Rows of pews in a church. Text over the top: How can we make churches more inclusive spaces? Light in Grey Places

How can we make churches more inclusive spaces

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 churches more inclusive spaces
Dan Stevens and Emma Watson dancing with lyrics from 'Evermore'

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

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)

LGBT Rainbow

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

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

Modesty 101 fig leaves

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

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.

UPDATE 2021: The Ezer Rising blog is currently down, but I did finish this series and I was very pleased with what I achieved. However, it’s the length of a book. And each post drew a parallel with characters and images from Harry Potter, which… has since become a bit problematic. Anyway, if you are interested in reading the other parts of this series, please contact me.

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
Pair of ducklings

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

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

Photo looking down the spiral stone staircase at the ruin of Manorbier castle; sunlight can be seen at the bottom.

Resurrection me: tasting future glory

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
Yellow roses in garden

Who breaks in and does the washing up? Strange stories and Easter

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

Grey woman with the staff of Aaron, art by Siku

New profile picture: grey places and the art of Siku

Extract from artwork created by Siku, @theartofsiku

If you’ve spent time on Facebook or other social media, you’ve probably seen one of those alerts telling you that a friend has changed their profile picture. You may also have noticed that some friends never seem to change their picture – and others seem to change it every week.

For myself, I’m someone who prefers to choose a picture and stick with it. But a few days ago I updated my Twitter profile and today I’ve made a similar change on this blog. Here’s why…
Continue reading New profile picture: grey places and the art of Siku

Woman standing arms folded in from of Christian Grey picture from 50 Fifty Shades Darker.

I dated Christian Grey… and I don’t care to see him again (guest post)

With the launch of Fifty Shades Darker in cinemas, this guest post is just as relevant as it was when it was originally written two years ago. Ruthie Hird looks back on her experience of a toxic boyfriend (whom she met on a church retreat) and draws striking parallels with Christian Grey. I found it compelling when I first read it and she kindly agreed for me to re-blog it here.

So, there’s this book/movie that has come out recently: it’s called Fifty Shades of Grey, perhaps you’ve heard of it? Well, I sure have, and I’ve seen the throngs of mommy (and non-mommy) squee-ing over the very idea of a dark, mysterious man sweeping girls off of their feet and having incredible sex with them. Oh, if only Mr Grey really existed! I hear women sigh longingly.

Well, ladies, guess what: he does exist.

I should know: I dated him.

And so have about 4 million women in North America in one year alone.

Here’s the thing: Mr Grey in my world was not a high powered businessman, in fact he wasn’t rich at all. He was actually a twenty-six year old, blonde haired, blue eyed, church-going construction worker. He wore a cowboy hat, drove a pick up truck, and I had no idea what I was in for when he asked me out.

CONTENT NOTE: References to rape, coercive control and non-consensual BDSM perpetrated against the author – as well as similar behaviours in Fifty Shades.

Continue reading I dated Christian Grey… and I don’t care to see him again (guest post)
Protest banner against 50 Shades "Not consent, not redemption, not a fairy-tale" with quotes from Fifty Shades Darker

Reflections from standing outside the Fifty Shades Darker premiere

The banner I held up during the protest outside the ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ premiere

It wasn’t as bustling or as glitz as the Fifty Shades of Grey premiere two years ago. There weren’t as many presenters and DJs to whip up the crowd; there weren’t as many fans; and there wasn’t as much press. But there were enough.

We were outside the Odeon cinema in Leicester Square, London. The waist-high metal railings had been carefully placed to allow space for fans, space for VIP vehicles and narrow passages at the side for the general public to mill past. The fans who had got there early were already inside enclosed areas while the security detail urged people outside the railings to move on if they didn’t have tickets. Every now and then, you’d see one or two people together dressed in very expensive outfits and you know they actually had tickets to go inside and see the film. Everyone else was wrapped up in gloves, coats and scarves – it being February after all.

The giant screens played the Fifty Shades Darker trailer silently but on repeat throughout the evening, much as had been done with its prequel two years before. And music thumped its way across the square, providing many (myself included) with a well-needed excuse to bob up and down and keep moving. Continue reading Reflections from standing outside the Fifty Shades Darker premiere

Black and white picture of the trunk of a large dead tree.

The friend who was always there: on faithfulness, creativity and being me

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” John 1:48 (NIV)

In recent months I’ve listened to people talk about the destructive relationships that they’ve left, whether that was with their partners or their churches. In some of them, there was a realisation that the person or religion they thought they knew and had fallen in love with, was never there at all. It left them with a cold, shaky, uncertain feeling.

In recent months I’ve had a growing sense of what might be called the opposite: that the one who I needed most was always there, even when I didn’t realise.

Continue reading The friend who was always there: on faithfulness, creativity and being me

Fairy-tale vs Erotica: Brides, wives and eternities

Books of the Fifty Shades trilogy with a DVD of Beauty and the Beast

Life is never going to be boring with Christian, and I’m in this for the long haul. I love this man: my husband, my lover, father of my child, my sometimes Dominant… my Fifty Shades.
Fifty Shades Freed, p531

There is something about hope that is both now and not yet.

We see hope when people are healed and reconciled, and even when they’re comforted in times of distress. At the same time though, these are but foretastes of something more, something that will only be found fully in the beyond.

Stories of redemption are, by definition, stories of hope. Their happy endings are happy beginnings that look forward in anticipation. The questions to ask are ‘What do they say about the now?’ and ‘What do they say about the not yet?’ Continue reading Fairy-tale vs Erotica: Brides, wives and eternities

The Suffering Servant vs Ana: Choice, commitment and consent (part 4)

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
— Isaiah 53:7 (NIVUK)

“What has Isaiah chapter 53 got to do with Fifty Shades?” I hear you ask.

Allow me to explain.

Before I begin, some boring but important blurb:

  • I’ve written separately on why I write about Fifty Shades and why I write about BDSM.
  • I’m not trying to preach, but I am a Christian and Christianity has informed our culture’s understanding of what redemption is; in this post I’m going to talk a bit (OK, a lot) about that.
  • CONTENT NOTE: The content of this post is not graphic in its detail. However, if you’re sensitive to the idea of meaningless, non-consensual suffering, it might be not be for you.

Continue reading The Suffering Servant vs Ana: Choice, commitment and consent (part 4)

Redemption vs Romance: Choice, commitment and consent (part 1)

Yes, I was living in Germany when the special edition came out.

We’re coming near to the end of the bridge, and the road is once more bathed in the neon light of the street lamps so his face is intermittently in the light and the dark. And it’s such a fitting metaphor. This man, who I once thought of as a romantic hero, a brave shining white knight—or the dark knight, as he said. He’s not a hero; he’s a man with serious, deep emotional flaws, and he’s dragging me into the dark. Can I not guide him into the light?
“I still want more,” I whisper.
“I know,” he says. “I’ll try.”
Fifty Shades of Grey, p355

If you’ve been following this series so far, you’ll know that I’ve already posted twice about how, in a redemption story, a redeemer freely and purposefully chooses to act to save someone.

So why am I blogging about redeemer’s choice again? And why is this post a “part 1”?

The answer is that Ana’s choice in Fifty Shades and Belle’s choice in Beauty and the Beast are very different in one key respect:

Ana chooses to redeem Christian. Belle does not choose to redeem Beast.

Now, this difference isn’t a reason to disregard Fifty Shades as a redemption narrative. But it does create complications when it’s compared with Beauty and the Beast. Moreover, in this respect, the redemption narrative within Christianity appears to be closer to Fifty Shades than Beauty and the Beast. After all, Christians believe that Jesus’ choice to enter into the world and suffer and die, was a choice made for the benefit of humanity – even though it was humans who caused him to suffer and die.

This begs the question: if I think that Beauty and the Beast portrays a model of redemption that is close to Christianity’s understanding of it (and I do), how do I explain this apparent difference? And if I think that Fifty Shades is inconsistent with the Christian(ity) model, then why is that?

To answer these questions, we need to grapple even more with our understanding of choice and how it relates to redemption.

Before we begin, some blurb if you’re new to this blog:

OK, blurb over.

Continue reading Redemption vs Romance: Choice, commitment and consent (part 1)

An open letter to Nate Sparks on leaving evangelicalism

Dear Nate,

I wondered what I should I do when I read your recent post about your sense of lament at leaving evangelicalism. Much of what you wrote resonated with me – and yet there were differences. I wondered whether we’re seeing a slightly different problem, or the same problem from different perspectives. Even now, I’m not sure. What I do know is that I wanted to write. And I hope that this letter will be a blessing to you and others who read it.

While the debate rages about whether social media helps or hinders real connectedness between people – you’re what I’d call a ‘social media success’. By which I mean, you’re someone I’ve been able to connect to, in a way that probably wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. Mainly because I live in the UK and you live in the US.

Continue reading An open letter to Nate Sparks on leaving evangelicalism