Extinction Rebellion V

I start my day protesting with something beautiful. Today, I find a piano on the road south of Nelson’s Column, and play Einaudi.

I am so relaxed after this I ask someone to take a picture of me at the piano, for the blog. But this is not a holiday or festival: she says there is a need for people to be sitting in the road, to avoid police getting traffic going. I go over to see if I can do anything. Continue reading

Celebrating transition

The Church of England says trans people should be welcomed and affirmed in church, and proposes a ritual to celebrate transition. They have just written guidance for such worship rituals. A friend held a party for me, some celebration is necessary, and I am glad that the church welcomes trans people, but am not sure I would want a church service. It involves laying on of hands, and prayer for the person, and the last time an Anglican priest did that it was to cure me of cross-dressing.

I have to imagine myself as I was, to see how someone might value such a service. A priest celebrates and leads, and says particular words and prayers for individuals or for everyone. A priest performs a ritual, and through that ritual the congregation achieve communion with God, individually and together. Now, I dislike the idea, which puts too much on the priest and reduces the congregation to his/her followers. We meet each other, we are equal, we meet God together or not at all.

It’s bad enough for weekly worship, worse for a specific service welcoming trans people. The church authorities takes a right to welcome me? Rather they should apologise. I was betrayed. I did accept that leadership, the priest able to celebrate, even to preach to us on the good life, and he rejected me.

“For a trans person to be addressed liturgically by the minister for the first time by their chosen name may be a powerful moment in the service.” I choose my own name. I do not need it to be recognised. It is not a boon he grants me, to call me by my name, but my right.

For those who have been able to stay within the church, I can see that it could be of value. Clergy can make up their own services from bits of prayers, it seems: the service could include bits of the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith, where someone renews baptismal vows. Those services are here. The press release says that it provides space for those who have undergone a major transition to re-dedicate their life to Jesus Christ. But that is not the point: it should be a celebration of the person and the decision, not more promises. It should be affirmation of the person as one of the congregation, and delight in their calling by God to transition. Transition is a step on the way of following Christ, and that needs recognised.

I don’t want to rededicate my life; I want people to see transition as fruit and proof of my dedication.

Priests who are trans were involved in creating the guidance, and they have consulted with other trans people. For someone in the Church of England, I can see it might be affirming. The media centre made a mistake: their press release has a link to the pastoral guidance, but that link does not work.

The press release was covered widely, even by the Business Times of Singapore and the Daily Monitor of Uganda, which republished the Associated Press rewording of the press release. The Open Church network, which promotes “radical acceptance and inclusion” of trans people, approved. Christian Today sought a quote from some mouthy transphobe, who said the church is denying God, but then she would say that.

Weird London

It is always lovely to go into London. With time to kill, I wandered down south of Euston Road towards the British Museum. First to St Pancras Church, which has two huge sculptures temporarily displayed in the narrow patch of grass between the church and the pavement. One appears to be two men wrestling, with Rodinesque muscly bodies, until you see they share the same head. Inside, the church was dim, like a hall, but has two organs, one against the West wall and one, moveable, near the Sanctuary. There is a notice, do not touch the organ without express permission. In a chapel in the north-east corner, there was a Madonna icon in which the child was off to her left, and low down, and tiny, and seemed odd, but it was the only thing in the church I found beautiful. Some men passed through the chapel, glancing briefly at me. In the nave, a man stood, then ran suddenly a few yards west, then stood again, then ran back. He was still there as I left.

South through the University. I wandered into The English Chapel. It was built by the Catholic Apostolic Church in the neo-Gothic style in 1851-4. I like fan vaulting, but find it pointless- church architecture should have moved on by then. They believed Christ had appointed twelve further apostles, and were a worshipping group until around 1905, when they did not appoint a successor apostle. So now it is a trust owning property, and part of the church, the West chapel, is let out to Forward in Faith for daily services. There are no pews. A man knelt near the west-facing altar. The priest came in from his office and spoke to me, though I said I was half-touristing, half-praying: using the beauty as an aid to contemplation. The stained glass windows, replaced after being destroyed in the Blitz, are lovely. He explained that around the stalls carved into the walls are the heads of English monarchs. One wears a wimple. They were out of fashion when Mary became Queen, and I asked him who she was. Matilda, possibly? He did not know. I spent some time contemplating the carvings, then walked on.

At Friends House I met someone about Outreach, then had lunch downstairs, where I recognised several people. Should I say hello? Someone I know, to my shame, only as “X’s partner” said hello, so I joined her. She has been researching in the Friends House library, and came across a 19th century classification of beauty in three classes: active sublime, passive sublime and “sprightly”. “Your necklace would be ‘sprightly’,” she told me. Well, it is irregular blobs of blue/green glass, so yes. A certain kind of tree is “active sublime”, a certain kind of owl “passive sublime”. Possibly “active” in the kinds of feelings aroused in the beholder. I don’t want to know the classification, it would just be another way I judged myself- I must spend more time with Active Sublime, even if I preferred Sprightly.

A paid worker was kindly eating with a volunteer.

A man talked at me for half an hour about something which stressed him, which was not really why I had wanted to see him, though I had wanted to get to know him a bit. Because I was trying to get a word in, I was much blunter than I would otherwise have been: “Why did I not get an interview for that job?” He gave what would have been an off-the-peg defence to a discrimination claim- because I did not fit a particular essential criterion. Because of discrimination, the selection has to be completely objective and it was, he told me. But, I was not making a claim, just asking.

Signs on the railings said “Please do not smoke in this area or sit on these steps.” Guess what someone was doing. And I saw this sign, which looks official but is a stencil, a graffito stating hope not reality. Those metal gates did not look welcoming. The area is beautiful, but not welcoming.

Bullying in Schools

The Church of England supports homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying in schools shock! It would not admit that-

The church has just published “Valuing All God’s Children”, which says some lovely things. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, said in the introduction, Every one of us is loved unconditionally by God. We must avoid, at all costs, diminishing the dignity of any individual to a stereotype or a problem. Church of England schools offer a community where everyone is a person known and loved by God, supported to know their intrinsic value. In the context, that means trans kids are accepted for who they are. The guidance, according to their press release, aims to prevent pupils from having their self-worth diminished or their ability to achieve impeded by being bullied because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity.

However, they quote Stonewall’s research: 9% of trans pupils receive death threats at school. 46% of pupils hear transphobic language “frequently or often”. 84% of trans pupils have self-harmed, 45% have attempted suicide, and 68% of LGBT pupils report that school staff only “sometimes”, or never, challenge HBT language when they hear it.

In the early years context and throughout primary school, play should be a hallmark of creative exploration. Pupils need to be able to play with the many cloaks of identity (sometimes quite literally with the dressing up box). Children should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision. For example, a child may choose the tutu, princess’s tiara and heels and/or the firefighter’s helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment. Childhood has a sacred space for creative self-imagining.

Um. Not every child with gender diverse play is trans. The guidance is not clear on this. That should be general guidance, not guidance on HBT bullying. The language teachers use when they comment, praise or give instructions [should] avoid labels and assumptions
which deem children’s behaviour irregular, abnormal or problematic just because it does not conform to gender stereotypes or today’s play preferences. In our highly gendered society, everyone needs that protection, not just trans kids.

Tutus and tool belts, a memorable example, was picked out by the New York Times for its headline covering the matter. I hardly think the NYT would cover any other guidance by the Church of England to its schools, but trans stories, with the frisson of weirdness, get coverage.

The Daily Mail rushed to a transphobic nutcase, or “conservative Evangelical”. What would she say? These rules are unkind, unloving and lacking in compassion. We are all against bullying, but the church is using these guidelines to pursue an agenda that runs counter to the church’s teaching. We are getting to the point where if you are not careful, the slightest slip from the correct agenda in a Church of England school will get you punished. The anti-bullying agenda is aimed against people who step out of line — the anti-bullies are becoming the bullies. That is, she wants to stand up for children and adults who would enforce restrictive gender norms, and deny we are “made in the image of God”, even by mockery, taunts and bullying. She gets reported in the Daily Mail and NYT.

Grassroots Christians, including teachers and school staff, have HBT views on Christian Doctrine, and are self-righteous about that, banding together to protect their right to bigotry. The Church’s report confirms that when it reports those statistics on bullying, teacher non-intervention, and self-harm. Possibly the Mail is looking for the controversy, in an attempt to make the story interest its readers, but it dredged up another homophobic windbag who said she and others long for clear and courageous biblical leadership, that is, they want bishops and press-releases to be as openly homophobic as they are. That bigot was recently on the Archbishop’s Council- the bigotry is at the top and throughout the church.

It is important that the church hierarchy says nice things, though perhaps they only do so to continue to get funding from the State. They could do more, but have not: We have not offered lesson plans or materials for physical, social, health and economic education (PSHE) or relationships and sex education (RSE), but the appendices do provide practical examples and templates for schools to use as they instigate anti-bullying policies and strategies.

Meanwhile, little girls are discouraged from playing with superhero capes, in case they are thought to be unfeminine. It’s insane.

The report pdf.

St Mary the Virgin, Burton Latimer

The church has a “Church Open” sign as I cycle past, so I pop in, and find the 13th century wall paintings. There was a cult of St Catherine here then.

Catherine challenged the pagan emperor Maxentius for his persecution of Christians. He brought the best philosophers to argue with her, but she refuted them all. He proposed marriage, but she declared herself espoused to Christ. Then he killed her. Angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where her hair still grew and healing oil flowed from her body.

These pictures were covered in layers of limewash. It is amazing they have survived. They were restored in the 1970s. There has been a church here since the middle ages.

I have light conversation- mostly things we can agree on- with the woman who staffs the church on Sunday afternoons when it is open. We don’t know much about church architecture, but we know those arches further from the altar are Romanesque, those Gothic. We tend to like the altar brought forward West of the choir, so that the priest celebrates facing the congregation. She likes the 1662 rite, loving the richness and familiarity of the language she grew up with. You don’t have to try to understand what the prayer is saying, just dwell on aspects of it.

The Twelve Tribes of Israel date from 1600. I am surprised that the church would be so high as to have that decoration then. This was such a wealthy area, with so much to spend adorning its churches.

There is a tiny face in the bottom corner of one of the St Catherine paintings. Is it later? It is in Mediaeval form, but very clear.

Are you normal?

I went to the local church today. I was warmly welcomed. A woman invited me to have coffee with the congregation after, introduced me to others, and I was still chatting forty minutes later. She is a lovely person. She told me how much she loved the church, how she started going there, the social events it has, and I told her a little of my church journey. I could enjoy going there. It is a community, and I could be part of that community.

The hall has an internal door from the church, and we sat at a table. A couple and a single woman joined us, and my first host introduced them. She interrupted our conversation for brief chats about church business, and I turned to A., sitting on my right.

What can I say about A? I have seen her on the road to the town. Once I was pushing my bicycle, and we chatted a little about cycling locally. I have said “hello” to her since. Now, she seemed to be looked after by the others. How has her week been? they ask, solicitously. “You were going to see a friend.” A, talking to me, seems not nervous but watchful. How is it to be with a crowd of strangers, she asks me. Oh, lovely, I say. New people! I am Extrovert! She speaks simply and slowly, and it seems possible to me she has reclusive, possibly depressive, tendencies like I have.

The new baby- just a week old!- is brought over. We look delightedly at her, and the mother offers her to A to hold. A is nervous of this, but is persuaded. People take photographs- A must be smiling at the camera. Oh, you moved your head again. Possibly, looking down lovingly at the baby would do. The third picture satisfies my hostess- third time lucky, she says.

My hostess feels the need to explain A to me. She leans over, drops her voice in a confiding way, and says, “A’s twin died last year.” Oh. There is nothing to say to that. I don’t ask if the twins were monozygotic, or whether it was a month or a year ago. I could be insulted for A, or for myself. My hostess feels A is a person for whom we must make allowances. Do you think I did not see something about A that would result in my being confused or offended by her manner? Did you sense any discomfort in me, talking to her, or project your own?

I would hate to be explained in that way. “She’s trans, you know.” I was going to write it might be just about bearable if the person who was explaining me was rebuking the person being explained to- ‘How could you say such a crass, offensive thing? Can’t you see she’s trans?’ But even then it is patronising. Don’t say offensive things to anyone. Don’t protect me from knowing how offensive some people are, defend me against their offensiveness.

And yet I can see that my hostess is a lovely person. Absolutely she means well.


Love and Ritual

“Saxon Church” said the sign, so I asked if we could have a look. It has round, Roman, arches, which is unusual, but a pointy, Gothic, one between the nave and the sanctuary- this one architectural factoid does not take me far. I studied the many long, narrow stones making up the arch.

On entering, I noted a stoup marked “Holy water” so crossed myself. In nomini Patris et Filii et Spiritu Sancti. Liz would not do that. Up the nave to the Sanctuary, past the Victorian stained glass, “To the Glory of God”- of course- “and in loving memory of”- 1888. Jesus, in gorgeous robes fit for the most prosperous Bishop, looks with love at three different people whose lives are changed instantly. I note there is the usual altar/ communion table at the end of the nave, then steps up and an altar rail shielding a further altar. I go down the steps to the south chapel.

“I saw there was no light over the Aumbry.” These words mean nothing to her. I explained: the bread and wine are consecrated, and may be kept for later use, in a wee cupboard, but normally there is a lamp burning constantly above it, to stop the holiness, er, evaporating off. This don’t impress her much. I did not say that the light also indicates whether one should bow or genuflect when passing the altar. The lock protects the silver chalice, but the precious thing inside is the wafer itself.

Going out, I read the card under the stoup: when we cross ourselves with holy water, it explained, we remember our baptism and renew our baptismal vows. I would not go that far; but if I went a bit Buddhist with my Quaker friend and said the unusual sensation of the cold water on my forehead might put me into that sensitive sensory state we call mindfulness, that might mean more.

I have another job interview. She will hold me in the Light. When is it, exactly? Another Friend had been irked to get the wrong day; she had been Holding me a day early, so I rushed to assure her it is not time-limited. My Friends love me. This upholds me. I tried telepathy as a teenager- what, you did too? Powerless leads to desperate measures- and do not expect a sudden rush of a feeling of worth as I shake hands. The feeling of worth might also come from the new suit, from Planet- well, new to me, anyway.

The water is a symbol the love and care of the vicar for the church and all who enter it. Crossing myself, I acknowledge and partake in that love. I accept its welcome, and we come together though we do not meet. It is a deep stoup with a lot of water, so won’t evaporate away if unfilled for a day. I have seen tiny Catholic stoups dry, because they need refilled constantly.

John Paul II had to make a ruling- if you see him blessing a crowd on the telly as it happens, he said, it’s effectual, and he has blessed you. But not if you record it on video, and get it out for a blessing when you feel the need.

Rossetti, Lady Lilith

The Anglican Communion splits

Christians who hate gay people make their hatred of gay people the most important doctrine of Christianity. The Global Anglican Future Conference includes Anglicans who ordain women, and those who refuse; it is united over its condemnation and rejection of all Christians who accept gay people. The Archbishop of Kenya here boasts that the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan, while calling for “peace, unity and love” after the Sudan civil war have broken their ties with the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA) because it celebrates equal marriage.

GAF CON claims that the meeting of primates of the Anglican communion this month will be decisive for the future of the communion. At stake is a basic church-defining principle, it thunders. Will Christ rule our life and witness through His word, or will our life and witness be conformed to the global ambitions of a secular culture?

Rule one: No Pooftahs!

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, has called a meeting of Anglican primates for 11-16 January 2016, imagining that it might discuss climate change as well as “human sexuality”. The “Archbishop” of the secessionist “Anglican Church of North America” will be invited to be present for part of the time.

I date the Church of England from the reign of Elizabeth, rather than Henry or Edward, for it was her policy not to make “windows in men’s souls” and to create a church for the whole country, with a wide range of doctrine. Here Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics made uneasy bedfellows, but were able to worship together and recognise each other’s ministry. Suddenly, disagreement over homosexuality breaks our fellowship. It is not a matter about respect for the Bible: Evangelical Christians, accepting the primacy of the Bible as our way of knowing God’s word, accept gay people. It is merely a matter of hating gays, rejecting the story of David and Jonathan, and twisting a very few Bible verses to condemn us.

I value the links of churches across the Commonwealth, but the Church of England must not surrender to the blackmail of homophobes, but do the right thing, and celebrate equal marriages, if it is not to become irrelevant in England itself, shamed as moral imbeciles rejecting a moral truth the rest of the population recognises.

The three countries where the Head of State is also the head of the state religion are the Vatican, Iran and the UK. It is time to free the Church from Establishment, so that it may do the work of Christ rather than the work of the Government.

Raphael, the Holy Family with a palm tree


At Greenbelt, I met an angel. That is the only way I have to describe her.

She is ordained as an Anglican priest, and is without a parish, working as a prison chaplain. She is a channel for the love of God to the men in her care. We agreed how there is spiritual reality, but the words we use to describe it often just get in the way: the church quarrels and faffs about the precise words used, but the things described circle but do not touch the spiritual reality beyond. So we shed our illusions, and see reality for ourselves, and might be able to share our experience with others who have had them too; but it is so difficult with those yet to have them.

The other prison chaplain gives clear guidance, which a man who has suffered a chaotic lifestyle may value. One of their parishioners became a Born-Again Christian, clear that the Bible might be known and give a clear understanding of God’s will for human living. One of the easiest ways of reaching a state of mindfulness or presence is to be submerged in beauty- Heaven in a wild flower, as Blake saw. However there is little immediately recognisable beauty in a prison. You may see beauty in a rusting table-leg, but it helps to see it in a tree first.

She gave him a copy of Brian Cox’s book Wonders of the Universe. Then she saw him again, and he had got it: he had seen the beauty in that book. Writing, now, I am aware that my words give a facile, misleading account of the experience. She was sharing with me one of her delights, one of her successes, in a job where she must have great dollops of yuck; slow progress or apparent sterile stasis for damaged men. I believe this man has a more complex understanding of how reality is, beyond the certainties of the conservative Evangelical. I have the advantage of having looked into her face as she told of it.

I felt her love as she told me, and showed my love to her. We hugged. Before, I had given her Advices and Queries, and declaimed from it.

I was outside the tent around 11.30 when a thick cloud, moving fast across the sky, which had been between us and the moon suddenly wasn’t, leaving a patch of clearness. It was as if the light had suddenly been switched on. I saw Terry clearly, and his clear shadow.

Luca Giordano, Youth tempted by the Vices

The bishop

Bishops seem to like to talk to me. As is my duty, I am walking back to the field, quite exhausted, wishing I was a simpler life-form in a simpler world- though nothing has it easy. I want to mitigate my misery. It is not exactly a state of Presence I desire: I want, rather, to be Open to the beauty around me and forget my feelings. Block them out.

At the point where you see the water stretching far ahead, I catch the eye of the bishop. I might have looked needy, or interesting- I don’t know why we stopped. I note his purple shirt. “You’re a bishop,” I say, and he admits it.

I tell him I loved his stall. Just before we opened, I had a shoulder and hand massage there. All weekend, he has not been able to have a shoulder massage: always, when he has wanted one, someone else has come to the stall. I thought he should have pulled rank.

I’m with the Quakers. I crack my Gilbert and Sullivan joke: Bow, Bow, to the Area Meeting Clerk. He does not like people showing undue respect. There is very little ring-kissing, thank God, but some people seem to like bowing and scraping to The Bishop. I suppose they are associating with The Bishop, and to make themselves more important in this they must big him up. He does not like hierarchy.

Particularly he hates the order of precedence. Debrett’s would tell you that, I think. He thinks some people are sad enough to be able to tell you.

Bishops process into church in a particular order. First come the foreign bishops: so according to the order of precedence, they are all more junior than the most junior English bishop. The Archbishop of Cape Town processes in before the most junior Suffragan- which may, at one time, have been John Holbrook. Then after the most senior Suffragan comes the most junior diocesan bishop: so a man who has been Suffragan for ten years might be followed by the man who got the job he wanted, heaping burning coals upon his head.

He does not know why the Bishop brings up the rear in the procession. I think it has something to do with ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ This cheers him slightly.

I have had some wonderful conversations on the stall. I met a woman of 23 who had in the past idolised her pastor, but now was questioning: she judged the pastor, and judged for herself. I thought that meant she was meeting her development milestones. John Holbrook thought she might be a little backward- though I was not at that mature stage aged 23. I wanted a guide, not equality.

I loved this encounter with him. I am so glad that we were open to stopping. Greenbelt has opened me, opened us.

Luca Giordano, Diana and Endymion