Know yourself

Would you ever hit someone?

No, you say, with complete certainty of your rectitude. Never. Or, at least not unless hitting someone was the only thing to do, the righteous, even heroic- defence of another when no other defence was possible. It does not matter that you don’t really know yourself, and you have no basis for the statement other than it is how people in a civilised country ought to be. You believe in yourself. You have faith, and your faith is reckoned to you as righteousness.

I don’t. Did I lock the door behind me? Of course I did, it is the thing I always do, but I have no specific conscious memory of it so I have to go back to check. What if I forgot? It does not help that I left my electric blanket on while in Portugal. I thought I had, and wondered if the flat would be burned out when I got back. It was not. I have self-doubt. I do not claim any good qualities. I only know I would not hit someone because I have been in these situations and not hit someone, not out of strength or self-restraint but out of confusion: the rules aren’t working, and I don’t know what to do. Or so I would tell you. I have no trust in myself, or of others’ good will towards me.

So I feel threatened and paralysed.

I want time to create self-respect and understanding. “I would not hit someone,” I say, with sufficient certainty of not committing a criminal act, because I have worked it out.

I have stubbornness and stickability. I got that doctor sacked. But this is a finite resource, perhaps- I tried with the other one, then gave up.

Could I really just go out and trust? I am a good person. Right now I want my quiet life because I cannot imagine a better, and I have a great deal of understanding and creativity.

As I have exercised that understanding and creativity, imagining a better involves stepping outside of me.

Twenty years ago I had a client who could not spell “bags”. He wrote “bages”. With a soft g, I think of him as the bages man. He could not do something so would not try, and I despised him. He frustrated me. And now I think,

It will not work⇒I will not try.

Or, things are percolating inside me, and great things will come. Or, my stubbornness motivation and drive are draining away. How could I know, without evidence from what I actually do?

If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve nothing to fear.

I would like to be admired.

“Where is the failure?” she asks. That flummoxes me. It throws me back to the centre of the problem, the equation with two many variables. There is none. Or, it is mine, from birth, society’s, from the creation of the World.

If the failure is mine, I do not know it.
I do my best…

Lighten our darkness

File:Thomas Cranmer by Gerlach Flicke.jpg“The iron entered into his soul” is more evocative because it is perfectly ambiguous: the sword pierced his soul, and he steeled himself. It is Psalm 105:18, in the Book of Common Prayer. Yet it is a mistranslation: the NIV says “His neck was put in irons”, even the King James version says “he was laid in iron”. I find similar ambiguity in “Lord now lettest-thou thy servant depart in peace”: at least to my 21st century ear it is both Indicative “you let”, and Imperative, “Let me!” Let, as in “let or hindrance” means impediment, still the first definition in Oxford even though described as “archaic”.

“Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord, and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of thy only Son our saviour Jesus Christ.” I love this for the trust and fear. The Darkness is dangerous, yet we are protected. The eight Horae Canonicae of the monasteries were distilled into Matins and Evensong, a prayer for the people to participate in together. The Latin was familiar: the mockery “hocus pocus” for “hoc est corpus meum” missed the mark as people hearing it weekly would come to understand, and come to Worship through familiar words- yet letting us worship in our own tongue brought us closer to God. Any cultured European should know the Latin mass, for a greater appreciation of our music, but we should talk to God as we talk to each other.

The language is so wonderful that we still talk to each other as we talked to God. “Moveable feast”, “in the midst of life we are in death”, “peace in our time”. It is simple and direct. Cranmer was a great poet. God to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy Holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. I don’t say those words, any more, and recounting them now for you brings me back to the moment of settling into the hour of worship, like a great relaxing out-breath. They are more evocative for me than the first notes of the Emperor Concerto: I heard them weekly, before I could speak.

It is such a long, melancholy withdrawing roar. The idea that faith is a humanist rather than simply religious virtue has shaken me. It feels like the place where ignorant armies clash by night: all the terror of the darkness without that consolation. Though there are Quakers who call “mercy pity peace and love” human virtues in our material, evolved being, and even the Collective Unconscious need only be a symptom of how we are one species, with our brains all wired in so similar ways. The Consolation has to come from Reality, not from groundless hope, and my religious community retains its value: and my Spirituality retains its value.


I wrote that, and now (three days later) it seems that I lost trust in my moorings- in my religion and world view- quoting Dover Beach, forsooth- and I came to add to it, something like- Now, three days later, I regain equanimity. I know Faith, Hope and Love have value, and I will add, just for me, Reverence for What Is.

When I wrote “My Spirituality retains its value” I was whistling in the dark. But just now, three days later, faith, hope, love and reverence are enough for me, without (at this precise moment) needing a relationship with God the Father. Relationship with The All is enough.

Faith in meeting

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Avenue_bij_ArlesAt its best, the Quaker business method enables human beings to set aside our egos and desires for the good of all, and to choose that Good. Sometimes it is dialectic: from thesis and antithesis comes synthesis, something better, revealed in the Meeting. I feel this is so difficult that it needs religious belief: while Respect for Reality, and Trust, might get us there, Reverence for God, and Faith, help me to set aside my ego.

And I have repeatedly seen it go wrong, traumatising people. In one group we could feel community until we tried to accomplish tasks together. I came back from Thailand, where I had my vaginaplasty, and M emailed the group- “Ah, Clare. Welcome back- what’s left of you.” I have not forgiven him. I do not want to see him, and I wish him ill. And a group of people whom I had thought mostly decent cannot bear the presence of my friend, and exclude her despite the efforts of many “weighty” Quakers, over years, to reconcile them.

What am I to say of R leaving in September? He thought the Society he had sojourned with for decades was turning away from Christianity to such an extent that he no longer felt comfortable with us. Or, as it seemed to me, he did not trust (have faith in) our business method, so that he had to control our meetings. He misunderstood so much I call him delusional and when others blocked him, he walked out. The trouble is that I don’t have that faith either: rather than humans emptying ourselves of Self for the good of Community together, I see egos tiptoeing round each other to minimise confrontation.

But some decisions seem to evince a conservative clinging to the familiar.

Oh, faith. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen? Not for me, taking the step forward which must be taken now, though I have no certainty of the end I seek. Part of why I am unemployed is that I have little faith in myself or in my apparently atomised society.

Yet it can work. As the clerk, my role in recording the decision gives me power to influence it, and the duty to take that decision from the words of Friends present, with at least acquiescence. I thought I should not influence, just be a clear glass through which the decision of Friends is seen, then I realised how much I wanted particular decisions. I see the uncertainty and fear and Will to Good of my fallible Friends, and have faith that it will be alright- until it isn’t.

Be not too curious of Good and Evil;
Seek not to count the future waves of Time;
But be ye satisfied that you have light
Enough to take your step and find your foothold.

Charles Carter finds a strong, sure faith an overrated virtue. Given the complexities of life, it is a comfort blanket, not a valid protection in the time of trial.

The faith of an atheist

Vincent_van_Gogh_-_Avenue_bij_ArlesThe problem with the term “faith communities” meaning religious groups is that it implies that secular humanitarian groups like CND or Save the Children are faithless. Faith is not limited to the religious.

And disdain for faith, an anti-theist contempt conflating it with asserting unprovable things like the Flood or creation in six days, is new too, for our language is full of faith: “In good faith”; “a leap of faith”. That faith is something between irrational wishful thinking and something I know definitely from my personal experience. I do not know that everything will be alright, but have faith in myself, my world and other human beings. Faith is different from belief, but closer to “believe in” than “believe that”. I believe when I have proof, but I have faith when I trust.

This faith is practised and tested. I imagine how people will react, from my past experience, and new reactions form part of the evidence for the future. It is separate from dogma, because it is my understanding which I develop, partly from what others tell me, partly from my experience. The humanist might even use the word “God” to mean the traditional attributes of God: because human Love can be an overwhelming force. So God moves from literalism to symbolism and metaphor: mercy pity peace and love in action, the promptings of love and truth in our hearts which can come from an evolved human impulse as a social animal, rather than a personal God who numbers every hair on my head and prompts me and others to act well. God is a symbol of those values, not a supernatural entity which moves us unworthy souls to Good.

I have faith that my constructive actions will bear fruit, and the human society I rely upon will act well. This is belief in things unseen.

This is heavily reliant on David Boulton, whom I have seen speaking at a Sea of Faith conference and a Quaker meeting. It comes from his talk at the Quaker Council for Christian and Interfaith Relations. It seems special pleading to me, an attempt to take religious concepts without religion. But Ian quoted Charles Carter on Sunday, and Sabina happened to have his book from 1971, “On having a sense of all conditions”, so I am reading that. Carter distinguished religious assumptions, things one cannot know, such that God who inspires ministry is the all-powerful creator of the universe, from what he knows from his experience, such as that God is a source of strength urging him towards the Good- which he also knows because those words resonate with the experience of others. Carter had, in world war two, experience of the power of evil.

From this he seeks sensitivity to the condition of each other human being, to reach out with consolation in their distress, and find friendship and consolation from them.

Will singing at the Quaker meeting round the piano- we do this until half an hour before meeting, as it is not what Quakers do, usually. We sang Fred Pratt Green:

God is here! As we his people
meet to offer praise and prayer
May we find in fuller measure
What it is in Christ we share
Here, as in the world around us
all our varied skills and arts
Wait the coming of his Spirit
into open minds and hearts.

We did not sing

Father hear the prayer we offer
Not for ease that prayer shall be
But for grace, that we may ever
live our lives courageously.

I hate that hymn. Just possibly, it is not arrogant and unthinking, in deep bourgeois security, but it feels that way to me. It has got to me in the past, and the suggestion that we sing it got to me this morning. I declaimed- something I wrote earlier-

Father hear the prayer I offer
Not for stress that prayer may be
But for ease, that we may ever
Live our lives contentedly

Best not smite the living waters
From the rocks along the way
Moses did, and Thou didst bar him the Promised Land that day

Not that always by still waters
would we idly rest, perhaps
I like theatres, pubs, and dances
Good clean water comes from taps.

Oh, we’re not singing that one, then, said Kingsley, and we sang something else.

I sat in the quiet of the meeting room, after, and that was not enough for me. I had to go out in the beautiful sunshine, thinking of this: that great outburst, that huge Will, my unstoppable No-
and I have a great Yes, within, too
it seems to me that I suppress it, because it frightens me, because it can only meet an immovable object. So much fear of a particular encounter which I put off for a week, and then- I asked, and she said, OK then. No problem.

As meeting is about to end, someone’s mobile phone goes off. Quel Horreur! So Embarrassing! He sits, oblivious and lordly as his wife scrabbles round to turn it off-

and we have the Silence, which has the space to accept this, as well as my revulsion against a possibly innocuous hymn.

As one of us comes into meeting each week she passes the huge photo of Peter Bone MP in his office, looking like the host at a party delighted to see you. It gives her a violent pain, as his views are repellent- How can the town of the True Levellers have a Tory MP? She turned into our garden, and saw me hugging that tree with a four yard circumference, and it made her feel suddenly peaceful.

We have the space for it. And- I have the space for it, too- I learned to suppress that in me, I think, in early childhood, and I may find more creative ways of welcoming it and using it for my Will is a terribly heavy burden if I have to block it all the time.

I played a little of the Maple Leaf Rag, and Peter encouraged me to play all of it. They liked it.

Justifications are unnecessary.
I express myself female because I am transsexual.
I want to practise Reiki because I can channel healing energy, or Qi.

Well. I want to practise Reiki because it is a wonderful placebo, and I have the showmanship to carry it off. If you can fake sincerity, you have got it made. I express myself female because I am a transvestite pervert who has lost all sense of proportion. Or something.

I am fairly sure that the theory of autogynephilia is trivial. Yes, we get turned on by the thought of us female. No, this does not cause us to transition: if it did, “gender dysphoria” could have no meaning.

Some think there is that causal link, though I think the cause is likely to be the other way round. What do I do with contrary evidence?
-Blot it out of consciousness, ignore it, deny it, pretend it is not there, collapse weeping thinking of it occasionally-

Acknowledge it. It exists. It will not make me change my actions. It does not affect my situation: few cissexual folk care. What matters is my reaction to it. Is it a threat? Only if I find it so.

I have felt my hands grow warm, and I have felt warmth seemingly communicated from another’s hands, without touching. Others have valued my attention. And I want that to be the reason why I perform healing: I want it to connect to the reality of the other person.

I spoke to a man who has given several types of Healing over thirty years, and said it seems it’s just placebo. He said, “Yes, that’s about the size of it”. That shocked me. I should have asked straight out, “How do you let yourself do it, if that is all it is?” He told me of spending time with Shiatsu practitioners, and how lovely that was.

What I want is a reason for doing this. My inner rationalist should sense my hands growing warm, sense heat or coolness as I pass my right hand over someone, and use inductive reasoning to connect that to a measurable positive result for the other. It does not work that way.

Relax. It is alright. What I have instead is that I want to do this, that I like to do it, and that other people seem to like it too. It is not this amazing mystic calling, which I cannot follow without perfect certainty that it is right; it is a thing I can do if I want to. And- placebo is a powerful effect.

Buddhist Christianity“God is three, and God is One.” What is that, but a Koan? Koans such as “the sound of one hand clapping” are impossible things, which one tries to understand then simply accepts. Accepting the impossible, realising it is even though it does not make sense, is an important part of spiritual maturity and wisdom. It is a pity that Christians, most damagingly Calvin, have tried to make sense of the Trinity and other doctrine, and it is our fault that Westerners have to turn to Eastern Wisdom where lived Christianity could have given some of the answers.

Religion helps one surrender the need for things to be other than they are, and I have been thinking of my progress in surrendering through the prism of the Christian concept of Faith and Works. James’ epistle mocks faith without works: “So you believe Jesus is the Christ? The devils in Hell believe that, and tremble.” Pelagius, the British heretic, believed one could earn Heaven.

I have a vague idea that Catholic and Reformed official views differ on this, but do not know how precisely. God gave God’s only son to be a sacrifice, to be Incarnated as a human being. We could not earn God’s mercy, so God gave it freely, asking for nothing, like the father of the Prodigal son.

I am terrified of what I imagine are other people’s demands on me, and I flee, and so I want my own salvation through my own Works: I will do Good, and will be OK. Not in the eyes of God, but those of Society. And it occurs to me that no-one has any demands of me. My landlord would like the rent paid, but apart from that I can think of none. I have just skived off CAB this week, and Les forgives me. He is not angry. The judgment on me, if any, is my own.

The demands on me, and the salvation I might gain through meeting them, are alike my own illusory creation.

So rather than saving myself through Works, I seek salvation through Faith. I believe and trust in the World, in Reality. Everything is OK. There is no demand I can meet, no Good I can be, that will make everything OK, that brings within my power and control the ability to Make it all right, and much of my effort towards that and certainly my worry (adding a cubit to my stature?) has been wasted, and yet so far, everything has been alright. I have not always been happy, or seen my way clear, but I have always been all right.

Christianity has the idea of God incarnate, God coming into being as a human, God’s complete empathy with any human suffering possible, God suffering with God’s suffering creation.

I have had faith in myself. Now, I will to have Faith.

Tolerating intolerance

Judge not, that ye be not judged…

“I suppose there are two views about everything,” said Mark.

“Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there’s never more than one.”

That Hideous Strength, CS Lewis.

A rather lovely comment from Mindy, here:

I disagree that love requires judgment. (And from everything I’ve experienced — both inner and outer — pointing out another’s sin, evangelizing, requires judgment.)

I can absolutely share my opinion with a beloved friend about what’s right for them, and doing so can be a very loving thing. But I do not believe that it is love to insist that they agree. For one thing, it’s entirely too possible that I am wrong about what’s right for them. For another, I am not their keeper. (My kid being somewhat an exception of course, heheh… altho a diminishing one as she gets older…)

To frame it in a Christian theological context: is not the idea of free will birthed from great love? Personally, I think the immensity of God is limited by binding that idea into a box of sorts that says “you humans must behave a certain way in order to be worthy of salvation. And, by the way, you are charged with telling each other about that certain way.”

I know there are scripture quotes that can be used to refute what I’m saying.

And I also know that I would much rather that those people who are righteously judging (judging me as a gay person, judging non-Christians, judging universalist Christians, etc.) would change their behavior… which means I am judging them. I get it. /sigh…

I am a firm believer that following the words of Jesus does me good, and that the evil consequences in the Bible are descriptive- just what happens- rather than prescriptive- God rubbing his hands and Punishing. What do I lose by judging?

I lose the fellowship, input and response from the homophobic Evangelical. Possibly I know what they would tell me, possibly they would not want to associate with me, possibly our approaching each other and “Not Judging” would be so artificial and hypocritical that the falseness of the situation would be unbearable- and the more I can hear another person, the better it is for me.

Is it enough, when Not Judging, to say, That is how the person is, and that is not a bad thing. Quite certain about his beliefs, but that does not harm me. Still doing his best under difficult circumstances, like human beings do. Or, should I surrender my belief- “he is quite certain about his beliefs”- in order to perceive better?

File:Byron Katie 2.jpg

In the Quaker meeting, I went to the bookshelves, where I do not normally look, and found Byron Katie’s Who would you be without your story? It contains her Judge your Neighbour worksheet:

1. Who angers, frustrates or confuses you, and why?
2. How do you want them to change? What do you want them to do?
3. What is it that they should or shouldn’t do, be, think or feel? What advice could you offer?
4. What do they need to do in order for you to be happy?
5. What do you think of them? Make a list.
6. What is it that you don’t want to experience with that person again?

Judge your neighbour, write it down, ask four questions, turn it around.

The four questions are,

1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
Turn it around. Find three genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.

T drove me home after the Quaker meeting, and asked me what I thought of “faith is believing in impossible things.” That could be bad, or it could be good. It could be fitting in with a social group defined by its demonstrably false beliefs- gay people are damned, or whatever- or it could be stretching my own false beliefs of which I have convinced myself, in order to see reality more clearly. Faith in something better allows me to question my limiting belief.

In associating with Evangelicals, not all of whom believe that gay people are damned, it might be harder for me to cope with their belief in the basic depravity of humanity, or their terrible need that others Must believe the same as they do. Oops. Judging again. Even if a person does believe these things, how could it possibly hurt me?

Faith can move mountains

What on Earth was Jesus on about? Was it just another way in which he was so much above us normal people, by faith making the blind see and the lame walk and the dead rise? Should I seek to construct in myself a belief that this mountain, or mole hill, is somewhere else, and, when I see it is not so, just account myself one of little faith, unable even to curse a fig tree?

Sometimes, I cannot know that I can achieve what I want to achieve, but I can see the first step I must take towards that goal. And so I take that step, even though I do not see the path ahead, and possibly it will not achieve that goal. So I have faith to take that step. Whereupon, I may see that another step is possible. Or, as my role model said, at one time she did not know that she wanted to spend the rest of her life expressing herself as female, but she did know that she wanted to investigate gender psychiatrists. So she did. She did not need, that day, to make so momentous a decision, just a comparatively small one.

Or, sometimes, I need faith to remain open to possibilities, when my goal seems impossible, and hope seems merely a painful, destructive illusion. Only if I have the faith to remain open to possibilities, will I have the ability to perceive them.

The God Complex

On Saturday, Doctor Who refuted religion. There was a monster like a Minotaur or Nimon (I recognised the reference, I am a mad keen long term fan) which terrified its victims into relying on their Faith. It then took their faith and fed on it, killing them. A gambler had faith in Fortuna, a blogger (not the most flattering portrait) had faith in his conspiracy theories. Amy had faith in The Doctor, so he had to destroy it (“I really am just a mad man in a box”) so that she could stand on her own two feet, like an adult, and the monster, cheated of its prey, died.

And I thought of the poor souls in Zone Six of Shikasta, pointlessly keening,

Save me, God,
Save me, Lord,
I love you,
You love me.
Eye of God,
Watching me,
Pay my fee,
Set me free.

And then they vanish into a whirlpool in the sand.

So. How can I have faith in God, and be an adult? Am I really just being childish, and clinging onto fantasies, avoiding responsibility?