Wednesday, 18 January 2017

The Power to Curse or to Bless: On Swear Words

The most important thing is to find out what is the most important thing.
To those of you who dislike swearing, it is perhaps worth considering how much power you are willing to let certain words have over you.

If I can shock you, interrupt your train of thought viscerally and change your mindset with a word, merely because you have chosen and trained yourself to be offended by that word then you give me a power over you that I don't deserve. When understood, it is therefore possible to express something with great force, in a way that you can be certain will remain with the recipient for some time, by the careful use of specific words.

I promise to mostly use that power judiciously and in a considered manner, but the only person who can remove that power is you; and to do that you have to choose not to be offended. If you have any respect for my intelligence it is worth considering that when I curse it is not because I am out of control, but maybe because I understand what I am doing. This of course is only worse...

(And sometimes I use this power to deliberately force you to not take offence and to reduce the power these words have over you: for which you may think the less of me, whilst I believe I am genuinely helping. Both of these things are our respective rights and the only reasonable recourse either party has is to complain. I am sure we will all play our part in this. Those of you able to recognise and enjoy instead I salute.)

If you think that being offended by "curse words" is the right thing to do then you will already have all sorts of reasons at hand as to why I am wrong to think like this. I promise you that all you do is give me, and others perhaps less honourable than me, utterly unnecessary influence over your state of mind. And after all, when it comes down to it "you" are ultimately little more than a "state of mind".

I'm not talking about gratuitous swearing. This has no impact because it is easy to filter. It is only in the power to shock that these words have any effect. But when you have spent a lifetime training yourself that they are "bad words" then you, by deliberate choice, give them the effect of their affect.

This is why I choose not to be afraid to swear. If you tell me that you are not afraid but you merely choose not to do it, then I'm fairly convinced you're kidding yourself. That of course is your choice, and as always I may be wrong. I do test my ideas empirically however and feel I have reason for confidence in this area.

Naturally however, in the truly immortal words of Ben Goldacre, "I think you'll find it's more complicated than that". Each of the specific words we find distasteful has a root and a history, a reason for our fear and disdain. Mainly they refer to fecal matter and bodily excretions, sexual organs or the sexual act itself. Why we fear and disdain, or are so willing to fear and disdain these words and are willing to let them embody concepts that arouse disgust within us is itself another extremely interesting topic. At the risk of causing further offence, I would intimate that fear of the body and fear of the raw sexual act are at the root of why these words are chosen to be imbued with particular significance.

The key question I believe is this: if swearing is "wrong", is it because swear words are intrinsically bad words or because they express concepts that are intrinsically bad? To answer this we have to be willing to ponder what it means for a word or concept itself to be "intrinsically bad" and unacceptable to express. Without addressing that question in detail, my experience is that the mere process of rationally examining this question inescapably leads you to the conclusion that it cannot be never acceptable to express an ugly concept because there is much in the world that is very ugly that we must often discuss. Additionally, a word in itself, a mere sound or collection of letters, cannot be "intrinsically bad" because when you get right down to it language is nothing more than the expression of concepts. Words themselves are empty vessels to be filled with meaning by the recipient. (Wittgenstein has much to say on this topic, unfortunately in an utterly impenetrable manner, which itself is perhaps a terrible irony.)

The most common argument I hear amounts to little more than "I must be offended by swearing because other people are offended by swearing, and if I too am not offended then I risk causing offence". I am genuinely sorry to find that argument ridiculous. But I do.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Christian Music and the War in Heaven

Christian music can be so insipid, so tame, so limited in its expression of the whole range of human emotion and experience. So musically weak. But it also points me to God and a deeper experience of love, which is the only thing I care about.

This song however is not insipid and it inspires we greatly. As sung by Noel Richards, from around 1994. My only issue is the gendering of God, which has historically been such an excuse for the denigration of women, but we'll overlook it on this one occasion:
The Lord is a warrior
We will march with Him
The Lord is a warrior
Leading us to win

Waken the warrior spirit
Army of God arise
Challenge the powers of darkness
There must be no compromise
We shall attack their strongholds
Our hands are trained for war
We shall advance the Kingdom
For the victory belongs to God

Our God is awesome in power
Scatters His enemies
Our God is mighty in bringing
The powerful to their knees
He has put on His armour
He is prepared for war
Mercy and justice triumph
When the Lion of Judah roars

Many Christians love singing stuff like this. How many of us want to experience, and live, a love that is genuinely as fierce as this? Personally, I'm up for it.

Do you know what it means to have hands trained for war? I have no idea what you've been up to in the last few years. Me, I've been learning how to fight. And I call you all to the war.

But perhaps let us be clear what I am fighting for. My religion is love and that trumps, in every way and every time, doctrine and tradition. It's not that these things have no value, but the law of love supercedes them every time. My single obsession is to experience reality and to learn to love love with everything I am. I don't particularly need to believe anything to do this, reality exists (of that much I am certain) it doesn't need me to believe in it. This actually draws from Christianity, Buddhism and science and is essentially progressive Christianity in action. (I am not an evangelical, I am a progressive Christianity.)

Elements of Christianity, particularly the person and pain of the Christ, are my "current working model" which is an approach based on rational scepticism and the scientific method. What I would add, without I think too much pride I think, is that if you get to know me, and see how I live, my "current working model" is working out damn fine thank you very much...

So I seek and aspire to fight for love. I seek to fight for the oppressed, the lonely and the hurting, and in large part at the moment that seems to mean those hurt and oppressed by modern Christianity! Which is a tragedy that breaks my heart and makes me so angry. And then my Christian friends get angry that I am angry. And that hurts.

It is worth adding a further footnote about the language of war, because it makes some people very uncomfortable when used in a religious context. This is understandable but I still believe it is appropriate. Appropriate not because of religious beliefs but because of the reality of being alive and seeing how people are treated! It's not a war we started, or even want to be in, but if you genuinely care about people you must respond to the call.

The war I see is the exact same war the Social Justice Warriors fight, and boy am I smug that we got our enemies calling us Social Justice Warriors. Too damn right! The only weapon worth fighting with, the only weapon worth having, is love. Look at what is happening particularly in America with the hate directed towards gay and transgender people, the regular killing of young black men, and so on. The same things happen here and in the rest of the world too, there is a genuine struggle for life against "forces of evil" (personified in individuals and understandable as an abstract movement of bad ideas). I am not at war with people, I seek to love people, I am at war with bad ideas and the hateful actions that are the consequence of those ideas.

I understand the fear and distaste for warlike language. I still strive to understand what it means to be a warrior, with real warlike capacities inasmuch as it's possible for these concepts to have any real meaning, the better to be able to support the cause of love. Ultimately, and gradually, yes I believe the rule of genuine love can and must be imposed by force. However, let's rightly understand what that means. The force I refer to here is merely the legitimate exclusion from voluntary social structures of anything that isn't love. As those social structures become clearly better, and larger (therefore more powerful - but power being merely a side-effect and not the intention or goal), people will not be able to tolerate exclusion and be forced to love. That is a path fraught with difficulty and danger, genuinely, but I do not believe it to be an unnavigable path.

One of the tangible things I have done in the last few years to "learn how to fight" is train in Krav Maga for six months with the Krav Maga Defence Academy. Krav Maga is a non spiritually pretentious martial art for self defence, based on the principle that the best defence is to ensure your attacker is not able to get back up again for a while. In essence it teaches the ancient and noble art of street fighting. I am so grateful for the lessons I learned, the most important of which have nothing to do with physical violence.

Krav Maga taught me how to manage, and channel, a great deal of aggression without fear or losing control, something that is useful and powerful in a personality utterly unrelated to physical violence. The specific practical technique I learned that has stayed with me (I am generally physically inept) is how to punch hard, fast and repeatedly. I've never had to use it, but knowing I can allows me to be confident in situations that used to scare me a great deal. I feel that these are both very good reasons to appreciate and be grateful for those who taught me.

On Social Media

Haters gonna hate
Through social media, modern technologies enabled by pervasive internet access and cheap devices for accessing the internet, I feel globally connected to networks of people who love and uphold each other. Facebook, twitter and the like are how we make this real on a daily basis. This is not without dangers and can be a source of consternation for those who see the risks and for those who fear the public nature of social media interaction. It is nonetheless very real human interaction, with all the dangers and mess that come with any form of human interaction. In fact you can see the whole of the internet as the global psyche of humanity on display for all to see: weird, horrible, wonderful, beautiful and terrible. Just like us. My main plea would be that we are as quick, indeed quicker, to praise and laud the beautiful than we are to denigrate the ugly.

I am aware (because I have been told) that my own use of social media is a source of consternation to some people. Here are my thoughts on the topic. As you would expect, it originated as a facebook post.

True love, true beauty, the source, is actually a poison: a deadly longing. It will unmake you if you look too long. True love is a slow acting but inexorable toxin, if you've already looked then maybe it is now too late for you. And if you refuse to be unmade, well, perhaps you die.

Anyway, back to the topic of social media that some of us were discussing over the last few days. First of all I see all of life as performance art. The only thing to be taken seriously is love, and that we take deathly seriously. About everything else we can't be certain anyway so why take it too seriously? If you try to take everything I post seriously it might actually*drive you mad. I'm not even kidding, I have actually been mad - so I know the path there and I know the path back. I don't recommend it.

It's very hard to tell the difference between a released personality and showmanship, mostly because in many cases there isn't a great deal of difference. Russel Brand is someone who I consider does both to great effect, and I admire him for it. He is much more astute than many give him credit for and he greatly enjoys being himself.

On twitter I maintain two accounts, one geek (@voidspace) and one non-geek (@mfoord). This allows my beautiful and genuine (amongst the most beautiful people I've ever met) programmer friends who distrust religion to interact with me without being subjected to my spiritual craziness. And the non-geek account allows my non-geek friends to interact with me without being subjected to the impenetrable nonsense that goes with being a high level geek. This means that everyone thinks I'm crazy for some reason, but they can interact with the parts of me that they can relate to (I don't think they're wrong that I'm crazy - I just enjoy and can cope with being this way). Some people can cope with all my craziness and follow both my accounts.

On facebook I have just one account and I post whatever I want. It's my account and if you can't cope with me then unfollow or unfriend or whatever. I like to respect people's boundaries, which is why I don't post spiritual content on my geek twitter account, but I need people to respect my boundaries too. I enjoy being me and I have lots of wonderful friends who enjoy me too, and I enjoy them. If you don't enjoy me, then I'm very sorry, it probably just means we're not really friends. That's sad, but it's a fact of life. In direct interactions with anyone I will modify my behaviour as much as I feel is reasonable in order to avoid hurting or offending people unnecessarily whilst still standing up for what I think is right. On facebook I get to be me.

It's worth noting that I have no problem with my geek friends not wanting, nor being able to cope with, religious and spiritual content. Many of them have had terrible (evil) experiences of religion and the religious and I respect their right to hate it.

For those who question the integrity of seeing life as performance art I have two things to say. Get to know me and see how I live. I take loving deathly seriously and, human failings notwithstanding, it is what I seek to do all the time. Secondly, calling it performance art doesn't mean I don't mean it. I think beauty is a poison that will change everything about how you see yourself if you let it. And to not let it is even more dangerous. It's a wild, idealistic poem, but it's also a warning.

Love means business, do it or die. Those are the only two options. The war in heaven has begun.

Monday, 2 January 2017

Passion versus Peace: The Sith Code

So, this may come as no surprise to many of you, it looks like I may be more Sith than Jedi. I concur with the Sith code:
Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.
Drawing a slightly problematic parallel between spirit and the force, perhaps made less problematic if we recast as "the living force", and seeing myself as a man of war rather than a man of peace, I can agree with this whole-heartedly. I fight just because there is a battle to be fought.

It is through strength we find freedom, and strength can be found in its passionate pursuit. Power is merely a side-effect of real strength (the direct pursuit of power is evil).

Actually the idea that Buddhism and Yogic teachings contrast passion with peace (or desire with peace - but passion is merely desire in motion) is a western misunderstanding of eastern teachings.

Buddhism teaches that craving is the cause of suffering. Both craving and suffering are inadequate translations of the original Taṇhā and dukkha. The craving (desire/passion) that causes suffering is a craving to escape suffering (the pain and basic dissatisfaction of life) through external means. Ultimately it is a desire for obliteration.

To earnestly, indeed fiercely, desire and pursue life and wholeness is not a cause of suffering but the motivation towards freedom - both for yourself and others.

To that extent the Sith code is correct.

The next mistake however is to confuse hardness and strength. Real strength is capable of great tenderness and of accepting pain without numbing itself. Strength is both gentle and fierce, one without the other is not true strength.

The root of the western misunderstanding comes from not really believing in life. No matter how small you dissect the frog you don't find the life; life is in the whole.

And of desire I say, well. Desire is beautiful. She may even be beauty.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Short Meditations on Topics of a Spiritual Nature

We are good. We love. And we are strong. We choose to love, love under will.

Love is the Law

The law of God is love. Utter obedience to the law is what God requires, that's the standard, this is what God requires of us. When we love one another with full and genuine hearts we fulfil the law of God.

1 Peter 2: 5 And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests.

The assertion of Christianity is that when our lives are really joined, when our lives are shared with one another in genuine care and affection, then we become a holy temple. A house, built of living stones, where God dwells. That when in spirit and in truth we live as one people, then the power of love amongst us is literally unstoppable. From amidst us can rise a perfect and divine love. And love is not weak, love is strong.

From 1 Peter 2: 9 You are royal priests, a holy nation, belonging to God.

Building this, making it real amongst us, is the work of the heart. As a Royal Priesthood it is our duty to enforce the law, to make real the reign of heaven by putting it into practise. This means building social structures that require of its members that they love one another. Building living structures (a culture) that notice when people aren't loved and doing something about it. There is patience, grace and forgiveness, because loving hurts, but ultimately if you refuse to love you cannot remain. So who remains?

This Christians call "building the New Creation", a renewed humanity. "We, with tears, together build the New Creation".

Incidentally, my experience of those who try to put into practise third wave feminism is that they are attempting to build social structures that require of its members that they love and respect one another. This is why I believe that at the heart of the practise of modern feminism is a move of God, a movement of love. My experience of the practise of feminism - by both men and women - is of good people (often beautiful people) working hard on building programs and communities to ensure that people feel loved and included. They work hard to  provide a route into careers and communities that have traditionally been closed or difficult for many types of people. They talk in terms of building loving accepting communities and their actions and characters reflect their words. This is why I find the violent rejection of feminism so repugnant, because what people claim to reject has little to do with reality (unless your main experience of feminism is arguing with teenagers on tumblr) and is a rejection of much that is lovely and of the heart of God.

Beautiful Women

I had the privilege of being in a church service recently and seeing the hearts of many beautiful women and feeling how they have given their lives to love. How they have loved, and how it has hurt them, and how they still love. I know of nothing more beautiful.

I am undone. I can only aspire to that love. That is what I long to be.

My strange, and sad, conclusion is that the true nature of men is war and the true nature of women is love. I do believe however that they can come together in real unity, and when they do the result is beautiful, glorious and terrible.

I have "spoken" several times about the particular virtues of women. Not necessarily in contrast to the virtues of men, but standing as a thing of its own. To revere [some] women is not to disparage men. My own limited experience of interacting with women (42 years) along with my understanding of the current conclusions of modern human biology and my understanding of gender identity, is that men and women are largely psychologically the same and that differences in general can be explained by systemic rather than innate causes.

However that is not a thing to be taken lightly. Men and women are socialised very differently, the experience of being a woman is different to the experience of a man due to the differences in the systemic social pressures they are under. In general women are socialised into taking on more caring roles and to think less of themselves for doing it. This means that the values I hold as most precious tend to be exemplified more, in general, in women than in men. Although this is societal, society itself is a symptom of evolution (of consciousness particularly).

In general I tend to find women more caring, less proud, and with less tendency to think they already know it all than men. Therefore I think it is fair to say that it is possible to simultaneously hold that in general women are no different than men but that in general women tend to be better people than men.

Additionally, the relationship between mother and child does seem to be special. Both because of the way that children are formed in relationship to the mother and because mothers tend to take on the role of primary carer. It is well understood that one of the most powerful forces in the world, not to be messed with, is the love of a mother for her children. Motherhood seems to instinctually inspire a deep sacrificial love in women. I hold sacrificial love to be the highest form of love and visible in the character of women who are shaped by their experience and practise of motherhood.

The Way

It doesn't matter where you start from, it really doesn't. All that matters is: are you on the way?

Buddhism teaches that the essential nature of life is suffering, which is to be escaped. Taoism teaches that life is sweet, if only you can find the way. Buddhist meditation (the deliberate practise of stilling the soul) has probably taught me more than anything else, for which I am grateful, but to this extent Taoism is better than Buddhism.

The early disciples of Jesus were known as "followers of the way". The way is love. Love is the way.

Love and Pain

Loving people hurts. This is because, as you love someone you start to feel their pain. And everybody hurts.

We must not turn from this though, it's the sweetest pain in the world. If you feel the pain of another person without flinching you help them to bear it. This is the only way any of us can really make it, by bearing one anothers' pain in love.

In Christian terms we call this a participation in the wounds of Christ. "My life poured out, just bread and wine".

The Cut

What feels like death, the vicious cut of the fire, is actually life. The refiner's fire is something to be enjoyed not feared. Let it cut, it is merely an unmaking.

This reminds me of a poem I wrote for a "tweet" (140 characters): There is a poison at the heart of beauty. A molecular unbinding. And if you won't be unmade, perhaps you die.

On the Discipline of Children

Raising children, the making of family, is a sacred trust and duty.

The value of physical punishment (spanking) is an ongoing debate and can still be a controversial topic. It is a topic on which many people with good and genuine hearts have a different opinion to me.

It is possible to have a good and genuine heart and still hold opinions and beliefs that are objectively wrong (or perhaps merely "objectively less right"). And yes, that applies to me just as much as anyone else.

On this particular topic there is a growing consensus amongst scientific communities, based on study and evidence, that spanking appears to be harmful - even when those subjected to it don't feel it was harmful (and are themselves more likely to spank their own children).

Our experience as parents, so far, has been that we haven't *had* to spank our children in order to effectively discipline them - in which case, why *would* we?

I always assumed we would spank our children, but before we had any I watched my sister and her husband, Kate and Simon Biddlestone, raise a gaggle of very well disciplined children without it. To them I am grateful for their example.


Fear has just one trick - to make you afraid. If you can lose your fear of fear, if you become willing to face your fear, then its power is broken and it cannot stand.

Becoming truly free is a long journey, but there's a clear path. Face yourself and choose to love.

We often think that the enemy of love is hate. That isn't quite right, fear is the real enemy. Hate can be good. It is said of God that he loves what is good and hates all evil. That hate is a strong fire of goodness. Be willing to hate but refuse to fear.


True art is not paintings or music or sculpture or poetry or words of any kind. The most beautiful creativity, the purest art of all, is how we shape and reflect beauty in the lives of those around us. Our artwork is the transformation of the people and world around us into a better, more beautiful place. This is the work of the heart. Show me your art.

The Reality of Being

The psychedelic experiences of my youth, which did such damage to me and everything I cared about, also taught me a particular lesson that I cherish. LSD made viscerally clear that everything I *perceived* and understood about reality was a subjective mental construct - and subject to deception and alteration.

This is why humans make such bad witnesses, our recollection and understanding of reality often diverges wildly from any "objective" truth. Of course some people even doubt the existence of objective truth.

The assertion of many spiritual systems, all utterly unproven by anyone, is that reality itself is a "mental" construct (as mental as you like really).

I find this assertion in Christianity in the myth (a word which of itself says nothing about the truth or otherwise of the events portrayed) of Moses meeting God in the burning bush, the fire that burns but does not consume. Asking the name of God (of course a real name conveys true nature - fundamental to several magickal systems incidentally) he gets back the answer "I am". YHVH. Christianity puts "being" at the heart of reality, the foundation and source of life.

Spiritually Stateless?

I often find in geeks (the worlds of software engineering and computer science where I partially abide) minds and hearts that are open to interesting ideas and willing to explore new ways of thinking. However they generally think that all that Jesus stuff is bullshit and I'm odd (well, odder I guess) for giving it any time at all.

I more often find in Christians, minds and hearts that think refusing to see things in a new way is actually a virtue.

Nonetheless, in Christian fellowship and worship I find a valuing, above all else, and revering of the deep and perfect love that is sacred to me and has irradiated my soul.

This disparity leaves me feeling somewhat spiritually stateless at times. The gradual rise of progressive Christianity, and its understanding that love is indeed God, gives me cause for much hope.

Spiritual Home

In my experience of Western Buddhism the Sangha (spiritual community) is primarily taught as a route to individual enlightenment.

Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven (on earth) was all in all. The kingdom is the means, effect and purpose of spirituality. Our present and future hope.


As a Christian I don't worry much about sin, I don't give it any time. That's what being forgiven means.Just work (hard) on having a genuine heart, everything else follows. When you do make mistakes, or do things that you don't know whether or not they're a mistake, deal with the consequences and move on. Being freed from sin doesn't mean being free from the consequences, we still have to face who we are what we've done. What it does mean is that sin cannot, and does not, separate us from God because of the blood of Christ.

Repentance is still real. When you see your sin, all the ways you've hurt people, sorrow over it and let go of it. You are forgiven. These things are not held against you. The past is gone and dealt with.

Sin is dealt with, once and for all. This is a central teaching of Christianity. All that is left to do is to live right. 

Warriorhood: Wing Chun

The philosophy of Wing Chun, a martial art I'd never heard of, from: Wing Chun on Wikipedia:
  • One who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable.
  • One who excels in fighting is never aroused in anger.
  • One who excels in defeating their enemy does not join issues.
  • One who excels in employing others humbles themself before them.
  • This is the virtue of non-contention and matching the sublimity of heaven.
Interesting stuff.

I often wonder if the "attitude of the warrior" can be made to mean anything in normal life. We certainly have modern warriors, that's real enough and a source of great harm and destruction.

I am trying to cultivate genuine strength in my life as I think that great gentleness, which I aspire to, requires great strength. In Krav Maga training, which I did for six months despite my physical ineptitude, I found a path to releasing great aggression whilst remaining in control. This has been useful in life, to help master myself, but I did find the training was making me more aggressive in general so I stopped. I still cherish what I learned though.

Anger, like sexuality, is something that when untamed can do great harm. People hurt each other because they can't control themselves. Be angry and do not sin!
Anyway, some interesting maxims above. I shall meditate...

"I don't believe in the supernatural. I merely believe that the natural is more super than we give it credit for."

A Jewish Love Story

 This is an emerald and diamond ring worn by my mother Nina Foord. In this photo her hands are still a bit "raw", a side-effect of the chemotherapy she has just completed after a successful operation on bowel cancer. It has not been my mother's best year but she has pushed through it with dignity and determination.

The ring was made by my great-great-grandfather who was a Prussian Jew and jeweller to the crown Prince of Prussia.

This ring was made as an engagement ring for my great-great-grandmother. It was lost during the holocaust, then somehow (we don't really know how) it made its way back to my grandmother after the war.

My maternal grandparents were German Jews who escaped Berlin to the UK just before the Second World War started. Jewish lineage is inherited through the mother, which makes me, along with Kate Biddlestone and David Foord, Jewish. This is part of our story.

Almost all of my grandparents' family were murdered by the Nazis during the war, except for a handful who escaped and scattered across the world.

My grandfather first proposed to my grandmother when he was 12 and she was 9, but they weren't to marry until after the war.

The engagement photo of Manfred and Else, taken in Berlin in 1938/9.
They grew up in a Prussian town called Königsberg. There was a big Jewish population in Königsberg, as it was the end of the train line for Jews escaping the Russian pogroms. Many Jews used the sea port of the Baltic coast (where as children Manfred and Else would watch the waves freeze in winter) to escape to America. However, many felt safe enough in Prussia to settle there. After the war Königsberg was annexed by Russia and renamed Kaliningrad. All the previous inhabitants were expelled and it became a military town, so Manfred and Else were never able to return. Manfred and Else attended the local boys' and girls' grammar schools and sang together in the combined choir. Else was in the same class as Manfred's sister Masie.

My grandfather (Opa) came to Edinburgh on a student visa and my grandmother (Oma) came to the south coast to work as a maid. Domestic servants were the only women the UK would take at the time, quite a challenge for a fiercely intelligent woman like my grandmother. Jewish women were only accepted from Germany into the UK if they had a specific job to go to. So someone we don't know saved my grandmother by providing a Jewish woman with a job.

Manfred's sister Masie escaped to America, but unfortunately died when my mother was young.

At this point Manfred and Else were engaged to be married, but separated by circumstance.

When the war started my grandfather was interned by the British on the Isle of Man as an enemy national. All the internees were then transferred to internment camps in Canada. The sea voyage was extremely perilous due to German U-boats, and as they'd lost touch Else spent the whole war not knowing if Manfred was even alive.

On his return to the UK Manfred had to track Else down. He eventually found her, still in service, in Aylesbury. They married in Aylesbury with literally only sixpence (6d) and a battered saucepan to their name.

Else Aron, my grandmother's maiden name, is a descendant of Moses' brother Aaron. Apparently this was "traceable" but the details are lost. She was the first cousin of Hannah Arendt, the famous Jewish political philosopher who wrote about totalitarianism. Hannah's works have understandably become more "popular" in recent days and the royalties my mother receives have been steadily increasing (although her share is still relatively small).

My grandmother is one of the most beautiful women I've ever known. Her gentle love was a strong formative influence throughout my childhood.

My grandfather's ancestry is traced to the tribe of Benjamin, after whom my son is named.

Before the war, in Berlin, Opa was a top concert pianist taught by Otto Klemperer's sister. After the war, he couldn't afford a piano, and by the time he could have bought one he had completely lost the heart to play. He was delighted to have a musical granddaughter (my sister Kate) and encouraged her musical education.

Manfred educated himself to a high level in Canada learning Latin and Greek, but the only work he could find initially was as a coil winder in a munitions factor in Aylesbury. He then got a job as an editor for the publisher Faber and Faber and they moved to London where my mother was born in 1947. His next job was in Cambridge working for the Royal Commission for Historical Monuments, working with Nikolaus Pevsner who is a famous art historian. Their job was investigating historical buildings to decide which should have preservation orders. Manfred Bräude is named as a contributor in some of Nickolaus' publications.

Whilst working for the Royal Commission Manfred started delivering extramural lectures for Cambridge university on art history, specialising in Roman art in Britain. The university recognised that he was a gifted teacher and he took on a position filling in for someone on sabbatical for the classics faculty at Cambridge university, specialising in Greek and Roman art. The university wanted to employ him permanently but he had never completed his degree due to his internment. Their solution was to give him an honorary degree.

Manfred remained a classics lecturer at Cambridge university until his retirement. He frequently won the student vote for best lecturer in the classics faculty and he claimed to have never given the same lecture twice.

Taken during the celebration of their golden wedding anniversary. Already ill with cancer, this was just a few months before Oma died at the age of 75. Opa lived for four more years, but was utterly miserable without her.

Written by Michael and Nina Foord. December 2016.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Certainty and Faith

I've slightly changed my mind on certainty. Descartes' conclusion was "I think therefore I am": the *only* certainty is "I Am". 

So that is certain, but beyond that we must abandon certainty as the basis of knowledge and our interaction with the world. We must be willing to live with uncertainty. Interestingly, modern physics teaches that uncertainty (and chaos) are fundamental properties of the universe. 

When certainty has gone, what you're left with is something like "degree of confidence". This is very like the scientific method, developing models of how the world works knowing that they are incomplete and at least partially wrong (you probably can't be right, but you can aspire to be less wrong). Always be willing to be wrong and evaluate new experiences and ideas in the light of what you already know. 

A phrase I prefer to "degree of confidence", but which some people find problematic, is "the measure of your faith". Faith is capacity to trust, not certainty. How able (in practise not in theory) are you to trust your worldview. 

As a slight conceptual alternative, Buddhism and particularly Zen Buddhism, teaches abandoning all worldviews (transcending the ego). This is the Zen concept of "no mind". Approach reality with no preconceptions and experience reality directly rather than interpreting and filtering sense perception. 

So, if you have faith in your understanding of the world you should be free to interact with the world without having to "believe" anything. If your understanding is correct then the results of your interaction will accord with your understanding and if you are incorrect they won't. How strongly you believe in your worldview has no relevance to this. The stronger your faith (confidence) the more able to test your worldview (try it out) you are. No matter how strong your faith you still might be (and probably are) wrong. 

This is why I find rational scepticism a useful approach to spirituality (if you're at least willing to believe). An evidence based approach. Contrary to popular understanding this is taught in scripture: Hebrews 11:1 "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Along these lines I love Daniel Kahneman's work in empirical psychology. He demonstrates that the scientific method can be applied to the "soft sciences" of sociology and psychology. (The soft sciences are harder than the hard sciences, because people are complex.) Daniel Kahneman's approach is to make hypotheses about the subjective aspects of the operation of the human soul (psyche). He then devised experiments that could validate those hypotheses, making them "objective" by applying them to lots of people and seeing if the hypothesis holds. 

Fundamentally this means to me that all the mysteries of the universe, including the nature and substance of consciousness, are "solved problems". There are just the details to work out...

Aleisteir Crowley, an English occultist who cultivated a dark reputation that is mostly undeserved, taught that these methods could be applied to spirituality; something he called the "science of magick". For him the essence of magick was effecting change through will. Without comment on the validity or moral probity of his conclusions and methods, I like the approach. His most emphatic conclusion was that "Love is the law, love under will", which is something I hold to be a universal truth and very much like teachings of Jesus and John. John is the gospel and letter writer - who, in my opinion, best interprets and explains the teachings of Christ. Paul I find impressive but problematic (authoritarian and therefore partly wrong - especially evidenced in his attitude towards women - the only authority is truth).

It is hard, although probably not impossible, to formalise a scientific method for spirituality. What I'm mainly suggesting is the approach to life, in all aspects of life which is the fundamental essence of spirituality anyway. 

It is hard to formalise because the teaching of Jesus is that all the interesting aspects of spirituality happen only with extraordinary love.