The fight between Carnival and Lent

Let’s start in the pub, the sign of the Ship.

One man vomits, another peers out. Is it safe yet?

The revellers pile out, for dancing; but what is going on under that tent?

A sober religious procession- led by a bagpiper?

Another, in mockery or reverence

Whipping tops as an adult social pastime, perhaps competitive. Here is the whole:

The fight between Carnival and Lent

Compassion for evil

I cannot bear to consider a real example of this, so give you a fictional one.

In The Fall, a senior police officer visits a paedophile priest in prison, hoping for background on a suspect. The paedophile refuses it, though he would answer the questions if the Catholic police officer addressed him as “Father”. The Church had defrocked the paedophile, but he refuses to accept that this is effective; he claims to remain a priest. He says that the boys in his care desired what he did to them, and that they benefited from it, and that it was a proper discharge of his priestly functions in the care of the boys. He is resentful that his service to the community is not properly recognised, and at his imprisonment, thinking it wrongful. He speaks throughout with certainty.

What would that be like? Can we feel with such a person?

I imagine his feelings would be overwhelming anger and resentment, with a sense of his own integrity and rightness, that is, the self-acceptance which is such a boon for the rest of us. I wonder what it would be like to believe that the child-victim wanted, or deserved, the sexual attention, or alternatively that the child-victim had no value, so could be used for the man’s gratification. A man like that could destroy so many lives beyond hope of repair: his direct victims, and all their loved ones. Yet compassion is the only response, to understand the man, or to respond to him.

After all, the world is full of people with equally deluded beliefs, harmful to others- young earth creationists, holocaust deniers, climate change deniers. There are psychopaths who see no value in others. There are those who see war as the only way to defend what they value, and arms dealers, wicked souls who make profits from making and selling tools to kill people and destroy things, which are sometimes used to threaten and coerce.

The paedophile who cannot accept that following his urges is wrong, or who cannot control his urges, must be locked up until he is no longer a threat to the rest of us. The arms-dealer hob-nobs with the rest of the super-rich, and dies old and happy.

Compassion is not just a way of getting warm feelings when we contemplate those less fortunate than ourselves, but a tool for understanding the World.

Bruegel, massacre of the innocentsmassacre detail

What is integrity?

Pieter Bruegel- the Massacre of the Innocents, in partWhat is integrity? asked Sabina. Silence. We don’t know.

I don’t know what integrity would look like, but I imagine parts of it. One is integrating near and far thinking. Far thinking: when an issue is merely theoretical, and I can tell my opinion without any cost, I could think anything of it. Abortion fits this: people discuss abortion who would never need one, and their opinion marks “People like us” from “People like them”. We can say it and feel cosy familiarity and togetherness. One makes these decisions according to abstract principle- at least in ones own mind. But near thinking- what do you do when the issue touches you personally, or those whom you love? To have what you say match what you do is integrity.

Universalisability, the moral axiom, is part of it. If something is right for A, the same thing in the same circumstances must be right for B.

Honour is part of it, though honour is more difficult to define. Honour is both “Touch not me but a glove”- watch your step around me- and respect for all things, for everything that is, is holy.

As we have discussed truth and integrity, my lie has been at the front of my mind. I have thought of a defence for it: I told a lie to break a lie, I told a lie to defeat a greater lie. They sought to oppress me with a lie, and they do not deserve straight answers. I thought I could explain this to these douce Quakers, as I explain things to you: being understood, I would be validated. Then I thought, no, I can accept my own argument, I can forgive myself, I do not need absolution from others. This self-containment may be part of integrity.

Plebgate rumbles on. “Gate” is the suffix indicating a scandal- why not “Gategate” for the scandal of the Cabinet minister confronting the police- on his bicycle, what a common touch- at the gate of Downing Street. Then the scandal surrounding what people said about Gategate could be Gategategate. Onywye. No, Andrew Mitchell did not use the word “pleb”, but he treated the police with patrician disdain, and when, poorer witnesses than they should be, they said “he called us plebs” (truly) it was taken literally, and they felt the need to prove the use of that actual word. Now one policeman is in prison, and three sacked.

A planning official told of how architects draw plans with inaccuracies, so that eg. sight-lines and light appeared to fit the rules better, or build subtly differently from the plans in the permission. Getting them to tell the unvarnished truth is so wearing! Esther Rantzen created the word Jobsworth for an official sticking literally to petty rules, but whether they are petty or not depends on where you stand.

Integrity is so much more difficult if you cannot trust rules or authorities.

Quaker faith and Practice: Integrity is a condition in which a person’s response to a total situation can be trusted… Right ethical choices… we cannot take advantage of others by any form of dishonesty…


Pieter Bruegel Babel detailI kneel in the ritual space, and breathe. I count breaths for ten minutes, then observe them for five. I am breathing quite regularly and deeply, and immediately I judge and question that. Is it “natural”? Is it some imposed or habitual thing? Previously my breathing has varied. Such a strong feeling in me:

This is new

and therefore to be resisted.

So strong. Perhaps not ideal, to be that conservative: if everything new is a threat, I am stuck with what has not worked before. Oops, positive: if I am wary of everything new, I may stay with what has worked in the past, I will not run after silly fads (it is hard to be positive both about conservatism and New-seeking).

Conservatism. Something I have to change in myself, something not in my interests, something indicating I have bad habits. Yet another thing to fear. Or- one voice in a multitude of voices, within me, all worthy of attention.

So much of culture is designed to affect how we see things, how we judge or perceive them whether by thinking or feeling: this is the right or normal way to see that particular thing. That is what a “spin-doctor” is for, to manipulate perceptions, and those who work against equal marriage are distressed that not everyone is as disgusted by gays as they are. On the bus, a man moaned that he had not had his heating allowance (jargon: winter fuel allowance) yet. “They begrudge paying it, that is what it is.” Either he would moan about anything, or a short delay has made the government look worse than it need to.

There is not only no right way to feel about something- someone dies, so you should be grief-stricken, and anger is just weird and horrible and no way should you feel that- but no one way to feel about something. I meditate, and pay attention to my breathing, and as well as the suspicion there are other feelings, which my conscious mind may give attention or not: they are all me.

I used a thing until it was beyond worn out, and its replacement has just cost me ÂŁ6. Here is abundance-world. I bought a printer, with two ink cartridges included, for ÂŁ10 more than two ink cartridges, and it has a scanner/ photocopier function. So my scanner is not unnecessary. If I can’t give it away I will throw it out, and that feels wrong, wasteful, yet is a reasonable response to the circumstances.


Brueghel Jan - Heilige Familie in einem Blumen und FrĂĽchtekranzThe American Medical Association has declared that

the conclusions by the leading associations of experts in this area reflect a consensus that children raised by lesbian or gay parents do not differ in any important respects from those raised by heterosexual parents.

I found that here. Debate over. Thank God, we can be left in peace, and possibly even permitted to marry like normal folks. However, here is a claim that “a study reveals that kids fare worse in same-sex households”, here is a claim that “a study suggests that traditional marriage promotes child welfare” and here is an assertion that the AMA’s claim “cannot be supported scientifically”, based on this article by Loren Marks. Oh, and here is a woman who has gay friends, but who when she wants to pluck from the air an example of sin, just happens to pick on homosexuality.

What should be compared? A straight couple who stay together throughout their child’s adolescence may produce better outcomes for the child than a gay couple adopting a child, but the true comparison is a straight couple adopting a child. And a gay woman having a child and having a partner should be compared to a lone parent who finds a new partner. So Loren Marks’ criticism of comparing with lone parent families is unjustified. They are the proper comparator. The “Marriage-based intact family” is increasingly rare.

Possibly a marriage-based intact family is the best environment for a child. This does not mean that public shaming should be used against other groups, or that parents who “stay together for the sake of the children” do not screw up their kids worse than loving gay couples. And my AMA quote does not refer to marriage based intact families, only to “heterosexual parents”.

Then, studies before 2000 generally used educated, high-earning lesbian couples as the homosexual parents. This is because they were the gay couples who could parent children. Also, there are no longitudinal studies of children brought up by gay parents, compared to equivalent straight couples, dealing with adolescent issues, educational attainment and salary at age 30. That is because it has been extremely difficult to live in a loving gay relationship in the 1970s, let alone bring up a child: 1% of couples in the 2000 US census were gay. As Loren Marks states, Southern California is not typical of the US. Well, go find a sample from rural Alabama, then. She criticises the small sample sizes. Qualitative research generally has small samples.

Then she describes a study by Sarantakos, from 1996 where children were assessed by teachers. 54 children of married couples, 54 of cohabiting couples, and 54 of gay couples were assessed, and the gay couples’ children came bottom in eight of nine categories. The APA has reasons to discount this study, and I am not aware of all of the reasons. Sarantakos published a book in 2000 on Same Sex Couples, stating:

children of homosexual parents report deviance in higher proportions than children of (married or cohabiting) heterosexual couples.

Brueghel Jan - Der GesichtsinnI would be interested to know the incidence of bullying of those children. This is my fall-back position: how would the children of gay couples fare in a society without prejudice? We cannot know.

Loren Marks refers to childrearing outcomes of concern to society:

intergenerational poverty, collegiate education and/or labor force contribution, serious criminality, incarceration, early childbearing, drug/alcohol abuse, or suicide

whereas the studies of gay couples’ children have considered such matters as emotional functioning, which generally affects these outcomes, or sexual orientation, necessary to refute a Scare story of the oppressors.

Her main criticism is that the studies are not large enough positively to support the statement that there is certainly no difference, rather than the much weaker statement that no difference has actually been found. Loren Marks gives a counsel of perfection. Yes, a larger longitudinal study considering outcomes would be of value. However, it would be difficult to find a representative sample, and costly. She asks:

 Did any published same-sex parenting study cited by the 2005 APA Brief (pp. 23–45) track the societally significant long-term outcomes into adulthood? No. Is it possible that “the major impact” of same-sex parenting might “not occur during childhood or adolescence…[but that it will rise] in adulthood?

This is mere scaremongering. It is no argument for the societal prejudice against gay couples, and their legal restrictions, which are the problem and not the solution.

Here is Loren Marks’ conclusion:

Are we witnessing the emergence of a new family form that provides a context for children that is equivalent to the traditional marriage-based family? Even after an extensive reading of the same-sex parenting literature, the author cannot offer a high confidence, data-based “yes” or “no” response to this question.

She does not know. And so where that Catholic priest claims the APA statement has been “debunked”, Loren Marks’ article does not support his claim.

Of course I have an interest here. We do not know how children would fare, brought up by gay couples in a land without prejudice. That is an argument for eliminating prejudice, not for restricting child-rearing.

Being no more qualified than that priest to read scientific literature, and not having the time to read the studies themselves, I am reduced to the argument from authority. However, I think the support of the AMA and two APAs make a very strong argument from authority.

File:Pieter Bruegel d. Ă„. 041b.jpg

A Ritual

East is the direction of Sunrise, the Spring, the Origin, the new child. It is the Lordly direction. Its colour is Purple. South is the direction (in the Northern hemisphere) of the sun at noon, the heat, oppressive or invigorating, of Summer. Its colour is shining white. West is the direction of sunset, the place of the Elder, of Autumn and fruitfulness, of letting go, of acceptance and loss. Its colour is green. North is the direction of silence, ice, clarity, mystery, ancestors, timelessness and eternity. Its colour is Black.

East is the place of birth and family. South is the place of entering adulthood and community. West is the place of the Elder, achieving individuality. North is the place of the Spirits. The Wheel is many cycles, of the whole life, of the calendar year, of movement and growth within a life, of a vanishing distraction while meditating.

This is not the usual type of course at Woodbrooke, the Quaker Study Centre in Birmingham. Someone on the Archbishop’s Council on Education, staying here for one night, objected to our display of figures, saying they were like “voodoo dolls”, and we had to clear them away from the Cadbury Room where we worshipped together. We had to use electric candles, shaped and glazed to look like wax, bulbs made to imitate flickering flames, because of the smoke detectors.

Caitlin Matthews’ ritual, with two supporters, one representing my own Strength, one my Ancestors, is simple. We start in the place we are now on the wheel of life. We then move as appropriate. I had the idea, beforehand, of moving from North to East, moving from a place of contemplation to a place of new life and new activity. That would be reassuring for me.

However, Pat, whom I had met on the Being an Overseer course in 2006, recognised me, and as we went for morning coffee asked how my experience of being an Overseer had been. I could have said something non-specific and non-committal, and asked her of hers; instead I told her, how I had felt led by the Spirit and done my best and the conflict that had unfolded from 2006 to this month, and I wept. Oh, and there is that, and that experience of work, and stuff arising from childhood, and hurt still from my transsexuality, and, oh, I am emotionally labile at the moment.

I think the emotional lability, which probably comes from the hormones, is a good thing in this sort of situation, and a good thing for me. I have been at times not in touch with my emotions, and that is certainly not the case now. I want to be open to how I am moved.

The coffee break being over, Angela asked if I wanted to participate. Yes, actually. So, with Pat and Anne, I stood North of my circle, ready to begin. Instead of stepping forward, into the East, I knelt in the North, and placed my forehead on the floor, not happy, but content.

I have been divided. While I might have claimed to be suspicious of myself telling myself that I was germinating, that this is the necessary stillness for the healing work, that the growth may come and I am making the necessary internal changes for it, the fact remains that I have done nothing to find paid work since November. Telling myself to buck up and get on with it is not now working. After that ritual, I feel a lot happier. I feel absolved- I have reasons why I am here, and I think I am gaining self-knowledge, and whatever may come of it I can feel happy here now. In the stillness. Pat’s question seems a synchronicity for me.

Oddly enough, when Gilly asked that evening where in an ideal world I would be in a year’s time, it was working and earning, and engaged in training in some healing practice. Previously I have not been able to answer such a question- er, dunno, more or less where I am now…

Allison Grayhurst articulated my worry:

never sure…
 if my sedentary position
is really a bird in my hand
or a dream I cannot force.

I cannot be sure, but I feel sure enough.

Hafiz/ Ladinsky:

Just sit there right now.
Don’t do anything.
Just rest.

For your separation from God
is the hardest work in this world.

The Adoration of the Magi

Here is another of my formative experiences of an art work:

As a student, I had a poster of the Adoration of the Magi by Pieter Bruegel the Elder on my wall. This was a pose, as I wanted to appear to be an intellectual, and I did not like it particularly. I cannot say it grew on me, so much as altered in an instant. That instant was a moment of amazing shock and delight.

I got the poster from my father’s “Teachers’ World” magazine, and thought all the people in it hideous and ridiculous, particularly disliking the green-skinned fellow on the far right. And then one day I looked at it, and it was transformed. I saw the reverence and wonder on each of the faces, and ever after saw them like that, not ugly as before.

I am still not sure of the knowingness on the face of the bairn. He is God, after all, he must Know- but to me, he is human, and I find his divine nature particularly difficult to imagine in a newborn. I have seen expressions on the faces of very young children, particularly when in eye-contact with another person, but not this.

So I now love the image, and learned the value of living with a work of art and letting it communicate its secrets over time.