Tuesday, 21 January 2014


This week a wise woman wrote the following to me:

Give yourself permission not to believe anything. Just "be" and trust that the Divine Other, whatever that turns out to be, will just "be" alongside you. 

I've been pondering this.  Not just this week but before.  Other people have recently given me advice or said words about "be" and about moving beyond or through concepts.

I was reading today and the text contained an illustration which gave me a clue.  I mulled it over and turned it round, adapting it slightly for myself.  Of course, it's just an illustration - human words and visions seeking to express that which is beyond our words and visions.  And an illustration has many meanings.  Not just the one I'm using today.  A picture is worth a thousand interpretations.

To be is to sit with my hands in front of me, palms up, open.

Held in the palms of my hands is the air.

No matter what draughts or winds come, held in the palms of my hands is the air.

But if I try to grasp the air, I lose it and grasp nothing.

To be is to sit in stillness, accepting, trusting, experiencing the air.

At this time to believe in the concrete nature of human definitions would be to grasp nothing.

"God" is the real. What I can grasp is the unreal.

"God" is the infinite.  What I can grasp is finite, miniscule, nothing.

I think I may have adapted my reading quite freely - looking back several times at the pages read I can't find the illustration.  There's talk of grasping - but not of hands and the air.

The pages were good - proposing differences between real, unreal, and non-existent.  That which is unreal exists.  Of the non-existent it cannot even be said that it "is not".  And they explained the meaning of "subtle" in a metaphysical sense rather than in a clever argument sense.  There is talk of waves, oceans, reflections

I read:

"It is very important to understand what Krishna means by "subtle," because only the subtle is reality, truth, sat.  Whatever can be grasped will be unreal, asat.  It may be here today; tomorrow it will not be.  Only that which cannot be grasped is sat.

Whatever science will come to know will not be godliness, because godliness means precisely that which doesn't fall within the grasp of knowing. ... The beginning of godliness is from that point where it is impossible to grasp."

So now is the time where I must learn to be, not to grasp.  To let the beyond be the beyond without giving it narrow names.  For the Tao that is named is not the Tao.  Words, concepts are appealing.  They're safe.  They give us a place where we have a security and think we can see the edges of life.  I like concepts.  Letting them go may be difficult.

I've been grasping the air for many years.  I have scars in my palms from digging in my fingernails in an attempt to hold onto air.  Now is the time to relax, to rest, to open my palms and be.  To be in the presence of that which is life, the eternal.  And in time to realise that I too, the real me, is life, the eternal too.

To go further, the form of the hand and the form of the air are not the real.  They too are unreal - they exist but are unreal.  They change.

"The unreal is a glimpse of the real - though only momentary.  If we hold tightly onto the form that the real temporarily takes on, we will be holding onto the unreal.  But if we recognize the formless in that momentary form, the attribute-less that has shone through it, we will have caught hold of the real."

 I've grasped the form, and thus held the unreal and missed the real in a quest to hold it.

Now.  The time to be.  To let the real be.

To see the changing forms.  And the changelessness that manifests as those forms.

Now.  Be.

Congratulations if you've read all that.  That you've persevered to the end through all this weird semi-mysticism, and mentions of Krishna.  Now, the final straw perhaps.  Here's a song by Neil Diamond, from the soundtrack to Jonathan Livingston Seagull - which was trendy forty years ago.  And I was a lover of Richard Bach books when I was about thirteen.


(words in italics are taken from "War and Peace", a series of spoken talks by Osho discussing the early chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.  I like Osho.  He was paradoxical.  He said some wildly outrageous things.  He said things I don't begin to agree with.  The people who ran things in his community in America were plainly evil or fell into great evil.  Osho did plenty of things that just seem "wrong" for the average guru.  Perhaps because he saw this world as unreal.  Yes, he was a strange one.  But I like him and his writings - usually spoken talks - provide much material for thought, even the bits that are too wacky to believe or just plain wrong!  It's very different from the weighty tome by Calvin that I was reading a year ago.)

Monday, 20 January 2014

Prophetic Picture from Within - It's time to sink or swim.

To continue.  I saw a picture:

I saw people paddling in a vast ocean.

The whole ocean appeared to be about a foot in depth.

The people were happy.  They were safe and the water felt good.

The ocean floor was steady, flat and could be relied on at all times.

The people wandered in the ocean, happy to experience it, and shared the experience together.

But then the ocean floor shook.

Holes appeared in it.

And then it gave way entirely and vanished.

The people discovered that the ocean was not a foot in depth.

The people began to sink.

Panic ensued.  People did not know what to do.

They discovered the ocean floor was not the true ocean floor.

Their safety had gone.

Would could they do?  Splash around.  And drown.

The people experienced hopelessness.

But then they discovered something wonderful.

They discovered another ocean floor.

Now they stood in the ocean, almost submerged.

The water covered their whole bodies and they could even duck and cover their heads.

It had felt wonderful on their ankles.

It now felt more wonderful on their bodies, more than they could have imagined.

And then, the people, who previously could only walk,

They learned to swim.

That's it.  That's what I saw.  At the time I was sitting in a church, towards the end of the service.  The congregation were singing a song as a response to the sermon - though it didn't seem any different to the songs before the sermon.  It was noisy.  I couldn't sing - not with integrity, not with honesty to myself.  So I sat.  In as much quiet as I could manage.  And I took up the mantra from earlier that morning.  And then saw that picture.

The people are the mass of humanity.
The ocean is the life of the spirit, the real, being, truth, wholeness, the beyond - whatever name you care to give it.
The shallow ocean floor, solid, safe, is theism - a belief in that one God in the sky in control of everything.

In my life that ocean floor has pretty much given way and I've been sinking, panicking, feeling like I will drown.  It's a scary thing to lose sight of the God who has been your only hope.

But I feel another ocean floor is coming into view and that there is so much more to experience in this "spirit" life, growing into the potential of a human being.  I feel that my God was in the ocean, part of the ocean.  But that my God obscured the greater ocean behind concepts, stone doctrines, and an exclusiveness that saw the greater ocean as non-existent or evil.

In many ways our society is going through the same process - from security, to panic, to confidence, a greater enlightenment and a greater human dignity.  That's scary too - it can be a mess as we explore and make mistakes in our exploration.  But it's hopeful.

We have choices when we lose theism.  Do we lose everything and live in despair - as many existentialists have been tempted to do?  Or do we look beyond into a greater reality, and learn to swim?

Of course, my picture and interpretation may be entirely wrong.

It could be that the one God is real, that He is Lord, Judge, Saviour, the only Hope, that rejecting him leads to an eternal punishment in fire.

I could be wrong.

In which case we're not going to swim.

We're all going to drown.

I don't think so.  But I'm not the one God.  I've been wrong before.  And this blog post isn't a holy Scripture which must be believed.  It's just an idea put forward to be considered.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Words for my life - Prophetic, Intuitive or Imagined?

In the middle of May 2013, I was visiting another church, a church of enthusiastic people with a love for the prophetic.  I went there several times - the regular pre-service food is probably unrivalled by any church in Newcastle!

After the service I sat with two good people and they prayed for prophetic words, writing down a page of what came to them - with the proviso that they might not be right and that they weren't perfect at listening to what God was saying.

Of course the words could be seen as coming from the one God, coming from developing an intuitive gift, or as coming from everybody fooling themselves in the name of a religion.  And they could be interpreted in many ways.  But there are parallels, real or imagined, between the words and the paths I've walked in the last eight months.

Here goes:

 "Feet walking in the same place up and down for quite a while.  Sense of God changing direction of the route."

"A picture of an old cupboard you haven't opened the doors of for a long time.  The Lord wants to encourage you to open the doors and examine with Him what you find in there.  He will be with you while you do this.  He knows what is in there already, so do not be afraid or hesitant."

"This cupboard might have a maternal link."

"God is calling you by name, calling you out."

Now, I'm not sure what those very evangelical, very charismatic church people would think about the path my life has gone in the last eight months.

But I opened the cupboard.  I examined thoroughly.  It didn't have much link to my own mother - but in the examining I became a mother and embraced the feminine/female I am.

The direction of the route changed drastically in terms both of gender and faith.  I'm not walking where I was and I wouldn't be able to walk there again.

And God did call me out.  They wondered hard about that one and then added a postscript.  "... must be like Samuel."  But it wasn't like Samuel.  I was called out.  And I came out.  As myself.  I came out to myself and then to the world and keep setting my public honesty bar high.  I haven't been back to that church for ages so I don't know what they would think of my coming out in an LGBT fashion!

There were other "words" too.  But "Believe Jesus" is obvious advice from a church - though I am taking it now in a "Believe Jesus" sense rather than a "Believe Christianity" way.  And I don't know what "Get the DVD" referred to - I can't think it refers to any that I've bought in the last months!

Why am I posting this now?  Because this morning in church I "received a picture".  It came to me as strongly as any "prophetic word" ever did in the past.  Since I'm currently not the monotheist I was I have to interpret the source differently.  It arose from within rather than from without, albeit with influences from without and perhaps with influences from the interconnectedness of all things.  We are one.

I'll write about my "picture" in my next blog post.  Unless I get completely sidetracked by another facet of life before I write more.  It's not a "picture" that would have been well received by the church I was attending this morning - and it's not a "picture" that will be well received by many of my friends.  They'll reject it.  But that's fine.  It's just a "picture".  It's not "THUS SAITH THE LORD."

I believe in God - but might be told that I do not believe in God at all.

It's public confession time.

At this point in time I do not believe in a God.

Looking back I can see that I have not believed in a God for quite a while.  Perhaps I haven't believed in a God for years but have kept on practising the same things and holding mentally to the same creeds.  I believed that was the right way.  It was also the safe way.  But inside there was the death of faith.  My God meant nothing to me personally. There was little inner sense of connection with this one God even in the emotional, hormonal high of worship.  Yes, at times I could honestly say "I believe ..." but at others my faith was a clinging to a concept because I couldn't bring myself to actively challenged concept.   I'm sure I'll be writing much more about this.

Second confession.

I believe in God, or at the very least in god.

Some people will think at least one of my confessions is false.  We're used to hearing people with loud voices telling us that there is either theism or atheism, that the two supposed opposite views are the only alternatives.  The fundamentalist theists call the atheists stupid.  The fundamentalist atheists call the theists stupid.  Put one of each in the same room and the debate turns from reason into two people in different holes throwing mud at each other - albeit mud that's dressed up in long words and the respectful language shared by Parliament - "with all due respect, the right honourable gentleman is a complete idiot".

But I believe in God.

Some people will tell me that I don't believe in God because I don't believe in a God, in the God, or more to the point, I don't believe in their God or their picture of God.  Some will tell me that because my definition (or lack of definition) of God doesn't match their definition it is not God I believe in, that I believe in a folly that I've misnamed.

Yesterday I finished reading the book "A New Christianity for a New World" by the retired Episcopalian bishop, John Shelby Spong.  The book hasn't changed my thoughts but he has helped me find words for some of my thoughts and crucially he's helped me find hope and direction - that Christianity and my life are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  Reading some pages I had thoughts like "that's exactly where I am" or "those are exactly the questions I've been asking for at least the last year".  He doesn't provide easy answers and his answers are made more difficult by my own difficulties in thinking of God beyond a traditional theistic framework.

Yes, the nature of my God will take much time and work to come to terms with.  The nature of my faith will take time and work to come to terms with.  Entering into a liturgical environment where everything is phrased theistically is very difficult for me - and there will probably be a post about that.  Prayer life is also a challenge.  I have not really "prayed" since last May.  How can I "pray" when I have nobody to "pray to"? 

Spong has shown me that a personal life of prayer, worship, devotion, spiritual discipline is still possible without the one God.  I don't know whether his answers will be my answers but it doesn't matter.  What matters is that there are answers.

He also gives a few working definitions of God.  He believes in God as:

  • The source of all life
  • The source of all love
  • The ground of our being
  • Being
God is not "a being" to be prayed to, bowed to, relied on for everything.
God is "being" to be entered into, to be lived, expressed, in becoming all that we can be, more than we thought we could be.

I can't phrase this well - it's all new to me.  Spong does is so much better and expands on the meanings of his loose definitions. 

A year ago I had all the answers.  I was ploughing through the very long fourth edition of Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion."  I was reading a wadge of the Bible every day.  I prayed to the one God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  I was enthused by the pentecostal writings of men like Smith Wigglesworth and the pentecostal, charismatic exuberance of churches like St Luke's in Newcastle and of groups like Speakers of Life.

I had answers.  In the last months all I've had are questions.  Great doubt.  A sense that I cannot keep living the same outward faith that I've lived for twenty-four years.  But an inability to reject that faith, partly because of the way I've lived it and partly because I still see light in the person of Jesus.  It seemed that "one personal God" is the most central tenet of Christianity alongside our sin and the blood-sacrifice required that we might be "saved".  I couldn't believe those things but couldn't quit.  And in the last year, when gender issues have provided so much insecurity, I really didn't want any more insecurity.

I've come to see that there can be Christianity without those so-called central tenets of faith, that those tenets were not the only possible view arising from the life and death of Jesus and the theistic views of a 2,000 year old society.  That's largely thanks to Spong and his new Christianity.

Yes, I have questions and I'll be asking them and writing about them through much of this year.  I'm sure that a lot of people happening upon this blog will disagree with me and either tell me that I shouldn't have faith or that I should have a proper faith in the "one true God".

I won't phrase things well - this is a work in progress, not a finished book based on a lifetime of life and thought.  If you want good phrasing I'd encourage you - whether Christian or not - to read the Bishop Spong book linked to above.  Some people won't be able to engage with him at all.  Some will be saying "Wow!" every other page.  Some will be challenged and have to think about what they can find value in.  Actually I'd love to read the book with others and discuss it together and then work out what to do about it.

It's time to get dressed now.  And go to church.  And struggle with the liturgies, the prayers, the words that, if taken in an easy literal manner, are words that at this point I can't really relate to.

So, my public confession again:

I believe in God.

For today, everything else is a non-essential.  A window dressing.  Only the window is essential.  And that is God.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

I have been informed today about a gap in Cumberland.

(Hand's up who's old enough to get the joke in the title of this post.)

Sometimes a one sentence answer on facebook expands and becomes long enough for a blog.  In my case it could happen frequently - and has happened often - because I type too much, in part to get my own thoughts straight.

I was sent an article that seemed hopeful to someone - and in some ways it is very hopeful and it's not an article that would have been seen ten, twenty years ago.  Progress.  Progress.  It's about life in a school in Cumberland, North Carolina where a first grader - who is transgender - is using the girls toilets.  Some people are worried by this although I'm not really sure what horrific danger this particular first grader girl poses to the fabric of society or even to the safety of other first grader girls.  The school will be acting to put a policy in place.

Here's the article:


There's more that I could write - such as about the problematic nature of phrases like "opposite gender" and the problem with bringing "sexuality" into this story.  And I'd make a guess that many of the first graders dress and behave "in a manner commonly associated with girls."  This girl does too - she just happens to be a girl with a slightly different body.  So what?  It's not her fault.

People don't worry that - shock, horror! - lesbians use the same toilets and changing facilities and even shared shower facilities as straight women.  Lesbians use them and we're not surprised to learn that nothing happens.  Nobody is endangered.  Of course not.  Why would there be any problem?  There wouldn't because there's no reason why there would.  And that's obvious to most of us.

But the thought that a transgender girl or woman might use the same facilities fills some people with horror and fear - because they see us as predators, as a danger, as perverted, rather than as someone who just wants to go to the toilet or change to use a gym, or change into a work uniform.  The rhetoric goes that transgender women want to attack people.  Fear them.  Cast them out.  They have no right to live full lives.

Thankfully a lot of people don't think like that.  Probably most women in British society don't worry if they happen to spot that I'm transgender and using the women's toilets.  I find most people admire me for doing this rather than fear me for being this.  There was a time when that wouldn't have been the case.  Progress.  Progress.

I didn't send my response to my friend on facebook.  Instead she received a minor discussion about a local, friendly Catholic parish and about liturgy - noting the logical order of the liturgy of the Mass. 

But here's my off-the-cuff, unpolished, disordered, probably controversial response to the article typed in not many minutes:

I look for a time when parents don't feel a need to be informed - because they realise that it doesn't matter - that they're too worried about genitals and too closed/narrow in their views of sex and gender to see a human being as a human being and treat them as who they are.

In the current climate of opinion it's difficult and for now it seems that parents feel a need to be informed - because obviously every transgender child should be outed to the entire community and have no choice in this, even in a community where some people will hate that child for being who he or she is.

But it's good that some schools are at last bothering to think about gender and address this issue.  It's good that schools are allowing a girl to use a girl's room.  It's good that the article calls her "her".  It's good that the child's parents have the courage to let her be herself.

"As welcome as possible under the circumstances" is nasty language though - it sounds like "hey, you're transgender so you're not as welcome as everyone else."  The circumstances are they have an innocent child in their school who should be treated like any other innocent child.  Imagine the damage that may be done to the child if she's treated differently because her body doesn't perfectly match her person.

It's progress and it will continue.  Just think, 50 years ago the argument in the USA would have been about whether to let a black girl use a toilet.  In 50 years time most people will feel just as ashamed of the arguments over gender and the dehumanising of another section of the wonderfully wideness of humanity.

For now it is the transgender person who has something to fear, not the cisgender* person.  Many have been attacked, insulted, arrested in rest rooms.  Some will not leave the house in case we need a toilet, due to experiences they've had.  Remember - we have been and still often are the oppressed.  We are not the oppressor.  Yet we are so often portrayed as criminals, sex perverts and everyone else is made out to be a victim of our boldness in daring to exist and to attempt to live in the world with everyone else.  Or we get told we're mentally ill, deranged, evil, demon possessed, abominations.

How should parents talk to their children?  Simply.  The child will not worry unless the child is taught to worry.

* cisgender - anyone who isn't transgender, whose gender roughly matches their sex - though even these terms aren't ideal descriptions because gender isn't a binary system in which you're either male or female.