Talking to the Bishop

I have a recurring fantasy at the moment. There will be a fringe meeting with a Roman Catholic bishop at Yearly Meeting. I think of quoting some of his catechism on us queers at him, then saying something like, if you are not doing all you can to get this evil rubbish expunged from your religion, then you are responsible for the suicides it causes.

WHY SHOULD I LISTEN TO YOU????

Considering such an encounter, normally I would repeat my question many times beforehand, to get it as elegant and expressive as possible, but here I just express my bitterness and vitriol. The bishop shrinks, as with Alice’s Drink-me, and I stamp on him then scuff my shoe repeatedly over him until he is just a smear on the floor-tiles.

Hazel quoted the Gospel of Thomas: Jesus said: if you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you. That translation is in Elaine Pagels‘ book; it makes it accessible and pungent. These scholarly translations do not bring out that meaning so clearly. It could be true, though.

I might go to Jamie Catto’s workshop at the weekend. Oh God, not more personal growth. At his TEDx talk, he gave this exercise: think of a person you detest, and one word to describe what you loathe about them. You are projecting. Label yourself with that word and act it out. Mmm. Arrogant. Camp. Striking. Forceful. Loud. I am feminine– soft, gentle, peaceful, and recognising that was the great gift of the Essence process, but I should not imagine I am consistent, at least until I can express myself. There may be consistency, beauty, whatever there, eventually, but I should not think that I can imagine what it would be. I do not know where I am going, or I would be there already.

1000 Voices speak for compassion is on about Nurturing atm. I suppose I will stick this on their link. I am nurturing myself. If you ask me about it, I make myself as unattractive as I can imagine possible- while still being me. You do not nurture if you want me to pretend to be otherwise, or if you simply want a quick whizz of feeling good about yourself by chucking me a crumb of niceness.  Here am I in my messy glory. And finally, a Koan.

I do not know where I am going, or I would be there already.
I know where I am going. I am there already.

How profound is that?
Nigeria, Ejagham headdress

Chin up, lipstick on

File:Mflscrapbkpg02.jpgWhy can’t a woman be more like a man?

Gospel of Thomas, saying 114:

Simon Peter said to Him, “Let Mary leave us, for women are
not worthy of Life.”
     Jesus said, “I myself shall lead her in order to make her
male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you
males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the
Kingdom of Heaven.”

I saw the truth before I started my first job. I went down from the University of Aberdeen to a small solicitors’ office in Aberatholl, Perthshire, and wrote in my diary, “I cannot endure this job. I have to enjoy it.” Then I Endured. Strap down the emotions, stop feeling, get on with it. That has been my pattern for working since, a recipe for building fear and anger to intolerable levels.

J does not think of hers as a “woman’s blog”, but here she is discussing creativity with Julia Fehrenbacher, and a lot of what they say is about transcending the “I’m not good enough” thoughts, overcoming doubt, stopping the need for control and letting creativity flow: achieving these things, actually, but with the doubting criticising voices behind. That post led me to Soul Speak, another blog where most of the commenters are women, and another post on going into the creative space, away from the dark places of the doubting thoughts.

I am struck that the steps forward I imagine can feel both too small- inadequate, insufficient, not good enough- and at the same time too big, too frightening, requiring too much courage. Both these thoughts are illusion, both feel so real.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s concerns are different:

What are the habits and practices that will educate our passions and allow us to shape a credible narrative of the self, understood against the backdrop of some idea of what the “excellence” of human nature might consist in?

The basic question is how we most seriously and honestly turn our scrutiny on ourselves and how we become able to bear that scrutiny. In more traditional words, we need some vocabulary that evokes both repentance and absolution.

File:Rex Harrison Allan Warren.jpgIt is not generally true that men bullshit, but they do seem able clearly and forcefully to present their case and their ability and their recommendations. So, for Rowan, the question is how to get the person (man) to criticise himself, not how to get him to stop. Professor?

Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that!
There heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!
They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating,
vacillating, calculating, agitating,
Maddening and infuriating hags!

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historic’ly fair;
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Well, why can’t a woman be like that?
Why does ev’ryone do what the others do?
Can’t a woman learn to use her head?
Why do they do ev’rything their mothers do?
Why don’t they grow up- well, like their father instead?

-etc, etc. From My fair lady.

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Beth, who is 57 and writes so movingly about caring for her elderly mother and end of life issues wishes to interview, and share the stories of care givers. Contact her at her blog.

The American Psychological Association has opposed the Defence of Marriage Act in court.

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.

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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.

Gospels

Jesus said, “Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.”

-Gospel of Thomas, saying 7.

Robert Funk dates the Gospel of Thomas to the middle of the first century, around the time of St Paul’s first letters; others date it to the second century. Perhaps opinions on this depend on the value assigned to the document: the earlier it is, the more likely it is to be close to the words of Jesus.

Some would call it Gnostic. Again, I have no opinion. I find some Gnostic ideas repellent, for example the idea that spirit, directly created by God, is good, and matter, created by a tainted emanation of God, is evil; but that does not mean that nothing Gnostic has value.

What matters is whether the sayings are true. In this case, I do not know. Is it just a periphrastic way of saying control your anger, do not let it control you? If so, does calling anger a “lion”, with its qualities of power, danger and beauty, add anything? A lion can outrun and outfight a man, though people together can defeat a lion, and a man can make a spear or a cage to kill or subdue a lion.

Or does the saying mean something else entirely? Whatever, I think it is worth meditation.

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The Gospel writers changed their material for their own ends. So, in Mark 6:3, the people of Nazareth refer to Jesus as “Mary’s son”, ie, the bastard, the fatherless one, but Matthew 13:55 has them call him “the carpenter’s son”. It takes away the stigma. They cannot be trusted. Matthew was written long after Jesus’ death, after the temple was destroyed in AD70, and the Jews expelled from Jerusalem, and yet it still has value: it contains the phrase “turn the other cheek”, which I have seen interpreted as meaning extreme pacifism or non-violent resistance, which has been debated for two thousand years and still haunts all Christians, and the wider society.

Some looking at the biblical passages on homosexuality are defending gay people from Christians. For British “Liberal liberal Quakers” I find myself defending the Bible: if they think it condemns gay people, they are likely to condemn it.

For me one lesson of the story of Sodom comes from Abraham pleading with God not to destroy it. God promises not to destroy it if there are ten good men there. So, if there are ten good verses worth chewing over in the Bible, do not throw it out.

The gospel writers make the words of Jesus accessible to people of a wide variety of religious experience and understanding: those who accept the stories naively are exposed to the words. A blessing of the Church being divided, Orthodox, Catholic (and Coptic and others) then all the little protestant sects: there is no one Approved meaning of the words. The words are greater than any one institution’s understanding of them.

Confessional

So why, this blog? Why all this confession? Because I think it will advance my healing.

As I quoted before,

Jesus said: “When you undress without being ashamed and take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample on them, then you will see the son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.”

Also see this video of Bruce Muzik giving a TED talk, on YouTube, which I am not entirely sure of intellectually, and yet I am doing it.

In 1998, I did a course in counselling skills level one, and was introduced to the work of Carl Rogers.

organismic self

This bowled me over, and started my conscious search for growth and awareness. There is a human animal which knows what it desires and how to get it, which is the organismic self. With conditional positive regard from parents and others, the ego develops seeing itself as the person they wish, the “self-concept”. However, this means that a lot of what the person thinks about himself is a false self-image, and he cannot bring to admit to himself the shadow which other people had not accepted in him. The aim of counselling, with empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard (Love) is to make the self-concept congruent with the organismic self. The aim of spiritual growth is to discover and truly accept the full richness of onesself as a human being. This may be what Eliot was getting at:

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

When I came upon these ideas, I thought I was more like this:

organismic self

and now, I hope, like this:Organismic self 3

so I make public my shame and my weakness, so that I need not expend energy on it any more. And I can understand and accept why I would have been like that, and can transcend it.

Actually it is possible that “my confession will be good for others”. I have been read by at least one woman with similar experiences to my own, and we have shared how good it is to hear these experiences. But chiefly, I am doing this for me.

Oh, Christianity is a strange thing. I have known the cliche “Confession is good for the soul” for years, and even parroted it, and now know the truth of it more.

When I look around

A hadith of Isa Masih: “The world is a bridge, so pass over it and do not inhabit it.” This is close to the Gospel of Thomas, saying 42: “Jesus said, ‘be passers-by'”. The Gospel of Thomas was lost from the fourth century AD until 1948 when the Nag Hammadi Codex was unearthed. I quoted saying 42 to a friend, who said, “What about the Good Samaritan?” 

There is a similar idea in Matthew 8:20: “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” That could sound a bit threatening, though. I prefer “Be passersby”. I have no home, and that has to be alright. It has been so far, with my own capacities and the Love that has surrounded me.

Ani de Franco, “As is”:

When I look around
I think this, this is good enough
and I try to laugh at whatever life brings
Cos when I look down
I just miss all the good stuff
When I look up
I just trip over things

Movement and repose

If they ask you, “What is the evidence of your father in you?” say to them, “It is movement and repose”

– Gospel of Thomas saying 50, part 3. Mmmm. Action when action is needed, rest at other times. Still the mind, the ego and the worry. Movement and repose together as one.

Here is something from Hafiz, interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky:

When your truth forsakes its shyness,
When your fears surrender to your strengths,

I find this so beautiful that almost the consequence is unnecessary, the “When”, not “if” in those two lines and their promise is enough. But here is what happens:

You will begin to experience

That all existence
Is a teeming sea of infinite life.

While I am sitting here, thumbing through my Kindle, here are the first two lines of Burton and Watson’s Tao Te Ching translation:

Tao called Tao is not Tao.
Names can name no lasting name.

So much wisdom from the millennia, just– there, just- everywhere I look, just- ready for me to take it into my heart and my life. Wisdom, and beauty, knocking on my door all the time, importunate, demanding, only needing for me to notice. Wisdom, and beauty, and Love.

She bangs on the door importunately, and will not be denied,
She bangs on the door, and cries,
“OPEN UP! OPEN UP! My Darling!”

Go well.

What Jesus said

Jesus and his disciples came across a dead dog in the street. They said, “How it stinks!” He said, “See how beautifully white and sharp its teeth are!”

The internet has added a new layer to attribution difficulties. I have read that this comes from an apocryphal gospel, then from a Hadith. I like the challenge in the saying, the different perspective (whether or not that is a behovely perspective). So it does not matter whether it happened, only whether it is True.

Though when Legalist (ie, fear based totalitarian) thoughts are attributed to Confucius, it is good to see that they are not his thoughts.

Gospel of Thomas saying 37:

His disciples said: “When will you appear to us, and when will we see you?”

Jesus said: “When you undress without being ashamed and take your clothes and put them under your feet like little children and trample on them, then you will see the son of the Living One, and you will not be afraid.”

When I first read this, I thought an apocryphal gospel was less reliable than a Biblical gospel. That allowed me to distrust its sayings, and at first I thought this one was just gibberish. And then it made sense to me, and I found it wonderful. And now I do not want to interpret it for anyone, lest my interpretation limit it. Now I can play with a Jesus saying: what might it mean? What might it mean for me, now?