Who breaks in and does the washing up? Strange stories and Easter

Yellow roses in garden

I got home tired. My temp job was uncomfortably far from where I lived, and I hated the travel. I was in my early twenties having moved away from home a few months previously; meanwhile, I was living on my own, trying to land myself a permanent job, and manage the sky-high rent I was paying.

And you have to understand, the rent really was sky-high for a single person. Because the original plan was that I’d share the property with my best friend. Except, her efforts to land a job had been met with even less success than mine. So it didn’t happen. Later, once the minimum time was up on the tenancy, I moved into something more affordable. (Also met two fabulous friends in the process, so not complaining there.)

So yes, I got home tired. I put the light on. I put my stuff down. I went through to the living room. I came back into the kitchen. And then… I noticed something had moved. I can’t remember what exactly what it was, but a cold feeling came over me as I realised someone had been in the house. What had they done? What had they taken? What if they’d taken the landlord’s stuff?

Then I noticed all the dirty washing up was now clean and stacked neatly on the draining board.

Whoever broke in had done the washing up.

Who breaks in and does the washing up? Continue reading Who breaks in and does the washing up? Strange stories and Easter

Be a priest in 2017: Identify with those who are like and unlike you

Wedding shoes of different colours but similar ribbons and style

In 2017, I want to be known for identifying with people who are both like and unlike me.

It strikes me that 2016 was a year where many people became very keen to sort themselves into groups, groups that are founded on difference. Groups that allow hostility and fear to increase. Groups that allow people to not identify with others.

The thing is, as a Christian, I feel called to do the opposite.

Yesterday (that is, 1 Jan 2017) one of the readings in the revised common lectionary was Hebrews, chapter 2, verses 10 to 18. The passage talks about how Jesus became our great high priest, and that it was “fitting” that he was made perfect through suffering. As the author of Hebrews puts it in verse 10:

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. (NIVUK)

That might sound a bit abstract and counter-intuitive, but when you unpack it, the message is profound. Continue reading Be a priest in 2017: Identify with those who are like and unlike you

Revelation 22 for beginners (with illustrations from Harry Potter)

Movie posters from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, with the caption "It all ends"

This is a study/sermon, aimed at Christians, to help make sense of Revelation 22, particularly verses 10 to 17. It has some Harry Potter plot spoilers. It might be helpful to read from Revelation 22:10 to the end of the chapter before reading this.

The Fantasy and Apocalyptic Genres

What are the Harry Potter books, written by J.K. Rowling, all about?

If you asked a child that question, they would probably say something like this:

Harry Potter is about a boy, who’s a wizard, and how he and his friends defeat a dark wizard called Lord Voldemort.”

If you asked someone who studied English literature they might say something like this instead:

Harry Potter is about the quest for virtue.”

(Actually, the C.S. Lewis scholar, Dr Alister McGrath, said words to that effect in April 2013.)

If you asked someone who was more historically and politically minded, they might say something else:

Harry Potter is J.K. Rowling’s way of saying that, even if there were such a thing as a master race, the Nazis were still wrong.”

(Actually, that should be credited to my husband.)

All three statements have something to be said for them.

One of the things I love about the fantasy genre of literature and films is the way that strong and stark images can be used to portray truths. They spark the imagination, working on multiple layers at a time; so long as you don’t read them too scientifically or factually, but instead read them in the context of their genre, and the traditions they are drawing from and elaborating on, then the unreality of the story allows you to unmask reality.

What has all this got to do with the book of Revelation? Well, if you want to get your head around the text, you need to understand the apocalyptic genre. Continue reading Revelation 22 for beginners (with illustrations from Harry Potter)

Serving the marginalised: Glamour and honour in Luke 14

Parable of the great banquet in Luke 14

When I was at primary school, we used to play rounders – and I wasn’t very good at it. But then, eventually, I had my turn at being team captain and picking my own team. So when the teacher asked me who I wanted the first name I gave was Ben – the best rounders player in the whole year. Except I hadn’t been listening properly. The teacher’s first question to me was actually to ask who I wanted to have as the other team captain. Needless to say, my team lost.

In Luke chapter 14, Jesus gave some advice to his host whilst dining with him. He said not to pick the places of honour at an event – otherwise, it might backfire on you.

The advice was part of a theme Luke had been building on for various chapters about who is least and who is great in the kingdom of heaven. In these chapters, Jesus condemned the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and called people to share their hospitality with those who were marginalised. (The picture above is one I took of tapestry on display in the Kreuz Kirche church in Dresden; it shows the end of the parable of the banquet described in Luke 14:15-24.)

Continue reading Serving the marginalised: Glamour and honour in Luke 14

Is the One True Love biblical? On hope, choice and responsibility

I was recently asked if the idea of ‘the One’ was biblical and I decided to blog about it as I think it’s essentially a question about how romance relates to hope.

The very boring short answer is No, for the simple reason that many modern romance narratives (including the idea of ‘soul-mates’ and the ‘One True Love’) have literary origins which are much later than the Bible.

But that doesn’t answer much more interesting questions like whether God intends everyone to experience romantic affection or whether a Christian can expect to meet their ‘One’ miraculously.

So, I’ve put a few thoughts on the boring short question in an appendix, and have written a post that tries to address those questions instead. Also, because the original question asked about the Bible, I’ve framed most of my answers using examples from it.

So: is the idea of ‘the One’ consistent with the Bible?

I’m going to say more no than yes.

It’s not that God never does bring ‘the One’ into a Christian’s life (he does), but specifically expecting that God will do this makes too many assumptions about life and how God works. And it encourages too many unhelpful behaviours.

Continue reading Is the One True Love biblical? On hope, choice and responsibility

What? A study on Nehemiah? And The Gospel Coalition wrote it?

Nehemiah. The next DVD and discussion series held my Bible study group will be on… Nehemiah.

After reading a truly excellent book on Esther last year (from which the picture below is taken), I’ve been distinctly uncomfortable about Nehemiah. Or perhaps, it’s not that I feel uncomfortable about the book itself. Rather, it’s the fact that I have only ever heard Nehemiah preached about in positive terms.

The opening page of Chapter 2 of "Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought" by Aaron Koller, Cambridge University Press
The opening page of Chapter 2 of “Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought” by Aaron Koller, Cambridge University Press

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Nehemiah is known for rebuilding the ruined walls of Jerusalem. Continue reading What? A study on Nehemiah? And The Gospel Coalition wrote it?

My choice in the wake of Orlando and Brexit

P1000786 (1)

I wrote this for my fellow Christians after the Orlando shooting on June 12th. Then Brexit happened on June 24th. Now it seems more relevant than before.

I have a choice to make.

My choice is that I am going to go out of my way to let people who are different to me know that:

  • I’m not a threat to them,
  • I care about them, and
  • they can be themselves around me.

And this choice increases in importance if I have theological or political points of disagreement with these people.

Continue reading My choice in the wake of Orlando and Brexit

Janeway Voyager Year of Hell

Year of Hell, Remember Nothing, & The Wish: lessons on hope

Only hope that is robust enough to engage with the reality of death is worthy of the name. [1]

I’ve always loved science fiction and fantasy for its way of playing with ideas – and there are plenty that play with dystopian alternate realities from which heroes and innocents are saved.

Three such SF&F stories have stayed with me over the years: from Star Trek: Voyager, Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (And consider this your spoiler alert if you carry on reading.)

With their different qualities, each story says something about hope – a topic that I keep coming back to and whose mention was no accident in my Twitter name @hope4greyplaces. However, what is also intriguing about these stories is some of the ways in which their understanding of hope differs from the Christian understanding and the theology of Juergen Moltmann. And, I dare say, the implications are far-reaching.

Continue reading Year of Hell, Remember Nothing, & The Wish: lessons on hope

His name is John: Elizabeth writes to Mary

Bible pages open at Luke chapter 1
Luke chapter 1 from the pocket New Jerusalem Bible, published by Darton, Longman and Todd

I was contemplating what it must have been like for Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist. She went  through childbirth in her old age, knowing she would not live see her son minister and having to wrestle with the religious and political tensions of her culture. It can’t have been easy. This is an imagined letter written from Elizabeth to Mary (her cousin and the mother of Jesus), inspired by the events told in Luke’s gospel chapter 1, verses 5-25 and 57-80.


Elizabeth, a delighted mother whom God has mercifully remembered in her old age,

To Mary, my dear cousin and blessed mother to be,

Peace be with you.

It seems but a day since you returned to Galilee, and yet I know it has already been some three months. Please forgive me for taking so long to write to you.

When the time came, John was born with mercifully little difficulty. As much as I was overjoyed to know that I would bear a child, and that I could be certain of this because the message had come from an angel of God no less, I have not always had confidence in this promise. I have had to entrust myself to God’s faithfulness each and every day that my frail body would have the strength to carry and deliver this little life into the world. But now it is done and he is here.

Continue reading His name is John: Elizabeth writes to Mary

Esther in the Bible: surprisingly political

Book Esther In Ancient Jewish Thought by Aaron Koller

It’s no secret that the majority of named people in the Bible are men. As a woman brought up in a Christian household, it was important to me to be informed about the women in the Bible, including Esther. She is, after all, one of only two women who has a whole book named after her.

I read the story as a child, lapping up the arrogance and doom of the “vile Haman” who plotted to destroy the Jews, as well as the beauty and courage of Esther who spoke up for her people. I didn’t really get why chapter 10 was all about her uncle Mordecai and I didn’t think too much about the vengeance massacres in the later chapters. I knew that the book didn’t mention God but only because my mother had told me it didn’t and the children’s versions I read talked about God a lot.

All in all, I thought I knew the story pretty well, but the truth is I didn’t really know it at all. What brought me to this realisation is what I would call the best book I read in 2015: Esther in Ancient Jewish Thought, by Aaron Koller (Cambridge University Press). It is an academic book and comes with a pricey price tag, but I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who’s serious about in-depth Bible study. Here are some of the things it taught me.

Continue reading Esther in the Bible: surprisingly political

Ruth and Joseph: A closer look at love vs abuse

This post is a writer’s-commentary on a sketch I wrote, based on two Bible stories: Joseph and Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:1-20, and the book of Ruth. If you haven’t read the sketch, it’s in my previous post.

I originally wrote the sketch as an illustration of the differences between good and not-so-good sexual desire, which in the church often get called “love” and “lust”. But these words are often unhelpful as they are often used in different ways. Bigger than that though, is the problem that “love” and “lust” don’t usually come on their own.   Continue reading Ruth and Joseph: A closer look at love vs abuse

Love vs Abuse: two Bible stories you’ve not heard like this

This is a drama sketch based on two Bible stories: Genesis 39:1-20 and the book of Ruth.

Ruth and Boaz Bible
Ruth chapter 3 in my pocket New Jerusalem Bible, published by Darton, Longman and Todd

Boaz:
I’m Boaz.

Mrs Potiphar:
I’m Mrs Potiphar.

Boaz:
I’m a wealthy landowner from the tribe of Judah.

Mrs Potiphar:
I’m married to the Captain of the Guard to Pharaoh himself.

Boaz:
I’m a bachelor who’s coming on in years.

Mrs Potiphar:
I’m an underappreciated trophy wife.

Boaz:
A while back, a woman started working in one of my fields. Her name was Ruth.

Mrs Potiphar:
A while back, my husband bought a new slave. His name was Joseph.

Continue reading Love vs Abuse: two Bible stories you’ve not heard like this