TiaTalk











{Wed 9 May 2007}   Love as yardstick of truth
Well, this started out as a comment on another blog, but rapidly grew long enough to be a post in its own right, so I decided to open it for further comment here. If you want a bit more background, go to the previous discussion on What Theology Looks Like at Father Stephen’s blog.

In response to Father Stephen’s gentle suggestion that my original conversion experience might have been emotional rather than content-based, I responded as follows:

I don’t think anyone would be able to continue living with the consequences of their conversion if it contained no content, unless they really had a pathological need for rejection by and isolation from family, former friends and mainstream society. Although my conversion experience was emotional and therefore highly motivating, it was strongly founded on a clear intellectual understanding of the Christian gospel and much bible reading.

I experienced many further “proofs” of the reality and effectiveness of my faith over my years as a Christian, being a witness to and facilitator of many other conversions and physical and emotional healings, and was very involved in leadership and church-building in different communities, including one of the first truly multiracial churches in South Africa, based in Soweto before apartheid fell.

All my experiences further convinced me of the truth I espoused, because my framework was adequate to contain and explain them as long as my exposure to other worldviews was limited. When I began to read and travel more widely, this was no longer possible as some aspects of reality simply could not be forced to fit any more. Do not assume that acknowledging this was easy or quick for me. Finding a stance from which I could live positively thereafter was an extremely painful and lonely process over 10 long years. I’ve only recently begun to name that stance “negative capability” after Keats, and I know that name may turn out to be inadequate. The key factor for me (at present) is personal responsibility.

I think the issue is not to do with content or the lack of it, but with the names we give to the content. Our naming systems are impossibly inadequate for the task of codifying suprarational realities, and our attempts to do so, while inevitable as part of our efforts to make sense of our world, usually amount to no more than Babel-building, because we don’t have sufficient humility to acknowledge our limitations.

This is not the same thing as saying that everyone is “right”. I’m not sure whether that is a “quintessentially American idea” – it may be, but I doubt whether it originated in America. In any case, I’m not an American, so my current position is not due to the undue influence over me of what you might perceive as negative forces in American thought!

In my opinion, the state of the world offers clearer evidence that everyone is wrong, than that anyone is right! I do believe that everyone may (although many choose not to) draw some enlightenment and some sharpening of conscience from their traditions, but I do not believe that all traditions are equally right (or wrong). They (and sub-traditions within them) may be closer to or further away from the kind of love that respects all persons equally and facilitates each person’s becoming all that she can be. This love-in-action is the yardstick I choose to use for measuring truth.



{Mon 30 April 2007}   Multiculturalism Betrays Women
I’m easing back into the blogosphere after a month of distractions… still don’t have much time, but this article by Johann Hari in The Independent today is so well-written and hard-hitting I just had to come back to recommend it. If you were in any way touched, intrigued or appalled by my previous post on the disgusting way that religions approach women, you really need to read “How multiculturalism is betraying women” — http://comment.independent.co.uk/columnists_a_l/johann_hari/article2496657.ece


I’ve read three articles today on the oppression of women by patriarchal religions. It’s not news to me, of course, but the intensity of these outraged lists of the sins of human against human on the basis of genital differences forces me to face the fury and the fear that always lurk within.

Here are some examples of what in my view are blatantly evil and incredibly destructive religious precepts:

    “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who hast not made me a woman”
    (Sephath Emeth, p. 10).
    “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife”
    (Ephesians 5: 22-23).
    “Men are superior to women on account of the qualities with which God hath gifted the one above the other”
    (Koran 4:37).

What a disgusting “God” these quotes reveal! Who would want to worship, who could trust, such an insecure bully?

What on earth possessed the men who could institute a daily prayer thanking God that they’re not born female? How about not born stupid, or poor, or apelike, or with three legs, or something? Of course, any of these could cause offense to any being that happens to have these characteristics, so we’d not think of creating a new prayer like that now (at least, we wouldn’t do it in the UK), but because we’re so politically correct, we also wouldn’t challenge any religion that continues to promulgate this oppressive crap. Here’s a novel idea: how about thanking God for what you are, instead of for what you are not?

When one reads these, it is hard to understand how anyone can insist that religion is a good thing. The only people who benefit from it are men, and even this benefit is short-term and deceiving, because how can men truly be served by systems that encourage them to be less-than-human and that rob them of the possibility of living a truly fulfilled life that is enriched and balanced by the female principle, by honest, equal relationships with women?

The huge need to oppress women reveals an enormous fear of women. This cripples both sexes and ties us into continual battles with each other, when there are so many other issues on the planet that would benefit from our pouring all our energy jointly into their resolution instead.

Maybe there’s a poem here somewhere, but at the moment I just feel sick!



{Fri 23 March 2007}   Each mortal thing selves

What is it to be oneself? To which of the many values I hold should I be true? Every morning I wake with thoughts like these already challenging me. They sometimes nudge, sometimes scream. Which set of compromises will I engage in today? Are these compromises betrayals, or are they the appropriate negotiations of an adult and flexible mind?

The first stanza of this sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins has been playing over and over in my mind for days now. It contains the essence of the thing that I am crying out for: that I must “selve”, be congruent, be able to say “What I do is me”. But how? Kingfishers do it naturally, without thought, but that is not within the capacity of humans, it seems.

Unless they’re saved, of course. GMH’s resolution in the second stanza is that “the just man” is more than himself. When he is just, he expresses not only his own righteousness, but that of Christ, which is “more” than any other mortal being can do. The picture he conjures of the consequent elevation of man and the implied adoring gaze of God upon this composite expression of Christ is at once beautiful and alienating to me. I think GMH is saying that we find and express our true nature in Christ, and that it is as natural for us to do this as it is for kingfishers to catch fire and dragonflies to draw flame, but this does not answer my cry. If kingfisherness is enough for the kingfisher, why cannot Tia-ness be enough for me, and for any god who looks on me? The theological answer is original sin, of course. The kingfisher cannot sin, and is not born with the burden of the sins of previous generations. It is only we humans who are trapped like Sisyphus before we are conceived. As I think of this, I feel ill. I am actually nauseated by the injustice of this theology!

I also find the masculine language alienating – it’s all about a male Son relating to a male Father through men. And yes, I’m fully aware that “man” and “men” in this context probably are intended to be inclusive of all (saved) humanity, but the patriarchalism still narks me.

And yet, and yet, I still love this poem, all the way to the last full stop. Its internal logic and the pulse of its argument are compelling. I love the way most of the lines begin with a strong beat which drives its conviction home. And the transcendence it suggests is possible still speaks to my longing.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying, What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

(poem text copied from Poetry Connection)



{Thu 15 March 2007}   Link to Damn-Sad

Just a short note today to say that I received an email from Ian Reed giving me the link to his poem “Damn-Sad“, which up to now has not been available on his website. This is great, because I wrote my poem On the Death of Saddam Hussein in response to Ian’s poem on the morning I received it from him by email, so this gives it a bit of context.

If you are interested in political poetry, or if you just want to find out if you are, you might like to browse the Polemics page on Ian’s site or sign up to receive his poetry updates. I found his latest poem, Airport, which I received this week, quite scary – tapped into my fear quite well, it did.



Oh, Sunday morning! Day of hope and resurrection! Why am I more surprised by the balmy sky that greets me through my London window today than by this account of yet more hypocrisy by two significant Christians beloved by many:

http://bloggernista.wordpress.com/2007/03/11/falwell-okay-with-adultery/

There is a lesson here for the eager-to-influence. Always remember that:

Clout ecclesiastical
achieved through
Eloquence gymnastical
leading to
Steps of faith fantastical
justifies
Opinions elastical.

Bloggernista is a great site, by the way… classy, with teeth. Now there’s something to cheer one up on a Sunday morn!



{Thu 22 February 2007}   What do I believe?
Well, I was going to post another poem today, but I’m having trouble with the scansion so it’s not ready yet. In the mean time, I went to visit the blog of a very dear friend of mine, started to write a brief comment and looked up from a steaming keyboard several paragraphs later, realising that I’d begun for the first time to make a coherent statement of my (current) creed.

The post I responded to is on the subject of Universal Restoration (my friend gives a pretty good overview of this if you want to check it out at soundandsilence.wordpress.com), but that’s not strictly necessary in order to understand what follows. Our conversation there is a part of the much larger 25 years or so of shared and disparate experiences that have created our relationship, which is very precious to me. However, I realised that my response can largely stand on its own as a statement of my belief, given a couple of contextual nudges.

First, I responded to the suggestion that I am a “closet believer”.

“… re the closet – I have no reason to be in one. I’m not hiding anything (other than those things that are hidden from myself, in which case you can hardly expect me to admit to them!) As to a believer, well that depends on the supposed object of belief. I am not a believer in a masculine or a feminine God. I am not a believer in the doctrine of original sin. I am not a believer in a concept of The Elect. I am not a believer in any of the heavens or hells that were described to me during my time in the church. I am not a believer in the infallible authority of any (including Christian) scripture. I am not a believer in salvation through Jesus Christ, unless “salvation” is highly qualified (what exactly are we saved from?, what does the salvation consist of?) and “Jesus Christ” is used metaphorically to designate a general principle of being-action that we can seek to incarnate ourselves and that people may incarnate without knowing the name (ask me about that one another time!).

I am a believer in a universe in which the whole is usually greater than the sum of its parts, in which the beauty of the rose and the spirt of a person remain mysterious beyond any analysing of them, and in which any human statements only approach truth by degrees of approximation. I believe in the power of love and in the necessity of our taking responsibility to make meaning in our lives by loving and creating (which is an outflow of love). I also believe that any tiny expression of heaven-on-earth that we can make happen now is more important than any hope of restoration in the eschatological future.”

Secondly, I responded to this statement by another Commenter: ”…surely there can be no doubt of the psychological, spiritual and/or material “reality” that millions of people sense, of some kind of fall from perfection”.

“There may be no doubt that millions of people sense it, but millions of people also believe that HIV is a white man’s disease and that female genital mutilation is a good thing. Billions of people believe that women are inferior to men and many of them base this on scripture.

The number of adherents of a belief has never been an indicator of its truth. That it might be has been proven repeatedly to be in itself an erroneous belief. People are able to hold to not just iffy but demonstrably incorrect beliefs despite actual evidence to the contrary, when the implications of changing their minds are too much to cope with and particularly when the religious authorities in their lives oppose the change (witness how long it took for Copernicus’ ideas to gain acceptance).

It is hardly surprising that people can continue to hold to a metaphysical belief that lies beyond the realm of proof and is a determinant of the consequent logic of their entire faith and culture. The “fall from” really depends on one’s definition of perfection. If it is wholeness (a very possible option, scripturally), then this could just as well reflect a dialectical universe in which a deliverance from all evil would be a reduction to less than perfection. It also depends on one’s definition of evil. We normally define evil from an autocentric human perspective which proceeds from an extremely arrogant pre-Copernican view of the universe. Are earthquakes evil? That depends on one’s perspective as to what should and shouldn’t (be allowed to) happen in the universe graced with one’s presence.”

I realise that a lot of the above is about what I don’t believe, along with some critique of other beliefs. My questions and posits re definitions of evil and the value of a dialectical model of the universe are open-ended. I’m not sure about these and many other things, but to the extent that I can voice, and in this small way be congruent with, my own beliefs at this current point of understanding, I feel exhilarated. I wonder whether my poetry may begin to reflect some of this now?



{Tue 13 February 2007}   Psalm 42 Revisited
Psalm 42 Revisited

“As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.”

My soul writhes
over dust-dry land,
sucking promises
from air long dead;
desert-crazed,
visionary,
dazed
with longing,
longing.

My thirst bursts
through aching earth,
batters
desperate
banks.

Desolation wilts
as desire swirls
into nostrils
and ears,
sweeps me aside
into eddies of abandon,
plucks me back
into the choking
swim.

Dormant soil burns
my groping skin,
flows
through claws that gasp
for your eluding
jugular.

I am drowning
in the lack of you.
Your great
otherwhereness
engulfs me,
twists my grasping tongue
till blood flows;
I swallow
my own life-stream
which mirages yours,
O image-maker of whom no image can satisfy.

The above poem responds to: Psalm 42



{Sun 26 November 2006}   On deciding not to marry a priest
On deciding not to marry a priest

Let us, as much as now within us lies,
Cherish these moments, and the memories
Of others such, not letting Cupid’s cease
Cry knell to friendship. Though he dearly dies,

Let’s celebrate with piercéd shining eyes
The new enlargement of those mysteries
Of discourse: soul’s and flesh’s discoveries,
Added as laurels to each other’s prize.

Then, let us coolly choose the sacrifice
Of valued passion for very valiant peace
That rules with justice o’er our yielded lease
And flattens mountains to make valleys rise.

That bonds, beyond the fail or flawed surprise
Of Nature, which forth from Father’s Spirit flies.



{Fri 10 November 2006}   Fairy Tales
Fairy Tales

The house is cold.
Windsweeps whistle in chimneys,
showering hearths with blackest melodies.

Our shivering hearts tell Cinderella stories
while, underneath us, the rats
roll a pumpkin around in the cellar.

God, mother!
Speak true.



et cetera