Truth and post-truth

Following a concern from Southern Marches AM, Meeting for Sufferings has invited area meetings to send relevant minutes for further discernment on “The post-truth world and Quaker response”. Finding the term “post-truth” meaningless, my AM clerk felt unable to bring the matter to AM, and asked the Deputy Recording Clerk what it meant. Perhaps the headings of minutes should be as carefully discerned and phrased as the minutes themselves.

Whether or not Juliet Prager would agree, to me “Post-truth” indicates a worry that there is less respect for truth in public life, and echoes “post-modern”. There has always been falsehood in public life. Worshipful discernment whether Quakers are called to specific action, individually or corporately, in the service of Truth- or alternatively Quakers expressing our distress that truth is disrespected- may have value. Falsehood may be emotionally satisfying.

In the garden, I found a cardboard tyrannosaur and a pretty pink sparkly thing from the nursery that provides much of our meeting house income. I hoped both were the playthings of boys and girls equally. My Friend, from a position of academic and professional training, said the first human priority is to belong, and children will echo the sayings of the group, and perhaps find another group if the first is uncomfortable. The truth about nature and nurture is so complex as perhaps to be ungraspable, and for me, a trans woman, it is intensely important that little boys (or even I myself) should not be shamed for playing with pretty pink sparkly things.

I have felt shame at being trans, and wished not to be even though I realised this meant wishing another was in my place- someone the ignorant might call “normal”, who might be happy. My courageous Friend Lucy Aphramor, currently acknowledging her self-harming on stage and Virgil to my Dante, illustrates the liberation for ourselves and others in speaking our secret hurt. Post-modernism concerns power: what stories may be heard?

It is like my experience of God: experience comes before words. I find theoretical understandings unconvincing, but note that I wanted more than anything else in the world to express myself as a woman, appear to be a woman and use cultural forms assigned to women.

My local meeting has a Friend who has spoken at public events organised by Woman’s Place UK (WPUK) and a member of Quaker Life Central Committee tasked with considering issues around trans people. He might express that differently; I checked the correctness of my language with the Sufferings minute but have nothing in writing from Quaker Life. Even if I had, I may convey a misleading impression by what I choose to emphasise or leave out.

Is WPUK transphobic? Speaking from my partisan position on one side, I could point to a video on their youtube channel in which a woman claims it is brave and right to challenge people like me in a public toilet, because of the risk that trans women are violent or sexual offenders. I consider she exaggerates that risk.

A letter in The Friend pointed out that a WPUK meeting had had a trans keynote speaker, omitting that that trans woman is widely despised by trans people for speaking against us. From any collection of details about this issue, Friends might gain a misleading impression. Is it possible to say anything without trying to persuade?

I regret having surgery. Many people who regret begin to campaign against it, feeling cheated, wanting to rescue others from the damage they feel they have suffered. I note that a recent study showed regret levels for surgery below 1%. I remember the delight I felt as the psychiatrist recommended it. Now, I could blame myself for being a fool, for not realising I might regret it later; but I made the best decision I could at the time. I expand my own view to see the competing desires and interests of other people involved.

I wonder if respectful discussion on gender recognition is possible in Britain after I received a bomb threat- “now we have your address”. I hope it is for Friends. Those of us who care have to worship together and hear each other, for Truth includes all our perspectives. The others will hold us in worship. Then I might find what is Right for other interests beyond mine. I expand my love and truth to include all. Threshing might be worthwhile, but people feel unheard and our views of what it is to be human in society may be incompatible: even if we use the same words we may mean different things by them.

Friends with a particular interest in this argument have strong convictions which tempt us to make unfair or untrue statements. We need disinterested Friends to hear us and hold us, to speak as moved in love. Perhaps we share words, but do not mean the same by them, so we are condemned to talk past each other. It is too complex for me to understand, but I will understand as best I can. My interests get in the way, and I strive to put them aside.

Can our meeting house be a “safe space”? Wrestling in Meeting with my own shame and self-loathing, remembering that I thought myself a ridiculous, perverted fantasist, I think of the terror of the man called Legion meeting Christ’s eyes, and do not feel safe. When “transwoman” and “trans woman” mean different things, Friends might despair of understanding the complexity, but I know this to be true: I am Abigail.

Catching the intensity

Around 1.45 am, I cycle over the railway bridge. It’s one lane, at the top of a hill, so the car behind can’t pass me, but just over the bridge I am going down a little and it still isn’t passing me. Rather, it pulls up alongside, which is frightening. Then I notice it is a police car. The female passenger says nothing but the male driver says, “If you’re going to be cycling at this time you might consider investing in a crash helmet and a reflective jacket, because the drivers at this time are not always driving well”.

I looked at him and thought, I really do not want this to escalate, so said, “Thank you”. He has nothing to say to that, and drives on. I had LED lights, not technically legal but bright enough, the law has not been adapted from the time of Edison bulbs. Next day I thought, he was irked that I had slowed him up for ten seconds going over the bridge, and so he frightened a lone woman late at night. That just might have been enough to abash him if I’d said it.

When I was being weaned-

this will all come together in the end, I promise you-

my mother made something for me and I sang to her. She thought it delighted me, and was delighted by my reaction. Then she chopped some cooked chicken really small and forced it through a sieve, which must have been very hard work. “And you spat it at me,” she told me. I don’t know whether she told me that story more than once, but she told it to me when I was a child and it made an impression.

She was working very hard to look after me, and my sister who is two years older, and (in the way of babies) doing what one does unaffectedly and unashamedly and responding in the moment I spat it at her. I don’t know why, because I don’t remember the incident, only the story, but something had irked me or I didn’t like it or I wasn’t hungry. What I take from the story is that I flummoxed her when her hard work did not pay off. She was stressed.

However stressed you are, you have your Backlog to deal with. In the Quaker meeting I was thinking of my mother’s distress, and my distress at being burdened with that, and her fear and certainty that we must not be Seen which I took on from her. I felt that distress fully, and held it, bore it, perhaps healed it. Perhaps in part.

You are bold and brave and honest and open

On Friday I went to the Trump demonstration in London, and on Thursday I did not want to go out. I had to go to the Tesco Express a mile away, and also the GP. I have this online system to order repeat prescriptions and appointments, but it had broken down, so I had gone in to the surgery to sort it, that had not worked, and I had to go again. When I eventually went, the receptionist pressed me to accept the solution which had not worked the first time. Had I accepted it, I would have gone away- a win for her- so I had to insist. Right now it appears the something different I insisted on has not worked either. Anyway.

I did not want to go out.

The emotional part of me is completely in control. If the emotional bit does not want to go out I don’t go out, and that manifests as depression and lassitude if I am not properly conscious of it. I used to suppress it and bully it but can’t any more, and I’m not taking cajoling, wheedling, persuading or the false kind of sympathy which says I’ll sympathise if you’ll do exactly what I want you to do- not taking them from myself, from my rational bit. God that’s weird. And real.

It said I didn’t want to go out, and I listened, and I respected it. It’s kind of like marriage guidance. I can’t divorce myself, and I can’t fight myself any more, I have fought myself to a standstill.

I need to hear this traumatised part of me. I said that to the Samaritans, I said it to Tina, and now I am saying it to you and immediately I said it to Tina I went off on a tangent because I could not go deeper. I can hear the emotional part, even speak from it, but not for long. I have to be Rational. I am going off on a tangent now.

A friend phoned me on Saturday night. She is feeling betrayed, and she was so angry with me she had to phone me. Did I have anything to do with That web page? No, I hadn’t. Next day she ministered, a long affecting story, but what I took from it was that she was feeling alienated from Quakers, betrayed, because of our departure from the Truth, and the Truth is important to her. I find her wonderful, brilliant, charismatic, powerful and beautiful.

I want my Love, intellect and creativity to heal your hurt-
the difficulty of it perplexes me
The unknowing of the result frustrates me
I will continue, doing all I can do.
Forgive me my Hunger and intensity!

Trust me to see it emotionally. She tells the truth, to stop vulnerable children and adolescents from being hurt. She wants the truth heard.

If our friendship might die under this strain, I want to give her a gift. I believe the truth is other than as she sees it, and wondered if we had anything we might agree on, and she said we are so far apart we do not even have the same concepts and cannot discuss it. She will keep on fighting for Right as she sees it, I hope she has a small number of Quakers who will back her, and who knows where the Spirit will lead? I wanted her to be Heard, and I don’t know how to accomplish that. And, she may well do what she needs for herself.

I am bigger than our dispute.

In the Quaker meeting, I am dealing with stuff now, and with my backlog of pain- from fifty years ago!

Another wonderful person. She is about twenty years younger than I, so she has wisdom and understanding and a different upbringing and ways of seeing that I want to get in touch with. I need to learn the lessons of the young people.

Tina said, there’s part of you that is very young, and you know it. With K there’s something about me being older but also about being younger in some ways. And I thought, no, it’s about being the less free, conscious, authentic one, but possibly she’s right.

Tina said, you’re still striving to parent yourself, going back to very young childhood, a part of yourself feeling profoundly distressed and disconnected and wanting your parents to be unconditional so you give yourself that now, you are unconditional to your emotional side. “I wasn’t heard, so I will hear me.”

Tina said,

That childishness that has got you into trouble a lot
but it also gives you a tremendous amount in terms of awe and wonder and appreciating beauty
you don’t want to stifle it and you don’t want it to lose its- sense of awe and wonder
It’s quite magnificent

And I changed the subject again. I have to be more adult with the Quakers.

-That’s your frustration with them. They’re supposed to be unconditional.

No, they’re not. They’re human beings. Clare and John Whitehead from Delph, whom I knew when I first joined, parented me quite a lot, inviting me over for dinner regularly then taking me to hear string quartets. I found out at Yearly Meeting that they had died, when I read the Testimonies to the grace of God in their lives. But now, my Quaker meeting do not have the energy to parent me and really should not have to. Not if I can parent myself.

I’ve been parenting myself. I have been sitting in Quaker meeting allowing the full weight of my feeling, allowing myself to be conscious of it, and catching the intensity. I have incredible intensity. I am not comfortable with it, but I am getting to know it better.

My mother messed me up very badly. Her lesson was Never, ever, show the intensity, because she was frightened and hurt and the most important thing was not to be seen. Part of me took that on, and part of me didn’t and has been breaking out and rebelling and causing trouble ever since, and the two will integrate eventually.

I read an elder or overseer, not from my area meeting, complain that s/he had to do so much work with the difficult or needy Friends that s/he did not have the time to get to know the others. In my last meeting someone had to do too much work with this needy Friend, and I am feeling regretful of that, for it broke our friendship. As a needy or difficult Friend it is incumbent on me to do all I can for myself.

I hope I can make a contribution sometimes.

The “post-truth” society

Is this a “post-truth” society? I read that “people in this country have had enough of experts” and that people believe what they find emotionally satisfying rather than the facts. There are organised campaigns of lying: the most damaging is climate change denial, which accrues wealth to the powerful at a terrible cost to everyone else.

In that paragraph I am putting a case. In answer I could say that the lies of the powerful have been worse before, and the temptations to exaggerate the truth a little, or pretend things are as you might wish, are as strong as they ever were. I am tempted to pedantry and nit-picking in my attempts to be truthful. There is academic research and informed speculation about why people might believe falsehoods, but not having that expertise I learn of it through journalists. It becomes part of my world-view, and I might mention it in conversation, affecting the world-view of others. There are discrete facts, too complex for me to comprehend, and a narrative about them from opinion-formers.

I read we are in “bubbles” of people who agree with us. On Twitter, people make clever points to encourage their own side, shouting “You’re bad” at people who aren’t listening so becoming part of the problem. My neighbour complained of widespread benefit fraud, of all the people without jobs on the estate where we live. I consider the benefit system is failing disabled people, finding even those incapable of independent living not entitled to sickness benefits. Do we decide based on imaginative sympathy, or our interests real or perceived, rather than brute fact?

How may Friends serve the Truth, living with integrity? I am aware of temptations to fall below a standard of strict truthfulness, and seek to avoid them, and notice that when I speak I am communicating feeling, often, wanting others to feel as I do. Be still and cool in thy own mind and spirit. My biggest temptation to assume or make things up is my intense discomfort with unknowing, but unknowing is unavoidable, and the very word “post-truth” produces a fear reaction in me.

Is there anything we might do collectively, with another committee of volunteers or with funded central work? Are there public statements we should make, or lobbying we should do? Can local and area meetings do new work together for Truth? This came to Meeting for Sufferings on 7 April. Depending on the amount of energy you have for this, you might want to consider the beautiful minute from Southern Marches AM on p43 of the pdf MfS papers. Part of it concerns polarisation in public life, and part a felt lack of honesty. We hope that our Yearly Meeting might be a public champion of truth. It mentions the programme on Truth and Integrity in Public Affairs, TIPA, which is explained on the following pages.

Helen Drewery writes, It is possible that this is a re-emerging concern for local meetings or for the Society as a whole, but if so, it has not yet found a focus. Is the Spirit leading us? Meeting for Sufferings minuted MfS has heard a clear call to test this concern more widely and will send this minute and the briefing papers to Area Meetings. We ask Friends to consider this concern, to send any relevant minutes for our further discernment and to share news of any work they are already doing. We expect to return to this matter in November. My local Sufferings rep did not include this in her printed report of the meeting, which instead considered disputes within meetings, inclusivity and equality.

I became aware that I lie to myself because I want to see myself as a good person, and set myself to puzzle out the blind-spots preventing me from seeing truth. I find truth fleeting, hard to grasp and paradoxical, particularly truth about my own motives: sometimes I know what I want when I see what I do. The vocabulary I have to express it affects the way I see things. Nuance and complexity has fractal endlessness. And sometimes truth is pure and simple. We speculate about causes and results. I find unknowing difficult, and wish to practise being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason or even reassuring ideas that I cannot justify. My neighbour’s observation of the people around us, and my own, are affected by interests and desires. The different views are contradictory yet justifiable. Simply because I have an argument to justify my belief does not mean I perceive truth. It is always at best as good as I can make it.

Is Quakerism a religion?

A religion gives shape to lives, and binds communities together. It helps us understand and live well. A religion is not merely a “belief system” but a way of life. Ninian Smart analysed the phenomenon of religion in seven dimensions, some of which fit Quakerism in Britain particularly well:

The practical, ritual dimension

Quakers worship together weekly. Our ritual is simple, so that I have denied it was ritual at all, but it gives shape to our worship. We go together to a particular room, where we sit in silence, in a circle or square. There is a table in the centre, with a Bible and Quaker Faith and Practice on it. The meeting starts when the first person sits down, so others joining may nod a greeting, but not speak one. People may speak during worship, and there are complex rules governing who speaks and how, designed to foster speaking in a mystical sense of being moved to “minister” for the benefit of all the people there and discourage other speech.

We learn to sit in silence, listening for that motivation to speak, then act in the same way when we make decisions together. We hold marriages and funerals. When the family arranges the funeral elsewhere we hold a memorial meeting. We have no formal ritual for welcoming a new-born into the meeting, but procedures for making an adult a full member: usually there is a “visit” where the applicant gives an account of their spiritual journey and calling into Quakerism.

The experiential, emotional dimension

We highly prize experience. Even when we affirmed and taught Christian doctrine, it was a framework for the experience of worship, being moved to speak, and living out our lives as led by the Spirit. People may come to our society by Convincement, a period of felt spiritual hunger and seeking then seeing that our way fits their spiritual needs, even their spiritual selves. We experience Leadings, where a person will come to understand a particular form of service to the Quaker and wider community is required of them. Living well is doing what feels right, rather than following a system of rules.

We do not seek a heightened state of emotion but a quiet integration of it. “Take heed, dear Friends, of the promptings of love and truth in your hearts”- this is a felt sense guiding action not an emotional state for its own sake. We teach our faith to new attenders, but also provide libraries so that people may explore it as they feel the need.

The narrative, mythic dimension

In the Enlightenment humans came to understand the world rationally, and to make truthful statements about it. This has confused Christians, some of whom take Genesis as literal history. Some Quakers react against that by rejecting the Bible. So we and they lose stories which should have power for us. We can reclaim the Bible by finding value in its stories, of men and women created together in the image of God, of Jesus speaking as moved by the Spirit and following God’s leadings to a non-violent resistance ending in his death. Too literal and rational, we may reject “conjuring tricks with bones”, or accept Christ as a real presence among us.

We might use them better, but the myths and stories are there in the Bible to teach and inspire us if we are open to it. These stories are true, even though Adam is not a historical figure: they tell us about God and humanity. We are more comfortable with stories of our own history and heroes, of Elizabeth Fry working with prisoners and their children, of 17th century Quakers speaking out in the King’s churches and claiming equality with the King’s judges.

The doctrinal, philosophical dimension

Our doctrine is in the service of our experience.  We have several easy mnemonics for profound truths: “There is that of God in every one,” we say, and what that means, for me and for my relationships with others, works out through my life. I can begin to understand on first hearing the phrase, grow in understanding as I apply it, and read what Quakers have said about it. Quakers sit in silence for an hour on Sundays and talk incessantly the rest of the time. We think and teach what is the experience of the meeting for worship. We learn to communicate our spiritual experiences.

The ethical, legal dimension

Stating we have testimonies to Truth and integrity, Justice and equality, simplicity, and peace, we begin to learn what Quakers consider is the good life. We retain Christian ethics including the Golden rule. I am a Quaker insofar as I am part of a Quaker community and leading a good life according to Quaker values and psychology. Advices and Queries explain what we have found to be Good.

We would like to think our ethics are practical. We take sexual morality seriously, but do not have a uniform set of rules for everyone: different kinds of relationships are accepted. Some Christian ethics has the effect of creating an out-group, but we reject that as unethical.

The social, institutional dimension

Every Quaker is part of a local meeting, their own worshipping group, then the area meeting, a group of local meetings. We know each other in the things which are eternal. There are gatherings of Quakers doing work for Quakers in Britain as a whole, with links to local meetings, coming together in different groups to knit together the whole community of the yearly meeting. We support paid workers to undertake particular tasks, overseen by committees of Quakers meeting in worship.

The material dimension

Many of us would say that the material dimension is irrelevant, that we can meet in any space large enough for the gathering, but we often have special meeting houses for our worship. We want these to be practical buildings, let out to others for meetings, and yet we come to love them as spaces hallowed by worship. We rarely produce Quaker art, but make vast quantities of records of our decisions, and libraries of our writings.

Seeing a religion as a belief system drives Enlightened people away. Genesis as an account of how the Earth came into being is worthless, long superseded by scientific knowledge. Religion as the ties that bind a community and teach the good life nurtures people and enable us to live well together. Christians with the Creed at the heart of their worship might first ask a religion new to them, what its adherents believe, but denial of reality and assertion of falsehood is no necessary part of good religion. These seven dimensions of religion show how it can have practical value for everyone. I read of them in Buddhism: a very short introduction by Damien Keown.

Learning to minister

On 14 February 1999 I was born again- not in the Evangelical sense, into strict Evangelicalism, but with a shocking about-face to my understanding of the World, suddenly appreciating that God was on the side of all humanity, and that we were all in it together. I gained hope. Shortly after, I attended my first Quaker meeting, after staying over with my girlfriend, and blurted out “The holy spirit is here!” I don’t know what I was thinking, and when someone thanked me for my ministry after I was back in my masks and pretence, unable to be sincere with her or really hear her. I went back later for an Enquirers’ day at that monthly meeting, with Carol.

I started attending Manchester Mount St meeting, and spoke fairly often. I remember sitting after speaking, wondering if it had been Ministry. I could make no rational case that it had, and I still like to understand things rationally, but if I sat with what I felt about it, I was sure enough. And visiting Chester meeting, I decided to share an insight I had gained from the Gospel of Thomas, which I am quite sure was just me telling Friends something which interested me, even though it was about spiritual matters and might have given someone there new insight. And I was not moved to speak, and felt great shame about it for months afterwards.

We learn by making mistakes, and by seeing what works. I have been tempted to go on beyond my leading, to give a neat peroration to sum up, and found myself shut up by the Spirit, unable to say it. I have seen others speak, then an expression of shock goes across their face and they sit suddenly. I am not giving a speech, and leaving ministry open ended may be better- though that is a feeling in a particular situation, and not a rule.

In Becoming Friends, there is a flow chart designed to discourage speaking during worship. It starts Is the message from the Holy Spirit and not just from you? It ends, Is the message also truly “not from you” but from God’s Holy Spirit? Must you speak? I find this hectoring. It empowers my inner doubts: however clear I am that I should speak, or have given ministry, doubting voices arise in my head. One answer “Yes” to this question is enough. If the message is just from you, you should not share it. A man has moved on from my AM who visited the other LMs regularly and generally spoke, explaining that recent attenders benefited from having some speech during the hour. He would not be Eldered. I sometimes felt what he said was preachy, not true ministry.

A man I knew, a committed Christian feeling rejected by other churches for being gay, started attending, and had his name added to the attenders’ list, but after an Elder interrupted him during worship to say he had said enough never attended again. Possibly it was not good ministry, but I would rather he had been drawn aside after Meeting, and asked about his understanding of ministry rather than publicly told not to speak like that. But then I visited another meeting where four people spoke, and one, a trans woman, told a story which I thought to be unduly negative, sharing her pain rather than ministering. I thought she should be spoken to after, but other Friends after wanted to let her be. Let her grow in understanding. She is committed and will learn through experience in time. And trans women can be uncomfortable around each other, unduly alive to negative impressions others may be getting from us.

I went once to Glasgow meeting, and seven stood to speak, which I thought too many. The last just seemed to say she was glad to be back in Glasgow. I have heard of people always speaking, or of there always being lots of speech, and that causing tension in a meeting. I can see that could be a problem. I find meetings with no speech beautiful; and I wonder if more spoken ministry could benefit my meeting. Could it draw us together in love and greater understanding of each other?

That flow-chart has some good rules. Is the message intended for the whole meeting, not just for you or the previous speaker? (If not, I say share it with someone after, over coffee, or treasure it in your heart.) Is it meant to be shared right now? I have had Meetings where thoughts come together during the meeting, where I might have spoken at the start, did not, and could say something more- yes, more valuable is the word I choose- at the end, as well as the commonly attested experience of hearing another say what one might have been moved to say. But- Will others likely mistake the message for a political statement, lecture or personal announcement? Will they mistake it is not the test, but is it these things. And personal announcements can be ministry, drawing us together in greater understanding and love of Friends. One recent one is probably unforgettable.

People object to “daffodil ministry”, something trite you noticed on the way to meeting that morning. And it is good to be reminded of beauty, or possibly anything a Friend could share in a sentence, or their presence and being in worship with us.

If there is too much ministry it can be a problem. Receive the vocal ministry of others in a tender and creative spirit. Reach for the meaning deep within it, recognising that even if it is not God’s word for you, it may be so for others. It can still be a problem. And possibly a lack of spoken ministry could be a bad thing too, losing a chance to see how alike we are, to learn through one another, to grow in unity.

Speaking in public

I hate the repetitive announcements: “Welcome to —— station. Please keep your luggage with you at all times. If you see anything suspicious, please report it to a member of station staff or to a police officer. Remember the three S’s- ‘See it say it sorted’.” The risk of terrorism is not sufficient- 126 people have been killed in the UK between 2000 and 2017, and many times more women murdered by partners or ex-partners. The purpose is to foment authoritarianism by creating a miasma of fear and promoting regimented thinking and behaviour. I loathe it.

So I thought, roll with it. Cringing when I heard it did me no good. Perhaps it could be an all-purpose greeting. To reassure someone as you leave them, you say “See it say it sorted,” encouragingly. Or a secular version of Allahu Akbar- you find a parking space when you are in a hurry, and give thanks with “See it say it sorted”.

I imagine Jacob Rees-Mogg in a stadium with his followers, at the end of his speech. “See it,” he whispers, and the multitudes repeat after him, like a great tide, quiet but inexorable. “Say it,” he says, conversationally, and their excitement builds as they repeat the words. Then he shouts, “SORTED!” They shout “SORTED SORTED SORTED SORTED” rhythmically, ecstatically, their joy uncontained.

The sunshine is beautiful. The announcement is disturbing. I go to Tate Britain, for “All too Human”, the exhibition of a hundred years of representative painting. It starts with two Stanley Spencer portraits of Patricia Preece, his second wife, with whom he never consummated his marriage but instead supported her and her female lover. She is naked, painted like an animal, with attention to the colours of her skin. I cannot read her expression and perhaps neither could he. At the end is a huge head by a younger artist. I love the moistness of the half-open mouth, and then up close see that the glistening light on the teeth is a single precise white brush stroke. Beautiful and disturbing at once.

Preparing to speak about worship, I have been thinking about it for weeks. Speaking at Quest helps me get my ideas clear in my mind. Worship is a part of my healing, improving my self-acceptance and understanding. We make decisions in worship. Speaking is a benefit to me. It also makes me feel useful, which makes me feel good. I share from the heart, and am so absorbed in my own sharing that I could not tell you much about what the other two said.

And when they appreciated me, people acknowledged that I spoke from the heart, as in worship-sharing. I contributed to a deeper, more profound evening.

I am bothered by Sandy asking what my pendant was, and picking it up between finger and thumb without asking. I stand there, she holds my pendant which is round my neck. I would have taken it off had she asked, and this is strange.

I am pleased by Graham talking of walking to work and being aware of surroundings, for the feeling. It’s spiritual, it’s animal, it might even be a symptom of a mental deficiency, but if you can turn it off you tend to like it when you do it.

People there were pleased at the idea of Quakers demonstrating, getting charged and found not guilty. Those who spoke from the floor are a radical lot.

“I’m going to —” said a trans woman. “Oh, good,” my mouth said, surprising me at its ease of fibbing. I am going there too. I think she is too negative and does not get Quakers. Others think she is OK and is getting there slowly, she just needs a bit of support. Well, I needed a bit of support in my time.

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.