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.
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.
Stop letting people who do so little for you control so much of your mind, feelings and emotions. – Will Smith
It came at a timely moment. Around lunchtime today I left a comment on a Facebook post written by a woman I highly respect. I’d invested a lot in what I said. It’s now gone 9pm and there’s no response. I also saw another Facebook post this afternoon asking a great question and I commented on that too investing my creative energy and thought process again. Again, no response. I saw some great tweets and retweeted them on Twitter. Nothing.
Good Friday is a day that almost doesn’t need anyone to preach on it – the story speaks for itself. As I was flicking through passion hymns in the book my church uses, I found one I hadn’t heard before by Vicky Beeching called “O Precious Sight”. The last verse is about resurrection, but if you leave it out and just contemplate the first three verses, there is so much there.
So I recorded a cover version and made a video set to photos I’d taken on various travels. It’s not perfect – the photos aren’t all in perfect focus, my singing has room for improvement and I’ve discovered glitches iMovie that means the video flickers in a couple of places. (Sigh.) Nonetheless, I offer this short video for those contemplating Jesus’ cross and the salvation it means for us.Continue reading O Precious Sight (by Vicky Beeching) – a contemplative video for Good Friday→
“What would you say your favourite series of films, books or TV shows would be?” my husband asked.
I kept my eyes on the motorway as I waited for our passenger in the back seat to answer. The evening was quickly passing from dusk into night and I was conscious of the headlights of other cars as they came flickering into my vision. It was nothing I wasn’t used to, just now I was more conscious of it. That’s what happens when a friend with epilepsy comes to stay for a week.
“Wait,” I asked, “were you talking to me?” Indeed he had been.
So what was my favourite series? The obvious candidates came to mind: Lord of the Rings, Babylon 5, Harry Potter. Except that I’d grown tired of the LOTR films and wasn’t familiar enough with the books to name it as my greatest fandom. I had much respect for J Michael Straczinsky’s Babylon 5, but it wasn’t something that I could immerse myself in again and again.
Was I going to say that Harry Potter was my greatest fandom? After all, we were driving back from Warner Studios in Watford. Day trips to the set of Harry Potter don’t exactly happen by accident.
“Actually, I think it would probably have to be the anime series Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex. The thing about it,” I said, “is that it shows me concepts, images and stories, important ones, that I’ve found nowhere else. Not even in HarryPotter.”
As I finally come to write reviews of this last cluster of books from 2017 I realise that I’ve probably more not read them, than read them. Sorry about that. This batch is probably of most interest to people who are questioning some of the answers they’ve been given by the church, particularly around sex, sexuality and gender. There’s also some sci-fi. Here are the books I’ll give you a little flavour of:
Only kidding! The themes for 2017’s theological reading seem to have been justification (and my discovery of a long-standing debate between John Piper and Tom Wright), hope and the kingdom of heaven, and prophecy. So here are a few short reviews of:
Why the Reformation Still Matters
New Testament for Everyone commentaries
Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries
Whole Life Worship
Surprised by Hope
(Actually, they’re not short. This post is about 3,500 words. Whoops.)
1 Corinthians 11:3. Ephesians 5:22. If you’ve been anywhere near the arguments about complementarianism you’ll probably know what these verses say about women without having to look them up. Even if you don’t, you’ll definitely be familiar with what people have said they mean.
Several of my reads in 2017 were about the role and place of women. There were moments I was ready to write very long thank you letters to the authors; other times, I filled the margins with angry scribbles. Here are some short reviews of:
The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity
The moment when Buffy starts to fight back against her abusive ex-boyfriend Angel in the season 2 episode “Innocence” from ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘
Grief and lament spring from the deepest parts of our soul because, however bitter the herbs and fruits they seem to bear, their real root is Love and I believe that it is Love who made the world and made us who we are. – Malcolm Guite
So, the last year I’ve spent an afternoon a week helping women who are experiencing domestic abuse of one form or another. When I first saw the advert, I jumped at the chance. I wanted that frontline experience in a structured context, where I’d be supervised and trained; where I’d be able to reach far more people than I would on my own – and provide much more effective help.
I was asked to put in a year’s commitment. I had no problem with that. Things were generally static and stable at both work and home, so I had the capacity.
Thing is, over the last few weeks, all I’ve wanted to do more than anything else is finish my one year stint, take my reference and go. Next week will be my last session.
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.)
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.
One of the classic things about abuse is that when you’re going through it, you often don’t realise it’s abuse. Even when you do, there are so many conflicting forces over your life it’s hard to discern which way to go. The other day, I heard a domestic violence worker use the word “chaotic” to describe the thoughts inside a survivor’s head.
I went away and pondered this and wrote the following stream of words to try and capture this chaos. I’ve written it in general terms, so people from different experiences can relate to it. It doesn’t say whether the person is experiencing domestic abuse (whether from an intimate partner, or from a family member), or whether it’s a church context, or a work context. Nor does it go into the nature of the abuse.
Instead it churns over the chaos of the person’s mind as their coping mechanisms fail. (Notice how long it takes for them to realise that they are the one being harmed.) It ends with someone offering them an exit from the abuse. Again, we don’t know who that person is and though the exit is real, much remains unresolved. Continue reading Inside the mental chaos of calling out abuse→
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 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.
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.