I’ve learnt that I can’t blog about virginity, without discussing violence

Hands poised in typing over a mac laptop with the words on top: I've learnt that I can't blog about virginity without discussing violence workthegreymatter.com

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.

And to begin with, I thought that I’d be able to do the same with purity. But now I don’t think I can. Or at least, not when it comes to virginity. Continue reading I’ve learnt that I can’t blog about virginity, without discussing violence

8 things that got me through the worst time in my life (in 500 words)

Picture of leaves in the foreground with the sun setting over a lake in the background, with the words: 8 things that got me through the worst time in my life (in 500 words) workthegreymatter.com

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)

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

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

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.

I met Sheila Gregoire! And we talked about sex, consent and blogging over ice cream.

Glass bowl of pink ice cream on a wooden surface with the words: I met Sheila Gregoire! And we talked about sex, consent and blogging over ice cream. workthgreymatter.com

So, Sheila Gregoire came to the UK on holiday and WE MET UP!

We had a great chat over ice cream and it was wonderful hearing her vision for her platform and her take on recent events in the marriage/sex blogging world.

So, if you’ve not heard of her, she runs To Love, Honour & Vacuum.

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. Continue reading I met Sheila Gregoire! And we talked about sex, consent and blogging over ice cream.

Ever had a moment when you glimpsed how amazing Jesus is? I just had one. (Whilst studying Deuteronomy. I know, I’m weird)

Picture of woman from behind, sitting in church pew, with large Orthodox icon at the front of the church. Text: Ever had a moment when you got a glimpse of how amazing Jesus is? I just had one. (Whilst studying Deuteronomy. I know, I'm weird) workthegreymatter.com

When I was in my teens, I had a somewhat unorthodox rant with God.

“Why do churches go on and on and on about Jesus?” I said. “It’s ‘Jesus this, Jesus that,’ wherever I go! Why? It’s not like he’s the be-all-and-end-all!”

As soon as I said it, I felt the Holy Spirit give what I can only describe as a polite cough next to me. “So, what do you think he meant when he said he’s the Alpha and the Omega?”

I groaned and threw my hands up in the air. God: 1, Christine: 0. There was no winning the argument, but I was still dissatisfied with how churches only ever seemed to talk about Jesus. Continue reading Ever had a moment when you glimpsed how amazing Jesus is? I just had one. (Whilst studying Deuteronomy. I know, I’m weird)

About me and about my blog – April 2019 edition

Manga image of grey woman holding staff of Aaron with light showing her blue eyes

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.

And Christians really oughta know about consent! Continue reading About me and about my blog – April 2019 edition

An open letter to group admins, from a borderline Aspie

Mobile with Facebook app and title: An open letter to group admins, from a borderline Aspie

I am not your easiest of customers.

But I’m one of the most earnest.

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.

So I thought I’d share a collection of thoughts in the hope we might understand each other better. Continue reading An open letter to group admins, from a borderline Aspie

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.

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

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

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

How do I handle non-responses on social media? Yeah, not great.

Coloured windows at Norwich Cathedral
Coloured windows at Norwich Cathedral

I saw a tweet today:

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.

The non-response eats at me.

And it shouldn’t.

It really, really shouldn’t. Continue reading How do I handle non-responses on social media? Yeah, not great.

To stay or to go? On church, LGBT+ affirmation, and uncomfortable places

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.

Piano sheet music from a Cadiz by Isaac Albeniz
(Sheet music from a Cadiz by Isaac Albeniz – complete with notes from my piano teacher)

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?

Of course you want the environment that welcomes you. Continue reading To stay or to go? On church, LGBT+ affirmation, and uncomfortable places

More than memories: why I am not afraid of losing our holiday to epilepsy

Lefty catcher's mitt holding baseball on table

“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 Harry Potter.”

This was going to take some explaining to our guest.  Continue reading More than memories: why I am not afraid of losing our holiday to epilepsy

I think I need to grieve – what one year in a DV charity does to you

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.

CONTENT NOTE: This posts lists a lot of abusive behaviours seen in domestic violence.
Continue reading I think I need to grieve – what one year in a DV charity does to you

Inside the mental chaos of calling out abuse

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

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