Norwich cathedral

Norwich Cathedral is filled with Dippy the diPLODocus, and ropes, barriers and closed doors to distance it from the rest, which still has church-like aspects. My train was delayed, so I went to see the cathedral. Everywhere there are signs saying “No entry to Dippy here”. Gawpers are directed to a specific entrance at the south west corner of the cloisters, then through a guide with pictures of dinosaurs and parallels with the climate catastrophe, and finally into the nave. I associate the DIploDOcus (?) with Roman arches, because of the Natural History Museum.

I wanted my picture with it, and the man left out the head.

Initially I had no idea of the illustrious guest, and found a way in through the South door. Why can’t I get into the nave? I want to see the cathedral, not some dinosaur. A volunteer on guard at a closed door into the nave reluctantly let me through, telling me he should not really. The effect is to divide a museum, the nave, from the holy bit, transept and choir, which is normally big enough for any Sunday services. Yes the nave should be a public space for the city and landward areas, but why close off the worship bits? The restrictions inhibited my relaxation into timelessness. I went out into the cloisters, and there was another barrier, aimed at shooing the pilgrims to Dippy’s relics out. Again, the man there allowed me to step over the rope.

This is what a cathedral is for: commemorating important people.

This is a very important person indeed. His crest has a helm, meaning that he went out slaughtering peasants, and a coronet, meaning he told mere barons what to do. I have no idea who he was. I prefer the roof bosses:



The cloisters could be timeless, a place for aware contemplation. See, there is a labyrinth. There are also Dippy-seers, and photographers. I did not quite get in the mood. I feel a bit resentful.

Here are some dark works about refugees:


This one is trans- breasts, but no hips. Jesus was crucified at “the place of the Skull”.

I like this art work, an engraved door with lines from Eliot. It is hard to see the whole thing, but I take it by the handle, and move it back and forth to examine it. In the chapel I find some contemplation.

Ely Cathedral

The lady chapel has a powerful feminine energy, focused by a human Goddess above the altar. I love it.

Elsewhere, though, the chapel shows signs of Reformation: the original pigment on the figures, and the way their heads have been struck off. Beware men with hammers who know the Will of God. They will pick up guns if they can.

These hundred glass feathers, Solace by Layne Rowe, are inspired by the pandemic.

Cathedrals should commission new art. Here is Mary Magdalene recognising the risen Christ:


and here is Christ in Majesty:

In the chantry chapel, endowed by someone for monks to say masses endlessly to get him out of Purgatory quicker- hope he’s not in Hell, chantry-magic does not work for the damned- there are other alcoves without a figure.

This is the Octogon, at the centre of the building, above the altar. The nave is visible.

If I had not photographed it, I would not have seen how enthusiastic these thurifers are. With a long chain, the censer would normally not reach a higher angle than a swing pushed by a careful nanny. With a short chain, held by a priest, it can reach the horizontal, but never this high. Mercy!

The nave ceiling was repainted in the 19th century. Here is Christ in Majesty:

Here is a far more conventional Mary, left holding the baby:

I don’t like tombs in cathedrals. Christianity should not be about death and the dead- we are not ancient Egyptians- but I have a soft spot for this reclining bishop. He looks comfy:

This is the West porch. All its alcoves are empty. I wonder if they always were. See also where part of the building has fallen or been demolished, taking away symmetry, and how even the doors dwarf that tiny human, and my bicycle:

The arches both sides of the nave show their age:

The face of this chap on the floor looks Mediaeval in style, but I don’t think he would be that well-preserved if so:

Varieties of spiritual journey

What? You talk of “nonduality” as one or two peak experiences for a moment, in your entire lives, years ago? Ha! I am nondual all the time!

One of my judgments is that it is wrong to boast of spiritual growth, but as I spoke to Friends of God in me, and the judgment or thought that second-guesses God and stops God from speaking, the words “melts away” formed in my mind. I had intense judgment against that, the claim to wisdom or spirituality, and yet-

In me there is that of God, and what else? Judgments, ego, introjects, something I do not fully understand but attempt to, using whatever language I have and concepts from philosophy or psychology. In that moment, speaking to Friends, the “whatever else” seemed to melt away, and I felt extreme joy. I do not want to boast, and I want everyone to experience that joy.

I experience inner conflict between that of God and the something else, and experienced it in that moment- the insistent words “melts away” and the horror at claiming something I do not know to be true, and the self-doubt- and then it melted away, and I spoke the words. Anguish gave way to acceptance and wonder.

Heaven is human integrity, where that of God within shines out through that person’s thoughts, words and deeds, and there is no alloy or admixture of anything else: that person is nondual.

I felt shame this week, does not matter what for, and it was clear to me that it was my own rather than some introjected shame- a feeling to help me reach my goals and best self, rather than anyone else’s demands. Instead of being my enemy it was my friend. That felt new, and delightful.

Part of the way I might help others experience that joy, and understand humans or humanity, is to describe my own experiences. How much this has value depends. Is the inner God of other people like mine, or does it vary as human character and personality varies? What else is there, and is the something else in each person different? How does the spiritual journey differ- there is an unveiling of God Within, until it stands fully visible, in all its beauty, but does the way the unveiling proceeds differ between people?

I saw God, and so God Within, as “powerful,” and letting go of that concept has helped me see God in me so much more clearly. Yet it seems to me that God in others might be powerful, or that at least the concept would not get in the way of others seeing their inner God as it did for me. Words are at best a way to approach reality.

Are there people who grew up in ideal conditions, such that their inner God was nurtured and cherished and there was never much in the way of veil to begin with? Quakers aim for such nurture, “leaving [children] free to develop as the Spirit of God may lead them”.

If I call the something else “ego”, there is the word “egotistical”, meaning self-aggrandising, but my inner judgments called me worthless. Carl Rogers pictured the self-concept and organismic self overlapping, and in my moment of becoming conscious of the spiritual journey, when my understanding of the world seemed completely contrary to how the world is, mine seemed to be entirely separate. My conversion might be like a Road to Damascus moment, but not everyone’s need be. Possibly, some might be unable to bear such an experience.

And there is common humanity. Because our eyes have cones and rods in similar formation, our experience of colour is similar, and different from a dog’s. While I cannot know my experience is like anyone else’s, we have a number of words for emotions which have a similar understanding in each of us to be useful, and we can look at another person and guess or sense what they are feeling. We are programmed to recognise faces- the youngest infants will respond to them- and who knows what else is programmed? We are eukaryotes, mammals, apes.

Some people may simply be nondual. Others may approach that. It is my way to worry and question, and also to use my analytic mind soberly to assess what is true. It is my aim to see God in myself and others more clearly which will mean loving God more dearly, and to help others do the same, and I will grow in my ability to do that.

Approaching nonduality as a physical being

Nonduality is a spiritual goal, and I am a living creature, a being made of matter.

I am a creature that changes, that works out its nature, that is what it is, does what it will, because it can be and do no other. I want that: I want this living being to live and be, which means growing and integrating, action proceeding from nature, always developing, always fitting my circumstances in the moment.

We shall be with each other always, and cannot lose each other. Our lives intertwine as we are woven together, and I contain every one of you, as you all contain me.

That got a lot of likes on facebook. I approach nonduality, where the God Within, the natural human, is the source of thought speech and action. And consciously I worry about this. Conscious me says, how will I know?

Nonduality is Heaven, and it does not mean not being hurt, tired or confused, just not resisting or resenting these feelings. All is well, but not necessarily comfortable. I am a living being, so do not escape my situation and my problems, even if I might not now be facing them with so many internal blocks and conflicts.

I consider my desires. Some come from I Am, some from society. Of the ones from Society, some are clearly harmful to me and others: the desire to make a man of myself is the clearest. Transition was the necessary though not sufficient step towards self-actualisation. Arguably fatphobia is also clearly harmful, though if we name it self-discipline aimed at a healthy BMI that’s not so clear. And not everyone who watches their weight is anorexic.

I have various words which appear on the surface to make a clear distinction, between a healthy and unhealthy consciousness of weight, and when I burrow down into what that would mean for individuals it becomes unclear and shifting. Heather wanted to fatten me up, and found my refusal of a biscuit joyless- “’No thank you, I’ve had one’,” she would say, mockingly. Her apron objectively showed her relationship with food was unhealthy.

I trust myself to serve myself the food I need, and feel, directly perceive, my body’s needs for fat, salt and protein, more in winter or when doing more physical activity outside, less at other times, and the one thing I could not resist, where I would finish a kilogram tin, was salted peanuts. I don’t have a problem with addiction and self-soothing with food, and see some people do.

Another verbal distinction which appears clear but is shifting. Addiction is bad. Self-soothing is necessary or unavoidable, and asceticism is also harmful. Words might help the conscious self get a grip on the goals and pitfalls. I hope the “promptings of love and truth in my heart” will help me get it right, and am unsure.

Ooh, this is new. I am not walking a tightrope, where a loss of balance to right or left will cause me to fall to perdition. Rather the path is the golden thread of my best self, which exerts an attraction on me, so that I can drift away from it and it will pull me back. That thread is God in me, despite the controlling messages of society.

I want what a human wants- to be loved and admired, say. I have various models for this. Conscious me second-guesses God within, and its fear and judgment pulls me away from her balance. Possibly the best thing conscious me can do is get out of the way.

I consider that pulling things into consciousness and analysing them has value. What is going on? What do I feel? What do I need?

Oppositions come to mind. Immediate impulse v long term goal; my own impulse v ones imbibed from society; goals imposed by society which oppress me v getting on in society for my own good; good v evil. I will continue to write about these, and analyse them. Does nondual reality mean that these oppositions do not exist, or that they are spectra rather than separate things?

Greenbelt at Prospect Farm

I cycled to the Greenbelt festival, my tent balanced on my panniers, my bedding and coat in a rucksack. “Wow, respect,” said the woman there to direct traffic, though there was little traffic to direct. It’s only ten miles, I said, modestly, delighted. “Still, wow,” she says.

It’s Prospect Farm, because the financial risk of having to cancel a whole festival would be too great. There are six hundred people here rather than twelve thousand, three venues, three food outlets. As I walk my bicycle in, Oliver, who is nearly ten, starts chatting. He tells me of his love of Park Runs- his 50 t-shirt means he has done fifty of them. His father is a keen runner, who did a 100km. Would you like to be an athlete? At this, he looks very serious and says yes, he would. I tell him, if that’s what you love, go for it. It’s a lot of work.

He offers to help put up my tent, and this means I teach him how. His mother tells me to send him away if he is bothering me. Later, he comes over to ask me to have dinner with them. If your mother consents, I said. I am delighted. I go over and chat as she cooks. The children play with another family they have just met.

“I saw that was a wig as soon as I saw it,” says a rude boy. Well, it’s old. I am camping. I put up my tent with my newly shaven head on show, as I was so hot. Ellie, who is “practising to be a teenager”, said she had thought I was a different person. That is kind.

There are free showers, working all the time, without a queue.

What makes the small festival is the conversation. It is like a party. We talk of churches and of our lives. Many are dissatisfied with our churches, and Greenbelt keeps us Christian.

A Black woman, a trustee of Greenbelt, gives a talk on white privilege and we affirm that we are working against white privilege. The festival is almost entirely white. Its theology is not a good fit for the Black churches, and we are privileged. We affirm that white people should be doing more work on this.

LGBT is integrated, though. We had about twenty for the LGBT “Out at Greenbelt” eucharist, sharing bread only because of covid. A man aged 17 told me he had just come out. We had nineteen for my Quaker meeting, which is proportionately quite good. One was a lifelong Quaker who did not actually attend, now, because the local meeting had never been very friendly. One was in her twenties, and I told her of YFGM.

Comedy included Harry and Chris, and I now have a t-shirt marked “A coupla copella-packing a cappella pelicans pick up a piccolo in Acapulco’s archipelago”. Around the camp people are memorising the phrase. Two say it in unison.

My major woke liberal fail was seeing someone with a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”. “Everyone has gifts, and everyone has needs. Society should support people’s needs so their gifts can benefit all,” I declaimed earnestly. “This man had a t-shirt reading “Words are hard”, but did a somersault from standing.” Later I talked to him. My assumption that he was neuro-diverse was apparently wrong, as his words flowed easily.

I went without an air pump for my bed, as I thought I could borrow one. My airbed leaked in the night so that I was just above the ground in the morning, and three times had no trouble borrowing. A man came over and worked the pump himself. I was too cold, even though wearing my coat in the sleeping bag, the first, clear night, with heavy dew getting through to the inner tent. It is a pain to have to balance on your shoulder blades to pull your jeans up, at 55. But other nights were overcast and I was warm enough. It was a gorgeous two days.

We went in to where the festival had been, 2014-2019. It looks so different.

Loving the Bible, as an atheist

I joined a Woodbrooke project, “Finding the Spirit in the Scriptures”. This is what I wanted to say:

First I should say, as an atheist, what is the God I do not believe in: I do not believe in “God the Father Almighty, maker of Heaven and Earth”. I believe in that of God in everyone, indeed in all of life- apes, fish, bacteria.

I do not believe in panentheism, God in things, but I know that people are taught in my culture to treat things, and even people, instrumentally- pick them up, use them, put them down, forget them. We deal only in surfaces. I know if you look at things through the eyes of Love, you see them more clearly: the thing in itself, its aesthetic and design beauty, its complexity, its value. You see the deep reality of the world below its surfaces, see the world in a grain of sand, and believing in God in things is a way into this experience.

I was baptised Scottish Episcopalian, taken to church throughout my childhood, and continued worshipping all my life. In 2001 I committed to Quakers and continued worshipping regularly. In 2009 I realised I no longer believed in God. It was a struggle. My partner took a robust line against nontheists- “Why should an atheist want to join a religious society?” A Friend answered that beautifully: “The question is not why we join, but why we stay”. But convincing H of that was a different matter.

In February 2010 I admitted to myself I did not believe in God. I did the Hoffman process, a personal growth workshop designed to split someone open and give them access to the inspiration of their subconscious, and, duly broken open, entered a church as a tourist: and was brought to my knees by the holiness of the place.

Mark: How has your relationship to the Bible changed over your life?

When I was 12 I got a Gideon New Testament with a reading scheme, read the New Testament in a year, in the front. So I did, several times. At University, I started reading the Daily Study Bible by William Barclay, and later read the Old Testament DSB. I also read the NT volumes of the Bible Speaks Today. I also read the Bible through, Jewish Bible and NT, in the Good News Bible and New International Version, and much of the New Revised Standard Version.

It was the moral underpinning of my homophobia. In Romans 1 Paul lists various horrible sins, including “men committed shameful acts with other men”, and, hating myself, desperate to “make a man” of myself and wanting to enforce this restrictive morality on the World, I used it to drive a couple from my church. I am ashamed of that. I would not do it now. Now, I would seek to prevent such a violation.

But it gives me some sympathy for others. The Methodist Church in England agreed to celebrate same sex marriages, and a Christian website covered this as if it was a bad thing. It claimed “traditionalists” feared being driven out of their churches- rather than calling them homophobes opposing the Church’s decision. I sympathise. I thought being a Christian made me a good person, because I believed in God and tried to do the right thing, and it was a shock to hear people thought it meant I had ridiculous beliefs and harmful, wrong views about morality.

I started by believing the anti-gay passages, then arguing with them, seeking out alternative interpretations of the Greek arsenokoitai and malakoi, and finally ignoring them. I feel quite entitled to reject bits of the Bible, including Deuteronomy 22:5.

However, even when I hate a verse, I seek out what good I may find in it. I dislike Nehemiah. The Jews have returned from exile in Babylon, and decide to live with their own ideas, without any tincture from foreigners. Nehemiah 13: 30 Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign. I find this horrible. But- if they had not, the people would have been subsumed in the Persian then the Macedonian empires, and their distinctiveness would have been lost, as the Northern kingdom was subsumed in the Assyrian empire. So we would not be Christian. From that decision both great suffering and great blessing flow.

Mark: The Bible is a conversation we can join in. Some say the book of Jonah, where the King and people of Nineveh repent, is a direct answer to Nehemiah and the drive for purity. It says the Assyrians are God’s children.

Yes. Consider: Psalm 37:25: I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or their children begging bread.

Ecclesiastes 7:15: In my vain life I have seen everything: there are righteous people who perish in their righteousness, and there are wicked people who prolong their life in their evildoing.

Both these verses are in three parts, with close parallels, and it seems to me Ecclesiastes is directly answering the Psalm.

The Bible is terribly misogynistic. Mary Magdalene goes to the grave on the first day of the week, and has a great realisation: “He is not here”. Jesus is in our hearts, in our memories, in how he has changed our lives. He will always be with us. But, how could a weak, irrational and emotional woman come to such a realisation? A man told her. Mark 16:5, “a young man, dressed in a white robe,” whom she does not recognise but who knows her and knows all about it. Luke 24:4, “Two men in dazzling clothes”. Matthew 28:2 uses male pronouns of “an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven”.

Or Mary, Jesus’ mother. Luke tells us the archangel Gabriel appeared to her. For me, this woman, barely more than a girl, realises she is pregnant. Not being married, this is terrifying. Her sublime, noble reaction is, “All generations shall call me blessed”. And we do. She got it, all by herself. No angel required.

In the past year I have read John, and loved it. John 17:22: “The glory that you have given me I have given them”, ie to us, and all Christians. We can be in God as Christ is in God. That of God in me is all my power, all my beauty, and I can live from it all the time. I find this tremendously exciting and spiritually convincing, and have shared it excitedly with anyone who will listen. This is the truth of the Bible, speaking to me.

And I have read about half of Isaiah, dutifully reading the Oxford Bible Commentary paragraphs on each short section; and got fed up with it. This perhaps revolted me the most:

Isaiah 3: 16 The Lord said:
Because the daughters of Zion are haughty
and walk with outstretched necks,
glancing wantonly with their eyes,
mincing along as they go,
tinkling with their feet;
the Lord will afflict with scabs
the heads of the daughters of Zion,
and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts.

At best, this is the prophet seeing the parlous state of Jerusalem, fearing for its inhabitants, knowing that rape is a weapon of war. But I can’t help seeing it differently, as the old man seeing young women glorying in being young women. He gets turned on but, knowing they are not sexually available to him, curses them, and gets self-righteous about it.

I want the experience of John, the new insight about the spiritual life that makes sense and speaks to me immediately and delights and inspires me and brings me on. I want to avoid the sense of revulsion I feel at that Isaiah passage. I will go back to the Bible. Perhaps Mark next, or Romans, probably without a commentary at least to start with. I don’t know. Perhaps I cannot find the glory without also seeing the darkness. All human life is here.

I am left with my favourite bits. When I was recovering from my self-hatred, Genesis 1:31 meant a lot to me: “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” That included me. Similarly psalm 139:12-13:

You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will thank you because I am marvellously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

In Psalm 137 the Jews are taken off to Babylon as slaves, and feel the rage of the oppressed. They imagine smashing the heads of their oppressors’ babies. Accepting my true self made me aware of huge anger in me, and this psalm reassured me: if such rage was here, it was acceptable to God, and so might my own anger be. And so might I be.

I love the story of Abigail in 1 Samuel 25. Abigail meets David, who is living as a bandit chieftain in the borderlands of the Philistines. “About ten days later the Lord struck Nabal [her husband], and he died.” Abigail then marries David. It makes a mockery of the American Evangelical concept of “Biblical Womanhood”. And I am always reacting with or against thousands of years of reactions and interpretations of these stories.

My favourite Jesus quote is in Revelation 21:5: Behold, I have made all things new.

I love the desperate angry prayer of Job. He knows he is righteous, and demands of God how dare he treat him this way? 31:35-37:

O that I had one to hear me!
(Here is my signature! Let the Almighty answer me!)
O that I had the indictment written by my adversary!
Surely I would carry it on my shoulder;
I would bind it on me like a crown;
I would give him an account of all my steps;
like a prince I would approach him.

I have prayed in desperation, “Oh God! What are you playing at!?

God states his glory- “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” Job repents in dust and ashes. But, being a shrewd, active man, he stops contemplating the injustice of the world and the incomprehensibility of God, and gets on with what he does best. That is how he becomes wealthy again, blessed with sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and also sons and daughters.

I have had my life changed, and I feel Jesus’ metaphor of being born again is appropriate: it really seems as painful as passing through a birth canal, and as weird as opening my eyes for the first time.

I want new favourite bits, more bits to love. What verses do you love in the Bible?

Britain Yearly Meeting on Zoom

All I have ever wanted for the longest time is to feel equal, and again, here in this room, I don’t. I hear people talk all week about George Floyd but we are here now, in the UK, in your meetings, feeling like outsiders every day. This is not the experience I was promised.

At our Sessions (the American term avoids the confusion between YM as a group of Quakers and YM as a Quaker business meeting) we addressed the issue of racism among us, and this powerful ministry from my Friend, quoted in the Epistle, showed us where we are.

My ministry in the open worship before business was quoted at length in The Friend: ‘I know that black Friends’ experience of Yearly Meeting and Friends’ Meetings is different [from] mine, as a white Friend. I know that though I am committed to equality as a testimony that I see black Friends differently and treat them differently. This shames me. It is my intention to bring into consciousness all the ways that I do this, and to amend my life.’ The assistant clerk quoted it introducing another session.

The first part was summarised. I quoted QF&P 22.45 which appeared liberal in 1987, but has not aged well. “We recognise that many homosexual people play a full part in the life of the Society of Friends… We have found the word ‘marriage’ difficult… The acceptance of homosexuality distresses some Friends.” That is, we are committed to Equality, but we need to do the work to achieve it, including work on ourselves. It took twenty years after that to get to our affirmation of equal marriage.

I was heard twice. On Sunday 8th, I ministered the commandment of God: “Love one another. We come to worship to meet with God and be changed.” This was quoted in the Minute. My heart is gladdened. I know I say valuable things because my words are valued. Perhaps I have value.

Should I claim the gift of prophecy? I have been thanked for my ministry, though some Americans would object to that, saying it is the ministry of Spirit through me. “The water sometimes tastes of the pipes,” said an American Friend. No; as a bassoon plays different music to a trumpet, so ministry is richer coming from Friends. Actually, I am moved to say what I have heard repeatedly from Black Friends, whose dignity among us whites is my example.

A Friend referred to a racist cab driver. I wondered if there was a difference between a racist wanting people to “go home”, and someone asking “Where are you from?” Often people add “No, where are you really from?” making it completely clear they think a Black person is a foreigner, an incomer, to be treated differently; but even without the addition it is treating someone differently because of skin colour, or perhaps accent. After 26 years in England I am no longer to be treated as an outsider from Scotland, and how much less for people born in England?

We should be aware of these things. Once they are pointed out there is no excuse. We treat people differently because of their skin colour, less well because their skin is darker, better because their skin is lighter, and this is not acceptable. It may seem worse if intentional, but negligence can constitute a crime. Experiencing others’ prejudice, I know that of those who imagine they are accepting can be as painful as that of those who are frankly intolerant.

We also addressed welcoming gender diverse Friends. I did not attend that session. I do not have the dignity of my Black Friends, or perhaps a clear view of the wrongfulness of some treatment gender diverse Friends receive. I am still developing self-acceptance- see above. The Epistle said, “Providing support can lead to greater self-acceptance, enabling Friends to flourish and contribute. Belonging is being accepted as one’s true self. Who are we to resist what God has created and continues to create in all their glory?”

The Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity Community led a session in which three trans Friends talked of their lives. They talked of coming out, self-acceptance and getting on with their normal lives. It was a beautiful, optimistic session. My inner critic, always on the hunt for new ways to beat myself up, said to me, “Well, they manage it.” My inner critic, which cannot accept that I might have any difficulty with anything, is part of my problem.

Sessions lasted ninety minutes rather than three hours. I found them tiring, unlike the longer sessions in person, but this is not long enough to discern complex topics. What we had instead was a moral challenge- do we welcome diverse Friends? Do we commit to living sustainably? Increasingly I feel the concept of a “personal carbon footprint” is pernicious. Friends beat themselves up over not doing more, yet there is always more one can do. Meeting God we are changed, and we live our lives better. I see the changes in my own life. Beating ourselves up does no good. Find joy in what you are given to do.

When Zoom brings all the raised hands to the top of screen one, it is harder to ignore people than if they stand in the large meeting house. Meeting in person I have stood and not been called and on balance been glad of it.

I hope we can meet in person next year. I feel with testing it should be possible, yet I would be sorry if Friends caught covid from our worship.

Worshipping with Americans, who sing, quote scripture, and exhort in ministry, I feel British ministry can be too rational/analytical. Often it seems like an argument. There may be a story to point a moral as if we could not just hear and accept a moral truth, speaking directly from heart to heart. One Friend, speaking in a way Quakers might have found rebarbative- not using the right words, or the right tone of voice- spoke of “snobbery”. That’s not quite the same as class privilege and internalised feelings of class inferiority, but close enough. Perhaps he was prophetic. More people than Quakers have spiritual experiences, and we would benefit from a wider demographic. And, when we enter the Stillness, we are so vulnerable!

There were lots of small groups to discuss matters of concern to Friends. There were also spaces for unstructured conversation, bumping into people, meeting new people. I have seen my Friends. I have seen the beauty of the Society I am part of. I am glad of it.

I was glad the Book of Discipline Revision Committee led a session for art work. I give you my connections wheel. You might draw the lines differently, or choose different words.

Quakers and gender diversity

Can we as [Britain] Yearly Meeting acknowledge and welcome gender diverse people who are or would like to be among us? Can I as a trans woman contribute to our discernment?

I mourn the loss to the Society, and to my nonbinary Friend, who felt forced out of their meeting. I have met a gender critical feminist who also felt forced out of her meeting.

Do you know what “gender critical” means? It is like the few Friends who have a detailed knowledge of the political statements of Hamas, and the treaty obligations relating to Area C, when I mean well but have no real clue about Palestine and Israel: generally Friends do not form sides, but in these issues we come close. Many Friends will not have heard of Helen Joyce or Laurel Hubbard, or know why each is a hero and a villain to different sides. I might think of platypuses, giggle, and then need ten minutes to explain why.

We are constantly triggered. I can barely look at The Times. I read in the New Statesman that gender critical feminism is now respectable, and Cancellation will not work any more. So before meeting with Friends I write a letter, then find Friends sympathetic yet uncomprehending.

Facts matter. The last Labour government constructed a scheme whereby trans people would be treated as our true gender from the moment of deciding to transition, with trans women using what the Equality Act refers to as “single-sex” services for women, when there were only a few thousand trans people who were all expected to fit gender stereotypes. Now there are ten times the number, and the concept of “living as a woman” is known to be indefinable.

Trans women can be excluded from women’s services if it is “a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”, and the courts are yet to flesh out what that means.

So both sides can have their cognitive bias of loss aversion activated. I know I am generally entitled to be in women’s spaces, and am triggered when Liz Truss deploys the magic words “single-sex” now redefined to mean excluding me. Others fear a flood of people looking like men in women’s spaces. Misinformation makes it worse: you can read online that only trans women with a gender recognition certificate, after a psychiatric diagnosis, are conditionally entitled to be in women’s spaces.

How can those on a Side hear and value each other when there is this Hell-spawned zero-sum game? For either I am allowed in, or excluded. One’s win is another’s loss.

Some Friends believe that preventing children from having puberty blockers, and 18 year olds from having cross-sex hormones, is protecting those children and young people. I disagree. I know that people of any age beginning to express ourselves in our true gender are intensely vulnerable, often suffering rejection and fearing it everywhere.

I know that Friends, gender critical feminists, have experienced the oppression of patriarchy including male sexual violence, even within our Society. I know that they are entitled that Friends do what we can to reduce that oppression. I do not believe that excluding me from spaces I have been in as of right and often welcomed for years will reduce that oppression.

It seems to me that Friends who are gender critical feminists are particularly distant from feminine gender stereotypes, and have a great deal in common with nonbinary people who were assigned female at birth. To a great extent their aims to subvert gendered expectations are the same, and their conflict is merely over language. But gender critical feminists have told me all women are oppressed by feminine stereotypes equally. Some gender critical Friends have applied the words “gender diverse” to themselves, however uncomfortably.

Welcome means individual meetings welcoming particular individuals, knowing and affirming the whole person. Yet one meeting’s minute can offend Friends in other meetings, who then feel less welcome.

I know that expressing myself as a woman is living my truth, and that living my truth helps others do the same. I know trans men are men, trans women are women, nonbinary people are valid, and that my being trans is as real and worthy of affirmation as anything else that is biological. I know all aspects of being human are subsumed under socially constructed meaning and culture.

I have enough experience of speaking from my Inner Light to believe I can do it all the time, and develop theory around what that means, what helps, and what hinders. I know this means casting aside the stereotypes through which I habitually interpret the World, and seeing people individually. I quail from the overwhelming amount of new information intake that would mean. And sometimes God in me sees God in the other, and I feel joy.

In worship, I feel turmoil. Jesus said,

I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

And,

How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.