I want to remember some of the positive things that came out of 2020.
Disclaimer: I’m sharing this post because giving myself permission to do these things was a big deal for me; maybe my story will encourage other people. But I wasn’t living under a rock. I know I was lucky to be able to invest in myself in these ways. Investing in other people was also a big priority in 2020 – it’s just not one I want to blog about.
Here are the six most satisfying decisions I made in 2020 (not necessarily in order).
Decision #1: Starting singing lessons
In Christmas 2019 I thought it might be fun to record my favourite carol: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Recording my voice has long been a dream of mine. I even bought a pre-amp before I had any microphones to plug into it.
Anyway, by 2019 I had my mac, GarageBand and a Røde microphone – and knew how to connect them. So, I recorded myself.
About once a year I seem to have a good long hard think about what my blog is about and how I should present myself to the world. It’s not deliberate, but anyway — here is the latest about me, my writing, my theology and my feminism. (And the different sections of this post have now also been split over several pages on my site.) Continue reading About me and my blog – April 2020 edition→
Yesterday I spent the whole morning setting up the living room.
clearing stuff off the piano, taking the cover off and lifting the lid;
setting up a t-bar on a microphone stand, putting in pencil mics and connecting them to a pre-amp;
placing a proper camera on a tripod, positioning an iPad (as a second camera) on top of a box, on top of a stool, and then angling it via use of a laptop riser stand (in the featured image for this post, you can see a reflection of the iPad in the piano’s music rest);
collating music books and hymns, printing copies (because books are cumbersome and prone to closing themselves when you least want them to);
bringing down a stool from upstairs that doesn’t creak when I sit on it and shift my weight;
disentangling the living room’s extension flex to serve the iPad whilst it finished charging;
connecting my laptop to the pre-amp and my husband’s computer speakers (the very top of the laptop is just in view behind the piano and tripod).
Oh — and I did a few practice runs before hitting record.
Before Coronavirus, yesterday had been fully booked; playing the piano would have been off the cards. As for spending most of the day setting up a recording studio in my living room, that would have been out of the question.
A few weeks ago I had a long sit down and pondered what I blog about and how I categorise it.
One of the difficulties my readers face is that one week I’ll be posting something light and reflective, and the next I’ll be delving deep into toxic teachings and abusive practices. With such variety (volatility?) in subject matter and tone, I realised I wasn’t making it easy for people to make decisions on what to read.
So last year I introduced four categories: sunlight, firelight, moonlight and starlight. Sunlight was the uncontroversial, positively-oriented stuff that would generally be easy to read. Firelight was more stretching; it was more likely to challenge long-standing assumptions and it discussed how/why bad things are bad. Then there was the moonlight category. I reserved this for posts about the wildly unorthodox, the not-safe-for-work topics, and serious violence. After all, this blog started as a take-down of Fifty Shades of Grey.
The last category, starlight, was a wildcard, collating posts about my life and reflections — often as a blogger. This post, in case you were wondering, is starlight.
The framework helped me focus how I blogged. For example, if I wrote about hope, I might have a sunlight post discussing how God created us to have our own agency, a firelight post on how penal substitutionary atonement is problematic, and then a moonlight post carefully examining teachings about hell.
I shared this with a couple of people on Twitter and they said it helped them, so I figured I’d share on my blog too.
Background: I had a period of my adult life when I saw a systemic problem and I tried to raise awareness of it. However, the main person I tried to talk to was also one of the worst offenders. The issue therefore evolved into me talking to other people about that person, again trying to solve the problem, but without success. Along the way I became ill and had unhelpful advice from family and friends (especially around forgiveness). It only resolved (if that is the word, and only in part) after a few individuals took an interest and pulled some levers. By the time the dust settled, my life situation had significantly altered. Continue reading 8 things that got me through the worst time in my life (in 500 words)→
Her topic is sex (for married, Christian, heterosexual couples) and she finds that a lot of people come to her blog for sex and begin to deconstruct a number of their (false) complementarian beliefs. Which is an absolutely fabulous work.
Extract from artwork created by Siku (@theartofsiku, www.TheArtOfSiku.com).
I updated my ‘About Me’ page. It won’t be the last time, but here’s what it now says:
I’m actually quite a shy person.
But once I’m talking, I’ll tell it as it is. I’ll say the words that aren’t being said, I’ll delve the topics that are too taboo and I’ll throw out challenges for people to wrestle with.
As for this blog, it’s a space where I write at the edges of ideas that relate to hope, sexuality and consent. I want to lean into the grey places where people haven’t yet distilled their thoughts or figured out where they want to stand. I’ll disentangle complexities and dare to re-open questions where the standard answers now seem incomplete.
In practical terms, that means I write about:
sex and portrayals of sex,
consent and consent culture,
purity and purity culture,
inclusion and transformation,
bodies and personhood,
the Bible and Christian witness.
I approach these topics as a Christian and a feminist, but also with a listening ear to the sex-positive community.
Make no mistake, I hold a high view of the Bible and believe it to be inspired, so I ground my perspective there. However, I don’t think the Bible can be understood without – at least in some sense – recognising it is literature. I also think that the church can learn from people who are outside of the church. Certainly, this was my experience when it came to consent.
How you treat me has a huge influence on how I feel emotionally. But you’re also in a position to influence my behaviours towards others.
That means your reach goes way beyond the Facebook groups you manage; the advice you give me today might carry years into the future, as I interact with people both online and offline. (No pressure!)
I wanted to write to you because when I make mistakes, you can greatly influence how much my mistakes end up costing people. I’ve had some great admins who’ve steered me away from pitfalls. On the flip side, there have also been times when much pain and stress was avoidable.
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.
(Sheet music from a Cadiz by Isaac Albeniz – complete with notes from my piano teacher)
Imagine being in the following situations:
Having a job where the boss of the adjacent department is someone who discriminated against you (and you’ve never received an apology).
Being amongst extended family members who habitually crack jokes that demean an aspect of your identity (and you’re never sure how serious the jokes are).
Attending a church where the pastor has systematically tried to silence your voice.
Being in an online forum where its leader states repeatedly and categorically that an experience of yours did not, and does not, happen.
They’re pretty uncomfortable scenarios. The question is: what do you do with them?
At work, my boss is someone who is streets ahead of me in terms of professional experience, organisational nous and interpersonal savvy. I can barely begin to go into how much I’ve learned from him. When it comes to music though, it’s the other way round. Aged in his fifties, he’s struggling through his grade 3 guitar exam, whereas I had grade 8 piano when I was fourteen. It makes for some interesting conversations.
Recently he described how his teacher had been telling him that part of the art of being a performer is learning how to handle an uncomfortable environment. What do you achieve if you go into the room and the lighting is a bit off and someone’s looking at you awkwardly and you say you just can’t play?
“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.”
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.
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 know what to do. The other day, I heard a domestic violence worker use the word “chaotic” to describe the thoughts inside a survivor’s head.
When you don’t realise you’re being abused, you often think you can cope and you try to deal with the situation. But then your coping mechanisms fail and, very often, you realise that most of the people you’re leaning aren’t actually helping. Definitely not in the way that you want or need.
I wrote this post to how it feels to go through this. The post is not context-specific and it doesn’t describe abuse, just the mental chaos of failing and falling.
PS Everyone’s experience is different. If it resonates, great. If it helps you understand someone else’s experience great. But if you know someone who’s hurting, please remember not to make assumptions. Just be present and gentle.
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