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Initiative is not a sin. Even when you’re waiting on God.

When I was growing up, there was a lot of talk in church about discerning God’s will and waiting for God’s timing. Your career, your finances, your health issues, your love life — nothing was exempt from the Good Christian’s responsibility to talk to God and hear what he had to say.

And if he didn’t answer, we had to examine ourselves — because maybe he had answered and we weren’t listening? Maybe we just didn’t like what God was saying?

Maybe we were the problem.

As I sit down and reflect back over the last 20 or so years of my life, I’m beginning to see how this has been problematic for me. On several levels.

Continue reading Initiative is not a sin. Even when you’re waiting on God.
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“Why are you still a Christian? What keeps you in faith?” My answer when a friend asked me these questions

A friend recently asked me why I’m still a Christian. She asked because she was having trouble holding onto her faith, especially with Christian politics in the USA being what they currently are.

This is my answer to her. I don’t know if it will help other people, but it’s my story. Grab a cuppa, or bookmark this page, this post is about 3,000 words long. Continue reading “Why are you still a Christian? What keeps you in faith?” My answer when a friend asked me these questions

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

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.

Picture of lots of small candles aflame against a dark background. Text over the top: God is inclusive: in Deuteronomy, in Isaiah, and in Acts (reflecting on the meaning of priesthood)

God is inclusive: in Deuteronomy, in Isaiah and in Acts (reflecting on the meaning of priesthood)

So, this is the season of Pentecost. In the Christian calendar, it’s when the church celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the full inclusion of Gentiles as children and heirs of the promise God made to Abraham, way way back when. (See Galatians 3:29 or, like, the book of Romans.)

Although the story of Acts chapters 1 and 2 was familiar to me growing up, I don’t think I quite appreciated how radical the idea of Gentile inclusion was for the early church. Instead, the narrative was gutted to a simplistic “law bad, faith good.” This anti Old Testament law sentiment never sat right with me but, more to the point, this version of the gospel meant that the story of Acts never challenged me to be inclusive in my theology.

Instead, that lightbulb moment came when I better understood Isaiah 56. So, in this post I’m going to talk about how I think priesthood relates to inclusion, and how I reconcile the apparent contrasts between Deuteronomy 23:1 and Isaiah 56:4-5.

Content warning: This post mentions bodily harm because, well, these verses are about eunuchs. Continue reading God is inclusive: in Deuteronomy, in Isaiah and in Acts (reflecting on the meaning of priesthood)

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

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

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)

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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?

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.” 

And this is a message that speaks to all sides of the political divide. Because the problem is not just campaigns with an unjust purpose; it’s also campaigns that have good intentions but which (a) are ineffectual, (b) use dubious methods, and/or (c) are unnecessarily divisive.

So, with that in mind, I wrote an alternative ‘remix’ version of these verses to raise a contemporary challenge to the church. I want to get us thinking about the methods we use in our activism, and what it is that produces lasting and fruitful results.

I hope the words speak to you. Maybe they’ll encourage you or challenge you in your own practices; maybe they’ll help you understand and articulate something (whether good or bad) about someone else’s practices.

Something I’ve come to understand, is that the Holy Spirit never inflicts shame. These words aren’t here to pressurise you or make you compromise necessary boundaries; so if they jar, maybe they were written more for someone else. But if they nudge your awareness and challenge you to think differently, maybe it’s worth letting the words sink in.

Oh, and one last thing: Isaiah is one of the ‘major’ Old Testament prophets, because the book written in his name is one of the longest books of prophecy. In chapter 6, there’s an account of Isaiah’s calling; he saw heaven open and God asking who he would send to give a message to Judah. Isaiah’s response was “Here I am! Send me!”

Yeah, so, keep that in mind.


Isaiah 58:1-9a (remix)

Speak up, and don’t sanitise what you have to say
Tell my church where they’re going wrong,
Tell those who call themselves Christ-followers,
where they’re going their own way.

They come into churches and small groups each week
Like a congregation that searches
For my kingdom and its righteousness.
They ask me to intervene in response to their prayers,
Claiming their faith is truly spiritual.

“Why have we donated to good causes,” they say
“And you haven’t noticed it?”
“Why have we protested and stood out from the crowd,
Yet you don’t seem to care?”

OK, listen: on the day you preach and campaign,
You do it just so you can say you did something.
You don’t even stop to consider
Whether your methods are even ethical.

The truth is, your activism is an excuse
To express disgust and be argumentative,
To wash your conscience on the moral high ground.
You cannot act like this if you want
My Spirit to breathe through you.

Is this the righteousness that I want?
To pick out ideal victims and idealised causes
And put your words on repeat inside an echo chamber?
Is it to protest that you’re being persecuted
When people challenge the accuracy of what you say
And the helpfulness of how you say it?

I delight in activism that lifts the voices of those
Who have been falsely discredited or sidelined;
I desire activism that makes it easier, not harder,
For professionals to improve the structures
Of the organisations they are already working in;
I take pleasure in careful sifting through the evidence,
To provide an approachable answer for misunderstandings
and to silence the myths and the lies.

Share your energy with those
who are hungry for encouragement;
Include lesser known causes within your sphere —
Yes, those that lack political glamour;
And muster the courage
for tempered and slow conversations —
Even with your family members who don’t feel like family.

Then Christ’s light will shine on you
And through you,
And your divisions will heal.
Your reputation for compassion and justice
Will precede you,
And the LORD’s revealing wisdom will watch your back.

Then, when you pray, I will answer.
When you call to me, I will be the one who says,
“Here I am.”


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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)

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8 things that got me through the worst time in my life (in 500 words)

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)

Picture of bullet shell on the ground in a deserted place with the words: Are your thoughts and prayers with ... the system? Maybe they should be workthegreymatter.com

Are your thoughts and prayers with … the system? Maybe they should be.

I’m grateful to say that gun violence is something quite remote from my experience and everyday life. The UK has tight gun controls and most of our police don’t carry firearms. I don’t think I’ve seen a gun fired, ever, let alone at anyone.

So, as I write this post, I’m going to do my best not to claim knowledge and understanding that I don’t have. However, how we pray and what we pray for is in my blogging lane, and I think it’s time I say something on this. Continue reading Are your thoughts and prayers with … the system? Maybe they should be.