Sunday, 13 May 2007

Part 2: Expressing our faith: Response to Marshal Massay and Peter Bishop

Outside is dark, grey and very wet even though its lunchtime. Friends who get to the core of things will want to know if I got to Meeting and if I had the cup of tea. Sadly no in regards to the tea but yes for attending Meeting. But I have been to the shops, got my ribosh tea bags (ordinary tea is full of caffeine so bad blah, blah) and so a hot, steaming pint mug by my side.

To explain why I have written a part two I need to share with you part of my personal journey and my experience with Friends. Last night, I was watching a programme about problem eaters. these case studies are about individuals who will only eat chips, or processed food but who still look healthy. The series explores the emotional basis for that behaviour and the struggles of the individual to change 20-30 years of learned behaviour over a 4 week period. The man whose life we observed has not eaten or prepared any fresh food or vegetables since he was 5. The root of this behaviour was him associating an image of a slop bucket of waste at school with him being bad inside as the reason why his father abandoned him.

One of the things that helped him finally helped him change his behaviour, was creating an effigy of his father and taking this to his old school. Then in the school hall, throwing handfuls of waste food from a slop bucket at his " father" saying each time what he felt and what he had been angry and upset about. It made for powerful viewing and it was liberating for him.

I have never had a eating disorder but I was abandoned by my father at birth and so never knew him. My mother had six other children mostly by different men and we are all bastards. Illiterate, she lived in complete fantasy world so she like my grandmother were never clear who my father was. The stories ranged from a USA soldier on the way to Korea to a local electrician who could not stand your mother's lies . My mother abandoned me but not the other children. Excusable behaviour perhaps because when I was born, people like my mother could be sectioned permanently under the Mental Health Acts as a moral degenerative.

I lived with my Grandmother who pretended to be my Mother. I discovered the deception when I was five and the anger was with me for a long time. She was grossly overweight, her legs had weeping sores and she was depressed as her husband had deserted her around the time I was born. She also carried a deep sorrow at the loss of various children that had died unbaptised and so in hell according to her view of Catholicism which she had abandoned soon after. I was physically abused and neglected while in the family, often having books ripped away from me as I escaped into them. Beaten and locked in rooms, turning up to school unwashed and cloths covered in dirt and worse.

We lived in a small village where the family had moved to during the war and we were of Irish origins. In the 40's and 50's the Irish were treated in the same ways as Black people would have been treated if moving into a white neighbourhood. No one bothered to deal with my neglect as what can you expect they are Irish. No one bothered if my performance at school was bad(it was discovered at 11 that I was so short-sighted I couldn't see the board, and so deaf that I needed various operations) as what can you expect they are Irish.

We left the village when I was 11, to a slum house with no bathroom or inside toilet and went to one of the worse schools in the town. It had a Grammar by selection school system so the failures went to Secondary Modern schools and mine was at the end of the line. Eventually for a year I moved to one of the poorest pubic housing estates in the town which is still one of the most deprived areas in the UK. Bullying in the community and in the family continued.

At 18, I abandoned them and started my life. I left with a passionate belief in the importance of social justice and a complete lack of trust in God and Christian language and practices. Where was He and them for me when I was crying in the dark covered in filth.

Throughout my 20's I was a confused and angry young man. Part of my change in direction was my suicide attempt. Up to that point, I was living a defensive lie that my family had kidnapped me and if I was ill then my real family would rescue me. I was ill and they didn't but the rush that I had to be responsible for myself got me kick started. By the time of my mid 30's I was educated up to Masters level, a qualified lecturer in social policy as well as being an ex social worker and in the process of getting married in a Quaker Meeting House. This kick also made me sceptical of anything from drugs to a Christianity and God talk that acted as crutches and a limit on self responsibility.

I got involved with Friends in my confused 20's and was drawn to them because of their democratic and radical roots. I joined and then abandoned my membership yet remained involved with them for the rest of my life in ways perhaps more attached then many regular Friends. Why am I still in the Quaker Community? Part of the reason was that I struggled with the God language, but today this less of a problem for me. I have read more and have faith in my experience so open to affirm and look at what I deny. Part of the reason was that Quakers was the only community that allowed me room to grow.

I also many years ago started to forgive my family understanding that if I remained angry then I was still a victim. But in seeing the food being flung at the effigy I wonder if still have a few more miles on that Journey. It did also make me revisit why I had thrown my membership out. At the time I was finding it difficult to be in Friends, those of my age were from older Quaker families or from public schools. I found it difficult to connect my life with many Friends who were liberal comfortable middle class. It was the ignorance of youth who saw the experience of poverty more important then poverty of experience. I wanted to be held but wasn't. My overseer was caught up in the drama of his wife leaving him for another woman so understandingly now but not then he didn't have the time to pick up my unspoken pleas. I got angry of being abandoned again so rejected them but choose to stay on my terms. Yet I can see I need to move on and reflect on rejoining and face the anger of 30 years as being old history and not the fault of Friends.

When I raised the issues of part 1 in the Meeting this morning, it opened up the floodgates of my involvement with Friends. It prompted a Ministry from the meeting that illustrated the way to look at the issues raised by Marshal Massay and Peter Bishop and the experience behind my Theology and religious practices. This was a reading of what William Penn wrote in 1693.
The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion; and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers. This world is a form; our bodies are forms; and no visible acts of devotion can be without forms. But yet the less form in religion the better, since God is a Spirit; for the more mental our worship, the more adequate to the nature of God; the more silent, the more suitable to the language of a Spirit.
So I need to face what I deny and affirm. Or in Biblical language own up to what Matthew says in 7.3 (NRSV).

Why do you look at the speck that is in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?