Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Forcing people to accept the "gay lifestyle" and "Christianity"? No. We're not.

I am becoming angry.  I think that's a good thing.  It's only a matter of time before I break out into more practical social action.

I just saw a picture on facebook.  Somebody shared it from "The Tea Party" and anyone who knows me knows that me and the Tea Party don't see eye-to-eye.  I wonder who these two men are and if they know their image is being used in such a way.

And I screamed inside.  At the idiocy of that question - and at how many people would think it a good question, that their freedom is threatened by allowing gay people to marry.  Then again I saw a comment yesterday from someone - a very faithful Catholic - who didn't see that the laws in Uganda as an affront because, he said, homosexuality is an affront to nature.  Would he want LGBT people in America to be imprisoned for life I wonder?  Would he think it an affront to imprison me for life?

Bear in mind that I wrote a long response to someone earlier in the day defending theism and theists - that it isn't a belief in God that leads to idiocy but other things that arise in non-theistic situations too: exclusivism, defensiveness, fear, crowd psychology, the human need to belong, leaders not encouraging thought - and sometimes actively discouraging thought.  I was a strong theist for two decades and know so many marvellous people who are theists.  I'm not anti-theism or anti-Christianity and remain a Christian, albeit a non-theist.

None of what follows is an attack on theism - I have no problem at all with people believing in God and see how many good things this can bring.  Even if theism is an erroneous belief it brings great things to millions of people and inspires great deeds, great art and literature and great charity.

I wrote this.  In one rapid sprawl.  And haven't proof read it, checked it or altered it at all.  I can't post it on facebook - I lost the original post by pressing the wrong button. That may be a good thing.  If you get fed up with my ramblings there are links to a couple of better writers at the bottom of this post.

 How stupid.  At best stupid.  At worst evil.

A) it's not a 'lifestyle'.

B) nobody is asking anyone to adopt a gay life - only to allow gay people to live their lives.

People are being asked to stop discriminating against gay people (like myself).  They're not being told to be gay.  People are being asked to accept us - not become us.  To stop hating us.  And they DO hate us, while claiming to 'hate the sin but love the sinner'.  I've been told my marriage is void, blasphemy and that I'm an abomination.  By Christians.  Throwing the Bible at me.  Many friends have had similar experiences.  All we ask is that we can be who we are - and that's rooted in love, compassion.

The current situation in many places, including much of the USA, is that people are forced to not be themselves and love who they love.  And the Catholic Church supports that situation.  "Who am I to judge?" falls on deaf ears when we've already been judged.

C) Who doesn't accept that Christians can be Christians?  Nobody is telling Christians to stop being Christians.

Except Christians keep living in fear - if we allow a gay couple to marry it will destroy civilisation, they'll turn and kill the church, they'll want to marry squirrels.  And all that crap.  Why are Christians taught to live in such fear?  Why do Christians fear human beings so much?  Are they really so faithless?  Do they not believe "if God is for me ...?"

If God is love and perfect love casts out all fear then it has to be said that an atheist gay couple can be MUCH closer to God than many Christians are.

Or does this picture imply that if the government allow gay people to live their lives it should force people to be Christian?

I hope not because that would be evil.  Very, very evil.

What I really hate is all this talk of "religious freedom" when what is meant is "we religious people want to force everyone else to live the way we want them to".  When I hear "religious freedom" coming from an American it is rare that religious freedom is meant.  What is almost always meant is bigotry, persecution, criminalising humans, and a lack of freedom - religious or otherwise - for others.

Hey, a church which I love I attend regularly is part of a denomination founded in the USA.  It teaches that gay marriage is fine.  Why shouldn't we have the "religious freedom" that people, including yourself, go on about?  Why do so many Christians think that religious freedom includes forcing your religion and the morality you draw from it onto everyone else?

So, legalise civil gay marriage.  Legalise it.  Any sex marriage.  Any gender marriage.

Because anything else destroys the concept of religious freedom.  And legalising it doesn't destroy your freedom to be in a church that teaches that it is evil.  That my marriage is evil.  That I am evil because of my gender (as Benedict XVI made abundantly clear).

Legalise it.  Because that's freedom.

Or don't you trust God to be able to cope with a society that is free?  Don't you trust God to "protect" the Catholic Church?

Your God should be big enough that you don't feel the need to piss, through your thoughts, words and deeds, on people for being gay and loving one another.

If you want to go further read something else about threats to religious freedom, something written with much care and common sense, something which quickly and clearly cuts through much of the nonsense that people speak about the subject, I can recommend this post:

Or take a read of this short article from an evangelical Christian website, written by Kristen Howerton on "the biblical definition of marriage and its relevance to marriage equality."  She doesn't judge any definition, opinion or interpretation but writes:

The relevance of your biblical beliefs on homosexuality in regards to marriage equality?

Case closed!

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Law. Catholic Opposition? Western Influence?

This is most definitely not what I'd expected to be writing about this afternoon. 

I hadn't been expecting to be writing anything at all.  The plan was to check Facebook and then go to a quiet room and read a book.  A book by Elizabeth Chadwick, The Love Knot.  Not the sort of thing I'd have even thought of reading a year ago.  Coming out as transgender means that I feel I can experiment with reading things that I wouldn't have tried as a "man".  The experimentation is all part of finding out what kind of a woman I am and revelation comes whether or not I like something.

Yes, I'd been expecting a quiet afternoon, free of any controversial subjects and free of thinking hard about difficult topics.  But then I checked Facebook and found myself reading something someone wrote about the "bold opposition" the Catholic Church has made since 2009 against the new anti-gay law in Uganda.

Ever suspicious of claims, the cynic in action, I wondered how "bold" the opposition was.  As a result of easy research - for the answers are easy to find.  I was cross about what I found.  How could their "opposition" possibly be described as "bold"?  The Catholic Church is powerful.  Bold opposition would use that power in a way that risks consequences, risks persecution.

I'm sure what I found out isn't the full story.  I'm sure there were plenty of faithful Catholics who did bold things.  But the story I found wasn't good.  To be fair, the Catholic Church did more than any major local church to oppose the bill.  No other major denomination in Uganda spoke against the bill at all.  The Ugandan Anglicans didn't.  And many of the other churches are greatly influenced by and often financed by American evangelicalism - with all its fundamentalist homophobia.

Indeed the genesis of the bill springs at least in part from those American fundamentalists.  It grew from a seminar called “Seminar on Exposing the Truth behind Homosexuality and the Homosexual Agenda."  There, a Ugandan group financially supported by US groups teamed up with two anti-gay activists.  You can read about the seminar here.  The entire article is worth reading.  Another article on the same subject can be found here.  It's also worth reading.

The second article gives more information about one of those activists, Scott Lively.  He's a holocaust revisionist who believes that homosexuals founded the Nazi party and were responsible for much of the holocaust.  He wrote a book about it, The Pink Swastika.  Not a book well received by historians who agree the premise is "utterly false".  And it's offensive to anyone who knows anything about the pink triangle - which was used to identify people sent to prison camps by the Nazi regime because of their homosexuality.

The article quotes him from a transcript of the seminar: "I know more about this [homosexuality] than almost anyone in the world ... The gay movement is an evil institution. The goal of the gay movement is to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity."  Later he met with the Ugandan parliament and after he left parliament announced the need for the new law. 

The other activist was from Exodus International which was a prominent anti-gay group calling for conversion therapy until June 2013 when it shut down and the leaders apologised for all the hurt they caused.

Both articles point to other first-world, Christian visitors to Uganda.  One of the most prominent, Pastor Rick Warren, visited in 2008.  I already knew that but it's good to find myself reminded.  Warren is the pastor of the Willow Creek Church, a "seeker friendly" mega-church and author of the astoundingly popular book in Christian circles, "The Purpose Driven Life."  I've owned a copy and at least one church I've been part of has studied and worked through the book en masse.  But that was just after I left it and I've not actually read the book!  Warren told political leaders in Uganda that homosexuality isn't a human right because it's unnatural.  Fuel to the growing fire.  And others have visited and funded massive satellite broadcasting channels on which similar speakers preach.

It's hard to know what can be done to help LGBT people in these nations.  It is almost as if the fires are so big that whatever action we take would be like pouring a jug water onto a vat of burning oil.  David Cameron spoke out.  Ban Ki-moon spoke out.  Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spoke out.  But the situation is such that they are all told "what right have you to impose yourselves on us."  The result, at least in the short-term, is often that things become worse for LGBT people.

At least in part first-world people stepped in to help create a problem that we, as first-world people, can't step in to solve.  The influence of certain branches of western Christianity on Africa is sobering and, at least to me, disgusting.

Anyway, I quickly wrote a response on Facebook about the Catholic claim - not about the influence that we first-world people have had on the situation in Uganda.  And in Nigeria.  And in other nations where homosexuality is illegal.  And then decided to put it here, at which point it was only fair to mention non-Catholic Christian responses and influences.  And then I got carried away with the writing.

It won't do any good here - but it wouldn't have done any good on Facebook either.

Again, the two articles, here and here, are really worth reading.  A part of our shared history that we will, in time, look back on with shame.  Read them!

To close, here's that response.  Written in too much anger to be a picture of tact and diplomacy.  And not posted on Facebook.

Oh, such bold opposition.

In 2009 the Catholic Archbishop of Uganda said the bill was unnecessary because "acts of sodomy" were already illegal and said the death penalty was too severe and that gays should be rehabilitated.  True - no other major religion in Uganda opposed the bill at all but the statement suggested the laws in place - which could already include a sentence of life imprisonment - were good things.

When the Ugandan Ambassador visited the Pope in December 2009, the anti-gay laws (that at the time included the death penalty) didn't get a mention.  Instead the Pope talked about the climate of freedom in Uganda and praised the country for respecting the Catholic Church.

Then in 2012 the Catholic Church in Uganda changed its views - to support the bill.  Catholic leaders there said the bill was necessary because of "“an attack on the Bible and the institution of marriage."  The Catholic bishops, discussing the bill at that time, stated "“We, the Catholic Bishops of Uganda, appreciate and applaud the Government’s effort to protect the traditional family and its values.”

The Catholic Church in Uganda thus threw its weight behind the campaign to revive the bill - which the government had shelved due to international pressure, largely of a financial type.

Such bold opposition.

Please don't look at this issue and portray the Catholic Church as some bold moral crusader standing up for the lives of human beings.  Because in this case it really isn't.

Friday, 21 February 2014

A first visit to the Quakers of Newcastle - Part 2, Worship and Lunch

On entering the Meeting House what I found was warmth and welcome.  The Friends are not unique in that but I've been to enough churches to know that what you meet with on entering varies widely.

There is a church near here that I went to about a dozen times, including a full teaching day.  In all that time only three people spoke to me.  One was the priest.  The other two were visitors to Newcastle and were asking me questions about the church.  At a church in Crawley that I went to quite a few times when visiting my parents the welcome was similarly cold.  But it's Holy Mass - and you go for the liturgy, for God, but often not for the community.  Nobody spoke to me at all.  Until eventually someone did chase after me and talk - but only so they could accuse me of stealing their coat.  I actually wrote to the priest in charge of that church and let him know about how unwelcoming the place was and received a very woolly answer about how it didn't really matter and how in a relatively large Catholic parish it wasn't right to expect any welcome.

In other churches the welcome has been warm and embracing and cold shoulders have been replaced with warm smiles.  Our local Anglican church was like that, as was another relatively large Catholic parish in the area, and the local MCC is very good at welcoming people - many visitors feel from the beginning that they've been welcomed into the arms of a loving family.

On Sunday I encountered another welcome - smiles, hello, introductions, "there's lots of information there if you want it".   Someone gave me a little tour of the building - it really is rather nice -and several mentioned that there was lunch after the meeting.  "Please stay and chat and eat" - but not in a threatening "We want to recruit you" kind of way.

The actual meeting hall is a large room  upstairs.  You can sense the quiet as you enter.  The chairs are arranged in a circle - lots of comfy seats and some old church pews which I guess came from the old meeting house in Jesmond.  But that's just a guess.  And in the centre a simple table with a few books.  One was "Quaker Faith and Practice" but I didn't get nosey and check the others!  I watched and the people entered, moving from the noise and conversation of the hall and stairs into the silence of the room.

A question arises:  What on earth do you do in a Quaker meeting?  They have leaflets about that that give a lot of helpful advice because it's actually pretty hard for a modern westerner to sit in quiet for an hour without drifting away a hundred times and being really impatient to get back to the noise.  We're so used to noise - the street, the TV or radio, music, talking, or even the very real internal noise of reading a book.  Mostly in our society silence is not for embracing but for breaking.  And there is a rather wonderful little booklet, "Advices and Queries" - which is actually chapter one of Faith and Practice.  But I wasn't handed these until after the meeting.

So the question remained.  Having been used to vocal prayers and hymns and standing, sitting and kneeling at set times and so on a meeting of quiet with no liturgy can be difficult.  As for me it was a chance to ponder some of the events that led to me being there, combined with quiet mantra.  There are no rules.  I predict that each person in that room was doing something different to suit their own way, yet all were seeking the divine, encounter with the divine, growth, calm, beauty, and the unifying bond centred on love.  Most churches have the unity of words.  The Quakers have the unity of quiet.

Yes, I'd been told the previous week had been entirely silent.  Sunday's meeting was not.  I'm told that it was positively raucous and noisy for Quakers.  Over the course of the hour, half a dozen people got up and spoke with a common theme.  Without giving details, they spoke about memory, the loss of memory, the dismay that can bring, the peace that can still be found, and the all reaching love of God or love in God that is with us.

It was good.  Thoughts of memory have been with me quite prominently.  Not just in sorting out my own memories in the last year.  My dad is ill.  I don't want to give details of that but he has a form of dementia and the onset and progress have been rapid.  I worry about him.  I worry far more about my mum who has to deal with everything every day.  And I know I can't do a lot, at least now, as they are hundreds of miles away.  Every day my mother tries to find good and actively seeks it but it's damn hard work for her and every day brings pain too.  So to hear others talk of memory loss, whether through age or illness, was worthwhile.

There are children at the Friends Meeting House.  They spent most of the time downstairs doing things - they were already doing them when I entered the building - but come in for the last 10 minutes of the quiet.  Then the notices are given - just like any other church - and the children show off what they've been doing.  Some had been making things on a basic proggy rug maker.  Some had been making toy skateboards for some display or other.  And one boy made a necklace.  That's not like other churches.  In most churches the children have been "taught" about some Bible story or other, come in with a picture, get asked questions by the "teacher", don't know the answers, and the "teacher" answers for them!

I kind of like that Quaker way of encouraging children's creativity.  And I like it that the children were doing different things that the children wanted to do.  It's as if the Friends have correctly interpreted a verse from the Bible that many churches get wrong.  Proverbs 22:6, in most translations, says something like:  "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it."  So often that's interpreted as showing the child what path to take (and there's only one right path) and force him or her to take it, using the rod when needed.  Matthew Henry's Commentary, much loved by many reformed Christians says "Train children, not in the way they would go, that of their corrupt hearts, but in the way they should go; in which, if you love them, you would have them go. As soon as possible every child should be led to the knowledge of the Saviour."

Any Jew would freak out at that interpretation.  And these days I freak out too.  Which is a good thing.  Of course, many Christians would freak out at it as well but I heard that verse in a sermon a couple of months ago with a commentary that was more extreme than Matthew Henry.  Another translation is better: "Train a child in the way appropriate for him" for the Hebrew actually means to train a child according to his or her temperament.  It's about encouraging the child to be themselves, to bring out the fullness of who that child is.  It's not about forcing them into a tight mould that their parents like.

Of course, I'm making an instant judgement here based on a small group of children, on one day, in a public setting.  I have no way of knowing what goes on elsewhere and whether they are encouraged and nurtured in the way that, for instance, Johann Christoph Arnold of the Bruderhof writes of in the one good book I read about children before our daughter was born.

The service was over.  People filed out and the talking began again in earnest.  I sat for a minute and pondered and resolved to return.  And then I went to the loo.  Don't worry - I won't be talking about going to the loo regularly.  But this means something to me.  Because I found myself, in the women's toilets chatting at some length with a few other women.  I'd never met them before - and with my memory for names I don't know what they were called.  Too many names that day - and I can generally only remember one new name a day!  Anyway, I found it great to be in that women only environment, totally comfortable to be there, and chatting with women who were totally comfortable to have me there.  It's not unobvious that I'm transgender - especially when I speak and it was so nice to be so obviously accepted as a woman in the women's place.  Without question.  Without discussion.  Just with warmth.  It's still under nine months since I completely came out to myself as transgender.  To be able to do these things so quickly is wonderful.

And so to lunch.  The Newcastle Friends have lunch together once a month (and breakfast regularly after an early morning meeting).  It was just chance that I chose the lunch week rather than the tea and biscuit weeks.  The Quakers believe in simplicity, so lunch isn't a seven course banquet.  It's soup and bread, which is fine but often rather dull.  But this was anything but dull.  A choice of excellent vegetarian soups, served with a choice of 8 to 10 different breads, several types of cheese and choices of fruit.  Altogether very satisfying.

And more conversation too.  Especially with one woman.  I won't give too many details though she's quite open about everything.  She is transgender and likes some of the same spiritual writes as me.  A fascinating talk about God (however we define the word) and about gender and about the treatment of people like us in churches.  This woman has been a Quaker for many years and was part of that community right through transition so I can say with some certainty that this would be a totally safe place for me in terms of gender - it's not the only safe church but it's nice to know from the outset that there is safety and that I'm not going to be attacked in any way.  In fact the Quakers were the first denomination of any size in the UK to campaign for gay rights.  And they're rather good on trans issues.  A transgender woman from near here wrote her PhD on the treatment of transgender people by churches - and the Quakers came out on top.  I just found a newspaper article about her, published ten years ago.  I won't link to it here - it's an awful mess of misgendering but does give hope, because it shows we've made progress in the last ten years. 

Transgender people talk sometimes about passing - "do you pass as a woman?" - to which the correct answer is "I'm a woman and look like me so of course I pass as a woman no matter what anyone else says."  It's a difficult subject that has caused some trans people to seek an ideal that they will never meet - and one which to be frank many cisgender women don't meet either.  But honestly, this woman passed.  I know I can be a bit thick about noticing these things but I didn't twig at all until we were talking and she talked about how she chose her name.  It would be nice to reach that point where I am not obvious at all but remain happy to talk about gender issues, offer any help I can to anyone who needs it, and campaign for the rights of everyone regardless of gender, sex, or sexuality.

So I left the Meeting House.  Glad to have visited.  Glad to have got through an entire church service without finding much to "insult my soul".  I'm sure the people there have quite widely differing views on God and the sacred.  And that's a good thing.

I am determined to return again soon.  But it won't be this Sunday.  I'll be at the "Sunday Assembly" which calls itself a godless congregation.  It'll be far closer to an Anglican service than the Quaker meeting was.  There will be a service leader, a talk, songs and tea and cake afterwards.  Typical Anglicanism really, just without Holy Communion.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

A first visit to the Quakers of Newcastle (1)

On Sunday I paid a visit to the Quaker Meeting House.

It's not something I've ever done before and not something I would have considered doing for much of my Christian life.  It's not as if I'd never had the opportunity.  At college it would have been a short walk on a Sunday morning to their meetings - from my bedroom, down the college stairs and into the library.  But I chose never to visit and always to go somewhere more obviously lively and generally more charismatic in a Holy Spirit revival sort of way.

The Quakers were seen, by most Christians I knew, as those strange people who don't believe much and don't have the proper God or proper Biblical preaching in their services.  The pacifism bit was all very well - most of us approved of that - but what about the important things in the Bible?  The general view was that Quakers must have forsaken the vision of George Fox, their founder, otherwise they would be highly evangelical, wave Bibles and have a proper traditional creed.  We believed this without actually knowing anything about George Fox.  Quakers were highly suspect.  Apart from nice Quakers like Richard Foster, who "despite" being a Quaker, could write books we liked.  I remember once being assured by an ex-Quaker that some Quakers are Christians.

I think the only time I've ever been in a Quaker Meeting House I was about twelve or thirteen.  I was attending a meeting of the Crawley group of Friends of the Earth who that evening were quizzing the MP, Nicholas Soames, on environmental matters.  I don't know what Soames said but I can remember being unimpressed by his words but impressed by the number of times he removed and replaced his glasses while talking.  Not a spiritual gathering - but still one that fits nicely into the Quaker ethos.

But much has been changing.  In the last few years I've met Quaker members, Quaker attenders and others who used to attend but stopped for various reasons.  And my own faith has changed almost beyond recognition in the last year.  I can think now what what have been unthinkable before.  And I can do things that I would have shunned - such as visiting the Unitarians a couple of weeks ago, another group I'd have found extremely suspect at one time.  Or at many times.  Is that for the best?  I think so.  The changes have been based on an increase and broadening of love and a new appreciation for the wonder that is life.

A week previously I'd felt great pain at church.  I've written about that here and here

The question is how to not feel such pain while not walking away totally from Christianity - or throwing the baby out with the bath water as a local vicar put it this week, with the assumption that there is a baby at all.  Certainly at this point just walking away would not be honest to myself or authentic to who I am.  But I know I can't continue at this time to sit in the same services - or at least to solely sit in the same services.  And as I wrote in those other posts, I almost feel more for Jesus now than when I worshipped him so desperately and wholeheartedly as the one and only incarnate God who paid for my sins by dying.  I've lost my old faith but Jesus somehow can become more to me now.

I've been pondering the Quakers for a while as a place to visit one day.  Someone told me that the previous week's service had been entirely silent and since I'm finding the Christian words and liturgies so difficult I thought it sounded blissful.  Walt Whitman wrote:

“Re-examine all you have been told...
Dismiss what insults your Soul.” 

It's a well used quotation at MCC and I decided that such a Quaker meeting couldn't possibly have much that would insult my soul.  And so I decided to attend (unless the weather was foul - I felt too half-hearted to sort out my spiritual path if I had to get soaked to do it!).

Hence attending on Sunday without really knowing what to expect except that it would be a quiet service of silence unless people felt moved to get up and say something.  I felt good about attending.  It felt like the right choice to go there and see what happened.

The Quaker Meeting House is in easy walking distance from home - but on such a cold, windy morning I caught a Metro half way.  And so with a sense of hope and an assurance that I wasn't going to feel awful listening again to the language of blood sacrifice to appease a jealous God, that language I once loved so much, and with a joy to be heading somewhere new, comfortable to be me, I approached the House.

I've passed it many times in the last few years.  This time I was going in.

But now I need my bed.  So I'll write about the welcome I received, the service, and what followed tomorrow.  Rest assured, I entered happy and left happier.  I will be returning to that place and those people soon.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

What Did It Cost To See My Sin Upon the Cross - Part 2

"I'll never know how much it cost too see my sin upon that cross."

As I said in part one, I loved that line.  But now?  No.

I no longer believe in the fall, in redemption, in any God who can't forgive without bloody sacrifice.  I can't believe in that cross-story no matter how clever the theologian is in justifying Jesus' death overcoming the threat of some kind of hell by raising up God as just or holy or by lowering man, even to the extent of Calvinism's "total depravity".

How can it be just to eternally condemn someone born fallen and living a finite, time-bound life?
How can it possibly be holiness to condemn so profoundly?
How can I call a human being, "beautifully and wonderfully made", a being born in sin, born depraved, born broken?

I no longer believe Jesus was crucified to take away our sin.  I no longer believe that we're "washed in the blood of the lamb."

Another song last night was about Jesus.  It ends with the orthodox claim that Jesus is God.  There's nothing unusual about hearing that sung in a church.

I loved that claim too.  But now?  No.

The creeds call Jesus "fully God, fully man."  I had a solid belief in this picture of Jesus.  One path of reasoning ran:

Who has the right to pay for our sin?  Only one who is fully man.  Who has the ability to pay for our sin?  Only one who is fully God.  Therefore Jesus must be fully God and fully man else redemption - forgiveness - is impossible.

But I no longer believe in this redemption.  And an argument that implies that God (who is love and mercy) can only find a way to forgive if God himself dies has more than its share of problems.

I don't seek to condemn those who do believe in that redemption - if that is for them their path to the divine, the path to life in abundance, to being the fullness of what it is to be a human being.  If others find fullness in the sacrifice of the cross - and what came after in the story - then that is good.  The real is far bigger than my searching or my conclusions and can embrace what sounds like a contradiction.  The story of the blind men and an elephant has recently come to my mind frequently.  The elephant is the real.  Our religious stories are our attempts to vocalise a part of the elephant. 

I believe Jesus is fully divine - but only in the sense that we're all fully divine.

And I believe that Jesus is fully man.  Fully man.  More man than any one of us.  He is the Tao.  He is the superman.  He is the one living the full life we're all called to live and able to live if we believe it and do it and be it.  Jesus, possibly, is more fully man than any human who has ever lived.  In that way he's a pattern for life.  A pattern we can all contemplate, no matter our religious views.

And I believe that one reason he died, one reason why he hung on the cross, was because he was fully man.  We are not fully man.  And we can't cope well with those who are more fully man than we are ourselves.  They don't make for comfortable companions.  He was condemned because his light brought the lives of those around him into sharp focus.

He came to bring us life in abundance and we couldn't face it.  In the end most of us prefer the safety of half-lives.  Indeed we seek safety.  But the fullness of life isn't safe.  It's risky.  It's a raging inferno, not just a warm radiator.  Even Christianity has become about seeking safety - an idea carried over from ancient Hebrew thoughts developed in an even more dangerous world.  "You are our security" we sing.  "You are our rock, our hiding place."  But Jesus didn't come to give us safety, he came to show us life and showed us life in himself.

Nietzsche talked of the superman, Übermensch, as the meaning of the world.  He believed no superman had walked the world and contrasted Übermensch with Christianity.

I believe that Jesus was an Übermensch, showing in himself the meaning of the world.  I believe that Christianity is  still the contrast, that Christians raised up Jesus to be "fully God" because they couldn't deal with the "fully man" that Jesus showed himself to be.

How can a man be like this?  We're not like this so how can any man be like this?  Christians answer that he must be God.

I answer that Jesus can be an example for us, a vision by which we can learn for ourselves to be the over-comers, more human than we are today, more in the Tao, more enlightened, to be Buddha, to be Übermensch, or whatever word suits.

Back to the song.  "I'll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon the cross."

I know what it cost me.  It cost me twenty years.  I embraced Christianity because I didn't like myself - and the Christianity I heard of told me I was right, told me I deserved Hell but this God loved me anyway.  A nice story.  But I now believe a false story and it reinforced and reinforced what I thought of myself, a sinner in need of mercy.  And the Christianity I received reinforced the view that I could not be me - female.  Very sad.  I know full well that not every Christian has such opinions but I haven't found many that would agree that people aren't utterly without hope and real meaning and purpose outside of receiving Jesus, the saviour who died.  Very few that say there would be "salvation" without Jesus dying for us.

Seeing my sin on the cross meant that I carried on seeing myself as a sinner, hopeless without Christ, someone who could do nothing without that personal God stepping in.

It meant I spent twenty years crying out for a mercy I didn't need.  Over and over, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

It meant I spent twenty years rejecting myself and believing I should carry on rejecting myself.  I could say "I'm accepted by God" but believed I wasn't really accepted - especially my gender.

It meant I spent twenty years suffering with a recurrent depressive illness that hurt me and hurt everyone around me and nearly led at times to my death.  Yes, I suffered with this before embracing Christianity but for me embracing that religion was a confirmation of my depression.  My first church told me - especially through its extensive library of taped sermons from different speakers - that gay people should be cured.  And I've been told that transgender people are deranged, evil, demon possessed and they too need healing of this abominable wickedness.

Seeing my sin upon the cross, instead of leading to the fullness of life that Jesus came to show us led to a half-life, a life in which I could not be who I am, a life in which I could combine great shame and guilt with a thankfulness that someone agreed to be punished in my place.

That's what it cost to see my sin upon the cross.

I loved to see it there.  But, I believe, it was never there in the first place.

Jesus was there showing me that in order to live to the full it is necessary to risk everything, sometimes even unto death.  Jesus was there showing me love, life, paradox, meaning, the beauty of a man prepared to give everything.  Jesus, fully man, still name above all names, still awesome and magnificent, living in his full divinity and showing us our full divinity, living in his full humanity and showing us our full humanity.  Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.  May we learn to live the truth - that we are fully divine and fully human.

I have lost what I had.  Losing it - losing my security - has been a frightening process at times.  Giving up your one hope isn't easy.

In the process I've gained a better life, a life I've only just started to explore.  The wounds of the old life are still too fresh to be prodded and poked without an agony of inner burning. And that's one reason why a church service can hurt so much.

I am not hurt because others see their sin upon the cross.  I am not hurt to see others praising their God.  If this is the way people approach the divine and find the sacred in life then I have no problem with that - as long as the approach doesn't become exclusive (as mine once was) and thus condemnatory to everyone with another approach.  As long as their story isn't used to nullify my story and the stories of all who seek then their story can lead them to great light.

My pain is not caused by the words themselves but by the relationship I've had with them - the reasons for my belief, my adoration of that belief, and my loss of that belief.

Monday, 10 February 2014

What Did It Cost to See My Sin Upon the Cross? - Part 1

I found being in church services yesterday painful.

I love the people.  Last night's sermon was great.  And it was scholarly.  It's not available online yet but it will be.  Last week's sermon is available and I can highly recommend listening to it on the MCC Newcastle website.  I love that community of faith and am inspired by people there and have a better life as a result of knowing them.

But being in the service hurt.  Like being repeatedly stabbed or punched in the heart and head.  It's not the people, not the tunes, not the loving family that the church feels like.  It's me.  It's my vastly changing faith.  A faith that is still changing and developing.

I think the problem is that for so many years I loved the liturgy.  I loved the doctrine.  I loved the story.  I loved the salvation tale.  The story told me what I wanted to hear.  For twenty years I built my life around the story, embracing the tale of my fallenness and of a purpose for this sinner who didn't deserve it.

I loved my faith.  At times I was obsessive about my faith.  There were times I could pray for hours.  Times I'd be at church an hour before services, sometimes even waiting outside until the doors were unlocked.  Times I'd spend that hour in silence - especially in my Catholic years, praying, knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, enjoying the peace and seeking a particular version of God in the peace.

I loved my faith.  Wild, desperate love.

And now I do not have that faith.

And so the liturgy, the prayers and the songs hurt as they are said and sung.

A song last night included the line "I'll never know how much it cost too see my sin upon that cross."

I used to love that line.  My sin.  Dealt with.  Nailed to the cross with a dying saviour.  I would be lost in wonder and worship of Jesus at the thought that because of him my existence wasn't hopeless, damned.  Because of him I could be set free from darkness - from myself, from my flesh - and walk in light and be transformed into his holy way with lashings of theosis, repentance, and reliance of his strength.  I could look at Jesus, dying for me, and fall before him for taking the eternal punishment I justly deserved because of my sins.  I could look at Jesus and trust that he would lead me to eternal happiness.

I loved that line.  But now?  No.

Why not?  That's something for me to write about at some length in the following post.  I've split it in too because I find I typed about 1,800 words - which seems a bit much for anyone to read in one sitting.  It seems a bit much to think that anyone will have the patience or interest to read it at all.

I plan to visit the Cathedral tomorrow with a camera so some time soon there may be a blog post of only a few words and several pictures.  Hoorah!

Saturday, 8 February 2014

I Tend To Type Too Much on Facebook

Yes, I type too much.  My responses turn from a sentence, to a paragraph, to an unstructured stream of thoughts that keep tumbling out.

I just typed a response to someone on facebook - an ex-Christian.  I haven't met her yet in the flesh but look forward to doing so.  It'll happen sometime.  And I pretty much agree with everything she said about churches and religion.  My short response turned long.  And longer.  And I gave up and decided to post it here - just some thoughts on churches and my experiences and a little of where I've come from and where I am now.

She wrote that what she said was just her opinion.   What follows is just my opinion.  Many or most of those with whom I still share the name "Christian" will disagree and disagree profoundly.  Many who don't go by the name "Christian" will disagree too.  That's all fine.  I quite like disagreements and learn a lot from them.

So here goes, 1,000 words, utterly unstructured, almost chain of consciousness, edited only to remove a reference to where the person lives:

What is the definition of a "real" Christian?  You're not the first person to say to me that real ones are very rare.  But what is a "real" Christian?  Is they someone who fits a pattern - or someone who seeks to fit a pattern.  Is they someone of belief or someone who has learned to live out that belief?

(I'm using "they" as a singular multi-gender word)

Now I want to know which church(es) it was that you walked away from and if I've heard of it/them - I don't know of many churches where you are but have heard less than wonderful things about the tolerance of a couple of them.  Quite possibly - or probably - walking away was the best thing and their faith was a soul killer, not a life to the full.

Plenty of churches like those unfortunately, plenty of them in this city, hardline literalist "Bible" churches that can't embrace humanity and who are happy to say "I'm not judging but you're a scumbag".  Plenty of Christians like that too - to some extent I used to be one, but the story of the path in and out of that is long and tortuous.  And it's not for now. 

I used to be that exclusivist evangelist with hand firmly on interpretations of Bible verses that I'd been taught, interpretations some of which I now find abhorrent, heinous - damning humans for being human and creating a monstrous despotic God.  The "God of the Bible" that some people talk about is plainly vile.

Fortunately I've found churches that are less literalist and more able to love and accept.  MCC is great - and they can even cope with my odd beliefs!  But that's to be expected given the reason it came into existence in the first place. They have a different "God of the Bible" than the one mentioned above.  Actually they have many "Gods of the Bible" as the people are so varied

I first went there days after finally coming out to myself.  My wife sent me - "Go! Get support!" and there are some wonderful people there.  Meeting them has enriched my life - one of many good things that came from being honest with myself.

And the local Anglicans had no real trouble when I came out as trans.  But the part time vicar had already guessed.  Everyone just welcomed me as Clare and from day one they got me in skirts and dresses.  If anyone is anti-me they haven't said.  People have applauded me, supported me and some told me what good news it was that I'd come out.  I hadn't expected that.  It's nice - but hard to be there with my faith issues.  Whether that niceness is the holy spirit is another thing - and I don't really believe in the h.s. as the third person of a personal trinity.

And I know of other churches that would have no problem welcoming a gay person or a transgender person or whoever else without at some point condemning their existence.

But there are other churches where I would not survive as a transgender lesbian in a skirt because I'd be considered a reprobate, unredeemed, unrepentant abomination wallowing in grievous sin.  Just for being who I am.  You know the kind of thing.

It's been a long road from fundy to where I am and the road stretches ahead further than I can see.

As for a 'loving creator' - no, I don't think that title matches up with some of the Bible stories and it certainly doesn't match up with much of the interpretation of those stories these last 2000 years.  Although I used to believe it fervently.

It's amazing how easily the Christian can rationalise the genocide of the Old Testament and the contradictions in a literalist reading of the New Testament.  It's amazing that Christians can believe both the scientific creation story and the story of the Fall when they cannot be logically held together.  It's amazing how some things were just "cultural" - but only the things our particular church doesn't do or say.

That's probably why a church service can be so painful for me.  I used to believe massively.  Now I don't.  Sitting in a liturgical communion service can really hurt.  I feel the loss.  And I haven't reached the point of being able to translate services into something less abhorrent and humanity condemning.

A year ago I lived as a man.  I preached sometimes in an Anglican church with a view to training to be a licensed preacher.  My sermons (which weren't bad at all!) were sound, telling of the wonders of that God of the Gospels and Epistles.  My sermons would be very, very different now.  I should write one sometime, just for the fun of it.  So much has changed.  I've embraced myself.  I've been rejecting a faith and embracing not another faith, but a much wider faith.  An inclusive faith, a faith that loves Jesus but holds to Krishna, the Buddha, the Tao, madmen like Osho, oneness, bits of the Course in Miracles, freedom, many paths, teachers I knew of as a teenager like Ronald Beesley and Alice Bailey, and probably more surprises to come this year as I explore God, source of light.  And I'm a bit obsessive at the moment about John Shelby Spong who shows me that even with all my doctrinal wackiness there's still a Christian path, or at least a Christ path, to walk.  I highly recommend a bit of Spong.  Take two Spong an hour before meals.

Where is this path taking me?  It may eventually be a Christian path.  It may not.  It may be a Christ path but at the least it will be a God path (with an unexpected understanding of God), a path looking to the source of love, light, life, to the ground of Being, to being, to becoming, to overcoming, to living to the full, seeking extravagant love, and so much more.

I've typed far too much as a facebook reply.  Dammit.  It can go on a blog instead even though it's in no particular order and isn't thought through in the slightest.