Picture of bullet shell on the ground in a deserted place with the words: Are your thoughts and prayers with ... the system? Maybe they should be workthegreymatter.com

Are your thoughts and prayers with … the system? Maybe they should be.

I’m grateful to say that gun violence is something quite remote from my experience and everyday life. The UK has tight gun controls and most of our police don’t carry firearms. I don’t think I’ve seen a gun fired, ever, let alone at anyone.

So, as I write this post, I’m going to do my best not to claim knowledge and understanding that I don’t have. However, how we pray and what we pray for is in my blogging lane, and I think it’s time I say something on this. Continue reading Are your thoughts and prayers with … the system? Maybe they should be.

Picture of large old fashioned luggage cases stacked on top of each other with the words: Handle with care: how to approach Mark 9:42-49 (the very graphic verses where Jesus talks about hell)

Handle with care: how to approach Mark 9:42-49

These are the very graphic verses where Jesus talks about …

…(content warning!)…

…cutting off your hand, plucking out your eye, and hell.

I want to talk about this. Not just to understand what the passage might mean but also because I think we should have a feel for how to approach these verses in the first place.

It’s not like they’re the only New Testament verses where Jesus uses this imagery; you’ll find similar in Matthew 5:29-30, right after the verse about how looking at a woman lustfully is adultery. The thing is, no one genuinely believes that men should pluck out their eyes after they lust. So, if we’re ever to going to get traction with the idea that men are responsible for how they look at women, then we also need to reckon with Mark 9:42-49.

What’s more, Mark’s account is longer and lays it on thick with references to the ‘worm that does not die’ and the ‘fire that is not quenched’. Out of the two then, Mark’s rendering of Jesus’ words is the more difficult to tackle.

OK, here goes. Continue reading Handle with care: how to approach Mark 9:42-49

Whose values will I embody? On recent politics, St Paul, and Frozen.

Historically, I’ve not been one to put much store in icons of saints. Coming from a Protestant background, visual images of “holy people” seem more like an idolatrous waste of time – and why bother with the saints anyway when we have Jesus? The other week though, my breath was caught by an icon of Paul. He was holding his letters, on which was a small image of St Paul’s Cathedral, and a Huia bird sat on his shoulder. In that moment, my heart ached like I had just discovered a happy photograph of a much beloved grandparent who had passed away years ago.

My reaction was no doubt informed by the fact that I’d recently read an essay that discussed how people can relate to historical figures by seeking to embody that person’s values. Given how much Paul has been in my thinking in recent months, and how much I have grown to admire him, it meant something to me to see a face that was his face. I now had more than just letters; I had an image.

Over the last week my social media feed has been inundated with images and sounds surrounding the separation of migrant children from their parents in the US. Continue reading Whose values will I embody? On recent politics, St Paul, and Frozen.

Book 'The Fruit of the Spirit is Love' published by Eagle Publishing Ltd, with caption Love: fire or fruit? Bishop Curry's sermon is missing a person, IMHO

Love: fire or fruit? Bishop Curry’s sermon was missing a person, IMHO

You bet I watched the royal wedding last Saturday! And I loved it.

I’ll admit, if I’d heard the words of Michael Curry’s sermon on your average Sunday morning, from your average preacher with your average congregation, I’d have been underwhelmed.

As it is, I’m giggling a little inside. It’s the thought of “I can’t believe he just got away with that.” A black American, an LGBT+ affirming Episcopalian, came into a traditionally white, elitist, patriarchal institution and said we’ve all got to love each other – and if we do that, we’ll change the world.

Everyone in the room had to shut up and listen. (Tee hee.)

And he was broadcast to over 1 billion people.

But it’s more than just the numbers. By speaking, this man carried representation for his nation, for people of colour and for people groups he campaigns for. It meant he was not just speaking his message – he was embodying it too.

And having a rip-roaringly fun time whilst he was at it!

He has certainly had an impact. Everyone has been buzzing about him and even some celebrities who are hardly Christian and not exactly people I admire (Piers Morgan, for example) are applauding him on Twitter. Curry has succeeded in showing who God truly is, in a way that people could see and understand and delight in.

And that’s what real preaching is about.

But.

On its own, his message is not enough.  Continue reading Love: fire or fruit? Bishop Curry’s sermon was missing a person, IMHO

Good Gifts for Growing People: A sermon on Romans 12:1-8

So, there is this idea that women have the ability and commission to preach just as much as men. This sermon is offered alongside the work of other like-minded groups of people who are each doing their bit for bringing about the fullness of women’s ministry.

You can watch the YouTube video (~25 minutes, ~480MB) or you can read the text which is (for the most part!) reproduced below.

(The video is also embedded above, but it doesn’t display in all readers.)

Continue reading Good Gifts for Growing People: A sermon on Romans 12:1-8

Worn used NIV Study Bible

I always loved the Torah – and now I feel lied to (a complaint about translation)

I’ve always loved the first five books of the Bible (aka the Torah).

I don’t feel lied to because suddenly I’ve opened up and noticed the gory bits. I had already noticed the bits prejudiced against women, disabled people, homosexuals and people with different ethnicities. Oh, and the slavery and the retributive violence. And the honour-shame culture.

I’m not opening up my Old Testament every day thinking “This is the text that’s unadulterated goodness and will show me show to live my life with absolute clarity.” I always knew it was more complicated than that.

Yes, I have approached the text from my earliest youth with a presumption that it is inherently good, but I’ve not been so naïve as to think that everything it describes is good. Including the bits that the authors and compilers don’t seem to be flinching at.

Now I know that this makes me an outlier and I’m prepared to own that. I’m not about to inflict the genealogies of Numbers or the sacrifices of Leviticus on people who simply don’t have the stomach for it. Struggling with the Pentateuch does not make someone less of a Christian or less of a human being. If anything, struggling with it shows you’re actually exercising your God-given faculties of thought. Good. Do that.

So why do I feel lied to? Well, loving the Torah is something I felt as a child and as a teenager and as a student.

And you wanna know what else I was doing all that time? I was reading my New International Version translation of the Bible.

And the NIV translators don’t like the Torah. Continue reading I always loved the Torah – and now I feel lied to (a complaint about translation)

How can we make church more inclusive spaces for ‘minorities’

OK, so I was having a Twitter conversation and was asked about practical examples to make churches more inclusive. I started writing. This list isn’t exhaustive, but this is what I’d say off the top of my head.

The way I see church is like a long, long banqueting table. It has many dishes. Each person will find something there that doesn’t work for them – maybe it’s gluten, lactose, refined sugar, or maybe it’s texture, consistency, taste – but everyone will find something that they can enjoy too.

That’s the dream anyway.

But what if there aren’t enough cooks? Or there isn’t the budget? Or the expertise? What do we do? How do we make church more inclusive for those with particular needs?
Continue reading How can we make church more inclusive spaces for ‘minorities’

Wedding shoes of different colours but similar ribbons and style

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

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

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

Revelation 22 for beginners (with illustrations from Harry Potter)

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)

Parable of the great banquet in Luke 14

Serving the marginalised: Glamour and honour 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

My choice in the wake of Orlando and Brexit

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