Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Why I am a Quaker: reason #5

Democratic decision-making.

By this I don’t mean one person, one vote – that can result in tyranny by the majority. What I mean is the type of decision-making where all voices can be heard, where we seek unity about the wisest course of action.

To be effective, the process requires that everyone come ready to participate fully by sharing their experiences and knowledge, by listening respectfully to the experiences and knowledge brought by others, and by remaining open to new insights and ideas. When everyone present is able to recognize the same truth, the meeting has reached unity.

The practices used to reach unity have been refined over a period of almost 400 years, and is now being taken up by other groups where a genuine desire for unity is sought. It can be a slow and lengthy path on the way to reaching unity, but it’s a process in which there are no losers (or winners, for that matter).


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Why I am a Quaker: Reason #3

Progressive revelation: What I believe to be true today may not necessarily be true in the future. Perhaps more importantly, it allows me to recognise, appreciate and understand that beliefs I held in the past were not so much “wrong” but they were tentative, based on the experiences and knowledge available to me at that time. As I gain new experiences, knowledge and insights, my perception of Truth, right and wrong, changes.


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The 2018 Humanist of the Year

I stumbled upon a website while researching a possible article about the relationship between the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and Humanist societies. For just a few moment I thought that American Humanists had gone absolutely plain stark bonkers. Who in their right mind would ever consider that the former POTUS would be remotely eligible for consideration let alone actually be awarded Humanist of the year?

Then I noticed the byline under the “American Humanism” title: Harnessing the power of Christian ethics to help heal the world. The penny dropped. And at the bottom of the page there is a link titled Discover our core values. I’ll let you discover those on your own. Finally I noticed the articles and links in the right hand side column. Sigh, another example of generalisations used to tar an entire group by the actions of a subgroup taken out of context. This seems to be the weapon of choice by some theists and atheists alike.

Why was I initially confused? The name of the website: americanhumanism.org. The site I was after is americanhumanist.org.


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Speaking silently

Advices and queries E:4 “Obey the laws of the state, except when they conflict with your inner conviction“. My thoughts go out to those in Russia, who have chosen to protest the invasion of Ukraine, knowing the sure consequences – arrest by an authoritarian regime. Choosing to put oneself in harm’s way by the state when they could remain silent takes much courage. I can understand those who wish to defend their family and way of life, after all, they are directly affected. But to take stance on a matter of moral conviction knowing the inevitable consequences takes a special kind of courage. Let us hold them in the light as well as the people of Ukraine.

Ministry offered at Meeting for Worship 27 Feb 2022

Today I have been having one of those migraines that affect my ability to string together a spoken sentence that will be comprehensible to others. Nevertheless I can still have an urge to communicate. That happened this morning during Meeting for Worship. Usually when I have an urge to offer ministry I resist. In perhaps the last 30 years I’ve offered ministry no more than a handful of times.

My resistance is not because I feel I have nothing to offer. It’s because experience has taught me that by expressing myself I make myself vulnerable and open to misinterpretation. A fact of life that every autist is painfully well aware of, but of which the non-autistic community write off as rudeness, stupidity, or social ineptitude on our part, worthy of being written off as inconsequential or ignored at best, or worthy of ridicule and/or retaliation at worst.

Experience should have also taught me that there are exceptions to that rule – whānau and Friends (Quakers) in particular don’t jump to the conclusion that I might have some ulterior motive such as malice, ego, selfishness or an intent to offend. Whānau because they have known me all their lives, or for seventy plus years (whichever is the shorter), and Friends because they tend to be more considered in their communications – in “Quakerspeak”, seeking, and speaking to that of God in every person.

Before I continue, I’m convinced there is “that of God” (which I usually interpret as being a spark of good or a spark for good) in everyone – no exceptions – but I will admit that there are a few individuals where it seems so well hidden that I have been unable to find it.

Often when I have an urge to speak, beit during Meeting for Worship or any other time, I carefully construct the concern into a series of sentences that I feel are adequate, and then articulate those sentences silently. Unable to overcome the fear of what I want to say being devalued, but needing to speak nonetheless, I speak my words silently, with no movement of jaw, lips or tongue.

Speaking silently like this does ease the urge that has built up, but in practical terms it doesn’t do much in the way of communicating my thoughts or concerns to others. And yet so many times I when I do this at Meeting for Worship, someone will later stand and speak on the very topic I chose to be silent on. Perhaps if I believed in the existence of a divine being then I might explain it away as being the hand of God at play, but my rational self explains it away as more likely that within the community of Quakers, Friends have similar values and concerns, even if our experiences are different. Whatever is concerning me is probably concerning other Friends as well.

We’ve been fortunate on this country in that since the beginning of the pandemic there has been only six or seven weeks when covid mandates have prevented Quakers from holding Meetings at the Meeting House. During those times, Meetings were held via Zoom. That platform has since become part of the local Quaker environment, beit Meetings for Worship, Meetings for Business or discussion groups and seminars. Those who are unable to attend in person can now attend via Zoom. More often than not I’m the only person attending local Worship by that platform, but occasionally I’m joined by one or two others.

Today during Worship I had one of those urges to speak. Today I didn’t need to suppress it because the migraine prevented me from uttering much more than intermittent slurred monosyllabic words. I felt more frustrated than fearful. Then it occurred to me – Zoom has a chat facility. I could speak via the medium of typed words. So I did.

I practiced what I wanted to say, then typed those words into the chat box. Now that the migraine has somewhat abated, I can see that the spelling and grammar were atrocious, but nonetheless after Meeting Several of those attending asked if they could have permission to quote me at other events, so it seems my message spoke to some Friends today. Let’s hope they tidy it up before sharing it 🙂

From my perspective, the experience was liberating. I was able to express myself at my own pace instead of the pace that most people expect of the spoken word. In many ways today’s experience has been even more liberating than discovering the blogosphere. There, I’m more or less anonymous but communication is at a pace that suits me. Within local communities I’m not so fortunate, but at least now, within my Quaker community I have an alternative means of “speaking” when I’m motivated to say something.

The quotation at the top of this blog post is a slightly tidied up version of what I typed into the Zoom chat box this morning. I wonder if I would have the courage to make such a stand if I was a Russian resident?


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Conversion therapy: only partially banned

Last week, the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill passed the final stage of becoming law in Aotearoa New Zealand It’s pleasing to note that only 7 parliamentarians (all who happen to be members of the centre-right National Party) voted against the passing of this legislation.

So why was the passing of this law a disappointment to many in the autistic and neurodiverse community? The autistic community has borne the brunt of conversion therapy for decades, well before it became a “treatment” for those in the LGBTQI+ community. The practices developed in the “treatment” of autistic people are the very practices prohibited by the new law, but only when it comes to the “treatment” of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Conversion therapy for other “conditions” remains lawful.

During the Select Committee stage of the process, over 100,000 public submissions were received and considered by the Justice Select Committee. I know many autistic, neurodiverse and other minorities made submissions asking for all forms of conversion therapy be banned. It seems we didn’t have the numbers or the persuasive powers necessary for the Select Committee to expand the ban beyond gender identity/expression and sexual orientation.

Reading a random selection of written submissions (78,416 are available on line), it’s pleasing to see that the vast majority of submitters professing a religion supported the ban. What is disappointing is that so few submitters (religious or not) considered how harmful conversion practices can be outside the confines of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. When you consider that 80% of autistic children who are given conversion therapy in an attempt to make them “appear normal” exhibit symptoms of PTSD as adults, there is urgent need to ban all forms of conversion therapy. Now.


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Quaker conversation

One thing I do notice when with Quakers, is how much my comfort level varies depending on the occasion. In other groups and settings, even on occasions the family, I always feel like a fish out of water, and I feel much the same with Quakers in “unstructured” situations, for example chatting during refreshments after worship. But in more structured situations such as meeting for worship itself, “Afterwords” (a time for reflexions or thoughts that arose during, or outside of, meeting but one felt wasn’t suitable for ministry) or business meetings or discussion groups, I feel “at home”.

What sets “structured” conversation apart is the mode of communication that follows implicit but undefined guidelines. These include moments of silence between each speaker, and one doesn’t respond directly to another speaker but simply speaks their own mind or thoughts. “Let your truth speak” (an old Quaker saying). The idea here is that one should speak to their own truths, not oppose or argue against those of another person or group. It allows individual Quakers to hold a wide variety of perspectives, without being judged right or wrong, and perhaps more importantly, encourages one not to pass judgements on others based on one’s own biases and prejudices. We all have them.

For me this mode of conversation provides me the opportunity to truly communicate. It allows me the time to digest what has been spoken and time for me to convert my own thoughts into reasonably structured sentences. I really struggle forming sentences “on the fly”. Not only do I have to find the right words and put them in the correct order, I then have to manipulate the jaw, lips and tongue “in real time” to convert those words into sounds that will be intelligible to the listener.

This is a tall order for me, even in company that I’m comfortable and familiar with, but in other situations the fear of misunderstanding, or worse, being misunderstood generates stress that has a negative impact on how I perform. Perhaps I’ve mastered the art of conversation to a limited degree, but in my youth I was extremely clumsy. Let me assure you that fear caused through being subjected to violence, both verbal and physical due to communication failures has left an indelible mark on my confidence in social situations.

Simply knowing I don’t need to respond directly to anything anyone else has said is comforting and allows me to feel an equal among equals. Simply knowing I’m not going to be judged by what I might say alleviates that subconscious fear of violence that always lurks when when in company of others. Simply knowing I will be given the space to allow my thoughts to grow into words that can be shared gives me a freedom of expression I seldom experience elsewhere. I feel valued.

Over the years, a number of atheist fellow bloggers have recommended I would be better off joining a sports club than “wasting my time with religion”, but I beg to differ. At least their suggestions have been with the best of intentions, which is more than I can say of some other sections of society. For me religion isn’t about theories, theology, dogma or creeds (absent within quakerism) nor about deities or about believing what others claim is The Truth. For me religion is experiential and how one responds to that experience.

I don’t believe in the supernatural, but often my response to the good within humanity, the beauty found in nature, the awesomeness of the universe, and even simply knowing I’m uniquely me, is so intense that it feels like there is “something” that others might explain as being supernatural or divine. Please note the emphasis on how the experience feels, not that there actually is a supernatural dimension. This is most fully experienced in the company of others with a similar perspective. For me that’s among Quakers.

What gave rise to this post was that I was strongly reminded of how awkward, uncomfortable, and dare I say fearful I feel in unfamiliar situations. In the early hours of yesterday morning (about 12:20 am from recollection) I Zoomed into an online Quaker meeting for worship at Woodbrooke in the UK. As always with silent worship, I felt right at home, and I remained that way until the end of the meeting. Then as conversation started, I felt the panic set in.

There was only one person at the meeting that I knew. I have known her through the medium of blogging for seven or so years, and while I am very comfortable about sharing my thoughts with her through the medium of WordPress, in the “real time” environment of Zoom, I struggled to make any form of “normal” conversation, what is often referred to a “small talk”. I should have reminded myself that she too is a Quaker and that we both could have slipped into the Quakerly “structured” mode where moments of silence aren’t considered awkward and where conversation doesn’t need to imitate small talk. I’ll try to remind myself of that next time.

One final observation. It occurs to me how much the Quakerly form of communication suits the autistic experience. Generally Autistics are not interested in games of one upmanship, debating or winning arguments. In spite of our social awkwardness, we’re more amenable to sharing and cooperation, and due to our minority status in a neuro-normative world, are more appreciative of differences being … well, just different. It’s not a case of being better or worse, right or wrong. When austics get together their form of communication is often along the lines I’ve described here, with perhaps shorter silent periods between speakers. Our normal mode of conversation parallels the Quakerly “structured” mode to a remarkable degree.


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RIP, John Shelby Spong

John Shelby Spong has often been described as a controversial theologian, and by many conservative and fundamentalists Christians as being a heretic or to have left the faith completely. On the other hand, to many Christians, and myself (although I don’t self identify as <em>Christian</em>), he has had an influential hand in dragging Christianity out of the dark ages.

Bishop Spong died on September 12 at the age of 90. Perhaps he’s best known for promoting a non-literal interpretation of the Bible, for which he has also received the most criticism. But it’s necessary to remember that he has been a strong advocate for LGBTQI+ and women’s rights, including clerical roles within the Episcopal Church. Those that knew him recognised his message was one of love and justice – something that is often absent in the modern world, both secular and religious.

Spong believed that taking a literal interpretation of the bible was to miss the truth behind its teachings. In this he held similar ideas to those of modern theologians such as Don Cupitt and my favourite, Sir Lloyd Geering. However, such thinking is not new and there has been a long tradition of theologians who have argued that taking the Bible literally is to misunderstand the intent of the stories it tells.

The Rev. Canon Kelly Brown Douglas, the dean of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary stated “What he truly came to understand is doctrine, dogma, doesn’t make us Christian. Doctrine, dogma, doesn’t make us church. What makes us church is respecting the sacredness of every single human being and creating a world that does that and making sure the church is leading the world in doing that.” With regards to doctrine and dogma, and creating a world that respects the sacredness of all people, I concur. Whether it’s the Church or some other social structure that does the leading is unimportant to me.

Bishop John Shelby Spong is survived by his wife Christine, five children and six Grandchildren.

Bishop John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Diocese of Newark, sitting for a portrait photograph.
Source: Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 2.0 Created: 1 September 2006