the world and seeing itself. That is worship, a time devoted to truth.

(c) Manchester City Galleries; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The seeds of conflict

Bring into God’s light those emotions, attitudes and prejudices in yourself which lie at the root of destructive conflict, acknowledging your need for forgiveness and grace. In what ways are you involved in the work of reconciliation between individuals, groups and nations?

-Advices and Queries 32

The elder reads this, and I am thinking of various conflicts. Trans v TERF is one. I am so pleased by the Labour Party conference yesterday. Is a reconciliation possible? Always at the back of my mind is the possibility of standing to speak. Of course I cannot, on this: speaking in worship should be ministry, and not making an argument where ones antagonist may be inhibited from replying.

And there is that. Oh, I am sorry; and yet I do not think the situation is simply good people trying to cope with Bad Abigail and her troublesomeness.

Still thinking of the possibility of speaking, I pick up the New Testament under my neighbour’s chair and turn to 1 John 4. It is beautiful, talking of Love- but it thoughtlessly refers to “Father”, “brother”, “man”, “he” when it means God, Christian, person. I am unsure what inclusive language to translate it into, and I could say that conflict inhibits me even from this. I love the way Phillips expands the verse- fully-developed love expels every particle of fear, for fear always contains some of the torture of feeling guilty. This means that the man who lives in fear has not yet had his love perfected. The NRSV has perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.

But there is a struggle even in myself. Have I an inner light? Is it as corrupted as Licia Kuenning’s was? I am divided, two parts of my brain at war with one another. How can I be at peace with others when there is no peace in me?

At that moment a black woman, (I am no longer “colourblind”, POCs are rare among Quakers) who has been thumbing through a song book stands and sings.

Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me…
break me, melt me, mould me, fill me
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me

Break me, words sometimes bowdlerised out. But, I need the Spirit. This was what I needed to hear. I start to pray the Jesus prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
lamb of God
have mercy on me,
a sinner.

Repeatedly. That is what I need. Richard Rohr recommended it, and explained it is non-dual in a way I read too quickly to understand or recall. I have just gone back to it: say the words repeatedly until the prayer moves from your head into your heart and you connect with the Presence already praying ceaselessly within. I am praying it out of need. I repeat it a few times out loud, cycling home. I misremembered it.

After meeting, a white man who turns out to be the black woman’s partner is reading the Friend, and I go over to see if he would like to chat. He tells me about Shungite, pronounced Shungai, which is Russian, coming from a meteorite three billion years ago. It is almost pure carbon. It purifies water, and a Friend who keeps bees says a small amount of it in the hive protects the swarm from the poisons which are killing off the bees. When he says Nobel prizewinners have tested it and found its amazing properties I am trying to get away.

Strange, disturbing and yet I feel it has been worthwhile. I cycle home. I say it now:
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.