So, a fellow Fifty Shades critic and consent enthusiast recently gave me a copy of How Not to Write A Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark. It outlines “200 mistakes to avoid at all costs if you ever want to get published”. And as I read it, I couldn’t help but wonder whether EL James might not have produced the crime against literature that is the Fifty Shades trilogy if she had read it.
She clocks up about 50 of these mistakes. Yes, 50. So, to mark the occasion of the third and final film being released in cinemas, I figured it might be worth blogging about it again.
CONTENT NOTE: This is meant to be a fun and light-hearted post. However, at times there is simply no getting away from the problematic portrayals of consent, BDSM, purity culture, misogyny, racism, child abuse and mental health problems that are inherent in Fifty Shades. To say nothing of the gratuitous displays wealth.
I also link to other blogs that also criticise Fifty Shades because I think they have insightful things to say about EL James’ writing, but I make no guarantees as to the language or suitability of content on those sites.
Also, credit where it’s due, the names given to the writing mistakes and the explanations are extracts from How Not To Write A Novel. And occasionally they use some colourful language.
“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
From theology to anthropology to fiction, these are my books of 2017. I didn’t like all of them, and I didn’t read all of them from cover to cover. But in this post (and the next three), I’ll share some thoughts on what I made of them.
The number one spot belongs to The Twilight of Cutting and it warrants a full blog post in its own right.
Written by a Bosnian woman who works as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Cornell University, it is a stunning study of the complexities of discourses surrounding female genital mutilation (FGM), which is also known as ‘cutting’.
With the recent trending of the hashtag #ChurchToo, people are sharing their experiences of abuse in the church. Meanwhile, others are asking questions about whether it’s just ‘a few bad apples’ or a systemic problem.
It’s a systemic problem.
Sure, it’s easy to say it’s a matter of “bad theology” or that people who abuse aren’t “true Christians”. But that doesn’t remove responsibility from the wider church to acknowledge the structural and theological problems within the church, name them as such, and work to address them. As a practising Christian, I fervently believe that the church can be, and will be, a powerful mediator of God’s transforming power in the world. But until we name these things as wrong, or at the very least as distortions and glib practices missapplied to their context, we will not have the impetus to change them.
And we must change them if we are to fulfil our calling.
So, here’s a list of 45 practices I associate with the church and the problems they lead to when it comes to consent. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. And I don’t mean to suggest that consent is the only issue worth talking about. But it’s what I blog about.
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. A group I have some involvement with is the Ezer Rising team, and you can even order mugs and t-shirts with this slogan if you want!
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.)
It is 500 years to the day (well, sort of, if we don’t worry about the shift to the Gregorian calendar) since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, on 31 October 1517. His actions kicked off the reformation – a movement during which the protestant denominations split away from the Roman Catholic church.
Coming from a protestant background, this seems a fitting time for me to write 95 short statements on the themes of this blog. Of course, they don’t cover everything! But you’ll find in them thoughts and theologies that either have been, or will be, very much an integral part of my writing. (And when I’m cribbing someone else’s work, I’ve put their name in brackets.) I’ve split them into ten categories:
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.
Last 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.
When I was a plucky secondary school pupil, I had an idea for a perpetual motion machine. I was beyond excited. I was going to solve the world’s energy problems. I was prepared to accept that maybe there was a glitch in my design that I hadn’t realised, so I prayed earnestly that if I was wrong then God will tell me that very same day.
That afternoon my older brother told me it wouldn’t work.
I didn’t believe him to begin with, but gradually reality sank in as he explained. As Scotty would say, “Ya canna change the laws of physics!” Unknowingly, I had been trying to break the first rule of thermodynamics – that energy cannot be created or destroyed.
Thing is, right now, I feel like a child again. I feel like I can change the world. Or maybe it’s not that I can but that I will – by the grace of God, in the wisdom of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the fellowship of the church – change the world.
Is that me or is that not me? I don’t care! The world is going to change – and that’s what really excites me.
I just remembered that I can reblog from other sites. So, here is part 2 of the modesty series I’ve been writing for Ezer Rising.
by Christine Woolgar It might have escaped your notice, but Hogwarts has a dress code. In having a uniform, Hogwarts’ follows mainstream practice in UK primary and secondary schools (that is, those for pupils up to the age of 16). Uniforms certainly differ, but regardless of how a school is funded, they all have […]
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→