Envy II

In December, I realised I have self-respect, for the first time in my life, and since then it has felt that I solidify. I am not at war with myself to nearly the same extent. I learn not to judge and deny my feelings. I grow and change. Then on Saturday I realised, that my question in this place, with these people, is not “How may I fit in?” but “How can I be myself, here, now?” It feels like one more liberation, on top of many.

I contain multitudes. There is so much of me that I have never accessed. One problem with associating with Quakers is that they tend to be highly intelligent, mature individuals who, while often profoundly counter-cultural still have the gifts for worldly success. So I hear of advanced degrees, and visit large houses: one woman apologised so prettily for the electric gates with camera, it was the previous owner’s idea and not hers, then showed off the huge kitchen, so beautifully appointed.

And I have thought that I am happy where I am, where I am is right for me, and these unsought gifts are so beautiful, and my healing is my labour and blessing. Now I feel upset when I hear Quaker ministry of how privileged we are, with our worldly success. Hmm. Upset- angry, sad- Envious. I was sitting on the Fulham Palace Road, outside a cafe, watching life go by, and I thought how much I want a car, to get where I want to go. I want that money.

I have no idea how to get it. I still feel bruised and hurt by work, which feels like it was an endless cycle of failure and humiliation ending in my despair and giving up. So, I am unsure how to deal with this;

and so, just possibly, my ministry in meeting on Saturday was ministry, for me and for others. Who could resist an audience like Meeting for Sufferings? There was that ministry about our privilege, and our large houses, and comfortable incomes, when we were reflecting on YM especially Minute 36.

I rose and said something like,

It is alright.
It is wonderfully liberating when you lose your dignity.
I am on the sick, on means-tested benefits.
I could lose all I have at any time (though so could most people)
There is the blessing. It is enough.

The minute was fairly dry, referring the matter to Arrangements Committee for more focused discernment at later meetings, but Isobel was moved by what I said, and would take it to Quaker Life Central Committee.

How strange, to say something so movingly Spiritual from a place of envy and desire for material things! That was Saturday, and I have only admitted my envy today (Tuesday) after further conversations on that Quakerly prosperity which I do not have. I admit it. It is me, and shame about it would do no good; though what I do about it may be good or bad.

Rembrandt, the descent from the cross

How do I know?

Rembrandt Visitation 1Epistemology bores me. However many stars there are in the galaxy, thirty, one hundred or two hundred billion I have only ever seen one significant figure given. I am glad someone is interested enough to try to work it out, but I am not, apart from a moment’s vague interest when the subject comes up.

There is a difference between engineering knowledge and other knowledge. I do not want the new Forth crossing to fall down, like the Cathedral at Saint Andrews did. But while I want certain questions about new buildings to be handled by engineers, in an entirely rationalist manner, doing the calculations to ensure safety and efficiency, I want the experience of the building to be created by the arty side of the architect’s brain, the whole human being speaking to me as a human being, inspiring me with beauty and grandeur, which are more than mere equations.

I heard that Newton’s Laws of Motion would be impossible without the Cartesian idea that nature might follow law, contra Occasionalism. Again, entertaining enough, I file away the idea. What do I need to know?

I need to know what works in my own life. I need to know where to buy food. I need to get an income, and whether I do this by claiming benefits or getting a job, I need to associate with other people in order to do so. And I know a huge amount about that. My knowledge comes from fifty million years of primate evolution, and a million years of human evolution, and my own 48 years of experience.

The trouble is that I know it two ways. I know it theoretically, and to that knowledge I might apply epistemology- critical realism, that there is something to know and I know it to an extent. But I also know it subconsciously, in my unconscious body language and emotional responses. I have thought about this more than most, perhaps, wondering whether a particular response was masculine or feminine around my transition, because it might get me read and insulted and negated; and hating my natural responses before my transition, finding them effeminate, and seeking to change them. But really thinking about it gets in the way. Theoretical and unconscious knowledge conflict, befouling both.

I hear looking up to the left before answering a question means checking memory, and looking up to the right Rembrandt Visitationmeans crafting a lie, and might remember that, then be confused when I catch myself looking up to the right. One can apply rational conscious thought to these things, but it is difficult. Meanwhile, I know unconsciously, and my knowing drifts into consciousness through my feelings and intuitions, or does not, but affects my actions.

How to respond to new knowledge? In distress- I have been wrong, I will have to think things through again, how can I be sure of this- or in joy?

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613 commandments

File:Rembrandt - Moses with the Ten Commandments - Google Art Project.jpgThe books of the Law, the first five books of the Bible, contain about 613 commandments which are for all God’s people, for an indefinite period. They do not form a code of laws sufficiently complete for community life, and this is a problem, because it is an offence to add to or take away from the Torah.

The editor was not writing at the time of Moses: Deuteronomy 17 permits the Israelites to take a king, but 1 Samuel 8 shows the dangers of abandoning Communism.

They show signs of learning as you go along, rather than once for all revelation: If men get into a fight with one another, and the wife of one intervenes to rescue her husband from the grip of his opponent by reaching out and seizing his genitals, 12 you shall cut off her hand. This is a precedent, not legislation. It is unclear what to do if she hits him with a tool or a rock.

There is no criminal law against assault- of course men will fight- though you shall not shame a man might count. Now, we differentiate between civil liability to the victim, and criminal liability to the State or community, but it is not clear that they did. That the wrongdoer suffers some loss is the most important thing. Punishment is not always specified: loss of reputation, where the community knows that a member has breached the law, may be sufficient.

Philippe de Champaigne: Moses with the Ten CommandmentsI love the rule You may not withhold your help. This is an interdependent community, and when one is in trouble the others must rally round, that they may all survive and prosper. It comes in a miscellaneous section including my law, and you shall make a parapet for your roof; otherwise you might have blood-guilt on your house, if anyone should fall from it.

Where damages are ordered, it is for a specific case: When individuals quarrel and one strikes the other with a stone or fist so that the injured party, though not dead, is confined to bed, 19 but recovers and walks around outside with the help of a staff, then the assailant shall be free of liability, except to pay for the loss of time, and to arrange for full recovery. Shortly after comes the lex talionis: If any harm follows [a fight], then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. We differentiate intentional, reckless, and negligent injury, and also an injury justified by, for example, being in self-defence or the course of duty. This law only differentiates premeditated killing and death by “act of God”.

Ordering them involves judgment- as does differentiating them: not to delay payment to a hired man, and to pay the hired man’s wages at the due time, are separate commandments in the version I used, Jewfaq (found through the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible). See also Wikipedia. I have no suggestion as to what benefit might come from them being in the order that comes down to us.

The Kingdom in you

More from the Gospel of Thomas: saying 3:

Jesus said, “If those who lead you say to you, ‘See, the kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living father. But if you will not know yourselves, you dwell in poverty and it is you who are that poverty.”

That is, the Kingdom of Heaven is here. We are in Heaven. Some people do not know themselves, do not know what people are capable of, seek salvation outside and not inside themselves or somewhere else or even after death. But heaven is in every person, and we create it here on Earth. This is the modern Quaker insight. Like Christian Aid, we believe in life before death.

It is only a question of seeing. Saying 2, then saying 5:

Jesus said, “Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All.”

Jesus said, “Recognize what is in your sight, and that which is hidden from you will become plain to you. For there is nothing hidden which will not become manifest.”

Translated by Thomas O. Lambdin.

————————————————————————————————————–

Rather than thinking of “my procrastination”
I will think of my ability to start a task, and to complete it.
I have these abilities.
It behoves me to develop them.
I can notice and celebrate when I start and complete a task,
such as, doing the washing up.

And so rather than thinking of a “fault” I will think of a skill which I have, and how it may behove me to develop it.

“Be perfect as your father in Heaven is perfect”. My “Perfectionism” is a barrier to me. I do not judge my action perfect, I am upset and embarrassed, I do nothing, in order to avoid those feelings of failure. So. My ability to accept my own reasonable performance is a skill which I have, and it behoves me to develop it. Alternatively, “I am perfect as I am”. This is what I may achieve, devoting myself to it for a reasonable time.

Slavery

Should a good, Bible-believing Christian be in favour of slavery?

There are many relevant passages. In Genesis chapter 9, Noah got completely stocious, and collapsed in his tent with his manhood showing. His son Ham thought this hilarious, and told his brothers; but Shem and Japheth, showing respect, went to their father with a cloak to cover him up, and approached him backwards so that they would not see him. Because of this Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan, who would be slave of Shem and Japheth. Again, not the kind of Bible story you hear in Sunday school. The journal of John Woolman recounts that this story was used as a Biblical argument in favour of enslaving Africans, the alleged descendents of Ham, when he was campaigning against it among Quakers in the 18th century.

(Yes, I know, different Philemon, but a beautiful picture.) The slave Onesimus ran away from his master Philemon, and the Apostle Paul got to know him during his imprisonment. Paul, at verse 12, calls Onesimus “my own heart”, a surprisingly intimate image which bears a great deal more resemblance to the loving, monogamous homosexual relationships which equal marriage would recognise than the gang rape and orgies which the Bible condemns. Probably, within a Christian community an escaped slave could make a living as a free man: the State would disapprove, but there would be no way of knowing. However, Paul sends the slave back to his master. This condones slavery.

That is consistent with other sayings about slavery in the epistles. 1 Timothy 6: 1-2:

1 All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered. 2 Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves. These are the things you are to teach and insist on.

The verse structure of the texts only dates back to the 16th century. The NIV places that last sentence of verse 2 in the following section, but Robert Estienne and his followers applied it to the words on slavery. Note that the slave owner is not asked to free his slave, and the slave is told to serve his master, whether Christian or not. Consider 1 Corinthians 7:21:

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so.

Is this merely a political, pragmatic stance, since Christians would be persecuted far more fiercely if they opposed slavery? No, because Christian masters kept Christian slaves. See also Ephesians 6:5-9:

5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. 6 Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. 7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, 8because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. 9 And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

And slavery is supported when the Israelites ruled themselves. This is not a pragmatic submission to the mores of society, but the legislation of a free people, in Leviticus 25:44:

Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.

The answer to my initial question is, of course, no. Good Bible-believing Christians should oppose slavery in all its forms wherever they may find it. However, it is difficult for them to argue that this is a Biblical way of proceeding, when slavery is so enthusiastically supported in the Bible. In the same way, good Bible-believing Christians should enthusiastically welcome equal marriage, given that it celebrates unions as loving and creative as that of Paul with Onesimus. Or, when they condemn gay Christians for showing that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality as much as they pretend, they should realise that they too are reading the Bible to find their own prejudices, rather than reading it to find what it says.

David and Jonathan

I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.
-2 Samuel 1:26

So. Was David bisexual? We know that he was attracted to women, not merely as a matter of dynastic need but of sexual attraction: his murder of Uriah the Hittite in order to take Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, shows that. We also know that though David was a servant of the Lord, and blessed, not everything he did was admirable, or suitable for the Sunday School bible story: the way Abigail’s husband died in mysterious circumstances after she bowed down before David is a striking case in point.

It all turns on the meaning of the Hebrew word Ahab, and there we encounter difficulties. There are many gay websites which explain that this is sexual love. A conservative website, which unfortunately I cannot find again, says that while 20% of the Biblical uses of the Hebrew word refer to the love of a man for a woman, far more refer to those of God for God’s people, and therefore the word cannot be used to mean sexual love. However when the Church is referred to as the “Bride” of Christ, this is a curiously physical metaphor.

Gay Christian websites say that this “ahab, ahabah” means sexual love. Conservative Christian websites say that it does not, and even if it did David is not a good role model for Christians. Both seem to be arguing backwards from the result they wish to achieve. Why would the conservatives wish to show that David could not possibly have had gay sex, despite the clear evidence for it, even though they are clear that he was a great man who did a lot of bad things? Because they find gay sex disgusting. Here is one I found when looking for non-copyright images: the sniffing disgust at “homosexualists” comes out in the painstaking analysis of individual words.

It would be nice to persuade the bigoted Christians, but I am not sure it is possible- even, in some cases, where their own children come out as gay. It would prevent their virulent hatred persuading gay people that we are less than normal, that our desires are disgusting and sinful and must be suppressed.  

It is good that people may come to accept our homosexuality without rejecting Biblical Christianity, but for me it is preferable to reject the idea that nothing can be good unless it is accepted in the Bible, or that things the Bible condemns are necessarily bad. That idea asks more of the Bible than the Bible can give. It also places the moral code outside the person, in another authority.