I cannot believe the church’s responsibility is so small that we get to shrug and try better next time.

Monochrome picture of small wooden cross on white background with the words: I cannot believe the church's responsibility is so small, that we get to shrug and try better next time. On lament and overcoming helplessness. workthegreymatter.com

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen some pretty horrific things passing through my social media feed the last few weeks. And I am not OK.

I’m not going to re-share the relevant images or specifics, but I want to pause for a moment and talk about what to make these stories. Because their haunting horror isn’t easing and I need to find a way to get through my grief and sense of helplessness.

Content warning: Non-specific mentions of martyrdom, suffering and ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Continue reading I cannot believe the church’s responsibility is so small that we get to shrug and try better next time.

White Christians: don’t quote Ezekiel to duck responsibility for past and present racism

Vertical extract of the Hebrew text of the book of Ezekiel chapter 18, in a wider dark red background. Over the background are the words: White Christians: don't quote Ezekiel to duck out of past and present racism. workthegreymatter.com

So, I saw someone asking why white Christians were repenting of the sins their ancestors committed against people of colour.

And I want to write about this.

Caveats: I’m mainly going to talk to how I understand the Old Testament, because the Old Testament was being quoted and it’s something I’m familiar with as a Christian. But just because I’m taking this angle, that doesn’t mean it’s the most relevant or comprehensive angle; I just want to demonstrate how this particular argument doesn’t stack up.

In short, the argument was this: if we’re all responsible for what we do ourselves, not what other people do, then white people shouldn’t have to apologise for the racism of other white people. See, for example, the principle of individual responsibility promoted in Ezekiel 18:19-20.

However, I think this fails to appreciate the context of Ezekiel and the attitudes the book was responding to.

So let’s dive in.

Content warning, this gets political and I mention an Old Testament clobber passage. Also, I don’t have space here to get into why bad things happen and people suffer; Ezekiel clearly had a concept of divine retribution and I’m going to roll with that worldview for now, because it was also implicit in the Tweet I read. Continue reading White Christians: don’t quote Ezekiel to duck responsibility for past and present racism

Currency for closure? On vulnerability and storycraft in a #metoo world

Picture inside a garden with paving stones and flowers and plants arranged alongside a small wooden fence, with the words on top: Currency for closure? On vulnerability and storycraft in a metoo world workthegreymatter.com

I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind, particularly since the #metoo hashtag started trending back in 2017.

The sharing of stories is undoubtedly one of the most important things in breaking open and exposing systemic abuse. Grooming frequently brings survivors to believe that they’re the only one it’s happened to, or that what happened was their fault. When stories are shared, that lie is shown for what it is.

And yet, telling one’s story doesn’t guarantee that a person will be heard and supported in the way that they need; nor does it guarantee that justice will happen as a result of them speaking up. Meanwhile, testifying can turn a witness into a harassment target, as happened with Christine Blasey Ford when she spoke about Brett Kavanaugh.

So we have this dilemma: sharing our stories can be powerful and important, yet it can also come with huge risk, especially when trying to shine a light on systemic abuse.

I have no doubt that survivors are aware of this risk. For many, it’s why they don’t disclose or only do so after a long delay. And yet, what does a survivor do when they witness the great outpouring of story-sharing that took place in 2017? What do they make of the high profiles of women like Christine Blasey Ford, Miriam Haley and Jessica Mann? Is it now possible to hope to be believed if a survivor does share their story?

I grant you, the odds of being believed are probably far better than they’ve ever been historically; but high profile cases, even those considered to be successes, don’t guarantee comfort or closure for any survivor in the event that they share their story. Now some survivors have already written about why they didn’t share their metoo stories, but it still troubles me that survivors might underestimate the risk and the cost of disclosure.  Continue reading Currency for closure? On vulnerability and storycraft in a #metoo world

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

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.

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 and it focuses strongly on the ‘evidence’ of the bedsheets. (If you want a summary of this post in fewer than 500 words, click here. Also, for discussion of the wider themes of this passage, I strongly recommend checking out Five things I’d explain to a teenage girl if she asked about Deuteronomy 22:13-21 (assuming she has the courage to).) 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

Consent means… *communicating* if something’s not going to plan (in a context of mutual trust)

When it comes to sex, I’m not a believer that consensual = no mistakes.

Sure, consensual means no big, life-changing mistakes and no clearly and easily avoidable mistakes. It means avoiding all the nasty stuff like:

  • penetration without an active ‘yes’, or
  • lack of regard for risks or consequences, or
  • sex without an easy, agreed, recognisable way to withdraw consent, or
  • negotiation where a hard limit is discussed like it’s a soft limit or a preference.

People talk about “active, informed and enthusiastic” consent because it goes a long way to prevent the above.

But even when you stay well clear of those mistakes, even when your partner is a decent human being who would never want to violate or harm you — that doesn’t mean everything always goes to plan. Maybe an unwelcome memory rears its ugly head. Maybe your body starts feeling wildly uncomfortable when you didn’t think it would. Maybe you didn’t shut the door and the cat walks in.

Mistakes will happen; the question is, what do you when you realise it’s not working? And do you learn from your mistakes? Continue reading Consent means… *communicating* if something’s not going to plan (in a context of mutual trust)

I met Sheila Gregoire! And we talked about sex, consent and blogging over ice cream.

Glass bowl of pink ice cream on a wooden surface with the words: I met Sheila Gregoire! And we talked about sex, consent and blogging over ice cream. workthgreymatter.com

So, Sheila Gregoire came to the UK on holiday and WE MET UP!

We had a great chat over ice cream and it was wonderful hearing her vision for her platform and her take on recent events in the marriage/sex blogging world.

So, if you’ve not heard of her, she runs To Love, Honour & Vacuum.

Her topic is sex (for married, Christian, heterosexual couples) and she finds that a lot of people come to her blog for sex and begin to deconstruct a number of their (false) complementarian beliefs. Which is an absolutely fabulous work. Continue reading I met Sheila Gregoire! And we talked about sex, consent and blogging over ice cream.

But if I have not consent… (a poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8)

Two lovers standing facing each other, silhouetted against sunset with the words: If I have not love... a poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8 workthegreymatter.com

And now I will show you the most the most excellent way.

If I speak in compliments, or confessions of undying love,

but have not consent,

then my words are mere noise and intrusive.

 

If I have sexual prowess,

and know all of a person’s bodily responses,

if I can give orgasm after orgasm,

but have not consent — I’m no lover at all.

 

Continue reading But if I have not consent… (a poem inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:1-8)

An open letter to group admins, from a borderline Aspie

Mobile with Facebook app and title: An open letter to group admins, from a borderline Aspie

I am not your easiest of customers.

But I’m one of the most earnest.

How you treat me has a huge influence on how I feel emotionally. But you’re also in a position to influence my behaviours towards others.

That means your reach goes way beyond the Facebook groups you manage; the advice you give me today might carry years into the future, as I interact with people both online and offline. (No pressure!)

I wanted to write to you because when I make mistakes, you can greatly influence how much my mistakes end up costing people. I’ve had some great admins who’ve steered me away from pitfalls. On the flip side, there have also been times when much pain and stress was avoidable.

So I thought I’d share a collection of thoughts in the hope we might understand each other better. Continue reading An open letter to group admins, from a borderline Aspie

Skandalon: Mary teaches the boy Jesus

Bible open at Luke chapter 2 with the words “Skandalon: Mary teaches the boy Jesus”

This is a short story / sketch based on the events recorded in Luke 2:41-50. It is told from Mary’s point of view. You can read it and/or listen to me reading it here; to save the mp3 file (~15MB), right click on the audio and use “Save As..”):

 


We went to Jerusalem again this year to celebrate Passover. It was the third time we’ve been able to do so since Joseph and I returned to Galilee, but still it conjured so many emotions for me.

On the one hand it was good to be amongst family and friends, walking with them and seeing the children play together. On the other hand it reminded me of all that I missed during the years we were in Egypt. I heard the young mothers asking questions of the older women, receiving good advice and homely encouragement. It stung to be reminded how I didn’t have that community and I tried so hard not to begrudge them.

The children were a handful, as ever. Continue reading Skandalon: Mary teaches the boy Jesus

10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman’s statement on sexual harassment

10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman's statement on sexual harassment

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations and the #MeToo movement, a story broke recently where eight women accused Morgan Freeman of inappropriate behaviour and sexual harassment.

His initial response was:

Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent.

Still, the story didn’t go away and a few days later he issued a second statement.

His words illustrate uncomfortable realities about sexual harassment, power imbalances and how our society responds to these cases. And I have some thoughts about all that.  Continue reading 10 uncomfortable realities in Morgan Freeman’s statement on sexual harassment