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

Worn used NIV Study Bible

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)

Why purity-as-separation undermines the church’s covenant calling

Wedding shoes of different colours but similar ribbons and styleLast Christmas I realised something that made me so angry I wanted to pick up my laptop and smash it to pieces.

No, this was not an urge that I had felt before.

I was contemplating the second chapter of Hebrews which talks about Jesus being made like the people whom he helped. The book is one of my favourites in the New Testament because it has a wholesale take on Jesus as the Great High Priest. I’m a sucker for the Old Testament books of law (don’t judge me!) so I lap up the words of this letter with delight every time I read them. Assuming I understand them, of course. And there’s no guarantee of that because, good grief, this book is complex!

Anyway: I was contemplating how Jesus was both like and unlike the people that he acted on behalf of as a priest. The thought-process was in aid of a blog post I published in the new year about how “priest” was to be my word for 2017. You see, a priest identifies with someone who is both like and unlike them. That is an integral part of how a priest ministers reconciliation. It was that like-and-unlike idea I had in mind when picked the image for that post – which I’m reusing for this one. (It comes from a winter wedding, in case you hadn’t guessed.)

The thought I had as I was contemplating was this: when a group of people, called by God to be ministers of his covenant to the world, separate themselves from others on the grounds of “purity”, they subvert and frustrate God’s reconciling plan for everyone else.

And this is bad. Very bad.  Continue reading Why purity-as-separation undermines the church’s covenant calling

Rethinking virginity: yes, it is about purity, but it’s not like a silk scarf

OK, first up: caveats.

That tweet was in April. It’s now July. What I’m about to write is a mixture of theological thoughts I’ve been mulling on in the interim and talking over my husband – because he’s a fabulous deep-thinker who sometimes sees things I don’t.

When I’ve been talking to him about my ideas about virginity he’s said to me,

“OK but… this idea is like the fur of a cat. You can stroke it one way and it’s fine, but if you stroke it the wrong way, you get the cat’s back up. It’s still the same fur, but it doesn’t work. You’ve got to be careful with this.”

So, I could be on the wrong track, but even if I’m on the right track, you’ve got to look at my direction of travel here. Also, even if I’m on the right track and going in the right direction, this is a curiously complex issue. Again, it’s like cat’s fur: you can stroke a cat anywhere, but you can’t stroke a cat everywhere on its surface at the same time. (This is also called the ‘hairy ball theorem’.) In a similar way, what I’m about to say may not the have logical consistency the way we might expect at first.

But I think there’s something big here.
Continue reading Rethinking virginity: yes, it is about purity, but it’s not like a silk scarf

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’

My greatest regrets are when I was trying to be someone I’m not

That moment when I hit “post”, “tweet” or “publish” – I never know what the response will be.

Some of my most laborious works have been put out there with only the most meagre amounts of attention paid to them. Other times, what seemed like a passing thought has been whipped up and shared widely. Well – much more widely than my average.

Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve felt a tension between writing what I want to write and what I think people want to consume. Of course, there has to be a balance between these two. The frustration comes when I’ve written something I think people would enjoy but then don’t read. But that feeling of frustration isn’t the problem. It comes, it goes. Something didn’t work. I shrug. I move on.

The problem is the feeling of fear: You’re doing it wrong.

You’re doing it wrong.

You’re doing it wrong. Continue reading My greatest regrets are when I was trying to be someone I’m not

An open letter to JK Rowling: nine things I can’t thank you enough for

Harry Potter and the philosopher's stone book with cinema 3D glasses

Dear Joanne,

I can barely believe it’s been 20 years since the first Harry Potter book came out. I was far from your earliest fan, and won’t presume to count myself as your biggest, but I am full of admiration both for your books and for you as a person. I have so many things to thank you for – here are some of them.

Continue reading An open letter to JK Rowling: nine things I can’t thank you enough for

Resurrection me: tasting future glory

Steps leading into light at Manorbier Castle, Cair Paravel, with poem about resurrection
“Resurrection me” by Christine Woolgar (click on the image for full size)

I don’t want to write a long commentary on this poem, but I will say that as I wrote it, I was reminded of C.S. Lewis’ sermon The Weight of Glory (bold emphasis is mine):

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people.

It felt fitting to have the image of steps leading into light as the setting for this poem – the sense of journey and pending entry.  But there’s an added layer too: the picture is one I took in a stairwell at Manorbier Castle in Pembrokeshire, which was used in the 1988 BBC adaptation of Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (and which I loved watching when I was growing up). This castle is Cair Paravel, where – in another life, perhaps not so far from our own – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy were crowned kings and queens.

The full words of the poem are below. Continue reading Resurrection me: tasting future glory

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

New profile picture: grey places and the art of Siku

Grey woman with the staff of Aaron, art by Siku
Extract from artwork created by Siku, @theartofsiku  www.theartofsiku.com

If you’ve spent time on Facebook or other social media, you’ve probably seen one of those alerts telling you that a friend has changed their profile picture. You may also have noticed that some friends never seem to change their picture – and others seem to change it every week.

For myself, I’m someone who prefers to choose a picture and stick with it. But a few days ago I updated my Twitter profile and today I’ve made a similar change on this blog. Here’s why…
Continue reading New profile picture: grey places and the art of Siku

The friend who was always there: on faithfulness, creativity and being me

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” John 1:48 (NIV)

In recent months I’ve listened to people talk about the destructive relationships that they’ve left, whether that was with their partners or their churches. In some of them, there was a realisation that the person or religion they thought they knew and had fallen in love with, was never there at all. It left them with a cold, shaky, uncertain feeling.

In recent months I’ve had a growing sense of what might be called the opposite: that the one who I needed most was always there, even when I didn’t realise. Continue reading The friend who was always there: on faithfulness, creativity and being me

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

I published this after reading a post by Nate Sparks which was critical (justifiably, in my view) of another article about befriending people with disabilities. Nate’s criticisms included that this article encouraged the commodification of people with disabilities: making them seen as a means through which others receive benefit, and making the benefit the reason to befriend such people.

I have therefore shared this post as an alternative sermon of sorts and to promote discussion on how we engage with people who are marginalised. I welcome comment below. (Though I do moderate them.)


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 from a 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

Music, perfection and play: shedding childhood shame

Sheet music of Harry Potter music The Room of Requirement on a piano
Sheet music from the film of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”

Recently the BBC showed the film Shine. It portrays the true story of a pianist David Helfgott, including the emotionally abusive relationship his father had towards him, how he had a breakdown, and how later in his life he came to be able to take to the stage again.

I first saw this film not long after it was made in 1996; at that time I was a teenager. I was wrapped in piano lessons, music theory and even a placement at the Royal College of Music. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s one of the most prestigious classical music institutions in the UK. And it’s where David Helfgott studied. So yes, I was doing the whole studying classical music thing, because I was young and perceived as gifted. Plus I had enough people around me to claw for the money to make it happen.

I don’t think I understood the film when I saw it. But seeing it twenty years later has dredged up all kinds of emotions and thoughts.

Continue reading Music, perfection and play: shedding childhood shame

Belle vs Ana: Privilege of position and identity

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

I scowl with frustration at myself in the mirror. Damn my hair—it just won’t behave, and damn Katherine Kavanagh for being ill and subjecting me to this ordeal.
Fifty Shades of Grey, p3

Redeemer’s privilege comes in two halves

So… redemption stories involve a person who saves – a redeemer. A redeemer needs to be good (I talked about that in my last post) and they need to have privilege.

A person having privilege is often framed as them having some characteristic that means their status is advantaged (or not disadvantaged) compared to others. Redeemer’s privilege is similar, but broader, and it comes in two parts – I’ll call them “position privilege” and “identity privilege.”

Position privilege means the redeemer has power; they are not subject to constraining forces – at least so far as the redemption arc is concerned. Identity privilege is about having a secure and fulfilled sense of identity. The redeemer may experience distress at being insulted and injured, or indeed at witnessing suffering in others. But that doesn’t take away from their identity.

Because a redeemer has both position and identity privilege, this means that if they intervene for someone else, they do so because they want to. Not because they have to and not because they feel they need to.

In this post I’m going to compare Belle’s position and identity privilege with Ana’s.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fifty Shades, and need a brief introduction, try my bare basics page. If you’re new to this blog I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades and the introduction to this series explains why I think Redemption is beautiful love, not beastly suffering.

Continue reading Belle vs Ana: Privilege of position and identity