Why am I making piano videos during a time of global crisis?

Picture of a black grand piano with the lid raised and music rest up; the music rest is the main part of the shot; in the background there’s a camera an tripod, also microphones positioned over the piano’s soundboard. In the music rest there is a reflection of an iPad filming the piano. Also hanging on the wall in the background is a Mulan poster. Centrally are the words: Why am I making piano videos during a time of global crisis? Workthegreymatter.com

Yesterday I spent the whole morning setting up the living room.

That meant:

  • 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.

So, why did I do it?

Short answer: because right now, I can’t write. Continue reading Why am I making piano videos during a time of global crisis?

Five things I’d explain to a teenage girl if she asked about Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (assuming she has the courage to)

Young woman looking up thoughtfully with the words: Five things I’d explain to a teenage girl if she asked about Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (assuming she has the courage to ask) workthegreymatter.com

This would be that law about the young bride who’s already lost her virginity.

Actually it’s not, but I’ll get to that later.

I promised myself I’d keep this post under 1,200 words: 200 for each thing to say, plus intro. So if you want detailed backup for what I’m saying here, check out the links and references for further reading. I’m drawing mainly on the work of Aaron Koller, Carolyn Pressler, Joseph Fleishman and, not least, Emily Nagoski.

I’m writing this post because in the Western evangelical church, Christians of all ages are encouraged to read the Bible, although there are some pretty puzzling things in it. And whilst it’s pretty standard to say “Jesus won’t mind if you ignore that bit,” if you’re talking to a teenage girl who’s anything like me, those arguments won’t wash. (Admittedly though, I’m pretty weird.)

I grant you, even if she’s grown up with purity culture, Deuteronomy 22 probably didn’t feature much in conversation. But it’s still likely she’ll completely misread the passage (as I did) if she reads it from a purity culture mindset.

So, here are five things to explain. Take it slowly and gently.

Continue reading Five things I’d explain to a teenage girl if she asked about Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (assuming she has the courage to)

Potatoes and scandalzzz: what to make of Rachel Jankovic’s relentless book promotion?

Picture of raw potatoes on a chopping board with the words: Potatoes and scandalzzz: what to make of Rachel Jankovic’s relentless book promotion? Workthegreymatter.com

Making a financial success of a new book is not an easy business in the age of the internet, especially if you’re writing for a niche market through a small publisher. So I can understand the desire to market your work wherever and whenever you can, milking the social media machine for all its promotional worth.

That being the case, I’m not really against Canon Press making short videos of Rachel Jankovic espousing her gospel of obedience whilst she peels potatoes and answers her scandalizzzed critics. Hey, if I had a new book to promote, I’d love that kind of support from my publisher.

But what should we be making of these videos? How should we react when she derides Beth Moore and the “encroaching feminism” that dares to suggest women can and should preach in the pulpit? Should we be angry, frustrated? Should we watch or boycott? Should we analyse or parody?

Ultimately it’s for each of us to answer those questions for ourselves. In this post though, I’ll tell you what my answers are, and why in the hope that they’ll help stimulate you in your analytical thinking. Continue reading Potatoes and scandalzzz: what to make of Rachel Jankovic’s relentless book promotion?

Isaiah 58:1-9a (remix) – a call to Christians who campaign

Like many of the Old Testament prophets, Isaiah spoke about injustice, calling the people of Israel and Judah to account for their actions and appealing to them to change their ways. And I know it’s a cliché but: many of his words, written hundreds of years ago, are deeply resonant today. Things like ending oppression and showing hospitality to the poor.

The thing is though, many Christians reading this passage would frame themselves as being in Isaiah’s shoes; they would use his words to call non-Christians and other parts of the church to account. Yet there comes a point when you can’t escape the fact that at least some Christians are wrong to claim the moral high ground. At least some Christians must be campaigning for causes which aren’t actually just.

So as I thought about this passage over the last couple of weeks, I began to move away from framing it in terms of “Don’t oppress the poor” (which is good advice any day of the week). Instead, I thought of it in terms of “Don’t engage in wasteful campaigns.”  Continue reading Isaiah 58:1-9a (remix) – a call to Christians who campaign

On Dobson, domestic violence and DARVO dynamics

White broken eggshells on a black background with the words: On Dobson, domestic violence, and DARVO dynamics - Busting the myth that wives 'bait' their husbands to violence. A post about James Dobson's 'Love Must Be Tough'. workthegreymatter.com

CONTENT NOTE: This post discusses the dynamics of domestic abuse and victim-blaming.

A few years ago I was volunteering for a charity that helped women facing domestic abuse. I remember my team leader explaining how survivors sometimes defend themselves with violence – but that this creates its own problems.

She wasn’t finding fault with survivors; she was explaining how if a survivor acts aggressively towards her abuser (or attempts to), then that one incident may be held over her as leverage, regardless of how serious the woman’s actions actually were. Such decontextualisation and blaming is, of course, an abuse tactic, aiming to reverse the victim and perpetrator in the eyes of onlookers (e.g. police). It’s also an example of what the acronym ‘DARVO’ is getting at: Deny, Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender.

I was reminded of this conversation more recently as I read about an instance of spousal domestic violence that seemed to fit this pattern. It was in James Dobson’s 1983 book Love Must Be Tough.

And I have many, many issues with how he used this example. Continue reading On Dobson, domestic violence and DARVO dynamics

“Be self-giving, not self-seeking” — but what if that’s the wrong marriage advice

Close up picture of red and yellow flowers against a dark blue background with the words: ‘Be self-giving, not self-seeking’ — but what if that’s the wrong marriage advice?

I see the same essential marriage advice given time and time again: “be self-giving, not self-seeking”. Depending on who you listen to, and in what context, the message ranges from the quite helpful to the incredibly toxic.

It can push for balance and mutuality — if both spouses seek the other’s wellbeing, then both will also be on the receiving end and good things tend to happen. But it can also give the impression that marriage is about work or indeed ‘sanctifying’ your spouse. Throw in false assumptions about what men and women need for their well-being (e.g. women need security, men need sex) and it’s a recipe for abuse.

That said, it’s hard for Christians to shake the feeling that marriage is about more than one individual and that marriage shouldn’t come at the expense of one spouse. So, you can see why Christians might encourage self-giving rather than self-seeking for good marital relations.

But I think this approach is fundamentally flawed.

Let me explain. Continue reading “Be self-giving, not self-seeking” — but what if that’s the wrong marriage advice

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

Honour, not sex. Why applying Deuteronomy 22 is more complex than you thought. And why this matters.

Picture of man holding a Bible with a woman in the background, as if engaged in conversation though their face aren’t in the frame. Words on top: Honour, not sex. Why applying Deuteronomy 22 is more complex than you thought. And why this matters. Workthegreymatter.com

There are a fair few strange laws concerning sex and marriage in the Old Testament books of law.

Problem is, whilst some Christians see much of the Old Testament as not relevant at all, there are others who tend to look for modern application. And if you’re in this second camp, there are all manner of questions to be answered about which laws describe the past and which prescribe principles for ethical living — and how exactly these translate to the modern day.

My personal belief is that none of the Old Testament laws are either wholly prescriptive or wholly descriptive; I think they all reflect their time (descriptive) and they all have something to teach us (prescriptive). Well, to varying degrees, obviously, but I’m not prepared to write off any of them as wholly irrelevant relics. And maybe you agree or maybe you don’t. Either way, it’s fair to say that some Christians are inclined to interpret prescriptively and when they do, they’re influenced by what each law is actually talking about.

Maybe that seems so obvious it shouldn’t need to be said — of course laws about the priesthood, warfare or slavery are going to be taken less literally than laws about putting up safety rails on a roof or not cursing the deaf. Why? For the simple reason that modern Western societies are structured very differently to ancient Israel.

But here’s the issue: what if there are laws designed for ancient societal structures, but which mainly use timeless language? Laws like that risk being interpreted and applied more literally by modern Christians, when they shouldn’t be.

This is what I think happens with Deuteronomy 22:13-30.

CONTENT NOTE: this post includes discussion of sexual abuse, ‘honour’ violence and rape myths. Continue reading Honour, not sex. Why applying Deuteronomy 22 is more complex than you thought. And why this matters.

sometimes I wonder… if Rachel Jankovic understands scandal (a response to her criticism of Kaitlin Shetler’s viral poem)

Over the last week or so, a #poemfortheresistance by Kaitlin Hardy Shetler has been making waves on the internet. Both stark and poignant, it contemplates whether Mary’s experience of breast-feeing Jesus was anything like the author’s earthy experience. (Its text is at the bottom of this post.)

The poem has many layers but it lands the author’s view that the coarse image of a teenage girl, with cracked nipples maybe, breast-feeding Jesus, says far more about the truth and relevance of the Christmas story than the many sermons you might hear from privileged male preachers who gate-keep women from the pulpit.

At the time I write, the poem has garnered over 40,000 reactions on Facebook and 29,000 shares (not counting the ones where people copied the text into their own posts). It’s clearly resonated with a lot of people, however it’s also been deemed silly or irrelevant by some, offensive to others.

In particular, Rachel Jankovic criticises the poem for misstating the scandal of Christmas as “some kind of woman power thing” when the real scandal (in her view) is obedience to God.

I want to talk about this. Continue reading sometimes I wonder… if Rachel Jankovic understands scandal (a response to her criticism of Kaitlin Shetler’s viral poem)

How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21, and how I explain it now (in fewer than 500 words)

Picture of a bride with her eyes closed, standing against a white flowing veil-like background with the words: How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21... and how I explain it now Summarised in fewer than 500 words. workthegreymatter.com

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is one of the scarier passages for impressionable young Christian women, as it seems to hold up pre-marital sex as a crime punishable by death. Even for married women, such as myself, the passage can be puzzling: hymeneal blood following intercourse is a notoriously unreliable proof of virginity.

Well, having just published 2,600 words explaining this law (and that doesn’t count the footnotes), I thought I’d give the short version. Here it is in fewer than 500 words: Continue reading How I used to interpret Deuteronomy 22:13-21, and how I explain it now (in fewer than 500 words)

About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22: it’s not what you think

Picture of a bride with her eyes closed, standing against a white flowing veil-like background with the words: About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22:13-21... it's not what you think. Forget the hymen. This was about power. And money.. workthegreymatter.com

There was some justifiable outrage recently when rapper T.I. said that he had a gynaecologist annually test that his daughter’s hymen was still intact.

Leaving aside the brutal, if not fatal, penalties that women may suffer even today if they lose their virginity in a socially unacceptable manner, T.I.’s attitude is reminiscent of Old Testament times.

Or is it?

CONTENT WARNING for discussion of murder and toxic purity culture.

Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is one of the scarier passages for impressionable young Christian women, as it seems to hold up pre-marital sex as a crime punishable by death. Even for married women, such as myself, the passage can be puzzling: hymeneal blood following intercourse is a notoriously unreliable proof of virginity.

So, do we:

  1. Take Deuteronomy 22:13-21 as nevertheless prohibiting all pre-marital sex,
  2. Write it off as an ancient relic, void of Christian love as we know it, or
  3. Say there’s got to be more here than meets the eye?

In case you hadn’t guessed, this post is all about option 3. (If you want a summary in fewer than 500 words, click here.) Continue reading About that virginity test in Deuteronomy 22: it’s not what you think

On consent for sex in the middle of the night

Picture of the ocean at night with moonlight reflecting off the water, with the words: On consent for sex in the middle of the night (a response to another Christian blogger who I hope you haven’t heard of) workthegreymatter.com

A video of this post is also available on YouTube.

The middle of the night is not usually a good time to do things other than sleep. Lack of sleep makes us tired and most of us don’t get to snooze during the day. That said, sometimes our sense of nocturnal fun means we make exceptions.

Something you’ll hear me say is that marriage doesn’t give spouses a right to sex, but rather a right to approach each other for sex. So, in theory, sex in the middle of the night is on the cards.

Problem is — if your spouse is asleep, how do you know if it’s OK to have sex with them?

Well, for starters it is never ok to have penetrative sex with someone whilst that person is asleep!

Not even if that person is your spouse. Continue reading On consent for sex in the middle of the night

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)

Why submission in the comp/egal debate is actually about boundaries (and warrants comparison with kink)

Picture of a branch with a bright red rope around it, tying a double coin knot, with the words: Why submission in the comp/egal debate is actually about boundaries (and warrants comparison with kink) workthegreymatter.com

(You can watch this post on YouTube.)

Complementarians, egalitarians and kinksters are three groups of people who all frequently talk about submission in the context of a sexual relationship but using different words with different meanings.

  • The kink community (sex positives who are into BDSM) talk about D/s, a shorthand for domination and submission. (Click here for why I write about BDSM.)
  • Complementarian Christians talk about the servant-leadership of husbands and the wifely submission of—well, wives.
  • Egalitarian Christians, on the other hand, talk about mutual submission.

Each group explicitly says that it doesn’t support abuse, but each one also says that either or both of the other two groups normalise abuse. So how did that happen? Continue reading Why submission in the comp/egal debate is actually about boundaries (and warrants comparison with kink)