Ranting and Rebellion

How could you ever know yourself? “I am not the kind of person who” becomes “So far I have generally not”. I looked at those texts, and saw what they meant. I had not realised when I was texting. Self-conscious, I would not have done it nearly so well. Morality changes as I tell different stories: “I want to be a good person” becomes “I always wanted to find the rules and follow them, so that I would be safe”.

I have not so far ever seen myself as a rebel. Rebellion is as powerless as conformity, I would have said. You are not making free choices. It is mature to seek goals. That remains true, and now I am in rebellion. It is part of teenage, and I have to complete teenage eventually, I owe that to myself.

What do you do? she asked. I challenge authority and convention, I declared. Ha! I am rebelling! I am doing that teenage thing! In that moment I crafted a new story about myself. Well, the story seems to fit, and is good enough for the moment. I don’t like shadow motivation, not really, it is scary when I do things and don’t know why, or maybe work it out later. I do what I do to achieve my desires, even if I am not conscious of it. Often I don’t do something because I am scared of it and because I can’t imagine it working. I don’t want to do a job application as it will probably lead to interview, but no further.

On Tuesday it seemed to me that I had made a connection, that had helped me accept the world, myself and my history, better, that healed some of my resentment and frustration, or at least to see these things are possible and necessary. The Maintenance of Order in society, which enables us to develop beyond hunter-gathering, also restricts me, produces a Masculine Way of being which I could not approach and which broke me. What supports me, feeds and clothes me, is the same thing that poisoned and mutilated me. That poisoning was the best humanity could do at the time, the best I could see.

Lucy said she cannot put her experience into her performance while she is still angry. That makes sense to me. I don’t see the truth, because I rail against it. It should be otherwise. If I make that connection, perhaps I can accept my hurt and move on.

I transitioned to try to fit in and welcomed the poison and mutilation, which were a necessary part of transition. It was the best I could do at the time. So now I challenge authority and convention, I say portentously: or, I am in rebellion, in my delayed teenage.

I am threatened with expulsion from the Quaker meeting for expressing my distress in a theatrical way. If we are to know each other in the things which are eternal, it is not enough to discuss Cole Porter musicals. We must delve more deeply into ourselves, lift the covers off our feelings and expose our insecurities. My friend, though he needs the support of community, while he is bravely resisting the Arms fair and getting arrested for it, does not go to his Quaker meeting because, while they are nice enough people, they do not give him what he needs.

I do what I want to do whether I realise it or not, because of shadow motivation, the desires I cannot admit to myself, and because of my past trauma, all that pain and hurt. It controls me whether I admit it or not. The adult part of me, which has been civilised into conformity with rules and common sense, would do a better job of ensuring my behaviour was civilised if it could see that shadow which moves me.

I want to bring my whole self to the Quaker meeting, the theatrical expression of distress and disagreement, all my joy and incomprehension, all my creativity, so that I can get to know myself and that shadow. I brought all of me to the Yearly Meeting Gathering. There I made a powerful and beautiful declaration of Love to someone, which I almost wish I hadn’t, now, actually, though I don’t think it has done lasting harm. And I disrupted a session and took two hours of someone’s time while I expressed my distress, but the session proceeded and I think she is happy enough to have given me that service. It did me good. It freed me for the rest of the week.

YMG was utterly vibrant. Em came to see her friend one evening, and was bowled over by the electric atmosphere of Quakers being ourselves with ourselves.

-Are you going to form Noisy Quakers?
-It’s been done. The Ranters saw God in their inmost motivation, though as antinomians that led to disorder. They could feel moved by God to fornication or adultery. Though perhaps this was a Conservative myth, and no-one was as unrestrained a Ranter as all that; and my Poly friend has learned polyamory. She lives with her husband, and had several flings with women before starting a long term relationship with a woman. So they explored and tested boundaries and emotions in a mature, ethical and responsible way. There is the conventional rule, that we are celibate until marriage then chaste and faithful, and there are ethical ways to be outside that rule.

It’s not rebellion, it is not a breach of the way of our Civilisation, it is living in an alternative way and showing those who might see new possibilities and paths.

And I am in rebellion. Talking after Meeting is like a cocktail party. On the train home from Hull, I started talking to two archaeologists returning from an academic conference. I told them Sam had been arrested for blocking the road to DSEI, and they said how wonderful. We can be the Guardian, Greenbelt, left-liberal side of civilisation, but not anarchist or radical. The tension will get resolved one way or another. Maybe I will wind my horns in. I don’t want to just yet.

So I feel powerless to avoid being expelled from the Quaker meeting. Possibly I will cross the line again, and after mature discernment elders will sadly expel me for the good of the Meeting, because there are other people there besides me and their needs matter. If my inner adult decides I must only say what normal people would say at a cocktail party, to someone they knew only distantly, at the start of the party before their first tentative sips of wine, then my passionate inner self will rebel and take over.

I would like to speak to those who object to me, and reassure them as much as I can. I will not be physically violent. I do not want anyone to relieve my distress.

I want Quakers to hold all of me. Perhaps if I matured better from teenage I would have other communities which could meet different needs, but I have not at the moment. Perhaps I would not need this if I knew myself already, what I feel and desire, and could bear that.

Perhaps Quakers cannot cope with that. Perhaps the butterfly needs to be broken on the wheel.

Whisky, newly distilled

I drew myself as the Sun, shining. The words in my mind were Strength, Beauty, Right: I am right, righteous, I have rights, I am rightly made. This is the world I evolved in, and I fit it. Now I cannot understand the notes I took, but it was something about being the cat which low status people choose to kick: I imagine that poor transphobe thinking, “I may be going to prison but at least I’m not a pervert like that.” His attack comes from his own need, because he cannot see me as I am, only as he has been taught to see me, as a way of controlling any effeminacy in him. Because it is not about me, his attack need not affect me. I can let it go.

All my emotions are Right, or Appropriate. They are not always comfortable (here I am moving from appreciation to judgment- comfortable only for the ego, not the real self).

I trust what comes up in myself.
I trust what comes up in the World.
I do not have all the answers, but I have the ability to find them.

It is whisky, newly distilled, the first fire of it. Seeing my God-self is wonderful, and I need to learn to be comfortable in my new skin. I will reach a mature appreciation, different from this amazed delight. And it is True. I am Right, and I need merely appreciate that. That was two weeks ago, and I am building on it.

It was at Yearly Meeting Gathering, the Experiment with Light. I saw myself as God made me, beautiful and Right, without the ego-self which one creates to try to survive. Now, since then, I am seeing that ego-self more clearly, clutching its filthy rags about itself, and how poorly it serves me.

Also at YMG was a Singalong showing of Frozen. “How can she be seen as some sort of Feminist icon, with those big eyes and hair and princess dress?” she asked, and I thought, meet us half way. Those are not ideal, but seeing her characteristic which everyone else has seen as a curse, accepting it and rejecting their judgment, is strong and beautiful.

It’s funny how some distance
Makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me
Can’t get to me at all

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me,
I’m free!

“That perfect girl is gone”- how we are taught to idolise the ego-self, which is never “perfect”, but enslaving. She has some self-doubt, wanting to do the right thing, willing to self-sacrifice rather than hurt, so inhibited from fighting back. And (spoilers) the act of true love which saves the younger princess is not True Love’s Kiss by the Prince, who turns out to be a bad lot, but an act of bravely defending her sister.

I love Top of the Lake- China Girl. Episode 4 shows how Puss, the egocentric, psychotic parasite, has enslaved Mary. She loves him, completely. He has first charmed and flattered her, fooling her into seeing him as an intellectual with an understanding of her parents’ hypocrisies by mocking them; he has convinced her that the prostitutes are somehow in the “Real World” which her parents avoid, so appealing to her teenage idealism. With mature adults he can only be a disgusting jester, his pretensions seen through, so he preys on a teenager. He rewards her servility with kindness or kisses, a facsimile of Love, and as he has reeled her in he gives less and she, desperately, gives more.

I believe in his power to degrade her. She feels he is wise, teaching her about life, and so tolerates being more and more humiliated. He says “I am going to hit you in the face” and does so, and such is his power that she almost accepts even that. I hope with the failed blow job she has realised how poisonous he is; she needed to reach rock bottom before realising that, because she now thinks herself a fool for being reeled in by him, and few people could admit that to themselves easily.

How happy I felt when you said my song was “fantastic”! And after, when you dismissed my verses, I only recited more, desperate to be affirmed again. You are no psychopath. I love your bravery, intelligence, courage, fierceness, how you can feel such fear and do it anyway. Knowing you enriches me. I don’t think you reeled me in, or have wronged me in any way; it is my own response to you. I felt it when I first saw you, so I would have to control how you walk into a room if I thought you really had wronged me, and if I controlled you you would be nothing, rather than the glorious human being you are. You used me as a confidant, making me feel valued- it is an exchange, I like to feel my listening reduces pain. And you will never meet me half way. Trans men, “biological females,” are victims. How awful that she felt she had to cut off her breasts to escape the prison of femininity. Trans women, biological males, are perverted exhibitionists, getting a sexual thrill from fooling others into thinking we are women. So you say. I cannot be a victim, only a perpetrator, for you, as a biological male, even though you claim toxic masculinity oppresses all men. You loathe my performed femininity, that way I curve my hand, though none of this is conscious. To me, it seems it is just me. Still, I tried to please you.

I am continually surprised. How can you not appreciate me? Well, you don’t. The arrogance in me made me continually expect better, and my low self-esteem, the flip side of my arrogance, made me accept the taunts. Only seeing Mary weeping in her birth-mother’s arms, surely having finally realised how damaging Puss is for her and what a fool she has been, or what a human she has been, so different from her conception of herself-

She weeps and escapes. I must follow her example.

University of Warwick

The university is beautiful. In the Arts Centre, there is a huge theatre for lectures and conferences, taking 1300 people. The lobby floors are paved with dark grey stone with bright pink veins through it, as if someone had spilled ice cream. Under a glass lantern in the roof, I bend to examine them.

Walking to it from behind, there is a passageway. I consider the shape of the buildings and the way my perspective changes as I walk through, the pale blue panels on the walls, and find it beautiful. I want to pause to appreciate it as I approach it.

The Humanities building, from the 1970s, is quite ugly, just a steel frame with concrete slabs for walls, rows of them, rows of windows from waist height to ceiling on each floor; but it is on four sides of the “Meditation garden”, with trees, a fountain, a waterfall, where two or three times I sat and chatted. It is all about the encounters, few of which are planned, really.

Not all the open air sculpture is worthwhile, but I love this:

I thought it looked like something to go hand over hand on an assault course or playground, someone thought it looked like a rollercoaster, the cage disturbed some and delighted me. I approach it from the campsite. I take a slight detour to the Arts Centre, passing three trees which seem perfectly spaced as I walk past. Studying here, one might habitually bring sandwiches to eat on that bench.

This figure was controversial, as the head is covered with a sack.

It could be a person blind to reality, rather than a prisoner.

I did not take my camera, generally. I did not want to be looking out for pictures all the time. I went into the Woodbrooke tent to find leaflets on the Vibrancy in Meetings project. They were on a table next to one with construction toys on it, and a complex model Ferris wheel, where I met Alice who was stringing sparkly beads onto plastic twine. She is six. The 5 year olds were handing out strips of fabric to think about refugees, and she gave me one. “She was handing them out, earlier,” said her mother. She wanted to glue a star to the twine, so I set to carving a groove in the back with my penknife. It did not quite work. She made me a “friendship bracelet” with sequins, and the following day demanded to know where it was. I said it had fallen off, so I used it to decorate my tent.

I met Liz, whom I met at the spiritual healing course years ago. I suggested we exchange healing, but ended up simply receiving, lying in the chaplaincy. She said I had a good strong link to spirit through my crown, and she spent some time drawing the Qi downwards through my body to my feet; and as before with her I felt the warmth of her hands, at my forehead, even though she was not touching me.

I enjoyed Clarissa’s company. She was next to me on the camp site. Our first conversation was on non-theism, and only got deeper. She told me much of her life, and of a family she has housed in her town. She cares about the children like a grandmother. On Tuesday we met for breakfast, and were still talking at midday.

I raised a laugh from the Quaker Stewardship Committee, by saying my excuse that I was too spiritual to deal with all that money-stuff did not even satisfy me. I talked to a very sharp man who told me how trustees could still be liable if a charity, such as an area meeting, was incorporated, if they were reckless or negligent.

I went to H’s self-catering flat, where I met Liz and Ellie from Manchester. I had not known they had a son, Ben, now ten.

Mental Health in our Meetings

When I told a friend of that road-rage incident, she commented that I had done well to hold myself together through the Meeting for worship I went to immediately afterwards. After a strongly emotional experience, I find a measure of calm, then find the feeling welling up in me again, as with my fantasy of that man attacking me, and me thumping him. I anticipated that so was not shocked by it. The fact that he was actually unable to harm me makes me feel safe, and that feeling came to me in Meeting too. It felt like the Ministry which was for me alone. In Meeting I had sat mostly still, though not unmoving, and almost entirely quiet.

I may lose my income on Monday, and if so I am not sure what I will do. I imagined myself standing in Meeting and saying “They want to take away my fucking money. I need my fucking money.” The fantasised meeting is not the real meeting, but I wondered if that would be seen as disruptive, assuming I did not resist an impulse to share my terror. Abigail has to be managed. The meeting must not be disrupted.

I am aware that it behoves us to be silent in Meeting, and test the spirit of a prompting to speak- be accepting of other’s ministry, and questioning our own. But it seems to me that I can endanger the Meeting- I would go into my head, into that small child who knows the rules and seeks safety in obeying them, and I would merely be silent for an hour, as in a waiting room. That could enervate a Meeting. Instead, I seek to be my whole self. Rather than suppressing feeling, I seek to permit it, to allow it to flow through me. This carries the risk that it may overwhelm me. My goal is to trust it completely, so that I do not block it, because I feel the blocks cause the problems; I learn to let go of the blocks, but a block might make me- quake, is the best word I can think of for it. I would show a physical sign of the emotion within. If Friends are distracted, I may distract them further.

I don’t want the Meeting to become the Abigail Maxwell Support Group, a sort of Circle of Support and more support, rather than accountability. I would be the cuckoo in the nest, diverting the energies of the Meeting from its service to God in the world. Most of the responsibility of managing my distress is my own. And I want to take the risk of being overcome, even of appearing disruptive, because otherwise I cannot take the risk of meeting God. If we need the meeting to be comfortable, then it cannot be alive.

Privilege is not an absolute. If it were, the epitome of white, male, straight cis privilege would be Donald J Trump, and he would not be the tiny, blustering man that he is without having been repeatedly traumatised. Yet it has some meaning. My friend showed courage in admitting one of his favourite psalms is 137, Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock! I love it because when I became conscious of my feelings, in my thirties, I found they were anger, frustration, resentment and fear. I have never wanted to take a baby by the ankle and smash its head open, but I am glad of that level of anger being in the Bible, because it has helped me realise I might be acceptable to God. Then again I understand that most women and the vast majority of men, like me, have fantasised about murder at some time in their lives. He and I may both like it because we are both LGBT. Not everyone understands our love for it. My lack of privilege includes an intimate acquaintance with impotent anger, and a default fear of people, even of Quakers.

I am glad that Wanstead Quakers want it to be known that our Local Meeting is a place where all are welcomed and nurtured, including people who are transgender and non-binary. It will not be true unless my high level of anger and emotional lability, arising from my trans nature and past circumstances, is welcomed. I bear most of the responsibility of looking after myself, but if I get no help from my meeting there is no point in going. Jesus take me as I am- I can come no other way. I give help, too, when I can. I dare to hope that the value of what I give exceeds that of what I take.

On the first full day of Yearly Meeting Gathering George Lakey spoke at length of his experience of the death of his son- hearing of it, travelling home, meeting family, the wake, the funeral, his feelings (though very little of his son, and only one positive fact about him). I am glad he did, as it cracked me open, but a friend commented that anywhere else there would be trigger warnings, and organised support offered “If you have been affected by the issues raised”. I blundered off, and proceeded to disrupt a discussion group by suppressed but still audible sarcastic laughter when the man leading the group shared deep, spiritual things. A woman left the group with me and spent two hours hearing my anguish.

“I am here to take,” I told her. “Sometimes I need to take.” And then when she fell on the stairs I stood and looked at her rather than going to help her up. I am not proud of this, but it is where I was at the time. I saw her later and expressed gratitude for her support and regret that I had disrupted the group. She could pass that on to the group leader, who was from her Meeting. I also feel her listening, when she held me while I plunged into my own darkness, freed to take a full, positive part in the Yearly Meeting. Many people thanked me for my ministry to the main session, which seemed to move them, from which I judge that it was worthwhile.

In fifteen years as a Quaker, I have found many shoulders offered to me to cry on, and have often taken full advantage. In a discussion group on Listening, a woman shared that sometimes she does this, and takes on pain from the other, but the other’s distress seems accentuated rather than relieved by the process. (I have also listened to others and sensed this in them, a bottomless pit of hurt which can never be dredged.) She compared such people to vampires, sucking her energy. I like to think I am not merely a vampire. Yet, from my side of the exchange, it can seem that people are very keen to provide shoulders to cry on. It makes them feel valued and valuable. It is an exchange, not a gift- we both know we will enjoy it, and sometimes we go at it for the good feeling rather than for any lasting good it will do. Don’t offer support in order to feel valued, because the outcome may make you feel insulted and wronged.

I put that too strongly when I first published this post. Being heard is unburdening for me, a huge relief. My inner critic bullies me as I unburden- I am being self-indulgent, this is not real, I should be tougher. The next day from publishing, I am not sure. Sometimes it can go wrong. I have listened, and felt I am earthing pain, like an electric charge passing through and out of me, but I have to let it go. I could do this, consciously, and move on. Once, after hearing a schizophrenic woman, the process of letting go took me two hours and involved seeking the help of a friend: that woman’s distress had evoked my own.

As this angry, labile, vulnerable, benefit-claiming, moderately depressed Quaker I want to be welcome all the time, not just when I pass as a quirky, middle-class, spiritual, highly educated and intelligent Normal-person. Please do not be self-sacrificial. Maintain your boundaries, and care for yourselves. So, tell me when you think I am pushing it, taking more support than I really need or that the meeting can offer, before Something Bad happens, and you exclude me in anger and blame me. People so often leave things unspoken, or assumed, but it might help to discuss the boundaries, to bring them into the open.

I have so much to offer you!

The public trans woman

I stood and spoke to a thousand people. I had seen you, entering late and walking deliberately round the back of the opposite balcony: you always catch my eye. I shared the ardour of my heart, for my ardour is strong and beautiful, and (wonderful as these people are) my words could add to their life and health. I am here. I have things to say. Listen to me. I delight in what I said, and how I said it, and at the same time I want the good of the whole group. I want to serve. Perhaps I cannot judge: I can only be myself, show myself, and that will have the effect it will. What I said was loving and generous, for I am loving and generous.

I am very pleased by this paragraph, too. There is the tincture of self-doubt and criticism in it, but I feel it is appreciative and truthful not a self-aggrandising over-reaction.

I sat, and was strongly moved by the experience. The woman next to me offered her hand, which I held as I recovered, then returned to her with thanks.

In the afternoon, I was sitting outside the Arts Centre with new friends when a woman came up to me. A relative of hers had transitioned, and she wanted to know how to treat her, and how to think about her. She asked if I was willing to talk, and I was, because I want to help her and her relative. And there are problems with this. I am not at all the representative trans woman who will tell you how all trans women think: the understanding of trans you get from me will get in the way unless you are willing to discard immediately any part of it which conflicts with how her unique individuality interacts with her unique experience of transgender. Possibly it is better to hear from a stranger than your relative the basics of pronoun use and dead-naming, it is wearing to have to keep explaining that, but even there her relative and I may disagree.

Even here, in the blessed space of Yearly Meeting Gathering, among Friends, where deep connection is possible in a moment’s meeting, there is something slightly off in her approaching me like this. She asked. I consented. I want to help. But it is my Life, burden, perplexity, truth, not a public property for others to learn of a social phenomenon, even though I chose to stand and talk about it in front of a thousand people.

In the evening was the Ceilidh, and I sat near a doctor. She told me how she had gone with a trans man to educate a group of doctors about transition, how ignorant they had been, and how amazed: they thought the man was a male actor, they had not known a trans man could pass so well. It is a way of starting a conversation. I had sat at her table. It is her interest, she is an ally, she had something valuable to share; and it is my life. I told her I do not think transition is the final answer, and certainly not the operations which sometimes go with it- they are part of the doctors’ desire to create a Solution, clear definite and apparently Scientific, and laypeople’s demand of that from doctors. That ended our conversation. Because it is her professional interest, and my life, and it does not respect me for you to bring up my most sensitive part, even when I have talked about it publicly, however strong your goodwill towards me. She may not have noticed her presumption, only my curtness.

This is the North-East chapel of Coventry Cathedral. The inscription on the plinth says, “I am among you as one that serves”. I love the light in here, the crown of thorns which could tear flesh, and the way the congregation is a circle round the altar, one body of equals.

Yearly Meeting Gathering

Renoir Two women and a girl in a landscapeMore on Membership.

It is different for each of us, but our insights are collective: ours is a Do It Together not DIY society. Our discipline is difficult, for we must give over our own wills. We move away from a rigid demarcation of members from attenders. Most meetings use attenders to do particular jobs. Some attenders do not apply for membership out of a feeling of unworthiness, but none of us is Worthy in that sense (or all of us)- we keep learning. Some reject membership fearing the burden of the tasks of the meeting, and all those committees. We reject outward sacraments, considering the underlying spiritual reality, but we still have this process. And some, contrary to expectation, find joining transformative. Someone suggested a re-commitment act for members.

Though we are collective, we give space in which each person can work out her/his spiritual journey. We come together and maintain our cohesiveness not through all using the same words, but through mutual respect and care, which is more difficult. We share structures which permit our experiences to happen. We need something which can unite us: perhaps it is the power of God.

We issued a Statement on Gaza urging diplomatic recognition of Palestine. The clerks said that it was particularly carefully drafted, but some speakers from the floor quibbled, wanting more emphasis on Hamas rockets. They delayed our statement by only a few days.

I went to the “Jane Austen Dances”, which were on at lunchtime daily, once. I had not heard dances Jane might have done in Bath around 1805 called that before. It was crowded and enthusiastic and bodged, error-prone. On the Friday evening some people did a demonstration on the stage, but I did not find the chance to perform worth the effort of practising.

I found Ben Pink Dandelion giving the Swarthmore Lecture charismatic. He was eye-catching and charming. He waved a page of A4 saying it was his entire notes. After, a woman told me he was irked sometimes by female admirers sitting at his feet and looking reverent. In his question and answer session, I found his jokes not brilliant, and most of the laughter sounded feminine. But someone else said he is gay.

Thursday morning I was exhausted, and weepy, in misery around not being able to stay on the sick indefinitely, but not getting work either. I sat in the sun in the camp site with a novel, then wandered in to talk to an Overseer. Being heard, I could talk myself into calm. I had met the man at the clerks’ course, but did not recognise him because he had shaved off his moustache. Then I sat in the gathering tent chatting and joking.

Mark Smulian, an Israeli who had been part of a band with Palestinians talked, and led us in a workshop clapping rhythms and taking turns to improvise across the rhythm. Aged 18, he volunteered to be a paratrooper, and had to police a curfew. On patrol, he saw an “Arab” out, so gave chase, and when he caught her found she was 15, so let her go: his human reaction went against his training, law and duty. Thank God.

A filmed experience of YMG:

Quaker business

File:Renoir - Bouquet in a Vase, 1878.jpgWhen the Yearly Meeting gathered to discern the leadings of God, those planning our business expected cautious support for equal marriage. Instead, with the fire of the speakers and the unity of those who did not speak, we demanded that we be able to celebrate gay marriages in the same way that we celebrate straight marriages, and so changed the legislation to permit that.

I wish I had been there.

Sarah commented acidly that when we decided to join Churches Together, “The clerk knew who to call first”. He deliberately called speakers opposed first, supportive after, so that it seemed that the mood of the hall was moving towards joining, according to her.

This year we had a fudge. Meeting for Sufferings recommended that we revise Quaker Faith and Practice. This came up in the evening session on Sunday, when I was elsewhere, and there was no unity for it. Why should we spend so much time and energy on a navel-gazing exercise? What we have is all we need. “Would you go back to the previous book, approved in 1959?” I asked. “Yes,” said Axel, definitely, surprising me. But there are holes in it. For example, the previous book had no out gay voices. The revision process will reveal what those holes are. This, Axel thought, was the best argument for revision he had heard.

File:Renoir-Chrysanthèmes-Rouen.jpgThe clerk being unable to discern unity, with no time on the Friday morning to come to unity, proposed the fudge. We would proceed with preparatory work towards a revision, without committing to do it. I wanted to revise. The procedure could take ten years, and in 2024 I want our book of discipline to have contributors who are still alive. I want it to state timeless truths in contemporary language: the 17th century quotes will still have value, but the 1980s quotes will need pruned. At the clerk’s proposal of a way forward, I had to let go of my desire. This was my most intense spiritual work of the Gathering.

Much of the rest of the business was formal. We have to agree certain nominations, but do not challenge them. The possibility of challenge may affect the process of those nominating. One committee drafted our Epistle from the Yearly meeting. I stood, then, to advocate restoration of a sentence which had been deleted. I was not called to speak, and probably the sentence was correctly deleted. We received reports, and there were other sessions for any questions.

On the Saturday evening, we sang, sometimes in Rounds:

Make new friends
But keep the old
One is silver
and the other gold

This manages to be both trite and tendentious, and drew the heckle “Rubbish! Appalling!” I wondered what the press bench thought. The words don’t matter- no group of Friends will agree on words- but togetherness from singing does.

On Membership, I considered ministering on the Friday morning on my own experience of joining: I was a stranger, and you took me in. Frightened and vulnerable, I needed a place to belong. Considering words I might use, it came to me that I have found it: I belong, Here. My ministry was for myself, not for the meeting, and I began to sob. The Friend next to me was concerned for me, and I reassured her quoting “Excess of joy weeps”. I stood to share something around Love in our membership procedures, but was not called, and another expressed it quite as well as I could.

Here is a video we saw together.

And one on our work together:

The words we use

Renoir, la marchande d'orangesIf I use words, I cannot avoid inaccuracy, interpretation and ideas. Sometimes when communicating, only silence will do. However, since communicating in silence remains a rare, intense experience for me, usually I have nothing better than words.

Words trap us in ideas. A clear idea is a vehicle for understanding, and a barrier to greater understanding: the idea that planetary orbit must be perfect, and therefore had to be circular, inhibited observers from discerning the true orbit. I seek to crack open ideas with paradox:

Both are true:

God is

God is not

This sometimes works, sometimes does not.

We know our experiences. We theorise explanations of them. My heart beat fast. I could not stay sitting. I had to speak. This I know, and others hear and instantly recognise their own experience. The theories are that God did it, or unconscious processes did it. If I demand that others accept a particular theory, I create a barrier between people who share experiences. Theist and non-theist share the idea that what is said may be good or bad- from God or from evil spirits, or from communal co-operative or selfish unconscious impulses.

Quakers say “Christianity is not a notion, but a way”. We use “notion” as a jargon term like Marx’s original idea of “ideology”- a false understanding. So my religion is one of practice and attitude, not belief or dogma. I have the experience of Unity in a business meeting, I do not need a theory of what causes it.

Rhiannon Grant led a workshop at yearly meeting on our words. She has done a thesis on the words we use. She invited us to put them in categories: words we never/sometimes/always use. “God” was in all three. I could say “Highest Good/ Truth/ Reality” as a synonym. Some of us are happy saying “Jesus of Nazareth” but not “Christ”. Sometimes it seemed that our most precise words were used less. I was pleased there to see again a man who, in this highly intelligent gathering, is particularly clear and sharp. He is enjoying being a Woodbrooke trustee.

Often we say what we are not. “Quakers do not have a creed”- yet we have accumulated a number of verbal formulations which we assent to, the first being “There is that of God in every one”, ripped out of George Fox’s original context and made gender neutral. We don’t have a lot of those, though, and most are images, leading people on rather than leaving them in a definite (so probably erroneous) idea.

“Inner Light” is a good word for what leads us. We know what we mean. Outsiders might not. So in discussions we seek to use words people will hear and resonate with, treading carefully and checking their responses. Though if someone merely wishes to deride my idiocy, I can be more knockabout.

One woman found she was using verbs rather than nouns: “Encounter” rather than “God”. Again, this brings us back to the experience rather than the theory.

Let there be no barriers between us!
As my words move in your mind
We become one flesh, like lovers
though we only pass in the street

Membership

La sortie du Conservatoire, Renoir, in partAt YM, we discussed the meaning of membership. I want to belong. When I joined Quakers, as I moved towards Transition I felt isolated and vulnerable. I was a stranger, and you took me in.

However we are counter-suggestible, often, and not all feel like that. One woman said she had been an attender for thirty years before joining, and each suggestion that she join put her off for longer. Sometimes, Friends wish such an attender to be an elder or a clerk. Thoughts, and thought-experiments:

In Tripoli five ex-pat Quakers have a meeting in each others’ houses. They all retain membership of British area meetings. Someone joins them, and wants to become a Quaker. For this person, a Membership procedure has great importance. They could, together, discern that this new person is one of them, a Quaker entire, but they have no power to call him a member of our Society.

I could say the first attender should grit her teeth and allow the formal procedures to recognise the reality of her membership, her being a Quaker, however unhappy she feels about joining; or the second should be satisfied with the welcome and inclusion he gets from the other ex-pats. Or, I could say that Friends should accept fuzziness around membership, that the first is obviously a Quaker and can be given the jobs, but the second needs a formal membership procedure and British Quakers should give him one.

We are members of area meetings originally because we operated a parallel poor law, and needed a group which would be responsible for our poor; but we don’t, now, and the difficulties of having a National membership should not be insuperable. A small committee could be appointed, or an existing committee could deal with it. We have lots of committees. Generally, we are members of particular area meetings now because we are members of communities of people, Friends in practice as well as theory, but not all of us need be.

Sometimes things are important to people, and the rest of us should look after them. I met a woman who loathed the very word “God” because for her it was irredeemably masculine, a Father which excluded her, and no matter how reasonable I am, saying God is agendered, and being careful with the pronouns and language I use, when she hears the word “God” she gets upset.

My role, here, in these disputes, is to be a peacemaker, a role most Quakers like. “Can you give what they want? It should not be too hard. It is not a great denial of Principle,” I say, winsomely, to both sides. This is more Quaker than “plain speech” is, so there.

Membership, the word “God”, the ability to reject formal membership procedures, all have value, but each individual human being has greater value.

To provoke thought, I suggested a “proposal of membership”. Elders could identify an appropriate attender, and bring the matter for the discernment of Area Meeting, then tell the attender that we will recognise her/him as a Quaker, a member, if s/he only agree to it. Some people are frightened of the membership procedure, imagining they might not get through. Some don’t.

Conversations

Renoir, Moulin de la Galette rightWe are serious people doing serious things, but it was a lot like a party for two thousand people going on for a week. S complained about looking like a little old lady, and was not reassured when I said she was a lot more impressive after one had talked to her for five minutes. Her hippy coloured trousers did not help: the eye passing over a “little old lady” does not notice them.

In the bar I would see couples chatting away, recognise the style of name badge, and ask if I could join them. I was not rebuffed. I talked to a big burly man with a thick, wild beard about the Salter Lecture, the “Socialist rant” as he called it. I was disappointed last year in the talk on co-operatives. It was on tax justice this year. He says law must follow opinion: tax avoidance must be seen to be Wrong before we can make it unlawful. I disagreed: the discrimination law was ahead of public opinion.

The Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship would not change its name to a longer acronym, but a bisexual man said he was not recognised. So they have the slogan “Accepting all sexualities”. A woman challenged me on this- what about paedophilia? Well, Adam is a sympathetic paedophile. The act is abominable, the person tempted to it is not. I have experience of the Normal People pointing at the Weirdos Over There- me; and being unable to do anything but transition despite its weirdness and difficulty; so have sympathy. Bestiality- can the animal consent? I have read those who do it say the animal does, and bestiality is also compulsive. Necrophilia? Er-Renoir, Moulin de la Galette centre

She also said that if trans women really were “the shock troops of patriarchy” we could find a better way of going about it.

A woman told me about the historical Jesus- definitely Not God, definitely Jewish. She had been reading Geza Vermes. Oh, OK.

Two women talked of “our children”. Hmm. Are they a couple? It feels like they are, though the phrase does not make it certain, and I feel unable to ask: being lesbian is entirely normal, one doesn’t make a thing of it.

The last time I met Sue, I felt excluded. She did not want me there, and I thought- “But I’m not the Bad Person”. On the last evening I joined her and her husband, and we talked of how their children were getting on, and R’s children, and Cardiff meeting, which is growing, with more younger people. She was at the meeting with H and felt there was movement towards reconciliation. I have now facebook friended her. It was a gentle conversation. We hugged. I would not want to discuss previous issues, though perhaps “worship sharing” would be possible- saying how we felt and what we thought had happened, without discussion or dispute. Here at least we can take pleasure in each others’ gifts and happiness.

I noticed that what I remember of these conversations is what I say. This is not necessarily a bad thing, for it can help me get things clear in my mind to articulate them, and I respond to the other speaking at the time. However I thought it would behove me to listen a bit more, and try to remember.