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About me and my blog – April 2020 edition

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

Picture of a Bible open at 1 Corinthians 15 with hand highlighted sections, with the words on top: 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 4: Transforming the perishable so as to inherit the imperishable(1 Cor 15:44-58) workthegreymatter.com

1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 4: transforming the perishable so as to inherit the imperishable (1 Cor 15:44-58)

Welcome to the final part of my four-part series sweeping through 1 Corinthians 15 on the subject of resurrection. You can read part one here, part two here and part three here.

In verses 1-11 Paul established that Jesus rose from the dead — an event in the historical past. In verses 12-23 Paul explained that Jesus resurrected before everyone else because he was a ‘first-fruit’ and that everyone else will follow, collectively, in the future. In verses 30-34 Paul acknowledged that his ministry looked like a failure if you just considered success in present terms, but still he works to anticipate future resurrection in the here and now. Then, in verses 35-43 Paul turned his attention to how the glory of the future resurrection body is better than the glory of our current bodies.

My last post ended with a series of contrasts that Paul drew between our current and future bodies, likening the former to a seed in the ground and the latter to a plant. We’ll pick up things up there. Continue reading 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 4: transforming the perishable so as to inherit the imperishable (1 Cor 15:44-58)

Picture of a Bible open at 1 Corinthians 15 with hand highlighted sections, with the words on top: 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 3: Resurrection is about the body - but what does that mean? (1 Cor 15:35-43) workthegreymatter.com

1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 3: resurrection is about the body – but what does that actually mean? (1 Cor 15:35-43)

Welcome to part three of my four-part series sweeping through 1 Corinthians 15 on the subject of resurrection. You can read part one here and part two here.

In verses 1-11 Paul established that Jesus rose from the dead — an event in the historical past. In verses 12-23 Paul explained that Jesus resurrected before everyone else because he was a ‘first-fruit’ and that everyone else will follow, collectively, in the future. Then in verses 30-34 Paul acknowledged that his ministry looked like a failure if you just considered success in present terms, but still he works to anticipate future resurrection in the here and now.

Now Paul turns his attention to the nature of the future resurrection body. Continue reading 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 3: resurrection is about the body – but what does that actually mean? (1 Cor 15:35-43)

Picture of a Bible open at 1 Corinthians 15 with hand highlighted sections, with the words on top: 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 2: resurrection as both a present and future event (1 Cor 15:12-34) workthegreymatter.com

1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 2: resurrection as both a present and future event (1 Cor 15:12-34)

Welcome to part two of my four-part series sweeping through 1 Corinthians 15 on the subject of resurrection. You can read part one here.

In verses 1-11 Paul established that Jesus rose from the dead — an event in the historical past. In the next few verses he shifts his focus to consider the future.

Someone in Corinth had been saying that there is no ‘resurrection of the dead.’

We have to appreciate that resurrection is not a Christian idea, but was already established in Jewish thought before the time of Jesus and roundly dismissed and mocked by ancient Greek culture. ‘The resurrection of the dead’ was understood to be a collective future event when everyone will be raised up. First century Jews weren’t expecting any one person to be raised in advance of the rest so, perhaps unsurprisingly, the idea that Jesus rose from the dead threw a bit of a spanner in the works: it was a past event concerning one person. Maybe that was why some people at the church in Corinth were beginning to pour cold water on the idea of future resurrection.

In any case, Paul wanted to explain how everything fitted together. Continue reading 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 2: resurrection as both a present and future event (1 Cor 15:12-34)

Picture of a Bible open at 1 Corinthians 15 with hand highlighted sections, with the words on top: 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 1: the legal case for Jesus's resurrection from the dead (1 Cor 15:1-11) workthegreymatter.com

1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 1: the legal case for Jesus’s resurrection from the dead (1 Cor 15:1-11)

1 Corinthians 15 is one of those chapters you literally have to read verse by verse. Then you read each verse again about 4 times to get it.
– Sierra White

Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, chapter 15, is one of the greatest chapters of the New Testament and it’s all about resurrection. At 58 verses, it is, in itself, a modestly sized sermon when you hear it preached on today, it is often tackled in very small chunks. And you can see why — there’s a lot to unpack.

But what I’m going to do in this post and the next three, is sweep through the entire chapter. Albeit, without reading every verse four times! The aim here isn’t to say everything that’s worth saying or to deconstruct every warped interpretation you might have heard. Rather, it’s to give a light touch explanation of how this how symphony fits together.

Much of what I’ll be sharing comes from three particular books that I’ve read over the last few years:

  • Living Hope, by Russell Hebert, published by Epworth and then by Kevin Mayhew. The book discusses the theology of Jürgen Moltmann in the context of palliative care.
  • The second book is Surprised by Hope, by Tom Wright, published by SPCK.
  • The third book is Body: Biblical Spirituality for the Whole Person, by Paula Gooder, published by SPCK.

So there is going to be a lot in this series on hope, resurrection and the body. That said, I’m not doing this because I want to give you an academic lecture. I’m doing this because I believe hope is for everyone, resurrection is for everyone and, having a body and being part of the body of Christ is for everyone. I learnt about those three things, from these books. It is my hope and prayer that the understanding I received will dwell richly within you and work transformation in your lives, as much as it has done in mine over the last few years – if not more so.

So, let’s start by looking at verses 1-8. Continue reading 1 Corinthians 15 for beginners: Part 1: the legal case for Jesus’s resurrection from the dead (1 Cor 15:1-11)

Picture from inside a dark cave, facing the entrance where light streams in. Superimposed are some words in Hindi and the following words in English: Resurrection is the vindication of the body -- and the only complete answer to rape culture. workthegreymatter.com

Resurrection is the vindication of the body – and the only complete answer to rape culture

Content note: I debated whether I should categorise this post as ‘sunlight’ or ‘moonlight’. On the one hand, its message is unashamedly positive and it speaks about the core of Christian hope — resurrection. On the other hand, it also talks about an extremely violent event that resulted in a woman’s death. I’ve decided to go with ‘sunlight’ on the grounds because this is ‘hope worth sharing’ and, to the extent that I talk about suffering, I do in the same way as I would talk about Jesus’s passion on the cross.

However, please be advised that I describe in broad terms what happened, and I allude to some of the horrific details, though more specific discussion has warnings telling the reader when they may want to skip ahead.

***

A few years ago I watched a documentary called India’s Daughter (now available to rent or buy on YouTube). It was about Jyoti Singh, a 23 year-old Indian medical student who said that to be a doctor was the highest calling you could have in life.

If you’ve heard of her, you may know her as ‘Nirbhaya’, which means ‘fearless’. Or you may only know of her as the victim of the 2012 Delhi bus rape and murder.

The documentary I saw was powerful and hard-hitting, laying out the horror of both the assault and the ideologies that made it possible.

But when I came away there was one thing I was convinced of more than anything else: hers is a story that will end in resurrection.

Today I want to explain a little about why I believe that, and why the vindication of the body is such an important message for rape survivors everywhere. Continue reading Resurrection is the vindication of the body – and the only complete answer to rape culture

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

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

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?

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

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

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.

13 “If any man takes a wife, and goes in to her, and detests her, 14 and charges her with shameful conduct, and brings a bad name on her, and says, ‘I took this woman, and when I came to her I found she was not a virgin,’ 15 then the father and mother of the young woman shall take and bring out the evidence of the young woman’s virginity to the elders of the city at the gate. 16 And the young woman’s father shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man as wife, and he detests her. 17 Now he has charged her with shameful conduct, saying, “I found your daughter was not a virgin,” and yet these are the evidences of my daughter’s virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city. 18 Then the elders of that city shall take that man and punish him; 19 and they shall fine him one hundred shekels of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name on a virgin of Israel. And she shall be his wife; he cannot divorce her all his days.

20 “But if the thing is true, and evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done a disgraceful thing in Israel, to play the harlot in her father’s house. So you shall put away the evil from among you. (NKJV)

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)
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

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

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
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On Dobson, domestic violence and DARVO dynamics

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

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?

“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

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

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

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

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

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.