Posts Tagged ‘quakerism’

How does Jesus speak to you today?*

the booming repeats
of well-worn mistranslations
over free lunches

quiet faiths of Christ
in Tim and Ray and Rachel
hover in Meeting

confusions of words
a glass wall I run into
drowning out the Word.

I’m off-prompt entirely for the first time this month (my house is small, with thin walls, and I don’t want my house-mates to kill me). Last night I was lucky enough to hear Jacqueline Osherow read a selection of her more obviously theological poems, which drawn intensely from her Jewish background, and was inspired to respond to my own Quaker and Christian tradition in poetry – not, of course, for the first time.

*See Advices and Queries, linked, number 4.


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Inside-out was today’s prompt. I’m back on form with the never-ending theological material, which I’ve hyper-linked in possibly helpful ways.

– – –

The Presence In The Midst

Hovering above our heads
that of God within us
along with the morning news,
a memory of a F/friend past,
compassion for abused children –
has gathered as a ghost.
He stands on the bench
as Fox stood in a church
blessing and yelling
bringing both peace and the sword.

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Being a cake universalist (willing to join in any religious event so long as eating cake is involved), I happily joined my house mates in making pancakes last Tuesday.

Then I thought maybe I’d also do Lent this year. I’m not a Christian, but I value self-discipline, and that’s what I understand to be (part of) the (modern) meaning of Lent. In previous years I’ve given up cheese or taken up doing Yoga every day.

This year, recognising that I’m so busy things are getting dropped or done badly, I’ve given up taking on new projects. I’ll still say yes to continuations of old projects, and let things roll along; but I’m not going to take on anything new. I’m going to say “no” if I even suspect that I won’t have enough time.

I suspect this resolution is a bit late, as I’ve already got the call-to-slow-down cold. Perhaps, though, it’ll give me a chance to enjoy the spaces I do have.

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It is Christmas Eve (does knowing that make me a Christian?) and there is snow on the ground in this corner of Hertfordshire despite last night’s thaw. We finished our Solstice cake last night (it’s like a Christmas cake or a birthday cake but you put as many candles as possible on it to encourage the sun to come back) – just in time for the Christmas cake we’ll have to eat tomorrow. I say that; it’s in a tin in the kitchen but hasn’t got icing or even marzipan just yet.

My bank have apparently mislaid my money – almost all the savings which I’m supposed to be living on for a year, gone, slipped into a computer or human error in the process of transferring them from one account to another. I keep ringing up and asking but I rarely get clear answers.

On the good side, my teeth remain in good health. So many of my friends seem to be in need of fillings, or keep having bits fall off, or get toothache for one reason or another, that this seems worth reporting. I’ve still only got half a wisdom tooth, but the dentist apparently doesn’t consider that a problem. Also luckily, the check-up was free thanks to my HC2 (‘you are officially poor for NHS purposes’) certificate.

My shopping is done (most of it was donations to charities anyway), and I have baked shortbread. The presents I’ll give tomorrow are wrapped.

The local Quaker Meeting has loaned my family a ‘monitor your electricity use’ gadget which gives minute-by-minute live data on the household’s power use. My brother is experimenting with it so that he can provide technical support to other members of the meeting who might want to use it. There is a certain fascination in seeing the watts roll past and trying to work out what causes each change. Some you know, of course: the tumble dryer is obvious. The pump on the boiler, on the other hand, isn’t. I’m trying to fight the tendency to see each upward rise as automatically negative – the alternatives might not use electricity, but could be as bad or worse for the environment as a whole.

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I’ve seen a number of people do this as a meme on livejournal, but it seemed to me to be more about real life than my fannish life, so I’m putting it here instead.

2000: I took two out of three of my Year 9 SATS (the third one was the day of my grandfather’s funeral), and began 10 GCSEs. At October half term, my brother and I both had flu; he recovered fully, and I did not. After a raft of tests, I was diagnosed – quite speedily, as it goes for the condition – with Post Viral Fatigue Syndrome, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and M.E.. I remember very little of the remainder of 2000.

2001: For most of the year, I was ill. I was never bed-bound – my parents were determined not to let me be – but at times I was house-bound to all intents and purposes. I had home tuition, with varying degrees of success, in some of the things I was meant to be studying for GCSE. We managed to carry on with English and Maths, but dropped German after a brief attempt, and delayed science. It must have been about this time that I first went to Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre.

2002: I took three GCSEs that summer – double English (A*A*) and Maths (A). We bought a desktop computer with an internet connection so that I could study with an online tutoring system from another two GCSEs. Essentially unlimited internet access also gave me a chance to enter community and what I later learnt to call fandom. I also tried to begin an A-level in English Literature. I was ill again that winter and didn’t complete it, but the seed was sown that I could attend school for just a few classes, supported by kind members of the local Quaker Meeting who were able to save me bus trips or taxi rides by offering lifts to and fro.

2003: I took two more GCSEs – double Science (AA). In the autumn (I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t have arranged this by academic years, since they give my life shape), I began two A-levels, English Language and Literature, and Religious Studies. I literally chose the latter because it was downstairs; I think I would have preferred history, since I still harboured an ambition to be an archaeologist, but they taught it in upstairs classrooms. Science and maths were right out because they were on the other side of the school site. I studied hard at school, made a very few friends in my new year (having effectively dropped back), and began a distance learning A-level in Classical Civilisations. Around this time, my local Meeting privately published a volume of poetry, in which they included some of my work.

2004: I took two AS levels, beginning to settle into the January and June assessment which rules student life these days. My results were acceptable but not what I had hoped – an A and a B. I resolved to work harder. I was told that I needed three A-levels to go to Oxford. I resolved to finish the full A-level in Classical Civilisations rather than taking it as an AS as originally planned. I investigated the financial effects of going to university, realising for example that I could take a gap year and still be under the old rules (i.e. cheaper) if I applied quickly. I missed the Oxbridge entry deadline due to a PVFS relapse, but applied to Durham, Bristol, Nottingham, Cardiff, Bangor, and Lampeter. Only Durham rejected me.

2005: I took three A-levels, only a year behind. The scores were good (AAB; the B is the distance learning one) and accepted Nottingham’s offer. (I’d have loved to go to Lampeter, but without a car, the place in a trifle inaccessible, and everyone was still concerned that I might not be strong enough to study full-time.) I tried to decide what to do with my gap year. In the first instance, I spent several months on JobSeeker’s Allowance, and then a month in the run-up to Christmas working on the tills in an M&S food store. I decided to live on my savings for a while. Oh, and I changed my name – by use rather than deed poll at this stage. Confusion abounded!

2006: I spent the first part of the year doing voluntary work – I spent a week at a Buddhist monastery near York, and seven weeks with an ecumenical Christian community in Scotland, for example. I visited all of England’s 42 Anglican cathedrals. (The Church of England technically has 43 – the extra one is Peel.) I attended a course on Quakerism and Buddhism with Jim Pym and Andrew Burns which has lent both vocabulary and form to my spiritual life ever since (for example: stilling frog, metta meditation). I gained a lot of independence and a lot of experience with public transport. I also got a warrant to work with Brownie Guides and a Senior Section Camp Permit. In the autumn (that’s when everything starts!), I began a degree in Philosophy and Theology at the University of Nottingham. I enjoyed studying; I wrote ecstatic poetry about being on campus and in the library; I hated almost everyone else in my hall with a passion. (Drunken 18-year-olds do not mix well with people who need 8 hours’ sleep a night.) I went to sci-fi soc and made all the friends I needed: short-lived crush, long-term hug-buddy, and three future house-mates. My first week, I decided to continue my gap year spirit of exploration, and went with the Christian Union to an evangelical church. I spent the sermon wondering whether they could be any more wrong, and the lunch trying to work out how to come out as a non-believer. The next week, I went to the local, tiny, Quaker Meeting. “Have fun!” said the CU leader when he heard I was trying a different church; against my expectations, I did.

(I gave ministry, and was gently rebuking afterwards for not adding a footnote about the various possible interpretations of the word ‘God’. My kind of people.)

2007: At the end of my first year, a senior member of the Theology and Religious Studies department asked me where I thought I’d do my postgraduate work. He is to be commended on his foresight, although I think my marks were a clue. In the summer, I spent two weeks volunteering for a Quaker cafe during the Festivals – I did serious plays and religious talks the first week, heard Rabbi Lionel Blue as a turning point, and the second week went to stand-up and other comedy shows with a couple of friends from Nottingham. Back at university, I studied hard, coped with long-term hug-buddy moving to Leeds, joined the Nottingham Quaker Quest organisation team, had a brief fling with someone I met on a dating website, and got tendonitis in my right arm from typing too much. Oh, and they made me Chair of the TRS Staff-Student Feedback Committee.

2008: I went to the physiotherapist and went on the Pill; much complex medical nonsense resulted. I still managed to do pretty well in my exams, though. I’m sure I did something this summer, but other than getting involved with City of Sanctuary, I can’t remember what. By the time term started again, I was beginning to be frustrated with the lack of attention paid to a theme which was becoming more and more important to me: gender. I went to a Women’s Network meeting and managed to made contact with a PhD student. We founded a Feminist Reading Group which ran for the rest of the year and nurtured me a lot. Nottinghamshire and Derby Area Meeting welcomed me into membership.

2009: I finished my first degree – two dissertations, 100% attendance at seminars and lectures, three years of service to the Staff-Student Committee, and a First. I was quite pleased, though not so happy when they made me take my hat off to actually walk across the stage and graduate. I paid for a silly hat! I wear a hat all the time! Why do I have to have a ‘religious reason’ to wear it? What counts as a religious reason anyway? Answers to these questions were not forthcoming. They did at least get my name right. I spent a week volunteering with Oxford MENCAP, and as usual quite a lot of time at Brownie Pack Holiday and Guide Camp. I also attended Yearly Meeting Gathering at York, quite an amazing experience in many ways. Once again, the new has begun in the autumn: I started an MA in Gender, Sexuality, and Queer Theory with the University of Leeds; I changed my name by deed poll; I got a provisional driving license and starting learning to drive; I began to try and decide in earnest what my PhD should be about. (Suggestions which involve Wilde as well as feminism and Quakerism and theology welcomed!)

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I was recently lucky enough to hear Helen Steven and Ellen Moxley speak to the Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship on the subject of activism. They have been extremely active over many years in the peace movement in Scotland, protesting against nuclear weapons. Hearing about their work is inspirational, but also sometimes daunting: some movements demand this kind of public protest, and if you’re after nuclear disarmament, equal rights to marry or work, or to raise awareness generally, then it is indispensable.

However, not all issues are best fought on the big stage. The personal is political, says an old feminist slogan, and that gives a hope that we can take action for our causes at a very immediate level. Taking it that we are concerned, for example, about the representation of people in fiction, we’d probably be laughed off the streets if we went to wave banners outside the BBC or a publishing company, but we can quietly and powerfully choose to watch programs and read books which do better. I’m following Verb Noire and 50 Books By POC at the moment, partly because I’ve been looking for good white women characters for much longer (and for gay male characters, mostly white of course, since I discovered slash fanfiction in my teens).

Several feminist blogs have recently posted about an advert for yet another product selling women hairlessness as the way to be beautiful. This morning, then, I took a feminist action in the shower: I didn’t shave. It’s easy for me to dismiss this (I didn’t shave because I’m lazy, because I’ve never shaved, because I always cut myself…) but it only takes the continuation of advertising like this (or the continued existence of young men like a former intimate acquaintance of mine who thought he’d like to have sex with me again but only once I’d trimmed a bit down there), to keep this in the realm of feminist actions. Something similar applies to the make-up I never wear.

Slightly more actively, reading, raising my own awareness so that I am more able to challenge problematic behaviour and speech by others, seems passive (I’m just checking my email, just skimming Google Reader, just sitting back and absorbing the words of others), but is actually a vital part of not only my development as a better human being, but as a better activist and ally.

Obviously, big actions are still important. I have every respect for the people who go on protest marches, who make banners, who stand in the streets and make their voices heard. Sometimes I even have energy to join them, one way or another, and the pile of standard replies from Members of Parliament on my desk is a reminder that I will write letters or sign petitions  in support of all sorts of causes: people seeking sanctuary, transsexual people in Oxfordshire, a national 24 hour helpline for victims of rape and sexual assault. (My ability to do so, and more especially my confidence that this is a thing worth doing, is of course a consequence of my race and class privilege.) But day to day, when I have revision to do and essays to write and my mind would rather be on paper-making or sewing or enjoying the sunshine, it helps to remember that the reading is important and rejecting the norms is worthwhile.

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Welcome to Rhiannon’s Blog of Problematising Stuff. I’ve been thinking about setting up a blog to write about feminism, gender and sexuality studies, and related issues* for a while, but Monica Robert’s recent post Clean Up Feminism, Then We’ll Talk has tipped me over the edge from ‘maybe I should, it might be fun’ to ‘this is something I need to do’.

I’m a white mostly-straight fairly-healthy cissexual British woman, currently a university student and hoping to stay that way for a while (finish the undergraduate degree, take an MA, see where it goes…). I’m also a Quaker (although not a Christian), and I’d like to take a quote from Britian Yearly Meeting’s book of Advices and Queries to be the motto of this blogging enterprise:

“Think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

I shall, in case you’re wondering, be applying that mostly to myself.

* ‘related’ understood in an extremely broad sense. Intersectionality never ends.

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