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

Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 5: Hope and love)

Dan Stevens and Emma Watson dancing with lyrics from 'Evermore'

My greatest criticisms of both Fifty Shades and the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast come down to how they frame hope.

In Fifty Shades, Christian’s hope is vested in Ana, and the fear of losing her drives him to control her. In the 2017 Beauty and the Beast, Beast fares a bit better; he vests his hope in Belle’s intangible presence, which means he’s less controlling. But in the 1991 version we see something fundamentally different: Belle is Beast’s symbol of hope. When Beast surrenders to uncertainty he dies inwardly, only to be reborn into a new hope when Belle returns.

In these respects, I’d say Fifty Shades presents a hope that is Mormon, the 2017 Beauty and the Beast presents a hope that is Platonist, but the 1991 Beauty and the Beast presents a hope that is consistent with traditional Christianity.

Now you might say that’s over-analysing, but hey – I’m coming to the end of twenty-six blog posts that look into Beauty and the Beast in some form, so I think I’ve kind of already opened myself up to that accusation. I may as well keep going until I’ve said everything that I think is worth saying.

This is a long post, even by my standards (4,000 words), but if reading the above whets your appetite – keep going.

This is your spoiler warning. Continue reading Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 5: Hope and love)

The Orlando nightclub shooting: a challenge to non-LGBT Christians

LGBT Rainbow

It’s the one-year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting. It wasn’t long after 12 June 2016 that I spoke publicly about how I wanted to react in the wake of it. I didn’t go into whether or not I thought gay marriage and LGBT relationships were right or wrong; instead I challenged other Christians on how they were going to react.

I was nervous, but I did it, and afterwards I was glad that I did it (as were a number other people, judging by the feedback I received). I also posted a shortened version on this blog. I incorporated considerations about Brexit (which happened two weeks later), though the original was written with only Orlando in mind.

And for a while now, I’ve wanted to share the full version, and the first anniversary of the shooting seems as appropriate as any other time.

That said, I am now stepping way, way outside of my comfort zone.

Continue reading The Orlando nightclub shooting: a challenge to non-LGBT Christians

Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 4: Transformation)

Beast starts to read 'Romeo and Juliet' with Belle - from the special edition release
Beast starts to read ‘Romeo and Juliet’ with Belle – from the special edition release

 

It was incredible to me that part of the Beast’s backstory is literally oppressing an entire town and his “redemption” is simply letting Belle go and not kill Gaston. Sigh. Belle became an externalized moral icon for him instead of him showing a pattern of repentance and personal growth.

When a friend comments on your Facebook feed and hits the nail on the head, there’s little more to add.

We don’t become good people by having good people in our lives, or by buying their books, or by putting their pictures on our wall. Rather, we do it by following their examples through our actions.

The 1991 Beauty and the Beast understood this. But I don’t think either the 2017 version or Fifty Shades did.

Consider this your SPOILERS warning: I will be talking about plot details of the live action Beauty and the Beast. Continue reading Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 4: Transformation)

Modesty 101: modesty is not about clothes, rather glory and context

Modesty 101 fig leaves

So… the fabulous Sierra White has asked me to share some thoughts on modesty for her Facebook page Ezer Rising (and blog: Ezer Rising), which (if you didn’t know) is committed to sharing content about women’s equality from a Christian perspective.

First thing I’ll say is that I’m going to approach modesty in a way that I haven’t seen done elsewhere. Not because other ways are necessarily wrong or flawed, but because different ways of looking at things work for different people. And sometimes a different perspective can help us appreciate things that we hadn’t seen before.

For the Christians reading this, this also means I’m not going to start with Bible passages to make my case. I love the Bible, but if we start with a question like “What does the Bible say about modesty?” then it’s very easy to look for the word “modesty” and find ourselves constrained to considering only a few passages. Instead of doing that, I’ll step back and ask “What is modesty?” You can then go away and weigh my ideas against what you find in the Bible. (Or not, if the Bible isn’t really your book.)

So: modesty.  Continue reading Modesty 101: modesty is not about clothes, rather glory and context

Gary Thomas’ claim that Christians should have more children is unbiblical

Pair of ducklings

Gary Thomas recently published an article “Does God Care How Many Children We Have?” It’s one of those really banal questions that people only ask when they have a poor, flat, empty view of God.

Of course he cares.

God has emotional investment in every area of our lives – because he has emotional investment in all of us as people.

Oh, but that’s not what Gary was getting at.

The question he really meant to ask was this: “Should we allow God’s desires to influence our decision when we consider how many children we have?” I’m not exaggerating when I say that his answer opens himself up to accusations of racism and sexism; but hey, for the purposes of this post, I’ll make the case for why it’s deeply flawed theologically. Continue reading Gary Thomas’ claim that Christians should have more children is unbiblical

Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 3: Guilt and shame)

Once this five part series is done, I’m planning on taking a long break from blogging about Fifty Shades and Beauty and the Beast. I’ve got to the point where I feel like I’m either stating the obvious or repeating myself. But hey, this five-part series might be more accessible for some people than the 18-part, and it does have some new thoughts, so – what the heck, I’ll see it through.

Being and doing

Who we are affects what we do. What we do affects who we are. In a sense, who we are is what we do.

But it’s so, so easy to say you are one thing and have your actions do something else. For this reason there are some stories that emphasise it’s not who you are, but what you do that matters.

Take Batman Begins for example. Billionaire Bruce Wayne is told by love interest Rachel Dawes that he can’t claim to be some nice noble guy underneath his wealth and extravagance; she says it’s what he does that really matters. Little does she know he is the caped crime-fighting vigilante, though she finds out later when he repeats her words back to her.

Batman saying: It's not who I am underneath, but what I do, that defines me.
It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do, that defines me.

But in fairness, the distinction between who we are and what we do, is a false one. Rachel Dawes draws a distinction because she wants to highlight the apparent shallowness of Bruce’s claim of being a nice guy really. Once she gets to know Bruce better, she realises that who he claims to be really is reflected in his actions.

This whole discussion about who we are and what we do is a really important one, because there are two big and weighty words out there that relate to our doing and our being: guilt and shame.

Welcome to part 3 of comparing Fifty Shades with both the animated and live action versions of Beauty and the Beast. CONTENT NOTE: I mention Christian’s sadism and his traumatic upbringing and quote one of the uglier lines from 50 Shades. Consider this your SPOILERS warning too; I will be talking about plot details of the live action Beauty and the Beast as well as some from Harry Potter. Continue reading Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 3: Guilt and shame)

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

#ThatsHarassment: David Schwimmer makes six short videos showing sexual consent violations

With so much noise coming through my Twitter feed, and just the general busyness of life, it’s not uncommon for me to scroll past good articles and links without reading. But wow! When I saw the story about David Schwimmer (yes, Ross from Friends) making six short videos about sexual harassment, I’m so glad I didn’t miss it. They are brilliantly made, directed by Israeli-American director Sigal Avin, and achingly, shockingly real.

In the space of less than five minutes, each one illustrates a perpetrator preparing their victim for the consent violation, the violation itself, and then their tactics afterwards to rationalise their actions and prevent subsequent disclosure. They are all in a context of power imbalance. And yet, they are also all different. What’s more, they show abuse outside the obvious examples that people think of when they think of sexual abuse. In all but one, the victim is fully clothed; in all but another, the perpetrator is fully clothed. None of them involve a man forcibly grabbing a woman. None of them include one person touching another’s genitals. All of them are more subtle than that.

These are so well acted and scripted, I’m half tempted to present them without any commentary at all. However, one of the insidious things about abuse is its deceitfulness; I’ve therefore shared some of my thoughts in the hope that other people will feel more able to articulate theirs. It does mean this post is rather long, especially if you watch all six, so make a bookmark or come back when you’ve got the time. These reward close attention.

CONTENT NOTE: There are six videos here, all of which show sexual consent violations, and I discuss the coercive behaviours in detail. I’ve put notes above each video so that (if you want to) you can consider each one before you watch it, but needless to say – you might still find them difficult viewing. Continue reading #ThatsHarassment: David Schwimmer makes six short videos showing sexual consent violations

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

Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 2: Control)

So here’s the thing: you do not protect someone by faulting their behaviour and then trying to control them so as to limit it.

It took me a while to click this and I don’t have it entirely straight in my head yet, but the way I see it, if a person is vulnerable to making unhealthy choices, you protect them by limiting their surroundings, not by limiting them.

To give an example: you protect children by keeping sharp objects out of reach; you don’t protect them by telling them they must never reach, and certainly not by punishing them for trying to reach. (Though sometimes you let them discover wisdom for themselves – like when my parents let me serve myself a heaped spoonful of mustard because I kept demanding it.)

Meanwhile, as anyone who has studied domestic violence will tell you, entitlement and desire for control are the root of abuse. I’ll be the first to say that faithfulness is bigger than consent, but faithfulness is not about control – and it’s definitely not about retributive punishment.

Welcome to part 2 of comparing Fifty Shades with both the animated and live action versions of Beauty and the Beast. CONTENT NOTE: Consider this your spoiler warning. I will be talking about plot details of the live action Beauty and the Beast. I also include a few of the creepier quotes from Fifty Shades. Continue reading Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 2: Control)

Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 1: Coercion)

How does Christian Grey compare with Dan Stevens’ Beast?

I’ve already blogged at length about Beast in the 1991 version of Beauty and the Beast, but now we have a live-action version, it’s worth asking the question again.

I won’t drag this out into an 18 part series like I did last time, but I want to look at the characters of Beast and Christian, from five different angles. In particular, I want to look at how Fifty Shades and both versions of Beauty and the Beast frame the following:

  • Coercion and manipulation
  • Control and faithfulness
  • Questions of guilt and shame
  • Change and transformation
  • Hope and love.

CONTENT NOTE: Consider this your spoiler warning. I will be talking about plot details of the live action Beauty and the Beast. I also include a few of the creepier quotes from Fifty Shades. Continue reading Beast and Christian Grey: monsters or lovers? (Part 1: Coercion)